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Look at what’s simmering on our stove right now…

(I know, I know, I need to study up on food photography.)

This is our new favorite chili recipe, given to me by my dietitian.  Our annual Halloween tradition is to have a pot of chili, but our old recipe used a seasoning packet (containing sugar) and Jason’s “secret ingredient” (a few of Wendy’s chili seasoning packets, with high fructose corn syrup).  We made this recipe Halloween night, and we are converts for life.  I’m pretty sure, judging by comments from Jason, that we’re going to be chowing down on chili a couple of times a month all fall and winter long.

Not content to leave a recipe be, of course we had to add a little something extra.  Enter the family’s newest favorite “little something”:

This stuff is GOOD.  I’m not a big Tabasco fan, but this version isn’t quite as spicy as the original.  Even the boys love it.

Incidentally, I was not yet on the phase of our plan that allowed beans when Halloween rolled around.  In addition to the big pot of chili with kidney beans, we made a half recipe, substituting finely chopped zucchini and a bit of water.  It was just as tasty.  (Happily, I am now allowed beans, and I am looking forward to those kidney beans tonight!)

Our New Favorite Chili
Recipe adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped (about 2 cups)
6 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp dried oregano
2 pounds lean ground turkey or lean ground beef (we use a pound of each)
2 cans (16 oz. ea.) low-sodium dark red kidney beans, no added sugar, drained & rinsed
1 can (28 oz.) low-sodium diced tomatoes with juice
1 can (28 oz.) low-sodium tomato puree
2-3 tsp Tabasco Chipotle sauce
Low-fat cheese, shredded (for garnish)
Non-fat sour cream (for garnish)

1. Heat oil in large heavy-bottomed nonreactive Dutch oven.  Add onions, garlic, chili powder, cumin, coriander, pepper flakes, oregano and cayenne.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes.

2. Increase heat to medium-high and add the ground meat.  Break the meat up with a spoon.  Cook until no longer pink.

3. Add beans, tomatoes, tomato puree; bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally for 1 hour.  Remove cover and stir in Tabasco Chiptotle sauce to taste.  Continue to simmer, uncovered, 1 hour longer, stirring occasionally.  (If chili begins to stick to bottom of pot, stir in 1/2 cup water and continue to simmer).

Serves 12 (1.5 cup servings)
Calories 260, Fat 7 g, Carbohydrate 26 g, Protein 23 g

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I have to post something to get that photo of me in my double-knit polyester off the top of my blog!  How about dinner?

This recipe was given to me by my neighbor & friend, Jennifer, years ago.  I love it for its ease and for its changeability.  It’s a great starting-off point for lots of different variations, and my recipe card has seen some scratching and changing of ingredients as I’ve played with it over the years.  Very few dishes say Comfort Food like one-dish meals – stews, casseroles and pot pies have stuck around for a reason.

Tonight, we used pork instead of chicken, and I chopped up whole carrots instead of baby.  (Hurrah for finding ways to use the Giant Bag of Costco Carrots!)  I cut the pork chops into bite-sized pieces and browned them in about a tablespoon of safflower oil, with some salt, pepper & thyme before adding 1/3 can of chicken broth and cooking them through.  From there, I followed the recipe as written.  At the end, I brushed the pie crust with beaten egg white, because I like my crusts browned and shiny!

Easy Pot Pie

1 can Sweet Peas*, drained
1 can Corn, drained
Small bag Baby Carrots, chopped
1 can Cream of Mushroom soup
Enough Chicken Broth for desired consistency (I err on the side of too much and skim if necessary)
1 lb. Cooked Chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 pkg. Refrigerated Pie Crusts (2 per pkg.)

Boil all ingredients until carrots are cooked through.  Season to taste.  Dump into 9×13 baking dish or into two pie plates.  Cover with pie crusts.  Cook according to direction on pie crusts’ packaging, until pie crust is done.

Easy.  Yummy.  Next time, at Jason’s request, I’ll add potatoes…and I’m toying with pureeing/disguising some spinach or another equally healthy veggie and adding it in as well.

*I always go salt-free on the canned products, fat-free on the chicken broth, etc.  It’s my nod to health in a recipe full of prepackaged ingredients.  Hey, I said it was quick and easy…I didn’t say it was organic.  That said, if you have easy access to fresh veggies, this recipe will welcome them with open arms!  I plan on trying it with all sorts of fresh veg once the farmer’s market opens up again.

I’ve never been a fan of roasted meat.  It’s just not one of my favorite flavors.  For years, every time I’ve found a roast on sale at the grocery store, I’ve scoured the interwebs for a recipe to make it worth my while.  Jason always loves them.  The boys eat them without complaint.  But I’ve never been happy with any of them.

Enter a really, freaking good sale on boneless pork shoulder blade roasts in Safeway’s meat department last month.  We bought two.  And I was unthrilled.  Thrilled with the price, don’t get me wrong ($1.59/lb.! $6.80 for a full roast, aka two nearly-complete family dinners!), but most definitely unthrilled at the prospect of cooking and eating those big ol’ hunks of meat.

At a loss for what to do, and in no mood to comb through AllRecipes.com yet again, I read the instructions on the label of one of the roasts and decided to proceed as advised by my friendly grocery store meat department.  You may recall the result from my December 12 of 12.  It looked like this:

It was phenomenal.

I mean it.  Not only did I not mind eating it, I actually enjoyed it.  It was moist.  It was tender.  It was tasty.

So, here, for your perusal and perhaps your eventual taste budding joy, I share the Simple Roast Recipe:

  • Preheat oven to 325F.
  • Heat 2 Tbs. oil over medium-high heat in an oven-proof pan.  Pat roast dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.  Sauté roast on all sides until browned, 2 to 3 min. per side.
  • Insert oven proof thermometer so tip is in thickest part of roast (unless it comes with a plastic pop-up timer, like mine did!).  Cover and bake for one hour without adding any liquid.
  • After one hour, add desired vegetables and 1 – 2 cups chicken broth.
  • Continue cooking (covered), until temp reaches 175F.  (2.5 – 3.5 hours total cooking time)

Not really much of a recipe, is it?  More of a procedure.  There are two steps that offer room for creativity.  First, in the initial seasoning.  Salt it well, of course, but you can add some herbs here in addition to the salt and pepper.  Second, you can go nuts at the “add the veggies” stage.  We love new potatoes and carrots, and I can’t imagine making something like this without a few cloves of garlic and some big chunks of onion.  (If you look closely at the photograph above, you can see that I shoved some small garlic cloves into the roast itself – yum!)  This is also where I add my herbs.  I fell back on one of my favorite combos: rosemary and thyme.  Finally, I pull the roast out of the pan and let it “rest” on the cutting board for about ten minutes before letting Jason go at it with the carving knife.

I made the second of the two roasts tonight.  We had kind of a late dinner.  (This is a recipe best left for weekends or early-release school days if, like me, you don’t like leaving the oven on while you walk to school to pick the kids up.  Unless you enjoy sitting down to eat at 7:30 and rushing the kids through jammie time and teeth brushing and tucking in.)  Roast #2 was as much of a hit as Roast #1.  This recipe/procedure/whatever is going in my recipe box.  Tonight.

A couple of weeks ago*, Jen and John from Cake Wrecks came to town on their book signing tour.  I just had to go.

The coolest part was not the book (although it’s nifty, sturdier and higher-quality than I expected, and has lots of content not on the website), nor was it the cakes present at the event (although they were awesome), nor was it how incredibly geeky-cool and funny (duh) both Jen and John are and how I would love to be friends with Jen (can’t write about that too much, ‘cuz I don’t want to look too internet-stalkery).  No.  The coolest part?  Jen and I were wearing the same shoes.

FEET

Now, I suppose one could interpret this in a [limited] number of ways.  Coincidence springs to mind.  I, however, chose this completely unscientific interpretation: that by nature of association, I now have some small level of cool.  Argument: Jen is cool.  Jen wears low-top raspberry Chucks.  I wear low-top raspberry Chucks.  I am, therefore, cool.**  That I am cool to a much lesser extent is a reasonable assumption (especially since I’m sitting here blogging about whether or not I’m cool) and is perfectly okay with me.

No, really, the event was a blast.  Quite crowded, but fun.  Jen and John are naturals in front of a crowd and are troopers.  Not only did they sign all of those autographs, I heard them having actual conversations with people as they came up to the table.  I’m sure it’s tempting to just smile and sign, but they seemed to be having a good (albeit tiring) time.

Even the folks at the adjacent coffee shop got into the spirit:

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*This was before John’s hospitalization mid-tour with horrible, ICU-level pneumonia and infection, poor guy!  I bet Jen was a wreck.  Ouch…that pun wasn’t intended & probably isn’t original in the slightest, but I think they’d like it, so I’m leaving it.  Anyway, it looks like John is home and doing better now, although he still needs some healing time.  Happy, healthy thoughts to John, everyone!

**Hush, math nerds.

When Nicky professed an interest in science last month, my mom had a great idea.  She combed the internet for at-home, kid-friendly science experiments and compiled them in a binder.  Last week, we experimented with various salts and sodas as mummification agents.  (On apples.  We draw the line at mummifying anything from the animal kingdom.)

Today, the boys chose to make ice cream in plastic bags.  Fun, right?

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And it was fun…for the first two minutes, which is about how long it took to put the ingredients in the bags and zip them up.  Then the shaking began.

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(We wrapped the bags in dishtowels to protect the boys’ hands from the ice.)  Unfortunately, to make ice cream takes a solid 10-15 minutes of vigorous shaking.  They didn’t last 30 seconds before they lost their smiles.

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About 12 minutes later (12 loooooooong minutes later!), we didn’t have ice cream, but we did have milkshakes!  Both boys declared this success enough.  After all, ice cream drunk through a straw still tastes like ice cream!

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Ah-ha!  The smiles have returned!

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And, since this was a science experiment, of course we all learned a few things.

The boys learned why salt makes ice melt and why that energy cools the ingredients to make ice cream.  They were reminded that NaCl is the chemical symbol for table salt.

I learned not to try this experiment again until I know they’re old enough to handle shaking a plastic bag for ten minutes without extended whining and moaning.  In fact, I’m sorely tempted to invest in an ice cream ball.  I also learned to check my stock of half-and-half before doing this again, so I have enough to make some for myself!

With my parents out of town for the week, it was just the boys and me for dinner.  I got a sudden craving for homemade pizza this morning.  The only problem is that I’ve never found an easy pizza crust recipe I love.  It always turns out dry and crumbly.  I’d rather stay away from complicated (or complicated-to-me) recipes, but I may have to bite the bullet one of these days and actually try one that uses yeast.  We had Bisquick on hand, so I did a quick search and went with this recipe.

(Yep, the crust was dry and crumbly again…maybe if I brush it with egg white before baking?)

I always mean to try those great “fooled you!” recipes on the kids – you know, whirring up the veggies in the blender and hiding them in foods they love – but I never follow through.  I’m quite lazy when it comes down to it.  We’ve recently discovered, however, that Kalen actually likes fresh spinach.  I prefer spinach as a salad green (don’t really like lettuce), and Nicky likes green salad of any kind.  A-ha!  Spinach pizza!

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I made the sauce in the above link, with the additions of rosemary, oregano, and thyme, because it was so much cheaper to buy the generic crushed tomatoes, rather than the brand-name “Italian Style” can.  Someday, I’m going to grow my own tomatoes and can Italian Style Crushed Tomatoes of my own for making tomato sauce.  Heck, maybe I’ll just make the sauce and can that!

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On top of the spinach leaves, we sprinkled oregano and garlic powder.  Then came the cheese, a little black pepper, and the pepperoni slices.  Yum!

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Unfortunately, while the cheese was perfect, the edge of the crust was over-done (crumbly!), and the inside of it doughy.  Mom’s pizza stone broke a few years ago.  Once I’m back in my own kitchen, I’ll take the advice at the above link and heat my pizza stone in the oven beforehand.

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Fortunately, the boys were thrilled with it!  They handled the crumbling crust with grace and enjoyed every bite, even with the dreaded veggie layer.  Nicky suggested that perhaps we should leave the spinach off next time, just to see how it is, and I suggested he get used to the spinach, since he likes having pizza without a veggie side dish!  (Mean ol’ Mom!)

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Kalen (my picky eater) said, “You were right, Mom!  I didn’t even taste the spinach at ALL!”

I decided to embrace my children’s Irish heritage last night and make my first attempt at soda bread.  After a few minutes’ searching on Google, I found a recipe that fit my most important requirement – no buttermilk.  I don’t keep it in the house, and I can’t stand the waste of driving the the store for one item.

So here it was!  Shared on an expat board…surely, if this is recommended by a real Irishwoman, it should be wonderful.  Right?

It certainly looks beautiful…

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…and it feels nice, with a good, hollow thumping sound when I tap it.  (See how creative I got, monogramming it in place of the traditional cross-hatching?)

Yeah, but.

It tastes like baking soda.

Now, I know it’s called soda bread, but you’re not supposed to TASTE the soda.  Are you?  I don’t recall ever tasting baking soda in soda bread before.

Blech.

Today, I found it was fine once toasted and slathered with peanut butter, jam, and fresh strawberries.  (Thanks for the suggestion, Mom!)  I can’t decide if I’m going to be stubborn enough to play around with this recipe and try to “fix” it, or if I’ll just break down and attempt to think enough ahead to have buttermilk on hand for the next time I want to make it.

For Christmas, Jason gave me an envelope full of coupons.  I redeemed one last week, which gave me a full week of no cooking duty.  As in none.  As in, he got up and made the kids breakfast and packed the lunch boxes, too.  Nice.

Well, the week is up, so I’m back in the kitchen again.  I did not feel like cooking at all tonight, but once I told myself to get over it, I felt a sudden burst of creativity.  I’ve never made anything quite like this before, and the whole family loves it.  It seems really complicated now that I go to write it out, but I promise it was easy and super fast to put together.

(I apologize for the lack of proper recipe formatting here.  I find it easier just to write out the process, plus I’m not so good at measuring the ingredients.  Maybe I’ll come back later and break it up into an ingredients list and directions.)

Set a pot of water to boil for pasta, and preheat oven to 400* F.

In a large, oven-proof skillet, heat some olive oil, a minced clove of garlic, 1/4 of an onion (sliced thickly), and a couple of pinches of sea salt.

Prepare the pork chops by sprinkling one side with black pepper.  When the onions have started to soften just a bit, move them to the outer edges of the skillet and put the chops in, pepper side down, pressing lightly on each one for a couple of seconds.  After about thirty seconds, flip them over.

Add 8 oz. of sliced mushrooms on top of the onion, and drizzle them with a little bit of olive oil.  Drizzle everything in the skillet lightly with honey and follow with a liberal shaking of Worcestershire sauce.*  (If your sinuses are blocked, this would be a great time to take a great, deep breath of the steam rising from the dish.  There!  Doesn’t that feel better?)  The oven should be ready about now, so when it’s fully preheated, place the whole pan in and bake for 15 minutes.

The water should be boiling now, too, so put the pasta in.  I used half a box of whole grain thin spaghetti, but any long, loopy noodle will be good.  Once it’s done cooking, drain it and drizzle in a little olive oil, a tiny bit of salt, and a large pinch or two each of oregano and tarragon.

Serve the noodles on the plate, topped with a pork chop.  The mushroom and onion mixture can be served over top, or on the side.  Stick a fork in it, and call it yum.

Now, for the really hard part.  What do we call this?  I suggested, “Yummy,” but Kalen said, “No, Mom.  It has to have a food name.”

Any suggestions?

*I realize that “liberal shaking” could mean practically anything.  I didn’t really use all that much, I don’t think, but the little stopper-spout thingy in the bottle doesn’t let it come out too fast.

It’s not a standard celebration tonight – not by our standards, and certainly not by the world’s typical New Year’s expectations.

No parties, no crowds, no noisy plastic and paper horns.  (But we have champagne.  Oh yes, there will be champagne tonight.)

Last year, we began a tradition of fondue supper, followed by fondue dessert, then a family viewing of The Princess Bride, ending just in time to watch the ball drop and have champagne and strawberries.

This year, the fondue pot is in a box in my in-laws’ basement, although I made a pretty incredible double batch of Turkey Tetrazzi.  The Princess Bride is on, and (as usual) Kalen is already asleep.  Nicky is watching and may make it to midnight again this year.  Jason is in the kitchen caulking the seam between the counter top and the wall, and I have been baking an apple pie (for tomorrow’s gathering) and steam cleaning the hardwood floors in preparation for refinishing them before we climb in bed sometime after midnight.  We have the Chick-Fil-A Bowl game playing in the den, where Georgia Tech is getting soundly whomped by LSU.

Not the most together, family celebration, eh?

Yesterday, we hired our Realtor, and made the decision to paint over the goddess-awful purple grape and blue flowered wallpaper in the kitchen.  (Yes, you read that correctly.  Purple grapes, on grape vines that happened to also be bearing blue flowers.  That’s a big WTF?)  Last night, Jason and I were up ’til the wee hours applying primer, and we spent much of today on the two coats of paint and touch-ups.  I also created swagged valances out of the most incredibly perfect sheer fabric I found at Joann’s.  (Sometimes it’s a sad thing when the stash won’t suit…and sometimes shopping is just plain fun!)

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This is a really poor photo.  The fabric isn’t leopard print; those are leaves, which just happen to be precisely the shades of brown that appear in the woodgrain of the cabinetry and floor.  One of the greatest staging abilities I learned from my mother is creating window treatments out of pieces of fabric and not much else.  Those swags are held up by elastic pony tail holders and nails.  That’s it!

The oven is about to beep and produce the pie, and the kitchen floor awaits my mad cleaning skillz.  May you all have a happy and prosperous 2009.  I hope it lives up to your expectations for happiness, that any sadness is appreciated for its counterbalance, and that you are surrounded by those you love.

Blessed New Year!

Today at lunch, Nicky said, “Mom, I think you should be on Food Network.”

“Why is that?”

“Because you’re the greatest chef ever.”  (Insert cute grin.)

Awww.  Boy, they know how to melt our hearts, don’t they?

What culinary masterpiece inspired this sentiment?  Leftovers from Thursday night’s Grand Dining Experience.  It’s a toughie…think you can handle it?

Mix a box of Stove Top according to package directions in the bottom of an 8×8 glass baking dish.  Add a pressed clove of fresh garlic.  Stir.  Lay chicken breasts on top.  Bake at 400 degrees F for 30 min.

Like I said, a toughie, and I’m sure a stand-by of millions of moms.  (Okay, so maybe the fresh garlic is the key?  It’s the “secret” ingredient to an awful lot of my dishes.  Me likey the garlic.)

Still, if this is all it takes to be considered the greatest, I’m thrilled.  If the way to my boys’ hearts is through their stomachs, I guess the way to mine is through appreciation of what I put there.

My boys

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