Thursday, September 13, 2012


Exciting news!  (At least, I think it's pretty cool.)  Believe it or not, I haven't just been sitting around twiddling my thumbs for the past month.  I've actually been putting together a new blog (oh, and unpacking and finding my way around town and trying to learn a billion new faces and names and all that fun stuff).  Never fear; the delicious recipes will continue--just at a brand new location, without the limitations of the co-op.  (Whether or not I can survive the limitations of Walmart is another story.)  The recipes on Bringing Home the Brakebush will stay in place, so you can always come back to enjoy a buttery plate of shrimp scampi or a delicious Greek-style chicken wrap.

From now on, though, you'll want to follow me over at Meat in Due Season.  Come join me!

P.S.  For those seminary wives who are interested in co-op focused recipes, check out this other brand-new blog, a collaborative project by several current seminary wives.  It is called, creatively enough, Bringing Home the Brakebush.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Miss Me Yet?

In case you were wondering, no, I haven't disappeared off the face of the earth.  In fact, over the past month, my husband and I drove from Indiana to Canada, to Michigan, back to Indiana, then to North Dakota with a full moving truck, back to Canada, and finally (phew!) stopped for good in North Dakota, where we will live... um... forever.  (For real.  If I have to move again in the next fifty years, I will tear my hair out.)  My husband is now officially ordained and installed as the pastor of a dual parish, and I have eleven whole days of experience as a pastor's wife under my belt.

Anyway, it took me a while to find my pots and pans in the rubble of boxes, so I haven't been able to do much cooking, much less blogging, as of late.  Never fear; I have grand plans to resume both soon.  In the meantime, you can enjoy this ca. 1987 shot of me in the kitchen, rolling out pie crusts for my parents' Christmas party.  (No, my parents were not slave drivers; I was simply born to cook.  Or just weird.  Whatever.)


Sunday, July 1, 2012

Cleaning Out the Freezer

Strange things can happen when you empty out your freezer.  I have no idea how those wonton wrappers and imitation crab got in there, but I sure wasn't going to let them go to waste.

Deep-fried cream cheese, anyone?

For more inspiration, check out these delicious recipes for beef pot stickers and crab rangoons.  Be forewarned--they both make huge batches.  Not that that's a bad thing.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Chicken Bacon Ranch Pizza

One of the worst parts about moving is changing jobs.  I've had a lot of different jobs, from my first babysitting gig as an eleven-year-old (don't worry, my parents were next door), to a summer spent opening gallon tubs of potato salad and grape jelly at a youth camp, to a torturous stint in a data entry cubicle.  I've taught piano lessons and dished up Chinese food and sorted through mountains of historic nursing school documents.  Some jobs were great; others were barely worth the paycheck.

Moving usually means you have to leave your job behind.  My last day at work was a week ago.  My job was awesome.  Yeah, it was a library, and I'm a librarian, and I was thrilled to be finally working in my field, even as just a lowly clerk.  And yeah, I was privileged to spend my afternoons with probably the best group of coworkers ever.  But one of the best parts of my job was the food (you knew there had to be some point to this, right?).  My coworkers throw a party for every major life event.  Every time someone has a birthday, there's a party.  Every time someone has a baby, there's a shower.  And we're not talking stale chips and dip here.  These are all-out feasts with salads and casseroles and five kinds of dessert.  The library hosts an annual "edible book festival" for the school and the community that celebrates books and--you guessed it--food.  On Administrative Professionals Day, half the staff brings in treats to share, because "we're all administrative professionals, right?"  The culinary arts students bring in samples of their masterpieces throughout the school year.  There are almost always donuts and candy and random treats in the staff work room.  And I was sent off with a going-away party to rival all others.  It's a miracle they didn't have to roll me out of there.

One of the repeat foods at our parties (besides Carol's brownies and Ward's artichoke casserole) was a deliciously fattening chicken bacon ranch pizza.  If you live in Fort Wayne, you should visit MJ's and try one.  If you don't, you can still make it at home--and this is a great use of that Brakebush chicken in the back of your freezer!  I haven't given any amounts for the ingredients--just use what looks good, and don't skimp on the cheese.

Chicken Bacon Ranch Pizza

Crust for one 12" to 14" pizza (follow my directions here, or use your favorite)
Bottled ranch dressing
Mozzarella cheese
Red or white onion, diced and sauteed in olive oil until tender
Cooked plain chicken, diced
Cooked bacon, crumbled (or real bacon bits)

Spread a thin layer of ranch dressing on unbaked crust, to within about 1/2" of the edge.  Layer remaining ingredients on crust in order listed.  Bake according to crust directions, or until cheese is melted.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Tiramisu "Petit Fours"

I've had more than a couple cooking mishaps lately.  One wasn't completely my fault, but the rest, um, were.  Usually when I get into a cooking funk, I go back to making a few recipes that I know will turn out.  It's my way of reminding myself that I can actually read a recipe.  After all, nothing feels better than knowing that I can cook boxed macaroni and cheese like nobody's business.  Grilled cheese sandwiches are a good confidence-booster, too.

This time, though, I decided to risk it and try a new recipe.  One that involved baking, no less.  And it actually worked!  (Well, I haven't actually served it to anyone yet, but my own quality-control tests have confirmed that this is, indeed, a recipe worth keeping.)  Unfortunately, these tasty little morsels aren't very co-op friendly.  They're a bit on the pricey side, and you'll probably spend half the day making them.  And they aren't technically petit fours or tiramisu.  But they're pretty to look at and equally delicious--perfect for an open house, reception, or, in this case, an ordination dinner.

Since I followed the recipes (yes, I used more than one) pretty closely, I'm just going to list the links and let you have at it.  I made a few substitutions for hard-to-find ingredients, but I followed the techniques as written and didn't have any major difficulties.  If you read everything ahead of time and gather all the ingredients before you begin, these mini tiramisus will be a piece of cake (ha, ha).  As for me, I think the hardest part will be transporting these things in my car.

Tiramisu "Petit Fours"
Yield:  90-100
Time:  Um... reserve your whole morning

Start with this blog post, which shows you how to modify a tiramisu cake recipe into bite-size servings.  Follow those directions to assemble your petit fours.  The only change I made was substituting grated semisweet chocolate (1/2 cup) for the mini chocolate chips, although I did use mini chips as a garnish.

For the recipe itself, follow the instructions here.  I used a hand mixer without any trouble--just make sure you add the ingredients exactly as directed.  Don't forget to line your 9x13 pans with wax or parchment paper after buttering and flouring them--you'll have a much easier time removing the cakes.  If you can't find instant espresso powder, substitute an equal amount of regular instant coffee granules--just whirl it in a food processor to make it easier to dissolve.  Mascarpone is another difficult-to-find ingredient; you can substitute ricotta cheese or use the simple recipe here (you only need to make half).

Monday, June 18, 2012

Creamy Asparagus Penne

You know it's hot when your eyelids start sweating.  Everything's sort of in a haze.  Even the flies know better than to attempt productivity.  And you just know that if you try to turn on the oven, the result will be instant vaporization.  Not that it matters--can you think of anything less appetizing on a hot summer day than chicken pot pie?  Nope.  Meatloaf?  I can almost feel myself melting.

Well, this creamy pasta recipe still requires the use of the stovetop, but it's the best I can do.  I'm still not ready to get out the crock pot after my last attempt.  And this is light and fresh and springy.  (Hopefully it's not too late to find some decent asparagus out there.)  Pair this with a nice salad or side dish for a cool summer meal, or toss in some cooked chicken or crumbled bacon to beef it up a little.  You could also stir in a cup or two of chopped fresh spinach for extra flavor.

I originally made this recipe as found here, but I decided the lemon was a little too strong.  What follows is my version, with some optional add-ins.  I'm still learning how to make cream sauces, so if you have a better recipe, feel free to use it instead (and don't forget to send it my way!).

Creamy Asparagus Penne
Serves 4
Time:  30-35 minutes

8 ounces penne (I used whole-wheat)
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into 3/4-inch pieces (about 1 pound)
1 1/2 cups milk (whole or 2%)
4 tsp. whole-grain mustard
4 tsp. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp. olive oil
3 T. minced garlic (3-4 large cloves)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
2 cups chopped fresh spinach (optional)
1 cup chopped cooked chicken OR 1/4 cup chopped cooked bacon (optional)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add pasta and cook for 3 minutes less than the package directions.  Add asparagus and continue cooking until pasta and asparagus are just tender, 3 minutes more.  Drain and return to pot.

Meanwhile, whisk milk, mustard, flour, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl.  Set aside.  Heat oil and garlic together in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant, 30-60 seconds.  Whisk in the milk mixture.  Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly, and cook until thickened, 1-2 minutes.

Stir sauce into pasta and asparagus.  Cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until the sauce is thick, creamy, and coats and pasta, 1-2 minutes.  Stir in 1/4 cup Parmesan.  Toss with spinach and chicken or bacon, if desired.  Sprinkle individual portions with remaining Parmesan.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Adventures in Texas Barbecue

One of my favorite parts about our vicarage year in Texas was the barbecue.  I speak as a lifelong Northerner when I say that Northerners know nothing about barbecue.  Up here, we slather a pile of chicken or shredded pork in sauce and call it "barbecue."  Or we cook brats on the grill and say we're "barbecuing."  Texas barbecue has nothing to do with sauce (or a grill, really) and everything to do with a long, slow bask in a smoker.  The sauce is an extra.  They serve it on the side, along with pickles, onions, jalapenos, and two slices of bread.  Those things are okay, but the important part is the meat--huge slabs of brisket and ribs and the best sausages you'll ever devour.  It's the food of... well... Texans.

Our favorite local barbecue joint was a place called Vitek's BBQ, known as the "home of the Gut Pak."  We ate at picnic tables outside in the sweltering heat, up to our elbows in half-racks of ribs and mounds of chopped beef, the screen door slapping behind us as men in cowboy boots and Texas drawls strolled out with their Styrofoam clamshells of meat and coleslaw.  You can smoke all the mesquite chips you want, but if you want real live Texas barbecue, you really just have to go down there.


The other day, I found a delicious-looking recipe for Slow Cooker Texas Pulled Pork.  I was a little skeptical about the "Texas" part, especially since one of the main ingredients was barbecue sauce, but I had a ton of pork and was suddenly inspired to start my search for the best pulled pork recipe ever.  Plus, my lonely little slow cooker almost never comes out of the cupboard, due to my suspicion toward all things crock pot, and I figured it was high time I put that thing to use on a foolproof recipe.

Someone had commented on the recipe that 24 hours on low made a beautiful, melt-in-your-mouth concoction of barbecue-y goodness, so I started the pork before bed.  Plus, I was using pork chops, not a roast, so I figured the tougher cut would benefit from a low, slow cook time.  We woke up the next morning to a mouth-watering aroma; the pork was bubbling happily and already so tender I could barely turn it.  All day I dreamed about the wonderful sandwiches that awaited our ravenous dinnertime appetites.

We came home to this:

In case the poor photo quality might have confused you, this is a very gross pot of very overcooked, dry pork chunks sitting in grease.  As my husband put it, the pulled pork was perfect--at some point around lunchtime when we were both gone.  By the time we got home, however, it was anything but.

Oh, and did I mention it was our anniversary?  We ended up feasting sumptuously on a Little Caesar's Hot-N-Ready pizza and some sort of amazing cheese-encrusted and butter-drenched bread.  (Don't worry; our real anniversary plans aren't until this weekend anyway.  Still.  It's the principle of the thing.)

I think I'm just going to leave barbecue to the Texans.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Chicken, Swiss, and Mushroom Sandwiches

Melty, bubbly Swiss cheese meets tender, sauteed mushrooms and onions in these fast and easy chicken sandwiches.  Oops.  For a minute there I thought I was writing a cookbook.  Let's try that again.  These sandwiches are great, and you should make them.

(Photos courtesy of my awesome brother.)

Oh, and they really are bubbly and melty and tender and full of chicken-y goodness.

Chicken, Swiss, and Mushroom Sandwiches (from this recipe)
Time:  30 minutes
Serves:  4

12 ounces boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch strips
1 envelope Italian or Caesar salad dressing mix
4 large sandwich rolls or buns (submarine, onion, Kaiser, etc.), split
1-2 T. butter
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup sliced red onion
2 T. olive oil
4 slices Swiss cheese

In a large bowl, sprinkle chicken with salad dressing mix.  Set aside.

Melt butter in a large skillet, then toast cut sides of rolls in butter until golden brown; set aside.  In the same skillet, sauté mushrooms and onions in oil for 3 minutes.  Add chicken; sauté for 6 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink.

Spoon mixture onto roll bottoms; top with cheese.  Broil for 4 minutes or until cheese is melted.  Replace tops.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Copycat Chipotle Barbacoa Beef with Cilantro Lime Rice

I can't think of a more delicious bundle of goodness than a giant Chipotle burrito, packed to the gills with barbacoa beef, black beans, corn salsa, and that most wonderful of concoctions--cilantro lime rice.  I don't think I will ever tire of biting into a burrito the size of my head.  It's almost as great as digging through the treasures hidden inside like some sort of excavator.

Back to reality.  There are no Chipotles in North Dakota.  (There are no Aldis either.  You would think that a business with locations in Hungary and Australia could set up a nice little store in Fargo.  Not.)  I have brainstormed a list of potential solutions to this tragic problem:  1) eat at Chipotle every day for the next month, in hopes that I will somehow sate any future cravings all at once; 2) buy a lifetime supply of Chipotle barbacoa burritos and bring them to North Dakota with me; or 3) invent my own version of Chipotle that tastes awesome and doesn't cost $8 a pop.

I went with the last one.  Shipping a freezer-ful of burritos across the country could be a logistical nightmare.

Copycat Chipotle Barbacoa Beef with Cilantro Lime Rice
Time:  Begin at least 8 hours ahead

Filling options:
Black beans, drained, rinsed, and heated
Cooked sweet corn, cut from the cob and heated (leftover grilled corn is my favorite)
Tomato, diced
Lettuce, finely chopped
Cheddar or Mexican-blend cheese, shredded
Sour cream
Guacamole (or thinly sliced avocado)
Barbacoa beef (see below)
Cilantro lime rice (see below)

Another option is corn salsa with lime (combines black beans, corn, tomatoes, and onion with seasonings).  I haven't tried it yet, but it looks good!

Flour tortillas (8-inch or burrito-size)

Slow-Cooker Barbacoa Beef (from this recipe)
While this doesn't taste exactly like the Chipotle version, it is pretty tasty.  I haven't made any major changes to the original recipe--mostly I cut down the amounts to make a smaller recipe.  I also think that there are much better uses for beef brisket, so I used an arm roast that I found at the co-op months ago.  Any inexpensive roast will do.  If you go with a tougher cut of meat, however, you will need to cook it "low and slow."  I found that the method of cooking on high then on warm was not enough to break down the meat fibers.

2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (from a can), chopped, plus 2 T. of the sauce
1/2 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped
1/2 red onion, peeled and cut into large chunks
5-6 large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
3 dry bay leaves
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
juice of 2 limes
1/4 cup cider vinegar
3 to 4 pound beef roast (see note above), excess fat removed
2 to 3 cups beef or chicken stock

In a food processor, pulse together chipotle peppers and sauce, cilantro, red onion, and garlic. Combine with clove, cumin, salt, lime juice, and cider vinegar in the insert of a slow cooker. Place the beef on top (cut it into pieces if doesn't fit). Add stock to cover the meat and place bay leaves on top.

Cook on low for at least 6 to 8 hours.

Remove meat from slow cooker and place on rimmed baking sheet. Use two forks to pull the meat apart. Place shredded beef in large bowl and ladle cooking liquid over the top, until it is saturated but not soupy.

The remaining liquid can be frozen for use in other recipes.  The meat itself also freezes well (for tips on making an extra-large batch, see the original recipe).

Cilantro Lime Rice
I roughly followed the recipe here, but modified it for use in my rice cooker.  Whatever method you use to cook the rice, just toss it with the other ingredients and serve hot.

1 cup white or basmati rice, cooked with 2 cups water and 1 tsp. salt
2-3 tsp. lime juice
3 T. fresh chopped cilantro
2-3 tsp. vegetable oil

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Pasta Salad

Tomorrow is the first day of June.  I find this hard to believe.  I'm pretty sure it was just yesterday that I was posting about soup and how much I love soup and how one winter we ate soup almost every day for a month because it's so wonderful and amazing and delicious.

Now Memorial Day is over and we've hit 90-plus degrees and I want nothing to do with soup.  (Yeah, so I'm fickle.  You know you don't want soup either.)  Now I want salads.  Giant pasta salads.  Salads bursting with fresh vegetables out of the garden and tasty stuff like couscous and quinoa and lentils and barley.  When it got too hot to cook (yes, that does happen in Michigan), my mom always used to make a giant vat of pasta salad, and we'd eat it on the pool deck with fruit and popsicles and other munchies that didn't require the use of an oven.  You don't need a pool to enjoy pasta salad, though.  In fact, it doesn't even have to be summer yet.  I've made two big batches already, and they were just as delicious as I remember.  And much better than soup.

This recipe is great because you can change it based on what's in your refrigerator or garden.  I've listed the typical ingredients that I use, but feel free to add whatever you like.  In addition to veggies like cucumber or avocado, consider adding chopped pepperoni or grated mozzarella.  Be creative!  For the dressing, I usually use regular or "zesty" Italian dressing from a bottle.  Don't use any of the creamy versions.  I've also tried using Good Seasons Italian dressing from a packet; it worked, but the flavor wasn't quite as strong as I like.  Set any remaining dressing out on the table so people can add a bit more if they like.

Another trick I use is adding the broccoli and carrots to the boiling pasta water for a few seconds.  Blanching these crunchier vegetables makes them a little less, well, crunchy.  Just be sure not to overcook them; the last thing you want is a bunch of soggy, nasty broccoli mixed into your beautiful salad.  About 60 seconds for the carrots and 30 seconds for the broccoli is plenty.

Pasta Salad
Time:  30 minutes
Serves:  8+

1 package (12-16 oz.) tri-color rotini (my favorite) or another bite-size pasta (like farfalle or small shells)
3-4 carrots, peeled and diced
1 medium head broccoli, cut into bite-size pieces (I peel the "trunk" and cut it up too)
1-2 bell peppers, diced (any color)
1 large tomato, diced (or 3/4 to 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved)
1/2 cup black olives (about half a can)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 cup (8 oz.) bottled Italian dressing, plus more to taste

Boil pasta in a large pot according to package directions.  One minute before pasta is done, add carrots to pot.  Thirty seconds later, add broccoli.  (Vegetables should be just barely tender-crisp and very bright in color--don't overcook!)  Drain immediately; toss with a few ice cubes to cool.  Add remaining ingredients;  refrigerate until chilled.  Toss before serving.

Tip:  If making salad in advance, add tomatoes just before serving, as they tend to lose their freshness more quickly than the other vegetables.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Garden Fresh Couscous Salad

This morning as I was browsing Pinterest, trying my hardest to ignore the mountains of laundry and dirty dishes piling up around me (okay, not quite, but I was definitely avoiding packing for this weekend's camping trip), I ran across a "recipe" for bacon-wrapped corn on the cob.  Then (okay, maybe there were a few dirty dishes waiting for me) I found one for deep-fried corn.  I started searching for the most ridiculous corn recipes I could find (who needs clean laundry, anyway?).  Chocolate fans will be disappointed to learn that my search for "chocolate-covered corn" did not result in tips for dipping whole ears in chocolate, but I did find chocolate-covered caramel corn and chocolate-covered corn dogs.

Seriously, people?  Just because you can do it, doesn't mean you should.  Bacon is delicious.  Chocolate is delicious.  Deep-fat frying is fattening and, well, delicious.  But why ruin a perfectly good ear of corn with that stuff when you can turn it into this wonderfully fresh and flavorful couscous salad?

This is one of my favorite summer salads, and it's perfect for a picnic or Memorial Day cookout (you can even pair it with your bacon-wrapped bacon).  The fresh corn (please don't use canned or frozen unless you absolutely must) is my favorite part, but the feta, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and couscous certainly don't hurt, either.  Toss it with a light vinaigrette, and you can almost eat this stuff as a meal in itself (and sometimes I do).

The best part is that almost all of the ingredients are frequently available in the co-op.  Corn is only $0.16 an ear this week at Meijer--the best price I've seen yet this season.  I have used both regular and whole-wheat couscous with equally delicious results.  If you can't find it in the co-op, it's okay to buy the less expensive couscous mixes--just leave out the seasoning packet.  I usually buy my feta from Aldi, but next time I'd like to get it from George's International Market (on the corner of Broadway and Taylor).  I can't remember the exact price, but I saw it there once for something like $2/lb. for a large block.  Fresh parsley is under $1 for a bunch at Meijer or Kroger, and it keeps for quite a while in the fridge (put it in an unsealed zip-top bag along with a damp paper towel).  Don't bother with dried parsley; it's not worth it.

Garden Fresh Couscous Salad (original recipe found here)
Time:  30-40 minutes
Serves:  8-9 (this makes a big batch, and it's best to eat it within 2-3 days)

3 medium ears sweet corn, husks removed
1 cup chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 cup uncooked couscous
1 medium cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, and sliced
1-1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved (or bigger tomatoes, diced)
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup chopped red onion
3 T. minced fresh parsley
3 T. olive oil
3 T. lemon juice
1 tsp. dried oregano
3/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

Wrap ears of corn in a single layer of plastic wrap; microwave on high for about 5 minutes.  Remove from microwave (wear oven mitts!) and slit plastic open; allow to cool.  (You can also boil the corn, but I find microwaving is the easiest and fastest cooking method.)

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, bring broth to a boil. Stir in couscous. Remove from heat; cover and let stand for 5-10 minutes or until water is absorbed. Fluff with a fork and set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, combine the cucumber, tomatoes, cheese, onion and parsley. Cut corn kernels from the cobs (if they are still too hot to handle, run cold water over them; pat dry). Add to cucumber mixture. Stir in couscous.

In a small bowl, whisk together oil, lemon juice, and seasonings. Pour over couscous mixture; toss to coat. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate until chilled.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


My brother came down for a visit this weekend.  He came even though I warned him that he would have to spend all his time with me, since my husband is working on a 20-page paper and doing a billion other things besides.  He came even though I'm a wee bit jealous of his fancy camera and make him take all sorts of food pictures for my blog.  I figure it makes up for all the guacamole he devours when he comes to visit.

Anyway, while my husband slaved away, my brother and I took a trip to the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory in downtown Fort Wayne.  He took some cool pictures of the Butterflies of Malaysia exhibit that's there right now:

And some others of the various growing things around the conservatory:

I also dragged him along with me to Meijer, where we found an entire cart of clearance avocados.  Tomatoes were on sale, too.  Coincidence?  I think not.  In payment for his photography efforts (or maybe just to keep him from devouring all my food), I made two huge bowls of guacamole over the weekend.  And then made him take some pictures of it.

This is my own guacamole recipe.  (That's right--for once I'm not stealing it from someone else!)  It makes a pretty small batch, but it can easily be multiplied based on the number of avocados.  I usually increase the other ingredients by a smaller amount; for example, a triple recipe would use three avocados but only two tomatoes, two tablespoons lime juice, etc.  I try not to spend more than $.75 per avocado.  Aldi frequently has them on sale for $.49, and you can sometimes find them on clearance at Meijer (I paid $2 for three).  Cilantro is usually $.89/bunch at Meijer and $.50 at Kroger.  Fresh jalapenos cost next to nothing if you buy just one or two in bulk.  The other ingredients are usually available at the co-op.  My favorite tortilla chips are the multigrain ones at Aldi; they're just $1.69 (other Aldi varieties are cheaper still).

Yield:  1 cup
Time:  30 minutes

1 large avocado
1 T. fresh lime juice
1 roma tomato, finely diced
1 T. onion, finely minced (OR 1 T. green onion, thinly sliced)
1 garlic clove, minced
1 small fresh jalapeno, seeds removed and finely chopped (don't forget the gloves)
1 heaping T. minced cilantro
2 tsp. Frank's Red Hot sauce (or your favorite red pepper sauce)

Cut and peel the avocado (for tips go here).  Scoop out the flesh with a spoon; place it in a bowl and gently mash with a fork.  Add lime juice; combine well.  Add remaining ingredients; serve with tortilla chips.

~ For smoother guacamole, puree the finished mixture in a food processor.
~ For chunkier guacamole, peel the halved and seeded avocado (the skin should peel right off unless it is underripe), then dice the flesh (overripe avocados will not work as well).
~ The lime juice helps prevent the guacamole from turning brown.  When making a large batch of guacamole, add the juice to the bowl first, then toss it with each avocado that you add.
~ Reserve one of the avocado seeds and add it to the finished guacamole; this will help prevent browning as well.  Guacamole should be eaten immediately, if possible, but covering it with plastic wrap (right on the surface of the mixture) can help prevent discoloration (do this with leftovers too).

Friday, May 18, 2012

Spicy Sausage Wraps with Onions and Spinach

I posted this recipe on Facebook before my blog even got started.  I've added some pictures (after digging up my old, not-so-wonderful camera) and made a few changes.  My husband claims this is one of his favorite recipes.  They're yummy.  They're easy.  Make them.

I saw this tasty, inexpensive recipe in the local newspaper while on vicarage.  The original recipe calls for spicy turkey sausage meat, but you can use any variety of turkey or pork bulk sausage.  Of the co-op varieties, I've used both the Italian and the Amish-style pork sausages.  To keep the spicy flavor, I usually add 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes or cayenne powder at the end.  I buy my tortillas at Aldi; a 10-ct. package is $.99.  (Unfortunately, the Aldi brand doesn't seem to freeze as well as others.)  Aldi also has fairly reasonable prices on chunk cheese (about $2 for 8 oz.) if you can't find it at the co-op or on sale elsewhere.  I also use the Aldi Parmesan/romano cheese blend ($2.39)--admittedly not as good as fresh Parmesan, but it's my favorite "brand" of the pre-grated stuff.

Spicy Sausage Wraps with Onions and Spinach
Time:  30-45 minutes
Serves: 4-6

1 lb. bulk sausage (turkey or pork, spicy if possible)
1 Tb. olive oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced (about 4 cups)
8 cups chopped fresh spinach (I just use the whole 10-oz. bag)
1 Tb. minced garlic
8 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes OR 1/4 tsp. cayenne powder, optional
six 8-inch flour tortillas

In a large skillet over medium-high, cook sausage meat until no longer pink, about 6 minutes.  Drain; transfer sausage to a paper towel-lined dish and set aside.

Return skillet to the stove over medium heat.  Add oil and onions, then saute until golden and softened, about 9 minutes.  Stir in the garlic; cook 1 minute.  Add spinach; cover the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the greens are tender, 4 to 6 minutes.  Stir in the reserved sausage until mixture is well combined.  Gently stir in the mozzarella and Parmesan.  Add red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper, if desired.  Season with pepper.

Divide filling among the tortillas.  Roll up, placing the wrap seam-side down on a microwave-safe plate.  Microwave until heated through, about 1 to 2 minutes.  (Alternatively, heat wraps in a 350 F oven for 5-7 minutes.)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Chicken with Curried Mango Sauce

I'm not really into dishes that combine fruit with meat.  I love meat.  I love fruit.  But apples with pork chops just aren't my thing.  Sometimes, though, I feel adventurous and try out a recipe that I normally wouldn't, just to make sure my taste buds aren't missing out.  Tonight I made these Pecan Crusted Chicken Wraps with Strawberry Honey Mustard.  They were pretty tasty, if you ask me.  My husband (who shares my fruit+meat opinions) thought they were too sweet.  I probably won't make them again, but they were a nice change of pace.

We both agree, however, that this mango chicken is basically awesome.  Since my [husband's] camera died this week, and since I don't make any major changes to the recipe, you'll just have to go here to make it.  You can substitute green or yellow bell pepper for the red.  I think the basmati rice is delicious with the tropical-ish flavors, but plain white or brown rice will work as well.  Just remember to start cooking it before you begin the chicken.  Butterflying the chicken breasts--or cutting them in half horizontally--will help them cook faster.  I also find that 1 tsp. oil is not nearly enough to keep the chicken from sticking to the pan, especially if it's been butterflied, so start with 1 T. oil, then add a little water later if the meat is still sticking.  Enjoy!

P.S.  Fresh chicken breasts are on sale at Kroger this week (through Thursday) for $1.88/lb.

P.P.S.  Aldi has some great deals on produce this week (through Wednesday), including 3-pack cucumbers for $0.69, 1-pound baby carrots for $0.69, 8-ounce mushrooms for $0.69, 10-ounce grape tomatoes for (you guessed it) $0.69, and 3-pack bell peppers for $1.29.  I love Aldi.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Black Bean and Tomato Quinoa

You're right.  This isn't exactly a co-op recipe.  Not because the main ingredient is nowhere to be found at the co-op (that never stopped me from posting fresh chicken recipes), but because it's so annoyingly expensive.  In fact, the only reason I have quinoa on hand is because my mother-in-law bought a giant bag of it at Sam's Club and generously bestowed half of it on me.  (Yes!)  I had never even heard of quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) at that point, much less tasted it, and after some very, um, interesting experiments with quinoa muffins and other weird recipes, I found this one on Epicurious.  And this is the one.  If you have a sad and lonely bag of quinoa hiding in the back of your pantry, get it out and celebrate, because this tasty little salad is the best thing since... whatever I posted last time.  And if you don't have millions saved to buy quinoa at Meijer, convince a rich friend with a Costco membership to split a bag with you.  It'll be worth it.

Black Bean and Tomato Quinoa (based on this recipe)
Serves 6 as a side dish
Time:  45 minutes

2 tsp. grated lime zest
2 T. fresh lime juice
2 T. butter, melted and cooled
1 T. vegetable oil
1 tsp. sugar
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup quinoa
1 (14- to 15-oz.) can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 medium tomatoes, diced

Whisk together first five ingredients, plus 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper, in a large bowl.  Set aside.

Rinse quinoa in three changes of cold water (you can do this in a bowl and drain in a sieve, or just put it in a sieve and toss with one hand under the water).  Transfer quinoa to a 2-qt. saucepan; add 2 cups water.  Cover; bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer uncovered 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat; cover with a clean tea towel and allow to rest 5 minutes.

Add quinoa to dressing and toss until dressing is absorbed, then stir in remaining ingredients and salt and pepper to taste.

Notes:  This salad can be eaten warm or cold--my husband and I both prefer it chilled.  If making ahead, leave the tomatoes out until just before serving.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Peanut Butter Cookies

My friend pointed out the other day that I haven't posted many dessert recipes on this blog.  It's true.  But don't think for a second that it's because I'm some kind of dessert-hating freak.  In fact, I have a terrible sweet tooth.  I would much rather eat chocolate and pie than oranges and brussels sprouts.  I'm also lazy when it comes to sweets.  Why would I spend half the night rolling dough into balls the size of small walnuts when I can dig into a carton of cookies 'n cream in two minutes?

Anyway, since I don't want my teeth to rot out of my head before I'm thirty, and because I don't want to end up with the figure of a sumo wrestler, and since I have more fun cooking with real food, my dessert-making enterprises are pretty minimal.

These cookies, though, are worth the effort.  I've been making them since I was a kid with the recipe in my mom's well-worn copy of the 1950s Betty Crocker cookbook.  You don't stuff them with cream cheese, or add Nutella to the dough, or roll them in extra peanut butter, or deep fry them.  They're just plain old classic peanut butter cookies, and they're great.  (And gone already.  Oops.)

Peanut Butter Cookies (Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book)
Yield:  3 dozen
Time:  1 hour +

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup peanut butter (creamy or crunchy)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt

Combine first five ingredients (through egg) in a large bowl (I just use a sturdy mixing spoon, but a hand mixer also works).  In a separate bowl, sift or whisk together remaining ingredients.  Gradually add dry ingredients to wet.  Chill dough (ten minutes in the refrigerator is usually enough; I like to chill the baking sheets too).

Preheat oven to 375 F.  Roll dough into balls the size of small walnuts (about 1" diameter).  Place 2 to 3 inches apart on lightly greased baking sheet.  Flatten in a crisscross pattern with a fork dipped in flour.  Bake 10 to 12 minutes (less for darker pans), until lightly browned on bottom.  Let rest on pan 5 minutes, then transfer to a baking rack.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Classic Beef Enchiladas

My grandmother was still in her teens when she married my grandfather, a man ten years her senior.  She was one hundred percent German.  He was one hundred percent Hispanic (mostly Mexican).  You can guess that food and favorite dishes were not a point of one hundred percent agreement between the two of them.  Needless to say, my grandma learned all about cooking chorizo and tamales and enchiladas--her mother-in-law's way--pretty quickly.  My dad and his brothers and sister grew up eating homemade Mexican dishes on a regular basis.  By the time I came along, tamale-making was a steadfast family tradition at Christmas, and my dad had recipes for fidello and picadillo and homemade flour tortillas close at hand.  And there is most certainly a "Mexican" section in my own recipe binder now.  My grandma still makes the world's best German potato salad.  But now she leaves most of the Mexican cooking up to us. :)

As promised, here's the recipe for my dad's classic enchiladas.  This is another one where I scribbled down some notes and later turned them into a real recipe with measurements and numbers.  Most of these family recipes focus more on technique and ingredients than specific amounts--those are left up to your own tastes and preferences.  Feel free to taste as you go, but don't skip important steps like lightly frying the tortillas or using from-scratch taco meat.  You won't regret it.  Yum.

Classic Beef Enchiladas
Time:  50-55 minutes (doesn't count the 20 minutes to prepare meat)
Serves 6-8

1 can (15-16 oz.) tomato sauce
1 heaping tsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
1/4 tsp. seasoned salt
14-15 corn tortillas
2 cups (approx.) sharp cheddar cheese, diced
1 small to medium onion, diced
1/2 to 3/4 lb. taco meat
canola oil, for frying

Combine first 4 ingredients in a bowl; set aside.  Set up a work station with onions, cheese, and meat in separate bowls nearby.  Lightly grease a 9x13 casserole or pan (glass or metal both work) and set near your work station.

Make sure tortillas are dry (especially if they have been frozen and thawed).  Have lots of paper towels close at hand.  Heat about 1/4" oil in a large skillet over high heat (I use a skillet with 2" sides to prevent the oil from spattering).  The oil is ready when a drop of water sizzles when added to pan.  Reduce heat to medium high.  Using a pair of tongs, cook tortillas one by one in oil until softened, but NOT hard, about 10 seconds on each side.  Place on a plate lined with paper towel.

Assemble tortillas in sets of four or five, working quickly so they do not harden.  (It helps to have a second person rolling up the tortillas while the other fries them.)  Fill each tortilla with meat, cheese, and diced raw onions; roll up and place seam down in 9x13 pan.  You should be able to fit about 14 filled tortillas into the pan.

Cover completed tortillas with sauce; sprinkle with more cheese.  Cover.  Bake at 375 F for 20-30 minutes or until cheese is melted and enchiladas are heated through.  May be frozen before baking.

Basic Taco Meat

You there.  Yes, you.  Step away from the taco seasoning packet.  Do you really think that stuff is going to result in anything but nasty beef?  What?  The real stuff takes too long?  Um, clearly you haven't given it a try.  As long as you're browning up a batch of meat, you might as well chop up an onion and throw in some real spices instead of that salt lick you've got there.

In case you're not convinced, here's a list of the ingredients on a name-brand taco seasoning packet:  Yellow corn flour [since when does flour count as a seasoning?], salt [that explains the 430 mg. per serving], maltodextrin [huh?], paprika [that's better, I guess], "spices," modified cornstarch, sugar [this isn't dessert, people], garlic powder [finally something tasty], citric acid, autolyzed yeast extract [I'm not even going to ask], natural flavor [whatever that means], caramel color [because all the flour and salt means this stuff would be a sickly white otherwise].  I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure real Mexican cooks use stuff with names like cumin and chili powder and garlic to flavor their food.  And while I'm a fan of convenience as much as anybody, it really isn't that difficult to measure out a few spices, especially if you're a fan of food that, well, tastes good.

This is my dad's recipe--sort of.  My dad doesn't actually have the recipe written down; he just throws stuff together until it tastes right.  So if you like a little more cumin, feel free to add it.  If the chili powder scares you, tone it down if you want (but this really isn't spicy at all).  If you have the space, this is a great recipe to make in big batches and freeze in half- or one-pound amounts for later.  As far as turning this into a meal, the possibilities are endless--you can use it in tacos, of course, or in enchiladas, tostadas, nachos--you name it.

Basic Taco Meat
Yield:  1 pound
Time:  15-20 minutes

1 lb. ground beef
1 medium onion, diced
2 roma tomatoes, diced (canned diced tomatoes work also--use about half a can, drained)
1 garlic clove, minced (or dash garlic powder)
1 T. cumin powder
1 T. chili powder
dash seasoned salt (optional)
dash black pepper

In a large pan over medium heat, cook beef and onion until beef is browned.  Drain (I like to keep the grease in an old glass jar in the refrigerator; when it gets full, just throw the whole thing out).  Add remaining ingredients; simmer, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes are tender, about five minutes.

Freezes well.  Use in tacos or tostadas, enchiladas, or other Mexican recipes.

Next up: put your taco meat to good use with these amazing authentic enchiladas.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Cranberry Chicken Salad

This chicken salad is a) one of my favorite summer meals and b) basically awesome.  It doesn't hurt that it is required by law to be served on flaky, buttery croissants, the best bread known to chicken salad-dom.  And since croissants come in all sizes, these sandwiches are great for any occasion.  Pile up mini croissants for a fancy shower or tea.  Pack a basket of standard-size sandwiches for a picnic lunch.  Stuff one of those giant croissants to split with your sweetie--or to devour yourself.  (I may have just done exactly that, which is what happens when I'm left to forage for dinner by myself.)

The star of these sandwiches (besides the croissant, of course) is the dried cranberry.  These little guys burst with flavor and color and almost make you think that you're eating health food.  This time I found my dried cranberries at Aldi in a 6 oz. bag for $1.39.  I was so excited about the great deal that I didn't read the package very closely.  It wasn't until I was two bites into my sandwich that I realized my cranberries were cherry flavored.  Um, no.  Aldi does carry regular dried cranberries; you just have to hunt around for them.  I also think most grocery stores carry a generic version of Craisins; either way, you don't have to shell out half your paycheck to make these mouth-watering sandwiches.

Cranberry Chicken Salad (based on this recipe)
Serves:  4
Time:  15-20 minutes

1/4 cup diced celery
1/4 cup dried cranberries (preferably unsweetened)
1/4 cup sliced almonds
2/3 to 3/4 cup mayonnaise (start with the smaller amount and add more if necessary; I use olive oil or low-fat mayo)
2 T. chopped red onion (optional)
1/4 tsp. pepper
dash salt
2 cups cooked chicken breast, cubed
4 croissants, split
4 lettuce leaves (optional)

In a large bowl, combine first seven ingredients.  Add chicken.  Spoon onto croissants; add lettuce, if desired.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Edible Vegetable Flowers

I was never a picky eater.  Neither were my brothers.  Sure, we turned up our noses at lima beans and brussels sprouts, but there was The Rule: we always had to try a little of everything, even if we thought (or knew) that we didn't like it.  Eventually we must have figured out it wasn't worth the fight.  Besides, my dad actually liked lima beans and brussels sprouts, and there was always the dream that he might actually agree to eat our share.  Yeah, right.

As a result, we were known far and wide (at least by our grandparents' friends and cashiers and mailmen and hair stylists) as the children who ate everything on their plates.  They shouldn't have been so impressed.  One grandma served us spammies (yes, Spam sandwiches) and dinosaur cookies and pecans and grilled cheese sandwiches with real Velveeta and other exotic foods.  Our other grandma baked us cookies and took us all out to Russ's and Bill Knapp's and other old people restaurants, where we could order anything we wanted.  It's no wonder we cleaned our plates.  There were no brussels sprouts on those kid's menus.

One of my brothers, though, developed a curious taste for raw kale--you know, the stuff they tuck next to the pickle spear as a garnish.  He would collect the kale from everybody's burger platters and eat them while the grandparents marveled.  I'm pretty sure he kept this up for a couple of years before realizing that he was a human, not a goat, and should be eating Grandma's spammies instead.

Some garnishes are pretty and delicious, though (yes, I am going somewhere with this, and it isn't to the land of Spam).  A couple weeks ago I made an edible bouquet of fruit and vegetable flowers for an event at work, which turned out like this:

It was all edible, down to the green onion leaves.  And now I have a new skill set to put on my resume.  Or at least on my blog.  I wouldn't want you to feel left out.

Flower Pots and Vases

For the base of my arrangement, I hollowed out a large cantaloupe, first cutting out an opening on top (as you would a Halloween pumpkin), then scraping out the seeds, and finally scooping out the flesh with a melon baller.  I trimmed a little piece off the bottom so it wouldn't wobble.  Then I packed the empty rind with large chunks of iceberg lettuce, an inexpensive filler into which you can poke skewer "stems."

If you don't want to spend the time making an edible vase, you can stuff chunks of lettuce into a flower pot or other container.  Or just arrange the flowers in a vase.  Or don't give them stems at all.  It's up to you.

Stems and Leaves

If you do want to arrange your flowers in some kind of container (as opposed to setting them on a plate as garnish), you'll want to start with some leaves and stems.  For each flower, you'll need one green onion and one skewer.  Skewers are $1-2 for a package of 100 at Meijer, Kroger, Target, Walmart, etc.  Look in the kitchen gadget section.  I use the 12-inch ones that are about 3mm in diameter.  The thicker ones are good for supporting pineapple flowers, but they won't fit inside a green onion.

Trim off the root end of the green onion, as well as the tips of any discolored or ragged leaves.  I like to trim all the cut-off leaves on a diagonal.  Insert the pointed end of a skewer into the root end of an onion, and carefully push it all the way up until about an inch or two of skewer sticks out at the bottom.  If the skewer ends up inside a leaf (this happens a lot), poke a hole so that the leaf can hang down naturally and the end of the skewer is visible.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

Radish Roses
Begin 8 hours in advance.

Pick evenly rounded radishes without any big dents or soft spots.  Trim off any little hair-like roots.

Cut a thin slice off the stem end so the radish can stand upright.

Using a sharp paring knife, cut a V-shaped wedge in the root end, about 1/4" deep.  Most of the root should come off; if not, it's okay.

Make two identical V-shaped cuts in the shape of an X over the first cut.  This completes the top of the rose.

If you look at the radish from the side, you will see six red points.  Underneath each point you will cut a petal.  Using just the tip of the paring knife, make two shallow facing cuts to create one petal (see pictures below).  The knife should not point into the center of the radish--this would make too deep a cut.

Use the tip of the knife to ease the petal open slightly.  Repeat all the way around for a total of six petals.

Float the completed radishes in a bowl of ice water in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours--this allows the petals to open.

Pepper Lilies and Tulips
Begin 8 hours in advance.

I use mini sweet peppers (available at Aldi and any grocery store) for these flowers, but bell peppers can be cut in a similar manner.  Select peppers that are straight and fairly uniform in shape; the ones on the left will work, but the others will not (extra peppers can be frozen for cooking).

Insert your paring knife straight down into the pepper, all the way through, about 3/4" from the stem.  Make a cut from there to the opposite end.

Make two similar cuts to divide each half in thirds, this time cutting through only one wall of the pepper.  You should end up with six equally sized segments attached at the bottom.

Now for the tricky part:  Carefully trim each of the six "petals" to remove any ribs or excess flesh; you can also trim the sections into points if needed.

Leave the seeds intact; you may need to remove the surrounding ribs, however.

Float the peppers in a bowl of ice water in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours; the petals will spread open, creating a lily shape.

To make a tulip, cut off the end of a pepper; the remaining section (stem end) should be about as long as it is wide.

Make two cuts in the shape of a cross about halfway down the pepper.

Trim each of the four segments into a rounded petal.  Leave the seeds intact, but trim away any ribs.

Float in ice water in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours.

Finishing Touches

One your eight hours are up, the radishes and peppers should have opened up into beautiful flowers.  Drain them on paper towels and cut off any stems with kitchen shears.  Any of the flowers can be used as garnishes, or you can pile them up in the center of a veggie tray (the pepper flowers are particularly tasty with hummus or white bean dip).

Or you can attach the flowers to their green onion stems.  Simply stick the flower onto the pointed end of the skewer--gently rotate the flower back and forth until it's secure.

Finally, arrange the stems in a vase, or stick the exposed skewer into your lettuce-stuffed container.  Voila!