Sunday, August 31, 2008

Labor Day Weekend

It's been a very busy week and an even busier weekend, but I promise new posts are coming soon. Tomorrow is Labor Day so I've got the whole day to work on my blog. Lots of fun posts, including more canned tomatoes, meals at my parent's house and even some takeout Chinese food thrown in for a little change of pace. Stay tuned!
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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Skillet Beef Stroganoff

We enjoyed the Skillet Beef Stroganoff so much that I made it for dinner again tonight:

And it was just as good, if not better. I don't know why this recipe is so amazing, but it seems like it's one of those "perfect every time" meals that works well as a weeknight meal. We all but licked the pan clean.
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Spaghetti and Garlic Bread with Cheese

Looks like a nice plate of past and sauce, right?

Unfortunately this sauce was just wrong. All wrong. I wanted to use up some carrots and celery that I had in the fridge, so I minced 2 or 3 carrots in the food processor with two stalks of celery and an onion, along with some garlic. I guess it was just too much carrot because the sauce was too sweet. And the red pepper flake did nothing to balance that sweetness.

At least the garlic bread with cheese was good.
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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Grilled Steak Dinner

The weather has been absolutely gorgeous lately, so we wanted to have a nice summery meal. I got some beets at the farmers market by my office so I made another beet, goat cheese and arugula salad:

I also got some corn, cherry tomatoes and cilantro at the market for my grilled corn salad:

I realized I didn't have any red onion so I had to sub shallot. It wasn't quite the same, but it still worked well. We bought some sirloin steaks at the Amish butcher. SP got the grill nice and hot and cooked the steaks perfectly:

Just look at that char. Gorgeous. I seasoned the steaks simply with salt and pepper and finished them with a little sea salt once they came off the grill. Here's my plate:

We also had baked potatoes with sour cream and fresh chives. I made a rosemary butter to melt over the steaks:

It was a fantastic dinner. I love the flavor the grill imparts to anything you put on it.
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Sleeping Kitty

It was a hot, sunny day today and our cat was enjoying sleeping in the sun:

Look at that little face:

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Canadian Bennies

It's been a long time since I made these Canadian Bennies for breakfast, but they were just as good as we remembered. SP loves the sauce so much he practically licks the plate clean (actually, he uses bread).

I poached my eggs so the yolks were still runny:

I really love that golden yellow color. I tried to make the sauce a smidge healthier by using half milk and half cream (and I only used 3/4 cup instead of a full cup so we wouldn't have too much sauce).

Canadian Bennies
Adapted from Rachael Ray

4 tablespoons butter, divided
4 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 scallions, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
3/4 cup heavy cream (or a combo of milk and half and half)
8 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded
2 English muffins, split in half and toasted
8 slices Canadian bacon
Splash of white vinegar
4 large eggs

Melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat in a small pot. Add tomatoes and scallions and season with salt and pepper. Saute 2 minutes then stir in cream and let it reduce 10 minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in cheddar cheese.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons butter to the skillet and melt it. Cook Canadian bacon 2 to 3 minutes on each side.

Fill a large pot or skillet halfway with water and bring to a gentle simmer. Add a splash of white vinegar and stir. Crack an egg into a small bowl. Gently lower the bowl to the surface of the water and slip in the egg. Repeat with remaining eggs. Poach for 5 minutes for runny yolks.

To serve, place both halves of an English muffin on a plate. Top both halves with two slices of Canadian bacon. Remove poached eggs from the water, drain quickly on a paper towel then place on top of the bacon. Ladle the tomato cheddar cream sauce over the top. Serve immediately.
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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Stewart's Root Beer

When I was growing up my dad used to take me to Stewart's Root Beer to "eat on the window" (aka tray service). I loved the novelty of eating in the car, the frosty mug of root beer and the fantastic burger and fries. SP and I found ourselves near a Stewart's today (not the one linked above, that's just the only one with a Web site) so we stopped for lunch. We both ordered a double California cheeseburger, along with fries and onion rings:

I love the fries here because they actually taste like potato:

... and the onion rings are crispy and crunchy:

The burgers are on the small side here, but a double is perfect:

The California is served with lots of lettuce, a thick slice of tomato, thin slices of raw onion and a smear of mayo, along with plenty of melty, gooey cheese:

No meal at a Stewart's would be complete without a frosty mug of root beer:

This Stewart's has only outside seating so it's seasonal. I love that I can go somewhere I went with my father over 15 years ago and everything is exactly the same.

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Pizza Friday

This week's Pizza Friday was sausage and onion:

... a combination we haven't had in awhile. I had cooked this sausage with a little sliced onion awhile ago with the intention of freezing it in small containers to use for pizza toppings. In fact, this whole pizza was a freezer meal because the sauce was also something I'd made awhile ago and frozen. I was a little worried about how the flavors would be but this turned out to be one of the best pizzas I've made in a long time.

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My Jibbitz finally arrived (thanks, Mom!!):

I got four so I'd have two for each shoe. On the left shoe I have a burger and fries:

... and on the right shoe is a whisk and a chef's hat:

So far I'm loving these shoes. I still won't wear them out of the house, but I love how comfortable they are for marathon cooking sessions.
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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Pasta with Beet and Gorgonzola Sauce

As I'm sure you've all noticed, I've been buying beets at the farmers market quite often. I love them and could eat beet and goat cheese salad every week, but SP mentioned wanting a little variety. I thought a creamy beet pasta sauce might be nice, so I did a search and found this recipe. All the ingredients sounded good, so I decided to make it for dinner tonight. The result was certainly gorgeous to look at:

But the flavor just wasn't there. We tried adding salt, pepper, more gorgonzola, but nothing helped. It's rare that a dish is so bad that we throw all of it away, but we did just that. Nothing pains me more, but this just wasn't worth saving. SP told me he was wrong, that he loves beet and goat cheese salad and begged me not to experiment with beets anymore. Ha!

Wanna know what we had for dinner instead? It's so wrong (especially since I've been so good about exercising lately) but we went to Wendy's. I got a Baconator and a small order of fries:

I wanted the Spicy Baconator they used to have, but I guess they stopped carrying it. It was greasy and the fries were limp and on the cold side, but it still hit the spot. Oh well.
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Grilled Pork Chops, Cheesy Orzo and Grilled Zucchini

After the success of the grilled pork chops we had last week, we decided to have them again. SP manned the grill and turned out moist, flavorful chops:

We also grilled some zucchini I'd gotten at the farmers market near my office:

... and I made some cheesy orzo:

To make the orzo I cooked some onion and garlic in a pan, then I added 2 cans of chicken broth and brought it to a boil before adding 2 cups of orzo. As the orzo cooked I chopped some herbs from my garden (basil, chives, rosemary and parsley). Once the orzo was cooked I mixed in the herbs, a splash of heavy cream and seasoned it with salt and pepper. Just before serving I added a generous amount of shredded Pecorino cheese. This stuff is so good we just kept eating and eating.
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Monday, August 18, 2008

Chicken Cobb Burger

I recently joined a cooking group called Dinner Divas. The best part about the group is there are no rules. You can make the recipes, or not. You can take as many breaks as you want. The whole point is to see how many different ways people can make the same recipe. The first recipe was for a Chicken Cobb Burger:

I loved the concept, so I was excited to make this burger. I've never cooked with ground chicken before and seriously considered making this with ground beef instead, but in the end I stuck with the ground chicken. It worked out very well. The flavors were incredible. SP was supposed to be out for dinner tonight but he came home just as I was sitting down to eat. He hadn't been interested in this meal (hence why I was making it when he wasn't home) but as he watched me eat he said it looked really good. I'll definitely be making this again for the both of us.

My one complaint was my own fault - the burger was just too big. Eating it was quite a challenge. Just look at this inside shot:

The problem was I doubted myself. The package of ground chicken was one pound, so I started out using half the meat with the intention of freezing the rest. But then the patties looked so small that I decided to use the full pound, which made two half-pound burgers. Once I added all the toppings it was just too much. Next time I'll make 1/4-pound burgers for sure.

Below is the recipe with my slight modifications. A few other women have already made the recipe and I took a few notes from each of them, mainly from Sissy, who had the brilliant idea of making the avocado into guacamole and the dressing into a mayo-based spread.

Chicken Cobb Burger
Modified from a recipe by Bobby Flay

For the burgers:
4 strips bacon
1 pound ground chicken
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese
2 burger buns, split and toasted
2 small tomatoes (I used tomatoes from my garden
1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and mashed
1 small clove garlic, minced
Fresh lemon juice

For the dressing spread:
1/2 cup mayo
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Dash of sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup spring mix

Preheat the toaster oven to 400 degrees. Place the strips of bacon on the toaster oven pan lined with foil and cook until crispy, about 15 minutes.

Put the ground chicken in a bowl and add the chopped parsley, salt, pepper and ricotta cheese. Mix well and form into balls (I made two, but this should have made four). Stuff a little of the gorgonzola into each ball of meat then forming a patty around it. Heat a non-stick griddle over medium-low heat and cooked the burgers until they are golden brown on both sides, covering them with a pot lid so they cook all the way through.

Whisk together the mayo, vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, Worcestershire, sugar, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Once the bacon is cooked, drain on paper towels and toast the buns. Put some of the dressing spread on both bun halves, then top with some lettuce, the burger, and finish with some guacamole, tomato and bacon.
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Sunday Dinner

On Sunday, after a full day of canning tomatoes, my mom, stepdad and I whipped up a nice dinner. SP and my stepgrandmother came over as well and we all feasted on mozzarella, tomato and basil:

... a quick corn salad I threw together using the leftover corn from Saturday and whatever my mom had on hand:

... a few half-sour pickles SP brought from our stash at home (the ones I got at the farmer's market near my office):

We also had lobster rolls:

... made with rich, lucious lobster meat and a little mayo to hold it together. They were served in buttered and grilled split-top rolls. We also had fresh pork roll and summer sausages, along with more sliders. Over dinner the night before my stepdad mentioned enjoying the cooked onion they serve on White Castle burgers, so we decided to make our own version:

I finely minced some onion and cooked it low and slow, then once the mini burgers came off the grill I topped each with a little of the onion:

They were really tasty! My family is really loving the mini burger these days. My plate, with two sliders, a lobster roll, pickle, corn salad and mozzarella, tomato and basil:

After all that yummy food I didn't think I'd have room for dessert, but my parents had a ton of beautifully ripe, fresh peaches just begging to be eaten. My mom mixed the cut peaches with a little orange juice and brown sugar, then I cooked them in a pan with a little butter so the sugar and juice formed a thick syrup. We served the hot peaches with vanilla ice cream:

... for a semi-healthy, absolutely delicious summer dessert.
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Canning Tomatoes

And now for the main event - the canning of the tomatoes. We started with a box of seconds (also known as ugly) tomatoes from the farmer's market. This is half the box, all washed and ready to go:

Here's a close-up of the jars, lids and rings:

... and the whole set up (all the tomatoes, jars, lids and rings):

Here's our work station at the kitchen counter:

We each get a bowl for the tomato skins and seeds and the pot in the middle is where the tomatoes go once they're peeled and seeded. I couldn't resist posting a photo of my newest aquisition:

Yup, I've joined the masses with my very own pair of Crocs. I managed to avoid the hysteria until now, but the bottom line is that I have no good shoes to wear when I cook and my feet hurt when I'm standing around the kitchen for too long. Canning this weekend seemed like the perfect time to buy a pair and test them out. I went loud with the fuschia and I'm really getting into it with the purchase of some jibbitz. They should be here next weekend so I'll post a new photo once they've been installed.

Here's me peeling up the final tomato:

You see all the tomatoes in the pot? That was a lot of hard work! Here's the pot with the freshly peeled and seeded tomatoes:

... and the pot after the tomatoes had cooked down slighly. You can see the difference in height. Tomatoes have a ton of water in them:

And, finally, the finished product:

Aren't they beautiful? I love the deep red color:

We love canning, especially because all that hard work is so rewarding when you see the gorgeous red jars all lined up. And it's even better in the winter when you open a jar and release a breath of summer.
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When I was in high school I hated eating breakfast before school. In an attempt to start off my days in a healthy way my mom started making me breakfast every morning. A staple was a fried egg, deli ham rolled into a log and a hash brown potato crisped up in the toaster oven. As a trip down memory lane my mom fixed me a similar breakfast Sunday morning before we started canning:

Instead of the hash brown I cooked up some cut potatoes and onion in a pan. It was a great way to start the morning. I wanted to include this picture of my mom's cast iron skillet. Recently she and my stepdad started cooking solely in cast iron. I'm so jealous - look at this, she's making eggs in here:

This pan is so well-seasoned that she used just a smidge of butter and nothing stuck. Pretty impressive! I wish I had that kind of pan.
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