Friday, October 29, 2010

Cook, Laugh, Love, Live

I grew up in the house that I live in now. Not exactly the floor plan I would choose but I do love the sentimental value of the house and have made it my own. I thought it would be weird and always feel like my mother’s house but it doesn’t. At all. When I visit her in her adorable farm house in the mountains, that’s her house.

When I was young though, my sister and I spent many days alone when she was a teenager and I was middle school age in my mom’s kitchen (which is now mine). The product of working parents, we had great imagination. We turned our kitchen and dining room into a restaurant called Old Timer’s every day for lunch. We served up meals to each other with flair from the humblest grilled cheese and soup to a can of chef boy r Dee garnished with parmesan from a can.

It was a production from beginning to end, greeting each other at the front door and seating them at the choicest table, playing chef, plating the food, playing waitress, busboy and dishwasher (which often included acting a dishwashing soap commercial but that was more of a ploy for her to pretend to film while I got stuck doing all the dishes…I was very much a drama queen even then.)

We used to talk about actually opening Old Timer’s when we grew up. I can only think that the famed Cracker Barrel was our inspiration for Restaurant Design. I’ve held onto that dream though. The dream has changed over the years and morphed from being a bakery/cafĂ©, to sometimes a bed and breakfast, and sometimes even a full out restaurant.

Tonight, my sister is coming over to help me in the kitchen. We are whipping up giant pots of chili and chicken stew, veggie and cheese platters, and a cake for my Halloween Party tomorrow. It’s going to be like Old Timer’s is open again twenty years later.

Sometimes it’s the simple things in life that you look back on with fond memories but I have noticed that the majority of the family’s greatest memories center around the kitchen. The kitchen is truly the heart of the home and I’m looking forward to making memories for my own children: giggles and smiles over cupcake frosting, smells of cookies baking on Christmas Eve, mini aprons enveloping wiggly bodies with chocolate smears on the nose, beaters to be licked, family dinners, etc.

Despite all the work I have to do, I’m looking forward to taking this sweet trip down memory lane tonight. Laughing, arguing, getting in each other’s way, making a mess and above all spending quality time with my sister is a great way to spend a Holiday whether its Halloween or Christmas. Sisters, who for many years were each other’s arch nemesis and saving grace. We are siblings, friends, families who cook, laugh, love and live.

I think they need to adjust those popular phrases for the wall art: COOK, Laugh, Love, Live. I like it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Pumpkin Dip

For a Mary Kay Facial Party I threw Friday night, which was very relaxing and a fun giggling time with the girls, one of the new items I tested was Pumpkin Dip. I’m a huge pumpkin fan: pumpkin pie, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin bread and pumpkin spice lattes but there are certain mixtures with pumpkin and cream cheese I don’t do well. It’s the combination of flavor and texture. Among them: pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheesing icing and now, pumpkin dip. Everyone else in the known world loves it though. I’m the weird one. I served this recipe with Gingersnaps and it was tasty, I was just able to stop after two cookies, so maybe my slight aversion is a good thing.

Pumpkin dip

1 can Pumpkin Puree
1 package cream cheese (8 ounces, room temp, lightly beaten or whipped)
1 ½ cups brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ginger
¼ tsp cloves
Dash vanilla

Mix everything, cover and chill. (We actually served it fresh which I liked better than chilled but most recipes call for you to chill pumpkin dip).

Menu Monday-Halloween

Beef and Cheese Burritos

Salad with Perogies

Scalloped Potatoes, Roast Chicken, Turnip Greens

Beef and hash brown Casserole

Chicken Something

Chili and chicken Stew for Halloween Party plus veggie tray, pumpkin pie and possibly a cake.

I actually can’t remember what is on the menu this week. I got a new cook book all about freezer meals and I’m trying some recipes out from it. They are simple and hardy and if they are tasty will come in handy for neighbors, new moms, etc. not to mention ME!

I’ll post the recipes as I try them. I’m testing two of them this week along with some simple tried and true recipes as I prepare for our annual Halloween shindig.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Birthday Bash-Happy 60th Daddy!

One of the things that has kept me busy of late was throwing my Dad’s 60th Surprise Birthday party on September 25th. We had an amazing time with good food, beautiful weather and an amazing group of family and friends.

I’ve always loved to hostess a party and am usually OCD about making EVERYTHING, doing EVERYTHING and basically a control freak. (I admit it freely.) This time though, I eased back, let other’s do things, paid to have things done and only stressed about cleaning the house and getting the flower beds pretty. LOL

My brother-in-law borrowed a giant barbeque cooker from his uncle who caters and was up at 5am in my backyard putting the pigs on. (I think he did 4 shoulders). He made Barbeque (and me some chicken as I’m allergic to pork), beans, slaw, and potatoes. MrsBeth made a fabulous Chocolate Orange Cake with Butter cream icing decorated in fondant. I provided hors d’ouvres: Veggie tray with my homemade Ranch dip, Cheese platter, and fruit platter. My sister’s Mother-in-law (did you follow that?) made her awesome homemade ice creams: Cherry almond and vanilla.

This was truly a joint effort and my Dad had an awesome time. It’s taught me a lesson as well. I can let go. Just because I don’t make everything, doesn’t mean it won’t be fabulous or that people will think I’ve slacked. Delegation is not a bad thing. I’m totally following this same route with my Halloween Party and for once, I’m not stressed at all. Living up to my own ideas of Perfection are much harder than living up to other people’s expectations. I’m harder on myself than anyone else. So I’m lightening up and it is fabulous! Enjoy a few food pics from the party!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Menu Monday

Our menu plan got blown out of the water this weekend because we were running around taking care of everything so we ate out- a lot. (Pizza Hut veggie pizza, Wendy's, and Panera Bread)

So our menu has some of the same items from last week that I didn't get to fix.

Fried Chicken Salad with French Onion soup

Chicken Pot pie

BBQ Chicken


Friday I am hosting a Mary Kay party. Menu: Chicken Salad Finger Sandwiches, Pumpkin Dip with Ginger Snaps, Homemade Ranch Dip with veggies, Cheese and Turkey Bacon Tart, Pumpkin Cupcakes.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Simple Corn Chowder

Many people use bacon and bacon grease as a flavoring for corn chowder, but as I am currently not stomaching meat well (including my turkey bacon) I decided to go with a more vegetarian option.

Corn chowder is a simple hearty soup that is great for a cool fall day. I served it up with a fresh crisp iceberg salad with my Ranch Style Dressing. An excellent easy meal for a week day with plenty of leftovers.

Simple Corn Chowder
4 TBS Butter
7-8 Red potatoes (washed, peeled and cubed)
1 medium yellow onion (finely diced)
2 cups water
2 cans Creamed corn (if using homemade its 3 cups)
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 cups heavy whipping cream (or half and half)

In a large stock pot over medium heat, sauté your onion and potatoes in the butter for 4-5 minutes. Stir in water and corn. Add your salt and pepper. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low and simmer for approx 25-30 minutes stirring 3-4 times during cooking time.

Warm the cream (I popped it in the microwave for 2 minutes) and add to the chowder about 3-4 minutes before serving.

Ranch Style Dressing/ Dip mix

So why do I call it Ranch Style? Because its not true ranch. If you been reading this blog long, you know I tend to steer clear of spices, peppers and pork due to past allergy experiences (beginning of the year).

One of the things I’ve been missing most this year is Ranch dressing. I LOVE ranch. Cucumbers and carrots and wedges of lettuce dipped in creamy ranch. Ranch on spaghetti, chicken tenders in ranch. If you can dip it, I like it in ranch.

So I finally broke down, researched what is in Ranch and created my Ranch Style safe version. What I love about this is it is a dry mix that can be stored for months in a dry place or the freezer and you can whip up a dip or dressing in the blink of an eye. It has gone over big time at my parties and I’ve already given the recipe out to half a dozen people they loved it so much. So I am going to share it with you! (Don’t you feel special?)

Krista’s Ranch Style Dressing/Dip Mix
8 tsp minced onion
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp salt
2 tsp pepper
1 ½ tsp garlic powder

Dump all ingredients into a small Tupperware container. Place the lid on and shake well. Store in a dry dark place or the freezer until ready to use. Shake Well before each use.

For DIP:
1 Cup Mayo
1 Cup Sour Cream
1 ¼ TBS Ranch Mix

For Dressing:
1 cup Mayo
1 cup Buttermilk
1 ¼ TBS Ranch Mix

For either one, add all ingredients in a bowl and whisk till blended and smooth. Chill.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

My Gourmet Life

I have tried to maintain this blog as I would a business. Strictly to the point of food with snippits of commentary about my life to “spice” it up. My readers come for the food, not for me but my personality and life flavor my food. If you have been a follower for long, you can detect a pattern but may not know what is triggering the recipes. I’ve been very honest about my recent trial with food allergies and the less flavorful and more natural recipes reflect that as I tried to reset my body and figure out what the allergy triggers were.

(Now here is where I come clean.) What you may not have known, is that last fall when I was posting so much and really focused on my blog, what was going on. I love this blog but I don’t try new recipes ALL the time or cook hearty comfort foods EVERY DAY. I’m a busy person (as evidenced by the lack of posts every summer when my garden, pool and yard are in full swing on top of a full time job). I don’t have time to cook, photograph and experiment EVERY night. Last fall however, was full of colorful posts, new recipes, and rich comfort foods. Last fall, after 2 ½ years of Infertility and drugs, we lost our first child via a very emotionally traumatic and physically painful miscarriage. I threw myself into this blog with a passion to escape myself.

I’m not sorry I did so. It was therapy for me. Cooking is therapy. Depending on what kind of emotional state I am in depends on what I make. If I’m focusing on being a better me, the recipes go healthy, natural. If I need comforting they go hearty and rich. If I’m crunching a budget, they reflect that too. If I’m happy, I bake. I’m a southern gal and our kitchens are the heart of the home. We spend our lives there out of responsibility but also out of love.

I used to think that I had to be a perfect hostess and wife. I was raised with the values of home coming first and a happy family revolved around great food. Holidays revolved around family coming together over great food. I had to maintain a spotless house, cook everything, bake like a professional, decorate to the 9’s. I have pushed myself over the years to achieve perfection in my home. For what? A family I don’t have. It becomes not so important when you are only cooking for the two of you. Especially when you’re married to one of the most Non-foodie people you will ever meet. A can of cold Chef Boy R Dee is fine with my husband, but I want my family to have more than that.

I have reprioritized. I will always be a cook. It is who I am. I love it, but I’ve realized that I don’t have to be perfect or do it all. I can throw a party and delegate dishes (or the whole darn thing, hello catering), I can release myself of the responsibility of doing it all. And if by chance, a partier finds that one illusive dust bunny that escaped me, so be it. Dust happens.

I’m trying to find my balance. I love to blog. I have a million ideas in my head for posts, projects, etc for this blog. I love to share my recipes as much as I love making them. I just need to find my voice and relate more to my blog with my life than being a food reporter. This isn’t a business, this is my love of food and all things to do with it, not just recipes.

So my dear readers, my original intention of this blog was food. It worked for me for years as that is where I was in my life. I new wife, a new home owner, a new everything in my own kitchen for the first time armed with only the skills I learned at the elbows of my mother and grandmother (and they were great skills-I was well armed). I have a passion for cooking and gardening and I showcased that here, but I also have a passion for family, those suffering from infertility, and other aspects of my life. I’ve kept them separate (on separate blogs and never the two shall meet) but I’m not sure that I should anymore.

I don’t know what’s going to happen from here to be honest. I don’t know if I will maintain the two or if I will combine them here or there or somewhere completely new. I’m not sure how open I’m ready to be to readers who came for the food or how receptive my readers of my most intimate yearnings will be of food recipes. I don’t want to keep up a farce of maintaining a food blog when my focus isn’t necessarily here but I also see myself returning to food again and again so its not really a farce. Holidays are coming up, I’m going to be in the kitchen a lot. In the future, I will want to share my experiments with homemade baby food when the time comes (because it will.) I still want to try out a food related project to share with you. I just have to figure out the timeline, the how, and do it. I’m not saying good bye. I’m just saying, “hello” from the real gardener, the real gourmet, the person behind the words that puts the love into the food.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Menu Monday

I'm definately feeling the Fall season despite the fact that our weather seems to not have gotten the memo. What is with the high 80's? jeesh. In celebration of getting our pool closed this weekend, reducing the time we have to spend on outdoor work, I'm planning a menu that requires a bit of fuss this week.

Fried Chicken Tender Salad and French Onion Soup

Chicken Pot Pie

Filet Mignon with Salad and corn Chowder

Soft Taco's

Barbeque chicken with Scalloped Potatoes and Limas.

Most of this is already on my blog so not many recipes to update but I am on the hunt for a good homemade BBQ recipe so I may have atleast that to share! Don't worry though, my big baking and cooking season is upon us!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Menu Monday-Kickin' off October

If we thought LAST week’s budget was tight, this week we will be pinching the pennies. Bring on PayDay! Fortunately, we don’t need but a few ingredients to complete our menu list this week, so I should just be able to squeeze out those pool chemicals, dog food, gas and groceries.

Don’t you just hate when you have so many things hit you in one pay period? Of course, I’m one of those that refuse to touch savings for anything other than a major emergency even though that’s what its there for. I just do not consider one tight pay period an emergency. I will live off rice and canned beans if I have to to avoid transferring money over even temporarily. It’s a habit you just don’t want to get into my opinion.

Breakfast for Dinner: Biscuits, eggs, turkey bacon, and diced potatoes.

Fried Chicken Tenders and scalloped Potatoes with Greenbeans

Chicken and Veggie Rice Skillet


Hamburgers with Oven Fries

Fortunately, I do have the ingredients on hand to make an apple pie and/or chocolate chip cookies so this week won’t be a total lesson in tight economics. LOL

Friday, October 1, 2010

Pretzel Chicken with Mustard Cheese Sauce

I came across this recipe while reading blogs, and forgive me but for the life of me I can’t remember who’s it is. I hate when I print things out and it doesn’t have a name on it. It sounded very tasty so I decided to give it a try. I served it up with Broccoli and Rice on the side. I have to admit this chicken is some of the best chicken ever. It was so moist and tender with a lovely crunchy coating. The cheese sauce enhanced the pretzel coating only slightly though and was way too blah in flavor to do anything for the broccoli or rice. In my opinion the cheese sauce was too mild. It had a hint of cheese and a hint of mustard but neither flavor stood out and it was a little too “gooey”. It stuck together in like a cheese SHEET. Now granted I didn’t use sharp cheddar or spicy brown mustard so those two items may make the flavor stronger but I’m thinking it needs a bit more of a softer cheese to act as a complimentary background for the flavors. I’ll work on that because I am definitely making this again. I do not consider it a fail, as it was good with the chicken, just needs a little punching up.

Pretzel Chicken with Mustard Cheese Sauce

3 large boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 cups pretzel sticks
Salt and pepper
2 eggs
¼ inch oil in pan for frying
2 tbs butter
2 tbs flour
2 cups milk
1 cup mild cheddar cheese (shredded)
2 tbs mustard

Heat the oil over medium to medium high heat. Pound the chickens flat between two sheets of Saran wrap (keeps area clean and no splatters). Grind the pretzels in a mini chopper or food processor until mostly powdered (I left a few small pieces for extra crunch). Place the pretzels on a plate or coating dish with salt and pepper. Whisk eggs in a shallow bowl or large plate.

Dip each piece of chicken in the egg and then in the pretzel mixture to coat. Cook on each side in hot oil about 5 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink and is crispy deep golden brown on the outside. Drain on a paper towel.

When chicken is halfway through cooking, melt butter in a sauce pan. Add flour and whisk. Cook for approx one minute. Whisk in milk and brink to a low boil. Take off the heat and add: salt, pepper, mustard and cheese. Stir until cheese is melted.

Serve hot over poured over chicken.