WE GOT SNOW!
Not Your Typical Mediterranean Salad
water-packed roasted red peppers
extra virgin olive oil (the good stuff!)
Toss and enjoy!
Really, y'all, I tried. Well, okay, I thought about trying. That counts, right?
My coworker gave me another Weight Watchers recipe for those yummy lettuce cups like you get at PF Changs. The catch is, her version called for meatless soy vegetarian crumbles (in place of ground beef). She swore it was delicious. I mean, swore up and down. And I saw her eating it for lunch at work, so I know this wasn't just some practical joke and she was trying to get me to make a terrible recipe.
I even bought the Morningstar Thingamadoogles at Bi-Lo last night (as B wandered around behind me saying, "Are you SURE you don't want to try it with ground beef or turkey?").
But see, last week was a busy week. And last weekend was a very busy and slightly inebriated weekend - it was my bachelorette party. Five bridesmaids cramming with me into B's apartment (which, sadly, is larger than my townhome), a lovely Saturday at the spa, fun bachelorette games (I ROCKED The Almost-Newlywed Game, y'all!), piles of lingerie, an amazing dinner and drinks out with some of the best girlfriends I could ask for. I'm the luckiest bride-to-be on the planet.
But I'm also getting a little cold or something, and was flat-out exhausted yesterday. That carried over. I went to the dentist today, and I legitimately fell asleep in the chair while waiting on the dentist to come do the final inspection. Seriously. Since I used to have panic attacks every time I had to go to the dentist as a kid, my mother thinks this is fantastic progress, but frankly I think it shows just how tired I am. Who falls asleep at the DENTIST?!
To make a long story short, I got to about 3:00 today before I gave up and texted B saying, "I give. You win. I don't want fake meat lettuce wraps." I had found this recipe here. His response? "Are you sure? We have some extra cardboard here at the office I can bring home, too."
ANYway. Once my comedian of a fiance got that out of his system, he was very, very happy I decided on chicken for our lettuce wraps and even agreed to bring egg rolls from our favorite Chinese restaurant to accompany them. WIN.
As were the lettuce wraps. This picture below - well, you're lucky to get it. I was so tired and spazzy I forgot to take pics as I was cooking. And I forgot to take a pic of the finished product until I was already one lettuce wrap and half an egg roll into the meal. #fail
These were ridiculously easy, but my favorite thing about this is that they're -- guess what? -- customizable. Add or remove veggies as you see fit. Kick up the spice level a notch (we did, of course), or make it mild. Play around to your heart's content.
And if you ever get the urge to try the meatless "ground beef" crumbles, please, by all means, let me know how it goes.
Meaty chicken lettuce wraps
3 tablespoons oil
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 cup water chestnuts, diced finely
2/3 cup mushrooms, diced finely
1 cup cabbage or coleslaw mix (we used slaw mix, cause it had carrots too)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
Bibb lettuce cups
1/4 cup sugar (I didn't have any, so I used some Splenda packets...oops)
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon hot mustard (we used a little packet from the Chinese restaurant)
1/2 teaspoon red chili paste
Stir Fry Sauce:
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
To make the special sauce, dissolve sugar in water in a small bowl. Add soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, ketchup, lemon juice, and sesame oil, hot mustard and chili paste.
Bring 3 tablespoons of oil to high heat in a wok or large frying pan.
Add chicken breasts and saute 4-5 minutes per side, or until done. Be careful doing this - the oil REALLY splattered.
Once chicken is cooked, remove from pan and let cool.
Mince water chestnuts and mushrooms until they're about the size of small peas.
Make stir fry sauce by mixing the soy sauce, brown sugar, and rice vinegar together in a small bowl.
When chicken is cool, mince until the size of mushrooms and water chestnuts.
With the pan still on high heat, add another tablespoon of vegetable oil.
Add chicken, garlic, water chestnuts, mushrooms, and coleslaw mix to pan.
Add stir fry sauce and saute until well-mixed.
Serve in Bibb lettuce cups and sprinkle with scallions.
It's entirely possible I have the best future mother-in-law ever. For Christmas, in addition to a beeeeauuutiful pink Kate Spade purse, she also gave me the neatest, most touching thing: a binder full of family recipes.
Anybody that knows me even a little bit knows that I'm crazy sentimental, and also very big into family traditions (I am, after all, getting married on my own parents' anniversary). I also love to cook. This pretty much sent me into spasms of happy. And since it was a Christmas gift, not a wedding gift, I feel perfectly justified in using it now instead of waiting until April.
B and I spent this past weekend at Seabrook Island visiting his grandpa and brother and brother's girlfriend, and it was a whirlwind. Shopping, carriage rides, lunch at Blossom, filet and Caesar salad with homemade dressing, talking until late at night...by the time we got back, we were exhausted. Our sweet Luna, who spent the weekend at PetSmart (and got a bath) was also exhausted. And that continued into today. In looking through the cookbook for something relatively quick to make tonight, I landed on the beef stroganoff.
It's pretty easy. You start by melting 1/4 cup of butter. However, I only used about half of that, and it turned out fantastic. Saute 1/4 cup of sliced onions, 6 ounces of mushrooms (canned or fresh, either is fine), and one minced clove of garlic.
Once that's heated up and the onions are soft, add 1 pound of beef cubes. Then pour in 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, one cup of red wine and one can of beef broth. Let simmer for 15 minutes.
Add in 4 ounces of egg noodles, cover the pan, and simmer for 10 more minutes.
Once the noodles are tender, turn off the heat and add in one cup of sour cream. Stir to mix together, then serve.
It wasn't a particularly cold day, but this still was such a warm, hearty, comforting meal. After today, we totally needed this. Also, it makes fantastic leftovers, and that's a big plus in my book. I highly recommend this if you're looking for an easy and wonderful weeknight meal.
Now, I'm even luckier, because in addition to the family recipes, I also get to marry B, and that's the best prize ever. 96 days, my friends :) But for now, let them eat stroganoff!
Mama S's Beef Stroganoff
1/4 cup butter (can use less)
1/4 cup sliced onion
1 minced garlic clove
2 3-oz. cans mushrooms, or a package of fresh
1 pound beef
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 can beef broth
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 pound medium egg noodles
1 cup sour cream
1 cup red wine
Melt butter, and saute onions, mushrooms and garlic. Add beef.
Stir in lemon juice, wine, broth, salt and pepper.
Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.
Add uncooked noodles and cook covered for about 10 minutes, or until done.
Mix in sour cream and serve warm.
No, no, not the Super Bowl.
I believe I've mentioned my coworkers before, no? Well, in addition to the recipe-swapping ladies, we also have the hunting-and-fishing men. One particular coworker goes hunting quite a bit, and he's pretty generous with his spoils. Yesterday he brought in a huge box of ground venison and told us we could each have some.
Now let me tell you about my previous experience with venison. Suffice to say it ended with me in the emergency room at St. Francis for 8 hours with food poisoning the day after the 2008 election. I like to think it was the outcome of that election that triggered the Exorcist-style vomiting, or possibly my body's natural reaction to the idiot of a boyfriend I had at the time. However, scientifically it was probably the venison at the election party the night before. That's what my hospital admission sheet said, anyway.
So when my coworker offered up the meat yesterday, I was tempted, but hesitant. People talk about how good venison is and also how lean it is, but one does not forget in a hurry having a giant scary IV being shoved into one's arm (have I mentioned I'm not particularly terrific with medical stuff?). But he gave me a recipe for venison burgers that I was sure my B could manage to cook properly so that his wife-to-be did not end up in the hospital.
And so I accepted the venison. And it was gooooooood. First of all, his burger recipe was great on its own. In fact, it's going to be my new go-to for beef burgers, also. But the venison just added a little something extra. I really liked the mild game-y flavor, and the 57 Sauce was just perfection with it.
Plus, this is about as "farm to table" as we're going to get, at least when it comes to meat. We didn't KNOW the deer personally (I don't tend to be on speaking terms with members of the animal kingdom, except for my Luna-bug), but we know the guy who shot it, and he's a legit hunter/fisher. No funny additives going into this stuff.
We served it with oven-baked fries and sauteed broccoli. Honestly, though, the sides were kind of "meh" compared to the burger, and that's saying something. Usually I choke down a little of the meat and simply eat the side dishes, so that should tell you something.
We also served it with a mini-growler of Anderson Valley "El Steinber" dark lager, and that served as a great complement to the flavor of the deer meat (Big Jon, are you listening? Pass this along to the regulars!).
Plus, the mood was just festive. We had something to celebrate: we booked our honeymoon today. Costa Rica, here we come! And today is also 100 days until we're married - I CAN'T WAIT.
And you shouldn't wait, either, to make these delicious burgers. Seriously, go find some venison. This is South Carolina people. It can't be that hard. You have to know somebody, somewhere, who's shot a deer. So make these burgers. And ENJOY!
Joe's Venison Burgers
Heinz 57 sauce
1 minced onion
4-5 cloves minced garlic
Montreal steak seasoning
Mix ingredients together. Form into patties, layer on waxed paper, cover with cling wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Grill to your desired specifications, keeping in mind that venison is very lean and burns very easily.
So I'm kind of cheating a little with that title. We've actually made this recipe a few times before, so I knew ahead of time that it would be a win (unlike this meatless Monday). This is not a new revelation.
I should also point out that, for obvious reasons, this recipe is MUCH better in the summer (hello, July tomatoes!).
However, given its deliciousness, reasonable healthfulness, and its simplicity, I thought it deserved a spot of honor on the blog. You begin by slicing up some large, beefsteak tomatoes and soaking them in a thin layer of balsamic vinegar.
While the tomatoes are soaking, preheat the oven to 350. Also while the tomatoes are soaking, put some water on to boil (for pasta). And also while the tomatoes are soaking, saute some spinach. Just a drizzle of olive oil, a couple of cloves of garlic, salt, pepper, and a bag of spinach will do. Keep it a little bit underdone, because it will be baking in the oven, too. You don't want spinach mush.
Put the tomatoes on a foil-lined baking sheet. Top evenly with the spinach mixture. Put in the oven for 7 minutes.
Put the pasta in to boil. In the meantime, heat up a few tablespoons of olive oil, 2 cloves minced garlic, and red pepper flakes on medium heat for a couple of minutes until warm and fragrant. Don't let the garlic burn. When the pasta is finished cooking, drain and let dry a couple of minutes, then add to the pan with the oil mixture, and coat the pasta in it until the pasta is coated and warm. Add fresh chopped basil and salt and pepper.
At this point, the tomatoes should be done. Remove from oven, and turn oven to broil setting. Place a slice of fresh mozzarella on top of each tomato. Place back in the oven on broil until cheese is melty and starting to brown.
When tomatoes are finished, remove from oven and serve immediately over pasta. You wouldn't think a vegetarian meal could be so filling, but it is. Even B loves this and says it's incredibly satisfying. If you're looking to incorporate more veggies and/or less meat into your diet, this is a good place to start. And if you do try it now, do yourself a favor and try it again in July/August. Trust me on this. And above all, ENJOY!
Cheesy tomato spinach spaghetti
2 large tomatoes, cut into slices
1 package fresh spinach
1 ball fresh mozzarella
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Fresh torn basil leaves
Pasta of choice (we use Barilla Plus Angel Hair)
Preheat the oven to 350.
Slice tomatoes and sit in a dish of balsamic vinegar to soak. Flip slices after 5-10 minutes.
While tomatoes are soaking, add a tablespoon of garlic to pan, and saute 2 of the chopped garlic cloves until fragrant. Add spinach, and saute until soft, but not completely done. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste. Put aside.
Put pasta on to boil.
Cover a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and arrange tomato slices on the sheet and top with spinach. Bake for 7 minutes.
Saute 2-3 tablespoons olive oil with remaining two cloves minced garlic and red pepper flakes until fragrant and warm. Add cooked and drained pasta to oil mixture and toss until pasta is warm and coated. Add salt, pepper, and chopped fresh basil. Keep warm.
Remove tomato and spinach slices and change oven setting to broil.
Top slices with fresh mozzarella and broil for 3-5 minutes until cheese is melty and lightly browned.
Serve immediately over pasta.
While I realize that is probably a goofy title for a blog post and no one in the cool and hip blogosphere would ever deign to title their blog post that, I really have to. Last night we made something amazing. Seriously.
Let me set the stage for you. I left work to go to the gym. It was 30 degrees outside at 5:15. After a grueling hour of biking and weights, I left to go home. It was 24 degrees, and dropping rapidly. I packed up basically every item of winter clothing I own, packed up the dog, and made the trek over to B's apartment. 20 degrees.
But when I got there, there was something in the freezer...
Gumbo veggies. And two cans of diced tomatoes. And a chicken breast we baked the night before. Because last night...last night was Weight Watchers gumbo. Yes, Weight Watchers.
About that. I do not do Weight Watchers. We are not on a diet. If I have not yet made this clear, I do not believe in diets. I believe in good food. And yes, occasionally "good food" means Taco Casa and a glass of Cabernet. I just don't make it a habit. I try my hardest to make recipes from whole foods, but when I need French fries, I eat them and I totally don't beat myself up. Food should be fun, not the enemy.
And last night, food was beyond fun. Food was AMAZING. The recipe was so easy I'm fairly certain my 6-year-old flower girl could totally pull this one off, so all you adults who can operate a stove don't have an excuse.
Spray a large skillet generously with nonstick cooking spray (we use the olive oil kind). Dump in a bag of frozen gumbo veggies.
Stir for a couple of minutes, then add a tablespoon of flour and stir a minute or so more. Then add chopped pre-cooked chicken, two cans of diced tomatoes, and 1 teaspoon of Creole seasoning. We decided to call this "the base," because it's from there that we took it to the next level.
It did not have enough seasoning. One teaspoon of seasoning was not even about to do it for B and me. We are spice freaks. We probably doubled, if not tripled the Creole seasoning. I threw in a few red pepper flakes, Kickn' Chicken seasoning, and salt and pepper. B added more pepper, cayenne pepper, and a few twists of my spice obsession, Trader Joe's South African Smoke Blend seasoning (for reference, click here).
We served it over rice, and, not to sound too much like a 16-year-old, ohhhhh emmmm geeeee. It was SO GOOD. Not sure if it was the cold weather, or the amazing combination of spices, the fact that I was starving after the gym or what, but we are going to be keeping this in the winter rotation (and maybe the summer). We may try shrimp in it the next time. We'll play around the with the spices (keeping my favorite, of course). If it's cold where you are (and you probably are, if you're in the US right now), MAKE THIS NOW. You can thank me later.
1 bag frozen gumbo veggies (corn, okra, celery, red peppers)
1 tablespoon flour
Pre-cooked chicken (store bought/packaged or home cooked, doesn't matter)
2 cans diced tomatoes (we used the kind with sweet onions in them)
Any and all spices you want to add
Spray a large skillet generously with nonstick cooking spray.
Dump in frozen veggies and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly.
Add flour. Cook for another minute or two, still stirring.
Add chicken, tomatoes, and any seasoning combination you like.
Cook for 6-10 minutes until everything is heated through.
Serve over rice or by itself.
Eat. Moan so loud with delight you scare the dog and the neighbors.
I don't so much get into the idea of "diets," especially those that make you completely eliminate some portion of your diet. That's ridiculous. But I do support the idea of trying to eat as healthfully and wholly as possible (meaning less processed junk), especially since that wedding dress is due to arrive in a month or so, and I've gotta fit into it!
Thankfully, I have support in this area. I believe I've mentioned my awesome coworkers before? We swap recipes and cooking ideas all the time. And one of them does Weight Watchers, and is generous enough to share all her healthy recipe successes with the rest of us.
So when she texted me a black bean salad recipe on New Year's Day (as I was cooking up collards, no less), I knew I'd be making it, especially since my sweet B LOVES black beans. Plus, black beans are super low-fat and low-calorie while being high in fiber and stuff to keep you full.
This recipe did not go that smoothly. Our kitchen ingredients regularly trade houses (depending on who's cooking what where), and much like our dog, will be very happy when we're all living in one place. As will I - both the garlic and the red wine vinegar were hanging out at B's, so we had to make two separate trips to the Bi-Lo across the street from my house because we didn't realize we needed both at one time. So.
However, once we got the ingredients we actually needed, the recipe was very quick and easy. Saute some onions, add garlic and cumin and keep sauteing, add black beans and continue, then once everything is warm and delicious, toss in a big bowl with oranges, red wine vinegar, and cilantro.
We made a double batch, and we also made some modifications after the fact (for the leftovers), but overall it was still pretty good. I thought there was too much cumin, and it could also use more red wine vinegar. B suggested putting hot sauce into it, which we did, and it was delicious. It was hearty and citrus-y, and just really good. This would be a great side dish for a picnic or potluck. It's also vegetarian, gluten free, and healthy. We give this a big thumbs-up, and will definitely be making it again, especially once the weather is warmer.
Try it yourself, and let me know what modifications you make and what you think. And have a happy, healthy new year!
Orange-cilantro black bean salad
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 medium uncooked red onion, thinly sliced (we used white onion)
2 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 medium oranges, peeled and segmented
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar (again, I felt it could use more)
salt and pepper
In large skillet, warm oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute for 2 minutes.
Add garlic and cumin and cook one minute more.
Stir in black beans; cook until just heated through, about 1.5 - 2 mins.
Pour into medium-sized bowl.
Stir in oranges, cilantro and vinegar. Season to taste with hot sauce, salt and pepper.
Oh hai, 2014. You know, in some ways you crept up on me, and in others it seems like you've taken ages to get here (and I STILL have 115 days until we're married...). Looking back, 2013 was an excellent year. In April I got a promotion. In May, I bought my first car. In June, we added another couple of members to the family with the adoption of our sweet Luna-bug, and also because my best friend had a baby (Hi, Victoria!). July was pretty low-key, and then in August B and I got engaged, and it's been a whirlwind ever since. It's going to be crazy hard to top 2013, but I have sneaking suspicion that a wedding/honeymoon/marriage will be able to do it!
I am so excited for all the wonderful changes coming up for B and me, as well as others in my family. However, it's nice to look back on old traditions, too.
One of my favorite traditions is the typical (Southern) New Year's Day meal: ham, black-eyed peas, and collard greens. Superstition goes that you will have wealth and prosperity in the new year if you eat these things on New Year's Day. Plus, I REALLY love cooking and eating collard greens - it just makes my little southern soul happy. This one is a no-brainer. My beloved collard greens recipe can be found here.
I will now, however, introduce you to my favorite, easiest, most delicious black-eyed pea recipe. A lot of people claim to not like black-eyed peas, but I'm fairly certain it's just because they have never had them prepared properly. And let me be straight with you - eating ANY veggie out of a can is not considered "prepared properly." Those of us who have grown up with good-cooking grandmas know how good black-eyed peas can be. But for us modern 21st-century gals who, you know, have to have a job and everything, there's an easy way to treat yourself to delicious home-cooking: put them in the Crock Pot.
Buy a 16-ounce bag of black-eyed peas. Rinse them and put them in the Crock Pot. Dump in four cups of chicken broth. Add some ham or bacon (whatever you've got around the house is fine - we had leftover ham from Christmas so we used that). Add a tablespoon of Cajun seasoning, and a little salt and pepper. Cook on low for 6 hours or so (don't let them go too much longer than that...they get a little mushy). That's it!
To all my lovely readers, I sincerely hope 2014 brings you health, happiness, and all kinds of adventures. However, in the event that it does not, rest assured that I'll be here to at least help bring you good food. Cheers!
Easy black-eyed peas
1 16-ounce bag of dried black-eyed peas
4 cups chicken broth
Ham or bacon for flavor (or you can leave it out)
1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning
salt and pepper to taste
Rinse beans and put into Crock Pot.
Add chicken broth, ham/bacon, Cajun seasoning, salt and pepper.
Cook on low for no more than 6 hours.
This recipe makes a lot, but these peas freeze really well. Just portion them out and stick in the freezer for a quick weeknight side dish. Happy New Year, and happy eating!