Far, Far Away

You may have noticed an absence on here lately. Life gets in the way. It is busy, messy, and time consuming. One finds other occupations of time and things like this blog drift back in priorities.

A catch up: a new shift at work, a few doctors trips and varied illnesses, a vacation, and a new focus on simple and quick eating. It’s what has helped get us through the last few months.

We returned from our vacation this past week, and now that the weather has turned cooler, all I could think about was soup. So I made this vegetable soup I had been jonesing to make ever since seeing it made on America’s Test Kitchen last season. Hope it makes you feel as warm and invited in your home as it did ours!

Hearty Minestrone Soup
Recipe courtesy of America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Illustrated

If you cannot find dried cannellini beans, no worries. Just subsitute navy or great northern beans. You can also substitute bacon for pancetta. If you don’t have a parmesean rind laying around in your freezer like I did, then just cut up a few small chunks and throw in. No worries. This would also be a great soup to subsitute in seasonal vegetables like winter squashes or different greens. Mix it up; be your own chef.

1/2 lb dried cannellini beans, rinsed and picked over (about 1 cup)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 ounces pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
2 medium celery ribs, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 small onions, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium zucchini, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1/2 small head green cabbage, halved, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
8 cups water
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 piece parmesan cheese, rind (about 5-inchx2-inch)
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 cups v 8 juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaf
fresh ground black pepper
grated parmesan cheese, for serving

1. Dissolve 1 1/2 tbsp salt in 2 qts. cold water in large bowl. Add beans and soak at room temperature for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours. Drain and rinse well.

2. Heat oil and pancetta in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until pancetta is lightly browned and fat has rendered, 3-5 minutes. Add celery, carrots, onions, and zucchini; cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are softened and lightly browned, 5-9 minutes. Stir in garlic, cabbage, 1/2 tsp salt and red pepper flakes; continue to cook until cabbage starts to wilt, 1-2 minutes longer. Transfer vegetables to rimmed baking sheet and set aside.

3. Add soaked beans, water, broth, Parmesan rind, and bay leaf to now-empty Dutch oven and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat and vigorously simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans are fully tender and liquid begins to thicken, 45-60 minutes.

4. Add reserved vegetables and V8 juice to pot; cook until vegetables are soft, about 15 minutes. Discard bay leaf and Parmesan rind, stir in chopped basil, and season with salt and pepper. Serve with olive oil and grated Parmesan. I liked those little soup crackers in mine too! Or a crusty piece of bread to sop up the juices would work great on the side.


Crock Pot Chicken Tacos
September 4, 2011, 10:03 pm
Filed under: Food and Recipes, Main Dishes | Tags: , , , ,

These tacos are so good, I’ve made them twice since discovering them and still haven’t grown tired of the recipe. I’m not exactly sure where the recipe originated, but a friend from work told me how to make the tacos. It’s so easy; it’s almost like not cooking, and is amazingly healthy! If you have chicken breasts in the fridge, that’s fine, but you can actually start them from completely frozen, which makes the dish even easier to make. Seriously, make these soon! You won’t be disappointed!

Crock Pot Chicken Tacos
Recipe courtesy of Jennifer Burkeen
4 WW PointsPlus per serving, makes 10 servings

4 boneless skinless breasts
1 small jar pace picante salsa (you choose the heat, I do medium)
1 packet taco seasoning

Place chicken in the bottom of your crock pot and cover with salsa and seasoning. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. Remove the meat, shred, return back to the sauce and stir to combine. Dip out into tortillas and top with toppings of choice.

A Deep Fried Birthday

It’s been way, way too long since sharing a recipe or two on here.

Here’s what’s been going on lately: a family surgery, a bug infestation in the garden that resulted in ripping out my zucchini plant, a malfunctioning coffee maker, my dog ate my favorite undergarments, sleeping in the guest bedroom because of new house construction next door, a re-discovered love of reading, car shopping, bidding Harry Potter farewell, and my husband is a year older!

Yes, from the everyday mundane details to the big events, July is quickly escaping. Before we know it, we’ll be bundled by the fire, ringing in the new year, and wondering where the past one went. It never ceases to amaze me how with each passing year, life continues to whiz by at a faster rate.

It makes me want to seize life, grab it for all it’s worth, and eat fried chicken. This was my husband’s birthday requested dinner this year. Paired with some mashed potatoes and green beans, and with fried green tomatoes, we had a comfort food feast fit for two. Just how we like it.

Garlic Fried Chicken
Recipe adapted from Southern Living Ultimate Quick and Easy Cookbook

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into approximately 3-4 strips each
2 cups flour
1 cup milk
2 eggs
Tabasco, to taste
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
Cayenne, to taste (I used 1 tsp)
Oil, for frying

1. Cut all chicken into strips. Mix together milk, eggs, and desired amount of Tabasco. I use several dashes. Soak chicken in milk mixture while prepping other ingredients.

2. In a large zip-top bag, mix flour, salt, pepper, and other spices. Shake to mix well.

3. In a 9 inch cast iron skillet placed over medium-high heat, pour in oil until 2/3 full. Allow oil to heat until glistening, slightly bubbling, and a small amount of flour dropped in as a test sizzles well.

4. Move chicken pieces from milk mixture to zip-top bag, seal, and shake to coat well.

5. Working in batches, place about 5-6 pieces of coated chicken into the hot oil, being careful not to splash. Turn occasionally, and cook until golden brown on all sides. Place on a paper towel lined plate to drain and cool. Continue until all chicken is cooked. Serve.

June 23, 2011, 4:33 pm
Filed under: Breads, Food and Recipes, Main Dishes | Tags: , , ,

Last night, in the cooler, but still sweltering humidity, my husband and I did a first. We grilled pizzas.

I thought it would be a perfect time to share these, since July 4th is right around the corner. They were delicious! Once again, weber grill recipes never disappoint, this pizza tasted like it was straight from a brick oven!

Grilled Pizza
Recipe slightly adapted from Weber Grill IPhone App

Dough recipe:
2 to 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup warm water
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1 packet dry active yeast
3 tbsp olive oil

Pizza topping ideas:
Tomato sauce
Red pepper flakes
Dried oregano
Shredded mozzarella
Goat cheese
Chopped basil
Canadian bacon
Green bell pepper or roasted red peppers

1. In a large bowl, mix together yeast, sugar, and water. Stir, and allow to sit for 10 minutes until foamy. Add remaining salt, oil, and 2 cups flour. Stir until dough forms. If still slightly wet, add remaining 1/2 cup flour.

2. On a floured surface, knead dough for 5 minutes, or until it becomes smooth. Place in a greased bowl and allow to rise in a warm part of the room for 1 and 1/2 hours, or until doubled in size.

3. After rising, cut dough into 4 equal pieces. On a piece of parchment, press or roll each piece of dough into an 8 inch round.

4. Preheat your grill, either charcoal or gas. Take dough and grill each piece (without the parchment of course) over direct heat for a few minutes, until browned a crispy. Remove crust, placing grilled side up, onto a baking sheet. Cover with desired toppings (take care not to soak the pizzas with tomato sauce, you don’t want them soggy). Place back onto grill, lid on, and allow to cook a few more minutes for the other side of the dough to get brown and crisp, cheese to melt, and toppings to warm though.

5. Remove, slice, serve.



June 14, 2011, 10:47 pm
Filed under: Appetizers, Food and Recipes, Main Dishes, Side Dishes | Tags: , ,

The first time I had gazpacho was in Washington, D.C. at Charlie Palmer’s Steakhouse. Until this time, gazpacho had never sounded so appetizing to me. Traditionally served cold, it’s not something that runs to the top of my mind for a main dish. I didn’t relish the thought of cold soup. Until the chef at this restaurant sent out samples to each table. Not served ice cold, but more at a chilled room temperature, this soup embodied summer, full of spice, fresh vegetal flavor, and loaded with cilantro, which is definitely my favorite herb to cook with.

I have not since forgotten that culinary experience. We tried so many new things to eat while overlooking the sunset and the capitol. It was a special moment.

I bought my husband a series of cookbooks for our anniversary, one of them being a new Weber grill cookbook on charcoal grilling. Being the serious grill finatics that we are, we practically own each Weber grill cookbook out there. In this particular cookbook, there it sat, a recipe for a grilled and chilled gazpacho. We are just now getting around to making it a few weeks later, but it was so good and refreshing that I have a feeling we will be making it all summer.

Grilled and Chilled Gazpacho
Slightly adapted from Weber Grill’s Charcoal Grilling cookbook

3 red bell peppers
6 large plum tomatoes
2 medium red onions
1/4 cup fresh basil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
Tabasco sauce
2-4 cups low sodium tomato juice
English cucumber, diced
Olive oil

1. Core tomatoes and sliced in half lengthwise. Remove bell pepper seeds, cutting the bell pepper into about 4 chunks each, saving one slice for garnish. Slice onion into 1/2 inch slices.

2. Brush peppers, onion slices, and tomatoes with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over direct heat for 5 minutes, flipping once, with lid closed as much as possible until all veggies are charred and soft. Remove to a heat proof bowl to cool.

3. In a blender, combine grilled vegetables and tomato juice. Blend until veggies are still slightly chunky. Add basil, a couple dashes of tabasco, amd vinegar. Blend again. Add more tomato juice if not yet soup consistency, or until the consistency you desire is achieved. Taste, adjust any seasonings as needed with salt/pepper/tabasco/vinegar. Place blender carafe into the fridge and chill as long as you have before dinner. Its even good slightly warm.

4. When you are ready to eat, pour soup into a bowl. Garnish with a good amount of diced cucumber, diced fresh red bell pepper, and a small drizzle of olive oil.

Revisiting and Reinventing

I’ve been returning to a few older recipes lately, ones that I find myself going to time and time again. We’ve enjoyed these variations; hope you do too!

I took the stuffing from these stuffed pork chops and stuffed some chicken breasts, using local spinach and goat cheese and omitting the cream cheese.

I make roasted broccoli almost once every other week. Sometimes I use lemon pepper alone and if I’m feeling adventurous, I’ll throw in a little crushed red pepper flakes and garlic powder.

I made these roasted potatoes, but instead of rosemary, I used just season-all. It tasted like French fries (which is never a bad thing).

An oldie but goodie is this caprese salad. It’s not reinvented, but it’s always a sight for sore eyes, and is a good way to use that basil that’s growing by the bundles now.

With persian chicken, we used boneless akinless chicken tenders, eliminating the need for skewers.

Heirloom Recipes

I love recipes that come to me from people that have been passed down through families. These are the most special and embody everything I love about cooking: family, love, and good food.

I have shared a couple of these recipes before, and I recently came across one from a friend at work. Her mother originally came by this recipe from her college roommate, and it became the first real meal she could cook. After cooking it for her family, it became my friend’s favorite dish, and now could quite possibly be mine too.

I love this dish. It’s so flavorful, easy, and makes leftovers, which is good for those of us working long shifts.

The dish itself relies upon a seasoning packet that you may or may not be able to find in your grocery store. It’s called Vigo and can be found in the international section at the grocery store. If you can’t find it, no worries. It’s cheap as chips online and you could buy a supply to last you as long as you need.

Arroz con Pollo
Recipe courtesy of Laura Smeltzer

1 whole chicken, bone in and skin on for flavor, cut into pieces (or whatever pieces you prefer; I used 8 chicken thighs)
2 cups white rice
1 onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1-2 bay leaves
1 packet Vigo seasoning
2 tbsp kosher salt (seems like a lot, but it’s a big pot of food)
1 quart water
1/4 cup olive oil

1. In a large pan, heat oil over medium high heat; brown chicken on all sides, working in batches if necessary. Remove chicken to a side plate.

2. Drain excess oil out of the pan, return to the burner, add the onion, pepper, and garlic. Cook until translucent. Add bay leaves, Vigo seasoning, tomatoes, and water. Add chicken back to the pot along with any juices collected in the plate. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce to a simmer, and cook 30 minutes.

3. After 30 minutes, add rice to the pot, give it a stir, and place the lid back on. Cook another 30 minutes.

4. Remove the lid. Fluff the rice around the chicken with a fork. Serve.