Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pot Roast with Root Vegetables, Thyme and Merlot

One of my friends has been trying to make pot roast for a few months now. She called me once and I gave her all the advice I could think of. Last time we talked, she was frustrated because she had tried again (for the 8th time), and her meat was tough. I learned she had cooked it in her crock pot for 3 hours and thought it was done. I told her how a pot roast has to cook in the crock pot all day, so the connective tissue breaks down, thus rendering even a humble piece of chuck into a tender, like-your-mama's pot roast. Now, I promise I am not making fun of my friend because we all have a recipe or two that we want perfect, for sentimental reasons, because we're perfectionists, or we're just flat out stubborn.

So this pot roast recipe is my own creation. I've made it several times, and I think it's pretty foolproof. I have tried all cuts of meat, and to get the most bang for your buck, go with a boneless beef chuck roast. I adore the flavor of fresh thyme with beef, and I personally believe anything cooked with a good red wine cannot be a bad thing. Don't use a cooking wine for this recipe, use a wine you'd drink, something inexpensive, but not pricey. If it's a really cheap bottle, I can't say how your roast will turn out. And carrots, potatoes, and onions are a must. I like to use red potatoes in a dish that simmers for a long time; russet (white) potatoes turn mushy after a while, but red potatoes are sturdier, and hold up better. You can add other veggies to your liking.

I also believe searing the meat adds a layer of flavor to the roast. I use the wine to deglaze the pan, and get up all those browned bits off the bottom of the pan, because that my friends, is flavor. This also reduces the wine a little bit, and concentrates the resulting
fond. Mmm....

I got the idea of using the 3 different soups from another friend who used this particular combination for a pork roast in the crock pot. I tried it with beef, and it was delicious.

Enough talk, let's cook some beef!

Pot Roast with Root Vegetables, Thyme and Merlot

1 2-3 pound chuck roast, trimmed of excess fat
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
2 medium or one large onion, cut into quarters
1 1/2 cups baby carrots (or regular carrots, cut into 2 inch pieces)
1 1/4 pounds new baby potatoes, scrubbed clean and cut into quarters
2 cloves of garlic, crushed (I use a garlic press)
1 package of fresh thyme (available in the produce section of the grocery store)
1/2 to 1/3 cup of decent red wine (I used merlot, but a cabernet would be fine)
1 10.5 can of cream of mushroom soup (I like the "Healty Request" from Campbells)
1 10.5 ounce can of golden mushroom soup
1 10.5 ounce can of french onion soup
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Season the chuck roast generously with salt and pepper on all sides. In a dutch oven or large, deep skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium high heat. You want it hot, but not smoking. When it's ready, lay your meat in, and sear until a dark brown on all sides. Use a pair of tongs if you need to to get all the sides seared. This is what the meat should look like-- it will take about 5 minutes per side.

While the meat is searing, combine the thyme, merlot/red wine, garlic, and the soups in a bowl, stir until blended. To prep the thyme, just strip the tiny green leaves off the stems, gather them up, and discard the stems. The leaves are so small, you don't even have to chop them up. Go ahead and start up the crock pot...mine has an option for 8 hours on low, so that is what I programmed it for. Pour in the soup mixture, and put in half of the carrots, potatoes, and onions. When the meat is finished searing, use tongs to carefully transfer the meat to the crock pot, and lay it on top of the soup mixture and vegetables. Don't forget to turn off your stove burner while you do this.

Now, you want to get all the flavor from the meat out of the dutch oven (or whatever pan you used to sear the meat). Pour the merlot/red wine into the pan, and put it over a medium heat. You should not have the alcohol flare up when you do it this way. If you do, just let the flames die out, and proceed with the rest of the recipe. I've never had a flare-up, but you never know...

Use a wooden spoon or rubber scraper to get all the browned bits from the meat off the bottom of the pan/pot. Let the mixture come to a gentle boil, and let simmer for about 3 minutes.

Remove from the heat, and pour this over the meat in the crock pot. Arrange the rest of the veggies around the meat, and put the lid on.

Now, let it go. Seriously, that is what a crock pot is designed to do. All you have to do now is let the whole thing go for 8-10 hours or until the meat just gives up. I wouldn't even bother to stir it...if you must peek and stir, wait until you see the liquid simmering so you know it's come up to temperature. At the end of the day, it should fall apart when you go to take it out of the crock pot.

I made some Chive Biscuits to go with this meal, I'll post the recipe for that in the next couple of days. I usually don't make a pot roast until it gets colder, but I finally had electricity after 15 days, and felt like making comfort food. Besides, the whole house smelled great all day long :-)

Have fun making comfort food for your family. God bless your table tonight!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Rosmary Skewered Chicken and Shrimp

I made this recipe a while back, but can't find the original, and I'm not about to search for it in the dark or by candlelight. Yes, we are still without power! If there's a contest in my mom's group for not having power the longest, I'm in the running. Anyway, I dug into the freezer yesterday and found chicken breasts and jumbo shrimp, and there is an abundance of rosemary in the garden (yes, that's a picture of it over there <--). Thanks to my husband I have a huge bush of rosemary, so if you need some, come on over. I feel like being creative, even though I'm really missing the oven.

Plan ahead and marinate the chicken a day in advance. The shrimp only need 30 minutes, otherwise the citrus in the marinade will slowly start to "cook" them, and they'll turn mushy after grilling. (Use the largest shrimp you can find for this recipe-- you won't be able to thread small shrimp onto the rosemary stems). I like to make my marinades from scratch when I can. This time, I just used about 1 cup of bottled italian dressing for the chicken (the stores are still not fully stocked from the hurricane, and I was feeling lazy).

This recipe calls for long stems of fresh rosemary. You will need to strip off some of the bottom leaves and peel off the thin bark (like peeling a carrot or cucumber). It's not hard at all, just takes a little extra time. If you don't have any long rosemary stems, just chop up some fresh bits from the produce section at the store, or use a teaspoon or two of dried rosemary. You'll still get the same flavor, though not as pronounced.
David did the grilling again, and he wanted me to tell y'all to make sure and oil your grill with a wad of paper towels dipped in vegetable oil so these herb skewers don't stick to the grates.
Rosemary Skewered Chicken and Shrimp
1 pound large/extra large shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces
1 cup bottled italian dressing or homemade marinate of choice
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and black pepper to taste
10-12 stems of fresh rosemary

Combine the chicken and italian dressing/homemade marinade in a ziploc bag/bowl. Let stand in the refrigerator for 6-8 hours or overnight. Drain the meat in a colander and set aside.

In a bowl, combine the shrimp, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Refrigerate for 3o minutes.
To prepare the rosemary stems, strip off the all the leaves about 2 inches from the cut end. Then take a vegetable peeler and gently strip off the dark "bark." It's a very thin layer, and it will come off very easily. I took some pictures so you could see the before (on the left) and the after (on the right).

Now carefully thread your meat and shrimp on the rosemary stems. It will take a little persuasion, but you won't pull any muscles doing this, I promise. You should be able to fit 3-4 pieces of meat or shrimp on each stem. Here are some pictures so you can see what they look like. Do not skewer the meat and shrimp together! The chicken will take just a few minutes longer to cook than the shrimp, so you don't want them together...otherwise you will may end up with tender chicken but tough shrimp. Here's my skewers ready for the grill.

Heat your grill to medium, and cook the chicken skewers for about 4-5 minutes on each side and the shrimp skewers for about 3-4 minutes on each side. It will really depend on your grill, so watch them carefully. I made a bag of rice to go along with our skewers. I know...I should have made a vegetable, but it was just too hot in the house. It was broccoli rice, so technically, I guess we did eat a vegetable, albeit a very minute amount ;-)
Well, what do you think? Bet you're getting jealous of my fancy dinnerware (aka Dixie paper plates), ha, ha!!!
The kids ate the chicken skewers up :-). They politely refused the shrimp. Score one for mom! Besides, David and I did not feel one bit guilty eating all the incredibly tasty shrimp. This recipe made 7 skewers of chicken, 4 skewers of shrimp. It was enough to feed the 6 of us.
God Bless your table tonight!

Friday, September 19, 2008


We still have no power, and may not for a while yet. We did a little research and discovered we are on a small grid (about 100 households), which means we very well may be at the bottom of the list to get power, since they'll probably fix the largest grids first, and go from there. Sigh... I really miss baking. I have a friend with a new baby and I can't make her dinner yet... boo hoo. But, I can't complain. Seriously...we have water, gas, phone, and a generator. Praise God.

Okay, so I am limited to the grill outside or the gas cook top inside. I made panino last night on my grill pan, and you know what, it turned out decent enough. Panini is just a fancy Italian word for grilled sandwiches stuffed with anything you want. Traditionally, they are made with cured meats and thinly sliced cheese (no lettuce), and maybe some grilled veggies. So feel free to experiment. You will want a good sturdy bread, like foccacia or ciabatta. Alas, all I had was whole wheat sandwich bread, which would make the purists shudder, but oh well. I made pizza panino for the kids, and a fancier version for David and I. I had seen this recipe for a quesadilla, but we'd already had taco salad and "anything in a torilla night," so I adapted this to make panini. All in all, it was satisfying.

Panini with Mozzarella, Tomato, and Basil with a Parmesan Crust

3 tablespoons butter, softened
1 ounce (1/2 cup) grated pecorino romano cheese
4 ciabatta/focaccia rolls or slices, however you buy it
1 medium tomato, thinly sliced
1/2 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped
8 thin slices mozarella cheese,(shredded is fine)
Salt and black pepper to taste

You can make this on your grill outside, or on your indoor grill pan. In a small bowl, mix the butter and pecorino romano cheese until combined. You will use this on the bread. Mmmm.... butter and cheese together... can't go wrong with that, right?

Spread the butter mixture on both sides of the bread. Heat up your grill pan/outdoor grill to about a medium heat. You may have to adjust your heat as necessary. You want toasted bread, not burnt hockey pucks. Lay one slice of bread down on the grill, buttered side down. Layer with the mozzarella and tomato. Sprinkle the tomato with a bit of salt and pepper, and then a scattering of chopped basil. Place the second slice of bread on top, buttered side up.

Now, using a heavy pan, spatula, or whatever else is handy, apply even pressure to the sandwich for about 30 seconds. My grill pan came with a heavy press to use for making grilled sanwiches, etc. But you just need something heavy to get the bread nice and toasty.
Lift up your pressure device and flip the sandwich over. Apply pressure again for 1-2 minutes. Check to make sure it's not burning. Remove the panini from the heat, cut in half, and serve immediately. This will make four panino-- if you want to serve these as an appetizer, cut them into quarters.

Here's the pizza panini I made for the kids, I just used a couple of tablespoons of pizza sauce, shredded mozarella cheese, and 4 pepperoni slices for each one. A bit of the pizza sauce oozed out (which wouldn't have happened if I'd used a better bread), but the kids didn't mind at all. Joshua even asked for seconds! You'll have to excuse the paper plates, no power means no dishwasher, and therefore, disposable serving dishes. And the pics are a tad fuzzy, I took these by the kitchen window with the last bit of sun (candlelight, although romantic, is not good for taking pictures).

And here's the adult version. The butter and cheese made a very tasty crust... you have to try it.

Whether you have power or not, these fancy sandwiches are fun to make.

God Bless your table tonight!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Modified Cooking Techniques

Since Hurricane Ike hit, we've been without power, (today is the 5th day) but still have phone, gas, and water. I drafted the recipe for the basil burgers and had it scheduled to post before the storm hit, because I knew we'd be in the dark for a while.
Since then, I've had to do some creative cooking. I made taco salad Monday night, and the kid have had s'mores twice now. I plan to make panini tonight with mozzarella, tomato, and basil, since I have a gas cook top and an indoor grill pan/griddle. Tomorrow night, the plan is to make pancakes and sausage (on the griddle). If anything is worth posting, I will try to do that once we have electricity. For now, I'll sign off because I'm running the laptop and modem off the generator, but will switch it to the washer and drying in a minute so I can do laundry.

Hope you are safe and sound!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Basil Burgers with Mozzarella Cheese and Olive Salad

We spent one night in New Orleans during our 2 week road trip last summer. David had to get a jar of olive salad and a muffaleta at Central Grocery , go to Cafe Dumont for breakfast... you get the idea. So now I have a jar of insanely delicious olive salad in the fridge. I decided to try using it as a topping for burgers. This stuff is very salty, so if you are lucky enough to have some of Central Grocery's olive salad, you won't need much at all. If you don't, I would just use whatever you find at the grocery store or make your own. It's basically olives, celery, and a few other veggies marinated in oil, vinegar, and some spices.

For a long while, I was only making turkey burgers because I wanted to try and make a healthier alternative. Ground turky is pricey though, so I tried premade turkey burgers that seemed like a good deal. Well, they were pretty disappointing-- dry and tasteless. I then tried the extra lean ground beef. That was even worse, they tasted like cardboard. Ground chuck made a great juicy burger, but it also had the highest fat content. I finally tried a 50/50 mixture of ground chuck and ground round/sirloin. Ahh... now I had something we could all live with. A nice juicy burger, without sacrificing flavor. I know... it's still not very healthy, but fat means flavor, and you really have to use beef with some fat, or it's just not worth it. I haven't tried a mixture of turkey and beef, so if you do that, let me know how it goes. Personally, if you're going to have a burger, then have a real burger. I only make these 2-3 times per month, so it's all about everything in moderation.

I toasted the buns so they would hold up under the weight of the burgers, and yes, I put a little bit of butter on them. Please don't try and calculate the calories and fat in this recipe, or let me know what those numbers are should you figure it out. And the best contraption to make perfect 1/4 lb. patties is the lid of a large peanut butter jar. Yes, you heard me--and you probably have one already. If you keep reading, I'll show you how it's done.

Ready for a burger? Did you tell your man yet? "Honey, we're having REAL burgers for dinner..."

Basil Burgers with Mozzarella Cheese and Olive Salad


1 pound ground chuck
1 pound ground round/sirlion
Salt and black pepper to taste
1/2 cup loosely packed basil leaves, washed, dried, and finely chopped
1/3 cup grated pecorino romano/parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons pizza sauce (had some in the fridge and figured...why not?)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
8 slices mozarella/provolone cheese
1 beefsteak tomato, sliced into 8 rounds
8 hamburger buns, split and toasted


1 cup prepared olive relish/salad, (homemade or store bought), chopped

To make the burgers, combine the ground chuck, ground round/sirloin, salt, pepper, basil, cheese, pizza sauce, and balsamic vinegar in a large bowl. Pat the mixture flat and divide it into 4ths, then in 8ths with your hand or a knife.

Now, here's how to get perfect patties that are all the same size. Take the lid from a large jar of peanut butter:

Line it with plastic wrap, scoop up 1/8th of the meat mixture and pat it into your lid. If you have a kitchen scale, each patty will weigh between 5 and 6 ounces. I suppose you could use the scale in your bathroom if you have to...

Use the plastic wrap to turn it back out.

Isn't that great? The last step is to use your thumb to make an intention in the center of the patty about 1 inch across and 1 inch deep. This will keep the burger from getting a bulge in the middle as it cooks. You'll have a nice, thick, flat burger after you cook it.

After the patties are cooked (and I let the grill master in our house take care of that-- thanks David!), this is what they look like. Hope you have a big mouth...

To assemble, put the bottom half of the bun down, top with the burger, cheese, tomato, and olive salad.

David was busy boarding up the house from Hurricane Ike, and grilling at the same time, so I just served the burgers with some fries from the freezer. I figured it would be the vegetable for the night (lol), since only Rebecca and Gabriel like tomatoes. These burgers were really good; I didn't even put mustard or ketchup on mine. David did--but he's a condiment freak, and he has to have ketchup, mustard, BBQ sauce on everything. I've given up trying to tell him otherwise...

Have a real burger, and God bless your table tonight!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Indoor S'mores

In honor of Hurricane Ike (that doesn't sound right, does it?), we promised the kids we'd make s'mores over the gas range when the power goes out. I say "when," not "if," because we're certain we will lose power at some point. Right now, David is finishing up the work outside, boarding up the windows, bracing the garage doors, etc. so we'll be ready when the hurricane comes through. I am not thrilled about the thought of not being able to cook anything, but we have to make do, right? After all, there was a time when stoves were not around.

I am sure everyone knows how to make s'mores, so I'll just give you a couple of little tips, and let the pictures tell the rest. We use wooden skewers because a recycled wire hanger gets very hot, and I'd rather not let the kids handle hot metal. When you're using wooden skewers, make sure to soak them in water for 1/2 an hour before you use them. Otherwise, you'll have a nice burnt wood aftertaste along with your toasted marshmallows.

Indoor S'mores

1 box regular graham crackers (you can also use the cinnamon or chocolate graham crackers)
1 16 ounce bag of large marshmallows
1 package of milk chocolate bars, broken into squares (dark chocolate is really good too)
Large wooden skewers (soaked in water for 1/2 hour before using)

Fire up your gas range, or your fireplace. If you use the gas range, turn the flame down to low. It's good to have one adult sitting with the kids at all times (in our house, that's Daddy), and another adult handing out ingredients as necessary (aka, Mom). I like to arrange everything on a big platter so I can keep an eye on things (and keep the kids from snitching too much chocolate :-).
Toast the marshmallows to your liking...some like them brown, some like them burnt. We let the kids toast their own marshmallows, but help transfer them to a plate that is already set up with a graham cracker and a square of chocolate.

Nothing left to do but eat! This is one time where finger licking is allowed, and even encouraged. Who do you think likes s'mores the best in our house? Yep, that would be Gabriel! Can you even see the child under all the chocolate?

Stay safe everyone, and God bless your table tonight!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Fruit and Yogurt Smoothie

Like most people here, I was thrilled when we had a few days of lower temperatures AND low humidity. It doesn't mean I had good hair days, but it was lovely in the morning hours and I could send the kids outside without the fear of them passing out from heat exhaustion.

Well, the humidity came back a few days ago. Bummer. We have at least another month of 90 degree weather, so let's celebrate (lol) by making smoothies.

I really wish I had thought of this when I was pregnant with my last 3 babies. I know I could have kept a smoothie down, and even added some protein powder for extra nutrition. Anyone out there who's been pregnant will know what I mean, and I don't have to explain any further, right?

My smoothie run (which lasted 3 weeks--yes, I had a smoothie every morning for 3 weeks) started when the store had containers of blueberries for 99 cents a pint. What a deal! I bought 9 pints over the course of a week, and Gabriel probably ate 3 pints worth. Seriously, that baby was in blueberry heaven-- he couldn't get enough of them.

I made a blueberry cobbler with 3 pints, and was contemplating what to do with the rest. No way was I going to let them go to waste. I then remembered my MIL making a blueberry smoothie for herself last time she came for a visit. I pulled out my blender, put in some blueberries, added a container of low-fat peach yogurt, and a a handful of ice cubes.

The result? Mmmm....creamy, cold, and delicious. I had a couple of ripe mangoes to use up, so the next morning, I made a blueberry mango smoothie. Awesome. I quickly discovered almost any combination of fruit and yogurt would work. So you can really tailor this to your liking, and make it any way you want to.

You really need a good blender for this, one that crushes ice easily. If you don't have one, Christmas is right around the corner...

I think my favorite turned out to be a peach smoothie with low-fat white chocolate strawberry yogurt. I didn't even bother to peel the peaches, just threw 'em in skin-on. The prettiest was anything with fresh blueberries. I could kick myself for not taking a picture of one-- but I took a pic of a peach smoothie so you could see it. Anyway, here's the recipe. Oh, and Gabriel LOVED my smoothies. Every time I'd fire up the blender, he'd come running to beg :-)

Fruit and Yogurt Smoothie

1 6 ounce container of regular or low-fat fruit yogurt (your choice)
1/2 to 1 cup of fresh fruit of choice, sliced into bite-sized pieces (use seasonal fruit to save $)
8-10 ice cubes
A good blender, able to crush ice with a single push of a button
Put in the yogurt and fruit into the blender. Blend on "high" or "crush ice" for about 30 seconds. You make have to give your blender a little shake, or stop the blender, and push the ingredients down to get it combined. Once that is well blended, add your ice, and blend again for about 30 seconds to one minute, depending how powerful your blender is. Here's a picture of a peach smoothie, and one of my cute little begger, having his share. I made a strawberry one a few days later.

Pour into a tall glass, add a straw, and enjoy!

God bless your table tonight!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Roasted Pork Sandwich with Cilantro Mayo and Black Bean Salad

I had a nice big pork roast in the freezer, and was trying to figure out what to do with it. We'd had my Apricot Pork Tenderloin last week, and I didn't want to hear the kids to say, "Pork again ?" I had used a package of dry herb and garlic soup/dip mix before on a pork roast, so I rubbed that mixture all over the meat, slow roasted it, and stuck it in the fridge (you can roast it any way you want). Half of it went to my friend with a new baby, and I decided to make sandwiches with the rest. David bought sliced cheese for our beach trip, and we had some left over, and there were ciabatta rolls in the freezer. I try to use things we already have to put meals together; like most families, we don't want food to go to waste.

I remembered this salad when I was digging into my recipe box for a side dish to go with the sandwiches. This recipe was from a student in my first year of teaching class. As a wedding/end of the year present, all the kids compiled their favorite recipes in a pretty wooden recipe box, and each recipe card had their picture on it. The box has been in my kitchen ever since, and I love it.

This salad has a couple of other names I've heard over the years, "Confetti Salad," or "Texas Caviar." I'm sticking with "Black Bean Salad" just because. It's super easy to make, and it's best made early in the day or even the day before is fine. As it sits in the fridge and marinates, the flavor improves. I also love it because all the colors in the salad make for a pretty side dish.

A few tips when you're making this salad. Use just the cilantro leaves, wash, and dry them well before adding them to the bowl, this makes the dressing less watery. I also wash, core, and take the seeds out of the tomatoes so it doesn't water down the salad. Just use a little knife and cut out the core, then scrap out the seeds-- I do this right in the sink and let the disposal take care of the scraps. I use the little roma tomatoes because they're meatier and will hold up in the salad.

I also toasted my bread with just a little bit of butter... I think it just takes an ordinary bun to a higher level. And the cilantro mayo is just 4 ingredients, so don't be intimidated; it adds great flavor to the pork. Feel free to substitute any other kind of meat or cheese.

Roasted Pork Sandwich with Cilantro Mayo and Black Bean Salad


1 2-3 pound boneless pork loin, roasted the way you like it, thinly sliced
1/2 pound of sliced cheese (swiss, provolone, monterery jack, etc.)
1 beefsteak tomato, sliced
4 ciabatta rolls, or other sturdy bun/roll, toasted

1/3 cup mayo or miracle whip
4 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
Salt and black pepper to taste


1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (15 ounces) corn, drained
3 roma tomatoes, cored and chopped
1 small red onion, chopped
1 medium green pepper, chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
1/2 cup Italian dressing (light dressing works fine)
1/2 teaspooon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco/hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder

Combine all salad ingredients in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Serves 6-8 people.

For the cilantro mayo, combine the cilantro, mayo (we are not a mayo house, we like miracle whip), salt and pepper (to your taste) in a small bowl. Chill until needed.

For the sandwiches, on a toasted bun/roll, layer the cilantro mayo, pork, cheese, and tomatoes. If you have store-bought tomatoes, season them with a little salt and pepper, since they'll need it. Spread the cilantro mayo on the other side of the bun (or use some mustard like my husband did), cap the sandwich, and serve.

All my kids really liked the sandwich, and 2 of them liked the salad. For me, that's good enough.

God bless your table tonight!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Easy Eggplant Parmesan

I have a wonderful husband who can grow anything. He has a full vegetable and herb garden, and I love to harvest the fruits of his labor. Alas, I do not have a green thumb, and several plants have sucumbed under my neglect or complete lack of care.

This past summer, we had tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers, lettuce, onions, okra, peppers, and eggplant. At one point, everything else was stunted due to the heat, but the eggplant was still going strong. So I had gone out to the garden, picked three of these cute little eggplants, and thinking about how I was going to use them.

I know you can use eggplant to make a Middle Eastern dip called baba ghanoush, but I didn't have a reliable recipe for it. I do know how to make eggplant parmesan though. I also had pecorino romano cheese and some stale bread in the freezer I could use to make bread crumbs, so that pretty much sealed the deal. Eggplant parmesan for dinner!

This dish is a little complicated for a weeknight, but once the eggplant is picked, you really have to use it that day or the next. So while the little ones were napping, I grated my cheese, got all my ingredients together, and processed the stale bread.

I try to save leftover heels from bread, any kind of bread, let sit out until stale, and stash them in freezer. When I need bread crumbs, (and if I remember about the bread in the freezer), I pull out my mini food processor and blitz the bread up. I didn't have enough for this recipe, but I combined them with some store bought crumbs and it was just enough.

I have to put in a plug for 2 of my kitchen tools. I got my mini food processor years ago, and I love it. You have to get one of these things. It's perfect for small amounts, like herbs, stale bread, nuts, etc. The other tool is my microplane grater. I use it for garlic, ginger, citrus zest, and hard cheeses. It also came with a protective guard to cover the grating area when not in use-- a bonus with 4 kids around here. I don't want my kids to figure out how sharp it really is, because it can take off your fingertip if you're not careful.

Okay, now to prepare the eggplant. All you have to do is cut off the top and bottom (like you would an onion), and peel it with a vegetable peeler until all the purple skin is gone. Then slice into about 1/4 inch rounds. You don't have to be precise, it'll taste just fine once you fry it up.

I have made homemade marinara in the past, but that stopped about 2 kids ago. So just use your favorite store bought marinara, and no one will know the wiser. My personal favorite is Classico or Bertolli. When I have time, I'll go ahead and do the layering thing, but today I just wanted to make it simple. So here you go, easy eggplant parmesan.

Easy Eggplant Parmesan

2 medium or 3 small eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch rounds
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup grated parmigiano reggiano cheese (you can use regular parmesan, parm. reggiano is available everywhere, but the cheapest place is SAM'S Club)
2 cups (or more if necessary) fine dry Italian style bread crumbs
1 cup of all purpose flour

2 cups shredded mozarella cheese (Italian cheese blend is fine
Black pepper to taste
1 jar of prepared marinara sauce
Olive oil for frying

In a deep non-stick skillet, heat about 1/4 cup of olive oil. A cast iron skillet would work well here too. Just be sure to use a skillet with high sides, or you'll make a mess with hot oil (not good). In a shallow dish, beat your eggs with the parmigiano reggiano cheese and pepper to taste, and set aside. Put your bread crumbs and flour in 2 more shallow dishes. You're setting up a breading station here. When I do this, I put them on my counter, going left to right, flour, eggs, breadcrumbs, and then my cooktop is the last thing to the right of the breadcrumbs. This way, I minimize the mess and my pan is right there, ready to fry the eggplant up.

Take your eggplant and dip sparingly into the flour, tap off any excess. Do the same thing with the egg mixture and lastly, with the breadcrumbs. At this point, your oil should be nice and hot, but not smoking. If you let a drop of the eggs fall into the oil, you should hear it sizzle.

Place your eggplant rounds into the pan and let them fry for 2-3 minutes per side. If they are getting dark too quickly, your oil is too hot. If they are very pale and are absorbing a lot of oil, then you need to turn your heat up a little. This is what the eggplant should look like.

Be sure not to crowd the pan, you'll probably be able to fry 4-5 rounds at a time. When both sides are golden brown, take them out and let them drain on a cookie sheet lined with a couple of layers of paper towels. Then place the sheet in a 250 degree oven to keep warm while you finish frying the rest of the eggplant. After every couple of batches, you'll need to add more olive oil to your pan-- and give it a few minutes to get hot again before adding the eggplant.

On a serving platter, arrange the eggplant, spoon over some of the marinara (I just nucked some in the micorwave), and sprinkle with the mozarella cheese. I'm sorry I didn't have any basil at the time to garnish the plate.

The kids all tolerated it for one night, and told me they'd rather have something else the next night. David had his share when he got home from work, so I polished off the leftovers the following day for lunch, which I didn't mind one bit ;-)

Be brave and go fry up some eggplant! God bless your table tonight!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Spinach Salad with Roasted Salmon and Potatoes

Okay, I'll be 100% honest...my kids don't care much for fish. If it's fried, they love it. We can take them to the fish fry during Lent every year, and they chow down. But if I try to serve fish without breading on it, everyone except Rebecca will complain. So like most moms, I keep a bag of fish sticks in the freezer, and add a healthy vegetable, but I still cook fish fillets for David. I am trying to cook fish/vegetarian every Friday, but I do come up short sometimes.

Now I know what you're thinking... I don't know how to clean and prep fish. It's really easy. If you just can't bring yourself to do it, ask the nice guy behind the fish counter to skin the fish and cut it into portions for you. I go to only one grocery store to buy fish-- the people behind the counter recognize me, and they'll always portion my order if I ask them to. I try to buy the fish in the seafood case when it's on sale because it's fresher and it tastes better than the fish in the freezer section. My mom used to cook the whole fish-- and I've never done that. If you buy the fish ready to go, there's no reason why you can't make this dish.

This recipe is very easy and really healthy. All you people out there with doctors ordering you to eat better and get your heart healthy Omega 3's, this one's for you.

I changed one ingredient from the original recipe. I don't use arugula because it's always more expensive, and it's peppery, which some people like, but I don't like my salad greens that way. I substituted spinach instead because it's always available and good for you too. If you don't like spinach, you can use a leaf lettuce-- green, red, Boston, etc. Just don't use iceberg, it's too bland to stand up to the salmon and potatoes. I also cut back a little on the vinegar-- I thought it made the dressing too acidic. Next time I make this, I want to try balsamic vinegar, since it's a bit sweeter. One more thing...the easiest way to cut up chives is to use a pair of kitchen shears/scissors. If you do use a knife and cutting board, be prepared for flying chives.

Spinach Salad with Roasted Salmon and Potatoes

1 pound of new red potatoes, scrubbed clean and cut into quarters
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 pound skinless salmon fillet
2 tablespoons white/red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1/4 cup fresh snipped chives
1 10 ounce bag of baby spinach

First, if you are like me and buy the salmon skin on, you'll need to clean off the scales. I buy salmon with the skin on because it is much easier to cook that way. The skin keeps the flesh together, and it won't all fall apart on you as you're trying to flip it, turn it, etc. Once it's cooked, the skin comes off easily, so you don't have to eat it if you don't like it.

Take the fillet and hold it in the sink, and turn your water on so you have a slow, steady stream. Use a sharp knife and scrap off all the scales away from you. The water will help wash away the scales. This will get a little messy, so take your time. The scales are shiny, so just look over the whole fillet when you're done to make sure there aren't any shiny spots left. Here's a picture I took after I cleaned one fillet. I couldn't take one while I was scrapping because I needed both hands. The fillet on the left has been cleaned, and the fillet on the right still has the scales on.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a piece of aluminum foil. Put the potatoes on the baking sheet and toss with one tablespoon of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Roast the potatoes for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, season the salmon with salt and pepper. (Sometimes, I drizzle the fish with just a tad of olive oil too). Now you can make the dressing. In a bowl, whisk the rest of the olive oil, (2 tablespoons), the vinegar, mustard, and chives together. Add salt and pepper to taste, and set aside.

After ten minutes, take the potatoes out, and push them over so you have room to put the salmon down. Put the potatoes and salmon (skin side down) back in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until the fish flakes easily with a fork and the potatoes are tender. The fish should look opaque, and the potatoes will be a nice golden brown.

On a large plate, arrange a nice big handful of spinach. Take the salmon and break it into large pieces with a fork. Top the spinach with some of the salmon and potatoes, and drizzle over some of the dressing.

This recipe makes 4 servings, so if you're making this for 4, just divide everything between 4 plates. The kids had leftovers, so I make a plate for David and I, and we'll have enough for dinner tomorrow night too.

God Bless your table tonight!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Cherry Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Glaze

Make a cake in the middle of the week? Yes, you can. I got a new cookbook from my BIL and SIL for my birthday, The Cake Mix Doctor, and it has 150 cake recipes that use a regular cake mix you'd buy at the grocery store. Well, that sounds pretty simple, right?

I often read the introduction to cookbooks because the author may share a few tried and true tips that I might not already know. I was particularly glad I did this time. Anne Byrn emphasized most of the recipes in her book call for a cake mix without pudding. The pudding adds moisture to the cake, but if you're adding other ingredients, it will make the cake too wet, cause too much shrinkage, etc.

I went to my pantry and pulled out the three boxes of cake mix I had and read the fronts very carefully. Darn...all three had pudding in the mix! But upon further reading, all was not lost. Several of the recipes called for a plain cake mix or pudding in the mix. Okay, I was in business.

The Chocolate cake chapter looked the most promising, so I started looking at all the recipes to see which one I could use, since all I had was a pudding cake mix. Hmmm.....

Here's the result. I did change the recipe a bit. I had a triple chocolate, "pudding in the mix" cake mix, so I used that instead of a plain devil's food cake mix. I used the almond extract, but you could use cherry liquor instead of the almond extract for a more grown-up taste. I left the cake in the pan instead of turning it out, (didn't want to clean up another mess) and poked holes in the cake with a wooden skewer so the glaze would soak into the cake. There was plenty of glaze left on the top. Lastly, I had some red sugar left over from last year's Christmas cookies, so I sprinkled it on top to make the cake look pretty. I think the crunch of the sugar was a nice contrast to the creamy frosting.

This was done, start to finish in under 45 minutes. So make one tonight for the kids and hubby. My kids ate it up, and David had I don't know how many pieces... maybe 3.

Cherry Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Glaze


Vegetable oil cooking spray for the baking pan
1 box triple chocolate, pudding in the mix cake mix (or plain devil's food cake mix)
1 can of cherry pie filling (21 ounces)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure almond extract (or cherry liquor)


1 cup sugar
1/3 cup unsalted butter
1/3 milk
1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and place a rack in the center of your oven. Spray the bottom and sides of your baking pan with the cooking spray and set aside.

In a stand mixer or a hand-held mixer, blend the cake mix, cherry pie filling, eggs, and almond extract on low speed for one minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes more. Pour the batter (it will be thick) into the pan and smooth the top.

Bake for about 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Remove pan and let cool while you make the glaze.

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, butter and milk, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir constantly to ensure all the sugar has dissolved. Take off the heat and stir in the chocolate chips. Keep stirring until all the chocolate has melted and the glaze is nice and smooth. Poke holes all over the cake with a wooden skewer and pour the glaze over the cake. Let the glaze settle and cool for about 5 minutes, then sprinkle with red sugar.

This cake turned out moist and very chocolatey. David and I fought over the edge pieces because there was more glaze on them, since the cake had pulled away from the pan while it baked--yum. All the desert plates were licked clean, let me tell you!

You can't go wrong with a great chocolate cake. God bless your table tonight!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Popeye Didn't Have it Like This...

I had a side of spinach about a year ago at a restaurant, and it was so good, I had to try and recreate it at home. After a bit of tweaking, I discovered the secret was to cook the garlic in olive oil for a minute so the oil would really pick up the garlic flavor. But you have to be careful, you want to color the garlic, not burn it. Burnt garlic is not good, it is bitter and will ruin whatever you're making. If you burn it accidently, you'll need to start over.

Simple Sauteed Spinach with Garlic

1 large bag of prewashed spinach, about 10 ounces
2 large or 3 medium cloves of fresh garlic, thinly sliced
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

In a large non-stick skillet heat the olive oil over medium low heat. Add your garlic, and let it simmer in the olive oil for about 2 minutes. Do not leave it! You want the garlic a nice light golden brown color. Add the spinach in batches, and stir gently. It will take just a couple of minutes to wilt down--it looks like a lot, but trust me, it will wilt down to nothing. Keep adding spinach until you have used the entire bag. Add your salt and pepper to taste. When you add the last bit, remove the skillet from the heat and stir until all the spinach has been incorporated. The spinach should be limp, but not completely mushy looking, and a nice bright green. Serve immediately.

I had about 6 ounces of spinach so it made just enough for 2 people. If you need to make more, (4 servings) you'll probably need 2 ten ounce bags of spinach. Honestly, only David and I eat this, but I can't imagine eating spinach out of a can...yuck. This is much better.

Hope you give this a try. God Bless your table tonight!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Apricot Pork Tenderloin

This is the easiest recipe ever. Seriously...it looks like you worked on it all day, but it is ready to go in 5 minutes. I make this all the time, especially for any moms with new babies. I try to buy the pork whenever it's on sale, and keep them in the freezer so I always have one on hand.
The one tool you really should have before you make this is an instant read meat thermometer. If you don't have one, go buy one. You'll find them at Walmart, Linens and Things, etc. Lining the pan with heavy duty foil really saves on cleanup, 'cause no mom I know has time to stand at the sink and scrub for forever.

Apricot Pork Tenderloin

2 pork tenderloins (usually sold 2 per package)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 slices uncooked bacon (not turkey bacon, use the real stuff)
4-6 tablespoons apricot preserves (peach preserves works well too)
1 small onion, halved and thinly sliced.

Take the pork out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature. This will take about 30 minutes. Cold meat seizes up when you cook it, so it's a good idea to take some of the chill out of it first. You can do this if you're grilling meat, sauteing it... you get the idea.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Yes, 500, this is not a typo. Pork tenderloin is very lean, and cooking it quickly at a high temperature keeps the meat from drying out, otherwise you will have a pork brick.

Season the pork with a little salt and some pepper. Keep in mind the bacon is salty, so you want to go easy on the salt. The tenderloins are thick on one end and thinner on the other end-- so tuck about 2 inches of the thinner end under. This helps the whole piece cook evenly. Wrap each tenderloin with 3 strips of bacon. Spread 2 tablespoons of preserves over the top of the pork (or more if you'd like), and lay 1/2 the onion over each tenderloin. Place in a 9x13 baking dish lined with heavy duty foil. (*Don't use those disposable aluminum pans for his recipe. They can only withstand temperatures around 400 degrees. So use a nice heavy metal/glass pan).

Check on your roast about halfway through. If the onions are getting to dark for your liking (they may very well even burn just a little, which we like, but you may not). Just cover the pan with some foil, and proceed, no problem. My onion slices are small because we still have a stash of onions David harvested 2 months ago. They are smaller than the onions you'd find in the store, so that's why they look little.

Roast the meat for about 25-30 minutes or until an instant read thermometer reads 140-145 when inserted into the thickest part of the pork. Don't go stabbing it in over and over, you'll lose juices, which will result in a dry roast. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing--this relaxes the meat and helps all the juices redistribute. If you've put your thermometer in, keep it in the meat after you take it out, again, so you don't loose juices. The temperature may rise 5-10 degrees while it's resting, which is normal, so don't worry.
We usually serve this with a side of rice or bread, and a vegetable/salad. Tonight I had a bag of spinach I needed to use up, so I made side of sauteed spinach. I'll post the recipe for it tomorrow.
Hope you enjoy!
God bless your table tonight!

My Kitchen Staff, Food Critics, and Cleaning Crew

Well, these all happen to be my FIVE fantastic kids! From left to right, we have:

Joshua (12), Christina (7), Theresa (6 months), Gabriel (4), and Rebecca (9)

Here's a picture of my handsome husband in a apron. Yes, men can wear aprons too! 

David will eat anything I make-- and I love him enough to cook for him as much as possible.

Admittedly, my two younger children don't have any real kitchen duties, but the older three set, clear, wipe, and sweep under the kitchen table nearly every night.  Everyone should have 5 kids. It means more help!

Now, I promise you I have normal kids. They all have their likes and dislikes. Joshua loves all the usual kid foods (pizza, chicken nuggets, french fries), and eats ketchup by the gallon (just like his Dad). He also likes most vegetables and fruits, thank goodness. Rebecca is the same way, only she has a more refined tongue. She likes broccoli, shrimp, sushi, and will try anything. We fight over leftovers, and she always asks for a bite of whatever I'm snacking on.
Christina is the child I try not to despair over. She eats 2 meals a day (breakfast and lunch), and we have to coax her to eat dinner nearly every night.  She is addicted to applesauce, and will not touch a single vegetable--green, yellow, orange, or any other color. Only recently has she decided to eat baby carrots and zucchini cakes...and only with ranch dressing.  See, I told you I have normal kids. Gabriel is our eating machine! He will eat anything I give him. He adores peas, blueberries, beans, rice, cheese, and grapes, and you can't open the freezer and take out the ice cream without him noticing. And then you'd better give him some, or he'll protest (loudly, I might add), until you give him his fair share :-).

Our little Theresa is eating some solids...all homemade baby food that I'm so proud of myself for making.  It has saved us money, and really doesn't take as much time as you think.  So far, our baby girl has eaten everything I've offered her on a spoon. :-)

Now, for the first recipe! I wanted to make one of our favorite dishes...
I'll make it today and post the recipe tonight or tomorrow.
God Bless your table tonight!

Update July 2011

Monday, September 1, 2008

Come on into my kitchen

I am so excited to start this blog. I love to cook, I’m a foodie (at least, I’m pretty sure I am), and have always wanted to share my recipes, thoughts, tips, and tricks with others.

My goal for this blog is to make simple, delicious, mostly healthy food your family (and your kids) will actually eat. I love watching cooking shows, and too many times I see recipes I’d love to try, but there’s no way my kids would eat it, and I don’t want to invest in an expensive bottle of white truffle oil. There’s a certain woman (y’all know who I’m talking about) out there who is famous for making "30 minute meals." But I’ll bet she’s never made a meal AND had four kids running through the kitchen at the same time. I plan to post meals that don’t have a zillion, fancy, ingredients, using items easily found at your local grocery store, and not require special equipment or a pan that costs $50 (which you’d only use for one recipe).

Before I post my first recipe, I thought I should tell you a little bit about me.
I grew up as an Army Brat and by the time I was eighteen, I’d live in 4 different states (Georgia, North Carolina, Hawaii, and Texas), and 3 foreign countries (Germany, Italy, and Japan). I’d visited countless other places too; other states, (New York, California, New Mexico), and several other countries (the Netherlands, Taiwan, Holland, Mexico). My dad made sure we saw as much as we could as kids.

Consequently, we tried eating (okay, sometimes we were coerced into) many different kinds of food. I distinctly remember eating escargot on toast points at the tender age of 6, and thinking it wasn’t half-bad. Then I graduated to squid, oysters, mussels, and shrimp. And yes I like sushi too, but not sashimi. That’s the rice with the raw fish on top, and no, I don’t particularly care for it. But I love Asian food, thanks to countless meals of stir-fry with rice and other delectable Chinese fare served by my mother growing up. Sadly, I barely know how to make edible Chinese food—my mother didn’t write anything down, it was "all in her head." Someday, I’m going to remedy that. But for now, onward!

Favorite cuisine, that’s really hard for me, because I really like everything. Italian is probably my favorite, but close behind is Chinese, Mexican, Japanese, and Lebanese food. I just love to stir a pot of soup when it’s cold and rainy outside. Favorite foods… cheese, chocolate, Cheetos, a bowl of sesame noodles, yeah…that is what I crave sometimes. Maybe I’m a bit addicted, but when you have a family, food is as good as therapy, not just what you put on the table every night. Let’s see…anything else? Oh yes, I’ll try just about anything, but will not eat anything raw. Period. I like my food dead, not wiggling…dead. And cooked, thank you very much.

Favorite celebrity chef, hands down, Paula Deen. Why? Because she’s from Georgia (where I was born), and she is the epitome of a Southern cook. I aspire to be like her (but I’ll cut back on the butter when I can). I watch her every once in a blue moon, and I love it when she says, "Hey y’all!" It brings tears to my eyes sometimes. I know, I know, I’m weird that way. I’ve lived in Texas 18 years, and I LOVE Texas. But you can’t take Georgia off my mind, so don’t even try!

I also hope this blog will actually help me use the cookbooks and periodicals I’ve amassed over the past 12 years. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but my collection is so big, there’s no room for it in the kitchen, it takes up 3 shelves in my husband’s study instead.

See what I mean?

A few months ago, I actually stopped all my cooking magazine subscriptions. Yes, I’m still suffering from withdrawal. But I figured I had to stop accumulating and use what I actually have. Now I’ll be forced to go through it all while looking for recipes to post.

Okay, everyone ready? Here we go. I’ve seen a few blogs with a new post every day, but I am not that ambitious. I’ll try to post once or twice a week, but my hubby and 4 chitin’s come first, so please be patient with me. If you get stuck, let me know, and I’ll pull the pan out the fire for you. I’ll do the best I can, and try not to sweat the small stuff.

Oh, and one more thing… don’t be afraid. If I can make it, so can you… and I’m not a pro, trust me. Just a wife and mother trying to get the food out without going crazy!