Thursday, October 21, 2010

Open Sesame!

I've been on a bit of kick recently... I've been transforming our favorite restaurant meals into something better, healthier and cheaper at home.  One of our weaknesses is Chinese food.  We had take-out on our anniversary while we were sick!  I can safely say that my egg drop soup and sweet and sour chicken are better than most of what you find in restaurants or cute folded boxes!

When I ordered the sesame chicken on our anniversary, I splurged on the majorly-battered, deep-fried bits of the fattiest cuts of chicken, smothered in a dark, sweet, and salty sauce.  Yum!  

I pondered a life where I could only savor this a few times a year... and it looked bleak.  Surely, I thought, there must be a way to eat this on weeknights, not just special occasions!

So I did a little research and hit the jackpot.  First step: use lean cuts of chicken and don't batter and deep fry it!  Simply cube some (2-3) boneless, skinless chicken breasts and brown in a bit of cooking spray or oil.  Once cooked through, remove and set aside.  The sauce is what Kendall and I really love, so that's what I focused on.

Sesame Chicken Sauce

1 C chicken broth
1/2 C white sugar
2 Tbsp distilled white vinegar
2 Tbsp dark soy sauce
2 Tbsp sesame oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup water
2 Tbsp sesame seeds
Dried red pepper flakes to taste

Combine all ingredients except for pepper flakes and sesame seeds in a bowl and stir to mix well.  While it's still mixed (before the cornstarch and sugar settles and you have to stir it again!) pour it in a pot or pan and bring to boil.  Let simmer, bubble and thicken for a few minutes.  Turn down to very low heat and keep warm before adding the chicken.

Add the chicken and then stir in the sesame seeds and red pepper flakes.    Serve with steamed rice and steamed broccoli (or other veggie!).  Serves 4.

The verdict?  To quote my husband, "This is better than the restaurant!"  The sauce is thick and glossy and coats EVERYTHING.  It's loaded with flavor and feels a lot more like a splurge than a health food.  Granted, the sugar content is high, but the fat content is low.  Combined with simple sides, it makes a great dinner.

I had a little rice, about 1/2 C serving of the chicken dish, and about 1.5 C of broccoli.  For dessert, we had some delicious little mandarins!  I love those things... they are like candy.   

Wine note:  I poured some red wine (Pinot Noir), but the sauce is sweet and overpowers the wine.  I took a sip and almost spit it out because all I could taste were bitter tannins and alcohol!  I set it aside and am now sipping it with a cleansed palate.  A chilled beer or dry white wine might pair better with this.

Other suggestions:  This is quick and easy and would be impressive for guests!  Start with a simple egg drop soup and finish with a fun, bright fruit salad and store-bought fortune cookies.  You can cut back on how much protein (chicken) you serve because of the egg drop soup, which will help fill your guests up.  Everyone will leave full and happy, and with some prep beforehand, it's easy to put together.  And that's a fortune that will definitely come true. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Lentils for Lunch

With temperatures cooling off, it's a great time to start making some yummy soups.  If you are trying to cut out meat from your diet, this Curried Lentil Soup is a great way to pack in a lot of filling flavor with a lot of fat or sodium.

1 C carrots, diced
1 C onion, diced
I C celery, diced
4 tsp canola oil
4 tsp curry powder
1 C dried lentils
4 C low-sodium broth of choice

Heat oil in a pot and saute carrots, onions and celery for a few minutes.  Add curry powder and stir.  Then stir in lentils and broth.  Bring to boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Simmer for about 15 minutes.  Makes 4 servings.

It's so simple, and so good.  The curry adds a depth and richness to the broth, which makes it hearty.  You won't miss the meat!

Sorry for the sideways photo!  But have your soup with a salad dressed in a vinaigrette and a whole-grain roll or English muffin.  It makes the perfect lunch! It leaves you full and satisfied without feeling tired and weighed down.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Drive A Lot? So do I, these days...

Since going back to school, I find myself in my car a lot.  I drive 30 minutes each way to get to campus.  That's a lot of time.  And while much of that is spent on the highway, there are some stops along the way.  So when I read this article on about some exercise you can do in the car, I was stoked.  I don't advise doing a lot of these while actively driving, but the abdominal exercise would be okay while driving.  But if you are in line for the drive-through bank, etc., these are great!  It's always fun to squeeze in a little healthy habit.

Safe travels, y'all!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Husband's Easy, Yummy Fish Quesadillas

What a great weekend!  We spent lots of time with the family eating, shopping, laughing and celebrating my nephew's birthday.  After lots of eating out, Kendall and I felt like throwing together something quick, yummy and light tonight.  Inspired by our Mexican food last night, we thought we might try our hand at some salmon enchiladas.  But time got away from us, the salmon didn't thaw quickly enough, and so Kendall took the helm at the stove.

Have I ever mentioned that my husband is a REALLY good cook when he gets behind the stove?  But a few burners in front of him, and the man's on fire.  Not literally.

After rifling through the fridge, he found some canned tuna, cheese, and lots of onions.  And lo, a delightful new dinner was born.

I know.  Tuna.  I was doubtful, but figured that it couldn't be that bad.  And I was pleasantly surprised!

I had two with a little leftover jalapeno ranch sauce on top.  But look at what was inside these things:

Tuna, lots and lots of diced onions and cheese.  Kendall used between 1/2 and 3/4 of an onion, and used a mix of red and a bit of a white onion we had left over.  He sweated them SLIGHTLY in a pat of butter, then mixed with tuna and heated through.  He also used some garlic salt to add a little flavor.  A sprinkle of cheese and layer of tuna mixture between corn tortillas.

The tuna added a nice fish flavor but what you really taste are the onions.  It's a new, fun, and easy way to get a little more fish in your diet.

I had a salad on the side with some lovely greens from Organic Girl that I scored on sale for a dollar.  Best deal ever!

On the subject of fish, I highly recommend checking out the Seafood Watch Program.  They have a pocket guide or free iPhone app that will tell you the best and most sustainable fish to buy, order and eat.  I personally love the iPhone app because it uses the GPS function to figure out where in the nation you are and then give you recommendations based on your area.  So get yours now!

I've got a crazy week ahead, so that's all for me for now.  Good night!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Rarg! I am a terrible blogger!

Epic fail!  Things have been a bit busy with class and I just haven't gotten around to blogging.  I have been cooking and eating and I've started running again.  I think I posted previously about some of the apps I have on my iPhone to track my run distance and speed.  Still loving them!

It's apple season, and I couldn't be happier about it!  Neither could Kendall.  I think he's had 3 apples in the past 12 hours.  I've put our fall produce in a clear bowl on the buffet.  It makes for fun, colorful, seasonal decor.. that we can eat!  I don't have to worry about lugging it upstairs and boxing it up when the holiday decorations come out.  I've also put out some candles, but we haven't lit them yet.  We found that many of the scented candles are so smelly, you can pop off the lid and it scents the air around us without having to strike a match!  We found some great soy candles on clearance recently and stocked up.

The pups are doing well, and since the weather has cooled, we've all enjoyed lovely walks in the morning, afternoon, weekends, nights!  After sweltering heat this summer, the whole family finds any excuse to get outside and play.

School work has been going well, and it's hard to believe I am almost half-way through the semester.  It has flown by!  I have to remind myself of that when I have a difficult exam coming up.  It's almost time to schedule classes for next semester.  I am going to try to schedule my classes so that I have at least one day that I don't have to drive into campus.  Kendall and I have learned that I also need to make sure I can be home on Mondays and Wednesdays.  He works at home Tuesday and Friday, so the dogs are taken care of, but the other days... it's hard for him to get off work, etc.  This semester, Wednesday has posed the biggest problem, so I'll have to be mindful of that while scheduling courses for Spring.

Anyway, as always, I hope to post more often and hopefully will get some recipes up here soon!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Day 4: List 20 Favorite Things

In no particular order:

  1. Kendall, my husband and best friend
  2. My dogs, Maple and Daisy
  3. Coffee, caf or decaf-- it's all good!
  4. Sushi, especially rolls featuring spicy mayo
  5. Apples in the fall ONLY, otherwise they get mealy and gross.
  6. Chocolate
  7. Clean sheets
  8. Driving through the Hill Country on a nice day
  9. Salmon
  10. Herbal tea, especially chamomile
  11. Red wine and dark beer
  12. Country music
  13. Running with my dogs
  14. Yoga pants!
  15. Modern design
  16. Green- the color, the sustainable kind, all of it!
  17. Slow Food
  18. Walks around Town Lake
  19. London and Brighton- we went there for our honeymoon and I totally fell in love with those cities!
  20. My iPhone- sad to say it, but it's true!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Day 3: Your Favorite Quote and Why it's Your Favorite

"Ninety percent of life is just showing up." -- Woody Allen

This is my favorite quote because in my experience, it's absolutely true.  Whether it's showing up to work or class, to a birthday party or dinner party, to a game or a race or to a wedding, birth or funeral, BEING there is what matters.

Sure, there are times when it would be easier to sit on the couch in my PJs and watch "No Reservations" over and over again.  But getting up, getting out and showing up means a lot to people.  It's surprisingly simple.  But think about all the important moments in your life and think about who was there... and who wasn't.  You probably remember a lot about those people on those days, huh?

And even if you can't physically be there, you can still "show up" in other ways, whether a phone call or card in the mail.  When my Brain Sister had her first treatment, I couldn't be there, which was hard.  I wanted to sit by her and tell her stupid stories and make her laugh so much milk shot out her nose, and I wanted to walk her home and then make her a delicious homemade meal or a snack or tea or whatever she wanted.  So I sent flowers, a small token. But it felt good to "show up" in any sort of way for her.

Yep, showing up is important.

So whenever life hands me something that I'm not quite ready to deal with, or don't want to deal with, I put on my big girl panties and remind myself of this quote.

Day 2: Say Something You Dislike About Yourself

I think the thing that I truly dislike about myself is how assertive I am not.  I do not like to feel like I'm bothering people, or that I'm going out and getting what I need.  While it might seem polite, it often leads to a lot of frustration on my part and I still don't have the answers or things I need... simply because I didn't ask for them.

It's something I struggle with and continue to work on.  Starting grad school was a hard exercise in this, and I'm sure I'll encounter more bumps along the road.  But I hope one day to be able to be assertive without being a bother.  I'm sure it's possible!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Day 1: Something You Like About Yourself

This topic is a tough one, mainly because most of us would find it hard to talk about the good we see in ourselves.  I often feel too proud or boastful about it.  How easy it is to think of all the things we would change and "fix" in ourselves if we could!  But if you ask for one thing people like about themselves, they clam up and get all twitchy.

But it's a good, healthy thing to do.  And if you can see the good in others, you should be able to see the good in yourself.

And when I think about it, there are several things that aren't too shabby about me.  I'm not a total idiot, nor a loser.  I used to be a bit of pushover, but I got over that and generally stand my ground.  I'm not a supermodel, but I'm not Ugly Betty either.  And I'm generally a nice lady.  But the thing I really like about myself is... that I'm a damn good cook!

It's funny that this post topic just so happens to tie in with food... but for me, the fact that I can rustle up a mess of something spectacular and yummy in 30 minutes is a badge of honor that I wear with pride.  And I really try to branch out in my cooking and conquer cuisines that seemed scary or complicated.  I felt that way about Thai food, and then I just up and decided to learn it.  The internet is a WONDERFUL resource for this and soon I found a gazillion websites and videos from ordinary folks that were instructing on how to prepare Thai food, and it looked EASY!  I am lucky that my grocery store stocks most ingredients for other cuisines and if they don't, there are a handful of specialty grocers in the area that I can check out.

I like the fact that 95% of the time, I can open my pantry, freezer and fridge and make a great meal out of seemingly thin air.  Yep, I'm that good.

Mainly, I love the act of cooking and preparing a meal for others to enjoy.  I love nourishing people that I care about.  I love putting a dish on the table and then digging in as we laugh or tell stories or just eat and talk about food.  Food can change your life, I believe that.  But I think it should still be accessible and casual, not stuffy, elitist and uptight.

I have learned some lessons about hosting people for dinner, and they all are cliches, but they are also true.  Keep it simple.  It's the golden rule of hosting.  I have done the fancy French meals that take forever, but taste amazing.  And I have done homemade guacamole for dinner.   Rule of thumb: it helps to select somethings that you can prep earlier and can sit in the fridge or on the counter until it's time to serve.  Then focus on a few things that can cook unattended, so you can actually talk to the people who just walked in your front door.

Last December, I heard a radio story with Nigella Lawson about how she likes to have people over several times during the holidays and serve simple things, instead of pulling out all the stops for a great big dinner party.  Genius, I thought.  So for Christmas this year, I put on a crockpot of chili, popped some tamales in the oven, and brewed some coffee.  I made some cornbread and cookies the day before, set them out.  And after opening our gifts by the tree with some delicious coffee that morning, Kendall and I set about browning the meat and dumped it in the slow-cooker.  We got dressed, had some more coffee and then shredded some cheese, opened a can of jalapenos and put sour cream in a bowl.  By the time the doorbell rang, everything was ready to go.  I actually got to sit and eat with people on Christmas Day, instead of running around the kitchen like a banshee wearing jingle bells.  And I wasn't worried about the turkey not coming out right or the pie crust being soggy or whatever.  I felt relaxed and happy.  I told jokes.  I was not a banshee.

That sunny December day taught me a lot about cooking for people, whether just my husband and myself, or for a house full of guests.  No one really cares about how impressive the dish is...  It needs to taste good and look appetizing.  People will care if you snap their head off because they aren't putting ice in the glasses the "right" way.  I have done complicated dishes for people.  It is not fun, and the kitchen we eat in looks like a hot mess.  I am usually sweaty and tired by the time I sit down to eat.  It is not a pretty picture nor a good meal.  Sure it tastes good, but what the hell good is that in that sort of situation?

If you can manage to pull off a delicious, simple meal and be jovial and not clammy, then you have hosted a successful dinner.  If you can crack a joke, smile and bottle of wine, and serve something other than store-bought vanilla ice cream for dessert, add fifteen points.  But there is NOTHING wrong with store-bought vanilla ice cream for dessert.

I like that I can usually add fifteen points to my dinners, even if it's just little ol' me at the table.  Remember that time I made out-of-this-world eggplant parmigiana and sat alone "mmm"-ing while my dog thought I was nuts?  I do.  Remember that time I made pecan crusted chicken, rice pilaf, and lemon rosemary green beans for dinner?  It was last Saturday for my family while at my parents' house.  We laughed and talked about my brother's children.

Another few truths I have encountered in the kitchen, and then I'll shut up.

1.  I do not have children, so for a long time, I worried about what to make for them, especially if they are picky eaters.  Should I try to expose them to new delights?  Nah.  Many kids like pizza, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes with gravy, and ranch dressing.  Why fight it?  If everyone likes pizza, including adults, then make some pizzas!  Pizza is amazing!  It's versatile!  Dress it up, dress it down, just like your favorite jeans.  No pizza?  Then try something like breaded baked chicken strips, served with some sauces, yummy-garlic-creamy-little cheesy mashed potatoes with gravy, a lovely vegetable and a simple salad.  You may even find that your little guests will try something new, like purple asparagus.  My friend's kids did and it was proud moment for everyone involved.

2.  Do not put hot liquids in a blender.  Ever.

3.  If the chicken goes up in flames, put out the fire and go out for Chinese.

And there you have it.  What I know about cooking.  And why I love that I'm a good cook.  And that there's definitely one thing that I like about me.

An Effort to Blog Again

In an effort to get back into the habit of blogging again, I am being a total copycat and following the lead of my former professor, Dr. Pam Johnston.  She taught me how to write poetry and write it well.  She's a wonderful writer, and she blogs!  So when I saw this idea on her blog, Lost Little River, I had to copy her.

Here's the deal... To blog about different topics for 30 days straight.  Here's the list:

Day 01 → Something you like about yourself.
Day 02 → Something you dislike about yourself.
Day 03 → Your favorite quote and why it's your favorite.
Day 04 → A list of 20 favorite things.
Day 05 → What’s the best thing in your life right now?
Day 06 → Someone from the past you'd like to get in touch with.
Day 07 → Someone from the past who disappointed you.
Day 08 → The reasons why you love your significant other or best friend.
Day 09 → A piece of art or sculpture that you really like.
Day 10 → A photo that makes you happy.
Day 11 → A photo that makes you sad.
Day 12 → An old photo of you (taken at least 10 years ago) and a story to go with it.
Day 13 → Your favorite song, band or artist.
Day 14 → Your favorite TV show, past or present.
Day 15 → Something you couldn’t live without, because you’ve tried living without it.
Day 16 → Something you definitely can live without.
Day 17 → Something you're a little neurotic/irrational/OCD about.
Day 18 → Your views on a current controversial topic.
Day 19 → Your faith, or your political views in general.
Day 20 → A book that really meant something to you.
Day 21 → A story about your best friend, past or present.
Day 22 → Something you wish you hadn’t done.
Day 23 → Something you wish you had done.
Day 24 → Make a playlist for someone, and explain why you chose all the songs.
Day 25 → A song that makes you think of someone besides your significant other.
Day 26 → Describe your dream house.  Post pictures, if you want.
Day 27 → Something you have to forgive yourself for.
Day 28 → Something you have to forgive someone else for.
Day 29 → Something you still hope to accomplish in your lifetime.
Day 30 → Write a letter to yourself at 20. Offer some advice based on what you've learned in life.

As you can see, these aren't food related.  But I'm hoping that as I blog, I'll also be reminded to post more about food in between these little daily reflections.  And maybe you'll learn a little bit more about me.  

So I hope you don't mind and you don't get bored and you don't disown me.  The end.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Both Sides of the Seasons

Here in Central Texas, we are cooling down to sub-95* temps and today, we're getting lots of rain!  There's a cool breeze in the air most days and not as much of that sauna-like humidity.  Soon, it will be fall!  But until then, we can still enjoy summer's produce.

Today after getting soaked, I was cold and wet and wanted soup.  So I took what I had on hand and made something hearty and warm... black beans, corn, zucchini, onion... it was delicious!

It was warm, hearty and filling.  And it was EASY!  You can do this with whatever you have on hand... which is why I love soup so much.  Whatever vegetables and protein you have, just add some broth, season and heat.  You can also pack in your veggies and if you stick with broth-based soups, you are in for a low-fat, low-cal meal.

Early Fall-Late Summer Soup

1 tsp oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 C diced zucchini
1 C frozen yellow corn
3/4 C black beans
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 C chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in pot and add onion.  Stir until softened.  Add zucchini and let heat.  Add corn, beans, oregano and broth.  Bring to simmer for a few minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste, and stir.  Simmer for one more minute, then serve.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me

Tomorrow is the first day back at school.  And since summer is nearing its end, I felt the need to grill again.  While I'm ready for the cool temps and the sweaters and boots, I am not ready to give up my summer produce.  My husband requested a peachy barbecue sauce.  It seemed like the perfect fit!

So I went on the internet and searched and searched and came across this little beauty on Epicurious.  It looked like the perfect blend of sweet peachiness and tanginess.

So I got my peaches and I scored them for blanching, I diced onions and jalapeno.

And I got the other ingredients out.  Now, I was out of brown sugar, so I made some by mixing white sugar with molasses.  You can do it!  Try it today!  It's fuuuuuun.

Once the water was boiling, I dropped the peaches in for a few minutes.  Then I readied an ice bath.  Because it was HOT outside and I had the vapors!  

Gotcha!  It's because that's how you blanch peaches!  Once boiled for a few, drop them babies in your ice bath.

What you are looking for is for the skin to peel back from the score marks like this:

Once the peaches have cooled, peel them and seed them and chop them coursely.  It will look like this:

Saute your onions and jalapeno in some oil.  Add salt.

Yay!  This smells amazing.  But don't stop now... add the peaches.

Stir it around and let it simmer for about three minutes.

Add the rest of the ingredients.

Stir this up and let it simmer for 30 minutes, covered.  

Remember to stir it every now and then.  If you're like me, eat some saltines while you stare out the window.  Then chug Diet Coke because saltines are real dang dry!  Stir the pot.  Repeat.  It's the simple things in life that cause me the most consternation.

When it's done simmering, it will looks yummy.

Now, I tasted and added 1 tsp sugar, and 1 tsp honey for sweetness and 1 tsp adobo sauce for spiciness and smokiness and a dash of black pepper for more spice!  I like the sweet, smoky, tangy, spicy thing.

Let this cool.  Do not put hot things in blenders or food processors.  If you do... then no, I will NOT come clean up your kitchen!  And don't you dare hire someone to do it, because you made that mess all on your own and now you'll clean it all on your own!

Ahem.  Life lessons.

Once cooled, put it in a blender or food processor.

Blend or pulse until smooth.

It will sort of look like canned pumpkin... but it won't taste like it!

Now it is ready to use.  I personally pounded some boneless skinless chicken breasts and put a few tablespoons over them while I heated the grill.  Then I served more on the side.

Oh baby.  Yes yes yes.  You are yummy.

Now, the sauce is good, but my husband did not love the consistency.  I didn't mind it, but I saw his point.

Here it is, in all it's glory:

Peach Barbeque Sauce
adapted from Epicurious, Gourmet

  • 1 pound fresh peaches

  • 3/4 cup chopped sweet onion

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh jalapeño without seeds

  • 1 tablespoon canola oil

  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar

  • 1/4 cup bourbon (or whiskey, if that's what you have)

  • 3 1/2 tablespoons mild honey

  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

  • 3/4 teaspoon light brown sugar

  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder

  • 1/8 teaspoon dry mustard

  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1 tsp sugar

  • 1 tsp adobo sauce

  • dash of pepper to taste

  • Cut an X in bottom of each peach, then blanch in a medium saucepan of boiling water 10 seconds. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice and cold water and cool. Peel peaches and coarsely chop.

    Cook onion, jalapeño, and a pinch of kosher salt in oil in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 8 to 10 minutesutes. Add peaches and remaining ingredients and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until peaches are very tender, about 30 minutes.

    Purée in a blender (use caution when blending hot liquids).

    Cooks' note: Sauce can be made 3 days ahead and chilled, uncovered, until cool, then covered.

    Read More

    Monday, August 23, 2010

    Have I Mentioned How Much I Love my iPhone?

    Since I'll be in school full-time, I'll have more time for fitness.  Kendall and I have noticed that the Maple-rator could use a little more exercise to use up some of her extra energy, so running is a natural fit.  Plus, I love running and I've really missed it.

    And oh, how I love my iPhone.  It rings when people call, I can check my e-mail and Twitter and Facebook, and I can check the weather and take pictures of my doggies.  And then I can download lots and lots of apps.   So when I decided to get back into running, I figured there must be an app that uses the GPS function on my iPhone to map my run and calculate the distance.  And it needed to be free.

    Found one!  RunKeeper has a free app that allows you to enter your activity (running, walking, biking, etc) and then hit start.  It keeps your time and distance.  At the end of your workout, it gives you your distance and time with your miles per hour, and average number of minutes it would take you travel a mile and a handy-dandy little chart of when you were at your energy peak and low.

    And with one quick flick, you can also get a map with where you ran!  It's all free and you can get it at RunKeeper or iTunes App store.

    A few tips:
    Turn on your music before entering the app.  Your tunes will still play and then you can start mapping and timing your run.  But if you start your RunKeeper and then try to access your playlists, it will pause your workout.  Not the end of the world, but if you expect it to keep running and tracking you, you will be at a loss when you finish.

    It will also save any of your work-outs so you can have a history.  You can add little notes about pre-work-out eats, weather that day, how much of it was uphill, etc.

    So if you are working out off the treadmill or machine, I highly recommend this app.  Hope it works for you!

    Tuesday, August 17, 2010

    Tightening the Belt... without Sacrifice

    I can't believe it's my last week at work!  I'll be starting school full-time next week, and that means we'll be a one income household.  Sure, I have some things on the horizon, but for the time being, we've got to economize, baby!  It's all about tightening our belt or wallet without giving up good taste and good nutrition.

    In preparation for these big changes, we've taken a few steps to pare down.  For one, we've set a budget for our grocery bill and to help us stick to it, we've switched to paying cash.  It's hard to hand over dollar bills rather than swiping a card.  And while I shop, I keep a running tab on a calculator.  That really keeps things in check.  By the end of the trip, I know if I have the money to splurge a little or not.

    As always, make a menu before you go and make your grocery list from there.  Look at the week's ad at your local grocer or two and use the sale items to build your menu.  Chicken on sale?  Can you get 5 lbs of potatoes for a song?  Consult your cookbooks and recipe sources online to help come up with tasty meals using sale items.  And don't be ashamed to clip coupons, but be careful!  Only cut out ones for items you USE on a regular basis.  Take them to the store, but compare prices.  Sometimes coupons don't guarantee the best deal.  Calculators are your best friend in the grocery store!

    I know this can sound really restrictive and boring, but don't resort to plain stand-by recipes.  You will get tired and burnt out and then you will blow it.  Like dieting, don't do anything crazy and cut out carbs or fat or sugar, because you will end up surrounded by burgers, fries, fried rice, and ice cream.  Look for new ideas and recipes to try.  Branch out to new cuisines.  Keep it interesting!

    It's true, cheap food is not always healthy food, but shop for whole, raw ingredients!  You can get great deals on fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits, brown rice and whole-wheat pasta in bulk (it goes on sale too!), dried beans, eggs, milk, and other proteins.

    What tricks do you use to keep your grocery bill low?

    Sunday, August 15, 2010

    Tantalizing Tandoori Chicken

    ...or "The Best Chicken You've Ever Made," as my husband proclaimed as he bit into his dinner.

    I've never tried an Indian dish, but after watching "The Mistress of Spices" and "Dhoom 2," I was inspired.  So I pulled up a few Tandoori Chicken recipes and then stuck with Eating Well's Tandoori Chicken, with a few twists of my own.

    First, you need to make the marinade.  Start by measuring out your spices.  I decided to grind up my cumin.  By "grind," I mean "crush slightly."

    If you have the means and the drive, invest in a mortar in pestle.  This simple little beauty cost about $5.  Taking the spice seeds or pods and smushing them yourself unlocks a fresh, bright flavor.  So worth the elbow grease.

    Go ahead and throw them in a bowl.  Look at how beautiful these spices are!

    Keep on adding.  You'll be so thankful.

    Now, I added some tumeric and curry powder to my recipe.  What's so great about this marinade is that you can throw lots of different spices in there.  Experiment!

    Okay, now, next... add your plain yogurt and stir it well.  It will look like this:

    Add this to the chicken.  I put my chicken in a large zip-top bag and poured the marinade in.  Then I distributed it around.  Put it in the fridge for about 5 hours.  Stir or redistribute the marinade around the chicken a few times.  This, the time and the stirring, is KEY to your success.

    In the meantime, grab a cuke and slice it up.

    Then dice it!

    Cooking is fun.  Now, here's a little trick.  Put some cilantro in a cup.  If you are one of those people who hates cilantro, you can use mint or even parsley.  This is going to become a raita, which is a cool compliment to your spicy chicken, so you can use whatever you like that sounds cooling.

    Take your kitchen shears and chop it up in the cup.  You'll be left with this...

    Chopped herbs!  You can use this with basil or parsley and get a really nice fine chop that is hard to get on a chopping board sometimes.  And it's more fun this way.  And it's a great job for kiddos that doesn't involve a sharp knife.  Everybody wins!

    Add the cilantro/mint/parsley to the cucumber, and then put in 1-2 cloves minced garlic, salt and pepper.  Then add a few dollops of plain yogurt.

    Viola!  Adjust to your taste.  Let this sit in the fridge for at least an hour.  It gets so yummy.  Again, experiment.  I put in a few cumin seeds.  Do what moves you.

    Now, pull your chicken out of the fridge and put it in an ovenproof dish.

    Preheat your oven to 500* F.  It's hot.  But that's part of the magic!  The hot oven is meant to mimic a clay oven or pot.  So, get on with your life and pop it in for about 20 minutes.

    Meanwhile, made some rice or warm up some naan or roast some veggies or make a salad.  Whatever you want.  I went for some rice.  And I poured some wine!  It's a recipe for deliciousness.

    So you get some seriously delicious chicken.  It's so moist!  I made it with chicken breasts.  I think the combination of marinading in yogurt for hours and then putting it in the oven at a high heat for a shorter period of time is what makes this so juicy and tasty.

    Whatever the deal, this dish is pure magic.  If I were to do it again, I'd make basmati or jasmine rice, or better yet, coconut rice.  And I'd include naan.  And maybe some lime in my water?  And some lovely, cold fresh fruit on the side.  But as is, this is an easy and inexpensive meal that tastes amazing.

    Until next time... eat well, my friends!

    Thursday, August 12, 2010


    So much has happened since I last posted.  I have lots of BIG NEWS!

    For starters, in July, I became an aunt again.  My brother and sister-in-law had a beautiful baby girl.  She's the picture of perfection and everyone in the family is quite in love with her.  There has been much "ooh"-ing and "aah"-ing and snuggling going on with the little bundle of joy.  She has a thick head of hair, long fingers, and little sausages for legs and arms.

    Later in July, Kendall and I added a new addition to our family as well.  We adopted another dog!  We found Daisy at our local shelter and after introducing her to Maple, we adopted her.  She's a Cairn Terrier mix, and is so sweet and loving.  Daisy and Maple are now real sisters, exploring together.

    In other big news, I will be starting my Masters in about two weeks, and am so excited!  Unfortunately, I will have to stop working at my current job; I needed a more flexible schedule and they weren't able to fit it in.  So I will be a full-time student.  I hope this means I can blog more, but will also be writing for Austin's on pet rescue in the Austin area.  Exciting, no?  There are a few other plans in the works, but more on that later.

    In the midst of all this, I've been cooking and eating.  And I will continue to do so!  I'll be posting back here soon with some great recipes and ideas.

    Until then...Keep eating!

    Monday, July 19, 2010

    Chicken and Veggie Alfredo

    When I think about the joys of life, I think of a sweet sleeping puppy, wildflowers blooming in the springtime and butter and cream.  And freshly laundered crisp cotton pajamas.  Sometimes these all come together.  Well, they didn't EXACTLY all come together at the same time for me, because it's summer.  BUT ANYWAY.  I made a pasta alfredo with some chicken and all sorts of yummy veggies.  Behold.

    I had never made an alfredo sauce from scratch, but I was so happy to find out that it was a cinch!

    First, set some water to boil and get your spaghetti or fettuccine or whatever ready to cook. 

    Then, get some chicken and slice thinly.  Sautee until cooked and then set aside.

    Repeat with some lovely veggies of choice.  I went with a nice assortment of summer veggies here.

    I literally chopped up what was in my fridge.  Follow my lead!

    Here's the magic stuff.  Butter, a stick of it or 1/2 C, plus 1 more Tbsp.  And 3/4 C of heavy cream.  And 1/2 C of grated parmesan plus more for the sprinkling.  Also, have some salt and pepper on hand too.  Never hurts, right?  This magic stuff is very, very naughty.  But you know what?  Live a little.  Don't eat like this every day.  But if you had a bad week or got some fabulous news, or it's a cause for celebration, invite your nearest and dearest around you and whip this sauce up.

    Now, what I did here is put the butter in the same Dutch oven that you browned the chicken and veggies in.  It was a good idea.  Scrape up the brown bits.  Stir.  Believe.

    Then drain your pasta and dump into the butter and add the chicken and vegetables.

    You can stop here and add some of the pasta cooking water and some salt and pepper and be pretty happy. But let's not stop here, okay?  Let's venture a little further down the rabbit hole.

    Add cream and cheese and some of the pasta cooking liquid and some salt and pepper.  Then add that extra tablespoon of butter.  And stir it all together.  Adjust according to your own taste.  I use tongs to toss all the noodles and veggies and chicken so it gets evenly coated with cream and butter and cheese.  I know!  So good.

    Throw it in a bowl.  Sprinkle some more parmesan on top.  It's what your Mom would want you to do.  And stand up straight, for crying out loud!

    I added some fresh cracked pepper on top.  I roll like that.  

    But let's get down to brass tacks here, folks.  This recipe is easy, but also rich and delicious.  It's very simple, but don't let that fool you.  It is really, very delicious.

    I adapted it from this classic recipe from Gourmet magazine and now available on Epicurious.  And by adapted, I mean I added chicken and veggies.

    Enjoy, people!

    Wednesday, July 7, 2010

    Just Peachy BBQ Chicken

    Oh, baby.  My husband might be a grilling machine.  We recently bought a grill and Kendall is really, really good at grilling things.  Case in point, I came home yesterday to something delicious on the grill.  Actually, two delicious things, if you want to get technical about it: chicken and onions.

    Don't be fooled by such a simple description.  The chicken was moist and flavorful and yummy and the onion was juicy and tasted like grilled French Onion soup.  I know!  I couldn't believe it either!

    Kendall first took boneless, skinless chicken breasts and marinaded in this delicious peach grilling sauce he found in Gettysburg on a recent trip.  Sometimes he brings me gifts, and he knows the best gift to give me is something I can eat.  Preserves, chocolate, sauces... I'm a sucker for unique condiments and dessert.

    Then he slapped them on the grill for about 20 minutes.  Here's what we got:

    Yes.  It really is as delicious as it looks.  And after putting some on our plates, we then put a little more of this magical stuff over the top.

    I don't know who invented this, but they really should be considered for sainthood.  I would call them a genius.  Here's the thing about this sauce.  It is peachy and spicy.  Sweet and savory.  But it's not TOO sweet.  I can taste the peach, and I can taste the chili pepper, and it is delicious.  AND I don't feel like this was concocted in a lab somewhere and contains lots and lots of high fructose corn syrup.  So we were very, very happy campers.

    THEN we pulled this little beauty of the grill.

    Inspired by one Paula Deen, this was the second grilled onion blossom in our house and we are now addicted to them.  Pray for our souls.  THIS gem was all Kendall.  He split the red onion into eight wedges, but did not totally cut apart.  Leave the root intact.  Then put it in foil, add some butter popcorn salt and a pad of butter.  Then gather up the foil around the onion and grill for 45 minutes.  Then open and eat.

    I did this rather ungracefully.  I ended up eating most of my half standing, hunched over the table, slurping, too distracted with deliciousness to even sit down.  COULD NOT SIT DOWN, people.  That is how good this was.

    See that broth in the lower left corner?  Yes.  That will rock your world.  Your shoes and socks will fly off your feet with delight.

    So there you have it.  The fourth of July is over, but grilling can continue.  So this weekend, fire that baby up and eat something simple, yet delicious.

    Tuesday, July 6, 2010

    It's Going to Happen Eventually. I Promise.

    I know you have missed me just terribly.  And I have missed you too.  It's mutual, baby.  Trust me.

    I have been cooking, you know.  And scouring cookbooks, of course.  And hunting online for lots and lots of tasty things to try and share.

    One of the things I cooked this weekend and did NOT take pictures of it because I was so busy eating it is this heavenly little recipe for macaroni and cheese from Ms. Paula Deen.  You make it in a crockpot.  It's creamy and delicious.  The only thing I would recommend is checking in after one hour, stirring it, and trying again in 30 min.  Then taste it.  If it feels and tastes done, then take it off the heat!  I cooked mine for the recommended 3 hours, and it got a little curdle-y.  Is that a word?  Was I really an English major?  What are we doing here on earth?

    Anyway, just check in on it every once in a while and trust your gut.  That's what I'm sayin' here.

    This weekend, when I wasn't busy celebrating our nation's independence and stuffing my face with chicken, macaroni, barbeque, potato salad, cake or rice krispie treats, I was reading cookbooks or talking to my grandmother about family recipes.  I got a lot of them out of her.  They are awesome and timeless and remind me of holidays at her house.  And I also managed to smuggle out my other grandmother's favorite cookbook and get it safely into my new cookbook cabinet.  It's chock full of retro recipes and menu suggestions.  Some of them are funny.  Some of them aren't funny, but simply dated, and others are obviously classic and timeless.  I'll share here soon, I promise.

    Also, did you read that part about a new cookbook cabinet?  Yes!  You read right!  My cookbook collection outgrew its home above our microwave, and has now relocated to a lovely new desk in our kitchen.  I am very, very happy about this. 

    Speaking of things to be happy about, how about these apples?

    Just kidding, those aren't apples!  That, my dears, is a fresh sampling of what my co-worker brought to work today and shared with me.  Bell pepper, green tomatoes, and three spicy, hot chilis that I will certainly put to use in something Thai and delicious.  Ta ta for now, lovelies!