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!