Friday, September 25, 2009

Lemon Cream Pasta with Chicken

Yet another success from Here's the recipe.

I had some leftover heavy cream, bowtie pasta, a lemon and some thawed chicken breasts. Type all those ingredients in and this is what allrecipes gave me.

Here are the seasoned chicken breasts before going in the oven. I only had one lemon so I saved it for the sauce and used lime juice on the chicken for baking.

Here' s the finished product. It is a very bland colored meal, but oh so tasty and unhealthy.

Notes: This is a great basic recipe, you could use any kind of pasta and add chicken, shrimp, scallops or veggies. It is creamy and rich and begs for a green salad or a side of green vegetables. Rich LOVED this one (naturally, the meat and pasta only/veggie-free dish he raves about ;))

You could probably modify the sauce with low-fat milk, or half and half instead of all heavy cream but I didn't. Yum, you need to try this!

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mmmm, bread

Apple Walnut Bread from
click here for the recipe

I had some leftover walnuts from the pesto, and several apples on hand so I typed in those ingredients and allrecipes gave me the recipe for this bread. Yum!!

Here is is after coming out of the oven.

Here's a cross section so you can see all the apple chunks.

Notes: This recipe was excellent, and pretty healthy. I used half whole wheat flour and half all-purpose flour, decreased the oil to 1/2 cup and increased the applesauce to 1/2 cup, and decreased the sugar to about a 1.5 cups. It made 2 short and dinky loaves, so next time I think I would just make one jumbo loaf. I only baked it either 50 or 60 minutes, not the 70 that the recipe suggested, so just start checking it around 45 or 50 minutes and take out when the toothpick or knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Rich liked this one but said he would prefer smaller apple chunks next time and I agree that dicing the apples smaller is a good idea. All in all, 2 thumbs up!

Beer Bread

There is really no recipe here since it uses a mix. You just mix these 3 things up and bake.

It turned out great. This mix makes a dense, heavy, sweet and salty loaf of bread that is really good with soup. It wouldn't be ideal for sandwiches because of it's texture but on its own it is delicious. The box lists several suggetions for making it your own, such as adding italian herbs and parmesan cheese to the batter, so maybe I'll try that next time.

Carb heaven!

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Making use of fresh, local seafood

Creole Shrimp and Sausage Stew from this months Sept '09 Cooking Light.

Click here for recipe.

This is a fast, easy meal. The longest part was peeling and deveining the shrimp, but if you buy them already peeled and deveined, you can have this ready to eat about 20 minutes. I served this over some brown rice seasoned with Cajun seasoning (we like Tony Cachere's in the green container). My step-father-in-law is from Louisiana and can cook some mean Cajun dishes. I have a few of his recipes that I'll be trying out soon. This one can't hold a candle to his cooking, but for what it is---a fast, fairly healthy, yummy warm meal---it's excellent.

Here's the ingredients. You can see the peeled/deveined shrimp on the black & white plate, but you could probably use thawed frozen shrimp in place of fresh in this dish.

Here's what Cooking Light's looks like:

Here's what my finished product looks like: not quite as pretty:)

My first hummus attempt...success!

Hot and Spicy Hummus Vegetarian Times Cookbook p. 122

I really like hummus, and often buy it at the grocery store. It's several dollars per container, and I found this recipe and decided to try to make my own. Much cheaper and better!

We've eaten it as a dip with veggies and pita chips, on salad, and as a spread on wraps and sandwiches. It's full of protein, fiber and good fats and is extremely versatile.

What you'll need:
3 cups cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed (I used canned)
1/4 cup tahini, olive oil or light sesame oil (I used a mix of EVOO and toasted sesame oil)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 cup minced jalapeno or other chile
1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
salt and pepper to taste

How to make it:
1. Put chickpeas, tahini (or oil) and lemon juice in food processor or blender, puree until smooth, adding wter as needed to make a creamy mixture. Transfer to bowl.
2. Add garlic, cumin, cayenne, jalapeno and bell pepper to the mixture and mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and chill 2-4 hours to allow flavors to blend.

I added the spices and peppers while still in the food processor and pureed it all together because Rich doesn't like chunks of peppers. It turned out great that way and he actually gave it 2 thumbs up.

Yum, it's great as a dip with veggies!

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More fun with herbs

Rosemary Roasted Almonds from Cooking Light magazine, Sept'09 pg 113.

I have a rosemary plant potted in the backyard that I've had for a couple years, and I love the flavor of fresh rosemary. If you've never tried to roast and flavor your own almonds, or any type of nuts, you should give it a shot. It's very easy and there are endless different sweet and savory variations you can make.

What you'll need:
1 Tbs finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 Tbs EVOO
1 tsp chili powder
3/4 tsp kosher salt
Dash of ground red pepper
about 2 cups whole almonds (you want plain ones, not ones that are roasted/salted/otherwise flavored)

1.Preheat oven to 325.
2. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl, toss to coat. Arrange nut mixture in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with foil (makes clean-up a snap). Bake at 325 for 20 minutes or until lightly toasted (you'll be able to tell by smell when they're done). cool to room temperature.

Here's the mix before going on the baking sheet. I didn't have kosher salt so I used sea salt. I also used blood orange infused olive oil from The Olive Press. If you need a unique gift for a food lover, I highly recommend ordering something from The Olive Press, they have several different oils and they are all delicious!

These roasted almonds turned out great. I'll definitley use this recipe again!
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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sweet Treat

Orange Juice Cake from (you know the drill, click here for recipe)

I chose this recipe because I had a package of instant pudding and some orange juice that needed using. Allrecipes has a feature where you can search by ingredients so I just searched for recipes that contained both vanilla instant pudding mix and orange juice and voila, there it was. I never said it was a healthy sweet treat....

This is the sauce simmering on the stove. You cook the cake, then poke holes in it while still in the bundt pan and pour the sauce over. It soaks in and makes for an incredibly moist cake.

I almost forgot to get a picture before it was gone!

How was it? Fabulous! Even a proclaimed orange-cake-disliker thought it was excellent. The cake mix I used already had pudding in the mix, plus the extra pudding made it very moist and soft. I had to cook it longer than the 30 minutes the recipe called for, and just kept toothpick testing it every few minutes until it was done. I would definitely make this again.

Modifications I made or would make next time: used Canola oil instead of vegetable oil (not really sure what the difference is), used about 2/3 cup sugar instead of 3/4 and it was definitely sweet enough. Next time I will cut down on the butter and sub in some unsweetened applesauce. Also, it would look prettier with a dusting of powdered sugar on top.

What did I learn? That the easiest way to get this cake from the bundt pan to the cake platter was to put the platter over the pan, hold them together and invert quickly. Grease your pan well!

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Using more garden goodness

Three Cheese Stuffed Banana Peppers
from (click here for recipe)

This is not something I would ordinarily choose to make, but we had a lot of banana peppers in the garden that I picked Saturday morning that I didn't know what to do with. Thanks to google, this little gem of a recipe was printing out minutes later.

Here are the ingredients, nice and simple. Of course, homemade spaghetti sauce would be ideal but Bertolli it was for us!

You have to cut the ends off the peppers and remove the seeds, and there doesn't seem to be a great way to do it. I just cut the ends off, then used my fingers to scoop out the seeds. Some of them, like the really curly deformed looking ones, I had to slit the side and pull out the seeds that way. Then you stuff them with the mozarella, feta and parmesan mixture and top with sauce.

Easy cheesy and ready to go in the oven.

I didn't get a fresh from the oven pic, but you want to cook them until the cheese is bubbly and peppers are soft. The recipe recommends 30-40 minutes, but we took ours out at 40 minutes and they were still a little hard so you'll just have to judge by look and feel.

How were they? Really good, and had they cooked a little longer and softened up a bit more they would have been excellent. If you like peppers, you'll like this recipe. They were a big hit with everyone at dinner Saturday night (except Rich, he's not a fan of peppers which is why I said that I wouldn't have made this had we not had the peppers already)

Modifications I made or would make next time: none

What did I learn? To not always trust the cook time on recipes.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Homemade Pesto Sauce

This summer we planted a couple basil plants, and I have been meaning to make pesto while the basil is still good this season. I used my trusty friend for the recipe. I am not a huge pine nut fan, so I liked that this recipe uses walnuts instead. It is super easy and turned out great.
Here's what you need, plus a food processor.

It looks yucky, but it is really yummy! I think it just turns a little brown and loses some of its bright-greeness when exposed to air.

We took it over to our friends for dinner and it was a hit. We just tossed it with some whole wheat penne and grilled chicken. Yum!!

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Veggie Fajitas from

Click the link above for the recipe. It's called Vegan Fajitas, but since I'm adding sour cream and cheese to my finished product I'm calling it Veggie Fajitas. I love LOVE I like the daily recipes, and that each recipe is rated 1-5 stars and that people leave reviews and comments on modifications they made when cooking each recipe, which is really helpful. I'm not sure how Rich will feel about this one...he'll probably turn his nose up and want a chicken and cheese only fajita but maybe he'll at least try some.

Modifications I made: I made my own fajita seasoning and added it to the veggies when I put them in the pan to sautee. It was a mix of paprika, garlic powder, cumin, chili powder, and onion powder. I like that better than buying a prepacked fajita seasoning that has preservatives and/or extra salt. Added some shredded mexican cheese, sour cream, salsa and wrapped it all up in a whole wheat tortilla. Next time I think I will add some sliced avocado or quacamole as well.

How was it? Wow, it's delicious. I'm impressed! I'll add an edit later once Rich gets home and tries it. He works til 9 so I have to go ahead and eat.

What I learned: How easy it is to mix up your own fajita seasoning and that you can have a quick, healthy and hearty main dish without meat.

You marinate the veggies for at least half an hour. Mine were probably in there for about 2 or 3 hours. This is after taking them out of the fridge and right before tossing them in the skillet.

Once the onion, zucchini, yellow squash and peppers are soft, you add in your black beans and corn.

And here it is all ready to go in my belly.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I just can't quit you

We caved and had Los Arcos for dinner last night. Hey, we made the whole first week of September without it. It was so delish and totally worth it. Rich is in charge of cooking a healthy dinner for us tonight so I won't have to cook after work today!!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

9/6 Saturday


Pulled pork barbecue sandwiches using the leftover pork loin from last night, plus:

Hayride Kitchen Bean Soup - a family recipe from my mother-in-law

1 can white navy beans

2 cans pinto beans

2 cans Campbell's Bean and Bacon soup

2 cans chopped ham or leftover ham bone

1 large onion, chopped

1/2 large bell pepper, chopped

1 C water

Chop onions and peppers, saute in a little bit of olive oil for a few minutes in a large soup pot. Add all other ingredients. Cut up ham and add. Cook for at least 2 hours (on medium if using crockpot).

Modifications I made: used 2 ham hocks from the grocery store, cooked it in a large Le Creuset dutch oven over medium for half an hour, then turned it down to low to simmer for another hour.

How was it? Excellent! I have always loved Bean & Bacon soup, so I was eager to try this one. It would be great on a cold day with some nice buttery cornbread. It is also nice and cheap to make if you can get store brand beans on some kind of buy one get one free special. Rich said it was "not too bad" which is about as much as I can ask for from him since he is not a big fan of soup or onions.

Friday, September 4, 2009


Peanut Butter and Banana Smoothie-just added a frozen banana, big scoop of creamy PB, big scoop of fat free vanilla yogurt, some skim milk and ice in the blender....delish! Would actually be a great dessert. Peeling and freezing overripe bananas for smoothies is a great way to avoid throwing them out.

Marinated Pork Tenderloin (from
"For this easy-to-follow recipe, pork tenderloin marinates in sherry, cinnamon, brown sugar and soy sauce, for sweet, moist and tender results."
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons sherry
1 1/2 teaspoons dried minced onion
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pinch garlic powder
2 (3/4 pound) pork tenderloins
1. Place soy sauce, brown sugar, sherry, dried onion, cinnamon, olive oil, and a touch of garlic powder in a large resealable plastic bag. Seal, and shake to mix. Place pork in bag with marinade, seal, and refrigerate for 6 to 12 hours.
2. Preheat grill for high heat.
3. Lightly oil grate. Place tenderloins on grill, and discard marinade. Cook 20 minutes, or to desired doneness. Slice into medallions, and serve.

Modifications I made: used brandy instead of sherry, doubled sauce because I had a total of 2.25lbs pork loin, used onion powder instead of dried onion. Cooked one tenderloin on a grill pan, cooked the other in the oven after searing in a skillet. Boiling down the remaining marinade and adding some cornstarch (mixed with water in a separate bowl, then added to sauce) to make gravy.

How was it? Great, would definitely make again! The cinnamon in the marinade was a great and unexpected flavor for the pork, perfect for fall. The meat was moist (once you got underneath the blackened exterior of the grill-pan version) and delicious.

What did I learn? I'm not sure I like grill pans. Every time I use them, and this was no exception, my meat winds up black and my house winds up full of smoke. I think part of the problem may using olive oil. Maybe I need an oil with a higher smoking/heating point. Also, I have a fairly cheap grill pan and I think a lot of the nonstick coating has been scraped away in trying to scrub off the blackened-on meat and marinade residues. Anybody have any grill pan tips? I tried cooking the 2 loins differently to see how they each turned out, and in this case the seared+baked combo was the clear winner. I used a meat thermometer to cook them to 160 degrees. Also, I learned to add cornstarch/water mixture in small, gradual amounts instead of all at once to avoid gelatinous gravy.

Here's the gelatinous gravy. Had good flavor, but too gooey.

Grill pan version: See all that blackness, stuckness, and smoke...what am I doing wrong?

Seared+baked version. The marinade turns really dark, but this one wasn't burned at all despite how dark it looks in this pic.

I shredded one of the tenderloins to use later, either as barbecue or in pork tacos or quesadillas.

Pineapple and Sweet Potato Gratin
1.5 lbs sweet potatos, peeled and sliced into 1/2 inch slices
1/2 large fresh pineapple, peeled, cored and sliced thinly
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp black pepper
5 Tbs. margarine or butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350. Brush oval gratin or other shallow baking dish with 1 Tbs butter. Alternate slices of sweet potato and pineapple to fill the dish. Mix the remaining butter with the salt, cinnamon and pepper and drizzle evenly over the sweet potatoes and pineapple. Bake until very tender, about 1 hour.

Modifications I made: I accidentally forgot to mix the seasonings in the butter so just added the to the top after drizzling the butter.

How was it? Very tasty. The mix of summery pineapple and fall-y sweet potato is great for early September. The top layers tend to dry out because the butter sinks down, so next time I would stir it once or twice during cooking to mix the bottom layers and top layers..not as pretty, but much tastier.

What I learned? Pineapple and sweet potatoes go well together.

Here are all the ingredients, ready to be put together.

Before going in the oven....

Here's the finished product fresh out of the oven.


Meal #1 of the challenge (yeah, should have officially started 9/1 but we haven't eaten out yet this month so we're good to start now).

Nothing fancy, farfalle pasta with jarred tomato-basil marinara sauce with added ground turkey. Side dish: broccoli and zucchini steamed in a Zip n' Steam bag...I absolutely love these!
All in all, it was pretty good. The broccoli was a little tough, and the pasta sauce was a little chunky for Rich's taste. He prefers it smooth and likes it when I put it in the blender, but I'm working on him to develop more "grown-up" tastes and he's getting much better! We also had an incredible wine that we bought in California last summer: a 2000 Dry Creek Valley cabernet sauvignon from Raymond Burr Vinyards...seriously maybe the best wine I've ever had!

Why this new adventure?

Richard and I LOVE to eat, and we LOVE to go out to eat. Mexican is our favorite, and we frequently (as in at least once a week) eat at Los Arcos, our local fav Mexican restaurant. It's your typical authentic Mexican place with great food, fast service, big margaritas and low prices. Speaking of these low prices...we looked at our spending for the last few months and realized we are averaging $250 per month at Los Arcos. Holy Guacamole! Something's gotta give...and it looks like it's our out of control eating-out habit.

Don't get me wrong, I really enjoy cooking and am not terrible at it...not great, but decent. The problem lies in the fact that Rich and I work very different schedules are are often not at home together for typical family dinners. And then the nights that we are off together, the last thing we feel like doing is cooking. Why? I guess because it feels like work, and we like to relax at home, not work. How can we remedy this? Cook more so that it becomes easier, cook easier things (homemade marinara is great, but on a Tuesday night when you've worked all day, not so much), plan ahead and have ingredients on hand for quick and easy meals.

What's the challenge? For the month of September:
1. Limit the eating-out to a max of one night per week

2. Cook at least 3 meals per week (hopefully with enough leftovers to get us through the remaining 3 days).

3. Document it here for your entertainment and culinary inspiration.