Archive | January, 2013

Double up!

26 Jan

When I cook, when I really roll my sleeves up and dig into the kitchen and my recipes for the long haul, I cook big.  There is simply no reason to cook only one meal at time.  When cooking chicken, it is easy to toss a couple of extra pieces in the oven or on the grill to freeze and use later.  When making a sauce, it gets doubled  so the extra sauce can be used later.  Even when a small amount of food is left over from a meal, I save it for inspiration for another dish to prepare later.

Crazy days and intense schedules can be the norm for all parents at some point.  Those are the days when pulling home cooked leftovers out of the freezer pays off.    Recently, my teen aged daughter asked me what was for dinner.  I gently informed her that I was taking the night off.  To my credit, I said this with conviction and not even a tiny bit of guilt!  Hey, if we aren’t teaching our kids how to take care of themselves, we aren’t doing our job right!

After the look of horror and accompanying eye roll passed over her face, she resigned herself to the fact that I was, indeed, not moving off the couch and away from the novel I had started to read.  So she looked in the freezer for something easy to eat.  She found about a 1/4 cup of home made pesto-a favorite of hers!

That was all the inspiration that she needed…well, that and the hunger pangs of a teenager that hasn’t eaten for a little bit.  She heated that pesto up in the microwave.  Meanwhile, she put a pot of water on the stove to boil and pulled out the George Foreman grill and turned it on.  Back to the freezer while the water and grill were heating, she found a boneless skinless chicken breast.  Onto the grill that went.

If it doesn’t bite them on the hand, a teenager won’t fix it.  So I make it easy on them, and on myself.  I try to make time to cook up some staples during the week.  Sometimes during the evening when the children are tackling some homework, I can cook up some chicken or brown some ground beef, season it up, and put it in the freezer.  It is easy to pull out some chicken meat that has some taco seasoning on it, put it on a tortilla, add some cheese and peppers, and make a quesadilla.  Easy food and easy clean up!  It is important to me that “scratch made” food, which is healthier than grocery store prepared or fast food, is available for my family.  And believe me, when I get in the kitchen and start cooking, and those amazing smells waft about, I become the most popular mom around!  Nothing like being Queen in the kitchen!

Simple!

24 Jan

Baking is an exact science.  A chemical reaction needs to occur for the recipe to work.  Cooking is the opposite.  It’s a little of this and a pinch of that.  Cooking and recipes can change with your mood, what you have available, or who will be eating it.  That’s what I love.

I am touchy feely, as so is my food.  I love to take a recipe and then adjust it to make it “mine”.  I try to make a recipe exactly according to how it is written the first time and then add notes.  My cookbooks are filled with notes of how recipes turned out, what changes to make, and if it should be made again.  ( I would like to think that these books will be cherished many years after I am gone and that it is what my kids will fight over..).  I write these notes next to the actual recipe.  I also have a 3 ring binder in case I print a recipe off of the internet.  I can 3 hole punch it and add it in…if it is deemed worthy!

Recipes can be simple, with very few ingredients.  Its a new year, so jump right in and start cooking…or should I say assembling!   A recipe can be something like a fresh parfait recipe:

  • Vanilla yogurt, 6 ounces
  • fresh or frozen strawberries, 1/4 cup
  • fresh or frozen blueberries, 1/4 cup

Layer 3 ounces of yogurt in a mug.  Add strawberries and top with 3 ounces of yogurt.  Place blueberries on top, and enjoy a healthy berry parfait.

Cooking takes experience, and it can be a little scary to begin.  I sometimes get frustrated if I make a dish that does not turn out and my ingredients and efforts are wasted.  But wasted is the wrong word to use.  When you learn something, it is not time wasted!  Just have a backup plan in the freezer to pull out just in case!  When starting, try a recipe that does not have expensive or complicated ingredients.  Then jump in and go for it!  Have fun!  And don’t forget to add your own personal touch!

Pimento Cheese

16 Jan

I moved to the southeastern part of the country about 15 years ago.  I had spent my entire life prior to that living in the midwest.  My culinary roots are steeped in basic farm to table food.  I was not exposed to a lot of different food growing up.  Strictly regional and deliciously 50’s Americana food is what I ate growing up.  When I started cooking, I began with what I knew.  I pretty much nailed good midwestern cooking.  You know, roasts, whole chickens, potatoes, green beans, and the crowning jewel…lumpless rich gravy!   Yummy, but basic.  Which is exactly the way to begin something.  Learn the basics first.  Get some techniques down.  Become confident.  Then stretch your wings!

When I moved to this part of the country,  I read “Gone with the Wind”, a great Southern classic.  A friend had suggested reading something southern in celebration of moving to the southern part of our country.  Yes, its fiction.  But I came from Illinois, the “Land of Lincoln”, and I found that reading this book was a colorful expansion of culture, and a wonderful one at that.  I caught myself up on southern history and southeastern geography as well.  I tried to immerse myself in my new home town in a new and unfamiliar part of the country.  Naturally, that led me to learning about southern food.  In doing so, I discovered a new favorite appetizer.

I had never heard of pimento cheese prior to moving to this part of the country.  I am thrilled to have not only discovered it, but to have a whiz bang recipe for it that I love.  I whip this up quickly and let it sit in the fridge.  Believe me, it does not last long in my house.  We toss it on crackers, slather it on sandwiches, and heat it up in quessadillas.

As with most of my recipes, I do have some secrets that go with this one.  I usually add a tablespoon or two of diced jalapeno peppers to this recipe.  This brings nothing but praise from my teenagers, who tend to  like a little zip in their food.  I also usually mix 1 cup each of 2 different kinds of cheddar cheese, such as a mild cheddar and a sharp cheddar.

Years ago when I began making and tweaking this recipe, I liked to chat about it. You know us foodies…we just have to talk about food!  Anywhooo, I was chatting about pimento cheese with a lovely elderly lady with whom I shared a friendship.  This lady was the epitome of southern charm and graciousness.  Never without lipstick, she had the most beautiful gray hair, always perfectly coiffed.  Her clothes were always perfectly modest and pressed.  She had a lovely lilt to her voice and was proud to have her roots firmly planted in the south.  As I excitedly told her about my new found fondness for pimento cheese, she inquired as to my recipe.  I shared it with her.

Sure my recipe was basic.  I thought it to be a great starting point.  When she heard it, she oh so gently lifted her hand to her mouth and cupped it around her lips.  A secret was about to be revealed!  (Usually ladies do this when they are proudly revealing that they just got an additional 25% off on a new dress, or what the neighbor spent on their new car.  There is an exciting element of collusion when the mouth gets cupped in such a way!).  “Do you add any vinegar to your pimento cheese?” she asked with raised eyebrows and a proud little smirk.  Why no, I said.  A little thrill went through me and I asked her how much to add.  She held her hand up like she was holding a bottle of vinegar.  She then gestured tilting of the bottle to a quick 2 count and said that was how much to add.  Brilliant!!

So my pimento cheese evolved simply into what it is today.  I don’t want to jazz it up too much so it holds true to what it is.  But adding the vinegar is fantastic, as is adding the diced peppers.  Try it and tell me what you think!  Bon appetite!

Amy’s Pimento Cheese

  • 2 cups freshly shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/4-1/3 cup mayonnaise -do not use salad dressing
  • I small jar pimento, undrained
  • 2 T. white vinegar
  • Salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients in a bowl, cover, and refrigerate.  This gets better as it sits in the fridge, but it sure doesn’t last long!   Use as desired!

Thank you

3 Jan

It is now 2013.  I don’t really make New Years Resolutions, but I do make some goals.  I also reflect on the past, and think about how to improve my future.  My journey to love, loyalty, forgiveness, and appreciation continues, as does the journey to discover myself.  A goal for my journey is to make it a joyful one.  So as I do that this year, I want to say thank you.

Thank you to those who told me I couldn’t.  From you I learned that I can.

Thank you to those who gossiped.  From you I learned how to hold my friends dear, and how important it is to keep my mouth shut.

Thank you to those with no faith.  From you I learned that God is central in my life, and that my faith runs deep.

Thank you to those who told me that I am weak.  From you I learned inner strength and confidence.  For you allowed me to dig down and discover that I am stronger than I ever imagined.

Thank you to those that told me I was ugly.  From you I found my inner beauty.

Thank you to those that put up barriers in my life.  From you, I learned how to tear down walls and fight for what I want.

Thank you to those who told me that I am not a good mother.  From you I learned that my commitment to motherhood is beautifully imperfect, and perfectly loving.

Thank you to those that put me second (or more accurately third, fourth or fifth) .  From you I learn to put myself first.

Thank you to those who are loud and demand attention.  From you I learned to be quiet.

Thank you to those who created drama in my life.  From you I am learning to truly appreciate peace.

Thank you to those who have that overpowering sense of entitlement.  From you I am learning to appreciate everything that I have.

Thank you to those who told me to quit.  From you I am learning perseverance.

Thank you to those who brag.  From you I learn humility.

Thank you to those that lied to me.  From you I am learning the importance of the truth.

Thank you to those who are false and phony.  From you I am learning the importance of being truthful and genuine.

Thank you to the people who showed me kindness not because I am needy but because you are good.  Thank you to those who extended generosity, for you have enabled me to more openly give to others.  Thank you for those with whom I share friendship, prayerful faith, and comforting touch not only in times of need, but in all times.  Thank you for those of you that protected me not because I am weak but because you are loyal.  Thank you to those that shared their strength with me during times when I wavered.  For you give me the power to be a pillar of strength to someone else.  Because of you I enter 2013 ready to extend the generous love you have shown me.  After all, it is in giving that we receive.

I have really great friends.  My big crazy family is second to none.  When need be, we close ranks and take care of our own in a heart beat.  I have wonderful people surrounding me.  I am grateful for them everyday.  In fact, I say a prayer of thanks before my feet hit the floor in the morning.

As I take my dog out for the first morning stroll and poo poo (hers, not mine!) , it is still early and dark.  It is before daybreak.  I look up to the sky, marvel at the stars, and take a moment to thank God for my many blessings, for my family, and for the loyal beautiful people in my life.

I am no different from anyone else.  I have been hurt.  I have felt pain of deceit, the heart break of divorce, cruel disloyalty, and the sting of failure.  From that I rise up.  Push forward.  Continue on.  I give thanks to those by my side, and for those that, it seems, turned against me.  From everyone whose life has touched mine, I learn.  I learn loyalty.  And I continue to learn to love.  It is easy to be thankful for the great people in your life and to love them.  The challenge lies in loving and learning from every body else.

I try to appreciate everyone that comes into my life…the good, the bad and the ugly.  Not only do I have something to learn from them, maybe they have something to learn from me.

This blog addresses mostly food.  Today it is about fruits.  The fruits of the spirit.  I harken back to the words of Abraham Lincoln to ponder:  “Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?”  So I enter this year with gratitude, an open spirit, and prepared to learn more lessons!