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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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

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.

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

Where I’m From

I am from a two stoplight town, from Flywheel Pies, Sonic and chocolate turtles.

I am from the “big yellow house,” with intricate woodwork, Santa hanging from the front porch, and fireplaces alive with crackling embers.

I am from the fragrant gardenias and tasty honeysuckle, the peaceful fireflies and pesky mosquitoes.

I am from Wards and Owens, Ottie and Grand Merle – storyteller and gardener, Spaghetti maker and Oatmeal Crème Pie giver. Teacher.

I am from stature, grocers, Hog fans, volunteers, and friends.

From the parents who walked 3 miles uphill in the snow – barefoot and the relatives who offered wooden ice cream bars to innocent children [read: me].

I am from hearty Thanksgiving meals after raking leaves in toboggan caps and indelible family karaoke nights.

I am from faithful Methodists, from a sanctuary illuminated by stained glass, the kneeling pads sewn by my grandmother.

I’m from the South, great grand-daughter of Curtis. From Old Mike, El Spotro, Curley Wolves, and county fairs.  From fried chicken and banana pudding.

From women who sew, smock, tat, needlepoint, and crochet, from a Vietnam veteran.

I am from white-bordered photographs, stored in boxes, yellowed with age. The crunch of tires on a dirt driveway and the snap of tree limbs breaking under ice. A daughter shaped by her small southern town and the food she ate.

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

Baked Lemon Pasta

Perfect Spring Pasta

Baked Lemon PastaNothing says spring like a pollen covered car. It’s the sign that spring has sprung, that new life is blossoming, and that light, yet flavorful meals are a comforting dinner. My new standby pasta dish? Thanks to Pioneer Woman? Fits the bill perfectly. I mean, seriously, what says spring like lemon? And when you combine that with a bit of garlic and toss with some pasta? It’s not going to disappoint.

You see, one of my favorite movies is Julie & Julia. At the beginning of the movie, Julie arrives home from a stressful day at work and begins whipping up a Chocolate Cream Pie. She says:

“You know what I love about cooking? I love that after a day when nothing is sure, you can come home and absolutely know that if you add egg yolks to chocolate and sugar and milk it will get thick. It’s such a comfort.”

Well, this dish serves as that comfort for me. Only my day wasn’t stressful and my ingredients are sour cream, lemon, garlic, and butter. Nevertheless, after you’ve whipped it together once it’s practically mindless to whip up again. And mindless recipes that always come out right? Never hurt anyone.

Baked Lemon Pasta
adapted from The Pioneer Woman

Ingredients

  • half pound Thin Spaghetti
  • 2 Tablespoons Salted Butter
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 cloves Garlic, Minced
  • 1 whole Lemon, Juiced And Zested
  • 1 cup Light Sour Cream
  • Kosher Salt to taste
  • Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • Chopped Flat-leaf Parsley

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook spaghetti until al dente.
  2. In a skillet, melt butter with olive oil over LOW HEAT. When butter is melted, add minced garlic. Turn off heat. Squeeze lemon juice into the pan.
  3. Add sour cream and stir mixture together. Add lemon zest and salt. Taste, then add more salt if necessary.
  4. Combine mixture with drained spaghetti. Transfer spaghetti to an oven safe dish.
  5. Bake, covered with foil, for 15 minutes.
  6. Remove foil and bake for an additional 7 to 10 minutes. (Don’t bake too long or the pasta will dry out.)
  7. Squeeze a little more lemon juice over the top after you remove it from the oven.
  8. Top with Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley. Enjoy!

Servings: 3

Plate of food from Sweetie Pie's

The Trip that Led to the Best Meal of My Life…

Plate of food from Sweetie Pie's

Adam and I took a short road trip to St. Louis to visit my sister and see the sights just over a year ago. In the days leading up to it I was obsessive about a restaurant I had found online, as well as a museum my sister had told me about. In fact, obsessive may be a bit of an understatement. The entire trip ended up becoming quite the palette pleaser, except for Adam’s idea to eat at White Castle for lunch on our drive up. From wine and nuts, to soul food  OMG-ness and custard, this post is best read not on an empty stomach.

The restaurant was “Sweetie Pie’s at the Mangrove” and the owner was a former backup singer for Ike and Tina Turner [So umm, yeah. Cool!!!]. Food Network had featured it on “Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives” so I had high expectations. It was fantastic.

Served cafeteria style, you had your choice from 5 entrees coupled with 2 sides of your choice, cornbread, and an optional dessert. Here you see (clockwise) the crispiest and flakiest catfish I have ever put my lips to, the cheesiest 4 cheese mac and cheese cooked to perfection, a big hunk of moist cornbread, and the buttery deliciousness of mashed potatoes. For dessert I had an amazing peach and apple cobbler and a nibble of Adam’s INSANE banana pudding. I think I said OMG around 100 times while consuming this. The portions were HUGE, so huge in fact I had to take about half of what you see to my sister. Words cannot describe how great this meal was. I think this was the first time in my life that I was too full to clean my plate, and that was the biggest disappointment of this meal.

Pizza Margherita

Tonight, I had a craving for pizza. I’ve always been a fan of margherita pizza, but whenever I order it something’s always off. There’s either  too much tomato, too much cheese, not enough basil, etc. etc. I’ve never made a true pizza at home before, but thought it couldn’t be that bad, right? After my daily workout, I headed to K-Roger, as Adam calls it, and picked up the ingredients I thought I’d need.

I laid everything out on the counter and started playing. Well, my playing paid off, because my pizza was fantastic. In fact, it’s taking everything I have not to eat the entire pie in one setting.

Ingredients:

  • 1 can refrigerated pizza dough
  • ~ 5 slices mozzarella cheese
  • 1 vine-ripened tomato
  • 5 -6 basil leaves
  • 2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Italian Seasonings
  • Garlic Powder

Directions:

  1. Roll out the pizza dough onto your baking sheet/stone.
  2. In a small bowl, season EVOO with garlic powder and seasonings to your preference.
  3. Brush oil mixture onto the dough.
  4. Tear apart the mozzarella slices and spread them out across the dough.
  5. Thinly slice the tomato and place slices on top of the cheese.
  6. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and bake according to your dough’s directions. (Mine was 450 degrees for 13 minutes)
  7. Once out of the oven, tear basil leaves and sprinkle on top.
  8. Slice and enjoy!

Servings: 8

Nutrition per serving: 180 cals, 7g fat, 6.75g protein, 23.25g carbs, 7.2mg cholesterol

mmm, mmm, good!

The Fins have it right. Their meals are thought out and healthy. Colorful and, I dare to say, completely natural. We were lucky to get traditional “home cooking” for the majority of our stay and while I’ll be the first to say I’m a picky eater (I’m sure I’ll get a lot of agreements on that statement), I managed to find at least one dish at each meal that I enjoyed the taste of. I always loved the appearance of every dish!

I remember the first morning we were there and seeing our host, Liisa, come in from the grocery store with a big, woven basket of fresh fruits and vegetables. The thing that I was most surprised by was the way lettuce was sold. The roots were still attached at the bottom and the top was open to the air. Liisa told us that she could re-plant the lettuce if she wanted, but she rarely did.

Every meal had a beautiful, fresh salad. Easily the most colorful and vibrant I’ve ever seen. Crisp green lettuce and bright red tomatoes were the standard in almost every salad served. Additions like red onion, watermelon, cucumber, oil soaked feta, and grapes would also accompany the salad. One thing I’m sure to try back in the states is adding watermelon and red grapes to my salads every once in a while.

Potatoes were another big staple of Finnish cooking. Usually served au gratin or boiled with fresh dill, we learned that the Fins really enjoy a good starchy potato.

Every meal had some sort of meat. While there we had chicken, beef, and pork. My favorite preparation were the mincemeat patties with onion. Similar to meatloaf, but fixed without ketchup and in small patties, they were cooked in the oven and positively delightful!!

One obvious and yet ignored practice by most Americans is that if the Fins have a heavy meal for lunch or dinner, the other meals of the day are adjusted accordingly. Normally the smaller meal is a simple preparation of breads, fruits, and cheeses. I’m really going to have to adopt that. These small meals were some of my favorites of the trip.

Finally, Coca-Cola tastes 100 times better in Europe. Perhaps the reason could be the simplicity of the ingredients: Carbonated Water, Sugar, Colour, Phosphoric Acid, Flavorings, and Caffeine. I guess what they say is true, “The easier it is to pronounce the ingredients, the better the taste.”

Comfort Food

Last week I had a hankering to cook up some comfort food.

I wanted something easy, that used ingredients I already had in my pantry, and was quick. I dig through my cabinets and see some whole wheat/whole grain bread, sugar and cinnamon. I immediately become reminded of my childhood and having breakfasts of Cinnamon Toast.

The memories flood my mind as soon as the aroma fills my apartment and I’m in a nostalgic heaven. Memories of flouring the kitchen while “baking” before mom wakes up, helping my grandmas bake on the weekends, and more recently finding my love of cooking – one recipe at a time – bring a smile to my face.

This cinnamon toast is the epitome of comfort food to me and has quickly become my breakfast staple.

Meggie’s Cinnamon Toast

Ingredients

  • 1 slice Whole grain/whole wheat bread
  • 1/3 tsp Cinnamon
  • 2/3 tsp Sugar
  • 0 calorie fake butter spray (as much as you prefer)

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven broiler to high.
  2. Place bread on baking sheet and spray with the fake butter
  3. Mix cinnamon and sugar together, then sprinkle onto the bread.
  4. Place in oven and cook until toasted. Be careful not to burn.
  5. Devour.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

It’s Friday! I’ve got the weekend to myself and I’m ready to chill until Monday. I’m starting my weekend off with a bit of comfort food.

I don’t think there’s anything more comforting than a crusty golden bread bowl of tortilla soup. It’s spicy, hot, and a bit cheesy; just what I needed before I start my Friday DVR catch-up!

Another comfort? The movie Tortilla Soup. If you haven’t seen, or heard of it, go rent it. It’s the ultimate chick flick, just don’t watch it on an empty stomach. That is, unless, you WANT to gorge in mexican food afterwards, then by all means…

Happy Friday, y’all!