Monday, December 24, 2007

Holiday Greetings from San Diego

We're spending the holiday vacation in two places - first, we're at Santee Lakes Preserve, camped right on a small lake that's part of a 7-lake system in northeast San Diego. The temps are much warmer here than back home in the mountains - it was shorts weather today while we toured the Midway aircraft carrier. Don's spent lots of hours fishing (not catching - just fishing), and I've been able to relax, stitch, play on the computer, read, and not think about work.

This is the view out my back window. That's one of the things I love about this trailer's floorplan - the rear kitchen and a window to see what's behind us.

Just before we left to come on this trip, I received a statement from STRS (State Teachers' Retirement System), which predicted what I'll be making when I retire. It's considerably less than what I'm making now, and Don and I had a long talk about how we can plan even better than we have. The first thing we're doing is "practicing." I've been looking at websites about cutting grocery bills, and will be trying to implement some of the strategies I've learned about. One strategy is finding the "loss leaders" at the grocery stores. I learned that the front and back pages of the grocery store ads are where the loss leaders are found, and that I shouldn't even look at the inside pages. Another strategy is to locate the "manager's specials," which can range from specials that aren't in the ad to meats just at the edge of their expiration dates. Our local Vons store always has manager's specials on meats, and I make it a point to see what's available. Thursday I found a fabulous bargain on pork. They had a package that had a pork roast, about 8 inches long, then 14 thin boneless pork chops, and 6 1 1/2" thick pork chops. The total value of the package, which was originally a large boneless pork loin, was $35.00. They had marked it down to $11.46. Wow! I'm going to get 9 meals out of it, since the roast will make two different meals. I cooked two of the thicker chops first.

This recipe is an adaptation of one I've tried in the past, and we decided that we like this version the best of all.

Spicy Orange-Glazed Pork Chops

2 boneless pork chops, cut 3/4 to 1" thick
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
½ cup orange juice
2 tablespoon orange marmalade
2 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon vinegar
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
½ cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon cornstarch, mixed with 2 tablespoons water

Sprinkle chops lightly with salt and pepper; dredge in flour. Heat oil in a heavy skillet; brown pork chops on both sides. Combine remaining ingredients, mixing well. Pour over chops. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10-15 minutes. Liquid will form a glaze. Turn chops to coat, and remove them to a plate. Cover with foil to keep warm. Add 1/2 cup chicken broth to mixture, followed by cornstarch and water mixture. Cook, stirring, until mixture thickens. Serve sauce over pork and cooked rice. Serves 2.

Breakfast this morning was a variation of sausage-egg casserole. I made it in muffin cups using refrigerated flaky biscuits. I think it came out pretty nicely, and they sure did taste good!

Sausage-Egg Breakfast Muffins

1 5-count roll flaky biscuits (they have to be the flaky ones)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, divided
6 oz. (about 1/3 of a 1-pound roll) pork breakfast sausage
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 375˚. Separate layers of flaky biscuits and place them in pairs in 6 muffin tins sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Since there are 5 biscuits and 6 tins, you'll need to "borrow" some layers from the others to make up the 6th one. When you put them in the tins, stand them on end, bottoms touching, and press to form cups. Sprinkle the bottoms of the cups with half of the cheese. In a skillet, saute onion and sausage together, breaking up sausage as it cooks. Stir in mustard. Break eggs into sausage, and continue to cook and mix until eggs are done. Divide mixture into muffin cups and top with the remaining cheese. Bake in preheated oven 17 minutes or until bread is golden and cheese is melted. Makes 6.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Surprisingly Good Chicken!

I've had this recipe in my files for a while now, and decided to give it a try the other night. I had some turnips I wanted to cook, and so I needed a sweeter main dish to contrast with the pungency of the turnips.

Apple Chicken

1 Tablespoon olive oil
2-3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut and pounded to uniform thickness
salt and pepper
2 Tablespoons butter, divided
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 apple, peeled, cored, and diced (any kind will do)
1 4-oz. can apple juice (equal to 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 Tablespoon lemon juice

Heat oil in a skillet to rippling hot over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper and add to skillet. Brown about 2 minutes on one side, add 1 tablespoon of the butter and turn. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook about 8 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken and keep warm. Deglaze the skillet with the vinegar. Add apple, apple juice, and chicken broth. Cook over medium heat until juices reduce and thicken, about 4-5 minutes. Add lemon juice and other tablespoon butter; when butter melts pour mixture over breasts. (There will be almost no liquid left.) Serves 2-3.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

It's Candy Making Time

My husband's favorite treat is peanut brittle, and I really hate paying the high prices to buy it already-made. This recipe is so easy! You make it in a microwave! I've made it dozens of times, and only once did I cook it too long, and that was when I bought a new microwave that was higher wattage than the previous one. Once I made the adjustment in time, I was back to perfect peanut brittle. I got the recipe from a woman I used to know about 25 years ago, so it's named after her.

Delilah's Peanut Brittle
Make this in a microwave!
Times are for a 1200-watt microwave. Add 1 minute to each segment for 800-watt ovens.

1/3 cup white corn syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup dry-roasted peanuts
1 teaspoon butter
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda

Spray a baking sheet with butter-flavored nonstick cooking spray (or use regular butter). In a 4-cup Pyrex measuring cup, combine corn syrup and sugar. Microwave on HIGH 3 minutes. Add peanuts and microwave on HIGH 2 minutes. Add butter and vanilla, and microwave on HIGH 1 minute. Stir in baking soda, and quickly pour out on greased baking sheet. Spread it out if it looks thick. (It'll look like you ruined it at first, but it regains its rounded shape as it cools.) Once it's hard, after about 5 minutes, break into small pieces.

Since we need to make a thank-you/Christmas gift for our neighbor Carol (for watching our newspapers and house when we go camping), I thought I'd make her some chocolate bark. I received some of this last year in a foodie exchange, and it's now a favorite that I'll make every holiday season. It's very easy to make, and you can get the cherries, pistachios, and milk chocolate chips at Trader Joe's.

Cherry-Pistachio Bark
This recipe makes a lot, so it can be easily halved.

3 8-oz bars semi-sweet/bittersweet chocolate (I used Ghirardelli's)
1 12-oz. bag milk chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 8-oz. bag dried Montmorency cherries
1 cup chopped pistachio meats, divided
In a bowl over simmering water, melt chocolates together with vanilla. Add cherries and 2/3 cup of the pistachios. Spread mixture on waxed paper, using an offset spatula to make it of uniform thickness. Sprinkle with remaining pistachios. Place in refrigerator or freezer till it hardens (takes only about 10 minutes). Break into small pieces.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Now THIS is a Grilled Cheese Sandwich

I don't remember where I first had one of these, but it was back in Theresa's soccer days so it was a long time ago. The combination of flavors intrigued me, and now I make it often because we like it so much. Our local Vons store has the best bread - it's a multi-grain bread with a sourdough base, so it crisps up beautifully when you grill it.

Southwestern Grilled Turkey Sandwich

For one sandwich, lightly butter one side of a piece of sourdough and place it on a hot griddle. Layer with swiss cheese, sliced avocado, sliced turkey (smoked or regular), and some diced green chilies (from a can). Top with another slice of lightly buttered bread. Grill on both sides.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Get Ready for Thursday Soup or Stew Nights Again!

Beginning in January, I'll be hosting Thursday Soup or Stew Nights again on "Ruminations." All you'll need to do is cook up some soup or stew, post about it on your blog, and then let me know by 9-ish Thursday night that you've done so. I'll do a roundup with a link back to your blog and recipe, and I'll include a pic of your completed dish. In honor of the return of the event, I made some soup - and had just a small bowl (Don had two large bowls!) since it was so rich.

Baked Potato Soup

3 large baking potatoes
5-6 green onions
3 tablespoon butter
¼ cup flour
1 8 oz. carton heavy (whipping) cream
5 cups milk
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream
⅓ cup real bacon bits

Bake the potatoes (70 minutes at 350˚). This can be done the day before, and potatoes can be stored in the refrigerator until ready to use. Cut them in half, and scoop out the potatoes from the skins. Chop one of the skins up and set aside.

Thinly slice the green onions, separating the white parts from the green.
Melt butter with white part of green onions over medium heat. Cook, stirring with a wire whisk, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle with flour, and cook, stirring, another few minutes until mixture is pale golden. Add cream, milk, white pepper and salt, and continue to stir while cooking over medium heat. Add potato, chopped potato skin, green onions, sour cream and bacon. Gradually add grated cheese, and stir until all cheese is melted.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Alanna's Turnips and Carrots - Wow!

Any time I need a new or different vegetable recipe, the first place I go is Alanna's A Veggie Venture. This time I wasn't even looking for a turnip recipe, but this one caught my eye, since I had turnips in the fridge. The main reason I tried it was because of the cute photo of the two 7-year-olds enjoying it. I figured if 7-year-olds liked it, I probably would too. I made just a little bit - it's only Don and me - and we ate all of it. So the amounts below reflect what I made; if you want Alanna's original recipe, go here. I don't have a picture because I've misplaced my camera! Ack!

Alanna's Glazed Turnips and Carrots

1 large turnip, peeled and trimmed and cut in 3/4" cubes
1 1/2 cups baby carrots, sliced at various angles - try to make them about the same size as the turnips
2 tsp butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/3 cup chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tsp lemon juice

In a large nonstick skillet with a cover, melt the butter. When it's melted, swirl to coat. Add the turnips and carrots in an even layer, stirring to coat, then let cook undisturbed for 4 minutes. Stir again, let cook another 4 minutes. Add the broth, brown sugar, and lemon zest and stir to coat. Cover, reduce heat to medium and simmer until vegetables are just tender, about 8 minutes. Uncover and increase heat to high. Let cook, stirring frequently until liquid cooks down to a glaze. This only takes a minute or two. Stir in lemon juice and serve immediately. Serves 2

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Getting Your Veggies for Breakfast

I love Jimmy Dean sausage. I won't eat any other brand, except for the occasional Costco links that my husband likes. But he likes Jimmy Dean, too, especially in biscuits and gravy. Once in a while I like a good breakfast or brunch strata. This one seemed like a good one to make this morning since we have our first snow and the oven helps warm up the house.

Sausage-Spinach Breakfast Casserole

1 1/2 cups lowfat milk
4 eggs
2 egg whites
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
9 slices whole grain bread, cubed
6 oz (approximately 1/3 of a 1-pound roll) Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 10-oz. box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese, divided

Preheat oven to 375˚. Spray a 9 x 9" or 11 x 17" baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, egg whites, salt, pepper, cayenne, and nutmeg. Add bread cubes and toss to coat. Let sit while you prepare the rest.
In a skillet, crumble the sausage and sauté with the onion and garlic until meat is browned. Add to egg-bread mixture along with the spinach and 1/2 cup of the cheese. Stir until well-mixed and pour into prepared baking dish. Bake 30 minutes. Top with remaining cheese and bake another 5 minutes. Let stand 5-10 minutes before serving. Serves 6.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Have You Ever Tried Greek Yogurt?

While I was getting a pedicure the other day I was leafing through Food and Wine magazine, which someone had brought to the shop and left. I came across a recipe for pasta with zucchini, and the sauce was made with Greek yogurt. Having never eaten Greek yogurt before, I decided to give it a try. So off to Trader Joe's I went, and found a small container. I decided to change the recipe by adding some chicken, since I know my husband really likes meat. I used only one chicken breast, which ended up being just right. The Greek yogurt (to me) looks and tastes just like sour cream - so I might continue buying it. The sauce in this dish ended up reminding me somewhat of the sauce for Fettuccine Alfredo - but much lighter. This is a recipe we'll definitely have again!

Bowtie Pasta with Chicken and Zucchini
Adapted from Food and Wine

1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
a couple dashes of Famous Dave's Chicken Seasoning
8 oz. bowtie (Farafelle) pasta
2 medium zucchini, shredded
2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese plus more for serving
dash nutmeg
salt and pepper

First, prepare the chicken. Split the boneless breast and sprinkle with a very small amount of Chicken Seasoning. Grill (outside or on a grill pan or electric grill) until done. Cut in small pieces.
Meanwhile, bring several quarts of salted water to a boil. Add pasta. Shred zucchini. About a minute before the pasta is ready, add zucchini to the pot. Cook about a minute; drain.
In a large skillet, melt butter. Remove from heat. Add yogurt, Parmesan cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Mix well. Turn heat back on to medium-low, and add chicken and pasta-zucchini mixture. Toss to combine and heat slowly. Serve with more Parmesan cheese. Serves 4.