Back in the Kitchen

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a recipe or, if I’m being really honest, cooked a full meal from scratch in our kitchen. Since one of our goals for 2014 is to cook more and eat out less perhaps it’s time to revive the ol’ blog with recipes and stories from our kitchen. Here goes nothing…

First, it helps to have a great playlist for motivation and impromptu dance breaks with a spoon as a mic. Oh wait. I’m the only one that does this? Forget I said anything.

But, if you do need a playlist, I found a great one. Unfortunately, I can only take credit for finding it, not for putting it together.

It will become my soundtrack for all cooking going forward, so if you’re coming over for dinner be prepared for music blaring from our front room so I can hear it in the kitchen.

My husband spent many of his formative years in a commercial kitchen and, since I apparently suck at getting all the dishes ready to serve at the same time, he is in charge of timing the dishes. He always succeeds in this area. Thankfully.

This week, we chose to cook grilled chicken with a basil-lemon drizzle and garlic rosemary roasted fingerling potatoes. We also had a side salad using a premade organic Italian salad mix and Newman’s Own Italian Dressing (because I was too lazy to whip up my easy scratch vinaigrette).

I started on the fingerling potatoes first and used this recipe from Designlovefest. These were the best roasted potatoes I’ve ever eaten and I definitely added it to our binder of go-tos for future reference. Adam kept saying how amazing they tasted and how perfectly cooked they were. #winning

While the potatoes were roasting away in the oven, I got started on the drizzle for the chicken and told Adam, ” Go forth and grill chicken”.

For the chicken, he seasoned boneless skinless chicken breasts with black pepper (he LOVES black pepper) and some chili powder, before grilling them to perfection.

For the drizzle I followed a recipe from Skinny Italian by (don’t judge) Real Housewife Teresa Giudice. This isn’t the first recipe I’ve made from her cookbook and it won’t be the last. This had a wonderful flavor that we both loved and it was quick to put together!

Basil Lemon Drizzle
from Skinny Italian

 Ingredients
  • 1/2 garlic clove
  • 1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper (We added a bit more. Did I mention the hubs loves pepper?)

Directions

  1. In a food processor (we only have a mini-prep and it did the job), drop in garlic to mince.
  2. Add basil and pulse a few times to chop it.
  3. Add in the lemon juice, oil, and 2 tablespoons water and process until it becomes a thin sauce.
  4. Season with salt and pepper and pulse once more.
  5. Let stand at room temperature until ready to serve, no longer than one hour.

Yield: 6 tablespoons, about 4 servings

Once the chicken was grilled and the potatoes roasted, we plated our meals and ate up. Everything was delicious and we were quite happy to have leftovers, which we’re planning to finish off tonight 🙂

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Our First Cookie Exchange

Santa Senna

Santa Senna helped us get ready

I’ve always wanted to host a holiday party, one that might become a tradition, and since we bought a house now’s as good a time as any to give it a go, right?

We brainstormed and decided since Adam and I both have a sweet tooth, we’d host a cookie exchange and that’s where this story begins.

About 3 weeks earlier, we sent out Paperless Post invites and started planning. I researched exchanges and swaps online and defined our “guidelines” based on what I read.

Several blogs I read recommended having each guest/family bring 7 – 11 DOZEN cookies each. We thought that was a bit extreme and went with an even 4 dozen per couple/family/friend. As guests arrived we had them grab a number off the table to label their cookies. These numbers would be used in the competition later – yes, we competed. Isn’t that what life’s about?

Guests ate, drank, and were exceedingly merry before we busted into the cookie sampling.

DSC_7761

B is for…

We had sugar cookies, chocolate chip varieties, bars, brownies, and more to sample before judging our favorites. The most festive and best tasting cookies were given prizes and bragging rights until next year.

DSC_7736

Most Festive

DSC_7742

Best Tasting

After everyone got their cookie induced sugar coma on, we had them fill boxes with their favorite cookies to take home and enjoy throughout the holiday season!

It was a wonderfully festive evening but since it was our first exchange we’ve made note of a few things we’d change for next year:

  • 4 dozen cookies per family/guest is waay too many, our house looked like Cookie Monster threw up in it, not that that’s a bad thing. (I can’t even begin to imagine the leftovers if everyone brought 10 dozen each) Next year we’ll have guests bring 2 dozen each.
  • Full size cookies were a bit too much for guests to sample everything everyone brought. Next year we’ll ask guests to bring bite size cookies or provide utensils for them to cut cookies into smaller pieces.

See? Cookie Monster.

Ultimately, our first cookie exchange was a success – we had a blast hosting it and learned that our house is PERFECT for entertaining. Which is great because we hope to host many more parties in the future.

Christening

We finished unpacking and organizing the kitchen and I cannot stop cooking on our gas stove. Seriously where has this been all my life? I feel like I’m on Food Network.

Ever since we bought our house I’ve said that our island was begging to be covered in flour and today it happened. Consider my kitchen officially christened.

Recently, I learned of fellow Austinite, Hilah’s, cooking blog. All of her recipes look fantastic and late this afternoon I decided to tackle an entire, made from scratch, taco dinner using her recipes. Partially because Adam had been craving tacos the past few today, but mainly because it meant I could cover our island in flour. YES!!

I’ve always been intimidated by making tortillas, but I really shouldn’t have been. They were super easy and Hilah’s recipe called for only 5 ingredients.

I mixed unbleached flour, baking powder, and salt before adding in oil and skim milk.

Then I kneaded the dough into a ball before letting it rest for 30 minutes.

The last step before cooking was rolling the dough into tortillas. In total, I got 10 tortillas out of this recipe.

Cooking the tortillas was easy peezy yellow cheesy. All I did was throw a tortilla on a hotter than Hades cast iron skillet, let one side start bubbling up, then flip to cook the other side. Super simple and fast!

I ate the tortillas along with Hilah’s Fluffy Mexican Rice and beef mixture from her Cripsy Beef Tacos.

We loved this meal and I have a feeling the tortillas will be made on a weekly basis so that we have some on hand anytime we want them.

Napa Valley Honeymoon

The morning after our wedding we hailed a cab, which had just dropped off Joe Jackson at a nearby IHOP (For real. A friend who was randomly at the same IHOP vouched that he was there) and headed to the airport. Apparently, Mr. Jackson was craving pecans and didn’t tip the cabbie.

I digress…

Our honeymoon took us to Napa Valley, where we holed up for 5 days at The Cottages of Napa Valley, eating, drinking, and generally being married.

Cottages at Napa Valley

I had a small weight gain during the trip, which I attribute to the daily pastry baskets which were discreetly delivered to our doorstep each morning. They looked something like this:

pastry basket

Our first full day in the valley took us to Sonoma. I absolutely adored their quaint downtown area full of locally owned boutiques, museums and tasting bars. On this day we also had a stroke of amazing luck. We drove by a little hole in the wall restaurant called Schellville Grill and decided to stop for lunch. Turns out, Guy Fieri has featured it on the Food Network. I opted for a salad while Adam enjoyed a sandwich. After our meal, we paid (including a tip, don’t call us Mr. Jackson) and headed to our car. That’s when “Uncle Bob” ran over to greet us from his Prius.

Uncle Bob: Are you folks wine tasting today?

Adam: Yes sir! We’re on our honeymoon and just getting started for the day.

Uncle Bob: Congratulations! You should make a stop at Ravenswood. Take my card and tell them Uncle Bob sent you.

Adam: Thanks so much, we’ll be sure to check them out.

Me: So nice to meet you! Have a good day.

We went our separate ways and as we were pulling out of the parking lot, I looked at the card and saw that it was not only Uncle Bob’s business card, but handwritten on the back was 2 free tastings courtesy of him. Typically in Napa Valley you pay anywhere from $10 – $25 per tasting, some wineries let you split tastings, but not many. Thanks to Uncle Bob we saved $30…and used our savings to buy the best Moscato either of us have ever tasted. We’d have never gone to Ravenswood if not for Uncle Bob.

Kaz Winery was also an off-the-beaten path find for us. When we passed the painted wine barrels at the entrance? Adam made a U-turn. Thank goodness for that. Kaz was an understated, no frills winery and had a metal chicken greeting guests at the front door. Though they specialized in dry wines, I was entertained by their random assortment of 80s vinyl while Adam sampled wine. He even got to cork his own bottle!

Sonoma

Day 3 is better known as the day Adam tried to kill me. Ok, not really, but it sure felt like it – and it was my own fault. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Adam’s an avid cyclist. Me? Notsomuch.
  • Adam wanted to rent a tandem bike in Yountville and, being the head over heels in love new wife that I was, I cautiously agreed.
  • Adam wanted us to ride a short 14 mile loop and promised we’d stop at wineries that look appealing along the way.
  • Adam and I are both 6’2″. The back seat of a tandem is not built for a 6’2″ person, so I got to ride for 14 miles with my mid-thighs on a bike seat.
  • Adam failed to mention…err, remind me…that cycling typically means you ride on highway shoulders as cars zip past you at the marked speed limit, or faster. Including large trucks.

Let’s just say I freaked. out.

And could barely walk for a day and a half after the ride.

But hey, we got some good pictures.

Winning.

Day 4 was our last day in the Valley and we made the most of it. We woke up early and headed north. It’s safe to say I drank tasted more wine that day than I have in my entire life. I was quite the cool cucumber.

We walked into a castle, but decided to save our tasting money for a winery up the road we had heard a lot about, Sterling Vineyards. We splurged at this winery, getting the full package for tasting which included an additional 3 tastings after the winery tour – for a total of 7 tastings. All were fantastic, but the highlight of this winery for me was the gondola ride from the parking lot to the winery. It was so serene and beautiful.

Chateau Montelana was also a highlight for us, as we had just watched the movie about it on Netflix in our cottage the night before. The grounds of the Chateau were absolutely breathtaking.

We ended our last day in Napa Valley with dinner at Bottega. We shared our first risotto and indulged in some amazing truffle-parmigiano fries. Adam ordered “Smoked & Braised Natural Short Ribs” with a whole grain mustard spaetzle, Sicilian pickles, quince paste & smokey horseradish jus, while I ordered the “Forno Roasted Chicken Breast” with “Marsala” sautéed forest mushrooms, marinated grilled onions, truffle honey and sherry vinaigrette. Both dishes were exceptional and at the end of the meal our waiter convinced us to order the house chocolate “cake” that wasn’t listed on the menu. It. Was. Phenomenal.

Our final full day in California took us back to San Francisco, with a slight detour thanks to Adam. Turns out Highway 1 is Adam’s dream road. At least in the US.

My hubby is a HUGE Top Gear fan and took this opportunity to channel his inner Stig. Let’s just say I have never seen him so chipper and filled with glee than I did while he was driving on Highway 1. Meanwhile, I was busy saying “OOOHHH! Pull over, I need to get a picture” or “OMG!!! REAL SEALS!!! IN. THE. WILD!!”

Highway 1 was incredible and I think Adam summed up the scenery best when he said, “This is proof God exists.” I have to agree, as I’ve never seen anything like it before.

Mid-way down Highway 1, I mention that I’m feeling a bit hungry and since it was almost time for lunch, Adam informs me that he already scoped out a place for us to eat in Bolinas. Unbeknownst to me, Bolinas is costal community known for its reclusive residents – I’d call them full out hippies, but that might not be PC – who TEAR DOWN any sign providing directions into their unincorporated community.

Thanks to Adam, we managed to find the town just fine.

I think the status I posted to Facebook as we were entering the “downtown area” sums up my feelings perfectly:

I have officially never felt more out of place wearing J Crew than I did when Adam pulled up in front of a “think globally eat locally” cafe for lunch in a very hippie “socially acknowledged nature loving town” called Bolinas. Needless to say, he loves me so much he didn’t make me get out of the car.

And it’s true, I was so scared of what the hippies reclusive residents might do to me that I refused to get out of the car for lunch.

It was a wonderful trip and was exactly the relaxation we wanted after the hustle and bustle from our wedding festivities. Now I just have to figure out when we can go back – I miss our cottage…and the wine.

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

I’ve always loved cooking, but leftovers? Not so much. I mean, I can enjoy them for lunch the next day, maybe dinner too, but typically after one additional meal I’m totally over it and want something different.

Now that we’re married, and basking in newlywed bliss, it’s been wonderful to fix a recipe and know that it won’t go bad before I tire of eating it – because there’s 2 people to eat the leftovers!

Last week, as we began to decorate our little abode for Christmas I decided to get in the kitchen and cook a meal. It had started getting chilly outside and I wasn’t really in the mood for soup or chili. Thankfully, Pinterest came to the rescue with Lemon Roasted Chicken and Hasselback Potatoes.

The chicken was phenomenal. Both Adam and I devoured it. Adam even requested that it be a regular meal in my arsenal – I’m good with that!

We both thought the recipe could easily be adapted for chicken breasts, though I cooked it as directed using chicken thighs. In fact, we’ll probably try it with chicken breasts next time. Mmm…next time, my mouth is already watering just thinking about it.

Added bonus: the chicken was just as delicious reheated the next night for dinner!

Now, I’m not gonna lie and tell you the potatoes tasted as good as they looked coming out of the oven. I mean, they were good, but the flavors didn’t blend throughout and sometimes you were stuck eating plain roasted potatoes with no seasoning.Plus, they were a pain to slice and season thoroughly  – which probably explains why the flavors didn’t blend.

Next time, I think I’ll use the same seasonings but toss them with potato wedges or slices instead of the fanned whole potatoes.

Lemon Chicken

from Annie’s Eats

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp. lemon zest
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tsp. fresh rosemary leaves, finely minced
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 2 lbs. of bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs or drumsticks
  • 2 tbsp. melted butter
  • Thinly sliced lemons, for garnished

Directions:

  1. Combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper in a large zipper-lock plastic bag.  Seal the bag and shake well to blend.
  2. Place the chicken pieces in the bag with the marinade, pressing out excess air and sealing once more.  Refrigerate and let marinate for 2 hours.
  3. Preheat the oven to 425˚ F.
  4. Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade and transfer to a baking dish, skin-side up, reserving the leftover marinade.
  5. Brush the top of each piece of chicken with melted butter.
  6. Bake for 50-55 minutes, until the skins are crispy and well-browned.
  7. Halfway through baking, pour the remaining marinade over the chicken pieces in the baking dish.
  8. Once fully baked, cover loosely with foil and let rest 10 minutes before serving.

Baked Hasselback Potatoes

from Chicho’s Kitchen

Ingredients (serves 4):

  • 4 medium potatoes, scrubbed (leave skin on)
  • 4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
  • 3 tbsp of olive oil
  • salt
  • pinch of smoked paprika
  • 2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
  • chopped chives for garnish
Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 425˚F (220ºC).
  2. Slice each potato crosswise at 1/8-inch intervals, cutting to within 1/4 inch of the bottom. Be careful not to slice all the way through. The potato will fan out a bit as it bakes.
  3. Combine olive oil, garlic, salt, smoked paprika and parmesan cheese in a small bowl.
  4. Lay the potatoes on a baking sheet.
  5. Carefully insert pinches of this mixture in between the slits of the potatoes.
  6. Rub the outsides of the potatoes with residual oil.
  7. Bake for about 40-45 minutes. The inside should be cooked through and the outside of the potato should be a bit crispy.
  8. Garnish with additional parmesan and chives!

Noses are Deceiving

Now that [almost] all of the boxes are unpacked and I’m slowly able to start accessorizing rooms, I’m feeling more settled. Adam’s old “grandma chic” bachelor pad apartment is starting to feel like the home in which we’ll start our life together.

Every day this week I’ve made a concerted effort to make a visible dent in a random room as far as organization goes. I’ve stored books and papers from my old cubicle in my old dresser we refinished, hung pictures, replaced lamp shades, put away our china, and pulled out my Scentsy.

Y’all have one of these, right? I’m obsessed with mine. I love letting the scents permeate my apartment and now that I’m working from home all day you better believe I have it on all day every day.

Back in September, on a rare trip to Wal-Mart, I bought some wax cubes by Better Homes & Garden. I wanted to have seasonal fragrances like Apple Strudel, Pumpkin Pie, Blueberry Muffin, and Gingerbread. Tuesday, was my first day to use my Scentsy warmer since moving and I chose to put in a Gingerbread cube. I put it in mid-morning and had forgotten about it until Adam came home from work that evening.

He walks straight to the kitchen looking for a freshly baked batch of cookies. I felt horrible that the Scentsy led him astray so that night, we worked late cleaning the counters and putting away the remaining wedding gifts and serving pieces I already owned. Essentially, we made the kitchen usable.

And yesterday? Because I wanted an excuse to use my KitchenAid Stand Mixer, Adam got his cookies. Dark Brown Sugar Chocolate Chip.

This time, the scent he smelled as he walked through the door is edible! Given the fact that he ate almost an entire dozen by himself in one hour, I’d say he thought they were scrumptious!

Dark Brown Sugar Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 and 1/4  cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate morsels

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Beat butter and sugars at medium speed until creamy.
  3. Add eggs and vanilla until all ingredients are blended.
  4. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.
  5. Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture, beating well as you go.
  6. Stir in chocolate.
  7. Drop by tablespoon onto ungreased cookie sheets.
  8. Bake for approximately 12 minutes.

Yield: 5 dozen

Tailgate [Dis]Agreement

Full disclosure? It’s rare that Adam and I don’t see eye to eye about something, I guess we’re lucky in that regard. But this week? Notsomuch.

You see, we are huge Razorback fans and  have a shared dream of a tailgating vehicle. Originally our dream was to find an old University of Arkansas Transit bus or school bus, but given the difficult game parking scenarios on campus – not to mention the gas bill – we have decided to forgo that option. For now.

Since this realization, we have been brainstorming other ideas. First, I thought we could convert an old VW Bus. I had the whole plan in my head, it was going to be amazing. That is, until Adam’s brother reminded us that they are rear engine and crushed my dreams.

Then, I had the idea to save up and buy one of those pimped out Ultimate Tailgater trailers. I mean, have you seen these things?

They smoke your BBQ. While. You. Drive. For serious. And they come with 3 TVs, surround sound, refrigerator/freezer, taps for beer and soft drinks, and much more. It’s PERFECT. However, the price tag deters us. As do the university tailgating restrictions for our parking lot. But it’s ok, there are other options, right?

According to Adam, YES!

We could buy an ambulance and convert it to the “Razorback Fanbulance”. In theory it’s perfect. You can buy used ambulances for next to nothing on eBay – I’m talking $255 and they already have a/c power adapters so we can sink the majority of the budget into tech-ing it out (him) and making it super cute (me). There’s only one problem with this vehicle: most likely someone DIED there.

Adam isn’t convinced though, as he responded, “They probably would appreciate you partying in the ambulance. Joy out of heartache.”

Responses like this will become my forever in one month.

Or, we could buy a 15 passenger van and take out the bench seating. Build a party deck on top and attach a grill to the back end. Put a little seating inside and install  TVs on either side. He was so excited about the party deck that I called him a frat boy and he immediately began to pop his collar.

Someone please help. I need ideas. Ones that don’t involve death or wannabe frat boy dreams…

And if we choose yours? You’ll get invited to the first official tailgate in our dream tailgating machine.

Until this gets resolved we’ll be picking up pizza and tailgating from a Coleman folding picnic table – like amateurs. Woo Pig Sooie!

A Kitchen Experiment

If you know me in real life, or are a regular reader of my blog, chances are you’ve either read about my mother’s famous Dishpan Cookies (aka Crack Cookies) or tried them for yourself and agreed.

Cookies

Well, kids. Hold on to your seats, because you’re in for a treat! Tonight? I created Dishpan Muffins. Yep, you read right. Muffins!

Last week I ran across a recipe for Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Muffins on the blog How Sweet It Is. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had a solid foundation from which to create my version: Dishpan Muffins.

I mixed and measured. Poured and baked. Cooled and ate. And upon trying my first bite I referred to myself as a culinary genius.

Obviously, I don’t have self-esteem problems.

These muffins are moist, sweet, and have a lovely hint of spice to them. Promise me you’ll make them immediately, okay?

Promise?

Good.

Dishpan Muffins
inspired by How Sweet It Is

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup milk (any kind will do)
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/3 cup coconut
  • 1/3 cup cornflakes + a little extra for sprinkling on top
  • Raw turbinado sugar (optional)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Add oats to a bowl and add milk. Let soak for 5-10 minutes, while you prepare the first few steps of the muffins.
  3. In a large bowl, combine egg and brown sugar and whisk until smooth and caramel in color.
  4. Add in vanilla and butter, whisking well. Try to smooth the batter as much as possible – there still may be some small butter chunks.
  5. Add flour, oat mixture, baking soda, salt and cinnamon and mix until smooth.
  6. Fold in chocolate chips, coconut, and cornflakes .
  7. Line a muffin tin with liners and pour about 1/4 cup batter into each line.
  8. Sprinkle the tops with raw turbinado sugar and slightly crushed cornflakes
  9. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until cooked through.

Yield: 15 muffins

Confessions of a Real Housewives Addict

Full disclosure?

I’m addicted to the Real Housewives franchise of reality television.

As in, you say Orange County and I still shed a tear over the breakup of Jo and Slade. New York City? I immediately think of the crazy catwalk Ramona did in a fashion show. Atlanta? I think of the dysfunctional relationship of Kim and Big Poppa. New Jersey? Someone needs to get Danielle a straight jacket. Beverly Hills? The home of $60,000 children’s birthday parties. D.C? The party-crashing Salahis.

This obsession for the RH franchise is pointless, but it’s like a trainwreck, I. Can’t. Stop. Watching. Unfortunately, the effects of RH last much longer than the 1 or 2 hours it’s on each week. Take, for instance, this summer when my family drove through Georgia en route to Kiawah Island, South Carolina. We pass through Atlanta and the only thing that goes through my head is Don’t be Tardy for the Party.

Apparently, the trend for Real Housewives turned [bad] singers has continued. Countess LuAnn, from New York City, released Money Can’t Buy You Class this spring and Danielle, from New Jersey, released a collaboration with Lori Michaels aptly titled Real Close this summer. Fortunately, though not all the housewives are wannabe recording artists. Kandi, from Atlanta, was a member of the group of Xscape and is a Grammy-award winning singer/songwriter. She released Fly Above last fall. So there is some street cred mixed in.

But it’s not just my music collection that’s seen the effects of RH…

This obsession has also influenced what comes out of my kitchen, thanks to the Skinny Italian cookbook by Teresa Giudice, from New Jersey. While she’s most notably known for table-flipping in the general direction of Danielle and shoving Andy Cohen down during the reunion special this past season, she’s also a “writer”. Who knew?

I picked up the cookbook during a regular Barnes & Noble browse with Adam as a joke, just to make him uncomfortable as we meandered around the store. Then, I started looking through the recipes. Oh, the recipes. My mouth was literally watering as I read through the ingredients for each dish. I was all “Adam! Look at this!”, “This sounds amazing!”, “OMG I HAVE to make THIS!”. Begrudgingly he took a look, and, to my surprise, said “That does sound good!”

Of course, then I HAD to buy the cookbook and I’m so glad I did. So far I’ve made 3 dishes/sauces from it and all of them have been exceptional, but my favorite is the Arrabbiata (or Angry Sauce) for pasta.  It’s spicy, but not light your tongue on fire. It’s got a great flavor depth to it and tastes even better the next day as leftovers.

Arrabbiata Sauce
from Skinny Italian

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 3 1/2 cups Basic Tomato Sauce (recipe below)
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Directions

  1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Add onion and garlic and cook until the onion is translucent. About 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in red pepper.
  4. Stir in Basic Tomato Sauce, lemon juice, and pepper.
  5. Bring to simmer.
  6. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until lightly thickened. About 15 minutes.
  7. Simmer up to 40 minutes, the longer it simmers the hotter the sauce.
  8. Stir in parsley just before serving.

Yield: approximately 3 3/4 cups, enough for 1 lb pasta

Basic Tomato Sauce
from Skinny Italian

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 28 oz can of tomatoes, crushed or diced in their juices
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp fresh chopped basil

Directions

  1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Add tomatoes and tomato paste. Bring to a boil.
  3. Reduce heat to medium-low and add basil.
  4. Simmer for about 10 minutes to blend the flavors.

Yield: approximately 3 1/2 cups, enough for 1 lb pasta

Give Thanks!

Turkey-induced comas.

Seconds [and thirds] of a bubbling hashbrown casserole.

Buttery rolls.

Pumpkin Pie.

Pecan Pie.

Apple Pie.

Thanksgiving is upon us and I can’t be happier. Surprising as it may sound, it’s not the food that I look forward to most about Thanksgiving, it’s the time spent with family and friends. The time after the paper plates are put in the trashcan (Don’t judge, we have about half as many dishes to wash compared to you because of this), when everyone is recovering from a meal filled with boisterous laughter and staring in silence at a table covered in shellacked decorative vegetables.

It’s this time when everyone is quiet and together that I value the most. Even though our quiet time together may not last long and there’s still games to be played, it’s at this moment every year when I realize just how lucky I am. I have a family who loves and supports me and friends who laugh with [and at] me. I have a belly full of good home cooking and a smile on my face. I wish we could all be so lucky.

There’s a tradition in my family every Thanksgiving, and I’m sure it’s common among other families, where we go around the table and say what we are thankful for. What great perspective it gives us every year, to remove ourselves from the hustle and bustle of our busy lives and just give thanks. It’s magical.

One year [though no one else in my family remembers this, so who knows if it actually happened or if I had a random dream that I confused with reality] someone went above and beyond the typical “I’m thankful for_____” after dinner spiel.

We received a thank you card in the mail. This wasn’t just your run of the mill “Thank you for ____ gift/gesture” card; it was a card thanking us for everything we had done in the last year that had impacted this person. From a smile or hug to a gift and everything in between. Everything they could think of to give thanks that year involving us was meticulously written in the card. I don’t even remember if they sent this card at Thanksgiving or some other time during the year, but it left a lasting impression on a middle school-aged me.

Imagine what the world would be like if we all had time to send a “Thank You” card to our nearest and dearest thanking them for everything they did for us in the last year.

Grocery Lessons

See that window? That BIG window at the top of the picture? That’s the window that inspired me today as my mom and I enjoyed a day of shopping.

Growing up my dad owned a grocery store, Taylor’s Grocery, which eventually became Taylor’s Big Star. This grocery store was a part of my family for most of my adolescence. As a kid, it was AWESOME to have the store opened after hours by your dad to run wild in & get everything for “free”. Frozen pizza, popcorn, coke, magazines, comics. That store was my oyster. My sister and I were even the store mascots during the annual Chicken and Egg parade.

(Yep, my hometown’s summer festival celebrated poultry. Laugh. It. Up.) See Exhibit A.

Exhibit A

I learned many things by being the daughter (and mascot) of a grocer:

I learned the importance of properly sacking groceries, a skill that I still value to this day. You want squashed bread about as much as you want soap flavored apples, which is about as much as you want broken eggs, right? Never underestimate the importance of sacking your groceries. Ever.

I learned how to efficiently scan barcodes. Well, when the scanner cooperates. Which also explains why I almost always choose the self-checkout line when the option is available. That line takes me back to a childhood of playing on the scanners after-hours at the family grocery store.

I learned, thankfully not from first-hand experience, that those meat slicers in the deli can be awfully dangerous. I also learned that pricing guns aren’t dangerous and can actually be a lot of fun to use.

(No wonder why my dad always let me price stuff when I asked. Hmm…must’ve been the free labor thing. Though my parents would never encourage free labor. WOULD YOU mom & dad?)

I learned independence, because as a toddler my mom was known to wake up and see me toddling down the driveway to see daddy. Yep, I was an early riser. An early-riser who missed her dad. Thank goodness it was a straight shot, literally, to the grocery store from our house and that I never made it further than the driveway before getting caught.

I learned where to find my dog, Sugar, a Cocker Spaniel, when he wasn’t in his pen. 9 times out of 10 he had jumped the fence and went to visit my dad at the grocery store.

But back to this blog inspiring window…

At the back of the store there was a small window, behind that window was the most fun area of the store. A tiny private “office”, if you will. To get to this office you had to climb up some stairs. Often these stairs were blocked by pallets or boxes, but that never got in our way. My sister and I would go up to this office with a box of Gushers or Fruit Roll-Ups, a few Archie comic books, some crayons and coloring books, and a fruit juice jug of some kind. We would feel like the queens of the store.

(I’m generalizing here. Maddie may not have felt this way, in which case she can clarify her feelings in the comments.)

From that little-bitty window we could see everything. A woman thumbing through magazines, a man picking fruit, every.single.person that walked through the doors.

Unfortunately, we never witnessed some of the more interesting happenings of the store from that window. Like the time a guy decided to steal cigarettes, so he stuffed them down his pants then ran out of the store with the manager following him, leaving a trail of cigarettes along the way. Not to mention losing his pants in the pursuit as well. Or so I’m told.

But I loved everyday that we got to sit up in that “office” watching over the store. From that window we could see exactly what a small town is about. Smiles to strangers, friendships, support, gossip, laughter, family, and eating.

Being the daughter of a grocer taught me so much more than the importance sacking and scanning. It taught me the importance of a community that sticks together through thick and thin.

Shrimp Addict?

I should probably start this post with a confession. For the past 3 days, my main source of protein at each meal (except breakfast) has been shrimp. I may have a problem.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way…

I had mentioned earlier that my local K-Roger let me down, but luckily Fresh Market came through for me. I don’t normally drive 30 miles for groceries, but since I was already in Little Rock visiting my parents last night to pick up some things I was able to grab the 2 necessary ingredients for Sunny Anderson’s Shrimp in a Garlic Pepperoni Sauce from Fresh Market on my way home. Plus, stopping at Fresh Market gave me the excuse to pick up one of my favorite treats, chocolate covered banana chips. Some serious yum right there folks!

After imagining what this dish tasted like for 3 days, I was excited to make it after Jazzercise. Once I got home, I opened up my MacBook and cranked up my Eat & Greet playlist, because it’s the perfect mix to have in the background while you cook.

I’m not gonna lie, there was a bit of prep involved: chopping a full HEAD of garlic, dicing 16 ounces of pepperoni, removing the tails off a pound and a half of shrimp, but in the end the prep was worth it. The flavors were intense and not spicy like I was expecting, though next time I probably won’t use quite so much pepperoni or olive oil.

Shrimply Delicious

Yesterday, as I was watching Food Network in bed, I was absolutely delighted by the Shrimp in a Garlic Pepperoni Sauce Sunny Anderson made on Cooking For Real. I mean, I love pepperoni, I love garlic, and I looooove schrimp. Mmm mmm wonderful schrimp. [Don’t adjust your vision folks, I typed schrimp] My mouth was watering as she made it and I could practically smell its goodness through my television, so it should come as no surprise that I would make it for dinner Sunday night.

After my Sunday Jazzercise ritual, I went to my neighborhood K-Roger to purchase the necessary ingredients. Unfortunately, K-Roger had other plans, which included not having 2 of the ingredients I needed: Pepperoni that didn’t have Hormel in the name and Adobo seasonings. I was defeated and schlepped to the front of the store for a fresh start. As I schlepped, I remembered my go-to shrimp recipe that I hadn’t made in quite a while (okay, maybe a year), and my mood brightened. Garlicky Lemon Shrimp anyone? I promise it will change your life.

Garlicky Lemon Shrimp by Rocco DiSpirito

Ingredients

  • 1 lb medium shrimp, peeled, deveined, and cooked
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice (I use the juice of 2 large lemons)
  • 1/4 cup Olive Oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano (I use shredded)
  • 3/4 cup bread crumbs (I use Italian Style)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
  2. In a medium bowl, toss shrimp with lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic.
  3. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Add cheese and bread crumbs (coat evenly).
  5. Spread shrimp on a baking sheet in a single layer.
  6. Bake 5 minutes or until golden and cooked through.

Serves 4

A World Without Ro*tel?

Ro*tel Cheese DipArkansas: The Birthplace of Cheese Dip.

Cheese Dip: The State Food of Arkansas. The staple appetizer at practically any restaurant you visit. The required tailgate food. The perfect topping for chips, chili, rice, and, yes, even burgers. It’s simplicity can be summed up in 2 ingredients: Velveeta and Ro*tel. A match made in heaven if you ask me.

Being raised in Arkansas, I’ve never even considered that some people have never had the pleasure of tasting this delightful dish, not to mention being oblivious to the mere existence of Ro*tel. This weekend, however, I learned that one of my dear friends “up North”, Jules, was one of those unfortunately oblivious souls. Upon finding this out, it became my mission yesterday to force her to make Ro*tel Cheese Dip, or as I like to call it – Ro*tel. In a series of IM conversations, a phone call, tweets, and the offer of a Skype session, I convinced Jules to gather the necessary ingredients and make Ro*tel for dinner.

Me: So in two weeks, I’ll be attending the World Cheese Dip Championships in North Little Rock with Adam.

Jules: What IS this obsession with cheese dip in Arkansas?

Me: Well, number one it’s fabulously delicious. Number two it’s the perfect dish.

Jules: I’ve never understood why a restaurant in Arkansas, no matter the cuisine it serves, has cheese dip on the menu. Are you all really that addicted?

Me: Yes.

Jules: So tell me this, how does one buy cheese dip?

[I tweet this question.]

Me: Well, what kind of cheese dip are we talking about?

Jules: You mean there’s different types?

[I tweet this question.]

Me: Yes, yellow and white are the most popular.

Jules: What’s the difference?

[Jules tweets.]

Me: In my opinion, yellow is not as smooth or spicy as white. I typically order white cheese dip whenever I’m at a restaurant. But at home I make yellow, using Velveeta cheese.

Jules: I’m not a big user of Velveeta, but my husband was raised on it.

Me: Okay, then you HAVE to make Ro*tel. If your husband was raised on Velveeta, he’ll love you more than ever after you make this dip.

Jules: What’s that?

Me: Ro*tel? It’s diced tomatoes and green chilies.

Jules: How do you spell it? R-O-W-T-E-L-L-E?

Me: [laughing] No, R-O-star-T-E-L.

Jules: You mean there’s actually a star in its name?

Me: Yes.

Jules: Can I buy it up here?

[I look up where to buy Ro*tel online]

Me: Yep, there’s 5 stores that carry it in your town! Go. Now.

Jules: Where will I find it?

Me: Probably in the canned vegetables, next to the tomatoes. You’ve seriously never seen or heard of Ro*tel before? Wow.

Jules: Okay so besides Ro*tel, what else do I need to make this cheese dip?

[Jules tweets again.]

Me: 1 pound of Velveeta and 1 can of Ro*tel.

[I tweet a reply correcting Jules.]

Jules: How do I prepare the Velveeta?

Me: Dice it up and throw it in a bowl, then pour the Ro*tel on top. Nuke it until it’s nice and melted, stirring about every minute and a half to 2 minutes. I usually drain the Ro*tel because I like a thicker dip, but you can leave the juice if you want a thinner dip, totally up to you.

Later that afternoon…

Jules: I have my grocery list ready! What goes good with the dip for dinner?

Me: Ha! It’s always just my meal.

Jules: Seriously?

Me: Seriously, but you could do tacos, burgers, fajitas, or chili.

Jules: We should just dip our burgers in the cheese dip. Just kidding.

Me: Even better, you could top your burgers with cheese dip…and bacon. I’m serious.

Jules: Ok, I’m heading to the store.

Later that evening…

Jules: So 2 lbs velveeta and a can of rotel?

Me: NO!!!! 1 lb to 1 can.

Jules: So if I make 2 lbs I use 2 cans?

Me: Yes, that’s typically how math works.

Jules: Ok, heating up now.

Me: Ok, how is it? I need an update?

Jules: It was verra verra good! I am stuffed. We all enjoyed it, ate lots.

Me: Yay! Nothing makes me happier than a new Ro*tel lover.

And that, my friends? Is how I convinced Jules to make Ro*tel for the very first time. Everyone loved it and her daughter Caity, who I’m told does not like Velveeta, deemed it “pretty good”.

So to Jules and her family: I’m glad I could educate you on the state food of Arkansas. May you have many many more bowls of cheese dip and Ro*tel in your future!

And for anyone who’s interested in the history of cheese dip here’s a video:

“In Queso Fever: A Movie About Cheese Dip” from Nick Rogers on Vimeo.

image via Adam Kuban on Flickr
Cookies

C is for Cookie…

Cookies

…that’s good enough for me!

Tonight I decided to bake dishpan cookies or, as my coworkers and friends refer to them, Crack Cookies. It’s a recipe my mom came up with after taking her favorite ingredients from different recipes to make a brand new one. These cookies are amazing straight out of the oven and even better if you eat them straight out of the freezer (after baking of course). I think it’s the crystallization of the sugar…at least that’s what I tell myself. In fact, when mom makes these at Christmas, she fills up our Santa cookie jar and places the remainder in the freezer. The ones in the freezer always disappear before the ones in the cookie jar.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 cups oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 cups corn flakes
  • 1 1/2 cups oats
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped
  • 1 (12 ounce) package chocolate chips
  • 1 cup coconut

Directions:

  1. Cream first 5 ingredients until light and fluffy in large mixing bowl.
  2. Mix dry ingredients in large pan.
  3. Pour creamed mixture over dry ingredients and mix well.
  4. Drop by teaspoon on cookie sheet and bake in 350 oven for 8 – 10 minutes.

Note:  Do not overcook. I spray my cookie sheets with non-stick spray before cooking first batch.

Yield: 10 – 12 dozen cookies