Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Do You Bento?

"Bento" in Japanese translates roughly to "box lunch." It's the concept of assembling a meal that is pleasing to the eye as well as the taste buds. Bento boxes are the different kinds of containers used to take the lunch in, and these come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. There are also all kinds of accessories - from egg and rice molds to little bottles for sauces to fake grass dividers and more. I now have 4 bento containers - I needed them for the different kinds of lunches I bring to the office. If you want to see different bentos and accessories, go to ebay, type in "bento." It's amazing what you'll see. If you want tutorials, resource information, recipes, and more, go to Lunch in a Box - Biggie's blog is the best I've seen for information and ideas. If you want to see lots of pictures of different bentos (with food in them) go to Bento Lunches - that's a community of numerous bento users who post all about their bentos.

What's in the Box?

This is the first bento I got-and the largest. It came from a bento store on ebay. It can hold lunch for two, or both breakfast and lunch. Today it was the latter. Top left is an egg, sausage & cheese on a multigrain English muffin, and bottom left is a banana. That was breakfast. Lunch is crackers and cheese (top right), mini-sausages and barbecue sauce (bottom right), and blackberries. They're still frozen in the picture, but by lunch they're thawed. The little green container the sausages are in is a rectangular silicone muffin cup, available in packages of 12 at JoAnn for $9.99, and since I used a 40%-off coupon, they cost only $6. The little heart box holds barbecue sauce, and I got 12 of them at Big Lots for $1.99. I can use them for sauces, syrup, and other small items.

This is a microwave-safe box, which I can use for leftover one-dish meals. I got this one on ebay.

This is a two-tiered box, with a little third compartment for chopsticks, a napkin, or flatware. I used it last week for a sweet potato, a container of syrup and nuts for the potato, a hard-boiled egg, and some grape tomatoes. I got this one on ebay.

This is my newest bento. It's a single-tier box, with chopsticks in the lid and a bag for carrying it. I plan to use it for salads. I got this one at Mitsuwa in Little Tokyo last Friday.

At Mitsuwa, I also picked up some Haiga rice and some soy sauce. I have absolutely no idea what kind of soy sauce this is, but the shopper who was helping says it's one of the better-quality ones. She says it's made with a better soy bean.

The Haiga rice is something I've been wanting to try. It's a short-grain white rice, but is a fully-milled kernel that still has the rice germ. It tastes and cooks similar to Japanese rice, yet preserves many of the kernel's natural vitamins and other nutrients. It also has more fiber than white rice, making it sort of a cross between white and brown rice. It can also cook up well for making onigiri - next on my list of things to try!

So, do you bento? (Yes, I know it's not a verb, but let's pretend it is!) Let me know if you also have bento boxes and what you put in them.

Ham & Spinach Pasta

This might have been a recipezaar recipe - I forgot to note where I got it in my files. Don really liked this one - he's a pasta-lover. I liked the spinach in it, and think that it needs more ham.

8 ounces dried mostaccioli pasta or ziti pasta or elbow macaroni (I used Dreamfields)
3 tablespoons margarine
3 medium onions, cut into thin wedges (about 3 cups) or 5 medium leeks, sliced (about 3 cups)
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
⅛ teaspoon pepper
1 ½ cups half-and-half or light cream or milk
1 ½ cups chicken broth
1 ½ cups cooked ham, cubed
1 (10 ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained

1. Cook pasta according to package. Drain and rinse.
2. In large saucepan melt margarine. Add onion or leeks and garlic. Cover and cook about 5 mins or till onions are tender, stirring occasionally.
3. Stir in flour, thyme, and pepper.
4. Add half and half, light cream, or milk and the chicken broth all at once.
5. Cook and stir til thick and bubbly. Cook and stir for 1 minute more.
6. Stir in pasta, ham, and spinach.
7. Spoon mixture into a 3 quart casserole.
8. Cover and bake 30-35 mins at 350 or until heated through. Let stand 5 minutes. Stir gently before serving.

This is for Ruth's Presto Pasta Night!

Peanut Butter Muffins - Your advice needed

I made these muffins the other day using a recipe I got from Nic of Baking Bites. Her recipe called for all-purpose flour; I substituted half of it with white whole wheat flour. I also used Splenda Brown Sugar Blend, following the directions for its use by using half of the amount in the original recipe for regular brown sugar.

They were absolutely wonderful out of the oven - but within a day, they were very dry. How do I make them moist when I substitute like that?

PB & J Muffins

from Nic of Baking Bites

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup brown sugar
6 tbsp butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
approx 1/3 cup jam (any kind. I like raspberry)

Preheat oven to 375F and line a muffin tin with paper liners.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and brown sugar.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter, peanut butter, eggs and milk until smooth. Pour into flour mixture and stir until just combined.
Fill each cup of the prepared muffin tin about halfway up with batter. Top each with a heaping teaspoon of jam and cover with remaining batter. Each muffin cup (of a standard 12-cup muffin tin) should be filled to the top.
Bake for 17-20 minutes, until a tester comes out clean and the top of the muffin springs back when lightly pressed.
Cool on a wire rack.

Makes 12.
(I made 36 mini-muffins and 6 large ones)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

"Downtown, Where All the Lights are Bright..."

Last year, due to some political issues, CTA moved its quarterly State Council meeting to downtown Los Angeles. This was my first time to go, as I'm an alternate now by choice. There's something about downtown that's magical to me. Maybe it's because I live in a cabin in the mountains. Maybe it's because I'm used to suburban and rural living. But when I stepped out of the Westin Bonaventure Friday night to walk to dinner, I thought this view was just beautiful. Most of the skyscrapers are to the left, out of the picture, but the sight of all the taillights on one-way Figueroa was pretty nice. I'm guessing that this is a combination of going-home traffic and people heading to the Garth Brooks concert at the Staples center, less than a mile down the street on the right.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Not Much Going On

No Thursday Soup or Stew tonight - only one person sent me a recipe. I may have to give this up. Let me know what you want me to do. Should I keep on doing this event?

I'm going out of town for the weekend, then Sunday night our daughter's treating us to Brad Garrett (brother Robert from "Everybody Loves Raymond) at the casino where she works. I've heard he has a great standup routine.

Then Monday, she's having another medical procedure in Irvine.

I'll be back!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Pork Roast with Honey, Garlic, & Sage

No pic tonight. I forgot to take one! I did this in my clay cooker; the one I have is glazed on the bottom, so you only have to soak the lid.

Pork Roast with Honey, Garlic, and Sage

1 2-3 pounds pork sirloin roast
2 Tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoon lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 Tablespoon fresh sage, minced
2 teaspoon crumbled dried sage
½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
2 Tablespoon honey

Original Directions: Heat oven to 400˚. Line shallow roasting pan with foil for easy cleanup. Place pork in pan. In small bowl, stir together oil, lemon juice, garlic, sage and pepper; brush over top and sides of pork roast. Roast for 30-45 minutes; brush honey over top and sides of pork. Roast for 20-30 minutes more, until internal temperature, measured with a meat thermometer, reads 155˚.

My Directions: Soak lid of clay cooker in a sink full of water at least 30 minutes. (If you're using a Romertof, soak both pieces.) Place pork roast in bottom. Combine olive oil, lemon juice, sage, and pepper; pour evenly over roast. Put lid on cooker, place in cold oven. Turn heat on to 400˚. Cook 45 minutes. Drizzle honey over roast; cook another 30 minutes.

We ate about half of it and will use the remaining meat for roast pork sandwiches Monday night.

Baked P'Sketti Squares

Once in a while I'll come across a good recipe in the newspaper. This one appeared a few weeks ago in our local paper, and I just knew I had to try it and submit it to Ruth's Presto Pasta Nights! It's very easy to make, and can be tinkered with to add different "toppings." I used salami, and think that I could also try crumbled Italian sausage, black olives, mushrooms, or pepperoni. This recipe made a 9 x 13" dish--we ate nearly half of it. There's one square in the fridge for Don's lunch today, and the other half is now in the freezer for another night.

This is truly a healthy pasta dish - I used Dreamfields spaghetti, and there are two whole zucchini shredded up and added. Ms. Reihhold said that her children gobbled this up and never complained about the zucchini. Don and I really didn't notice the zucchini at all (or we're just used to zucchini).

Baked P'Sketti Squares
from Dorothy Reinhold in the San Bernardino County Sun

8 oz. dry spaghetti
1 ½ cups shredded zucchini, (about 2 small)
½ cup milk
1 egg
¾ tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. onion powder
3 tablespoon grated Parmesan
1 26-oz. jar spaghetti sauce (I used Newman's Own Cabernet Marinara)
1-2 oz. thinly sliced salami or pepperoni, chopped (I used salami this time)
1 8 oz. bag shredded Mozzarella

Heat oven to 350˚. Mist a 13 x 9" baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and set aside. Cook spaghetti in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain well and pour cooked noodles into prepared dish. Sprinkle with shredded zucchini and stir to mix. In a 2-cup measuring cup, measure milk and add egg, oregano, garlic powder and onion powder. Whisk with a fork to blend well. Pour milk mixture over cooked spaghetti and stir a bit to make sure ingredients are mixed in baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with Parmesan cheese. Pour sauce evenly over top. Sprinkle with salami or pepperoni, and bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, sprinkle evenly with mozzarella, and return to the oven for an additional 10 minutes. Remove from oven and cool 5-10 minutes, to allow it to firm up enough to hold its shape when you cut it into squares. Serves 8-10.

Finally, Thursday Soup or Stew Roundup!

Computer problem fixed. It was my computer, I guess. I restarted it and now it works just fine!

Two more new-to-me blogs to read! First is Alison of Someone's in the Kitchen. Alison hails from Hot Springs, Arkansas, where she has a commercial kitchen and a gourmet market. She also works as a personal chef. I wanna go to Hot Springs! The closest we have to a gourmet market around here is Trader Joe's. Alison's contribution this week is a dish I know my husband would love, Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup. Don really likes soups with rice in them, and since I don't make them often, this is one I just might have to try!

Solange has a blog called Pebble Soup, and her contribution this week is a Mediterranean-inspired soup called Chickpea Soup with Mint and Garlic. It's from a cookbook she received for Christmas--A Celebration of Soup by Lindsey Bareham. Since my mother's a soup fanatic, I think I'll get a copy, copy out the recipes I want to make, and send her the book for her birthday!

I put soup in the crockpot Thursday morning, and was able to come home to the chilly house and have an instant hot supper. This soup also has chickpeas in it, and I learned that the slow, all-day cooking made them quite tender. This soup also has diced sweet potatoes - I've never put sweet potatoes in soup before - and they held their shape. They're just on the edge of falling apart like they do when they're baked, but they're still in once piece. I think if I stirred the soup too much, the sweet potatoes would turn to mush. The flavor of this soup was wonderful, so this recipe's definitely a "keeper."
Slow-cooked Vegetable Soup
from Taste of Home's Holiday & Celebrations Cookbook

* 3/4 cup chopped onion
* 1/2 cup chopped celery
* 1/2 cup chopped green pepper
* 2 tablespoons olive oil
* 1 large potato, peeled and diced
* 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced
* 1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced
* 3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
* 2 medium fresh tomatoes, chopped
* 1 can (16 ounces) kidney beans, rinsed and drained
* 1 can (15 ounces) garbanzo beans or chickpeas, rinsed and drained
* 2 teaspoons soy sauce
* 1 teaspoon paprika
* 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
* 1 bay leaf
* Dash cayenne pepper
In a large skillet, saute the onion, celery and green pepper in oil until crisp-tender. Add potato, sweet potato and garlic; saute 3-5 minutes longer. Transfer to a 5-qt. slow cooker. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Cover and cook on low for 9-10 hours or until vegetables are tender. Discard bay leaf. Yield: 12 serving (about 3 quarts).

Try to join me next week, will you? I'm looking forward to what you'll make!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Problems Posting Tonight

I'm supposed to be doing a Thursday Soup or Stew Roundup, but every time I try to post a picture, my computer freezes. Is it happening to anyone else? I click on Browse, then go to one of my pics, and as soon as I click on it I get the colored spinning wheel and have to force quit my browser. I've tried it in both Firefox and Safari. Same thing. I posted about it in Blogger Help, so as soon as I can, I'll do the roundup.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Cocoa and Chicken?

Yes. First, think about mole. It's got unsweetened chocolate in it. This dish has cocoa in the spicy rub, and since there's also chili powder, oregano, and thyme, it too is reminiscent of mole. This is another one of Joe's recipes - like I mentioned the other day, he cooks things that I like to eat!

Cocoa-Chili-rubbed Chicken

1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 boneless/skinless chicken breast halves

Preheat oven to 375˚. In a small bowl, toss together chili powder, cocoa, oregano, thyme, sugar and salt.

In a large oven-safe skillet, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons oil over medium. Brush chicken breasts with remaining oil and rub each generously with the spice mixture on both sides. Place the chicken into the skillet and sear on both sides. Place the skillet into the oven and bake until the chicken has cooked through, about 10 to 12 minutes.

I thought it was neat how everything continued to sizzle while it was in the oven. We could smell the cocoa, but really didn't taste it much. I used Penzey's Chili Powder for the first time, now that I've finally used up my old chili powder. This recipe is super easy to make, and it's definitely a keeper! Thanks again, Joe!

Don't forget Thursday Soup or Stew Night tomorrow! You have all day and all night to get your post up and sent to me at cholmaneee (at) uia (dot) net. I'll be doing the roundup Friday night.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Pumpkin Waffles

As I've mentioned several times before, I love to visit other people's blogs and then borrow recipes from them. One of my favorites is Joe's Culinary in the Country. Joe often cooks things that I like. I mean, why should I visit blogs where the food doesn't sound good? Joe's a great cook, and I want to know his secret of staying slim when he makes such wonderful treats and meals. Lucky guy. Anyway, one of the recipes I've borrowed from him is pumpkin waffles. After I made yesterdays' Spicy Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars, I still had about half a can of pumpkin left. This morning I made a double batch of waffles so there are a bunch in the freezer now.

Pumpkin Waffles
from Joe of Culinary in the Country

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (I used white whole wheat flour)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups vanilla soymilk (I used regular milk)
1 cup mashed pumpkin
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

In a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and cloves.
In a small bowl, whisk together milk, mashed pumpkin, sugar, oil and egg. Pour into dry ingredients and stir just until moist.

Preheat waffle iron. Using about 1/4 cup of the batter per waffle, pour mixture into waffle iron. Let cook until the steam begins to subside - about 4-7 minutes. Remove waffles and repeat until batter is used up. Makes about 8 regular sized waffles.

What I like best about these is that they don't need as much syrup as regular waffles due to the brown sugar and the natural sweetness of the pumpkin.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Orange Garlic Beef and Spicy Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

What a time we've had the past couple of days. First of all, Don's father was hospitalized Thursday night, and while I won't go into details to respect his privacy, it sounded very serious at first. It's going to be all right, but for two days Don was worried he'd have to be going on an emergency trip to Florida. I could hear the relief in his voice this morning when he called to talk to his stepmother and instead his father answered.

Then, Friday morning, my daughter called to say her car had been broken into outside her apartment (the second time in a year), her passenger side window was broken, and the CD player was stolen. So today, instead of relaxing in his recliner to watch the football playoffs, Don had to spend the day at T's apartment waiting on the glass repair guy to come replace the broken window. He's still not home.

Next, I went to a memorial service today for a fabulous man. Steve Wilson was a photographer and coach, married to Debbie, a counselor at the high school. I had both of their daughters in class, and they have grown up into wonderful young women. Debbie has been a comfort to me and a source of inspiration - she has this capacity to care about anyone and everyone more than you could ever know. Steve was diagnosed with brain cancer 7 months ago, and passed away December 19. The memorial service was delayed so that everyone who wanted to be there could be there - and I think there were 400 or more in the high school multi-purpose room today. There were fellow coaches from all around, teachers and staff from schools all over town, former students and players, family friends, and former school employees who worked with Debbie. It was so touching to be a part of the celebration of Steve's life.

I put dinner in the crockpot before I went down the mountain, so all I had to do when I came home was boil some Success brown rice (I use that when I'm in a hurry) and throw together a salad. Now that I'm a moderator of a Yahoo crockpot group, and I insisted on a new crockpot for Christmas, I need to use it as often as I can. This dish surprised me. It was really good. You really can't tell there's canned mushroom soup in it.

Orange Garlic Beef

3 tablespoon oil
1 lb. boneless beef sirloin steak, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon orange peel
⅓ cup water
1 can condensed mushroom soup, (I used the fat-free kind)
¼ cup tomato paste
¼ cup orange juice
1 teaspoon beef bouillon granules
2 tablespoon molasses
pepper, to taste

Brown steak strips in oil over medium-high heat. Remove from pan and transfer to crockpot. Top strips with onion, garlic and orange peel. Stir water,soup, tomato paste, orange juice, bouillon granules and molasses together and pour over mixture in crockpot. Sprinkle pepper over all. Cook on LOW for 6 to 8 hours and serve over hot noodles or rice.

Also this morning, I made dessert, so that it could sit in the refrigerator and chill all day. I got this recipe from a fellow blogger named Patti, who has quit blogging. I would post her site here, but when you go there you get a message that she has stopped and asks that you remove her from your blogroll. But Patti, if you see this, these bars are good! You can taste all the spices - especially the clove and allspice. While these remind you of pumpkin pie, they're much better, in my opinion.

Spicy Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

1 cup packed brown sugar
½ cup butter, softened
2 cups Bisquick baking mix
1 cup finely chopped pecans
¼ teaspoon allspice
⅛ teaspoon ground clove
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 pinch ginger

12 ounces cream cheese (1.5 packages), softened
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup sugar
3 eggs
¾ cup canned or fresh pumpkin puree
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¾ teaspoons cinnamon
¾ teaspoons ground ginger
⅛ teaspoon ground clove

Preheat oven to 350˚. Generously grease 13" x 9" pan. Cream brown sugar and margarine. Add allspice, clove, nutmeg and ginger. With electric mixer on low, add Bisquick and nuts until mixture is crumbly. Reserve two cups. Press remaining mixture in pan with fingers. Bake 10 minutes.

Beat cream cheese in electric mixer until smooth. Add sugars, eggs, pumpkin, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and clove and mix well until smooth. Pour mixture over crust in pan, and sprinkle with remaining two cups of crust mixture. Bake until center is set and top is golden, about 30 minutes. Cool completely before cutting, serve well-chilled.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Guilt-Free Fish Tacos

Over winter vacation, Don went fishing out of San Diego, and brought back a bunch of rockfish and whitefish fillets. We bagged them into 4 meals' worth, to go with the striped bass fillets we brought back from Lake Mead at the end of November. I've decided to make things easier for planning purposes by calling Friday "Fish Night." Tonight I decided to make fish tacos, using my favorite white chipotle sauce.

Guilt-Free Fish Tacos

boneless fish fillets, cut in small pieces
egg bath (equal parts eggbeaters and lowfat or nonfat milk)
breading (equal parts bread crumbs and corn flake crumbs)
corn tortillas
grated cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
shredded cabbage
Pico de Gallo (below)
White Chipotle Sauce (below)

Preheat oven to 400˚. Spray a metal baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Dip fillets in egg bath, then in breading, and place on baking sheet. Bake 15 minutes. Serve in warmed corn tortillas with cheese, cabbage, Pico de Gallo, and Creamy Chipotle Sauce.

Pico de Gallo

1 medium tomato, diced
1 teaspoon minced fresh jalapeno
1 tablespoon minced onion
1/2 teaspoon dried cilantro

Creamy Chipotle Sauce
This is very similar to the sauce from Rubio's Baja Grill

2 tablespoons lowfat plain yogurt
2 tablespoons light mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle powder

Mix all ingredients. Serve on fish tacos.

Let's Warm Up With Some Soup

The last time I did a Thursday Soup or Stew Roundup was last March. It's been too long, but with the weather as cold as it's been lately, now seems as good a time as any to start again. I enjoy this for two reasons - one, I already know what I'm making on Thursdays (sort of - I have to pick a recipe each week), and two, I get to see what everyone else makes and find new recipes to try.

On with the roundup. It's a small one, but that's okay. It'll be fine.

First to send in her recipe was Lalaine of The Cookmobile, who created a dish called Lamb Caldereta. She stated that she normally uses a packet mix for this, but this time created it from scratch. It truly sounds wonderful.

I then heard from an old blogging friend, Dagny of Dagny's Empire (she visits my blog often and we "chat"), who sent in her recipe for Brunswick Stew. I've never had it, and it sounds like something I'd like to try - but with the chicken. Dagny says that back in the day it was made with rabbit!

My contribution this week is Corn-Potato Chowder, something that I created a few years ago and can throw together in half an hour. It's wonderfully creamy, due to the texture of the cream-style corn, the half-and-half, and the little bit of cornstarch.

Corn-Potato Chowder

¼ cup onion, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
2 cups chicken broth
1 large baking potato , peeled and diced
1 15 oz. can whole kernel corn, drained
1 15 oz. can cream-style corn, undrained
1 cup half & half
1 cup milk, divided
1 tablespoon cornstarch
¼ cup real bacon bits
Sauté the onion in the butter until tender. Add chicken broth and diced potato; bring to a boil. Simmer 10 minutes or until potato pieces are tender. Add corn, cream-style corn, half & half, and 3/4 cup of the milk. In a small jar or bowl, combine the cornstarch and remaining 1/4 cup milk; stir into soup. Simmer about 10 minutes. Add bacon and serve.

Some other great soups and stews I've seen this week:

Alanna of A Veggie Venture has made some 15-Bean Soup
Randi of Culinary Adventures made Paella

Any more?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Thursday Soup or Stew Night is Back!

After a long absence, I'm ready to begin Thursday soup or stew night again. So, get out your big pots or your crockpots, whip up a batch of your favorite soup or stew, or try a new recipe, and then write about it on your blog. Then, send me the link to your blog at cholmaneee (at) uia (dot)net by 9:00 pm PACIFIC time Thursday night, and I'll be sure to include you in the roundup on Friday.

I can't wait to see what you come up with!

Monday, January 07, 2008

Rodeo Beans - a Long Lost Recipe

When Don and I were stationed at Zweibrucken Air Base in Germany, we attended lots of squadron parties and picnics. At one, the wife (Lizette) of a guy who worked for Don (Jeff Traw) brought these fantastic beans, which were really more of a main dish. I asked her for the recipe, and then, of course, lost it. For many years I've been searching for a recipe that had all the ingredients I remembered - sort of a beefed-up baked beans with bacon and jalapeno peppers - and I came across this one. It's from Costco, of all places!

It can be made in the crockpot or the oven, but since the crockpot cooking time is 4 hours, I chose oven. Any crockpot recipe that's got less than 8 hours' cooking time has to be done on the weekend, since I'm at work on weekdays for more than 7 hours. From start to finish, the oven version took an hour.

Rodeo Beans

1 lb. ground beef
½ lb. bacon , cut in 1" pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
1 fresh jalapeño, finely chopped (about 2" long)
1 15 oz. can red kidney beans, drained
1 15 oz. can pork and beans
1 15 oz. can butter beans, drained
½ cup brown sugar

½ cup white sugar

1 Tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon dry mustard
½ cup ketchup
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350˚. In a large skillet over medium heat, cook ground beef, bacon, and onion. Pour off grease and add jalapeño, beans, sugar, vinegar, mustard, and ketchup. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bake in a medium-sized covered casserole for 40 minutes, or for 4 hours on Low in a slow cooker. Serves 4. (Well, Don ate 2 bowls, I ate 1, and there's 1 left over.)

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Sweetnicks' "Melt-in-Your-Mouth Sausages"

One of the things I'm enjoying about getting back into food blogging is that I can visit old friends. I've been checking out blogs that I used to read nightly, and since it's been a long time, there are a lot of new things to see. One "old friend" is Cate of Sweetnicks. Her recipe for Italian sausage in the crockpot caught my eye and I decided to give it a try. I made only a few minor changes from Cate's original recipe - I halved it, I added a few chopped bell peppers, and I used red wine instead of water. Oh my! Don and I loved it and have declared it a "keeper." It will definitely be made again and again. We followed Cate's suggestion to eat it over pasta, so I cooked up some Dreamfields spaghetti. I cooked 8 ounces of spaghetti, and we now have two bowls of leftovers. There was enough sauce and meat for more pasta, but Don poured out some on his plate and sopped it all up with some bread. Thanks, Cate, for such a wonderful recipe!

Melt-in-Your-Mouth Sausages
from Cate of Sweetnicks

1 lb sweet Italian sausage (about 5 links)
1 6 oz. can tomato sauce
1 24 oz. jar marinara sauce, (I used Newman's Own)
⅓ cup chopped bell pepper
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 cup red wine
Place sausage in skillet. Cover with water. Simmer 10 minutes. Drain. Combine remaining ingredients in slow cooker. Add sausage. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours. Serve in buns or cut sausage into bite-sized pieces and serve over cooked spaghetti. Sprinkle with more Parmesan cheese. Also tastes great in a toasted roll with melted cheese.

Take-Along Breakfast Pockets

I was "chatting" with my friends on Pantry Challenge, and one of them asked the group about hand-held breakfast ideas that her husband could take to work. Tabby mentioned home-made hot pockets, which sounded interesting, so I asked her for details. After following her guidelines, I came up with these wonderful breakfast pockets that I can keep in the freezer and pull out for work. (I have a microwave in the office.) Don likes them, too, so I'll have to share.

Take-Along Breakfast Pockets

1/2 pound bulk breakfast sausage (Jimmy Dean!)
1 teaspoon mustard
8 eggs
2 8-count cans Grands refrigerated biscuits (I used the Whole Wheat ones)
approx. 2 cups grated cheddar or jack cheese

Preheat oven to 375˚. In a large skillet, crumble the breakfast sausage and cook until brown over medium-high heat. Stir in mustard. Add eggs, reserving part of one egg white for egg bath. Mix with meat and scramble until eggs are done.

Open biscuits, and place one on a sheet of waxed paper. Place another sheet of waxed paper on top, and flatten it with a rolling pin.

It should be 5-6" in diameter.

Divide mixture in skillet into 16 portions (it's easier than you think - divide it in half, then divide the halves in half, and so on until you have 16 portions that are about 2 tablespoons each.) Place one portion on flattened biscuit, and top with a couple tablespoons of grated cheese.
Fold over and crimp edges with a fork to seal.

Using a pastry brush, spread a little of the reserved egg white across the top of each pocket.
Place pan in oven and bake approximately 12 minutes, or until golden brown.

Two of these are perfect for breakfast, and they will freeze well in zip top freezer bags. Once thawed, they can be eaten at room temperature or zapped in the microwave.

You can vary the fillings of these:

For breakfast, try using
- bacon
- mushrooms
- Swiss instead of cheddar
- spinach
- artichokes
- green chilies
- diced ham
- hash brown potatoes

Tabby uses these for lunch and dinner, and has filled them with:
- sloppy joe mix
- pizza sauce and pepperoni
- taco meat

You could also try:
- refried beans and cheese
- baked beans and cut-up hot dogs
- chicken and vegetables with a little condensed cream of chicken soup
- shredded beef or pork or chicken with barbecue sauce

Any other ideas? I bet there are some great ones Tabby and I haven't thought of. Let me know!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Pork Chops with Tangy Cherry Sauce and Fantail Potatoes

As part of the Pantry Challenge, I'm going through my cabinets and finding things that have been in there a while and need to be used. On today's list was dried cherries. I had used most of the bag on the Cherry-Pistachio Bark I made last month. This recipe was simple and quick, and the only caveat for anyone trying it is that it's sweet. Now I like sweet things on my pork - apples, teriyaki, pineapple, etc. - so this was just up my alley.

Pork with Tangy Cranberry Sauce

1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup apple juice, divided
2 boneless pork chops
1/2 teaspoon butter
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
dash pepper
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

In a small saucepan, bring cherries and 3 tablespoons of the juice to a boil. Remove from heat; cover and let stand.
In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, cook pork in butter and oil 3-4 minutes on each side or until juices run clear. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Remove and keep warm. In the same skillet, bring the vinegar and remaining juice to a boil; cook until liquid is reduced by half. Stir in cherry mixture; heat through. Return pork to pan; turn to coat.

To go with these, I made a simple baked potato recipe that's been in my notebook for years.

Fantail Potatoes

4 medium potatoes
1 teaspoon salt
2-3 Tablespoon melted butter
4 Tablespoon grated Cheddar cheese
1 ½ Tablespoon Parmesan cheese
2-3 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Peel potatoes if the skin is tough; otherwise, just scrub and rinse them. Cut potatoes into thin slices but not all the way through. Use a handle of a spoon to prevent knife from cutting all the way through. Put potatoes in a baking dish. Fan them slightly. Sprinkle with salt and drizzle with butter. Sprinkle with herbs. Bake potatoes at 425F for about 50 minutes. Remove from oven. Sprinkle with cheeses. Bake potatoes for another 10 to 15 minutes until lightly browned, cheeses are melted, and potatoes are soft inside. Check with a fork.

Still using up pantry items, I made dessert for Don (I'll probably have a small piece). I've had some marshmallows back in the back, getting old, plus a half-empty (half-full?) jar of chocolate peanut butter. I'd bought it at the commissary a couple of months ago because I just had to try it, and haven't eaten any of it. My daughter's eaten the half that's gone during some of her weekly visits. She can do without the rest. : )

Chocolate Peanut Butter Crispy Treats

1/4 cup butter
1 cup chocolate-flavored peanut butter
40 large marshmallows
5 cups crisped rice cereal

Butter a 13 x 9" baking pan. In a large stockpot, melt the butter, peanut butter, and marshmallows over very low heat until all the marshmallows are melted. Stir in rice cereal and stir to mix. Quickly pour out into baking sheet, and flatten using your hands, which you dampen often with water (to help press them down and to cool them down). These will be ready to cut and eat within 15 minutes.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Cranberries, Cranberry Bread Pudding - WHB #114

I haven't participated in Kalyn's Weekend Herb Blogging in a long, long time, and decided it's time to start again. I'm making cranberry bread pudding today - two batches; one to eat now and one for later. I still have some frozen cranberries in the freezer, and need to start using them up. Cranberries aren't an herb, but WHB is for more than herbs, and can include fruits or vegetables.

I've seen the commercials for Ocean Spray with the guys standing in flooded cranberry bogs, and decided to learn a bit more about how they're grown and harvested.

Here's what I learned from Wikipedia:

"Historically, cranberry beds were constructed in wetlands. Currently cranberry beds are constructed in upland areas that have a shallow water table. The topsoil is scraped off to form dikes around the bed perimeter. Clean sand is hauled in to a depth of four to eight inches. The surface is laser leveled with a slight crown in the center to facilitate drainage. Beds are frequently drained with socked tile in addition to the perimeter ditch. In addition to making it possible to hold water, the dikes allow equipment to service the beds without driving on the vines. Irrigation equipment is installed in the bed to provide irrigation for vine growth and for spring and fall frost protection.

Cranberry vines are propagated by moving vines from an established bed. The vines are spread on the surface of the sand of the new bed and pushed into the sand with a blunt disk. The vines are watered frequently during the first few weeks until roots form and new shoots grow. Beds are given frequent light application of nitrogen fertilizer during the first year. The cost of establishment for new cranberry beds is estimated to be about US$70,000 per hectare.

A common misconception about cranberry production is that the beds remain flooded throughout the year. During the growing season cranberry beds are not flooded, but are irrigated regularly to maintain soil moisture. Beds are flooded in the fall to facilitate harvest and again during the winter to protect against low temperatures. In cold climates like Wisconsin, Massachusetts, and eastern Canada the winter flood typically freezes into ice while in warmer climates the water remains liquid. When ice forms on the beds trucks can be driven onto the ice to spread a thin layer of sand that helps to control pests and to rejuvenate the vines. Sanding is done every three to five years.

Cranberries are harvested in the fall when the fruit takes on its distinctive deep red color. This is usually in late September and into October. To harvest cranberries, the beds are flooded with six to eight inches of water. A harvester is driven through the beds to remove the fruit from the vines. For the past 50 years, water reel type harvesters have been used. Harvested cranberries float in the water and can be corralled into a corner of the bed and conveyed or pumped from the bed. From the farm, cranberries are taken to receiving stations where they are cleaned, sorted, and stored prior to packaging or processing. In 2005, a new type of cranberry harvester called the Ruby Slipper was introduced into the industry. Whether this type of harvester with fewer moving parts will be accepted by the industry still remains to be seen."

Cranberry Bread Pudding

¼ cup honey
2 large eggs , beaten
½ teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¾ cups warm milk
2 cups cubed French or Italian bread
1 cup fresh cranberries

Stir honey, eggs, vanilla and salt into milk. Add bread and cranberries. Toss gently to mix. Pour into a shallow 1 1/2 qt. baking dish and bake at 350˚ 25 minutes or until firm. Good served with cream or vanilla ice cream.

I made a double batch, and this is the one that's going into the freezer.

Note for next time: This will probably be just as tasty with Splenda instead of the honey, and I bet I could try multi-grain bread instead of the French bread.

Kalyn's Cottage Cheese Muffins

One of the things I'll be doing to save money AND eat better will be to take my breakfast and coffee instead of going to Starbuck's and then a fast food place. Kalyn posted this recipe a while back, and decided it would be a perfect one to start with. Hers didn't have mushrooms; I added them because I had them. They're going to be perfect low-carb breakfast for me until I run out!

Cottage Cheese and Egg Breakfast Muffins with Mushrooms, Bacon and Green Onions
from Kalyn's Kitchen

1 1/2 cups fresh mushrooms, diced
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/3 cup cottage cheese (I used low-fat)
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
1 cup almond meal (this is less than in Kalyn's recipe)
2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons water
8 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup real bacon bits (I buy the large bags from Costco)
2 green onions, thinly sliced (include green part)

Preheat oven to 400 F. In a medium skillet, sauté mushrooms until tender. Remove from heat.

In mixing bowl, combine cottage cheese, parmesan cheese, white whole wheat flour, almond meal, baking powder, salt, water, and beaten egg. Mix well. Gently mix in mushrooms, bacon and green onion, until well distributed in batter.

Spray 18 muffin tins with nonstick cooking spray. Bake 25 -30 minutes, until muffins are firm and lightly browned. Serve hot or room temperature.

These will keep well a few days in the refrigerator, or you can freeze them and thaw in the fridge. Reheat in the microwave for no more than 30 seconds, or they'll get tough.

Sunset on the Beach

This was while the sun was still behind the clouds before it set.

About 10 minutes after the sun had set.

What We Look Like These Days

Photos from the Midway

One thing we had to do since we were in San Diego was visit the aircraft carrier Midway. We've been in submarines and destroyers, but this was our first time in an aircraft carrier.

Even though the beds look cramped here, Don's first observation was that the enlisted guys have a lot more room on an aircraft carrier than they do on a submarine!

Behind bars in the brig.

Sick bay.

Up on the deck, Don stands with one of his favorite aircraft.

Looking towards the tower on the main deck.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Back Home, Back in the Kitchen

So, we had to come home early from our camping trip-3 big storms are getting ready to hit the West Coast beginning late tonight, and we didn't want to be at the beach, but here at home in our mountain cabin. It's supposed to snow later, but the initial rain will most likely casue some mudslides here like it always does.

I stopped at the commissary at March for my monthly trip, and picked up a couple of great bargains - 90% ground beef @ $1.49/pound, and a ham butt @ $.80/pound.

Don and I have looked at the freezer and cabinets and estimate we could eat out them for two months. There. I've said it. I'll have to pick up milk and some produce later, but I'm going to try to see how long I can go without going to the commissary. Today's trip was $178.

I came home and immediately made meatballs, based on a recipe from a Yahoo group I'm in:

Freezer Stash Meatballs

3 lbs. lean ground beef
1 ½ cups soft bread crumbs
3 eggs
6 tablespoons minced onion
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon pepper
Preheat oven to 400.

In a large bowl, mix beef, crumbs, eggs, onion, garlic, salt and pepper. Shape into 11/2-inch meatballs. (A miniature ice cream scoop makes fast work of shaping.)

Arrange in two 10-by-15-inch jelly roll pans. Bake in preheated oven until meat is browned, with no trace of pink and juices run clear, 10 to 13 minutes.

Drain, let cool to room temperature, divide into fourths and freeze each portion in vapor-moisture proof containers. (I use my FoodSaver). Each portion serves 2.

As I use them, I'll post the recipes for what I made with them.

I then pulled out some old sliced barbecued tri-tip, reheated it with a little barbecue sauce, and served it on toasted hamburger buns for dinner. That way I didn't have to cook anything, since I was tired from driving, cooking, and from putting the food from the commissary trip away. (That entails a couple of hours on my feet).

After dinner, I made two quiches, that are now in the oven. I'll let them cool, and then freeze them for later.

A Pair of Quiches
Mushroom /Asparagus with Ham

2 frozen pie crusts in foil tins, thawed
1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/4 cup chopped onion
8 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced or coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp. butter
1 12-oz. can asparagus pieces, drained
1/2 cup chopped ham (I used some luncheon meat ham and diced it, but any kind of ham will do)
1/4 cup grated Swiss cheese
6 oz. cream cheese, softened
8 eggs
2/3 cup half-and-half
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese (I didn't have any this time, so I doubled the Cheddar)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. grated nutmeg

In a medium skillet, sauté the bell pepper, onion, and mushrooms in butter until tender. Spread evenly in bottom of one of the pie shells. Put the asparagus, ham, and Swiss cheese in the other pie shell. With a mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Gradually add eggs and half-and-half. Stir in grated cheeses, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Pour egg mixture into dish. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. If you're going to eat one right away, let it stand 10 minutes before cutting.

For freezing: Let cool to room temperature. Cover with foil and freeze. The night before you want to eat it, move it to your refrigerator to thaw. Then reheat at 350˚ for about 15 minutes.