Monday, July 30, 2012

Childhood Favorites Times 10!

While palling around in the kitchen last evening, I got the idea for this recipe.  About 2 weeks ago, my sister Terry had brought S'mores fixings by for the kids.  I already had several go- to ingredients for bake, no-bake and easily assembled sweet treats for pop-up occasions.  I felt awful about not having prepared the S'mores yet, and I was determined to  make it happen!  While gathering the ingredients, I remembered the kid's eating a bowl Rice Crispy's cereal and enjoying them for snack and remembered I had Marshmallow Creme.  LIGHTBULB!, why not combine the two for a wonderful double treat!  With a few simple steps, this recipe was born.  The end product tastes amazing and is incredibly easy to make.  Try this recipe and see what I mean, these squares are a double treat the kids, big and small , will really love!
S'more's Crispy Squares
3 tbsp. salted butter
1/2 bag large marshmallows
1/2 large bag Rice Krispies or Crispy rice cereal
4 sheets graham crackers, broken into small and medium pieces
1 chocolate bar, broken into tiny pieces
1 7 oz. container, marshmallow creme
cocoa powder for dusting
In a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat, melt butter.   Once butter starts to form small bubbles, add marshmallows.  Stir until melted and a few of the marshmallows still have a little form, this forms mallow pockets in the finished product.   Pour in crispies, graham crackers and chocolate.
Fold until well blended and all cereal are coated.
Press into buttered or non stick sprayed dish to about a 1 inch thickness.
Dust with cocoa powder.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to set.   Makes 12-16 squares.(rectangles in this pan!) :)

Latin and Asian Fusion: Delectable Beef and Zucchini Wonton Cups

Looking for a quick and delicious recipe for entertaining.  This  is a sure fire winner for the crowd, especially if you like ground beef, veggies and wontons.  This recipe makes good use of your flavor building vegetables like peppers and onions too!  The prep time is minimal and the kids can even  take part, which helps encourage them to eat more variety in their diets. The presentation is spectacular with the two to three bite portions.  I did a lab last evening and my four year old, Bronwyn, thought they were delicious.  I  got rave reviews all around the board and the vegetables are inconspicuous to the little ones that may persnickety about what they eat.
These babies are packed with an outstanding profile of flavors.  Cumin and garlic are the key spices and the taste is reminiscent of eating scaled down Tostadas,  especially with the vibrant and tangy sauce I created to complement the savory wonton cups.  Monterey Jack cheese is featured in this recipe as well.
     Vegetarians and Vegans don't fret, they may easily be prepared sans beef for a satisfying medley of veggies.  Mushrooms may be added in place of the meat.  The zucchini in this recipe when sauteed lightly can create the idea of meat, so even the devout carnivore won't feel slighted in the least.  On the other hand, if you want a leaner menu item, simply substitute in lean ground chicken or turkey.  Do keep in mind that white meats will dry out faster, and become tough, so incorporate a little olive  or grapeseed oil to maintain  the moisture balance.   This recipe makes 24 cups, using a mini muffin pan, but feel free to double the recipe, depending on guest or family size.   For appetizer servings, it's 3 per person, serving 8.  Admittedly, it's not going to be easy sticking to that ratio, so plan to make more, many more!  
Delectable Beef n' Zucchini Wonton Cups
1/2 lb. ground beef
1 small onion, finely chopped
6  mini peppers, various colors, small dice, about 1/3 c.
1/2 soft beef bouillon cube, optional
1 jalapeno,, small dice   
2 c. zucchini, medium dice
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
24 wonton wrappers
Monterey Jack cheese
Chili Powder for garnish
Preheat oven to 375*F.
In a saute pan over medium high heat, add beef , bouillon and onions.  Once beef is  browned, add peppers and zucchini.  Cook for several minutes until veggies begin to soften. SPST.  Drain off excess oil and add spices.  Turn off heat.
Meanwhile, spray with non stick spray or lightly grease and press a wonton wrapper into each muffin hole, and  add equal amounts of ground beef mixture.  Top with desired amount of cheese crumbles or shreds.  Sprinkle tops with Chili Powder and bake until golden and bubbly, about 5 minutes. 
NOTE:  For extra crispy wonton shells, BAKE FIRST WITHOUT FILLING, until golden, several minutes, then fill and broil until cheese is melty and bubbly.
Meanwhile prepare the sauce:
1/2 c. fat free sour cream
1/3 c. good quality Ranch dressing
1 tsp. Sriracha 
splash of lime juice
  Mix all ingredients until  well blended.  SPST.  Transfer to serving bowl.                                                                                                                     

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Dorm Favorites Revisited: Fiery Miso Ramen w/Mussels

Many blogs back, I started developing recipes with Ramen noodles and  coined the results Dormitory  Gourmet, finding versatile and creative ways to enjoy the same thing without feeling like you are.  These recipes are not limited to just the dorm however, and can be fun and delicious at home as well.  Today's installment of the Dormitory Gourmet is a lovely and simple seafood dish, with wonderful Asian ingredients like Sambal Oelek and Miso.  Sambal Oekek is an Asian chili paste to add as little or as much heat as you can stand.  Miso is a staple in Asian cuisine and is made from fermented soybeans.  Miso imparts support to the broth and long simmered umami notes.  Lime juice adds a spark of citrusy freshness and  the mussels come already cooked, so the prep work is minimal.  Fresh tomato, parsley and garlic help round out the flavor and brighten the overall appearance.
Fiery Miso Ramen w/Mussels
1 lb. pkg. frozen, cooked mussels*
2 c. water
1/4 c. Miso paste**
1 clove garlic, pressed or finely minced
2 pkgs. Ramen noodles, using only ONE of the seasoning packets
1 medium tomato, quartered and de-seeded
2 tsp. Sambal Oelek**
1/4 c. fresh parsley, rough chopped
lime juice
lime wedges for serving
Olive oil for drizzling
In a heavy bottomed pot over medium high heat, add mussels, water and Miso paste.  Bring up to a boil and add Ramen and the seasoning packet.  Bring back up to a boil and stir in tomato crushed with your hands, garlic and Sambal Oelek.  Cover and let cook until most of liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes.
Stir in parsley.  Add a couple splashes of lime juice.  SPST. Drizzle with olive before serving.  Serves 4.

*Precooked mussels can be found in the frozen seafood section of larger supermarkets.
**Miso and Sambal Oelek can be found in specialty shops or grocers.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Cruciferous Goodness!

Right about now, gardens are yielding major harvests of various kinds.  We barely have time to preserve, utilize or give to friends and family before our gardens are ready to show us more of the good stuff.  Popular home garden veggies include green beans, corn, squash, cabbage, zucchini, peas, beets and broccoli to name a few.  Though some people grow broccoli at home, they may not be as partial to it's lighter colored cousin, cauliflower.  Both are in the cruciferous or cabbage family.  Cauliflower is rich in major vitamins and minerals, including potassium, magnesium and zinc, riboflavin,thiamine, and a host of other B vitamins.  Cauliflower is also rich in dietary fiber and phytochemicals known to reduce risks of certain cancers.  There are 4 major types of cauliflower and 4 major colors including white, green, orange and purple.  Cauliflower is best served raw or with relatively low cooking times, as with the extensive heat, there is a drastic breakdown of it's healthy chemical components.  Cauliflower makes for an excellent substitute for potatoes, being similar in taste and texture, but without the carbohydrate factor.  Today's recipe consists of fresh cauliflower and several ingredients of Asian origin to produce a quick and delicious side dish for any occasion.  This recipe is great, because aside from being delicious, it can also promote and maintain a healthy prostate for the men in your life.  Plus, the thermogenic effects of the chilies will help to raise the metabolism and burn more calories throughout the day!!!
Spicy Cauliflower Saute
1 head cauliflower
2 tbsp. rendered bacon fat or olive oil
2 dried Thai chilies
1 tsp. sambal oelek
2 tbsp. oyster sauce, plus 1 tbsp. water
pinch of brown sugar
scant pinch of allspice
1 clove garlic, pressed or finely minced
splash of lime juice
Preheat cast iron skillet or saute  pan to medium high heat.  Add oil.
Meanwhile,  remove thick inner stalk of cauliflower.   Slice from top to bottom in about 1/4 inch increments.  Season with PEPPER, THE SALT WILL BE ADDED LATER.
Carefully add cauliflower and Thai chilies to pan and shake slightly to get  cauliflower settled and caramelization on some of the slices.  
Cook for about 2 minutes undisturbed, then add  kosher salt to taste.  
After about 1 more minute, toss again to to allow other pieces to get some caramelization, and add sambal oelek, oyster sauce, brown sugar, allspice, garlic and lime juice.
Toss to coat.  Cook for 1 minute more and turn off heat.
Cauliflower should have bite and not be mushy, so DO NOT overcook.  
Some of the florets will break apart while sauteing and that is o.k.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Southern Comfort Foods!

Food can provide more than just sustenance and the building blocks for our body's physical and biological functions.  Food has been used as a glue for bringing families together via gatherings and special events.  We seek out certain foods when older that bring us comfort when we consume them, because they remind us of a time and place when things were less chaotic and have the psychological ability to lift our spirits when feeling low.  I can't really call it Southern Comfort Foods when I cook, because being from the south, (more like middle eastern south) these are foods I learned to prepare at a young age and and have been doing so concurrently to present day.  The foods you may have to travel to mom's or grandma's to eat every now and then, are a part of my regular menu planning.  You wouldn't have to wait until Thanksgiving to enjoy delicious Turkey and Stuffing with Yams and Broccoli Casserole. Easter is not the only time for delicious Ham, Yeast Rolls and Baked Macaroni and Cheese with a hearty helping of homemade Potato Salad.  Meatloaf with Savory Mashed Potatoes and Green Beans long simmered with ham fat is no stranger here.  Creamy Banana Pudding and Sweet Potato Cake with Poppy Seed Caramel Glaze, yeah I make those too. I  have developed those recipes with my own unique spin and I dare say  that I execute them rather well.  Basically, you can precipitate those comforting feelings at will and on the regular, being once every couple of months for time's sake and our waists' sake respectively. That being said, today's menu consists of BBQ Country Style Ribs, Garlic Scented Carrots w/ Peas, and hand picked greens that had been frozen from last harvest.  This menu invokes what I'd like to call SO-CO Nostalgia in that when I hear these foods names, especially the bbq country ribs, I automatically think of Sunday dinners and cookouts and spending time with my family, whom I hold dear.  I get that same feeling preparing these foods and when my people enjoy them so it's a win- win situation, full circle.  My comfort comes from knowing my family will enjoy those meals whole heartedly and give feedback on the highest points as well as possible ideas to make them even better.  Most of the time, they wouldn't change a thing, and that's really a comforting thought!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Garfield's Favorite, Lasagna!

Garfield movies have become my girls' and nephew's new favorite as per cartoon animal entertainment and was a go-to show when I was a young girl.  Most of us are familiar with Garfield and his habits including the consumption of  copious amounts of lasagna.  Needless to say, I have had lasagna on the brain for  few weeks now.   There are  numerous variations of Lasagna, the ever popular Italian dish, and I have several of my own including one with pepperoni, one with classic bechamel and no ricotta, as well as a couple with ricotta and ricotta/veggie blends.
The lasagna  I created today has more of a lighter combination, incorporating more veggies  in part because I had some that needed to be utilized before they lost freshness or expired.  Lean ground turkey is the main protein for this recipe, with about 1/2 lb. good quality ground beef for layering/flavor component.   The ricotta blend contains julienne of spinach, Pecorino Romano, and a scant amount of nutmeg, YES, NUTMEG. Nutmeg complements cheesy dishes and spinach very well.  Small diced zucchini is added for nutritional value and help absorb some of the flavors, like little flavor sponges!  The recipe turned out well and I'm looking forward to leftovers, since to me it tastes better the next day.  I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Having Your Tea with a Knife and Fork!

Many of us enjoy the wonderful and soothing benefits of drinking tea!  Whether it 's iced or brewed hot, teas can provide a plethora of medicinal and antioxidant contributions to our overall health.  Chinese Green Tea has been noted to offer benefits ranging from heart  and lymphatic system health to weight loss.  Whatever your motivation, it's a suitable solution for marinating proteins as well.  I created a recipe last evening using loose Chinese Green Tea and lemon as the primary flavor builder for grilled chicken leg quarters.  The end product was a subtly flavored and citrus scented  bird with lots of smoky infusion and a cacophonous blend of earthy tones.  Using this tea as a marinade, helps to infuse  the chicken with the boundless enzymes that make Chinese Green Tea so popular!  Feel free to use other parts of the chicken if you like. The longer you marinate it, the more pronounced the flavor.
Chinese Green Tea and Lemon Chicken
3 to 5lbs. chicken parts
1 tbsp. loose tea leaves
1 large lemon, halved and squeezed
1 soft chicken bouillon cube
olive oil for drizzling
seasoned salt
In a small saucepan, heat about 2 cups water with chicken cube and tea leaves.
Bring to a boil, and let tea steep in liquid until cooled.
Pour cooled liquid over chicken and SPST.  Add lemon and rind.  Fill vessel with cold water until chicken is just covered.  Refrigerate for several hours until ready to grill or roast. and
When ready to grill, drain and scrap off excess tea leaves, allowing some to stay for dexterity
Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with seasoned salt before grilling!.


I am always enthusiastic about developing recipes and sharing them with friends and family.  I especially appreciate it when certain recipes stand out to my family members and they request   an encore appearance!!  Last summer, I really began to work on recipes with zucchini because it was so abundant in our gardens and versatile, not to mention very nutritious. I created various muffin and cake recipes and found a happy medium that my sister Bonnie and her husband really liked.  With this in mind, Bonnie recalled a cake I made last summer and requested one for her family!! Naturally, I obliged!  With a little brainstorming, I made slight alterations and put the recipe to paper.  I tweaked and fine tuned until I felt that I'd achieved a recipe that people would want to re-create at home.  The result is a very moist and quite delicious product that could easily WOW your taste buds into melodious submission.  Lemon zest and shredded coconut contributes to the bright citrusy notes and the texture.  Buttermilk lends amazing moisture and flavor. Unsweetened cocoa deliver mellow chocolate tones and  rich color. Two types of sugar add balance and the subtle molasses imparts color and more flavor abound!  This cake is made completely from scratch including a Vanilla Buttermilk Frosting that really brings the recipe together.  I'm still debating on keeping the recipe as a signature cake or sharing with everyone because I think it's pretty awesome.  Not being pompous in the least, I judge this idea on the fact that my girls loved it and my sister Hollie who doesn't normally indulge in sweets, said it 'made her mouth say Mmm'! LOL.  Last but not least, my mom thought highly of it as well, and she is my most discerning critic! I take that as a win for team Neillio! Go me! It's my Birthday...CAKE!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Tasty Local Fare: Thanks Frank's!

My family and I don't eat out often, but every now and then we enjoy pizza from local pizza establishments, because we do believe in supporting small businesses. Normally, I make our pizzas at home, which is quite easy and cost efficient.  We ordered out from Frank's Pizza on Clarion road in Altavista.  They have a varied selection of pasta and things Italian and white, red and pink sauces. The thin glutenous crust reminds me of slices from trips I made up north in the days of old.  Frank's has a great special with an extra large pie with all the meats if you choose or choice toppings and comes with a small cheese pie to boot.  At around $21, this deal is just so, and is enough for 4 adults and 3 children.  The pizza was surprisingly good with the sauce applied just right and the toppings crisp, fresh tasting, and a slightly chewy crust that is not filling and bloaty like some places.  The slices are HUGE, and remind me of carnival fare, when it's expensive and the taste is money!  The deal is totally worth it and throw in a simple green salad, you have a complete and satisfying meal for the whole family plus a guest or two!!  Thanks Frank's for making eating out make sense for my family and our money!!!
Frank's Pizza
Clarion Rd, Altavista

434) 309-1254  That's my nephew Braelyn sporting his new Mohawk and noshing on Frank's!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Open Faced Peach Mango Cobbler w/Crystallized Ginger

Hey folks.  I hope you missed me.  My computer  adapter went bad and I had to replace it.  Anywho, I've had quite some experiences and some awesome new recipes since we last chatted.  Starting with a nice summery cobbler  fresh with peaches and mangoes, topped with some whipped cream.  I came up with this recipe on Saturday to utilize two mangoes I had purchased that were extremely ripe and could only possibly become a smoothie or  part of a fruit salad glaze.  The peaches I purchased were  originally for another recipe idea, but I will share that recipe later in the week.  Packed with B vitamins and minerals essential for healthy bones, eyes, teeth, skin and cell function,  peaches and mangoes are wonderful and bright with natural, juicy sweetness, unmatched by many.  This cobbler is a little more figure friendly in that there is only one crust as opposed to the traditional two.  Ginger makes a  notable appearance in this recipe for a natural spiciness and the luxury of being one of the super spices and high in antioxidants.  This is what I like to call a 'lazy cobbler' in that the effort is minimal with a store bought, roll out crust and the reward is great!! 
4 fresh peaches, sliced 
2 mangoes, sliced and mashed through a sieve
juice of half of lemon
3 tbsp. brown sugar
2 tsp. cornstarch
2 tbsp. salted butter, cut into small pieces
1 tbsp. crystallized ginger
1 roll out pie crust
pinch kosher
milk, for brushing crust
Preheat oven to 375*F.  
Place peaches and mango puree in a medium bowl. Squeeze in lemon.  
Toss brown sugar, cornstarch and salt together until they form small, even granules and blend with fruit.
Using a heavy duty piece of foil, press into a 10 inch cast iron skillet and coat with a small amount of butter.  
Un-roll pie crust over skillet and gently press into pan.  Pour in fruit mixture.
Fold excess dough onto fruit and gently brush pastry with milk using a pastry brush or silicone baster.  Sprinkle with crystallized ginger and dot with butter pieces.
Bake until golden and and bubbly, about 45 minutes.  
Let cool for about 20 minutes, then lift foil and all to a serving plate.  

let stand for 10 more minutes before serving and use a large spoon or spatula.
Garnish with whipped cream.  Serves 6

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Only Fried Chicken Recipe You Will Ever Need!

Chicken is the most popular meat in the United States.  Diverse and a virtual blank canvas for showcasing flavors, poultry is a protein that can stand on it's own.  Of all the tens of thousands of recipes out there for chicken, there aren't too many for really delicious Fried Chicken recipes worth sharing.  Yeah I know, everyone's heard the cliche about black people, fried chicken and watermelon, LOL , but well prepared chicken has no color divide-if it's good, then it's just darn good.  I dare venture to say that if you like chicken, you probably love fried chicken.  Lots of people have left it up to the ole' pros like "KFC, Popeye's, and Bojangle's,"  but in my opinion, in the later years, these establishments have left a little to be desired in the satisfaction factor, cutting costs at the expense of flavor and raising prices.  There seems to be something missing from the overall taste that has morphed and digressed since back in the day when it was actually worth the money!! Again, my opinion!  I have spent countless hours perfecting my Fried Chicken and I must say that I've gotten pretty damned good at it!  Here is a variation of my family famous Fried Chicken recipe!  I am confident that you may not want another go-to recipe after this one.  Enjoy!
Spicy Buttermilk Fried Chicken
1 whole cut up frying chicken, 8 pieces, about 3 to 4 lbs.
sambal oelek*
1/4 c. fish sauce, optional
2 c. seasoned flour
1 tbsp. chili powder
2 tsp. onion powder
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. ground mustard
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2. tsp. allspice
Place cut up chicken into bowl and lightly SPST.  Pierce all over with a fork for extra flavor permeation.  Pour in about 2 cups of buttermilk and add about 2 tsp. sambal oelek and fish sauce.  Toss or stir to coat and transfer to a large resealable bag, pressing out excess air.  Refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours.
When ready, heat 3 inches of oil in dutch oven or other heavy bottomed vessel that retains heat well.  
Meanwhile, mix seasoned flour with spices in large bowl or resealable bag and mix well.  Working in batches, starting with the larger pieces, toss drained but NOT rinsed chicken 4 pieces at a time in the flour, shaking off excess.  Fry until cooked through and golden brown.  A good indicator is the chicken will float and you will visibly see steam escaping from pieces, about 12 minutes for large, 6 for small.
Stagger the chicken adding process to maintain the temperature of the oil, about 3 minutes apart.  Drain on paper towels. SPST.  Serve hot or cold. Serves 4 to 6.
Sambal oelek is an Asian chili paste found in specialty markets.  If you cannot find it, substitute 2 tbsp. Sriracha or about 1/4 cup hot sauce.  If spicy is not your thing, omit it completely.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Five Star Mashed Potatoes!

Every good roasted chicken recipe needs a great side dish to really send it home.  Enter the mashed potatoes,  This recipe is super easy and delicious and can be prepped along side the chicken  in the oven for a satisfying and impressive meal for two or ten!
Roasted Garlic and Jalapeno Mashed Potatoes w/ Swiss Cheese
2 1/2 lb. potatoes, preferably baking
1 bulb roasted garlic and 2-3 roasted jalapenos
1/2 c. milk
2 tbsp. butter
5 slices Swiss cheese
olive oil for drizzling
Bake potatoes drizzled with olive oil and SPST  in oven or microwave until tender.  Let cool enough to handle.
Preheat oven to 450*F.
Add to large bowl and add roasted garlic bulb and chopped jalapenos.
Add milk, butter, and SPST.
Mash potatoes until smooth, leaving a few small chunks for texture.
Place potatoes in baking dish and spread evenly.  Top with slices of Swiss cheese and broil until cheese is bubbly and golden, about 10 minutes. Drizzle with olive and SPST. Serves 8-10.

Friday the 13th! You Ain't Chicken Are You?

Happy Friday the 13th.  I hope you have your marathon set up to pay homage to the character that has brought us many a sleepless night and nervous laughter!  I absolutely love  the Friday series and the childhood memories of utter terror which they have invoked over the years.   Anywho, today is a decidedly roast chicken day!!  My sister Hollie made a request and  I obliged of course, she is after all my baby sister.  The recipe is my own and we have enjoyed it tremendously throughout this year and it isn't even the slightest bit boring yet!  I created a wonderful mashed potato recipe that complements the bird very well and would like to share them with you.!!  These recipes may be prepared simultaneously in the oven for a relatively stress free dinner affair to easily rival actually eating out in a restaurant.
Summer Roasted Whole Bird
1 3lb. chicken, rinsed and patted dry
1 pkg. garlic and herb salad dressing
2 tbsp. seasoned rice vinegar
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. water
4 green onions, quartered
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 stalk celery, cut into thirds
1 lime, cut in half
olive oil for drizzling
Preheat oven to 350*F.
Mix half contents of salad dressing package in small jar and add vinegar, olive oil and water.  Shake well and using a flavor injector, inject equal parts of marinade into the breasts and thighs of the bird.  
Fill cavity with veggies, alternating so that they are evenly disbursed.  Truss legs.
Rub whole bird with olive oil and place in dutch oven with lid. 
Bake for 1 1/2 hours, basting with juices two or three times during the last 30 minutes.  Let rest for about 15 minutes before carving.  serves 6 to 8.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Easy Marinades for Pork and Chicken

Greetings!  Looking for a way to enhance the taste of a pork tenderloin using ingredients right out of the fridge and pantry?  Consider these simple ideas.  For a Teriyaki flavor simply mix 1/3 cup soy sauce with 2 tbsp. brown sugar, 1 tsp. fresh OR ground ginger and 2 tsp. fresh OR 1 tsp. powdered garlic. I like to add the juice of one lime and sliced green onion too.  
For an Italian marinade mix equal parts oil and vinegar, and a handful of fresh chopped herbs and a pinch of kosher salt. 
For a Hispanic influence, make a dry rub using cumin, garlic, Mexican oregano, and chili powder. Add about 1 tsp. of salt to the spice blend and rub protein vigorously with it.  Let stand at room temperature for about 1 hour and brush with olive oil before grilling or baking.  Serve with your choice of grains or starches and veggies any style.  These recipes are sure to please and score you some cool points in the kitchen with your family!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Olive Garden on a Budget!

Many of us enjoy dining out from time to time.  Some of us dine out several times a week or even daily! As for me, however it is far and in between.  I don't miss it so much though, because it can be a costly endeavor.  Aside from cost, there is implementing the quality of the food as well as the people who prepare it.  Some leave quite a bit to be desired in the personal hygiene department and those personal short comings may manifest itself on your plates. That fact in itself is what makes me content dining out at home.  I do this by creating my own spins on popular menu items and preparing them at home. Dining out at home is formidable for many reasons.  First, being cost efficient.  By the time the meals for 4  are ordered and perhaps drinks, maybe dessert, plus tips, we find ourselves spending upwards to the sum of around $65 to $70.  The second benefit to dining at home is you can control the quality of the ingredients.  Third, we can adjust the sodium levels and added fats, and you can always handle a special order item because you already know your family's likes and dislikes beforehand.  Lastly, if you enjoy cooking as I do, it's always fun to duplicate tastes you've experienced out, at home.  By all means, get out and be treated from time to time, and let someone else worry about the prep and cleanup, you deserve it!!  If you enjoy pastas and rich, creamy cheese sauces like you may find at the Olive Garden, then give this easy recipe a try.
Chicken Broccoli Fettuccine Alfredo w/ Shaved Carrot
1 1/2 lbs. skinless, boneless chicken breast, cubed or cut into thin strips
1 soft chicken bouillon cube
1 lb. fresh or frozen cut broccoli or florets
1 1lb. box fettuccine
1 carrot, shaved with peeler
1 large onion, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, pressed or finely minced
2 tbsp. fresh oregano, roughly chopped
1 jar Alfredo sauce
Olive Oil for drizzling
 SPST (Salt and Pepper to Suit your Taste)
In a medium bowl, place chicken, drizzle with olive oil and toss with fresh oregano.  Let stand for 5 minutes while saute pan heats up.  
Start salted  pasta water for fettuccine.  When ready add pasta and broccoli to same water and cook until pasta is almost al dente, about 8 minutes.  Drain but do not rinse and save about 1/2 c. pasta water to adjust consistency later if needed.
Meanwhile, in a large saute pan over medium high heat, drizzle in a little olive oil and add chicken and bouillon cube.  Cook for about two minutes.  Add all veggies except broccoli and cook until chicken is no longer pink and the juices run clear.  The onions should be translucent as well, about 6 minutes.  
Add pasta and broccoli  to saute pan and toss together.  Add Alfredo sauce and a little of the pasta water and toss with tongs.  Cover with tight fitting lid and turn off heat.  Allow for excess liquid absorption and flavors to marry.  Drizzle with olive oil.  Serve with simple salad and garlic bread or bread sticks.
This version is served family style, but for a more refined restaurant presentation, simply use chicken tenders in place of strips or chunks,and sear on both sides until slightly golden and cooked through, about 5 minutes.  Cook veggies until softened with 2 tbsp. butter in saute pan before adding Alfredo, pasta and broccoli.  Place 3 tenders atop  each 1 1/2 cup serving of the Fettuccine and Broccoli Alfredo. Garnish with fresh herbs and olive oil.  You may also add halved black olives to the pasta for a wonderful brininess and texture.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Holy Flipping Flapjacks Batman, These are Amazing!

Want to kick up the flavor in your everyday pancakes, try this quick and easy flapjack fixer upper!
Buttermilk Cheddar Bacon Pancakes
buttermilk pancake mix
real  bacon pieces
finely shredded mild Cheddar cheese
Mix your desired amount of batter according to directions.  After mixing. fold in bacon pieces and cheese.  Serve with real maple syrup, warmed and fresh fruit!!  Sweet,Salty and Savory!  Delicious!
As a general rule of thumb, use about 1/3 c. cheese and 1/4 c. bacon pieces per 2 cups batter! You can also make Belgian waffles with the same recipe.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

South of the Border, Shell Yeah!

With the current power issues, it's good to know that your possibilities are not limited to just hamburgers and hotdogs when cooking on the grill.  For a wonderful deviation from the norm, make some simple, easy and delicious chicken fajitas and tacos.  Using a cast iron skillet really helps with maintaining a constant temperature and achieving a great sear.  Ingredients include a variety of colored peppers, sliced onion and garlic.  Cut the chicken into thin strips and toss with little chili powder, cumin,  Mexican oregano and SPST.  A general rule of thumb for me is about 4 cups of prepped veggies per 1 1/2 lbs. protein.
Drizzle pan with olive oil and when the oil just starts to smoke, add veggies.  After several minutes, add chicken.  When chicken is no longer pink and the juices run clear, add some fajita seasoning with a little water and simmer for about 5 minutes.  Serve in hard and soft taco shells with salsa, sour cream, guacamole, cilantro and Sriracha chili sauce.  Easy sides include canned refried beans, heated, grilled corn with Chili Lime Butter and Mexican style rice with sofrito (sauteed and simmered tomatoes, peppers, onions, broth and olive oil) which can all be prepared on your grill.  Coronas and sparkling beverages go great before, during and after for for a little refreshing appetite stimulant!!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Cheesesteak Bar!!

Looking for a cookout experience with a little flair.  Set up a cheesesteak bar!!!  I created one for our get together yesterday and it was a big hit!!  It's pretty easy and your friends and family will love building their own cheesesteaks to suit their personal tastes.  Throw in a couple of easy appetizers and  side dishes and you have an awesome meal to remember.  I made a simple dip of cheese sauce and Rotel or other tomato and chilies blend heated until bubbling  and served it with plenty of tortilla chips.  I also made a Hawaiian Style roasted wings.  For the cheesesteak bar, I made a master batch with both sliced and chopped steak for texture variance.  I used a very large cast iron skillet to cook the components of the cheesesteak on the grill over charcoal.  It really infuses the veggies and steak with a wonderful smoky flavor. I had both sub and hotdog buns for stuffing.  I added green and orange peppers, sliced onions and mushrooms.  I made the steak extra savory by using Better Than Bouillon in place of salt.  It really adds depth and long simmered flavor especially  to  quick cooking meats.  I also added julienne of pepperoni for more texture and taste.  Arrange all the fixings like lettuce, tomatoes, two types of cheese, dill pickle slices, banana peppers, bread and butter chips, ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise.  Throw in some steamed corn and pasta salad and the rest will take care of itself. For dessert, put out some fresh,water rich fruit like cantaloupes and watermelons.  This is an event definitely for special occasions and small groups because it can get costly, but it is totally worth the expense when you see the smiles on your guests' faces.  

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Better than Yo Mamma's Brisket!

Some late afternoon low maintenance grilling yielded quite the tasty spoils.  Two of my sisters have been affected by the widespread power outages, and one of them, Terry brought with her a gorgeous brisket, which I "Grub Rubbed" and smoked/grilled to melt in your mouth perfection.  During the last hour of grilling, I threw on some whole, un-shucked sweet corn and let is steam over the moderately low heat.  I also made a macaroni salad with lots of veggies fresh from my sister Gayle's garden and also from my own.  The smoky grilled items complemented each other well.  Stay tuned if you need a go -to Macaroni Salad recipe.  I have had quite an energy draining day with copious amounts of after -storm brush/debris and a couple of large limbs, one of which fell on my car.  Luckily, there was only minor damage, Thank You Lord! I will share the recipe at hand, but as my bones and joints ache from prior injuries and fatigue, coupled with an enjoyable dinner, I must admit to suffering from an outbreak of the ITIS!!:)  Rest Well Brethren!!