Category Archives: Cooking

The Upside of The Slow Down

Life has slowed down and I kinda like it.

Don’t get me wrong-I wish Covid-19 and the stay-at-home order that resulted from it didn’t exist.

However, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit having my life slow down as a result didn’t have its benefits.

I’d also be lying if I told you I didn’t miss getting a massage every couple of weeks (my shoulders and my right hip are killing me, people!). I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t miss going to church every Sunday and embracing my friends there. I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t miss jumping into the car with Hubs and the kiddo to enjoy a cold brew amongst our neighbors at one of our local brew pubs.

I’d really be lying to you if I said I was not speaking from a place of privilege. My lamentations are merely temporary inconveniences.

So on that note, I’d like to share what I believe have been the positive results of the “stay at home” order since it began, what, 6 weeks ago?

WORK

I have a much deeper appreciation for going into the office Mon-Fri.

I ended up being quarantined at home for 2 full weeks which I wrote about here, due to a possibility that I had contracted Covid-19 from an individual that was present in the same facility as I was who tested positive. I never became symptomatic, thank God.

Because of this, my role at the agency changed essentially overnight. I was tasked to begin a new program, which we had recently acquired grant money for. It involves calling our clients to check in as a “friendly visitor”. Now, making these phone calls was quite enjoyable for me. And with Hubs working from home (until the end of the year actually) and the kiddo for the most part doing their own thing and working part time, the environment in this house was quite conducive for it.

However.

OMG, you guys, I sooo missed seeing the faces of my co-workers. I missed organizing the food bank. Receiving donations. Handing out food (via curb side pick up) to our hungry clients. The damn Keurig machine. I missed dressing in my work clothes, especially as I had gone out clothes shopping prior to everything getting shut down. I had nowhere to wear my new frocks!

I made my triumphant return to the office last Monday. Woo-hoo! Fortunately, things were not in disarray when I returned. My co-workers and our lovely volunteers got the job done in my absence. And while I continued my new work project, I also was able to help with managing the food bank and procuring more food donations. While wearing my new duds and enjoying myself a cup here and there of dark roasted coffee courtesy of our beloved Keurig machine.

HOME

I have embraced my homebody tendencies.

I mentioned in a recent post how I had been getting re-acquainted with my kitchen. That has continued. The jury is out with the Instant Pot, but that is a whole nother story. With the temps increasing, the grill is starting to get more use as is our dear Crockpot. And Sundays have now been declared “Dessert Day” because it gives me something enjoyable to do while I jam out to my Google playlists and well…dessert.

We are also “family-ing” (a coin termed by my MIL) in a more intentional way these days. We have created some silly art:

Paper hearts in our window to show solidarity for the Covid-19 stay at home order.

We have spent time listening to music and strumming along with our guitar (Hubs) and ukulele (now mine). We have played games on the Jackbox TV app (Guesspionage was especially fun). We have played laser pointer games with our furry housemates. We have gotten outside with these darling creatures for neighborhood walks. We are having more meaningful conversations with each other. All things that may not have occurred had it not been for the Covid-19 stay-at-home order.

And seriously, thank the good Lord for the ability we have to video chat with our loved ones. Seeing their faces and hearing their laughter this mom/daughter-in-law/grandma is simply the best.

I am excited about the possibility that once summer is in full swing, we will be safe to venture out into the big wide world again (excuse me while I indulge my optimistic tendencies). But I do hope to maintain this mentally healthier balance between being busy (I dare you to recall the last time you heard anyone tell you how busy they are) and just being. Because this is the lesson I want to have learned from this.

Getting Reacquainted with my Kitchen

As an optimist by nature I’m finding the benefits of this partial quarantine. I have, as a matter of fact, rediscovered the joy of cooking.

Since the kiddo has moved in, I’ve fallen away from cooking our evening meals. It wasn’t intentional. It’s just that it turns out that in the years this kid was not living in our home, they learned the joy of cooking. And not the kind of cooking they learned from me (read: I am, until fairly recently, a strict recipe follower). The kind of cooking that is more organic. More intuitive. No measuring involved. They use more spices and a wider, and sometimes unexpected, variety of them.

And it turns out they are a really good cook. Quite a delightful surprise for this mom. The image of my mom pops in my head actually when I watch them whipping something delicious on the stove. Which always makes me smile. I think Bonnie would appreciate this.

A few weeks ago, before this partial quarantine (I am still going to work, folks), I remembered the meatball recipe I saw on my charming blogger friend Annie’s blog. And I decided we ought to try it.

Now, I wasn’t able to find smoked sea salt at the grocery store, so I used plain old salt. But I did find hamburger and italian sausage there. In fact, I picked up a pound of each, then split them up, putting half in the freezer for later. Because I assumed that they’d be so delicious I’d want to make them again. I assumed right.

Hubs and the kiddo raved about them. I thought they were scrumptious, though next time (despite my family’s opposition) I will cut down on the red pepper flakes just a bit.

Do yourself a favor and try it! Here’s the recipe: https://givememeatloaf.com/2020/01/31/spicy-italian-meatballs-with-classic-marinara-appetizer/

And here’s my picture of the finished product:

Last Friday at work, we received a large donation of home chef bagged meal kits. So many that I ran out of room for them in our refrigerators. I decided to take a couple of them home and try them. On Sunday, as we watched the remainder of the newest “Jumanji” movie (recommend this if you want some true escapism), I planted myself in our little kitchen and got to work.

There was something about doing that that gave me such comfort. I was being productive and useful. As there was no instructions found in these paper bag meal kits, I was forced to use the ingredients as I saw fit. I used all of them except the kale, sweet potatoes (the kid made homemade treats for Radar with them) and something called “cashew crema”, which resembled the tube feeding liquid someone donated to our food bank once. When I asked Hubs how I thought I should cook the kale, his response was that it needed to be thoroughly washed…then put down the garbage disposal.

After an hour or so, we wound up with this fantastic meal of whole wheat linguine with flavorful marinara sauce (which I doctored up with the shallot and garlic cloves supplied in the kit, along with a dash of red pepper flakes). Accompanied by baked and seasoned chicken breasts smothered in the prepared pesto sauce with pine nuts and bursting-with-flavor grape tomatoes. And all of us, as Annie would say,”lurrvved” it!

So on account of Hubs and I not spending money on our planned trip to Florida with our friends, I decided to do a little splurge. I went online and bought an “Instant Pot”. And I’m determined this new toy of mine is not going to go by the way of the air fryer I bought a couple of years ago (which is now referred to as the tater tot maker). This sucker is going to get used, baby!

How about you all? Are you like me, rediscovering the joy of cooking? Or rediscovering something else that gives you joy with all this unexpected time stuck at home?

Foodie Food Pics

So I’ve got a gazillion pictures on my cell phone of food with no place to go. Yes, I am one of those people. 

I tend to not post these pics on social media because, well…they are not necessarily well received. People find it silly. Annoying. Pointless. 

Truth be told, they are probably right. 

But the thing is, I have a blog. And I am a foodie. And I love to cook. Well, most days anyway. When I’m not feeling the cooking mojo, I like to eat out. Try new foods, new places. And on top of it all, a large chunk of my job is running a food bank.

Thankfully, my dear Hubs is also a foodie (though he isn’t necessarily a fan of this particular term-don’t ask me why). He and I quite enjoy partnering up in our cozy (aka small) townhome kitchen and whipping up tasty meals on a pretty regular basis. 

What makes it, um..interesting, is that I have a tendency to want to follow recipes to a “T” and he is a little more free-wheeling. He tells me that cooking this way indulges his creative side, which as an IT professional during the daylight hours, is a beneficial exercise. So, for the most part, I go with it. We decide which tasks each of us will do and we carry on with it. 

Now for my food pictures. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t include this pic of the nachos we made, which were loosely based on Chrissy Tiegen’s recipe in her new “Hungry for More” cookbook. 

Pay no mind to my naked foot and focus on this beautiful plate of nachos. I never said that I was particularly skilled at taking pictures of food, people. They were scrumptious! Fresh mushrooms on nachos was a revelation for us. As I recall, the primary difference in our version of this recipe was we added chunks of pre-cooked chicken breasts. It was a meal unto itself. 

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Below I present you with Food pic #2. It’s a chicken breast sauteed in olive oil, slathered with homemade pesto sauce and mozzarella cheese with brown rice and succulent mushrooms on the side. Super simple to make, healthy, and delicious! This is actually on the menu for tonight. 

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Then there’s this gorgeous plate of authentic hummus I enjoyed with warm, fresh pita bread at a middle eastern restaurant in Kansas City when we visited friends there in February. 

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I recently made a pineapple upside down cake and brought it to work. I couldn’t resist snapping this pic below of the jar of maraschino cherries used in this recipe. “Real Cherries * May Contain Pits”. Quite the metaphor for life, don’t ya think?

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Come on, fellow foodies-share your food pics in the comments!

 

 

All in for Fall

Fall has arrived here in Colorado. It seemed to happen almost overnight. Or maybe I’m just not as observant as I could be. The temps are now pretty steady in the 50’s at this point so the days of wearing sandals on the regular are gone, at least until March or April anyway.  The leaves are changing and as I’m driving around I’m treated to the sights of beautiful maples with rich hues of burgundy, gold, and orange.

Here’s what I am loving about this particular fall season:

  • Waking up to those dark mornings. I know, it sounds a little weird, but there’s a coziness I feel when I’m padding down the stairs in pursuit of a cup of hot coffee, of course, in the wee hours after a good night’s slumber and the house is shrouded in the quiet darkness. It’s peaceful and comforting. Though some mornings as a result I have to put up a pretty good internal argument against crawling back under those covers.
  • Cooking hearty meals and delectable, soul warming desserts. Recently, I made a recipe I’ve had forever and came up with a way to make it even more scrumptious. I will share that recipe at the end of this post. I also made my blogger friend CJ’s apple cake on Sunday and it was seriously the bomb! I highly recommend it! I got a lot of compliments from my co-workers when I brought it to work yesterday. It’s the perfect go-to for fall potlucks.
  • Bringing out the fall wardrobe. I was smart over the summer and picked up a few pieces while thrift store shopping to add to what I already had. My girly-girl side came out as I tried on different combinations of things to wear to work and when simply being out and about this fall.
  • Speaking of fall wardrobes, another thing I’m getting pretty psyched about is Halloween costumes. As I mentioned in my fall themed blog post last year, being empty-nesters has allowed us to re-claim this holiday for ourselves. I am currently pondering what costumes we will be donning this Halloween. Contenders are me as a good witch and Hubs as Johnny Cash (my version of super heroes for these times we are in) or “Blue Waves” (which we fervently hope come via our ballot boxes next month). Here’s us in our costumes last year…20171028_201957 (1)
  • Voting season: oh, so many reasons to be happy about this. Like perhaps there will be a surge in the number of Americans casting their ballots. Perhaps sane, rational, not geriatric and not all male candidates will be elected this time. Also that it-namely, the constant political ads and political junk mail-will be over on 11/7.

Now for that promised recipe:

French Dip Sandwiches

Disclaimer: I wrote down this recipe eons ago on a recipe card, and if I could credit the cook who I got it from I would, but I have no earthly idea who that would be.

Ingredients:

3 lbs. beef chuck roast

2 Cups water

1/2 cup Soy Sauce (I always use the low sodium kind)

1 tsp. dried rosemary

1 tsp. dried thyme

1 tsp. garlic powder

1 bay leaf

3 whole peppercorns

French bread

Put the beef in the crockpot. Mix up all the other ingredients (minus the french bread of course) in a bowl. Pour it over the beef. Cook on high for 5-6 hours or low for 8 hours + if you like. Shred or slice (depending on the level of tenderness) the beef and put between two slices of crusty french bread.

My attempt at morphing the leftovers (which I froze last week and am thawing as I write this) into something even better is this: Slice yellow onions and saute them in butter. Drain the liquid from the beef and cook it in a saucepan, possibly adding additional water and beef bouillon. Heat up the slices of beef in the microwave. Put the broth in soup bowls and add the onions, then the beef. Top with shredded mozzarella. Cut up chunks of the french bread and toss it into the soup bowls. Voila! French onion soup, my way.

What are you jazzed about this fall season? 

 

 

 

 

Food, how I love Thee

 

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What you see above is a picture of a supper I made a couple of weeks ago. Hang with me here, and I’ll share the oh-so-simple recipe at the end of this post.

For lack of a better term, I am a die-hard “foodie”. I understand that one should not “live to eat”, but rather “eat to live”. Intellectually, I know that is the healthiest way to think about food. In spite of this, however, I lean towards the latter and not the former.

A few years back, I made a decision to adopt healthier eating habits. My weight had grown to an unacceptable level in my view and I believed it was time to make some serious changes in my daily diet.

So after reading a few dieting books, I decided to go low carb. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I found myself mostly missing bread and baked goods, but not much else. I kept a daily food diary, which I think was the best tool I could have employed for this endeavor. I ended up losing 23 lbs over the course of about 5-6 months. I felt great about myself. I got myself down one pants size. People noticed.

However…I slowly but surely started to slip back into my old ways, enjoying bread on a semi-regular basis and increasing my consumption of chocolate. About a month ago, I told myself that while I’d managed to gain approximately half of the weight I’d lost, I was not continuing to gain even more weight. I was not gaining but “maintaining”.

Oh, the things I tell myself to justify poor nutritional choices.

I will at some point, in the not so distant future, purchase myself a brand spanking new notebook in which I will document my daily food intake. After of course I  recover those tried and true low carb recipes I collected back in the day when I was uber motivated to shed the weight.

Hubs and I recently returned from our epic summer road trip to visit family in Minnesota and Wisconsin.  I made the conscious decision to wholeheartedly embrace the “live to eat” method. The “YOLO” diet, if you will. Justified by the fact that I was on vacation. 

My vacay diet consisted of the following: cheeseburgers and french fries. Ice cream treats. Potato chips. Lots of those. Candy. Cinnamon rolls. Cookies. Pancakes. Banana cream pie.  I basically ate like the 10 year old version of myself in the lazy days of summer. And I have no regrets. Though to be honest, I am a good 6 lbs. heavier now as a result of this “no holds barred” foodie fest.  I am verging on the precipice of having to purchase pants in a larger size at this point.

I refuse to purchase larger pants. Even if they are purchased for a pittance at my favorite thrift store. Even if they are far more comfortable and don’t leave red indentations in my mid-section after taking them off. Not. Gonna. Do. It.

Luckily, the recipe for the supper I photographed for your hungry eyes is indeed both low carb and highly delicious. Here it is:

4 chicken breasts

Store-bought pesto (or homemade, if you happen to grow your own basil as I do)

Chopped garlic

Fresh mushrooms

Fresh tomato

Shredded mozzarella

Brown Rice ( I highly recommend Success Rice. Easy-peasy, trust me)

Using a mallet (and some pent up anger), pound chicken breasts between a couple of pieces of parchment paper. Sprinkle the breasts with salt and pepper to your liking.

Heat up some olive oil in a large skillet, then add some chopped up garlic and fry that up a little. Then add the chicken breasts. If it doesn’t appear to be cooking quickly enough, throw in a bit of water and cover the pan for a bit.

In a separate pan, heat up some olive oil and add the mushrooms. Once those are cooked up nicely, add them to the skillet with the chicken in it. Once the chicken is almost done, slather some of that delicious pesto on top of the breasts. Heat that up a bit, then sprinkle as much mozzarella on as you like. Slice up a tomato and put it on top. Cover the pan and heat it up a little more.

I’m going to assume you knew to make the brown rice in between all these steps.

Then simply plop your rice onto plates, and place a chicken breast onto that and chow down.

Enjoy, folks!

The food of winter: Chili

I love chili. Making it, eating it, experimenting with it. It’s one of those rare dishes that almost everyone I know loves. It’s especially perfect during these winter months when you are chilled to the bone. I remember as a kid, when my mom would make a big batch, I’d watch my dad slather on what had to be a good tablespoon of butter onto each Saltine to accompany his hearty bowl of chili. To my dad, everything is better with butter.

One of the few things I remember my dad’s mom making was chili. Only hers was different than all the rest. She added chunks of celery and spaghetti. It was more of a soup than a chili, actually. It smelled and tasted delicious.

My oldest spawn has always been a fan of chili herself. Every year, while we were living in Wisconsin, there was a chili cook off sometime in February. She and I always talked of attending, but for whatever reason, we never did. I regret that.

When Hubs was on a rotating shift schedule and the spawn were elementary school aged, I remember heating up a can of Hormel chili (no beans) in the microwave to create chili dogs for supper sometimes.  My oldest and I loved this messy treat, while the youngest was perfectly happy with a plain old hot dog.

So in that spirit, I’d like to share with you the version of chili I came up with earlier this week. Hubs and I agreed it was the best chili I ever made, so I thought it only right to share it with you all.

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Ingredients:

1 lb. beef stew meat

2 tablespoons canola oil

3 small cans tomato sauce

1 can black beans, drained

1 can chili beans, drained

1 can Ro-Tel diced tomatoes

Chili powder, to taste

Chihula hot sauce, to taste

Heat up the oil in a skillet. Brown the beef. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. It’s ok to leave it reddish inside. Plop it into a crockpot. Add cans of tomato sauce, black and chili beans, and Ro-Tel tomatoes. Sprinkle in some chili powder and Chihula, to taste. Give it a good stir and set the crockpot to low. After a long day of work, walk in the door and savor the aroma. Pat yourself on the back for taking the approximately 20 minutes this morning to put this deliciousness together. Chop some yellow onions and get out the shredded cheddar and sour cream. Spoon up that chili into bowls and add the flourishes to your liking. Eat up!

And if you’re a family of two like we are, give yourself another pat on the back, because later in the week, or heck even next week, you will have a night of no cooking, because this chili freezes very well in individual plastic tupperware thingies.