Thursday, December 22, 2011

Baked Potato Soup

I hate being cold. But I do love Winter because of the following: Christmas, sweaters, and soup. There is just something ultra comforting about all three and it's a special treat when you can sit under the lights of the Christmas tree wrapped in a cozy sweater eating some warm and hearty soup. Ahhhh!

Baked Potato Soup
5 large baked  potatoes
1 small onion, diced
1 small bell pepper, diced
2 Tbsp butter 
3-4 pieces cooked bacon, crumbled
8 oz. sour cream
2 cups milk
2 cups chicken broth
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
shredded cheddar cheese
minced fresh parsley

In a 5 qt. Dutch Oven melt butter over medium-high heat. Add chopped vegetables and saute until tender-crisp and lightly browned. Add broth and milk and stir. Cut potatoes into large chunks and add to pot along with crumbled bacon. Fork mash the potatoes, leaving some good chunks still in tact. The more you mash, the thicker your soup will be.  Add salt, basil and ground black pepper to taste. Garnish with fresh parsley and some shredded cheese.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies and Christmas Magic

Just a few days ago I was complaining to a friend that Christmas, usually my favorite time of year, just didn't feel magical to me this year. I'd been trying to get into the Christmas Spirit but still hadn't managed to come up with my normal Christmas cheer. No goodies had been baked for the neighbors, no carols had been sung, no presents were under the tree. Trials are hard... They are harder at Christmas.

There is something about the season that just seems to accentuate the losses that we've experienced, whether it be the loss of family, of work, of faith, or even the loss of it all. Every Christmas carol reminds you of days gone by. Every brightly lit home of the cheer that should be within. Even the smells of cookies and eggnog bring back treasured memories that seem so far away. Sometimes, whether or not we are struggling financially, we feel so poor in Spirit... It is from these shallow depths that some of the most important lessons in life are experienced.

Last night we had a surprise knock at the door. Somebody delivered Christmas magic to our front step. My first response was almost a panicky plea for them to take it all away to somebody who needed it more than us. I know there are so many! But in came boxes with gifts and food... But we're fine, I said, and haven't been struggling to buy groceries for goodness sakes! But then a closer look showed me that these weren't just groceries- They were the ingredients to holiday baking. They were the perfect gifts for my children. They were thoughtful items meant for each member of my family. They were a way of saying,
"I know you. I love you.You are my friend and I care." 
I immediately felt the Holiday magic that had been missing surge through me with a challenge to rise above my trials and do more to help those around me. So thank you, whoever you are. You humbled me, brought tears to my eyes and magic into my heart. Merry Christmas!

With our goodies was several containers of oats and cinnamon which was so perfect since I'd had this recipe saved as a draft for a couple weeks. This gave me the perfect opportunity to bake today!

I have been playing with this recipe for the past twelve months. Last year my aunt mentioned that her husband (one of my favorite uncles) LOVES oatmeal chocolate chip cookies but they always have a hard time finding any that are really delicious and live up to his high expectations. I made it a personal quest to create the perfect oatmeal chocolate chip cookie for him for this Christmas. (Yes I realize I sound like a complete nut working on a recipe for an entire year just to give somebody a cookie... )

Anyway, the thing that I always struggled with when making oatmeal cookies was that they always ended up being flat and unappealing. I'd try to add more flour and then they'd taste more like flour than oats... Finally I think I've figured it out and the recipe is as follows:

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups white flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 cups quick cooking or rolled oats
1 1/2 - 2 cups chocolate chips

 Set oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Depending on your oven and cookie size each batch should take about 10-15 minutes. I usually make my cookies on the smaller side so mine take about 10 minutes.

Cream butter and sugar. For the best results, beat until mixture is lightened in color. I mixed mine for close to 5 minutes to get the texture I was desiring. (This is where it'd be nice to have a Kitchen-Aid mixer.) I've learned that this is an important step when making oatmeal cookies or they tend to come out quite flat.

Add eggs, vanilla and salt and mix well.

Combine flour, soda, oats and cinnamon in a separate bowl and then gently combine into your wet mixture. Don't over-mix or, again, the cookies will end up flat and runny.

Fold in chocolate chips.

Drop by heaping tablespoonful onto cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. (You can skip the parchment if you absolutely don't have it... but I highly recommend it!)

Bake with the oven light on so you can monitor your first batch. I usually take the cookies out before they look completely done. They should be dry and slightly browned around the edges, but the middle may still look a tad underdone. Trust me on this! The cookies will continue to cook after they've been pulled from the oven and they will set into soft, chewy cookies instead of little rocks.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Marinated Mushrooms

Ok, I couldn't get marinated mushrooms off of my mind since my heart was set on them last week. So, despite the enormous size of my mushrooms, I did cook myself up a batch yesterday. However; I did not leave them whole...
Also, no pictures this time. I tried, but no matter what angle I snapped I just could not figure out how to make a fungus (especially a sliced fungus) look delicious. Oh! But they were delicious!

And just a quick side-note. I am extremely thankful for my herb garden when I am cooking recipes like these. Last week for my pate, I threw on my slippers, grabbed my flashlight and picked parsley at nearly midnight because, on a whim, I decided I wanted to add it. This one was thought ahead more so I didn't have to pick the herbs in my pajamas. But if I didn't have these on hand, I would sacrifice and add dried over paying an arm and a leg for fresh.

Marinated Mushrooms Recipe:
1 pound of brown or white mushrooms, or a mix of both
4 tablespoons of good extra virgin olive oil, or more if needed
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 cloves of garlic, minced 
1/4 cup of red onions or shallots, finely chopped
2 tablespoons of fresh oregano, finely chopped (Use 1 tsp dried leaves if fresh is not available)
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, finely chopped (Use 1 tsp dried leaves if fresh is not available)

1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds (optional)

Wash mushrooms well and remove stems. Boil mushrooms in salted water for about 10 minutes, drain and let cool. While mushrooms cool, combine all other ingredients in a jar or large bowl with a tight-fitting lid. Close the lid and shake until it's all combined. Add mushrooms, close lid and refrigerate overnight. Remove from the fridge at least 10 minutes before planning on serving it.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Happy December! (Chocolate Chip Cookies)

Here it is December already and to be honest with you I keep thinking that it should still be October! I am seriously lagging behind in the Christmas Spirit this year so to pump it up a notch I decided to bake some cookies today. This is always dangerous for me because I am an honest-to-goodness cookie addict and for Christmas this year I decided to give myself back my favorite jeans. (A Summer of stress does not bode well for for the waist line...) So the first thing I had to do after snapping pictures was to load these morsels up and give them away! (I may or may not have eaten one first...)
I scoured this blog the other day and realized that I didn't even have my all-time-favorite-standby chocolate-chip cookie recipe on here. Sometimes we take for granted that which we bake all the time. So here they are, the best chocolate chip cookies ever. Enjoy and Happy December!

Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 cup soft brown sugar
1/2 cup powdered milk (or use 1/2 cup granulated sugar)
1/2 cup soft butter
1/2 cup Crisco
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups flour
1 cup rolled oats
12 oz. chocolate chips (or 2 cups)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cream butter, Crisco and sugar in a mixing bowl. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix well. Combine dry ingredients except oats and chocolate chips and mix in completely. Stir in oats and chocolate chips and drop by teaspoonful onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 8-9 minutes or until slightly golden on the sides.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Smoked Salmon Paté

My husband and I seldom exchange gifts on our birthdays. Instead, we like to shower each other with attention and service. For Mike's birthday this year I took him on a camping trip, just the two of us. For my birthday, he cooked me dinner. But not just any dinner! He went all out and smoked some wild-caught Alaskan salmon. Wow! That is definitely a new birthday tradition around here. I wish there were some way I could describe how delicious it was. In fact, it was so delicious that we decided on an encore for a Thanksgiving appetizer. It really was too good to turn it into a paté but I'd been wanting to try a new recipe. My thought was that I could put this on my daughter's bagels for the days that she insists on only bringing a bagel and cream cheese for lunch. That way she's at least getting some extra nutrients, right? I have the pickiest seven-year-old so we are constantly trying to find interesting things to try in her lunchbox. The girl won't eat peanut butter and jelly... But she did it this!

Smoked Salmon Paté
6 oz smoked salmon
juice of 1/2 lemon, or to taste
1/4 lb low-fat cream cheese
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
pinch of cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp prepared horseradish
2 Tbsp fresh chopped parsley

Put the ingredients into a blender or food processor. Process until smooth and creamy. Season with additional pepper to taste and add fresh, chopped parsley if desired. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and put in the refrigerator. Tastes great on bagels, crusty bread, crackers and cucumbers.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Stuffed Mushrooms

I almost never host Thanksgiving since I have a mother-in-law who shines in that department. I do, however, love to cook Thanksgiving dinner which means my husband usually gets to eat the meal twice over the holiday weekend. He doesn't complain...
This year we tried a new method of cooking turkey which was OUTSTANDING and really very simple. Here is the link that explains each and every step. We cooked ours in the oven instead of on the grill, but other than that the process was the same and our turkey turned out beautiful, moist, and delicious. My husband thinks that he needs to consult Meathead for every problem in life (well at least in the kitchen) and I have to admit I'm becoming a big fan myself!

Anyway, as my contribution to Thanksgiving at my mother-in-law's house, I was planning to bring some marinated mushrooms. I bought an entire 10 pound box of fresh mushrooms so I'd have plenty to eat at home as well.
To my surprise when I went to go pick them up I found that I'd ordered them JUMBO size... not exactly fitting for the appetizer I'd had in mind!
All was not lost though and I came up with this delicious alternative. And with these jumbo-sized mushrooms this could easily be turned into a meal by adding just a little ground beef or turkey in with the stuffing. I tried a couple different versions and if you love mushrooms you will love these!

 Stuffed Mushrooms
12-15 whole fresh mushrooms (or 6 giant ones!)
1 small onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, diced
1 Tbsp butter
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp poultry seasoning or Simon & Garfunkel Rub (I used S&G- another Meathead Favorite)
1/2 cup. mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 cup dry bread crumbs
2 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Clean mushrooms with a damp paper towel. Carefully break off stems. Chop stems extremely fine, discarding tough end of stems.

2. Heat butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, celery, and chopped mushroom stems to the skillet. Saute about three minutes until vegetables are tender-crisp. Add garlic and seasonings. Cook an additional two minutes.

3. Add bread crumbs and cheese and stir until completely combined. Using a little spoon, fill each mushroom cap with a generous amount of stuffing. Arrange the mushroom caps on prepared cookie sheet.

4. Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the mushrooms are piping hot and liquid starts to form under caps.

**As made, I thought these mushrooms were fabulous! But I love mushrooms. For my husband who only likes mushrooms he thought these were a bit too mushroomy and needed something extra. The following is a variation I made for him which I actually thought was a tie with the first but they taste quite a bit different. These are not quite so Thanksgiving'ish so would be a good appetizer for any occasion.

6-8 whole fresh mushrooms (or 2 giant ones!)
1/4 cup chives, chopped
1 Tbsp dry sherry
1 Tbsp butter
1 large clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon herbes de Provence or dried thyme
4 oz. cream cheese
1 cup dry bread crumbs
2 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
2 Tbsp walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Clean mushrooms with a damp paper towel. Carefully break off stems. Chop stems extremely fine, discarding tough end of stems.

2. Heat butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add mushroom stems and sherry to the skillet. Saute about two minutes. Add garlic and seasonings. Cook an additional one minute.

3. Add bread crumbs, cream cheese, chives and walnuts. Stir until completely combined. Using a little spoon, fill each mushroom cap with a generous amount of stuffing. Arrange the mushroom caps on prepared cookie sheet.

4. Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the mushrooms are piping hot and liquid starts to form under caps.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Crack N' Chili

I have a son who doesn't like tomatoes. I know it's a little unnatural and up until a year ago I kept hoping he'd grow out of it. He's sixteen now so I'm not so sure there's hope for tomatoes... Anyway, every once in a while I like to indulge my children and so I created this chili recipe without a single tomato on board. (Although if you're really missing them you can add some diced tomatoes on top when serving.) Sorry no pictures! I've made this recipe several times in the last few weeks and each time I've made it my camera has been out of batteries.

This stuff is so addicting we dubbed it Crack N' Chili. And yes, don't worry. It's perfectly legal.

Crack N' Chili

1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped
2 Anaheim chilies, chopped*
1 cup onion, chopped
1 1/4 tsp. smoked paprika (regular will work too if you have it)
3/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp red chili powder
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp oregano
4 tbsp butter
3 tbsp cornstarch
3 1/3 cup milk
4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
4 ounces pepper jack cheese, shredded
2 (15 oz.) cans red kidney beans
1 (15 oz.) can small red chili beans

1. Melt butter in a 5 qt. Dutch Oven over medium heat. 
2. Add vegetables and saute until tender-crisp. 
3. Add seasonings and cook 1 minute to extract flavor. 
4. Combine 1/3 cup milk with cornstarch and add to vegetables. Stir until vegetables are coated and quickly add remaining milk.
5. Stir constantly until mixture thickens, about the consistency of gravy. Slowly add shredded cheese and stir until completely melted. 
6. Add undrained beans and heat through. If you're like me and do most of your cooking during the day, at this point you can transfer everything to your slow cooker to keep it warm from afternoon to evening.
You can also add shredded pork or chicken if you like. Also top with shredded lettuce, tomatoes, a dollop of sour cream and some chives to dress this up.

*If you don't have fresh peppers you can substitute 2 (4 oz) cans of diced chilis when you add the beans

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Healthy & CHEAP Microwaved Popcorn

I had been babysitting two of one of my good friend's daughters for her during the day. It was an adventure to say the least! And you should have just seen the looks I received when I had to take them out in public. Sometimes my parade of little ones was met with admiration, like when I carted them all to the Scout store to pick up awards and Pinewood Derby cars. Other times the look was of disgust like when I had all four of them crammed into a shopping cart at Costco. I'm sure it was quite a site to see such a circus of girls (ages 5, 4, 3, and 2) on wheels.
I admit it was a little bit fun to see the "Only in Utah" look as I was checking out. The funny thing is that probably anywhere else in the country people would wide-eyed ask me "Are they ALL yours?!" (I'm just guessing because this has happened to me in at least 3 different states when I've had friends' kids in tow along with my own... well okay, once it was only just my own... ) But never here. Not once in all the public venues I've carted them along to have I ever been asked that question. Nope. Not where I live. This is Utah where it is not entirely out of the ordinary to see such a spectacle.
Anyway, the point I'm trying to make here is that with all the extra kids in my house (we still did play-dates and  from time to time I'd be watching other friends' children as well) inexpensive snacks RULE! Not to mention quick and inexpensive! I used to always pop my popcorn on the stove but with a house full of little monsters there is no WAY I could devote that much time all at once to my kitchen.
This is very simple and ridiculously cheap and helps you control what actually goes into the mouths of those you love. I've long been wary of the carcinogen-laced, lung damaging microwaved popcorn snack. (I shy from just about anything with ingredients that sound more like a chemistry experiment than something that's edible.. Check out this link for more information on this snack. )
Ok enough talk already! Here's the logistics of this beautiful "new" (people have actually been doing this for years before Orville) method.
  1. Put 1/4 cup popcorn in a brown paper lunch bag. Fold top over a few times and tape, staple (your microwave won't mind a couple small staples), or even just fold tightly. (I've always just folded mine since my tape usually ends up as Barbie lingerie.)
  2. Place in microwave folded side up for 2 to 3 minutes or until there is 5 seconds between pops.
  3. Eat plain or add flavors (such as salt, butter, sugar, etc.)
Easy enough? I promise you it works beautifully. And guess what? Since you aren't even adding oil (although you can add about 1 tsp along with the kernels if you really want to) you should be able to reuse the same paper bag for the next batch as well!  

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Spirit of ThanksGIVING

Several months ago, I wrote the following after attending the funeral of one of my good friends. She died after a not-long-enough-but-way-too-long battle with cancer. During this time my entire neighborhood and even my own family members had been riddled with hardships. I had 4 different friends who were battling cancer at the same time (One passed away just a few weeks afterwards), my sister was recovering after an induced coma after too many near-death battles with her own auto-immune disease, 2 of my friends were going through bitter and heartbreaking divorces, I had countless friends who were unemployed or had to take jobs in other states to be able to provide for their families. But through all of this, it was as if my own family was blessed with little or no problems of our own.
Here is what I wrote:
(April 12, 2011)
"I have a picture forever imprinted in my mind of an empty chapel. The lights dimmed and a slight scent of flowers in the air. Dozens of used tissues littered the floor and benches, a physical reminder of the tears that were shed there that day. I know that life is eternal and we will see our loved ones again- but sometimes that's just not enough to stay the tears. Today I miss my friend... 

In the April 2010 LDS General Conference, Elder Donald L. Hallstrom said:
"In the most difficult circumstances of life, there is only one source of peace. The Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, extends his grace with the invitation, 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.' (Matthew 11:28) He further promises, 'My peace I give unto you: Not as the world giveth, give I unto you. ' (John 14:27)
Unfortunately this is hard to realize until those most difficult circumstances arise. And then we have a choice: To realize it.. or to ignore it.  Every day in my neighborhood I see people making the best of very difficult situations (Unemployment, death of loved ones, divorce, chronic illnesses and more). It is heartbreaking- but then I see neighbors, friends and family pouring out love and support.. and I'm reminded that we ARE God's hands  and sometimes it is through us that He is able to give that peace.

Perhaps for this reason God blesses some while heaping trials upon others- so we can all have a turn helping our neighbors and sharing our blessings. I am truly grateful for my own trials that I've been through. It helps me to put my life into perspective. It has helped me to truly empathize with my friends that are currently going through trials of their own. But more, it has helped me to feel true gratitude for the "minor" trials I face each day.
"Because I have been given much I too must give... "
I know I'm not immune to hardships at this point in my life. Just because my life was hard once, doesn't mean that it won't be again. But in the meantime I am blessed. And I will continue to do all that I can to ease the burdens of my friends and family. Life is a gift and a blessing... and I hope that at the end of my days I can be proud of the way that I've used this precious gift.

Yes, I miss my friend. And my heart aches  for those she's left behind. But I know that she's dancing with the angels and she's got a smile on her face. She is free of pain and suffering and she can be proud of the way she lived her life. Her memory is precious and perfect. She will forever be beautiful and sweet and kind."

Just three months after I wrote this, my own world started to crumble around me. I began to despair and went through a lot of searching, pondering, and praying just trying to keep my head above water. I had a lot to learn about faith apparently because I was suddenly in the middle of the most intense lesson I'd ever experienced. I went days without being able to see straight due to my constantly "watery" eyes and I was so completely stressed that I couldn't eat or sleep.

I remember one evening a couple of months ago... I had been babysitting for a friend all that day and then afterwords made three dinners. One for my family, one for a friend who had just had a baby, and one for a friend who was trying to avoid bed-rest with her own pregnancy.

While I was out delivering the dinners with my children my husband returned home from work. He met me at the door and I all but collapsed into his arms near-tears trying to relate all of the stress of the day. He shook his head at me, and said, "This is ridiculous! Somebody should be watching our kids and bringing us dinner. You can't keep doing this!"

I took a deep breath and calmed down a bit... then I realized that the one time during the last week that I'd felt even remotely okay was when I was out delivering those meals to my friends. I had become so wrapped up in our own hardships that this was the first time in weeks that I'd even ventured to cook for somebody else... and yes that includes my own family! I can't imagine what my poor husband was going through. This was as much his trial as mine and yet he had to go to work and function everyday and come home to pick up all my pieces.
My trial is not yet over but I've learned at least two things so far:

1. God is ever mindful of our needs but sometimes it takes action on our part as well for us to get the help that we need. While I've long had an almost self-righteous attitude of being able to take care of myself, I really needed to learn to humble myself and ask for help. That doesn't make me less of a person but instead gives me new insight and empathy to be aware of the needs around me. This allows me to even better be able to serve my neighbors with a thankful heart.  I'm embarrassed to say that it took several months of pain before it finally dawned on me that I'd never asked for help... Once I asked for the help that I needed, I had several people sincerely (even those I'd not expected) offer to help in any way that they could. It was humbling. I will forever be gracious for those who are acting as God's Hands on my behalf.

2. I am truly happiest when I am in turn serving others. And in my case I mean literally serving others. I love to cook for people! At the moment it is beyond my capacity to do some of the other things that I truly wish I could do to help others. Instead of beating myself up over the things I wish I could do, but can't, I need to focus on the things that can be done. There are plenty of ways within my current ability to brighten the lives of those around me. I am hoping that by continuing this blog I will in a very small way be able to
 help enrich the lives of others.

Yes, I share this with you all as an explanation of where I've been these last few months. But I also, and more importantly, wanted a venue to share with you my thankful heart. Thank you for humoring me! My life is truly blessed and no matter what trials I may face in this life, though it may be difficult, I know that with the Savior's love I can endure them all.

God bless you and have a happy ThanksGIVING!

Friday, July 01, 2011

Tandoori Chicken Breasts with Mango-Mint Chutney

This recipe comes from my favorite grilling book, Weber's Way To Grill by Jamie Purviance. If you've ever wanted to learn to grill, get the book. It's fantastic!

1 cup plain yogurt
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp chopped garlic
1 Tbsp fresh ginger
2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp sweet paprika

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, about 6 ounces each

2 firm ripe mangoes, sides cut from pit
1/2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh mint
2 Tbsp cider vinegar
1/2 tsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Vegetable oil

1. In a food processor (or my Vita-Mix) blend the marinade ingredients until uniform in consistency, adding 1 or 2 Tbsp of water, if needed (which I didn't). Place the chicken in a large, resealable plastic bag and pour in the marinade. Press the air out of the bag and seal it tightly. Turn the bag several times to distribute the marinade and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, turning occasionally.

2. Prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium heat.

3. Lightly brush the mango sides with the oil. Grill over direct medium heat, flat sides down, with the lid closed as much as possible, until they brown, about 2 minutes, without turning. Remove the mango from the grill, crosshatch the flesh in the skin, and scoop out the little pieces. In a small bowl combine the mango with the remaining chutney ingredients.

4. Remove the chicken from the bag and discard the marinade. Wipe off most the marinade clinging to the chicken and brush the chicken with oil. Grill over direct medium heat, with the lid closed as much as possible, until the meat is firm to the touch and no longer pink in the center, 8-12 minutes, turning once. Serve warm with the chutney.
To cut a mango: 

First, cut around the pit by rotating the mango so that the pit runs parallel to the blade of your knife. Cut each mango lengthwise along each side of the pit.
 Crosshatch the flesh without cutting through the skin, and scoop out the little pieces with a spoon.
Even if you're just putting the mangoes into a smoothie (which is delicious, by the way), this is by far the easiest way to cut a mango. Although, if I'm pureeing the mango anyway, I don't crosshatch- I just scoop.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Pepperoni Chicken Involtini

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, about 8 ounces each
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. granulated garlic
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
8 oz. sliced pepperoni
4 thin slices munster cheese
8 large basil leaves
8-16 baby spinach leaves

First, flatten the chicken breasts, smooth side down between two layers of plastic wrap. For very thick pieces of chicken, it helps to cut partially into the meat and fold it out.
 I use the flat side of a meat tenderizer to flatten the meat. You could also use the bottom of a heavy pan.
 Mix seasonings and sprinkle generously over each piece of meat.
 Load each piece of chicken with spinach, basil, 1 slice cheese and about 4 slices pepperoni
 Roll chicken lengthwise. Keep it as tight as you can!
 Tie each piece of chicken with 2 pieces of butcher's twine and brush the surface of each with olive oil. I didn't have any twine, so I simply used thread which worked just fine.
 Grill over direct medium heat for about 12 minutes or until the chicken is fully cooked and the cheese has melted. I turned my chicken every 2-3 minutes to keep it from burning.
 This would be great served with some good quality tomato sauce but we skipped the sauce so my girls would actually eat their dinner~ which the did. They loved it!

P.S. We sliced the leftover chicken and put it on sandwich rolls for some delicious sandwiches the next day. Yum!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Strawberry Shortcake

I made that strawberry syrup on Friday. Saturday the girls wanted pancakes for breakfast... and lunch... and dinner. I guess they liked it! Of course, with all these strawberries around here, I had to make some strawberry shortcake for dessert too!

Strawberry Shortcake
  • 2 quarts (I always double up on the berries, but 1 qt will work too) strawberries, sliced
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 dash ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 2 cups sweetened whipped cream
  • fresh mint


In a bowl, gently stir strawberries and 1/4 cup sugar; chill. Meanwhile, in another bowl, combine flour, 1/4 cup sugar, baking powder, salt and nutmeg; cut in butter until crumbly. Combine milk and egg yolks; mix well. Add to crumb mixture, stirring just until moistened. Divide and pat into two greased 9-in. round cake pans. In a small mixing bowl (or large measuring cup) beat egg whites until stiff peaks form; spread over dough.  

 Sprinkle with remaining sugar. Bake at 325 degrees F for 25 minutes or until golden. Cool 10 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack. (Layer will be thin.) Cool completely. 

Place one cake layer on a large serving plate; spread with half of the whipped cream. Spoon half of the strawberries over cream. Repeat layers. Garnish with mint if desired. 


Sweet Chili Poppers

Did you get some of these yummy sweet chilies in your Bountiful Basket on Saturday? I got mine plus a friend gave me hers as well (two weeks in a row) so by this last Saturday I had a whole bag full in my refrigerator. I chose to turn mine into some delicious appetizers for our Father's day feast.

Sweet Chili Poppers
2 cups soft bread crumbs (I used rye bread for extra flavor. Puree it in your blender, or Vita-mix for fine crumbs.)
1 cup finely chopped sweet apple
1 cup finely chopped onion
2 Tbsp finely diced fresh cilantro
3 slices cooked and crumbled bacon
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
2 oz. Monterey or PepperJack cheese, sliced
about 20 sweet chili peppers

Combine bread crumbs, apple, onion, cilantro and bacon. Add egg and milk. Mix until all is incorporated and moist. 
Wash peppers and arrange them so they lay flat. On the opposite side of each pepper, cut a 'T' into the side of the pepper for the filling.

Stuff each pepper with stuffing (baby spoons work great for this!) and arrange in a single layer into a lightly greased casserole dish with a lid. Top each pepper with a piece of cheese (cut to fit). 
 Bake covered at 350 degrees F.  for 30 minutes. Serve warm or cold. They're delicious either way!

Strawberry Jam & Strawberry Syrup

Despairing over my strawberry patch full of still-green strawberries I finally bit the bullet last week and ordered a flat of strawberries from Bountiful Basket. Of course by the time Saturday rolled around, my stubborn berries began to turn red. (I guess all they needed was some competition!) No worries, of course. Between my girls and I, we can easily eat a pound of strawberries every day.. which is what we did. By the following Friday, between the purchased flat and my garden, I still had about a half a flat of berries left. Cue the telephone.. My sweet husband calls and tells me while going to a job site, he found some boy scouts selling strawberries for $5 a flat, should he get some? ... YES of course! 5 flats please! I was so excited! It's been a very long time since I've had enough berries to actually do anything with except eat. I love strawberry jam and sauces, but I'm normally never willing to sacrifice my fresh gems to the stove. Much as I like jam, I'd much rather eat a strawberry fresh and whole. MMmmmm But with my husband's purchase I needed to process at least some of the berries so they didn't go bad. 

We washed, hulled and froze about 2 1/2 flats for smoothies. The rest I turned into strawberry jam (and lots of it!) and strawberry syrup. Both are super easy and keep for about 2 years on the shelf when processed. (As if they'd last that long around here anyway!)

For Jam:
1. First, wash and hull 2lbs of strawberries 
 2. Now crush, mash or finely chop the berries. Of course I just pulsed them in my Vita-mix, making sure to still leave some chunks. 

3. Pour the berries into a large pot (5 qt. should do it)

 4. Stir in 1 box of regular pectin.
 5. Also add about 1/2 tsp butter to help reduce the foaming. Seriously, you'll be much happier if you don't skip this!
 6. Bring mixture to a boil. Have your 7 cups of pre-measured sugar ready to dump into the pot.
 7. Dump sugar in all at once and stir well. Bring mixture to a full boil once more and boil for one minute. Remove from heat.
 8. In the meantime, I've been keeping my clean jars in the oven at 200 degrees F so they'd be hot and ready when I need them.
 9. Pour hot jam directly into jars (use a funnel if necessary) and wipe the rims of the jars clean.
 10. Attach two-piece lids to each jar. Tighten gently; I usually tighten as much as I can then turn the ring back about a quarter turn. Also, before I started the jam, I poured boiling water over the lids in a bowl to help soften the rubber seal. Then I kept them in the bowl to keep them hot.
 11. Load the canning rack into a pot of hot, simmering water. It's best to start this pot at the same time you start the jam so you don't have to wait for it to heat up. 
For small batches of jam (or the last few jars of a big batch) I love using this small rack from Ball in one of my large stock-pots. It's so much nicer than my huge canner when I don't have a lot to do!
 12. Bring canner (or stock-pot) to a gentle boil and then process jars for 20 minutes. (Or 10 minutes at sea-level.) Remove from heat and then, using a jar lifter, move the jars to a draft-free area. Do not disturb for at least 12 hours.
 For Syrup:
Syrup is very similar in process with just a few changes to the ingredients.

Strawberry Syrup
4 lbs strawberries
1 cup Lemonade (not from concentrate)
you could also use 4 Tbsp lemon juice and 3/4 c. water
6 cups sugar
1 Tbsp butter
1 tsp. almond extract

Wash and hull strawberries. Mash (or puree if you choose) berries into a large pot. A 5 qt. pot will work, but it will be close. If you have a bigger one, use it. Add lemonade. Bring to a boil. Add butter and sugar. Return to a full boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and add almond extract. Pour into hot, clean jars and attach two-piece lids to each jar. Process 20 minutes in a water bath canner.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Honey Whole Wheat Bread

I have been on a mission for at least the last 12 months trying to find the perfect whole wheat bread recipe. I've found a few that are okay... but it seems to get a really good, moist and fluffy bread I always have to add at least some white flour. I can't tell you how frustrating it's been! I knew there was the perfect recipe out there somewhere.. I've bought 100% whole wheat bread from bakeries that has tasted fine- why couldn't I recreate it at home? I even researched the science of bread to try to understand what I was doing wrong.

Somewhere along my plight, my good friend Tina was probably chuckling to herself because all along she was in possession of such sought after recipe. It had been handed down from her mother who had always made homemade bread. Tina is the mother of eight and has carried on her mother's tradition of never buying store-bought "air bread". I've known for years that she always makes whole wheat bread and I've often wondered how in the heck she has time to make enough bread every week to satisfy her large family (and more importantly how she twisted their arms and forced them to eat such bread..) Well, finally Tina finished her chuckle fest and took pity on my plight. She gave me her recipe. I made this the other day and was delighted by how easy it was. I was practically jumping up and down in excitement when I sliced into it and it was not only good but delicious. Even my husband liked it!!

Honey Whole Wheat Bread

In a very large bowl, mix together:
5 1/2 cups warm water
5 cups whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp salt
2 1/2 Tbsp Saf-Instant yeast
2/3 cup oil
2/3 c. liquid honey*
Allow to rest 10-30 minutes until dough is bubbly and yeast has completely dissolved.
Add 8 more cups whole wheat flour and mix until thoroughly combined. Grease loaf pans. Form into 4 large loaves (or 6 small). Cover with a lightly damp breathable kitchen cloth and let rise 30-40 minutes or until doubled in size. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 30-35 minutes. (I baked mine for 33 minutes and it was perfect.)
 Allow loaves to cool before slicing.
You can freeze this with good results- even pre-assemble your kids' peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for school lunches like Tina does for easy grab and go on a busy morning. (Which I assume is every morning with eight kiddos!)
*If honey has crystalized simply microwave it until it is liquid again. (about 30 seconds)

P.S.- Some events may have been changed for the entertainment value of the audience. IE-Tina never purposely withheld her recipe. Thanks for sharing Tina!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Chicken and Wild Rice Casserole

Last week I came across some chicken thighs marked down to $.79/lb. Though I prefer boneless, skinless chicken breasts, I couldn't pass up savings like that! I used some mushrooms from my Bountiful Basket for this easy dinner:

Chicken & Wild Rice Casserole
2 slices bacon
3 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 lb chicken thighs, trimmed of excess skin (or remove skin completely)
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced celery
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp dried sage
1 cup brown rice
1/2 cup wild rice
6 oz brown mushrooms, wiped clean and quartered or sliced
3 cups hot chicken broth, or enough to cover chicken
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp chopped parsley, for garnish

Microwave bacon on high (100% power) 1 minute. Chop and transfer to a 4 1/2 qt. slow cooker. Add olive oil and spread evenly on bottom. Place chicken in slow cooker, skin side down. Add remaining ingredients in order given except parsley. Cover, cook on LOW 4-5 hours or until rice is tender. Uncover and let stand 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper if desired. Remove skin from chicken before serving, if desired. Garnish with chopped parsley.

**I ended up cooking about 5 lbs of chicken so I added some to the top of all the ingredients as well. I chopped the extra cooked chicken and plan on using it throughout this week in other meals.

****You can make this as an EASY freezer meal!****

For best results use boneless, skinless chicken cut into 1-inch pieces. Microwave bacon on high (100% power) 1 minute. Transfer to Gallon sized freezer bag. Add olive oil and spread evenly on bottom. Place chicken in bag. Add remaining ingredients in order given, except parsley. Freeze up to 3 months.
To serve: defrost in refrigerator overnight and cook as above or run bag under hot water to loosen contents into slow cooker. Cook on LOW 6 to 7 hours, or until rice is tender.