Why another cooking blog?

I decided to create this blog as a way for family and friends to see what I'm cooking and to share interesting food related tidbits I come across.
I'm frequently asked for recipes so I thought this would be a good place to start collecting the old, new, and funky recipes that I have.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries

I stumbled across these on Pinterest (where else?) and this blogger (iowagirleats.com) has the right idea. I happened to have a lot of strawberries and I think they sounded pretty tasty so I made them to take to a family dinner on Friday. They turned out great. Unfortunately I did not get a picture before they were inhaled. But I think that is a testament to how good these little bits are!

Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries
Recipe from Sugar Derby
2lbs strawberries
8oz. 1/3 less fat cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 full sheets graham crackers, crushed
1. Cut the tops off the strawberries and, using a paring knife, hollow out the insides.
2. Combine softened cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla together in a bowl, then transfer to a piping or ziploc bag. Snip the corner off the bag and pipe filling into the strawberries, allowing the filling to come a little over the top of the berry.
3. Pour the crushed graham crackers into a shallow dish or bowl. Dip the exposed top of the cheesecake stuffed strawberry into the crumbs.
4. Place into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before serving.


My Notes:
I used fat free cream cheese because that is what I had on hand, also low fat graham crackers. These were devoured! Kid refused to touch them, but Jeff liked them as did every other person at the dinner.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


I found this article to be funny and also offers a simple way for a new comer to dive into the pool that is brisket....

By: Kat Kinsman - Eatocracy managing editor
I've never had any complaints about my brisket. That could be because no one is especially keen to rag on the crazy-eyed lady wielding a hot pair of tongs and giving out free meat, but I'd like to think that it had at least a little bit to do with quality.
Burgers, hot dogs, steaks and chicken are cookout classics for a reason. They're crowd-pleasers and (with a little care) relatively un-screwuppable. They're a safe bet, but for maximum impact, only a giant hunk of meat will get the job done.
Consider the brisket. It's a big ol' flat, cut of beef from the chest of a cow, and it's the stuff of Texas legend. It's bone-free and takes a fairly long time to cook down under low, slow charcoal heat, but every last stomach grumble is worth it.
While many weekend grillers think this sort of project is best left to fifth-generation Texas pitmasters and smoke-soaked competition barbecue acolytes with big, schmancy smokers, a succulent brisket is achievable in your backyard grill.
Really. I promise. Here's how.

There are as many ways to tackle a brisket as there are burly dudes with open beers in their hands - and they're all probably pretty good. This method has worked for me, and I'm endlessly tweaking it, but it starts out with a brisket with a good, solid fat cap on top. In this health-conscious era, some butchers and supermarkets are trimming the fat from meat and touting that as a selling point, but in this case, it's a detriment. In times of desperation, I've patched denuded brisket tops with strips of fatty bacon, but that was far from ideal.
A full brisket is often on the order of 18 to 20 pounds, which is an awful lot of meat to address all at one time, and which will take more time and cash than you're likely willing to spend on your first attempt. Shoot for a trimmed brisket - around 5 to 7 pounds and back it up with a slew of sides if you're expecting a lot of company. Haul that home along with some beer, cider vinegar and wood chips and start your rub.
Ideally you'll have a few hours to let your brisket loll about in these spices, but the barbecue deities are not always smiling their brightest down upon us. You'll plan ahead next time, but for now, cobble this together:
Basic Brisket Rub
1/4 cup Sweet paprika (or hot or smoked if that's more to your liking)
1/4 cup Kosher salt
1/4 cup Brown sugar
2 Tablespoons freshly-ground black pepper
Combine all ingredients in a bowl with your fingers, working out any brown sugar lumps.
From here, you can add your own personal twists – tablespoons or teaspoons of dry mustard, coffee, celery seed, dried chiles, powdered onion, garlic salt – up to you. Coriander and cumin play beautifully with heady wood smoke like hickory or apple, but really - even if you keep it super-simple, this brisket is going to be delicious.
Rub this on every surface of the meat and then wrap it and stick it in the fridge for a few hours (or overnight), or go out and start building your fire. Unlike a burger, steak or hot dog where flame proximity is paramount, large cuts like briskets and pork shoulders fare better under sustained, low, indirect heat.
Pour half a beer into a bowl and toss in a handful of wood chips. You'll develop your own wood preferences the longer you're on the smoke train, but fruit woods like apple and cherry are a solid choice, as are mesquite and hickory. Don't fret. And don't guzzle the other half of the beer; pour that into another bowl with a cup of cider vinegar, a pinch or two of red pepper flakes and another each of salt and pepper. That will be your mop sauce.
Light a charcoal chimney (here's how), and when the coals have ashed over, layer them evenly on one side on the grill and place a drip pan on the other. Replace the grates on the side over the drip pan and go fetch your meat.
Position the brisket as far from the coals as you can, grab some wet chips and a few dry ones, carefully throw them atop the coals and close the lid of the grill. Smoke will start to billow out of the vents and it will smell like heaven.
Enjoy that for a few minutes, then check the grill's temperature. You're aiming for 225°F; if it's lower, open your vents as wide as they'll go (and add more coals if need be) and if it's too hot, ease them closed. That may seem counterintuitive, but fire needs oxygen to feed it. Otherwise - stop futzing with the grill. Temperature shifts are the enemy of excellent smoked meat, and as the pitmasters are wont to say, "If you're looking, you ain't cooking."
Your only excuses for opening the lid should be either the addition of fresh coals or mopping your meat. To achieve the latter, grab that beer and vinegar mixture, stir it up and brush it all over the meat once an hour. Use that window of opportunity to throw on some more wood chips, or rotate (not flip) the brisket half a turn once you're about three hours in, but otherwise leave that meat alone.
By the way, gas grillers are not out of the brisket game. Just keep the heat to 225°F, put the meat in a foil pan to shield it from the direct flames, and place the chips in a foil pouch or metal smoker box.
After about five hours (with the trimmed brisket; on a full one you're just getting started), the game changes a little bit. Whip out your instant-read thermometer and get a reading at the thickest part of the meat. If it's 185-190°F - congratulations; you've achieved brisket. If it's not anywhere close, keep going, but if it's nearly there, check every 20 minutes or so until it's up to temperature - and keep mopping.
Once it's sufficiently heated through and through, hoist that baby onto a cutting board and smack away all greedy fingers attempting to pick at it for the next ten minutes; it's been working hard and it needs to rest. Then grab a sharp carving knife and slice in against the grain.
Ideally, in a single slice, you'll see strata of bark (the dark outer crust), deckle (a layer of fat), a pinkish smoke ring, and moist, succulent meat. Stuff a few slices into your mouth and then feed your guests.
If it doesn't look like that, it's probably still pretty good (and again, you're giving people free meat and that is not to be underestimated). But a few troubleshooting tips:
It's gone beyond bark and got burned
Not all briskets are shaped equally, and thinner parts, or spots with less fat cook more quickly. Wrap those spots with foil or shield them from the heat with bacon if you don't mind mixing meats.
It's dried out
For right now, offer a side of sauce or pan drippings if you have them. In the future, spend some time getting to know your grill's vents and hot spots, monitor the temperature closely throughout the process and mop, mop, mop. Some grillers also keep a pan of water inside the grill to maintain a moister environment. Others inject it with a marinade, but that's always seemed a little fussy to me.
It's tough, but not burned or dry
Feed your guests some sides and keep cooking because it's just not done yet. Grills and briskets vary mightily, and while some people go by a rule of thumb - an hour to an hour and a half per pound - it might be more and it might be less. Just listen to your brisket and keep your trusty thermometer at your side.
I'm really tired of going out there and fussing with it
Aw, but that's the fun part! If you're truly having problems maintaining temperature or are just getting antsy, pull the brisket from the grill after two to three hours and finish it in a 225°F oven. Mopping and temperature taking vigilance still apply.
Got a brisket question or methodology you'd care to share? Please do so in the comments below. We'd love to hear from you and help/be yelled at as needed.
Achieve grilling greatness – tips, recipes, advice and inspiration from professional chefs and backyard masters


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Chicken and Spinach Stuffed Shells

 Yet another pinterest find for me from The Girl Who Ate Everything

Chicken and Spinach Stuffed Shells
1 (12-ounce) box uncooked jumbo pasta shells (if all of yours survive the boil this is enough, to be safe you may want 1 1/2 boxes)
2 cups chopped cooked chicken
2 cups fresh chopped spinach
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (15oz) container ricotta cheese
2 (8oz) packages cream cheese, softened (I think you could get away with one package)
1 (5oz) package shredded Parmesan cheese (about 1 2/3 cups)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 Tablespoon dried parsley flakes
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
1 (26oz) jar prepared spaghetti sauce (this was just enough. If you like it saucier use more)

1. Cook shells according to package directions. Be careful not to overcook them or they will tear easily when trying to fill them. Drain and set shells out individually on a cutting board or baking sheet so that they don’t stick together.

2. Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly grease two 9x13 baking dishes.

3. In a large bowl, combine chicken and all the rest of the ingredients except mozzarella and spaghetti sauce. Stir in 1 cup mozzarella. Spoon into shells. *Tip: For easier filling, fill a gallon ziplock baggie with the filling and snip a quarter size hole off the corner of the bag. Then you can just pipe the filling into the shells.

4. Spread half of spaghetti sauce into prepared baking dishes. Arrange shells over sauce; top with remaining sauce. Cover tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil. If you are freezing one of the 9x13 prepared pans, freeze it after this step. Include a baggy of the remaining mozzarella for when you cook it.

5. Bake, covered, for 40 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with remaining 1 cup mozzarella. Bake for 5 to 10 more minutes.

Makes 8-10 servings.
Source: posted by Sisters Cafe; original recipe by Paula Deen

They look like a hot mess but these two are the all that was left...

My Notes:
I deviated from this recipe only because my iPad kept locking itself and I tired of typing in my password so I tried to do it from memory. Oops.
I only used one package of cream cheese and my ricotta was moldy (crap) so I threw some swiss cheese in the mixture to add some more cheesy-ness. I also forgot parsley but I'm ok with that.

9 WW pts on Points Plus

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Stuffed Pork Chops

Occasionally my grocery store puts center cut pork loins on sale for 1/2 off. Recently they had such a sale so we loaded up on the pork loins. I like those because you can cut your own pork chops and you get a small roast to boot. I took one of the pork loins and decided to do some really thick cut (about 1 1/2in thick maybe even 2in) chops for stuffing. Having never done that before I took to the internet for research. This was the end result:

Aren't the grill marks pretty?

I basically did an amalgamation of recipes (mostly from Food Network). I knew what I wanted for the stuffing I just needed the technique. I stuffed these bad boys with fresh grated gouda, spinach, onions, and bacon.

I sauteed the bacon and onions until the onions were nice and tender. Then I threw in the spinach to let it wilt and then let the mixture cool. I took a sharp paring knife, inserted it into the chop and then swept it about 2/3 of the way down the chop then to the side (this is hard to describe) then I did the other side basically making a nice pocket with about an inch slit for the opening. Then I stuffed until the chop was full but not overflowing. Jeff grilled them while I made a cheesy risotto.

Holy frijoles these pork chops were good. Everyone raved about them even the kid. This is a definite winner. Try it.... you won't have any leftovers.

Apple Bundt Cake

This is one of my favorite cake recipes to make. I usually make it in the fall but Jeff had to take lunch to work for a meeting and requested this cake for the dessert. I found the recipe on a Good Eats discussion board a long time ago. I went back to look for it and could not find it. I'm glad I'm finally putting this recipe online because I only have one printed copy and I always have a small heart attack when I can't find it.

Apple Bundt Cake
Bon Appetit
December 1999
Amanda Denton, Barre VT

4 medium Golden Delicious applices (about 1 1/2lbs), peeled, cored, and into 1/3 in pieces
5T plus 2 1/2 C sugar
2t ground cinnamon
4 large eggs
1C vegetable oil
1/4 orange juice
1T grated orange peel
1t vanilla extract
3C all purpose flour
3 1/2t baking powder
1/2t salt
powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350F. Oil and flour a 12C bundt cake pan.  Mix apple pieces, 5T sugar and cinnamon in medium bowl.  Combine 2 1/2C sugar, eggs, vegetable oil, orange juce, orange peel, and vanilla in a large bowl; whisk to blend.  Stir flour, baking powder, and salt into egg mixture.  Spoon 1 1/2C of batter into prepared cake pan.  Top with half of apple mixture. Cover with another 1 1/2C batter. Top with remaining apples, then batter.

Bake cake until top is brown and tester inserted near center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 1 hour 30 minutes.  Cool cake in pan on rack for 15 minutes. Run knife around sides of pan to loosen.  Turn cake out onto rack.  Cool at least 45 minutes.  Dust with powdered sugar. Serve lightly warm or at room temperature.

My notes
I generally use an assortment of apples. My favorite cinnamon comes from Penzeys Spices. It is their own special blend, and it's awesome. You can order from them online, honestly you can't go wrong with anything they sell. This store is dangerous! I end up spending a lot of money whenever I go but it is well worth it.

Now, I know I've said it before and I'm going to say it again..... I think it's important to own up to kitchen failures along with the successes. I had a bit of a catastrophe when making this cake. I misread the ingredients and put in 3 1/2 tablespoons of baking powder instead of 3 1/2 teaspoons. This was the result:

Isn't that fun? Hot, smoky, drippy mess. At least I had my pizza stone on the bottom rack so most of the batter dripped onto that. The cake tasted alright, but it sure didn't look pretty. So we kept the ugly cake and Jeff made rice krispy treats instead.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

America's Gone Bananas

Here is a link go an intersting story from NPR about bananas and how they came to be so popular in America.

OR if you would like, here is an exceprt from the book: The Fish That Ate the Whale

National Gingerbread Day

Oh joy! It's national ginger bread day! I love gingerbread. Here's a recipe from CNN.

While you're frying up some eggs and bacon, we're cooking up something else: a way to celebrate today's food holiday.
It's not just for the holidays - June 5 is National Gingerbread Day.
Gingerbread actually refers to a number of sweet confections that include ginger, whether a moist loaf of bread or a crispy cookie.
Ginger is one of those versatile spices that lends well to lots of different cooking styles. It’s related to warm and sweet spices like tumeric and cardamom, and pairs well with molasses and cinnamon. The Germans have pretty much perfected their type of gingerbread cookie, called the Lebkuchen, but it tastes nothing like that sweet and spicy gingersnap your grandmother makes.

There’s also a debate over whether using dried ginger, fresh ginger or crystallized ginger is best. Each has different merits, ranging from ease of use to ginger flavor. Try each one and decide for yourself, just be careful when substituting them for each other!
Below is my favorite gingerbread cookie recipe. It’s from a co-worker’s great aunt of County Down, Northern Ireland, and calls for both ground ginger and crystallized ginger.

Auntie May’s Ginger Biscuits
Courtesy Richard Griffiths
6 ounces salted butter, softened to room temperature
8 ounces (1 cup) granulated sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1 egg
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups bread flour (you can also use all-purpose, but not self-rising)
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces crystallized ginger, chopped finely
Preheat oven to 190° Celsius, or 375° Fahrenheit. Mix together the soft butter, sugar, molasses and egg until smooth.
In a separate bowl, blend together the flour, baking soda, spices, salt and chopped ginger until even.
Stir the dry mixture into the liquid. Stir very well until it reaches a dry dough consistency.
Allow to rest in cool larder or refrigerator for an hour or two.
Prepare greased baking pans. You’ll need at least two to handle volume. (The recipe makes about 50 small biscuits.)
Roll the dough into one-inch balls. Coat in sugar and place them on the baking pans about 3 inches apart.
Bake for 9-12 minutes. Allow to cool on a tea towel and then put in sealed tin to keep biscuits crisp.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Chicken Spaghetti Pioneer Woman Style

I found this recipe on Pioneer Woman's website. I thought it sounded pretty good so why not give it a try. However, Jeff did not really enjoy this and neither did I. The kid thought it was great. I think it needs some more flavor and possibly something with crunch.

Added by Ree on September 5, 2009 in Main Courses, Pasta

2 cups Cooked Chicken
3 cups Dry Spaghetti, Broken Into Two Inch Pieces
2 cans Cream Of Mushroom Soup
2 cups Grated Sharp Cheddar Cheese
¼ cups Finely Diced Green Pepper
¼ cups Finely Diced Onion
1 jar (4 Ounce) Diced Pimentos, Drained
2 cups Reserved Chicken Broth From Pot
1 teaspoon Lawry's Seasoned Salt
⅛ teaspoons (to 1/4 Teaspoon) Cayenne Pepper
Salt And Pepper, to taste
1 cup Additional Grated Sharp Cheddar Cheese

Preparation Instructions
Cook 1 cut up fryer and pick out the meat to make two cups. Cook spaghetti in same chicken broth until al dente. Do not overcook. When spaghetti is cooked, combine with remaining ingredients except additional 1 cup sharp cheddar.
Place mixture in casserole pan and top with remaining sharp cheddar. Cover and freeze up to six months, cover and refrigerate up to two days, or bake immediately: 350 degrees for 45 minutes until bubbly. (If the cheese on top starts to get too cooked, cover with foil).

 My Notes
I really didn't deviate from the recipe, except for I only used 2C of cheese total and no seasoned salt. I already had cooked chicken from my stock making earlier in the week. I think it could benefit from some mushrooms, celery, carrot, etc. But that's just me. Bad news for Jeff, I made a double batch of this bad boy and there's a whole other casserole in the deep freeze....

8 pts on WW Points Plus

*Update - I slathered mine in sriracha sauce. It made it better.

Creamy Avocado Pasta

We are leaving for Disney World this week, so we will be eating mostly left overs as I don't want to fill the fridge full of food and then leave. But I'll be back middle of next week.

I really really thought this recipe sounded good. I had an avocado, tomatoes, and pasta, I was excited. Bust. I really hate to say this but we didn't like it. I'm going so far as to say not Nichole approved. This is a first.

Creamy Avocado Pasta Sauce
makes 4 servings
recipe adapted from Oh She Glows

prep time: 10 minutes
cook time:1 hour 10 minutes

10 - 12 small Campari tomatoes, quartered
3 - 4 tbsp olive oil
4 servings of fettuccine noodles
2 ripe avocados, seed and skin removed
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 cup pine nuts
grated fresh Parmesan cheese
salt and cracked black pepper to taste


1. Preheat oven to 300 ºF.

2. Wash and quarter the tomatoes. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with 1 - 2 tbsp olive oil, just enough to make the tomatoes glisten. Bake for 1 hour in the oven.

3. Ten minutes before tomatoes are finished, fill a large pot with water and a sprinkle of salt. Bring to a rapid boil. Add the dry fettuccine to the water and cook until al dente.

4. While the pasta is boiling, add 2 tbsp olive oil, avocado, garlic, salt and lemon juice to a food processor. Pulse until the ingredients are smooth and creamy.

5. Strain the pasta, and combine with the sauce in a large bowl, until all the pasta has been covered.

6. Add the roasted tomatoes, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and pine nuts. Add some salt and black pepper to taste.

note: add some grilled prawns or chicken for protein. 

My Notes
I don't really have any, this was like guacamole on pasta... which in theory sounds good. But the more Jeff and I ate the more we disliked it. Bummer.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Balsamic Chicken Pasta Salad

I had some leftover chicken from my stock making the other day. I didn't feel like turning on the oven for a casserole and pasta salad was sounding good. A few key strokes later I stumbled across this recipe and I actually happened to have all the ingredients except Gorgonzola which is ok b/c Jeff doesn't like Gorgonzola.

Balsamic Chicken Pasta Salad
From TasteofHome

3 cups uncooked bow tie pasta
4 cups cubed cooked chicken breast
2 cups chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped red onion
4 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled
1/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup minced fresh basil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and rinse in cold water; transfer to a large bowl. Add the chicken, tomatoes, onion, bacon and Gorgonzola cheese.
In a small bowl, whisk the oil, basil, vinegar, brown sugar, garlic, salt and pepper. Drizzle over salad and toss to coat; sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Yield: 8 servings.

Nutritional Facts 1-1/3 cups equals 408 calories, 20 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 65 mg cholesterol, 323 mg sodium, 28 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 28 g protein.

My Notes:
As I said before I didn't have any Gorgonzola, which is ok b/c Jeff doesn't like it. As I recall Gorgonzola is like blue cheese (I think) and I like blue cheese so I'm pretty sure I like Gorgonzola. Funny side note, anytime I hear Gorgonzola I think of the TV show Bones when they were trying to figure out the who Gormagon mystery and Booth kept calling him Gorgonzola and other silly names... makes me laugh to myself. Anywho, I added more bacon because I thought it could use a little more crunchy goodness and really who doesn't like bacon? I made 6 slices, the cat stole 2 (I'm not kidding) and I ate one. So then I had to cook more, which I then ate a bite or two off of each of those 3 slices. So I really couldn't tell you how much bacon when into the salad. Oh well.
The kid declared this 'delish' which I've never her heard her say before but she wrote it in a note to me. So I guess that's good. Of course there is no telling how much was actually consumed since I wasn't there. She could just be trying to toot my horn.