“Since hunger is the most primitive and permanent of human wants, men always want to eat, but since their wish not to be a mere animal is also profound, they have always attended with special care to the manners which conceal the fact that at the table we are animals feeding.” - John Erskine

10 March 2012

pizza bites

I had to use the website photo ~ mine were gone before I could snap one!
Remember me mentioning that I was going to try out freezer meals this month?  Well, here’s the first installment.  The recipe says it makes 48, so I thought I’d have some leftovers to freeze.  Nope.  These were snarffed up so fast I barely managed to grab a couple for my own dinner.  I’m going to have to make a quadruple batch next time ~ while I’m home alone ~ so I can get some into the freezer!  Here’s the recipe:

Pizza Bites
makes 48

2 recipes pizza dough (or 2 cans refrigerated pizza dough)
8 ounces block mozzarella cheese
4 ounces thin sliced pepperoni
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning (combine oregano, basil, parsley, and garlic)
¼ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
pizza or marinara sauce

Prepare pizza dough and roughly chop pepperoni.  Cut block of mozzarella into 48 cubes.

If you are going to bake some (or all!) right away preheat oven to 400°.  Grease 3 pie pans.

If using refrigerated pizza dough: roll one dough out into a large rectangle and cut into 24 pieces.  Repeat with 2nd pizza dough.  If using homemade dough just pinch off walnut sized pieces as you go.

In each dough piece place a couple pieces of chopped pepperoni and a cube of cheese.  Seal dough around meat and cheese and place seam side down in pie pan.  Repeat, placing approximately 16 dough balls in each pie plate.

Once assembled, combine oil and spices and brush over the dough.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Now you can cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze or you can bake right away.

When ready to bake: bake at 400° for 16-20 minutes.  Serve with warm pizza or marinara sauce.
This was all I managed to snap a photo of...
I thought about making my own pizza dough, but it was an “I’m in a hurry” day, so I used Pillsbury dough instead.  And although the recipe says to roll it out and cut it, I just “pinched” off pieces instead.  My bites didn’t turn out exactly all the same size, but no one seemed to mind.  I also used mini pepperoni rather than chop it up, and they turned out to be the perfect size.  And I used shredded mozzarella/provolone.  Next time I’m definitely going to use slices though, it was rather difficult to get enough cheese in, trying to stuff the little sticky-out bits into the dough.  Still, no one seemed to mind.  Mmm, pizza bites!

08 March 2012

skillet beef, veggies and brown rice

Steak!  I need steak!

From time to time my husband drags himself around the house like a man in the desert begging for water.  Only he’s not begging for water, he’s begging for steak.  I hold with the theory that most men are carnivores and chicken, or even ground beef, just doesn’t cut it after a while.  But my poor carnivore very rarely gets steak.  I almost never cook it.  Ok, ok, I never cook steak.  In my opinion, steak is something you eat at Sizzler.  It’s cheaper there than in the grocery store, and they do a much better job at cooking it than I do.  On the rare occasion that I find a good buy on steak, it must be cooked outside on the grill.  By someone other than myself.

That being the case, when my husband started begging for steak I had no idea how I was going to appease him.  We already spent our monthly eating out budget (and then some) so a trip to Sizzler was out of the question.  Then I happened on this lovely recipe.  I was saved, the steak monster was appeased (for the time being) and the little animals were satisfied.  This is definitely going into our family favorites recipe file.

Skillet Beef, Veggies and Brown Rice
serves 4
2 cups beef broth
1½ cups uncooked instant brown rice
2 medium carrots, sliced (1 cup)
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
½ pound beef top round steak, trimmed of fat and cut into thin strips
¼ cup chopped onion
1 cup fresh snap pea pods, strings removed
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper

Heat broth to boiling in 2-quart saucepan.  Stir in rice and carrots.  Heat to boiling; reduce heat.  Cover and simmer 6 to 8 minutes or until carrots are crisp-tender; remove from heat.  Let stand 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat.  Cook beef and onion in oil about 8 minutes, stirring frequently, until beef is brown and onion is tender.  Stir in cooked rice mixture, pea pods, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper.

Cover and cook about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, just until pea pods are tender.  (Add a small amount of water to mixture if it becomes dry before pea pods are tender.)
Of course I doubled the recipe.  Should have tripled it ~ there was not a nibble left on plate or pan.  I also used white rice (jasmine to be specific).  I would have happily used brown rice only a) I was in a hurry (brown rice takes longer to cook), and b) I used up almost all of my Texmati and am reluctant to try “ordinary” brown rice.  Didn’t have anything to do with the fact that I love jasmine rice.  Really.  Nothing at all.

So, jasmine rice cooked in the beef broth with the chopped up carrots.  Seemed a little weird to cook the carrots with the rice, but they came out quite nicely.  And you know I didn’t use the onions.  Didn’t even use onion powder for this one.  Since I knew I wasn’t going to want to slice up steak I cheated and used some beef fajita meat.  Saved a lot of time.  And they come seasoned, so I didn’t want to overwhelm my family with flavor (hehe) so I didn’t add any of the seasonings either.  Just stirred the meat around in my pan until it was warm, threw in some frozen (yep, frozen) sugar snaps with the hot rice, warmed it all up again and we were good to go.  Gotta love convenience home cooking!  It tasted so good, and I didn’t have to worry about side vegetables ~ everything’s in there.

06 March 2012

shrimp and angel hair with not caper cream sauce

Yep, shrimp again.  What can I say?  Ever since my mom took me to Skippers when I was about 9, I have loved shrimp, in almost all its incarnations.  And I know it’s a weird title.  There was cream sauce.  It was supposed to be caper cream sauce.  It wasn’t.  And so, the tile as it stands.  Well, it makes sense to me, anyway.

I found a bunch of Olive Garden’s recipes on line here.  Official recipes, strait from an Olive Garden chef.  Who doesn’t love Olive Garden, and how could I resist trying them?  Have to say, so far I haven’t been all that impressed with the recipes I’ve tried, but I do like this one.  My version of it anyway.  The one without the capers.

Olive Garden’s Shrimp & Angel Hair with Lemon Caper Cream Sauce
serves 8
½ cup olive oil
2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 teaspoons garlic, chopped
4 tablespoons capers, drained
½ cup white wine
4 lemons, juiced
2 lemons, thinly sliced
4 cups heavy cream
white pepper to taste
salt to taste
16 ounces angel hair pasta, cooked according to package directions
2 teaspoons parsley, chopped

Heat oil in sauté pan.  Add garlic and capers and cook for 30 seconds.  Add wine and lemon juice; cook until reduced by half.

Add shrimp and cook for 2 minutes.  Turn.  Add cream; cook for 2 minutes or until sauce slightly thickens.  Season sauce with salt, white pepper and parsley.

Add hot, drained pasta to sauce, stirring to thoroughly coat pasta.  Add lemon slices.

Transfer to large serving platter, sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately.

You may already have some inkling, whether because you were paying attention, or you know me by now, or because of the title, but I really didn’t follow the recipe much.  Here’s what I did differently:  I used frozen pre-cooked shrimp (strangely, it’s cheaper than the uncooked shrimp, and I REALLY like not having to pull off the feet, the shells, the veins) so I skipped sautéing in olive oil.  In fact, I skipped the olive oil altogether.  (Almost.  But I’ll get to that in a minute.)  So I started by pouring the lemon juice and white wine into a pot and bringing it to a simmer.  Last time I was supposed to reduce wine I didn’t really because I was in a hurry and it took too long, and I regretted it.  (Strangely, the sauce tasted way too strong.)  So I wasn’t going to make that mistake with this recipe.  Since I knew that it was going to take some time to reduce by half, I put it in to simmer and then started my water for the noodles.  I was hoping they would both be ready about the same time, and they were.  Hooray!  I just tossed the garlic in with the wine and let it flavor the reduction.

I decided it would be a good idea to stir the frozen shrimp into the hot reduced sauce to unfreeze it and get it warm before I added the cream.  If/when I make this again I will wait on this and do the cream sauce first; the shrimp got a little overcooked in the sauce process and it’ll warm up in the cream sauce just as easily.  So I added the cream ~ which was half milk, since I didn’t have as much cream as I thought I did ~ after the shrimp had warmed.  While it was “thickening” (which it didn’t, because of the milk ~ I ended up adding some of the hot sauce to about ¼ cup of flour and then pouring it back in to thicken things a bit; it was still runny) I thought about the healthy properties of olive oil and decided we needed some of that, so I added a dash (I’d guess about 2 tablespoons) to my sauce.  I also wondered if I was going to regret not having capers.  I looked for capers at the store, I really did, but couldn’t find any.  (They may have had some and I just didn’t know where to look.  I can never find an employee to ask when I need one.)  I even looked capers up on the internet and asked my mom what they were and what they tasted like.  I got the impression that they’re rather tart.  So as I was wondering if I needed something to give my sauce a caperish kick, I remembered that I had about half a jar of kalamata olives in the fridge.  (Dont freak out over the price.  Thats for a pack of 6.)  Hmm.  Flavorful, salty, briney, tart.  Yep, I tossed some in.  Wish I had thought of them during the sautéing phase, and I probably should have cut them up, but they really added a yummy flavor to the dish.  Even my husband, who doesn’t like olives much at all, didn’t complain about them.  Then again, he probably didn’t eat an actual olive...

Anyway, this was really quite yummy, despite the sauce being a little runny and the shrimp being a little over cooked.  Definitely a keeper.

05 March 2012

dirty brown rice with shrimp

First, let me say that I am not Catholic.  Not that there’s anything wrong with being Catholic, I’m just not Catholic. I had a friend in high school who was Catholic (still is, in fact).  Every year he gave up dessert for Lent.  Needless to say, all of his friends loved Lent, because inevitably sometime during those magical 40 days our school would serve enchiladas for lunch.  No, the enchiladas weren’t all that, but whenever you walked into the lunchroom to see 90% of the student body lined up for “hot food” (as opposed to 70-80% of the student body in the hamburger line) you knew our sweet lunch ladies were serving enchiladas.  (Admittedly, our lunch ladies werent always sweet.  As a have-to-cook-dinner-every-night grown-up, I have much more empathy for lunch ladies than I ever did as a kid.  Back then ~ in the bronze age ~ lunch ladies still did actual cooking.)  So why the excitement over enchiladas?  I just mentioned that they weren’t all that, and they weren’t.  But the long lines weren’t for the enchiladas.  You see, whenever our sweet (grumpy, hot, frustrated) lunch ladies made the decision to serve enchiladas, they ALWAYS served peanut butter fingers for dessert.  Peanut butter fingers were the most coveted dessert in all of school lunchdom.  If you ~ my faithful reader ~ weren’t among the school goers lucky enough to have been served the wonderfulness that was peanut butter fingers (or if were unlucky enough to suffer from a peanut allergy) you have no idea what you were missing.  Ambrosia.  Heavenly.  Food of the gods.  Still one of my favorite desserts.  Of.  All.  Time.  (Speaking of which, it’s still Lent, and I really need to make some.  Or maybe, in the spirit of Lent, Ill wait for Palm Sunday...)

Anyway, every year during Lent, one lucky person among our group of eat-lunch-together friends would be chosen for the honor of receiving the coveted Lentish peanut butter finger.  And it was an honor.  And in honor of that honor I have had a special place in my heart for Lent ever since.

Because of that experience, I have for many, many (or maybe I should say, for not that many ~ not because it hasn’t been that many, but because I don’t really want everyone and their dogs who don’t already know to know just HOW many) years made the usually rather spontaneous (because it sneaks up on me every year) decision to give up sugar, sweets and/or desserts for Lent.  Every year for many (no, really, it hasnt been all that many) years I make it a day or two ~ sometimes even a week or two ~ and then sheepishly succumbing to sugar’s evil lure.  Every year my admiration for my friend grows, although he did admit to me not all that long ago that he’s not perfect at following through either.  He just doesn’t give up.  Unlike me, he doesn’t see one misstep as an excuse to scrap the whole exercise.  An example I firmly intend on following one of these days.  Er, years.  Lents.

So, to make a long story short (too late!) I’m always looking out for Mardi Gras.  Why?  Well, for those of you who also aren’t Catholics, or arent all that familiar with the Catholic faith, or didnt know that Mardi Gras was in any way related to the Catholic faith, Mardi Gras is the last self-indulgent party before the self-denial of Lent begins.  So when Mardi Gras comes I know Lent is right behind it.

So in honor of Mardi Gras (yes, I know Mardi Gras is long past, so more in honor of Lent) I decided to try this recipe.  And I’m very glad I did.  Mmm.  Of course, I’m a sucker for shrimp...

Dirty Brown Rice with Shrimp
serves 5
1½ cups uncooked brown rice
chicken bouillon cube
2 bay leaves, divided
1/8 + ¼ teaspoon cayenne, divided
1/8 + ½ teaspoon paprika
1/8 + ½ teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon oil
1 onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
½ pound lean ground beef
salt and fresh pepper, to taste
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 scallions, chopped

Cook rice according to package directions in water along with a chicken bouillon, 1 bay leaf, ¼ teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon each of salt, cayenne, paprika and thyme.

When the rice is almost done cooking, heat a large heavy saucepan on medium-low heat.  Add the oil, onions, green pepper, celery, bay leaf and garlic.  Sauté on medium-low heat until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add beef, salt, black pepper, remaining paprika, thyme and cayenne pepper.  Sauté until browned, about 10-15 minutes; add shrimp, cover and cook 5 more minutes.

When the rice is done, toss with beef and shrimp and combine well.  Top with scallions and serve.

Of course I didn’t follow the recipe exactly.  I wouldn’t be me if I did!  hehe  I used some of my brown Texmati (sadly, since I can’t seem to find it at any of the stores around here and I hate to have used the last of it.  Yes, I’m weird that way.  I’d rather have some of the things I love in the house and never use them than use them up and not have anymore) onion powder, and about half the cayenne than was called for (I have little kids, remember).  And I used frozen, pre-cooked, shelled and deveined shrimp.  But oh was this good.  Even my husband, who likes his shrimp cocktailed, thought it was amazing.  And the kids liked it too.  Not to mention, its a healthier dinner than we usually eat.  This is definitely being added to my Cajun/Mardi Gras/Lent favorites.

04 March 2012

cheeseburger soup

Found this on Pinterest and just couldn't resist.

Ever feel that way?  If youve read my blog much, you know that I do.  I used to enjoy cooking until I had to do it.  Every.  Day.  So when I find fun and easy (and delicious) recipes like this Im all over them.

I so didn’t follow the recipe much though.  I just kind of used it as a jumping off point.  So in an attempt to keep from confusing my faithful readers I’m just going to post both versions, the original and mine.  You can choose which one you think you’d like best, or try them both.

Cheeseburger Soup
serves 8
½ pound ground beef
¾ cup chopped onion
¾ cup shredded carrots
¾ cup diced celery
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
4 tablespoons butter, divided
3 cups chicken broth
4 cups diced peeled potatoes (1¾ pounds)
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 cups (8 ounces) process cheese (Velveeta), cubed
1½ cups milk
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ to ½ teaspoon pepper
¼ cup sour cream

In a 3-quart saucepan, brown beef; drain and set aside.  In the same saucepan, sauté the onion, carrots, celery, basil and parsley in 1 tablespoon butter until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.  Add the broth, potatoes and beef; bring to a boil.  Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10-12 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet, melt remaining butter.  Add flour; cook and stir for 3-5 minutes or until bubbly.  Add to soup; bring to a boil.  Cook and stir for 2 minutes.  Reduce heat to low.  Stir in the cheese, milk, salt and pepper; cook and stir until cheese melts.

Remove from the heat; blend in sour cream.

M’s Cheeseburger Soup
makes enough to satisfy a houseful of animals
1 pound ground beef
generous amount of onion powder (to taste)
7 ounce bag fresh spinach
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
6 tablespoons butter
3 cups beef broth
3 cups chicken broth
32 ounce bag frozen Southern-style hash browns
½ cup Wondra (or all-purpose) flour
4 cups shredded cheddar jack cheese
3 cups milk
1½ teaspoons salt or season salt
½ teaspoon pepper (or to taste)
½ cup sour cream, plain yogurt or kefir

In a large saucepan, brown beef; drain.  Add the dried basil, dried parsley, broth and potatoes to the beef; bring to a boil.  (This will take a while, since the potatoes are frozen.)  Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10-12 minutes or until potatoes are tender.  Stir in spinach and allow to wilt.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a small skillet.  Add flour; cook and stir for 3-5 minutes or until bubbly.  Slowly add milk, stirring constantly to prevent lumps.  Slowly bring to a boil.  Cook and stir for 2 minutes.  Pour into soup.  Reduce heat to low and stir in cheese and salt and pepper; stir until cheese melts.  Remove from heat; blend in sour cream.

Oldest “mmm-ed his way all through this bowl of soup.  I thought the spinach made a much better addition to a cheeseburger soup than carrots and celery ~ many people put lettuce on their burgers, but do you know anyone who adds carrots and celery?  Plus it’s a great way to get kids to eat their green leafies.

03 March 2012

slow cooked mac & cheese

Thank goodness it’s March!  Hopefully March will be better for blogging that February, which was very sad.  It’s not that I haven’t been cooking (although I think we hit an all-time high in February for going out to eat or pulling last minute meals out of the freezer, sigh) but I had a very difficult time getting these recipes written up.  Therefore, I am commencing an all-out blogging bombardment ~ on my computer, anyway.  Gotta get these recipes out there before you all drop my blog from boredom!  I will try to restrain myself from pummeling you too much, and not post them all at once.  That way maybe I can trick those of you who aren’t  paying attention into thinking I’m doing a great job at cooking every day.  In March.  Yep, that’s my plan, and it’s quite evil... bwahahahaha!  Ok, maybe not that evil.  It’s appealing to think that I could come up with an evil plan, and its very satisfying to cackle hysterically, but I think this plan falls far short from being evil... Darn it!

If you want something truly evil, and, yes, decadent, and easy peasy, and crowd pleasing, here it is.  Slow cooked mac & cheese.  Did you know there was such a thing?  I didnt.  Not that Im complaining.  Im definitely not complaining.  My kids beg me just about every day to make either, a) pizza, or b) macaroni and cheese.  (Middlest refuses to call it mac & cheese, insisting that “It’s name is MACARONI and cheese, mom.”  Rather ironic, when you think about it, since we only make it with actual macaroni noodles when it comes out of a blue box.  Otherwise its shells or rotini...)  So, crowd pleasing?  Absolutely.  Littlest gobbled it down and begged for more.  And despite telling me that he prefers MACARONI and cheese in it’s true form best (I.E. from the blue box), I caught Middlest picking at the leftovers several times.  Oldest “mmm-ed” his way through dinner, which is always gratifying.  I thought it was amazingly yum (Ill get to why in a mo...)  My husband hemmed and hawed a bit when asked if he liked it.  He said that it was good for what it was, but he prefers the white boxed mac & cheese.  I asked him if he thought he’d like it better if I used white cheddar or provolone... whatever I could make that white stuff out of.  He said he would like it better if I put some litl smokies in it.  Something to think about for next time.

And that brings us to the point of just why slow cooked mac & cheese tasted so yum and, I said it, decadent and evil.  Butter.  This recipe uses a lot of butter.  Which brings to mind, again, my favorite line from the movie Julie and Julia: Is there anything better than butter?  Think it over, any time you taste something that’s delicious beyond imagining and you say “what’s in this?” the answer is always going to be butter.  The day there is a meteorite rushing toward Earth and we have thirty days to live, I am going to spend it eating butter.  Here is my final word on the subject, you can never have too much butter.  And in the words of Homer Simpson, “Mmm, butter... (gurgling drooling sounds)”

And on that note, heres the recipe:

Slow Cooked Macaroni & Cheese
serves 6
8 ounces medium shell macaroni
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup evaporated milk
½ cup milk
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese or a cheddar blend
4 tablespoons butter, melted

Cook the macaroni following package directions.  Drain in a colander and rinse with hot water.  Drain well.

Generously butter the sides and bottom of a 3½ to 4-quart slow cooker (I use about 2 tablespoons of butter).

Combine the macaroni with the remaining ingredients in the slow cooker and blend well.  Cover the slow cooker and cook on LOW for 2½-3½ hours, stirring a few times.

When the macaroni and cheese is done, feel free to spoon into a baking dish, top with a little more cheese, and put under the broiler for a minute or two for that “fresh from the oven” look.

I admit I didn’t bother spooning into a baking dish, topping with a little more cheese, and putting it under the broiler for a fresh from the oven look.  I made this on a Wednesday ~ piano and scout day ~ precisely because I wanted something that would be already cooked when we all came home and we could just dig in to.  I didn’t even bother making garlic bread or ~gasp!~ vegetables to go with it.  I know, I know, bad mom!  I really am trying to get more veggies into my family ... hey, there was pepper in there; doesn’t that count as a vegetable?

Changes?  No, not really.  ~ Gasp again! ~ I did double the recipe.  And I used cheddar/jack cheese, but the recipe said that was ok.  It even called for shells, so I didnt deviate there.  Ok, I didn’t melt the butter first.  I was in an enormous hurry, so I stirred everything but the butter into the cooked noodles (al dente, which maybe was a good idea, as I think they could have been VERY soggy otherwise), dumped it into the crock pot and stuck a stick of butter on top (I doubled the recipe, remember) where I figured it would melt in.  It did.  I also didn’t stir occasionally.  I wasn’t home to stir occasionally.  That’s why you can see some of those little crusty brown overcooked bits mixed into the cheesy, buttery goodness in the picture.  But you dont hear me complaining about those little crusty brown overcooked bits.  Mmm, love those little crusty brown overcooked bits.

Really, this recipe is so easy (yes, just as easy as stirring that orange powder into the pan of milky/buttery noodles) and so yummy.  Go.  Try it now.