Mauve Cabinets and a Bottle of Red

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Location: Peoria, IL, United States

Monday, November 23, 2009

Easy Chicken Casserole

This is definitely not the healthiest dinner ever, but it was so so satisfying. I was craving some serious comfort food and this definitely fit the bill. There's nothing complicated about this one, this is the kind of casseroley type of dinner that my friends and I grew up on, a kind of half home cooked. (I hesitate to use the term "semi homemade" because that just brings up the horrible image of that god awful drugged blonde host.)

Chicken and Rice Bake
Adapted from

1 can Cream of Chicken Soup (or cream of mushroom, or cream of broccoli or cheddar cheese, play around!)
3/4 cup rice
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp seasoning blend
2 chicken breasts

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Stir the soup with rice, soup, paprika and pepper in 2 quart baking dish. Place chicken on top. Sprinkle your favorite seasoning blend on top of chicken.
Bake for 45 minutes.

Serve with some kind of green veggie (peas are delicious!).

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hangover Remedy

Ok guys, seriously, ya'll should take away the computer when I'm drinking. Sorry about that. But hey, I got a post up!

This morning, yeah, not feeling so great, as expected. Luckily, I don't have a headache but my stomach is pretty queasy. I always find I need some protein the day after a bender, I don't know the science but it seems to quiet my nausea.

Lately I've been craving eggs like nothing else, which is really odd because I've never been much of an egg person. It's a texture thing. I love the runny yolk but the whites freak me out. My animal friends LOVE it when I make eggs because they usually get the left over whites. I always feel so wasteful when I do that though.

So this morning, I tried something new and oh my goodness, you need to make this now. It took a little bit longer than your normal eggs over easy, but the result just melted in my mouth. The recipe takes your standard breakfast ingredients and fancies them up a little bit. You can easily serve this for a wedding shower brunch, just make them in muffin tins instead of ramekins. I didn't do it this morning, but you could saute some veggies--mushrooms, tomatoes, asparagus --in butter and garlic and put them in the bottom, under the egg. It's a recipe you can play around with quite a bit.

Baked Eggs in Ham Cups
Adapted from YumSugar!

2 slices shaved ham (see note at bottom)
Asiago cheese, grated
1 Egg
Splash of milk (or cream if you have it)

Preheat oven to 375.
Grease a ramekin (or muffin tin). Line the cup with ham. Sprinkle cheese in bottom. Crack egg into cup. Pour just a touch of milk/cream on top of egg, this will keep egg from setting too hard.
Bake for 20 minutes, no more, or the yolk will not be runny.

Note: You need to use shaved ham for this, not the really thick sliced ham. However, you need shaved ham with a little bit of body to it. If you can see through the ham, it will work for eating, but won't be pretty if you're serving for a party. I used prepacked "deli-style" shaved ham, and because it's done by a machine, the ham comes out of the package torn. My recommendation is to go to your store's deli and have them shave it for you. You might tell them what you're using it for and see if they can adjust the settings on their machine so it is a little thicker. See the two pictures below and you'll see what I'm talking about.

Photo by me: See how my ham didn't really hold up? You can't see the sides, but the egg white soaked through the torn holes in the ham. It was yummy, but not pretty enough to serve at a party.

Photo by Yumsugar: Done by a Food Photographer of course, but, gorgeous nonetheless. You see the difference? If you're going to serve this for a party, use a higher quality ham, something that has some thickness to it so it holds the egg in.

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

quick drink recipe

Ok. here's the deal. when I post a drink recipe, you can probably guess I've been drinking it. therefore, this post will be short, to the point. and I can't guarantee there won't be typos.


2 Shots Dr. McGillicuddy's Peppermint Schnapps, kept in the freezer at least overnight (mine is stored in there)
1 shot Starbucks Coffee Liquer

Stir ingredients together in a martini glass (or in my case, a margarita glass because it's that or a wine glass).

Sorry about the short post but I've been working the busiest Saturday we've had in, well, I really don't know because I don't work during the day on Saturdays anymore. But basically this introvert has been on the phone all day. And this drink is REALLY good. Yum! Go enjoy!

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Friday, November 20, 2009

A Non-Eggy Egg Casserole

There's something about me you should know. I am a little bit of a freak of nature. (You might have figured that out already.) I rarely do anything the way everyone else does it. Or if a food is really super popular, I probably don't like it. Take mayonnaise for example. Who doesn't like mayo? Me. That's who. Blech. Or Deviled Eggs. Or Egg Casserole.

So when my "other moms" (aka my mother's long time best friends) threw my wedding shower brunch, they had a dilemma. What in the world were they going to serve? Egg Casserole is the norm at these sorts of functions. And of course, Haley doesn't eat them (seriously, who doesn't like egg casserole, that's just weird)! Have no fear! TO brought this lovely concoction. I had tried it once before at some other get together right before the shower, and loved it. It was the perfect solution. She was kind enough to include the recipe in my shower book too :).

Sweet Girl's Shower Casserole
(Well, I had to give it a proper name didn't I, T??? :-P)
From T.O.

16 eggs
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup Evaporated milk
1/4 cup butter
6 slices of bacon, browned
4.5 oz jar of dried beef
2 cans cream of chicken soup
3 cups milk
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp onion powder
2 cups shredded cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Scramble first 4 ingredients and set aside.

Mix flour and onion powder with soup. Add milk and cook in skillet for about 5-10 minutes, or until bubbling. Cut up meat and crumble into mixture.

Spray 9x13 pan with cooking spray. Pour in scrambled eggs. Sprinkle with 1 cup shredded cheese. Pour gravy mixture over eggs and cheese. Top with 1 more cup cheese. Bake for 45-50 minutes.

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Uh oh!

Well, it finally happened. I forgot to do a post. I was not in the best of moods last night and I just gave up and went to bed. I didn't remember until about 3 am that I hadn't written a blog!

So to make up for it, you get two posts today.

The first recipe is going to be a pretty standard pumpkin pie recipe, but I know everyone is looking for the best one right now, so I thought I'd help you out with your search. I made this one last year and it went over pretty well.

Pate Brisee (Short Crust Pastry)

1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp white sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1" pieces
1/4 cup ice water

In food processor, combine flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter and process until it resembles coarse meal. Slowly add water and process until dough balls. Flatten to disk, wrap in plastic. Store in fridge for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Roll out dough for pate brisee. Place in pie pans. Wrap in plastic and chill again for 30 minutes.

Pumpkin Pie

3 large eggs
2 cups fresh pumpkin puree
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/8 ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 375.
Lightly whisk eggs. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Pour into prepared pie shell. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until filling is set and crust has browned.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cheesy Sausage Ragu

I gotta tell you, I've missed my kitchen this week. As tired as I've been, I've been uber frustrated with the lack of cooking I have been doing. But, I've brought so much paperwork home with me every night that I just have not been able to spend time in the kitchen. I did work an extra hour off the clock tonight, but I didn't bring work home with me. Instead, I came home and went straight upstairs. I didn't use a recipe for this. It was born out of the ingredients of my fridge, things I needed to get rid of.

Cheesy Sausage Ragu
From me!

1/2 lb of your favorite pasta (I used Rigatoni but I think something smaller would work better)
1/2 roll sausage (I used hot Italian)
1 cup Marinara sauce
Garlic powder
Dried Basil
Dried Oregano
Dried Thyme
Dried Rosemary (Dear spice company, can you for consistency's sake, use the same shaker cap on your rosemary as you do on all other herbs/spices? That way when I open the cap I don't pour half the bottle into my sauce. Kthx)
Salt and Pepper
Worcestershire sauce (what, did you actually expect me to make a recipe without it??)
2 oz fresh mozzerella, chopped
1/4 cup mascarpone

Boil water. Cook pasta per package directions.
While pasta is cooking, brown sausage in medium skillet. Drain grease. Add marinara sauce to meat. Add spices and herbs to your taste. Be careful with the rosemary. It's tricky! Let this simmer until pasta is almost done. Just before you drain pasta, add cheese to sauce. Drain pasta. Mix pasta into sauce. Serve with grated Parmesan on top.

Note--You can change the cheeses in this. I happen to have fresh Mozzerella and mascarpone from another recipe. You could easily use shredded packaged mozzerella and cream cheese. You just want something melty/stringy and something smooth and creamy. I'm all about using what you have on hand. Same with the herbs--use what you've got.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Missing Recipes...

For the most part, we are moved in and unpacked. We are down to the boxes of crap that we just don't know what to do with. The stuff that I just need to take a weekend and get out of the boxes and put away, but a lot of it is decorative stuff, or stuff for our living room. The problem? We don't have furniture for our living room. I also don't have the bookshelves for my office, so a lot of that stuff hasn't been unpacked yet. So I have a bunch of random junk boxes in my garage. It is driving me CRAZY!!! I am constantly running into nights like tonight, when I need something, that I know I have somewhere, but can't find it anywhere. I looked through every single one of those boxes. I had a very specific recipe I wanted to share with you guys, but it is in my recipe box that has not appeared yet. Urgh I am so frustrated!

Instead, I pulled out the recipe book that my sister made for my wedding shower. I found this simple recipe from my mom that made my mouth water with nostalgia. I remember munching on these at Thanksgiving every year, but I never realized she was the one who made them. Although as I'm writing that, I have the vague memory of eating them warm out of the oven...mmmm.... Anyway, I haven't made this recipe myself but these are fantastic, trust me. And the recipe looks fairly simple to make (and knowing Mom, it has to be simple to make. LOVE YOU MOM, but I know how much you to hate to cook!)

Oyster Crackers
From My Mom

1 pkg oyster crackers
1 cup Wesson oil
1 pkg Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing
1/2 tsp lemon pepper

Mix last 3 ingredients, add crackers. Spread onto cookie sheet. Bake at 200 degrees for 1 1/2-2 hours. Stir every 30 minutes. Store in an airtight container. Wash entire kitchen 3 times until there is no trace that you did any cooking in the last 6 months. (Hehe *kiss*)

Note--As you can probably tell...this post is all in good fun. My mom and I are two very different people. She loves to clean, I love to cook. We tease each other quite a bit about each others strong points (like when I knew that the mystery sauce served with the asparagus at dinner the other night was beurre blanc. I never heard the end of it.) My mom and I fought like cats and dogs when I was in high school, but now that I have moved out, we spend as much time as we can together. Love you Mom!!!!

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Pure Fall Heaven

Back when I made this, I had bought 2 squash, thinking that J. would love acorn squash, and I'd make it again. He didn't. Thus, I've had an extra squash sitting in my basket just waiting on me to do something with it. So, for lunch on Sunday, I decided to crack that baby open. Now, that is no easy task. Make sure you have a high quality knife and anchor your cutting board. You might even pierce the squash and stick it in the microwave for a few minutes to start the cooking process before slicing it open. I haven't tried that, I don't know how that would work. It should soften the skin a bit, to make it easier to cut open. However you slice it, be VERY CAREFUL. But, if you are hankering for something sweet and sugary, try this. Squash has sooooooo many vitamins. I made mine with sugar and butter, but you could easily do this with honey and your favorite low cal spread to lighten it up. 1 half was enough to feed me, I put the other half in a baggie in the fridge for another day.

Microwave Squash

Slice squash in half, scoop out guts. Place cut side down in microwave safe dish (I used my CorningWare) and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Cook on high for 8 minutes, until flesh is soft. Very carefully remove plastic wrap. Just as carefully, remove flesh from skin. Mix in butter, brown sugar, dried rosemary, salt. Mmmmmm...Pure fall heaven!

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Thanksgiving Yummies

My sister asked me for this recipe today, so I figured I'd post it on here. I'm not really cooking today, sort of taking the weekend off since it's my birthday weekend.

My aunt brought these to Thanksgiving a few years ago. My sisters and I DEVOURED them. Seriously, we could not keep our hands out of the container. Mom kept telling us to stop eating cookies or we couldn't complain about our weight (it was during those awkward high school years when we all had self esteem issues). We didn't care. We kept going back for more and more and more.

For my wedding shower, my sister put together a book of recipes from everyone in attendance. Aunt Ellen submitted this one, because she knew how much I loved these cookies. These are dangerous. Proceed with caution.

Pumpkin Cookies
From Aunt Ellen

1 cup butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
2 cups pumpkin
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
4 cups flour

Preheat oven to 350.
Cream butter, sugar, and pumpkin.
Add the rest of the ingredients, mix well.
Drop cookies onto greased pan. Bake for 8-10 minutes.
Cool Completely.
Ice with cream cheese frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting
From Aunt Ellen

8 oz cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla
1 stick softened butter
16 oz powdered sugar

Mix together cream cheese, vanilla, and butter. Slowly mix in powdered sugar until you come to your preferred consistency and sweetness. (I like to taste the cream cheese, some people prefer it a lot sweeter. I never use all 16 oz of sugar.)

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Restaurant Review--Oceanaire

Today has been the PERFECT day! I told J. I wanted to go to Indy for my birthday, to shop and explore. I love living so close to the city, but we don't get down there near often enough. I had been hearing a lot about Broad Ripple Village, and wanted to check it out. It was cute, definitely a neat area, although I hope we just missed a lot of it because it did not seem like there was much there. After that we went to Circle Centre, and did a little actual shopping, to kill some time before our dinner reservations at 6:30.

The best part about the day was that by coincidence, my parents were flying into Indy this afternoon, on the way home from a cruise! When we found out we were going to be in the city together, we changed our reservations from 2 to 4 people and spent the afternoon together. Mom and I shopped, Dad and J. grabbed a beer before dinner.

Dinner was at the Oceanaire, just a block away from the mall. From the moment we walked in the door, Wow. Now, I don't have much to compare it to--I'm a rural girl who has grown up on chain faire like Applebees and Red Lobster. But I wanted an upscale, semi-gourmet meal, and that is what I got.

The service, first of all, was excellent. The waitstaff was everywhere, constantly filling water glasses if they were an inch below the top, removing plates if they were empty, bringing relish, bread, etc. They were extraordinarily attentive. I was very pleased. Our waiter was pleasantly friendly, very helpful. He didn't smirk at me when I asked what the fish was in our relish tray (Pickled herring by the way might be my new favorite thing. OMG.), or when Dad jumped when he asked "would you like us to shell your crab for you, sir?" (at no charge even! Trust me, we asked first). There were a dozen places he could have upsold or overcharged us and instead, he told us how the sides and desserts would each feed most of the table, so we only needed one, not four.

Now on to the food. It was so good. I mean really, I just don't know what to say other than it was excellent seafood for an inland restaurant. You don't find very many of those around here. All of us were happy with what we ordered.

I had the swordfish with caramelized onions and blue cheese.
Sorry about the fuzzy cellphone picture, it's all I had. It was a bit like eating a big steak! The edges were a bit dry, but once you got to the middle, the fish was much softer and more moist. The spices were fantastic. The blue cheese was a bit much for the fish and I wiped most of it off. While I like blue cheese, it overpowered the fish, I thought. The fish itself though was pretty good.

J.'s dish was the best on the table. He ordered Mahi Mahi oscar style. I didn't get a picture unfortunately, he dug in almost immediately. With good reason too. It was covered in a rich Bearnaise sauce that we just couldn't stop eating! Oh man it was so good.

For an appetizer we had asparagus with beurre blanc. There was nothing special about the asparagus but the sauce I have to mention. If anything makes me want to learn French cooking, it is that sauce alone. Oh my goodness. If it kills me, I will learn to make beurre blanc. I could have drank that sauce. But I refrained.

Dessert was Grand Marnier Creme Brulee. That was the first time I've ever had any kind of Creme Brulee and I must say, I can't wait to have it again. As J. said--"Can you make this in gallon-sized?"

Overall, the day was fantastic. It was gorgeous out, a perfect day for walking outside, and it was great to be able to see my parents on my birthday. As for my gourmet restaurant experience, all I can say is...when is my next birthday???

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Green Pasta

Sorry about last night, guys. I know it was a skeeze of a post, but I was sooooooooo sick. CO2 poisoning is no fun! I am feeling MUCH better today though, the gas fumes have dissipated and the furnace parts are on order.

J. and I are going up to Huntington tonight for some festivities so I wanted to be sure to get this post up early.

Last night's recipe came from Artisan Sweets. It was fairly simple to put together, and full of Vitamin A, from the broccoli. However, I fattened it up quite a bit with butter and cream. This is one of those recipes that you don't measure, just throw it all in and taste. I would suggest using more milk than cream, otherwise it gets too thick for the blender (not that I found that out the hard way or anything). It's one of those recipes that you think...I am not really sure about this one. And even when we sat down to eat it, the green color was kind of off putting. But with pepper and Parmesan on top, this one is a keeper.

Broccoli Pasta
Adapted from Artisan Sweets

Steam broccoli over pot of boiling water. Remove from pot, throw in salt and your favorite pasta (I used bow tie). Saute broccoli in butter or oil and garlic, just until garlic is soft. Throw broccoli and garlic in a blender with butter, milk, and cream. Season with salt and pepper, maybe some other herbs, if you have any on hand (I had a little rosemary). Pulse until smooth. You may have to stir with a spoon, or add a little more milk to get it all to puree. Drain pasta, put back in pot, then pour sauce over. Add big handful or two of shredded mozzarella. Serve with lots of freshly ground pepper and Parmesan cheese on top!

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Thursday, November 12, 2009


My post tonight is short. Figured out why I've been not feeling well lately. Gas leak at work that has been getting progressively worse. They found a hole in one of the pipes, and there is also a leak in the furnace! It got really really bad today, and I am completely exhausted from breathing in the fumes. I managed to make dinner but now, at 9:30 I can hardly keep my eyes open. I'm sorry, I will post tomorrow when I am feeling better.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Happy Veteran's Day!

Applebee's for dinner tonight...yum! They were offering free entrees for soldiers, so J. and I met another couple there after work. Unfortunately, our waitress was very ignorant. She asked the guys if they were in the Army, but once the answer was yes from both, she said "but you guys aren't vets." A. told her that "Well, yes, actually we both have been to Iraq, so that would make us veterans." She actually had the gall to tell him again, that NO he was not a vet!

At this point, I was ready to walk out. J. and A's girlfriend were just kind of sitting there but A. and I are both pretty fiery. We were clearly offended. The longer the conversation went on, the more she put her foot in her mouth. It was just bad all around. Finally, she went to get our drink orders and stopped talking to us. She came back later and apologized if "we took her the wrong way."

While I understand what she was getting at, this kind of attitude is exactly what I was talking about in my last military post. These guys worked their butts off over there, and if we just shake them off like they don't matter, they are going to continue to suffer. We have to treat them like they really are veterans who are serving our country. They deserve that respect. It's a different kind of war, but they still deserve that respect.

Ok, enough ranting. I promise this isn't going to become a normal thing, it's just something about this week I think. This is something that I'm passionate about, but I know you guys don't come to my food blog for a bunch of one way rants about military stuff.

However, I am going to share a great recipe for all you military supporters out there! These are so easy to make and will make a soldier's week. I bet if you ask your pastor, he can tell you soldiers to send them to, or there are all kinds of organizations online who have units to mail care packages to. Try these soon!

Soldier Jar Cakes

1 Cake recipe (can be box mix or homemade)
1 pint ball jars and lids

Make cake batter as recipe calls for it. Pour batter into jars. Only fill to about 1/2 full, otherwise the jars will overflow and you won't be able to get the lids on. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until cake is completely cooked. Remove from oven and immediately screw lids on. BE VERY CAREFUL AS JARS WILL BE SUPER LAVA HOT!!! Leave on counter to cool, jars will seal on their own. Once completely cool, pack carefully in a shipping box with jarred frosting and plastic silverware.

An idea--if your soldier is having a birthday, pack candles and, party hats and noisemakers with the cake. It seems really silly and juvenile to a 20 year old male here at home, but trust me, the bored soldier in Iraq will LOVE it. J. turned 21 in Iraq, so I packed a 6 pack of root beer with his cakes, since he couldn't have real beer (alcohol is forbidden in Muslim countries).

Also, if you do have a soldier overseas, go to, they have special care package kits for free for military families. They will send you packing materials for free. I STILL have rolls of packing tape from those kits. They will also send you flat rate boxes and customs papers. You will have to pay postage, but it cuts way back on shipping materials!

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

We had breakfast for dinner tonight. It was delicious, but no recipes came out of it. Just a couple of eggs and some hashbrowns, nothing special. Just an easy, comforting meal after what was a very nervous day. I was not in the mood for cooking a big fancy meal. However, we can now breathe a big sigh of relief.

The problem--what to blog about tonight? Crap! So I went to the reserves for this one. It makes a great snack dip, something I like to keep in the fridge to dip celery and carrots in. It would also be good to take to a party as well, although you might want to make a double recipe if you are going to be entertaining.

Dill Dip

1/2 cup mayo
1/2 cup sour cream
1 handful dill
1 tsp seasoning salt
1/4 tsp onion salt
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp dried minced onion
1 Tbsp dried parsley
1/4 tsp hot sauce

Mix ingredients together and chill. Serve with cut veggies. Also makes a good sandwich or cracker spread.

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Shrimp Flip!

I got this recipe from a Twitter friend--this was a favorite family recipe of his. His recipe originally called to flour the shrimp and fry it in 1/2 cup olive oil, which I'm sure would be marvelously delicious as well! As for me, I prefer my fried shrimp with cocktail sauce. If I'm going to have a wine sauce, I want my shrimp naked. That is the wonderful thing about cooking. You can ALWAYS change a recipe to how you like it.

I was so excited when I was cooking this recipe, because as I was cooking the shrimp I flipped it! You know what I mean, that fancy chef flip! I did it right on my first try, and I was so excited that I called J. up to the kitchen to watch. Of course as soon as he got to the kitchen, I threw shrimp across the room. Luckily we only lost 1 or 2. Sigh.

Note--next time you order a shrimp dinner and are complaining because it's taking so long--Don't. Instead remember that somewhere in the back of that Red Lobster someone is taking the poop pipe out of each teeny tiny little sea insect so that you can eat it. Mmm Delicious.

Note Squared--If you do make this at home, I recommend buying your shrimp already deveined. It is usually a few cents more expensive, but much less gross.

Herb's Shrimp in Wine Sauce
Adapted from KayDub

1/2 cup white wine
2 tsp tomato paste
4 Tbsp warm water
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
Dash cayenne pepper
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Tbsp Butter
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 lb shrimp
1 green onion, chopped
2 tsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp chopped parsley

In a small sauce pan, whisk together tomato paste, water, salt, pepper, cayenne, and wine, in saucepan. Simmer for about 5 minutes to reduce.

Heat olive oil and butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until it starts to turn translucent. Add shrimp and saute until almost completely cooked thru. Add onion. Add sauce to shrimp. Cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute longer to finish cooking shrimp. Garnish with parsley and lemon juice. Serve warm with New Potatoes and Roasted Garlic (seriously this was goooooood).

This would also be really good served over linguine or with some thick, crusty bread to sop up the sauce.

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

This one's for my cousin...

I found out today that my cousin was in a pretty bad accident and has ended up with his jaw wired shut. Poor guy! His mom tells me he's been pretty miserable--he's a really active guy, and being cooped up I'm sure has not been kind to him. All he can eat right now is pureed soups, which, unless you are the culinary arteeeest that I am (*rolls eyes*) can be pretty boring. I told Aunt G that I had the perfect recipe for her to fix!

Of course, this recipe is fantastic even for those of us who have full use of our jaws, so definitely try this the next time you feel like a warm bowl of comfort. And try it with grilled cheese--only, instead of the usual Kraft singles, try a grown up grilled cheese with this! There are so many other cheeses out there...explore the gourmet cheese section by your store's deli section up front. Even Wal-mart has a small one.

Roasted Tomato Soup

2 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes (use any mix you like, but always use fresh)
6 cloves garlic, peeled
2 small yellow onions, sliced
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper
1 quart chicken stock
2 bay leaves
4 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
3/4 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Wash, core, and halve the tomatoes. Spread the tomatoes, garlic cloves, and onions onto a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 20-30 minutes, until caramelized.
Remove roasted veggies from oven and transfer to a large stock pot. Add 3/4 of stock, bay leaves, and butter. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until liquid has reduced by a 3rd.

Wash and dry basil leaves. Add to the pot. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup until smooth (Or pour soup into regular blender or food processor. Just be careful with hot soup.). Lower heat, add cream and adjust consistency with remaining chicken stock, if necessary. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Is This Seat Taken?

One of my coworkers, JB, is famous for her cheesecakes. She has brought some to work, and my technicians just go crazy for them. She mentioned on Thursday that there was a contest that she was thinking of entering, but it was in Modoc and she just wasn't sure if she should go.

"Modoc," I said, "It's not at the winery is it?"
"Yeah, Wilson Wines, or something like that?"
"Ohhhhhhh we are SOOOOOOO GOING!!!!"

That was the end of that. I've been wanting to visit Wilson Wines for awhile now, but hadn't made the 40 minute drive yet. Then she told me the get a free bottle of wine for every cheesecake you enter! Well, I had never made a cheesecake before but I had several recipes in my binder just waiting to be tried. Here's the perfect reason! So, in typical Haley style, I entered a food contest without ever tasting my entry :).

I definitely learned a few things about cheesecake making--the main thing being that you should ALWAYS butter a round of parchment paper and put that on the bottom, between the crust and the pan. Otherwise, you will be taking the pan with you to the contest. Also, let your ganache cool a little bit before pouring it onto the cake, otherwise you will have a mess in your fridge.

The day was so much fun. The winery itself was a small farm, with a little cookout patio area. They have a stage, where they host live music in the summer. Apparently, they have Bring Your Own Meat Fridays where they put grills out and you come and BBQ with a bunch of people. I think J and I will definitely try that sometime next year! JB and I were sitting alone at a table and we kept having people come up to our table and ask if they could sit with us in the extra two chairs. We met so many people this way! Suddenly I was Miss Social Butterfly, chatting about wine and food. I was completely in my element. It just makes me even more confident that I am finding my purpose in this world--food. I can't wait to see where this path leads!

Hey look, I actually remembered to take a picture!

Nutella Cheesecake with Chocolate Ganache
Adapted from The Picky Apple

3 cups Oreo crumbs, divided
2 Tbsp white sugar
1/2 cup melted butter

24 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 egg yolks
1 whole egg
1/2 cup milk
1 jar Nutella

1 cup heavy cream
1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 Tbsp butter

1 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts

Heat oven to 350.
Combine 2 cups crumbs with butter and sugar. Wrap springform pan in foil. Pat into the bottom of pan and bake for 15 minutes.
In bowl of mixer, beat cream cheese. Add sugar, flour, salt and vanilla until just combined. Add eggs, beat on low until just combined. Add milk and Nutella, beat until Nutella is completely mixed in.
Pour filling into springform pan.
Reduce heat to 300 Degrees. Place pan on cookie sheet and then place in oven. Bake for 1 hour, turn off oven and let bake for another 45 minutes, until center appears set when shaken lightly. Remove and cool on wire rack.
Bring cream to a boil. Pour over chocolate chips. Stir until smooth and shiny. Spread evenly over top of cheesecake.
Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or overnight is better, to set.
Before serving, remove sides and bottom of pan. Carefully remove round of parchment paper from bottom of cake and place on serving dish.
Press remaining crumbs all around the cake to form the outside crust. Sprinkle toasted hazelnuts on top of cake (This is the perfect step if you, hm, have any cracks or have accidentally smudged the ganache. That's why I saved it for AFTER the refrigeration step. This ganache is soft enough to push the nuts into it.)
Note: Don't be surprised if you see me use some of the wines I bought today in my recipes. I only bought 4 bottles (and was given a bottle of Cranberry for entering a cake), but I will be going back to get more. I have no agreement with WW to use their wines, but they have several fantastic reds on their list. And the blackberry is to DIE for...Seriously, go check them out here.

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Finally Friday!

Oh Friday nights. They are like a huge sigh of relief. Except usually, I come home and relax. Tonight...not so much. Why not? Well, I am entering a cheesecake contest tomorrow. A nearby winery is having their annual holiday festival, and a coworker and I are entering the contest. She is pretty famous for her cheesecakes, and has even shipped hers to California to be tested by a restaurateur! Me, it's just an experiment. I've never made a real cheesecake before and I thought it would be fun to try! I'll post that recipe tomorrow, once I can see how it turns out.

Because I was busy making the cheesecake, I didn't cook dinner. We ordered a pizza instead. Oh No! I have to post SOMETHING for NaBloWriMo! So I have for you tonight is one of my old standby recipes. It's one of those that I don't really have a set recipe for, or even know where it originally came for. I often will buy catfish or other whitefish on sale, and freeze each fillet individually in small baggies, then leave one out to thaw if I know I'm going to be alone for dinner. Just throw together a salad, or some SteamFresh veggies and you have a pretty good meal.

Pan-Fried Catfish

1 Fillet Catfish
Your favorite spice rub

Melt a pad of butter in a skillet over medium high heat. While butter is heating, rub spices into both sides of fish. Place fish in pan. Fry on both sides until meat is flaky, just a few minutes each. Put on plate and pour any extra butter over the top.

See, easy!!

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

God With Us...

Disclaimer: I am not going to claim to be an expert on the situation at Fort Hood, all of the following are my own thoughts and feelings. Still, I feel that on a day like today, I need to speak up, so tonight's post is going to be a little different than the norm.

I am heartbroken for those involved and affected in today's shooting. My prayers go out to the victims' families, as well as the rest of the soldiers on base.

We can't know the reasons true for the shooting. There seem to be two teams of thought right now: one being Islamic descent and the other being PTSD.

PTSD has been affecting me personally quite a bit lately. Because of that, it has made me step up and take a look at how little awareness there is. All the time we hear "Support Our Troops!" But what they mean is "Support Our Troops Who Are Overseas Who Only You Know!" Now, I am a military wife, so when J. was deployed, yes, I was all over sending him care packages and wore red, white and blue and put out a yellow ribbon and all that jazz.

But it CANNOT stop there. Not for us at home, and NOT for the Army. For our unit, PTSD awareness meant a short lecture during the post deployment briefing telling us what the signs were. Maybe a few pamphlets. They tried to give us the resources we needed. However, at that time, we all just shook it off. We were too excited for our soldiers to be home. PTSD was not going to happen to us, we hardly saw any "real" action. However, it never should have been left at that, in my opinion.

Now, I don't know how things work in active Army units. But in my opinion, I think the military should require periodical mental health checks for at least a year, if not two, post deployment. For reservists, it would be easy--build the checks into the monthly drills, or even every 2-3 months. But do SOMETHING. The Army HAS to ensure that their soldiers are being taken care of. They cannot leave it up to the soldiers--there is too much of a stigma that if you ask for help you are weak. Not only that, but sometimes you don't always break down all at once. It can be a slow spiral that is full of denial. The soldier doesn't want to get help, and often the family doesn't push the subject, if they even see it happening. As I said earlier, you always think it won't happen to you.

Ok, enough of all that. Where can you go to get help?

1. Call your local VA. They will gladly do a mental screening, set you up with a doctor, and get you the help you need.

2. Here's a great group who is putting out information for PTSD. They were very active on Twitter tonight during the Fort Hood discussions.

3. If you are in a crisis situation, call 911 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Like I said, these are my own thoughts and opinions. Really, I just want to see more soldiers get help. I've seen it with my own eyes how much pain PTSD causes. We saw today a huge mass media tragedy and it's absolutely devestating. My heart goes out to those people. But we can't let it stop here. When the media coverage dies down, it can't stop here. Because PTSD won't stop here.

*steps down off soapbox*

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Crockpot Comfort

What a long, horrible day. I am a chronic migraine sufferer and have been since middle school. After they put me in the emergency room this year, I finally made an appointment with a great neurologist who specializes in migraines and he put me on some preventative medication that has helped tremendously. And I had to give up caffeine, which was devastating to this coffee addict! I've also been seeing a chiropractor once a week to help with the stress on my neck and shoulders--a lot of my migraines start with the tension in that area.

Still, a few times a month I still get migraines, I don't think you can ever truly be rid of them. Things like stress or weather are my main triggers. Today one hit me sooo hard. It was a miserable day. I couldn't concentrate, all I wanted to do was go home and sleep. Unfortunately, I had to keep working, I'm not one to call in sick.

Not only that, I knew I would have to do a blog post tonight, and I needed a recipe. Which meant I had to make something for dinner. So on my lunch break, I ran home, and threw this in the crockpot. Whoever invented that wonderful appliance deserves a throne. Seriously. Some days there is just nothing better than a crockpot.

I followed the directions on this one. It's nothing fancy, just comfy, warm soup. It's not spicy as is, but you could turn up the heat by adding jalepenos instead of red peppers, or using a spicier enchilada sauce than I did. I've also seen versions of this with nacho cheese condensed soup instead of cream of chicken, and it's wonderful like that.

Chicken Enchilada Soup

1 can Black Beans, rinsed and drained
1 can diced tomatoes (I used fire roasted but I don't think it made a difference here)
1 10 oz package frozen corn
1/2 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 can enchilada sauce
1 can condensed cream of chicken soup
1 1/2 cup milk (Ours was spoiled, ugh, but I had 3/4 pint of heavy cream so I used that instead)
2 whole chicken breasts
1 cup pepper jack cheese, shredded

In Crockpot, combine all ingredients. Cook for 3-4 hours on high or 6-8 on low.
Remove chicken and shred. Put back in soup.
Serve with cheese on top.

Also good with sour cream, cilantro, and tortilla chips.

Note: This makes a ton--I kept some in the fridge for the next few lunches, and then packed the rest in individual freezer containers. Who needs Stouffer's when you can make your own microwaveable meal?

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Spoiled Rotten

The good thing about having 15 male coworkers is that there are always hungry guys around looking for a treat. They come to the shop between jobs and even if they've just had lunch, they are always ready for another break. Basically I have 15 guinea pigs around when I get the hankering to bake. I tried to convince my boss to promote me to company chef and send me to culinary school but he would have none of it. Ah well. For now I'll just have to be satisfied bringing these babies in to feed my guys. I don't hear them complaining much.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp clove
pinch of ground ginger
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar (I ran out, so I used 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1/2 cup white sugar and about 1/4 molasses to make up the rest)
1/2 cup sugar (in addition to what I used with molasses)
1 egg
15 oz can of pure pumpkin (ok, who seriously has ever seen a 15 oz can of pumpkin? not me. My store carries one size. GIGANTIC. So I used 1/2 a 29 oz can.)
1 tsp vanilla
1 bag chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375.
In a small bowl, mix together flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and ginger together and set aside.
In mixer, cream together butter and sugars. Add pumpkin and vanilla. Beat in egg.
Gradually beat in flour mixture.
Stir in chocolate chips.
Drop in rounded spoonfuls onto baking sheets sprayed with PAM spray.
Bake for 13-15 minutes.

These may be the only cookie ever that is better the next day. I was not impressed the other night when I made them, they seemed really dry. But the next day, the pumpkin will have worked its magic and the cookies will be moist and fluffy, almost the texture of muffins.

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Another new food

Along with the roast chicken, I also tried another new dish--acorn squash. I've tasted it before, in my high school and college cooking labs. It was always one of the microwavable foods. I was never in the groups that made those dishes, but I had liked the sweet, fall flavor of the squash. When I came across this post from Pioneer Woman, I just started drooling. Oh man.

I LOVED this dish. Unfortunately, Meijer was out of fresh rosemary, so I had to use dry, but it was still amazingly delicious.

However, J. and JC were not nearly as impressed. They both kind of wrinkled up their nose. I think maybe if I had mashed it up and put it in something, they would have loved it just as much as I did. But tell Indiana guys they are eating roast squash...yeah they aren't so into it. See what I'm up against? It's so, so sad.

Go check out Pioneer Woman's post. I didn't change the recipe other than to use 1 Tbsp dried instead of fresh rosemary, and her pictures will just make you drool all over your keyboard. And just a head's up...I just got her cookbook in the mail, so you may see even more of the gorgeous PW around. But that's a good thing, I promise.

(Damn you government...No, PW is in no way paying me or connected to me in any way. She probably has no idea who I am or the fact that I'm even writing this post. I just really love her food and her pictures and really look up to her as a blogger.)

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

That chicken is SO dead!

Probably one of the most elemental dishes for a true cook is roast chicken. It takes awhile to cook, and it can be challenging to learn the techniques, but a perfect roast chicken is the most tender, juicy bird you will ever taste! It can be a simple, comforting family meal, or a fancy, impressive gourmet dish.

I have been wanting to try my hand at this for awhile, but I've been too chicken! *slaps knee* That, and it seemed like too much food for just the two of us. But JC was coming to dinner, so it seemed like a good time to try it out!

The chicken itself was not terribly difficult. I used a digital thermometer to make sure the bird was 180 degrees before I removed it from the oven, let it rest for 15 minutes before attempting to carve it (note: the word attempt), even covered it with foil while resting.

Then came time to carve the beast. I had gone online and read a few articles and looked at pictures of how to carve it. The breast was not really a problem. However, I cannot for the life of me figure out how to get those pretty, crispy drumsticks. The sucker's legs did NOT want to break. I mutilated that poor bird. It wasn't pretty.

Somehow the dark meat was still undercooked a bit. I'm not sure why. The breast was perfectly cooked. Could not have been more juicy and white and delicious. Man it was good. But the dark meat was that texture of chicken that is JUST not done yet. It was weird. Anybody have any ideas? I would have thought it would be the other way around.

Caribbean Spice Roast chicken
From A Recipe a Day (Since it was my first time out, I did not change this recipe, except to double the spice mix. I ran out when coating the bird.)

1 1/2 Lime Juice
2 oz rum
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp ground clove
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground giner
2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 (3 lb) whole chicken
1 Tbsp vegetable oil

Preheat oven 325 degrees.

In small bowl, combine the lime juice, rum, and brown sugar, set aside.

Mix together the spices.

Brush the chicken with oil, then coat with the spice mixture. Place in a roasting pan, and bake about 90 minutes, until juices run clear and a meat thermometer inserted into thickest part of the thigh reaches 180 degrees.

Baste the chicken with the sauce every 20 minutes while it's cooking.

Allow chicken to rest for at least 15 minutes before carving.

Tip: Save the carcass for stock! Put in an airtight bag and freeze until ready to use. I'll post about my stock recipe soon, I promise.

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I don't know about ya'll, but I'm really enjoying this food blog thing. I love doing the research, which for me, basically means subscribing to every other food blog I come across and printing off every recipe that looks good. Those recipes go into 3 binders that are tabbed into sections. Then, when it's time to go grocery shopping, I go through and do a meal plan for the next two weeks. I follow the recipes when I cook, making my own changes and annotations as I go, then do a post that night (or sometimes the day after). Recipes I don't like get thrown away, Good ones get starred and put back in the binder for the next time we get a craving.

The blog has given me an outlet for my creativity in the kitchen, and it's challenged me to cook a lot more often. Those of you familiar with the blogging world will know what NaBloWriMo is, but for those who aren't, here you go:

November is National Blog Writing Month. Basically, the goal is to write 30 posts in 30 days! Holy crapola. Now that is a challenge!

I can't guarantee that I will cook every night, but I am going to post a recipe every night. I have lots of starred recipes that I've made before I started blogging that I know you guys will love. Hold on to your hats kids. This may be a crazy ride!

Go here if you want to read more about NaBloWriMo!