With money seeming tighter and tighter these days, many of us are finding that dining out has become a thing of the past. We've all been eating more meals at home.

It's been months since I've dined out! Yet, I still want to enjoy a nice dinner from time to time and feel like I'm getting a restaurant quality meal at a fraction of the cost!

So with a little experimenting, paying a little closer attention to sale items, and a few kitchen enhancements (spice replenishments, a few handy untensils, some extra mixing bowls...) I've made some really fantastic dinners...without ever having to find a parking spot or leave a tip!

Hello followers! Hope you've enjoyed my blog so far. I'm so glad you all keep checking even though my posts last year were few and far between.
Like a lot of you, I am going to commit to post more often this year, at the very least once a week @ the cooking blog. The baking blog, I'll aim for once a month or so.
My intention is to post on the cooking blog ALL my favorite recipes this year and put together a cool, little cookbook for my kitchen at the end of the year. :)
(You'll notice recipes at the end of each post. The text in bold are my modifications and there is a link to the original recipe at the bottom for your convenience)

Keep checking back to see what I've been mixin' up...

Friday, January 14, 2011

Chicken and Rice Soup with Curry and Lemon

This recipe caught my attention last night while I was looking for some sort of a chicken and rice soup with lemony flavors.  It sounded especially intriguing because I've not worked much with Curry seasoning...I also thought the fresh mint and fresh dill sounded like a pairing that HAD to be tasted to be believed!
I had a thawed bone-in chicken breast on hand...just
had to run out to grab some fresh dill and fresh mint...and Madras Curry Powder.

All prepped and excited about this recipe!

I was using liquid bouillon instead of canned broth, so the first thing I did was mix up 6 cups of broth.
Next I put the chopped carrots, bay leaf, a pinch of Kosher salt and 3 cups of broth in a medium saucepan.  Bring the mix to a boil and then cover, reduce to low heat and simmer until carrots are cooked, about 20 minutes.  My chicken was already cooked, so I just added it in to this broth mixture about halfway through the cooking time.

While this is cooking, get a larger skillet out.  Melt 2 tablespoons of butter over med-low heat.  Add onion, sugar, salt and cook until onion  is tender, about 5 minutes.

Next add your Curry powder and cook for 1 minute.  Then throw in your rice and remaining broth.  Kick the heat up to medium and cook until rice is soft, 15-20 minutes.

When the rice is soft, puree the Curry mixture with a handheld immersible blender until smooth.  I blended mine just enough to thicken the soup, leaving some pieces of rice.

Now, pour the chicken and broth into the Curry broth and gently stir to blend.  Bring to a gentle simmer, toss in your chopped herbs and serve with lemon wedges.

OH WOW was this soup outstanding!!!  Something I will be making over and over and over again.  The flavors cannot be beat.  Mint and Dill battle it out while cozying up to the Curry and the Lemon juice sprinkled on top dances with each and every flavor in this soup.  So wonderful!  I served it with a mellow white country loaf bread from Panera.

2 cups cooked chicken, shredded
2 medium carrots, sliced, diced, shredded, whatever
1 bay leaf
Kosher salt
6 packets of liquid chicken bouillon
6 cups hot water
2T. unsalted butter
1 large onion, very thinly sliced
1 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. Madras Curry powder
2/3c. Jasmine rice
2T. finely chopped fresh mint
2T. chopped fresh dill
1 lemon, cut into wedges

Combine carrots, bay leaf, a pinch of salt and 3 cups of broth in a medium saucepan.  Add 3 cups of broth.  Bring to a boil and immediately reduce heat to low, cover and cook until carrots are tender, about 20 minutes, adding the cooked chicken about halfway through cooking time.

Meanwhile, heat the butter in a larger saucepan over medium-low heat.  Add onion, sugar, salt and cook until onion is soft, about 5 minutes.  Add Curry powder, cook 1 minute.  Add rice and remaining broth, increase heat to medium, cover and simmer 15-20 minutes.
Puree rice mix with a handheld immersible blender until smooth.  Pour in the shredded chicken and broth, stirring gently to combine.  Bring to a simmer, toss in chopped herbs and serve with lemon wedges.

Original recipe-click here

Whatchamacallit Casserole

I wanted tots.  I wanted cheese.  I wanted something besides chicken or hamburger.

From these wants, the TOT-AU-GRATIN  (or whatchamacallit??) was created!  I'm gonna do my best here to remember what all I threw into making this tasty casserole.

First I chopped up some ham I had on hand, and also diced 1 yellow onion.  Then I threw the ham and onions in a casserole dish and added about 3/4 of a bag of tater tots, tossed it all together well...Oh, I added some chopped portabella mushrooms and fresh parsley too!  I added some butter on top of it all because I forgot to grease the casserole dish..lol!

Next, the Au-Gratin sauce.  1 stick of butter and some chopped parsley was added to the saucepan.  I melted the butter and herb over we medium heat.  Once it was melted, I added some fresh chopped garlic.  If I make this again, I will have onions in the casserole OR garlic in the sauce...not both.

I cooked the garlic and the herbs in the butter for a couple minutes and then I mixed in about 3 tablespoons of flour until the mixture was smooth.
Next I mixed in about a cup and a half of milk...adding a litte at a time.  Stir and cook until mixture begins to thicken.  Time for the cheeeeeese!!  I added in oh, about a cup and a half of shredded Cheddar, some S&P and stirred it just until the cheese was melted.  Pour that cheesy goodness over the tot mixture, added a few sprigs of fresh thyme...and into the oven it went.  I had preheated the oven to about 375, I think it was.  Best probably to use whatever heat the tater tot package recommends.

The finished product...Tot-Au-Gratin!

If was pretty tasty, but as I mentioned before, I will likely leave out the chopped onions next time, OR cook them before adding to the casserole.  They didn't cook all the way and it was a tad too onion-y.  It did, however, completely quell my tater tot craving!  :)

One for the Pups!

Most of you know I like to spoil my pets...well, not really spoil, it's just that I like to give them the best life and highest quality food I can afford.  Usually, I feed them a canned/dry food mix.  Adding in canned food to the dry adds some substance to their meals and the extra water helps them feel full longer...as well as extra YUM factor!  However, the canned grub is NOT good for the dachshund's figure. SO, I've created a homemade alternative that is equally as delicious for the dogs and is also cheaper and healthier!  BONUS!!

Currently, we are fostering a 5 month old Chi/Min Pin mix, Rascal.  His previous foster mom had him eating a mixture of chicken and rice and dry dog food, so I was using up what she had prepared to change him over to the dry food Raleigh and Vito are on.  It reminded me of the days and all the time I spent preparing chicken and rice for my little Sweet Pea.  She suffered from severe food allergies and I spent a lot of time in the kitchen preparing different homemade diets for her.  So, anyway...this is where I got the idea to try a healthier, homemade alternative to the canned dog food.

It couldn't be easier either.

First I prepared some brown rice.  Bring 3 cups of water to a boil.  Add 2 cups of uncooked brown rice, cover and reduce heat to low.  Cook for 45 minutes, keep covered the entire time.

Then I just added 2 frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts to a stock pot.  Threw in about 5 whole carrots, then cover the chicken and veggies with water.  Turn up the heat, cover and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to medium and cook, loosely covered, for about 30 minutes.

Remove chicken and carrots to a plate to cool.  Fluff rice when done cooking...all water should be absorbed and rice should be soft.
Shred cooked chicken, dice up the carrots and add it all together in a big storage container.  If you just have one dog you can make up little freezer bag packs.  Allow for about a day for a pack to thaw.

I give the pups about a half a cup of this mixture with each meal and I love that they wolf it down and its also nice and healthy for them.  Its worth mentioning that this is NOT a diet that can fully substitute a formulated dry dog food for an extended period of time.
You can easily play around with variations of this too...just be sure to stay away from the foods dogs CAN'T have, such as onions and garlic.  Here is a list of foods and plants that are TOXIC to dogs.

Salisbury Steak--A cafeteria classic! ;-)

Earlier this week a friend posted he was making Salisbury Steak for dinner...another great wintertime meal idea. It was a little to late that night to put it together, so I had to wait a whole day before enjoying my own plate of Salisbury Steak and mashed potatoes...of course!  This meal always reminds me of the classic Swanson TV dinners...and Wednesday lunches in grade school!  Hope you all try this one out too..I was glad I did and I think this one deserves a spot in the regular weekly rotation, HA!  As if I could ever follow a dinner routine...it's far more fun to be INSPIRED with dinner ideas from friends or favorite restaurant cravings...which, as you know, is  what this blog is is all about!!

First off I peeled and cut up some potatoes...throw them in a saucepan and add enough water to cover the potatoes.  I also threw a couple whole garlic cloves (peeled) and a pinch of Kosher salt.  Start the potatoes when you put the steaks into the oven.

Next I mixed up my onion soup mixes with water...1 cup per packet.  The original recipe called for condensed French onion soup.  The market I was at didn't have this item, so I used dried onion soup mix..which, turned out a tad too salty.  Next time I will be sure to use the French onion soup.

Next I mixed up the meat for the patties.  Grab a large bowl and throw in your ground sirloin, 1/3 cup of soup, bread crumbs, egg and S&P...mix it all up and shape into 6 patties (this freezes well and reheats great too).

Brown both sides of the patties in a skillet over medium-high heat

Place the patties in a clear class baking dish and keep aside until gravy is ready.  If you like a more mushroom-y Salisbury steak, add some butter to your skillet and saute some fresh sliced mushrooms to add to the patties in the oven later.

To make the gravy...blend in flour with the remaining soup until its smooth.  Mix in Worcestershire, can of cream of mushroom soup, water and mustard powder (the original recipe calls for ketchup too, which I omitted because it sounded more like a Swiss steak).  Pour the gravy over your patties and back in a preheated oven for about 40 minutes.  After 30 minutes of baking, I added some sliced mushrooms I had sauteed earlier.

Served this with mashed potatoes and steamed carrots...YUM-O!

1 packet Lipton onion soup mix
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 cup water
1 1/2 pounds ground sirloin
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
2 cups sliced mushrooms, sauteed
(BE SURE TO DOUBLE THE GRAVY INGREDIENTS!!  Except only use 1 can of cream of mushroom soup)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
In a large bowl, mix together 1/3 cup onion soup with ground sirloin, bread crumbs, egg, salt and black pepper. Shape into 6 oval patties.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, brown both sides of patties. Pour off excess fat.

In a small bowl, blend flour and remaining soup until smooth. Mix in Worcestershire sauce and mustard powder. Pour over meat in skillet. 

Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes.  After 30 minutes of baking, add your sliced mushrooms to patties, if desired, and return to oven.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Remember Goulash?

So last night I posted on Facebook some of the ingredients I had on hand and wanted to use up for dinner.  I was hoping to get some new ideas from my friends.  I did get some really good ideas, BUT, out of no where the BEST idea came to me...I have everything on hand to make up a great big, comforting, yummy pot of...GOULASH!
Oh man the memories that a plate of Goulash bring back.  My grandma made this quite often when I was growing up and I honestly grew insanely bored with this dish, but last night, it sounded like the perfect dish to keep my wintertime cooking theme going!

All prepped and ready to go...at this point, I can hardly wait for it to be done and on my plate!!

(But, you see there is a glass of wine there in the background to appease me while I prepare dinner :)

Ok, so drag out that big stock pan again...did I mention a Dutch oven is on my kitchen wishlist??  :)
To start, saute the ground beef until little pink remains, then add your chopped garlic and onions, saute another 5 minutes or so, until tender.
Now throw in about 3 cups of water, tomato sauce and diced tomatoes, bay leaves, Italian seasoning, Worcestershire, garlic powder, salt and pepper.  Stir well, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Next add your macaroni, then cover again and simmer gently for 30 minutes

Remove from heat and let sit, covered, for another 30 minutes before serving with a salad and your favorite bread!

It was so delicious and very similar to how Grandma Miller used to make her Goulash.  This recipe makes a MASSIVE amount...plenty to freeze.
I hope you ALL try this one out.  Goulash is a dish that seems to have fallen out of most families dinner rotation.  I want to see a Goulash comeback!!  This dish was made for the trying times we live in now, it's VERY economical, satisfying and super easy to make.

Want MY Goulash recipe?--Click here to EMAIL ME

For Whatever Ails You!

A few days ago I was feeling flu-ish.  Although the last place I wanted to be was in the kitchen, I did have nearly an entire roasted chicken in the fridge from the night before.  I knew that if I could manage the energy toat  spend some time in the kitchen, I could whip up a delicious chicken noodle soup that just may quiet whatever was ailing me.

I first added the remains of my whole, roasted chicken to a stock pot.  It was still intact...we had just picked at some of it for dinner the night before...it was so GREAT!!  One of these posts will be my basic roast chicken recipe...I change it a little every time I make a prissy!
Then I added enough water to cover, about 3 quarts.  To spruce up stock, I added 3 bay leaves, lemon pepper season, an onion and 2 pouches of Better than Bouillon.  I heated the pot over med-hi heat until just before it started to boil.  I then removed the chicken to a platter to cool and strained out the onions and bay leaves to discard.
Once the chicken was cool enough, I recruited my roommate, Sean to pick the bones clean.  Set aside the chicken.

Then you'll bring the stock back to a boil, add veggies and cook until tender.  Then the egg noodles and cook according to the package.

Once your noodles are cooked nicely, add the chicken, rosemary, parsley, mushrooms and sherry.  Then add the Parmesan and heavy cream, if you are using it.

SIDE NOTE:  Some of you may do this, but its a handy tip I thought I'd share for those of you that don't use a 'clean-hands' disposal bag. 
When preparing a meal, I always place a plastic grocery bag, or a couple of durable paper towels in one side of my sink to throw trimmings and trash away in.  This is not only more convenient than walking back and forth from the trash bin, it also keeps your hands AWAY from the germ-laden trash can.  When you're done, just swoop it up and throw it away!

OK...back to the soup!
Simmer all ingredients for about 15 minutes.  Serve with your a nice green salad and you're favorite bread.

The heavy cream and Parmesan add a really savory flavor and texture to the broth, yes, it is still a broth despite the appearance.  The addition of a small amount of heavy cream doesn't turn this it into a cream soup, it just boosts the broth up a tad.  This soup will knock your socks off.  Try it before wintertime is gone!

And, for the record...I think it worked!  I just felt icky for two nights and now whatever was ailing me seems to have been whooped, yet again, by good old Chicken Noodle Soup!

Mmm...get your own bite!!

1 (2 1/2 to 3-pound) fryer chicken, cut up
3 1/2 quarts water
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 T.
1 T.
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 bay leaves
3 Better Than Bouillon, chicken flavored
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
lemon-pepper seasoning
Italian seasoning

1 1/4c. sliced carrots
2 cups sliced celery, with leafy green tops
2 1/2 cups uncooked egg noodles
1 cup sliced Portabella mushrooms
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
1/3 cup cooking sherry
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 cup grated Parmesan, optional
3/4 cup heavy cream, optional
Seasoning salt
Freshly ground black pepper

For the stock: add all ingredients to a soup pot. Cook until chicken is tender, about 35 to 45 minutes. Remove chicken from pot and set aside to cool. Remove and discard bay leaves and onion. You should have approximately 3 quarts of stock. When chicken is cool enough to touch, pick bones clean, discarding bones, skin, and cartilage. Set chicken aside.
For the soup: bring stock back to a boil, add carrots, and cook for 3 minutes. Add celery and continue to cook for 5 to 10 minutes. Add egg noodles and cook according to directions on package. When noodles are done, add chicken, mushrooms, parsley, sherry and rosemary. Add Parmesan and cream, if using. Cook for another 2 minutes. Adjust seasoning, if needed, by adding seasoning salt and pepper. 

Original recipe-Click here

The 'never-look-for-another-meatloaf-recipe' Meatloaf!

Meatloaf is another meal that is only truly enjoyed on a cold, winter day.  Its also another recipe that I am always on the lookout for..the new, best meatloaf recipe!  Well, I don't have to look anymore.  This one is another I found and modified from foodnetwork.com  I'll list the entire recipe at the end of this post.
This meatloaf includes a recipe for an outstanding Tomato Relish...something I was dubious about making because it includes the dreaded KETCHUP.  I am a meatloaf purist and up until now, have always made my meatloaf sans ketchup.
I made this a few days after the chili...it helped to use up the bacon I bought for the chili...have you seen the price of bacon lately??  Yipes!

You begin with making the relish for this recipe, Pour about 2 T of olive oil into a skillet, swirl around to coat the skillet well.  Heat the oil over med high heat, once hot, add in your onion and garlic and bay leaves and saute a few minutes...then add in your diced bell peppers and cook a couple more minutes.  Next add your diced tomatoes...

Stir in your ketchup, chopped parsley and Worcestershire, then season with salt and fresh ground black pepper

Remove the relish from the pan to a large bowl, remove about 1 1/2 cups of the relish to a smaller  bowl to allow it to cool a bit before adding to meat mixture.
At this point, you want to add some milk to your torn up pieces of bread...add just enough to almost cover the bread and swish it around a bit to coat the bread.  Let sit.
Now its time to mix and loaf the meat!  The messy, fun part :)
Throw your ground meat, the reserved relish, eggs, thyme and s&p in a large bowl and combine it all together...yes, your hands work best!
Squeeze the extra milk from the bread you have set aside and then add the bread to the meat mix...combine and then move the glob of meat over to a lightly greased cookie sheet.  Shape your loaf however makes your heart sing.
Ladle some more of your fabulous relish over the top of your loaf, and then place your bacon across the loaf lengthwise..like so:
Throw that hunk o' meat into the oven which you brilliantly preheated to 350 degrees and cook it for about an hour and 45 minutes, depending on how thick you make your loaf and how long it takes the bacon to crisp.
Serve with mashed potatoes, green beans and a great, crusty multi-grain loaf of bread...no exceptions or substitutions here!

I didn't get a shot of the finished masterpiece...but here is the photo from the site.
This meatloaf was undoubtedly the best I have ever had.  The tomato relish is SOO worth gambling on.  It was just so wonderfully flavored and added a really neat freshness to the meatloaf.  The meatloaf itself was further perked up by the addition of the relish to the meat mixture prior to baking.  The red bell peppers stay crisp and the tomatoes don't dissolve into mush. Please try this with your own twist and tell me how it went!!

Tomato Relish:
Extra-virgin olive oil
3 shallots

3 garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and finely diced
2 tomatoes, halved, seeded, and finely diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
~8 oz bottled ketchup
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
(I considered next time some whole kernel sweet corn would be a nice addition to this relish..??..and maybe also some diced Jalapeno for the truly daring!)

3 slices white bread, crusts removed, torn into chunks by hand
1/4 cup whole milk
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 pound ground pork
2 eggs
2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried basil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 to 4 bacon slices

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Coat a skillet with a 2-count of oil and place over medium heat. Saute the onion, garlic, and bay leaves for a few minutes to create a base flavor. Throw in the red peppers and cook them for a couple of minutes to soften. Now add the tomatoes; adding them at this point lets them hold their shape and prevents them from disintegrating. Stir in the parsley, ketchup, and Worcestershire; season with salt and pepper. Simmer the relish for 5 minutes to pull all the flavors together. Remove it from the heat; you should have about 4 cups of relish.
Place the torn white bread in a bowl and add the milk to just barely cover, swish the bread around in the milk and let it sit while you get the rest of the ingredients for the meat loaf together.
This is where you get your hands dirty! In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground beef and pork with 1 1/2 cups of the tomato relish, the eggs, and thyme; season with salt and pepper. Squeeze the excess milk from the bread and add the soaked bread to the meat mixture. Coat the top of the meatloaf with another 1/2 cup of the tomato relish. Lay the bacon across the top lengthwise.

Bake the meatloaf for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until the bacon is crisp and the meatloaf is firm. Rotate the meat loaf while it's baking every now and then to insure that the bacon browns evenly. Remove the meatloaf from the oven and let it cool a bit before slicing. Serve with the remaining tomato relish on the side.

Original recipe-Click here