Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Oh Where, Oh Where Has My Summer Gone?

Oh where... oh where could it be?

Every year, my summer seems to play out in much the same manner. Right after Easter, when there are no more non weekend days off until the end of the school year, I start daydreaming about summer. I imagine the productive days and the relaxing evenings. I think of all of the organizing I will get done around the house, all of the fabulous meals I will make, the projects I will finish, the daily trips to the gym to work-out... And then the end of the school year comes, and I spend about a week *not* doing any of those things because I need time to decompress... And then suddenly it is the fourth of July, and I think, "I need to get on it... Summer is half over..." and then it is August and I have achieved nothing... And now I need to get ready to go back to work, convinced NEXT winter I will be able to park in my garage... really, I will...

Here is how this summer has played out thus far...

May 29: The kids' last day of school
June 1: My last day of school
June 2: My future in-laws arrive
June 3-5: folding programs, making cookies, finishing touches for wedding, doing laundry, packing, preparing the house for our 2 week absence.
June 6: 4 pm My wedding, followed by the reception
June 7: leave for honeymoon at 6:15 am (not optimal, I know... long story...)
June 8-16: Honeymoon
June 17-21: Doing laundry, dealing with mail, writing Thank-you notes
June 22: My 30th birthday
June 24 - July 15: Teaching summer school (Gotta pay for that honeymoon somehow!)
July 20 - 24: Summer Institute to teach AP English (Fabulous information ... 3 hours of commuting per day and lots of homework...)
July 24: Board a plane to Houston to visit family
July 27: Board a plane to meet up with husband in Ft. Lauderdale for a mini trip

... and so here I am... July 28, wondering where my summer has gone. It has not been bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it has been busy, and it has been work intensive, and I go back to work on August 10. As I have never taught ANY of the three courses I am teaching next year, I should probably figure out what is going on with that, and so again I say... NEXT winter I will be able to park in my garage... Really. I will...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fourth Of July

I desperately wanted someone to invite us to a BBQ for the fourth of July. I really wanted a grilled brat. Normally, we have several invitations, and this year... none. It was supposed to rain, so my aunt wasn't having anything. My friends were all busy or out of town. My mom offered to throw something together for us, and while I greatly appreciated it, she lives about an hour away, and Brad had to work at 4:30 am the next day. At about 8:30 on July 3, one of Brad's buddies called and invited us to come watch the fireworks from his front porch. We declined because Brad had to work at 4:30 am the next day. I asked him to call back, though, and tell him that I would bring all of the sides if he would BBQ me a brat. He declared he was up to the challenge. He grilled me a brat, and in exchange, I made baked beans, potato salad, marinated tomatoes and mushrooms, deviled eggs, Sangria and fruit pizza. It worked out well for all parties involved, I think. Why didn't we just barbecue our own brats, you ask? Our grill is currently buried in the garage. Grr.

Baked Beans
6 slices bacon, cut into one inch pieces
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 large can baked beans (I used Bush's Original, because that is what was on sale at Wal-Mart)

Pour can of baked beans into a slow cooker, set to medium or high (depending on what choices you have) heat. Add brown sugar, stir, and cover.

Place the bacon pieces in a skillet over medium high heat, stirring occasionally. When bacon is browned and crispy, remove from the grease using a slotted spoon and stir it into the baked bean mixture. Add onions to the skillet with bacon grease, (turn down to medium heat) stirring frequently. When they are lightly browned, remove them from the grease using a slotted spoon, and stir them into the bean mixture. Heat baked beans in the slow cooker for 2 - 12 hours. (The longer they cook, the "smokier" they taste, but they are still really good after 2 hours.)

Byrdhouse Marinated Tomatoes and Mushrooms (from
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
12 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved
1 (8 ounce) package fresh mushrooms
2 green onions, sliced
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

Whisk together the balsamic vinegar, vegetable oil, sugar, salt, and pepper in a bowl; add the tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, and basil; toss until evenly coated. Cover and chill in refrigerator at least 3 hours. Stir before serving.

The flavor of this dish was really good, but the texture of the experience weirded me out a bit. Next time I make it, I am going to use it to dress a lettuce salad. It would add the dressing, and the tomatoes and mushrooms and green onions, which I would add anyway. I think it will be AMAZING.

Sweet Potato Salad
2 red potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in 1-inch chunks
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup milk
2 celery ribs, chopped
1/3 cup sliced green onion

Heat a large pot of well salted water to boil. When barely boiling, place the red potatoes in the pot, and bring back to boil. Reduce heat to medium, and cook for 2 minutes. Add sweet potatoes; return to a boil. Cook 8-10 minutes longer or until potatoes are fork-tender.

In a large bowl, whisk the vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. Drain potatoes; add to vinegar mixture and stir gently to coat. Cool.

In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise and milk. Stir in the celery and onion. Gently stir into cooled potato mixture. Cover and chill at least 2 hours before serving.

I don't have anything resembling a deviled egg recipe you could follow, so I will just show you the picture. I put mayo, Dijon mustard and pickle relish in them, but I just sort of eye the amounts.

1 bottle dry red wine
1 tablespoon sugar
Juice of 1 large orange
Juice of 1 large lemon
1 large orange, sliced thin crosswise
1 large lemon, sliced thin crosswise
2 medium peaches, peeled, pitted and cut into chunks
8 oz. cold club soda
Slice fruit and place it at the bottom of pitcher. Pour juice from lemon and orange over fruit. Sprinkle sugar on top. Pour wine over the entire mixture, and gently stir to mix the flavors. Cover, and refrigerate over night. Just before drinking, add the club soda, and stir gently.
Brad got into the fruit pizza before I could take a photo, which I think in and of itself is a testament to how incredibly delicious this dessert is.

Fruit Pizza
1 (18 ounce) package refrigerated sugar cookie dough
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 (8 ounce) container frozen whipped topping, thawed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups fresh fruit (I used strawberries, blueberries and blackberries, but any fruit that doesn't brown easily works great. In the past I've also used raspberries, kiwi and peaches.)

1/2 cup white sugar
1 pinch salt
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon orange zest

Preheat oven to 350 F. Arrange cookie dough on greased pizza pan, and press dough flat into pan, no closer than about 1/2 inch from the side of the pan. (The dough will expand upon baking. Don't push it all the way to the edges, or it will bake over.) Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Allow to cool.

In a large bowl, stir together cream cheese, whipped topping and vanilla. Spread over cooled crust. Then, add gently press fruit into mixture. Chill in refrigerator until ready to apply sauce.
In a small saucepan, combine sugar, salt, corn starch, orange juice, lemon juice and water. Cook and stir over medium heat. Bring to a boil, and cook for 1 or 2 minutes, until thickened. Remove from heat, and add grated orange rind. Allow to cool for 10 - 15 minutes. Spoon over fruit. Chill for two hours, then cut into wedges and serve.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Friday Night's Ode to the Irish

Friday night I made the first really nice dinner I have cooked since Brad and I got home from our honeymoon two weeks ago. It began with...

Pears with Cashel Blue Cream and Walnuts
4 oz. cream cheese
3 oz. Cashel Blue Cheese (I used whatever they sell at Aldi, and it was still delicious)
2 Tablespoons light cream
1 cup roughly chopped walnuts
6 ripe pears
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Mixed salad greens
6 cherry tomatoes
salt and pepper

juice of 1 lemon
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon peel
generous pinch of sugar
4 tablespoons olive oil

Mix cream cheese and blue cheese together in a small mixing bowl with a generous grinding of black pepper (1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon). Add cream, and stir. Add 1/4 cup chopped walnuts and incorporate well. Cover and chill until needed.

Peel and halve pears and scoop out the core. Place them in a bowl of water and 1 tablespoon lemon juice to prevent them from browning. To make dressing, whisk all dressing ingredients together. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Arrange a bed of lettuce on each of six salad plates. Place one tomato on each salad plate and sprinkle with remaining walnuts.

Drain pears well, and pat dry with a paper towel. Dip the pears halves in the dressing, and then set in the middle of the salad greens, hollowed side up. Divide the blue cheese mixture into sixths, and scoop it into the pears. Spoon dressing over the salads and serve.

Next, we had...

Pan Fried Gaelic Steaks
4 (8-12 oz) sirloin steaks
1 teaspoon oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup Irish Whiskey
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2 garlic cloves, minced
salt and pepper

Dry the steaks with paper towels and season with pepper. Heat a heavy pan over high heat. When it is very hot, add oil and butter. When the butter is bubbling, add the steaks one at a time. Lower heat to medium. Thicker steaks will require more cooking time than thinner ones. Turn over half way through cooking time: for rare cook 3-4 minute, for medium cook 4-5 minutes, for well cook 5-6 minutes. To confirm, press gently in the center of the meat. If it is soft, it is rare. When there is some resistance, but the meat underneath feels soft, it is medium, and when it feels firm it is well done. (I bought my steaks at Costco, so they were about 2 inches thick. It took about 7 minutes per side to get them medium rare... I also cheat and use a meat thermometer to check the temperature.)

When steaks are properly prepared, remove them from the stove, place them on a plate, and loosely cover with foil to keep warm. Remove any excess fat drippings from the skillet. Saute garlic for about a minute. Add whiskey and scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen any sediment from cooking the steaks. Allow the liquid to reduce a little, then add the cream. Simmer over low heat for about 5 minutes, or until mixture thickens a bit. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve next to or over the steaks.

Accompanied by...

Potato Cakes
1 1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled (I used 3 large)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

Boil potatoes in a large pot of water until tender, then drain well and mash. Salt well, the mix in the butter and allow to cool a bit.

Knead the flour (or as much as is needed to create a pliable dough). Roll to about 1/2 inch thick, and cut into triangles (or the shape of your choice, I suppose...)

Heat a griddle or heavy frying pan over low heat. Melt a small amount of butter in the pan. Cook the potato cakes for about 3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Serve with butter or sugar.

This entire meal was fabulous. This was the first nice meal I made after Brad and I returned from our honeymoon, and it was SOO good. I would highly recommend any or all of these recipes.

Week 1 - Wednesday

Cilantro-Lime Pork Roll-Ups with Caramelized Onions

2 teaspoons grated lime peel
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound boneless pork loin chops or tenderloin, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 small onions thinly sliced
1 (16 oz.) can fat free refried beans
1 (11.5 oz) package flour tortillas for burritos (8 tortillas)
2 cups finely shredded pepper Jack or Monterrey Jack cheese
1 to 1/2 cups chunky salsa
1 (8 oz) container sour cream

In a large resealable Ziploc bag, mix lime peel, lime juice, garlic, cilantro, red pepper flakes and 1 tablespoon oil. Add pork; seal bag and turn to coat with lime marinade. Refrigerate 30 minutes to 2 hours.

In a medium - large sized skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add onions; cook 7-10 minutes, stirring frequently, until onions turn golden brown. Remove onions from skillet; keep warm.

Heat oven to 375 F. Remove pork from marinade; drain pork on paper towels to remove excess moisture. Discard Marinade.

In the same skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add pork; cook 5 - 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until no longer pink in the center. Remove skillet from heat; set aside.
Spray a 13 x 9 inch pan with non stick cooking spray.

To assemble, spoon t tablespoons beans down center of each tortilla. Top with pork, onions and cheese. Roll up tortillas; place seam sides down in baking dish.

Bake uncovered 18 - 24 minutes or until edges of tortillas are golden brown. Serve with salsa and sour cream.

These were really quite delicious. There are a couple of changes I will make when I make them again, and I WILL make them again. First, I am going to leave out the beans. The flavor of the beans doesn't quite go with the rest of the dish, I don't think. (I also don't love beans. If you are a lover of beans, I am sure you will enjoy them immensely.)

Second, I will either double the recipe, or use smaller tortillas. I guess I used tortillas that were too big, because the recipe only made 4 roll ups for me. I cut them in half and had 8 smaller ones, which is really all we needed, but If I needed 8 large tortillas worth of roll-ups, doubling the filling would be in order.

Finally, I did not think it needed salsa or sour cream at all, and that is saying quite a lot because I am addicted to sour cream. It is a food group for me. I put it on anything with melted cheese... except pizza, but that is only because I didn't think of it until now.... Maybe I'll try that. Anyway, I scooped the sour cream out of the container and onto my plate because by golly it called for sour cream, so I was going to use it. It didn't need sour cream. It was so delicious just by itself, that I didn't use ANY sour cream after the initial bite. In case you haven't been paying attention up to this point... The Cilantro Lime Pork Roll-Ups with Caramelized Onions are DYNAMITE!

Note: Brad and I ate the leftovers on Friday for lunch. I sprinkled a little extra jack cheese on top and microwaved until melted. Then, I topped the hot roll-ups with a dollop of sour cream and some chunky salsa. It was dynamite this way, as well.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Day 1 of The Cookbook Challenge

Okay, so I would really like to post my recipes daily, but I am teaching this pesky summer school class and between teaching it and planning for it, and taking my requisite daily nap in the summer, I don't seem to have as much time as I would like.

On Sunday, I made sloppy joes from the church cookbook, onions straws from Pioneer Woman's website and a Creamy Mojito Pie from the Bake-off Cookbook.

Sloppy Joes
1 pound ground beef
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons ketchup
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
1 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon vinegar

Cook and drain ground beef. Combine ketchup, water, lemon juice, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce and vinegar. Stir until all ingredients are combined. Simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in meat.

The recipe as written also called for a teaspoon of salt. I added it, and found it to be overkill, so I am leaving it out of the recipe here. I also simmered the sauce for closer to 30 minutes, and then simmered the meat in the sauce for probably close to 30 minutes, too - not because it needed it, but because I was preparing the onion straws during that time period. I had not had sloppy joes in years, and these were delicious.

Here is the link to the onion straws recipe on Pioneer Woman's website...

I followed her recipe exactly. These were work intensive, but really good.

I also made a dipping sauce for the onion straws, which was REALLY YUMMY.

Dipping Sauce for Onion Straws

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon ketchup
2 tablespoons cream-style horseradish sauce
1/3 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon dried oregano
1 pinch ground black pepper
1/3 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Mix all ingredients together and refrigerate until ready to use.

The pie LOOKED and SMELLED delicious. Unfortunately, I didn't get to try any. I made it for Brad because he has recently become obsessed with the Mojito. He never ate any of it though, and so it sat, unloved, in my fridge for two days. I decided to give it a better life than I could provide and pawned it off on one of my friends. She said it has so far been a big hit among her family.

Creamy Mojito Pie
1 Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust, softened as directed on box

1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, softened
1 cup whole or 2% milk
1 (4 serving size) box vanilla instant pudding mix
1/2 cup frozen (thawed) limeade concentrate
1 1/2 teaspoons rum extract

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon mint extract

Heat oven to 450F. Make pie crust as directed on box for One-Crust Baked Shell using a 9-inch glass pie plate. Bake 10 - 12 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool completely on a cooling rack, about 15 minutes.

In a large bowl, beat cream cheese with electric mixer on low speed until creamy. Add remaining filling ingredients; beat on low speed about 30 seconds or until blended. Beat on medium speed 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally, until thickened and creamy.

Spoon filling evenly into pie crust; refrigerate while making topping.

In same bowl, beat topping ingredients on medium speed until stiff peaks form. Spread topping evenly over filling. Refrigerate 1 hour or until set.

On Monday and Tuesday, I ate leftover sloppy joes for lunch and dinner. On Wednesday night I made Cilantro-Lime Pork Roll-Ups with Caramelized Onions from the Bake-Off cookbook. I was unable to take a picture because I could not get my camera to recognize the new memory card I put in there. I still can't, but I figured out how to use the internal memory it has, so I have pictures of last night's dinner.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Everyone Needs A Challenge...

Last summer began the "Clean out My Freezer and Pantry Challenge of 2008." As you recall, I only bought fresh produce and dairy for just over 3 months as I used up my canned goods and deep freeze items which had reached survivalist proportions. We are not just talking surviving a hurricane or a earthquake... we are talking full on End of Days Nuclear Proliferation survivalist here. (Hence the three months of buying neither meat nor pantry items...)

I got that mess under control. My freezer is full again, but that has more to do with logistics. I live in Podunk middle of nowhere rural Missouri, so I tend to buy meat in bulk at Costco and freeze it. I have, however, made sure I don't have too much of any one item. I have *some* ground beef. I have *some* chicken. I have *a* brisket.

This summer, I have decided to tackle my cookbook collection. Cookbooks take up 15 - 20% of the shelf space in my library. Some of them are well loved and some of them have never been utilized. This summer, I am going to choose 5 cookbooks at random each week, and am going to try to make as many recipes as possible from those five cookbooks that week. If I come across a cookbook that has NOTHING I have any desire to make, it gets the boot. I will find it a home with someone who will appreciate it more than I will. Here is a photo of the cookbooks I chose this week.

This week, I grabbed the Sweet Serendipity cookbook as one of my original 5. The only recipes in this cookbook are fancy desserts. I have NO REASON to make a fancy dessert this week. I decided, though, that since I've used it before and will use it again, it doesn't get the boot. I just grabbed another cookbook instead, and will utilize Sweet Serendipity next time I need a fancy dessert. Stay tuned for pictures and recipes of this exciting new challenge.