Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Choice: Garlic Chicken Cutlets and Harvest Vegetable Pasta

Since it's been a while, let's recap: Gabby moves in next door to Travis. He's a veterinarian. He helps her dog deliver a litter of puppies. Travis invites Gabby to a get-together with his friends. (Click here to see what they feasted on at the beach.) Later he grills some shrimp kebobs for her. Gabby likes Travis but doesn't want to break up with her boyfriend. Meanwhile she keeps seeing Travis, and one night she decides to cook something for him. She knows that he likes chicken breasts, because he cooks them for himself almost every night. Gabby prepares a simple meal of chicken, pasta, and salad:

She added the pasta to the water with a dash of salt, unwrapped the chicken, and began to saute' it in olive oil, wishing she could have done something a bit fancier. She added a bit of pepper and other seasonings, but by the end, it looked almost as boring as it had before she started. Never mind, it would have to do. (The Choice, p. 169)

I knew exactly what I wanted to cook, something I'd done before: Rachael Ray's Brazilian Chicken Cutlets with Raw Tropical Sauce. I pulled out the recipe, shopped for the ingredients, worked out a way to make my meal gluten free, and got started. In the end, though, I ended up cooking something much simpler, because a). it was the day before Thanksgiving and I already had lots to do, and b). when I started to cut my mango for the raw tropical sauce, I realized it wasn't ripe. I still haven't quite gotten the hang of choosing a mango at the perfect ripeness. Needless to say, there was no raw tropical sauce. (Never mind; it would have to do.)

I did make a nice garlic paste like the recipe says (although, despite my efforts with my mortar and pestle to make it paste-like, it was more like a sauce) and after splitting and pounding the chicken breasts, I marinated the chicken in the garlic paste, dipped them in gluten-free breading, and sauteed them in olive oil. Here's the abbreviated version that I cooked:

• 8 to 10 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• Zest and juice of 1 lemon, divided
• 1/2 cup (a large handful) parsley, chopped
• A few dashes hot sauce

• Make a paste for the cutlets by placing the garlic into a bowl with a small pinch of salt. Using a spoon, mash the salt and garlic together into a paste. Add in the lemon juice, parsley, hot sauce and some freshly ground black pepper, and reserve.

• Flatten the chicken breasts into cutlets by butterflying each piece. Open each breast up and pound them out by placing them into a large zipper bag one at a time with a small amount of water. Seal the bag, squeezing out as much air as you can. Pound the chicken with a small, cast iron skillet until it's evenly thin. As you finish each breast, place them into another large plastic zipper bag or mixing bowl.

• Once all the breasts are pounded out, add the garlic paste to the zipper bag or bowl and toss the chicken around to coat it evenly. Marinate for about 10 minutes.

This is me again: I coated the chicken in gluten free breading, then:

Place a large skillet over medium high heat with 2 turns of the pan of EVOO, about 2 tablespoons. Once hot, cook the cutlets in batches until golden brown on each side and cooked through, 4-5 minutes per side, adding more oil to the pan as needed between batches. As each cutlet finishes cooking, transfer them to a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven while the others finish.

They weren't as "fancy" as I had planned, but quite good nonetheless, and definitely quicker. I made a mental note to make this again soon and post the entire recipe. (It may be a while. I recently bought a huge jar of mango-peach salsa at Costco to serve with appetizers at Christmas; I'm thinking that it will go very well with these chicken breasts.)

I did manage to make a pretty delicious pasta dish, another recipe I got from Rachael Ray, probably more elaborate than Gabby's:



1 pound whole wheat* penne
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 large or 4 small zucchini, chopped into bite-size chunks
1 yellow squash, chopped into bite-size chunks
1 red pepper, chopped into bite-size chunks
1 red onion, chopped into bite-size chunks
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), divided
1/4 cup sliced almonds, blanched and toasted**
1 cup basil
3/4 cup parsley
1/4 cup mint
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
1 to 1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese

Place a large pot of water over high heat and bring up to a boil to cook the pasta. Once at a boil, add some salt and the pasta and cook until al dente, according to package directions. Right before draining, remove and reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Drain pasta thoroughly, return to the pot and reserve.

While the pasta is cooking, place chopped zucchini, yellow squash, red pepper and onion on baking sheet. Drizzle the vegetables with 3 tablespoons EVOO, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast for about 15 minutes or until tender and golden brown.
While vegetables are roasting, place the almonds**, herbs, garlic, some salt and pepper in a food processor. Pulse the processor while drizzling in the 1/4 cup EVOO. Transfer the pesto to a large mixing bowl and mix in the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Add the cup of reserved pasta-cooking liquid to the bowl and mix it to combine. Add the pasta and the roasted veggies to the bowl and give it a good toss to coat everything with the pesto.

In a small mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese and freshly ground black pepper. Spoon pasta into 6 dishes and top each dish with dollop of the peppery ricotta mixture.

*My family balks at whole wheat pasta. I used regular penne, and gluten free rice penne for myself.

**Moe is allergic to nuts. I left out the almonds.

Gabby makes Travis a nice salad with cheese and croutons. I cut up some gluten-free bread, added olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and roasted them for about 10 minutes. They were great on my tossed salad, especially with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese on top. Gabby also chooses an Australian Chardonnay to go with the meal. (It must have taken me fifteen minutes of wandering around the wine store looking for Australian Chardonnay. I hoped none of the store employees would come up to me and ask if I needed any help; I knew I would feel silly explaining that I needed an Australian Chardonnay for a meal I was cooking for my blog. Of course, they probably wouldn't have found that silly at all.)


Monday, December 26, 2011

Post-Christmas Update: Adventures with Beef, Roasted Tomatoes, and My Oyster Stew

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas!

I honestly hadn't planned on putting Cooking Nick's Books on hold for over a month, but now that Christmas is over (well, not really; it goes on until the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6, don't ya know) and we have another week off from school, I'm back and ready to open up my cookbooks and my Nicholas Sparks books once again and continue this adventure.

And adventures I had in my kitchen this Christmas, let me tell you! First, I made our traditional Eggs Benedict for our Christmas morning breakfast. On Christmas Eve I took a trip to Our Favorite Grocery Store for the last-minute food items I would need, and they were out of hollandaise sauce mix. No problem, I thought; I can make it myself because thanks to this blog, I know how. Christmas morning I set out all the cooking utensils and food I would need for Eggs Benedict, grabbed my Ipad, looked up this post from last May, and remarked, "Oh, I forgot that I got the recipe from The Joy of Cooking. I could have looked it up there."

Anyway when I made the sauce, it seemed like an awful lot, and it wasn't nearly thick enough. When I tasted it, I knew I had done something terribly wrong. I decided to look up the recipe in my cookbook to make sure I had done everything right, and guess what? I was only supposed to put 1 1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice (or vinegar or wine--I had used lime juice and vinegar this time around), and I realized that when I posted the recipe, I had mistakenly said to add 1 1/2 CUPS. Oh, dear. I hope none of you tried the recipe and failed like I had just done. Needless to say, we had our Eggs Benedict without sauce, and I have since fixed my mistake so that the recipe is posted correctly and safe to use.

(While Joe was putting Christmas gifts together at midnight on Christmas Eve, I was getting the table ready. I made a mental note to take a photo of it, but of course in all the excitement I forgot. This is a recreation of one place setting to give you an idea of what it looked like.)

For Christmas dinner, I usually get a spiral ham, which requires no work. This year we decided to try a beef roast instead. My sister-in-law, Pamela, had made one last Christmas, and it was delicious; and for Easter my mother-in-law had cooked an amazing filet. I called Pamela in Atlanta and asked her to tell me how she made hers, and she gave me a couple of ideas--including a roast beef filet from her Barefoot Contessa cookbook--and promised to email me some recipes. Meanwhile I searched online and found this roast filet recipe, and called Pamela back to confirmed that I had the right one. Then off to Costco I went.

by Ina Garten (aka The Barefoot Contessa)

Serves 8 to 10

1 whole filet of beef (4 to 5 pounds), trimmed and tied
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature (We used a whole stick. Queen MIL recommends this.)
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon coarsely ground pepper
1. Heat oven to 500. Place beef on a baking sheet; pat the outside dry with a paper towel. Spread butter on with your hands. Sprinkle evenly with salt and pepper. Roast for exactly 22 minutes for rare and 25 minutes for medium rare.

2. Remove from oven; cover tightly with foil and allow to rest at room temperature for 20 minutes. Remove the strings and slice the filet thickly.

Serve with Gorgonzola Sauce.

Copyright, 2001, Barefoot Contessa Parties!, All rights reserved

Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 50 minutes
Yield: 3 cups

4 cups heavy cream
3 to 4 ounces crumbly Gorgonzola (not creamy or “dolce”)
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

Bring the heavy cream to a full boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, then continue to boil rapidly for 45 to 50 minutes, until thickened like a white sauce, stirring occasionally.

Off the heat, add the Gorgonzola, Parmesan, salt, pepper, and parsley. Whisk rapidly until the cheeses melt and serve warm.
If you must reheat, warm the sauce over low heat until melted, then whisk vigorously until the sauce comes together.

(Source: Adventures in the Kitchen)

I found the meat case that housed the filet roasts, and did a double take. I had no idea how much a beef filet tenderloin roast cost. We're talking $17-$18 per pound. And I needed a four- or five-pound roast. Not that I minded spending the money--it's Christmas, after all--but for something I had never made before, and could potentially ruin, this could turn out to be a very expensive disaster. I called Joe in a panic and wondered if I should reconsider and get a $20 ham instead. His answer? "How will you learn how to cook it if you don't try?" I knew my mother-in-law, Grandma B (aka Queen MIL, as Pamela likes to call her), had made this before, and that night I called her to let her know I would be counting on her to help me make sure I did it right.

So around mid-afternoon on Christmas day, after we'd had our fill of appetizers and wine, had opened our presents and watched a little bit of A Christmas Story, Queen MIL and I set off for the kitchen to prepare dinner. We spent a few minutes figuring out how to have everything more or less ready at the same time, and then we set to work. I had my mother's salad with avocado mostly put together (we made it last New Year's; check it out here), except we had to leave out the mandarin oranges because I couldn't find my can opener (How does that happen??) We started the gorgonzola sauce and the oyster stew. I slathered the roast with butter, seasoned it, and stuck it in my insanely-hot oven (that hadn't been cleaned properly because the self-cleaning feature suddenly decided not to work) and set the timer.

(I didn't take pictures while we were cooking, either. This is Queen MIL's roast from last Easter, right before she put it in the oven. Mine looked pretty much like this one.)

As we were stirring the sauce and the stew and preparing the vegetables, we noticed that my oven seemed to be producing a bit of smoke. Thinking it was from leftover goo that was stuck to my oven, we turned on the fan, opened some windows, and pressed on. The timer went off, we opened the oven, and it was like something out of a movie: choking smoke came pouring out of the oven and we took out the horribly blackened roast. I honestly came close to bursting into tears at that point. (I've come to the conclusion that my oven's thermostat is screwy. I've had issues before when I've tried to cook anything over 450 degrees or so.) We covered the roast and served the soup and salad, and I took a deep breath and decided that this would NOT ruin my Christmas. Queen MIL insisted--even though I just knew the meat would be inedible--on slicing the roast anyway, just to see what it looked like, and guess what? It was perfectly pink and tender on the inside, and nicely seared on the outside. I thought I would pass out from shock.

The entire meal was delicious. The oyster stew was perfect as usual, and Queen MIL says I need to make that roast again. Only next time I'll just turn my oven up to 450, maybe lower.

(The roast with the sauce went perfectly with the roasted tomatoes--I've posted that recipe below!)

For the oyster stew, I use a recipe that I adapt from The Joy of Cooking:


Combine in soup pot or double boiler and saute' lightly over direct heat:

2 to 4 tablespoons butter

1/2 tsp. or more grated onion or leek, and/or garlic


1 to 1 1/2 pints oysters with liquor

Sautee' until edges of oysters begin to curl. (This step is omitted from the cookbook; I'm not sure where I learned to do this before adding the milk, but it certainly doesn't hurt.)


1 1/2 cups milk

1/2 cup cream

1/2 tsp salt

1/8 tsp. white pepper or paprika.

When the milk is hot and the oysters float, add

2 T chopped parsley

About 4 cups

I usually use about a quart of oysters and adjust milk, cream, etc. accordingly to serve more people.

(adapted from The Joy of Cooking (1995 ed.) , by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker, p. 188)

Pamela sent me this roast tomato recipe which was absolutely amazing and super easy:

4 pints grape/cherry tomatoes
Olive oil
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper
20 fresh basil leaves, cut into strips*

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

toss tomatoes lightly with olive oil on a baking sheet. Spread them out into one layer and sprinkle generously with kosher salt and pepper.
roast for 15-20 minutes, until the tomatoes are soft.

Transfer the tomatoes to a serving platter and sprinkle with basil leaves* and sea salt. serve hot or at room temperature.

*Our Favorite Grocery Store had run out of fresh basil, so I used cilantro instead. It was delicious.

This week I'll get back into The Choice and share the chicken and pasta meal we had the day before Thanksgiving (talk about a long-overdue post!). Later we'll have Italian-style meatloaf; and in honor of the recently-released film, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I might switch gears for a bit and try something from that book. That one involves lamb, which scares me to death. Stay tuned!

p.s. I turned 44 while I was away from this blog. This is my gift from Joe and the boys.

SWEET! And they even made me a gluten free cake.

And for Christmas, the kids gave me a compact deep fryer. Now making hush puppies will be easier than ever! Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bonus Thanksgiving Post: Pumpkin Cookies and a Dairy Free, Egg Free Pumpkin Pie

Moe has taken a couple of trips to the allergist recently for some tests to determine whether or not he can eat some things with milk or eggs. The official word from the doctor is that YES, he can absolutely eat any baked good with those ingredients: bread, cake, cookies, muffins, etc. He is still allergic to eggs and dairy products--he still can't eat cheese or scrambled eggs or quiche or even pumpkin pie or meatloaf with egg mixed in--but donuts and cupcakes and brownies (so long as they don't contain nuts) are fair game. The allergist also advised me to serve him these kinds of treats EVERY DAY to help him build his resistance, and maybe down the road he'll be able to eat more and more dairy and egg products.

I want to share two recipes with you today; one is the dairy-free egg-free pumpkin pie that I make almost every year for Moe. This year he decided he wanted pumpkin cookies instead (made with real egg, of course), so I'm going to share that recipe, too.

I remember when Joe and I were newlyweds, he mentioned that his mom used to make pumpkin cookies when they were kids, so could I please make him some? I pulled out the only cookbook I owned at the time, The Joy of Cooking. I followed the recipe exactly, and when they were finished, Joe took one look at them and said, "Oh, no, those don't look anything like the ones my mom made." You can imagine how crushed I felt right then, until Joe took one bite and exclaimed, "These are DELICIOUS!!" All was forgiven.


(It's supposed to make 5 dozen, but really it only makes about three dozen.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cream together:

1 cup butter or shortening

1 cup sugar

Add and mix well:

1 cup cooked pumpkin

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

Sift together and add to above mixture:

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon double-acting baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon allspice

Stir in:

1 cup chopped nuts*

1 cup raisins*

Drop cookies onto a well-greased cookie sheet and bake about 15 minutes.

*Moe is allergic to nuts, and I didn't have any raisins; so I substituted about half a bag of chocolate chips (about 6 oz.)

From The Joy of Cooking, by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker; 1995 edition, p. 709

What I love about these is that they have a cake-like consistency, kind of like a little cookie-sized muffin. Someday I'll try making a gluten free version, because it was absolute torture taking these out of the oven knowing I can't eat them.

Now for the pumpkin pie (sorry I don't have a picture):

Dairy-Free, Egg-Free Pumpkin Pie

Makes 6 servings.

1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
1 cup low-fat soy milk or rice milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Dash salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
9-inch unbaked pie shell

In a large bowl, mix all filling ingredients, blending until smooth.
Pour into crust and smooth the top. Bake 15 minutes at 425 degrees
F, then reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Bake until
filling is set, about 50 to 60 minutes. Chill.

(Source: RecipeCottage.com)

Moe loves this pie (although I will admit that the rest of us have never been brave enough to try it), and one year on the day after Thanksgiving, Grandma B. let him eat a piece of it for breakfast. He thought he had died and gone to heaven. And if I make this one at Christmas, I will be sure to post a photo!

Have a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Choice: Grilled Shrimp Kebabs with Watermelon-Pineapple Salad

Our heroes, Gabby and Travis, have spent a fun-filled day with Travis' friends and family. They've gone swimming, parasailing, and had a feast on the beach. (Click here for more, and to see what we cooked.)
When they return in the late afternoon, everyone is tired. Gabby plans to return to her house next door to relax, and maybe give her boyfriend a call. Travis invites her to have dinner with him instead--shrimp kebobs grilled on his deck. How could she resist?

I had some tomato-less peach barbecue sauce that I picked up at the farmers' market a while back, and decided to try it on the shrimp.

I was able to find local peppers in a variety of colors.

Ready to go on the grill. Joe bought those skewers in Turkey not long before we met. I've always wanted to go to Turkey...

She peeked at the skewered shrimp and brightly colored peppers and onions. As if on cue, her stomach grumbled. "Wow," she murmured, hoping he didn't hear it. "They look great." (The Choice, p. 127)

Travis serves slices of pineapple on the side. I decided I wanted to have something even better, and I remembered a cookbook my children bought for me years ago for my birthday:

Joe had taken the kids to Border's (oh, how I will miss that store) to help him choose a book I would like. In the cookbook section, I'm told, little Curly spotted The African Kitchen and decided right then and there THAT was the book they were getting and would settle for nothing less. It was written by a chef who has worked in various safari camps and lodges in the African wilderness. (One recipe is called "How To Build a Pizza Oven Out of a Termite Mound in Less Than Two Hours." I kid you not.)
I have to admit I haven't cooked much from this particular book, but there is one recipe which we all love, and it's super-easy and amazingly delicious:


1 lb 2 oz watermelon, cut into bite-sized chunks (Seriously, who actually weighs their watermelon to see if it's exactly 1 lb 2 oz? I chose a small seedless one from the produce section.)
1 lb 2 oz pineapple (Whatever, they're all about the same size, anyway)
1 onion, thinly sliced
1-2 tbsp cilantro
6 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
Freshly ground pepper
Place the fruit, onion, cilantro, lime juice and red wine vinegar in a bowl. Toss, add pepper to taste, then chill before serving. (From The African Kitchen by Josie Stow and Jan Baldwin, p. 72)

Delicious with a gluten-free Redbridge beer!

As we're getting ready for Thanksgiving (Oh, that gives me an idea! I have a dairy-free egg-free pumpkin pie that I make every year for Moe. I'll try to share that with you if I have time), I'm already thinking about what my next project will be: a chicken and pasta meal like the one Gabby will cook for Travis, only better.

Oh, and I finished Nick's latest book, The Best of Me. Everything you hope for in a Nicholas Sparks novel, and more! Well done as always, Nick. What am I reading now? Late, Late, at Night: A Memoir by the ever-dashing (even at age 62) Rick Springfield. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with that one, to tell you the truth; it's fascinating, but with lots of TMI, if you know what I mean. I hope I can finish it.

I don't know if I'll be back here before Turkey Day (unless I post that pumpkin pie recipe; and I might put that one over on Musings of a Catholic Mom), so let me take this opportunity to wish you all a very blessed Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Choice: Jalapeno Popper Sliders With Beans and Fall Fruit Crisp

There are LOTS of great things cooking in The Choice.

The story? Travis Parker is single. He lives in Beaufort, North Carolina, where he grew up. Gabby Holland, also single, has just moved in next door. Gabby has a boyfriend, Kevin, who lives in Morehead City. She also has a dog, Molly. When Molly ends up pregnant, Gabby is convinced that the father is Travis' boxer, Moby. Gabby confronts Travis with her suspicions, and Travis assures her that Moby is not the dog that knocked Molly up; and besides, she might not be pregnant, and maybe she should take her to the veterinarian to have her checked out. When Gabby takes Molly to the vet, she discovers two things: that the veterinarian is Travis, and that Molly is indeed pregnant. When the time comes for Molly to give birth, Travis is right there to help. Over the next few days, Travis offers advice and help for Molly and the puppies, and he invites her to join him and his friends one Saturday for a morning of parasailing, swimming, an picnicking on the beach. Reluctantly, she goes along.

Okay, let's pause it for a second. I've been to the beach many times, and many times I've seen boats go by towing a person and a parachute high in the sky behind it. I always say to myself, "That's insane. Why on earth would I ever want to tie myself to the back of a boat and allow it to pull me through the air?" It's like water-skiing--which I hate--only worse. Parachute or no parachute, I'd be scared to death. (I pretty much feel the same way about hang gliding and skydiving.) But I will tell you this: after reading about Travis and Gabby's parasailing adventure, I've started to rethink my attitude towards it, and maybe it wouldn't be so bad after all. Check this out:

"Look over there!" he said, pointing. "There's a ray! Can you see it?"

She saw it, black and sleek, moving beneath the surface like a slow-motion butterfly.

"And a pod of dolphins! Over there! Near the banks!"

As she marveled at the sight, her nervousness started to subside. Instead, she began to soak in the view of everything below--the town, the families sprawled on the beaches, the boats, the water. As she relaxed, she found herself thinking that she could probably spend an hour up here without ever growing tired of it. It was extraordinary to drift along at this elevation, coasting effortlessly on a wind current, as if she were a bird. Despite the heat, the breeze kept her cool, and as she rocked her feet back and forth, she felt the harness sway. (The Choice, p. 105-106)

After parasailing, everyone gathers on the beach for a cookout:

They reached for some plates as they eyed the appetizing variety of side dishes spread out on the table--beans, casseroles, potato, cucumber, and fruit salads--all of which smelled delicious. Gabby grabbed a bun, added some ketchup, mustard, and pickles, and held out her plate. Travis...lifted a burger from the side of the grill and added it to her bun.

He scooped some fruit salad onto his plate; Gabby added a taste of pretty much everything. When she was finished, she looked at both their plates with an almost guilty expression, which Travis thankfully didn't seem to notice. (The Choice, p. 115-116)

In almost every Nicholas Sparks novel, someone grills burgers. Or steaks, or hot dogs. I decided since we grill burgers at least twice a month (even in winter), always the same way, that this cookout in The Choice was a good excuse to try something different. I remembered a summer issue of Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine that had all kinds of recipes for burgers, and that I hadn't tried any of them yet. I thumbed through the magazine and found this one:

POPPER SLIDERS (Of course, I had to try it because we love spicy things, and since going gluten free I haven't been able to eat jalapeno poppers)

3 fat, fresh jalapeno chile peppers

EVOO (That's Rachael Ray Speak for Extra Virgin Olive Oil) or vegetable oil, for drizzling

1 red fresno chile pepper, sliced*

8 oz cream cheese, softened

2 tbsp grated onion

1 large clove garlic, grated or pasted

A small handful of cilantro leaves, finely chopped

1/2 tsp ground cumin

Salt and pepper

2 lbs coarsely ground beef sirloin (lean) or chuck (fattier)

1 brick (2-by-2-inch) sharp yellow cheddar or smoked yellow cheddar cheese (about 4 oz), thinly sliced

12 slide rolls, such as 3-inch brioche rolls or cornmeal -topped rolls, split

Get Started: Preheat an outdoor grill, indoor griddle, or grill pan to medium-high heat.

Step 1: Cut off and discard the tops of the jalapenos. Using an apple corer or fork handle, scoop out and discard the seeds; slice the jalapenos into strips or rounds.

Step 2: Heat a little EVOO in a medium skillet over medium-high heat, add the halapeno and fresno chile peppers* and toss for a couple of minutes until crisp-tender and charred at the edges.

Step 3: Combine the cream cheese, onion, garlic, cilantro, and cumin; season with salt and pepper. Season the beef with salt and pepper,** form 12 patties (thinner at the center). Coat with EVOO, grill or griddle for 2 to 3 minutes. Fip and top with some cream cheese mixture and sliced cheese.

Step 4: Grill with the lid down (or tent with foil) until the cheese is melted, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve on the rolls topped with the chile pepper slices.

*I couldn't find fresno chile peppers, so I used poblanos instead.

**Moe wanted me to mix some of the jalapeno pieces in with the meat; I was happy to oblige, and they were great.

(From the June/July 2011 issue of Every Day with Rachael Ray, p.112)

The leftover cream cheese mixture makes a GREAT dip for corn chips!

I ended up making 10 sliders instead of 12, so they were slightly larger, but still on the smallish side. We had to make a couple without cheese for Moe.

I found these rolls at the farmers' market, made at a local bakery.


I found some local baby lima beans at the farmers' market.

I chopped a few slices of bacon and browned it; then I steamed the lima beans slightly and added them to the skillet. After cooking and stirring them together for a few minutes, they were ready. Easy-peasy!

When I make a fruit crisp, I don't really follow a recipe. On this night I chopped up some local pears and apples and added some honey, cinnamon, and cornstarch. I made a topping of about half a stick of butter, and about a half cup each of rolled oats, brown sugar, and gluten-free Bisquick, along with a little salt and cinnamon. I sprayed a baking dish with cooking spray, added the fruit mixture, and sprinkled on the topping. I baked it at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes.

Great with ice cream! (Store-bought this time.)

Gabby, Travis, and their friends arrived back at Travis' house late in the afternoon. The group dispersed quickly as some couples had young children who were tired. But guess what? Gabby and Travis had another meal together that night, and I'll share that one with you next time!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Dear John: "Cowpuncher" Beef Stew with Cornmeal Dumplings

October was a busy month for us. I haven't had much time for blog posting. I did manage to try three new cooking projects for this blog, though; my apologies for not getting them to you until now. First came a new beef stew I hadn't made before, and I think these cool November days are great for a hearty bowl of warm stew! (Check out the beef stew I made around this time last year.)

We've been slowly making our way through Dear John; we've met John and Savannah and witnessed the beginning of their romance. But as is the case with many romances--especially the ones in Nicholas Sparks' novels--there is often a time of separation between the two characters. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it also presents many challenges, too. (Did you know Joe and I lived 200 miles apart when we first started dating? That wasn't easy, but we persevered and now we've been married for sixteen years. Someday I'll share our story with you.) John's furlough from the Army came to an end, and he had to go back to his base in Germany. John and Savannah wrote many letters to each other. They counted down the days until they could see each other again, and shared their dreams of a future together. Their time apart was lengthened, however, in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, John was shipped off to Iraq, and after a while they wrote to each other more rarely.

Fast-forward a few years, and we find Savannah living on her family's ranch in Lenoir, North Carolina. She hasn't seen John since that blissful month in Wrightsville Beach. Okay now for the spoiler--Savannah has fallen in love with someone else. I'll try not to give anything else away, but when John shows up to Savannah's ranch, he finds her alone, and learns that her life with this new love is more complicated than anyone ever imagined it would be. As the two catch up on old times and talk about Savannah's new life, Savannah warms up some leftover stew from her fridge.

I wanted to make something that was different from the stew I usually make. I decided to pull out a cookbook that I haven't used yet:

When I saw the recipe for Cowpuncher Stew, in the section called "Chuck Wagon Chow," I just had to try it. It's something that, according to my cookbook, cowboys often would eat out on the trail. Maybe a woman living on a horse farm might appreciate it, right?


1 1/2 pounds beef stew meat, cut in 1-inch cubes

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour*

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons shortening

1 1/2 cups strong coffee

2 tablespoons molasses

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

1 1/2 cups water

4 carrots, cut in 1/2-inch slices

4 small onions, quartered

3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut up

1/4 cup cold water

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour*

Coat beef cubes with a mixture of 2 tablespoons flour* and 1 teaspoon salt. In Dutch oven brown meat on all sides in hot shortening. Stir in the coffee, molasses, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, Worcestershire, oregano, and cayenne. Cover, simmer over low heat till meat is almost tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Add the 1 1/2 cups water, carrot slices, onion quarters, and potato pieces. Simmer, covered, till vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes. Blend 1/4 cup cold water into the 3 tablespoons flour*; add to stew mixture. Cook and stir till mixture is thickened and bubbly. Serve in bowls. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

(*I used cornstarch)

From the Better Homes and Gardens Heritage Cookbook, p. 204

I started with a local free-range London Broil steak. I remember hearing Julia Child say once that you should ALWAYS use good steak for your beef stew, and NEVER use stew meat because it tastes like dog food. I don't know whether that's true or not, but I've always followed Julia's advice.

Browning the meat

Before the vegetables go in. I love the chocolate-brown color.

MMMMmmm, looks delicious!


There was also a recipe in the same cookbook for cornmeal dumplings; they are meant to be cooked with a different recipe, but I thought they would go great with the stew:


In saucepan, combine 1 cup water, 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; bring to boiling. Cook and stir till thickened. Remove from heat. Stir moderate amount hot mixture into 1 beaten egg (or, 1 1/2 heaping tablespoon Egg Replacer mixed with 2 tablespoons water). Return to hot mixture. Stir together 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and dash pepper (I replaced the flour and baking powder with gluten-free Bisquick.). Add to cornmeal mixture; beat well. Stir in one 7-ounce can whole kernel corn, drained. (Instead, I used one ear of fresh corn right off the cob.)

Drop batter by rounded tablespoonfuls onto boiling stew mixture. Cover, simmer till dumplings are done 10 to 12 minutes.

(Heritage Cookbook, p. 204)

This was some of the last locally grown corn-on-the cob.

Step One--the cornmeal, water, and salt

Ready to make the dumplings

I honestly didn't know how they would taste, and almost expected the kids to wrinkle their noses at them. The dumplings were a huge hit, and they asked me if I would please make more next time.

A lovely fall dinner!

There may be one--possibly two--more projects from Dear John that I might come back to later, (and they're similar to one's I've already done), but for now we'll move on to The Choice with some delicious jalapeno burgers. Stay tuned!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Bonus: Berry Crisp and Chocolate-y mint ice cream

Over the summer I bought an ice cream maker, and I've tried making several different flavors in it. (Check out the chocolate, vanilla, and peach that I made!) Even though Joe isn't a big fan of peppermint ice cream, I decided to make some because a). the recipe in the owner's manual for my fabulous Cuisinart ice cream freezer looked unusual and intriguing; and b). it called for fresh mint leaves, and I have a mint plant in a pot on my deck that someone gave me and I haven't used it much.

First, the ice cream recipe:


1 cup whole milk

2 1/2 cups fresh mint leaves

3/4 cup granulated sugar

pinch salt

2 cups heavy cream

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 cup chopped peppermint patties (about 10 to 12 bite-size patties)

1. In a medium saucepan set over medium-low heat, bring the milk just to a boil. Remove from heat and add the mint leaves; let steep for 20 to 30 minutes. If you desire a milder mint flavor, strain and discard the mint leaves after steeping, but for a more intense ice cream, blend the milk/mint mixture using an immersion blender.

2. Add the sugar and salt to the steeped milk/mint mixture. Use a hand mixer on low speed or whisk to combine, until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the heavy cream and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate, 1 to 2 hours, or overnight.

3. Turn on the Cuisinart ice cream maker; pour the mixture into the frozen freezer bowl and let mix until thickened, about 15 to 20 minutes. Five minutes before mixing is completed, add the chopped candy through the top and let mix in completely. The ice cream will have a soft, creamy texture. If a firmer consistency is desired, transfer the ice cream to an airtight container and place in freezer for about 2 hours. Remove from freezer about 15 minutes before serving.

(From the Cuisinart Automatic Frozen Yogurt-Ice Cream & Sorbet Maker owners manual and Recipe Booklet)

After steeping the leaves in the milk, I took out some of them, and put the rest of the mixture through the blender.

I almost never buy these. I don't really like them much (plus Moe can't eat them because they contain egg), but they sure sounded good mixed with ice cream.

Ready to go in the ice cream freezer!


The ice cream was an unusual color, but it was quite good! Joe said he thought it tasted like toothpaste (but that's what he says about anything mint flavored), and the rest of us thought it tasted more like mint chocolate chip.

I wasn't too crazy about the little bits of mint leaf in the ice cream (but the bits of peppermint patty were fabulous!); next time I might try making it with peppermint extract and crushed candy canes or something. But I'm not sure if I can wait until Christmas for that...


I took some fresh blackberries and raspberries and mixed them with some brown sugar, cinnamon, and a little cornstarch.

I made a topping with about 1/3 cup each of oatmeal, brown sugar, and gluten-free Bisquick; mixed together with about 3 tablespoons of butter.

Ready to go in the oven...

A lovely dessert, if I may say so myself.

Stay tuned for my Dear John beef stew, and then we'll dive into The Choice with some delicious jalapeno burgers!