Archive for Main Dishes

Uncle Sam’s Asian Pork Salad

So here we are again, stumbling towards yet another Presidential election. I must confess I do not follow politics closely, and in fact, for the longest time whenever I heard the name Rick Perry, I kept thinking he was an ex-wrestler. I finally realized I was getting him confused with Ric Flair. This is what I saw in my Bobby’s World mind…

Rick “The Flair” Perry

I should add that I’m not really proud of my lack of involvement in political matters and that it’s just a sort of self-preservation method. I see what it does to people, especially on Facebook but also on the worried brows of friends and family. They have this look that says, “I’m scared of what the world is becoming.” I would agree, but I just watched an episode of Mad Men, set in the chauvinistic ’60s, which makes me slightly less pessimistic of the world while also giving me a hankering to drink bourbon on the rocks and take up smoking.

It’s a Mad Men world!

Speaking of women or girls or just a lot of estrogen, I first realized I was not cutout for politics during a little high school summer experience known as Girls State. My memory of this is rather vague, but I will do my best to explain. I was one of the two selected to attend, so of course I went, unsure of what exactly I was getting myself into. I had assumed Girls State was some kind of camp that involved staying up all night eating candy and gossiping, messy relay races, and participating in team-building exercises. I was slightly misguided in my thinking (hence, the Rick Perry/Ric Flair mix-up). I suppose you could say that I only hear/think what I want to hear/think, which is perhaps the ultimate problem with politics, or simply the human race.

Not Girls State

The camp was a week-long and was held on a college campus. Upon arriving, everyone was assigned a room in a dorm. Each dorm floor was considered a city with the entire camp itself being the considered the state, hence Girls State. You would think I would have initially figured out what the camp was all about, but it wasn’t until the second day that I finally realized what was really going on—we were simulating a microcosm of local government. When we weren’t learning cheers and songs or listening to speeches made by important state officials, we were holding our own mock elections for state legislature and municipal offices. Since we all had to run for something, I ran for the lesser of the offices…something like one of the city council members. For my speech I reworded the rap opening of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Yes, I was that girl. While I can’t remember if I got the position (I think I did), I do remember that afterwards I immediately regretted my impromptu rap. I’m rather notorious for doing things of this nature—spur-of-the-moment creative outbursts—only to second-guess myself moments later. Come to think of it, I suppose I could be a politician.

The only other thing I recall, aside from my rap performance, was that the senior counselor of my “city” telling us a story about how she discovered a guy she dated was in the mafia. If only it had been called Girls Mafia, then I may have been a little more gungho about the whole experience. Each floor could be a family, and positions (i.e. Boss, Underboss, Caporegime, Soldier and Associate) randomly assigned upon arrival. As it were, at the end of the week as well as my so-called political career, the girls in my city all cried and talked about how we were the best city ever. I remember thinking: Did I miss something? Needless to say, Girls State was not my cup of tea, and I’m still confused by the inner workings of legislature.

I know it’s good that there are people who give a darn about politics because if people like me ran the world, nothing would get done. Well, besides September 28th being a national holiday, singing being required in the workplace, and ponies for all children who eat their vegetables. Speaking of vegetables, I’ve got a delicious salad recipe to share. In honor of irony, the recipe has been dubbed Uncle Sam’s Asian Pork Salad. This recipe was, in fact, prepared for me by Uncle Sam when I was visiting our nation’s capital in the fall. However, he is not “the” or even “my” Uncle Sam (he’s actually Lindsay’s uncle Sam), and he sure can cook! In case you are wondering my train of thought for this blob, I’ve broken it down for you: Presidential Election—Politics/Confusion—Girls State—D.C.—Uncle Sam—Asian Pork Salad. Somewhere in there, I also thought of ponies but with no direct connection to any of those things.

SIDENOTE: Could you even imagine a state of all girls? This thought makes me shudder because all I can think about is NOT pillow fights in pajamas or an never-ending manicure party, but rather an endless stream of catty [insert word that rhymes with witches] who appear on reality shows, such as The Real Housewives, The Bachelor, and dare I say it…The Bad Girls Club (I was forced into watching a marathon of this show and afterwards I found myself in a manic depressive state). No, sir or ma’am, I shall not wish for a state occupied solely by girls, unless I can hand select those who are there. Kristin Wiig? Yes! Nigella Lawson? Yes! Dolly Parton? Heck Yes! Kim Kardashian? Probably Not. Casey Anthony? Uh, No. Justin Bieber? Sure.

This blog brought to you by—Leslie Knope and this amazing clip from Parks and Rec…http://youtu.be/40Nqzx4Z1FA

Uncle Sam’s Asian Pork Salad

Salad Dressing:

½ cup vegetable oil

¼ cup rice vinegar

2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

½ teaspoon minced garlic

½ teaspoon minced gingerroot

Pork:

1 pound ground pork

1 cup shredded carrots

½ sweet onion, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon minced ginger root

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce

3 tablespoons chili garlic sauce

1 tablespoon Sriracha*, optional

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

Salad:

8 cups chopped romaine lettuce

1 large cucumber, peeled and sliced

4 Roma tomatoes, halved and sliced

  1. To prepare dressing, combine the first 6 ingredients in a large bowl, whisking vigorously. Set aside.
  2. To prepare pork, cook meat, carrots and onion in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until meat is browned, stirring to crumble. Stir in next 6 ingredients (ginger through lime juice) and cook for a few more minutes. Remove from heat.
  3. To prepare salad, arrange 2 cups lettuce on each of 4 individual plates; top lettuce with cucumber, tomato slices, and pork mixture. Spoon 2 tablespoons dressing over each serving. Reserve the remaining dressing for another use. Yield: 4 servings

*Sriracha, pronounced sir-ra-cha, is a spicy chili sauce that can be found in the Asian section of supermarkets. Be careful when using, because a little goes a long way.

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Fall=Football=Chili

First, I must apologize to the two people who read this blog (hi, mom and dad!) for my failure to post in quite some time. Allow me to inform you of the latest endeavors responsible for my extended hiatus from the blogosphere. Since my last post, I’ve met a pygmy goat named Hector, I visited George Washington’s home and learned what a macaroni is (and I’m not talking about the pasta. See SIDENOTE), I changed my first diaper and then re-changed it after realizing I put it on backwards (Bryce, we can laugh about this when you’re older), and I created a new blog based on the strictly frivolous and mundane adventures of my new friend Monster Hands (http://mundaneadventuresofmonsterhands.tumblr.com/).

I’ve also found myself knowing way more about college football than I ever thought was possible for someone as ill-equipped with gridiron enthusiasm as me. Maybe one’s interests are like one’s taste buds in that they change every seven years. For instance, I used to not like hard-boiled eggs and olives, and now I love them, though not necessarily together. Seven years ago, if you asked me about the big game, I would have racked my brain just to figure out what sport you were referring to. I suppose it has a lot to do with who you hang out with. Because hanging out with people who have different interests than you opens you up to all kinds of new things, like zombie apocalypse survival skills, X-Men movies, Skyline chili, squinkies and Nordic crime novels.

My knowledge of current college football rankings, players, coaches, good teams, bad teams and fun nicknames for refs (zebras) is more than a bit surprising for me. However, you will not find me yelling at a television screen or hassling others based on their team preferences. Those behaviors are reserved for people who have been diehard fans for much longer than I’ve stumbled upon a forced interest. Perhaps my inability to relate to a certain level of sports enthusiasm is directly related to my lack of competitiveness. I played sports all my life, and when I was younger I seemed to always be on the losing team. Consequently, I took to heart the saying “it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” This made me a really good loser. As long as I did well, I never sweated the outcome. I once had a basketball coach say to me, “Marie, if you had a competitive bone in your body, you would be unstoppable.” Alas, I didn’t have a competitive bone in my body, which by default meant I was very stoppable.

The Such and Such Placeholders

I may never quite understand why people take sports so seriously, or why people say things like, “I hate such and such team” since most of the time there seems to be no logical reason, except that they’ve always known such and such team as a bitter rival. I suppose a love for a certain sport’s team is a lot like the love one has for another person. It cannot be described or explained. It just exists, and I guess I’m okay with that. On a completely frivolous note, I wish there was such a thing as the Such and Such team. Their mascot would be The Placeholders, and I would be their biggest fan.

Malicious Bowl-O-Chili

Anyways, you know what brings people together, no matter what team they pull for or against? FOOD, that’s what. What better football season food is there than a hearty bowl of chili? My ex-roommate/husband, Matt, makes a malicious bowl of chili. Unfortunately, Matt cooks like my grandmother in that he is one of those a-little-bit-of-this-a little-bit-of-that cooks. This means that measurements are never exact, but somehow it’s always right on the money when it comes to taste. My recipe is a rendition of Matt’s, and I shall share it with you right after I explain what a macaroni is.

SIDENOTE: While exploring Mount Vernon, Marisa, Lindsay and I made a visit to the Whiz Palace (aka the bathroom). Bordering the room were tiles with flamboyant colonial men painted on them and each had a name identifying them as a such and such Macaroni. One that made us chuckle was the Fumigating Macaroni. As I began wondering what the heck a macaroni was, I remembered that old ditty about Yankee Doodle and how he stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni. So, while strolling through George Washington’s garden, we looked up the meaning of this macaroni on an iPhone. Oh, the irony! According to Wikipedia, in mid-18th century England, a macaroni was a fashionable fellow who dressed and even spoke in an outlandishly affected and epicene manner. So, I’m thinking that Yankee Doodle was kinda like Rachel Zoe but instead of saying, “That’s bananas” he said, “That’s macaroni!” With that in mind, I also wish there was a sports team called the Yankee Doodle Macaronis.

Go Macaronis!

Malicious Chili

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

½ cup chopped green bell pepper

1 pound ground meat (venison, beef, chicken or turkey)

2 (14.5-ounce) cans diced tomatoes

1 (15.5-ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 (15.5-ounce) can spicy chili beans

1 packet Chili-O seasoning mix

1 tablespoon chili powder

½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

Garnishes:

Sour cream

Grated cheddar cheese

Ritz crackers, crumbled

  1.  Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add first 3 ingredients; cook for 6 minutes or until meat is done, stirring frequently to crumble.
  2. Stir in tomatoes and next 5 ingredients (through cayenne pepper); bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve with garnishes. Yield: 6 servings

Happy Halloween!

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Propasta

My dad’s side of the family is German, and my mom’s side of the family is Irish. However, if I could choose any heritage strictly based upon food, it would most definitely be pasta-wielding, pizza-throwing Italians. This is not to say that my fellow Germans and Irishmen don’t possess worthy food traditions. I’ve always been partial to Lucky Charms and a bratwurst though not necessarily together. With Saint Patrick’s Day just behind us, I should be writing about corned beef and Guinness, but I shall save those delightful little morsels for after my trip to Ireland. I just booked a trip there to discover half of my food heritage and to search for me pot of gold. While that’s in the near future, today I would like to expound upon my deep infatuation for pasta.

The shape of Italy is a BOOT!

I’ve had a love affair with carbs for almost 26 years now or at least since I began eating solid foods. Remember that horrible fad diet that excluded all carbs, including pasta? Yeah, me neither. Talk about a heart-breaking world to live in. A world without pasta is no world for me. Pappardelle bolognese, fettucine alfredo, spaghetti carbonara and so on all ring like music to my ears. During an interview for an internship, I was asked, “If you could eat at any restaurant in the world, where would it be?” My response was “at an Italian grandmother’s house.” This was before I knew any of those fancy schmancy restaurants owned by former contestants of Top Chef or those other Food Network celebrity chefs, who may or may not actually be chefs. Yet, my answer would remain the same to this day. I’ve never been to Italy, and maybe it’s because somewhere deep down inside, I know there is a great possibility that I would never return home. I do look forward to the day when I unite with that beautiful boot country, and I can live out my fantasy of the real never-ending pasta bowl. Let’s face it—the best part about Eat, Pray, Love was the Eat portion. Why? Italy, of course, where the pasta flows like water. I really could have put the book down after that section and been completely satisfied.

This deliciously super-fast pasta recipe was modified from Cooking Light magazine. Don’t worry, I didn’t modify all the lightness out of it. It pairs sweet cherry tomatoes with peppery arugula and savory sausage with nutty cheese. For those of you not familiar with arugula, it is a salad green that has a slightly bitter taste. If you have trouble finding it in your local supermarket, you can easily substitute it with some baby spinach but not grown-up spinach. Actually you can use grown-up spinach; it’s just not as cute. This recipe is a quick fix, so you should have everything out and ready to go to make the process smoother—mise en place [MEEZ ahn plahs] if you will, which is a French term that refers to having all the ingredients necessary for a dish prepared and ready to cook. Last but not least, ENJOY!

SIDENOTE: Here’s an interesting tidbit about my favorite people, Italians. The first course of a traditional Italian meal is called “antipasta,” which sounds horrific to me. However, it literally means “before the meal” and includes cheeses, cured meats, olives, smoked fish and marinated vegetables but no pasta. This idea is comparative to our appetizers, the French’s hors d’oeuvres, and the Spanish’s tapas. Today, more and more restaurants are offering entire meals based on this “small plate” notion, or bite-sized portions to be shared amongst a group. Once I was telling my mom about going to one of these types of restaurants, and this is how it played out:

Me: I went to a tapas bar last night.

Mom: You went to a topless bar?

Me: No, tapas. It’s like a restaurant where they serve a lot of appetizer-sized dishes that you can share with your friends.

Mom: Oh, and people still wear their shirts, right?

This blog brought to you by—Frank Sinatra’s Greatest Hits (on vinyl), reading novels that I should’ve read in high school when I only read the Cliff’s Notes and “Our America with Lisa Ling,” which takes the boo out of taboo.

Turkey Sausage, Tomato and Arugula Fettuccine

1  (9-ounce) package refrigerated fettuccine

8  ounces hot Italian turkey sausage, removed from casings

2  teaspoons  minced garlic

1  pint grape tomatoes

¼  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper

2  cups arugula leaves or baby spinach

½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Parmesan cheese

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain in a colander over a bowl, reserving 2/3 cup cooking liquid.
  2. While pasta cooks, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Break sausage into bite-sized pieces and add to pan; cook 3 minutes or until browned, stirring frequently to crumble. Add garlic; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add tomatoes and pepper; cover and cook 2 minutes. Mash tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon to break them up. Cover pan; reduce heat to low, and cook 3 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Add pasta, reserved 2/3 cup cooking liquid, and arugula; toss well. Sprinkle with cheese. Yield: 4 servings

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It’s 2011: Give Tofu a Chance

Welcome to 2011. Please keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times; it’s gonna be one heck of a ride. I don’t make resolutions because I know myself all too well, and by that, I mean I know I won’t keep a resolution. So, none of that—“I’m gonna lose 23 pounds,” “I’m gonna stop eating so many gummies” or “I’m gonna to stop watching those trashy Real World/Road Rules challenges”—for me. If anything, I would resolve to stop making promises to myself that I know I can’t keep. Yet, there is one prevailing thought that always occurs at the closing of one year and the opening of another—Be Better! I want to be better than the year before in anything and everything. A better friend, sister, daughter, puppy handler, candy consumer. Okay, I got off-track, but you get the picture. While writing this, another thought did pop into my unresolved head—I need to try more new foods and recipes, branch out if you will. This flippant resolution is why I’ve succumbed to writing a ‘blob’ about tofu.

The typewriter I got for Christmas. His name is Geoffrey.

I’m not gonna lie—tofu is weird. Not teletubby-weird, but more quirky-weird, like tiny hats, Amy Sedaris and people who purchase typewriters in the year 2010. When you look at tofu out of the package, it more resembles something you would clean with than something you would eat. However, there are a lot of delightful, edible treats that upon first viewing would seem strange to consume, such as beef tongue, tapioca pearls and dragon fruit. All of which I’ve tried and curiously enjoyed, especially the beef tongue. Mama always said, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” and dagnabbit I shan’t, or my name isn’t Carol Marie Hegler Jr.

Taking this idea one step further, my personal mantra extends to not judging based on first experiences. For example, when I first tried mushrooms, I wasn’t totally turned-off, but I also wasn’t jumping around yelling, “I must have more!” In fact, it wasn’t until I tried mushrooms several times that I found myself enjoying them. Sushi also falls under this umbrella, and now I even crave it. So far the only food that I’ve not being able to accept with open arms is goat cheese, but I’m working on that one. Needless to say, my first attempt with cooking tofu was not pretty. It involved hot sauce, tempura batter and lukewarm frying oil. Twas messy and slightly foul. However, because of its reputation of being above average in the nutrition department, yielding high protein content but low in fat and cholesterol, I knew I must try and try again.

Go head clean your countertops or prepare a stir-fry with tofu.

Tofu is made from the curds (not to be confused with ‘turds’) of soybean milk in a process similar to that of cheese, meaning the curds are drained and pressed together. It is typically found in thick, rectangular blocks and has an off-white coloring. I know you are thinking where can one procure this delicious-sounding tofu that you speak of. Hear me out though. Tofu has amazing chameleon-like abilities and is capable of taking on the flavor of the food with which it is cooked. This also means that by itself, or unaccompanied, it tastes ridiculously bland although slightly nutty. I would advise one to dismiss any notion of taking a giant bite out of a raw tofu block. You will mostly definitely be disappointed.

Tofu’s most prominent feature is its texture. It is both smooth and creamy yet thick enough to slice, dice and mash into soups, stir-fries, casseroles, sauces and even salad dressings. Most supermarkets carry tofu, but you will notice that it comes in several different varieties—all pertaining to its firmness. A good way to test the firmness of tofu is by giving it a big hug. I kid. There’s soft or silken tofu, which possesses a smooth, pliable texture. This variety is commonly mashed or puréed and used in salad dressings, sauces, smoothies and desserts as a thickening element. It provides foods with sustenance or body if you will. Speaking of bodies but not necessarily mine, the other varieties of tofu are firm and extra-firm. The firm and extra-firm varieties are thicker and have a cheese-like texture. You can actually grill, bake or stir-fry these varieties.

The friendly, health-conscious folks of Cooking Light came up with this delightful little tofu recipe. It’s a perfect first run with tofu because it pairs tofu with a meat component, which allows the tofu to take on the meaty characteristics of pork. In other words, it’s a nice introduction to tofu if you’ve never tried it before. Mapo tofu is a popular Chinese dish from the Sichuan (Szechuan) province that can be described simply as a stir-fry. I did take the liberty to slightly tweak the original recipe by substituting hoisin sauce for oyster sauce, adding some rice vinegar and upping the amount of soy sauce and pork used. Now, if you are a tofu lover or vegetarian, you could exclude the pork all together and substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth. On the flip side, if the thought of tofu repulses you, then do all pork. It’s a win-win either way.

This blog is brought to you by—Amy Sedaris, people who purchase typewriters in the year 2010, and tiny hats (http://www.hulu.com/watch/180976/saturday-night-live-ladies-who-lunch)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mapo Tofu

1 (1-pound) package reduced-fat firm tofu, cut into 6 slices

½ cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth

3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons hoisin sauce

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1-2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce

8 ounces lean ground pork

1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 cups hot cooked long-grain brown rice

½ cup chopped green onions

  1. Place tofu slices on several layers of paper towels; cover with additional paper towels. Place a dinner plate on top of covered tofu; let stand 30 minutes. Remove plate; discard paper towels. Cut tofu slices into ½-inch cubes.
  2. Combine broth, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, rice vinegar, cornstarch and chili garlic sauce, stirring with a whisk.
  3. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork; cook 4 minutes or until done, stirring to crumble. Add ginger and garlic; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add tofu; cook 4 minutes or until golden, stirring frequently. Add broth mixture to pan. Bring to a boil; cook 1 minute or until mixture thickens. Remove from heat.
  4. Serve tofu mixture over rice. Sprinkle with onions. Yield: 4 servings

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He Said, She Said Pizza

Recipes can be a lot like the innocent childhood game of telephone. You know the game that subtly reveals the imminent destruction behind gossip. This is how it works: You whisper something like, “George has a big head” into the ear of the kid beside you, and they whisper it to the kid beside them and so on, until it has passed through the ear and out the mouth of every kid in the circle. By the time it has reached the last kid, it usually turns into something like “George ate a pig named Fred” or “The poor mice are dead.” You get the point. Anyhow, as recipes pass through the hands of others, they are often modified, be it accidentally or in order to suit the tastes of the receiving party—like this recipe, which came from my friend Marisa, who got it from her friend Allie, who got it from who knows where. The point is, as recipes are passed down, they are slightly altered, which is the beauty of recipes though not so much gossip.

This recipe may seem rather odd to those of you accustomed to “traditional” pizza, but I assure you if you step out of your comfort zone for one moment or bite, you will (hopefully) not be disappointed. The base of this pizza is not the normal, red tomato sauce, but a fresher, greener and flavor-enhancing pesto. Italian for “pounded,” pesto is an uncooked sauce traditionally made by crushing or blending together fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese and olive oil.

For this recipe, you can use store-bought pesto, which can be procured at most supermarkets, depending on where you live. I say this because my Mom has told me on several occasions that they don’t carry certain things in the grocery store establishments in the booming metropolis of Kershaw. She finally found couscous, which she calls “coo coo” or “coosh coosh,” depending on which tickles her fancy on that particular day. My dad calls it “poo poo” because, well, he doesn’t like it so much. Oh well, I try. However, I have gotten him to try hummus, which he said he liked. Speaking of the puréed chickpea delight, hummus, if your supermarket carries hummus, the packaged, refrigerated pesto should be nearby. Also, this recipe calls for Romano cheese, which can be found in the same vicinity of the supermarket or wherever specialty cheeses are located. While it can be easily replaced with extra mozzarella, Romano does add a nice, sharp tang, similar to that of Parmesan.

Once you’ve wrap your head around using a vibrant green sauce on your pizza, you’re next going to have to talk yourself into putting grapes on it. Hear me out, because grapes are what make the pizza. Well, specifically this pizza with pesto as a base. It’s just enough sweet to pair with the earthy pesto, savory chicken, and salty cheese accents. As far as the chicken is concerned, you can use leftover grilled chicken or buy a package of cooked chicken, such as rotisserie or grilled strips. However, I would recommend avoiding flavored chicken (i.e. Southwestern or Italian-style). As for the crust, you can buy refrigerated pizza dough, a precooked crust, or make your own. The green onions are rather optional, but they do add color and a nice, mild onion flavor.

The amounts for the individual ingredients are really irrelevant. Basically, put as much of whatever you like on it. The general idea is pizza crust, pesto, grapes, chicken and cheese, or whatever addition or substitution of ingredients tantalizes your taste buds. And the next time Janet calls you up to talk about Bambi’s awful perm, redirect the conversation to this or another recipe. Besides, recipes are a far more constructive topic of conversation, and feelings are less likely to get hurt, unless you’re discussing Great Aunt Verta’s horrible ham and mayo casserole.

SIDENOTE: Although pesto is made with high-calorie ingredients, it’s actually considered a healthful spread. One tablespoon supplies a reasonable 60 calories and approximately five grams of good-for-you unsaturated fat. So, what do you do with pesto? Most often pesto is tossed with pasta, but here are some other ideas for pesto:

  • atop grilled chicken, steak or fish
  • tossed with beans for a pesto bean salad
  • spread over crusty bread
  • garnish for tomato soup
  • spread over pizza as an alternative sauce

You can also make your own pesto, but it can become a rather pricey endeavor when purchasing the needed surplus of basil, which happens to be around two to four cups. I say make your own pesto if you have an herb garden with basil or if you know someone who can provide you with a nice supply. Pesto can also be made with other herb ingredients, such as cilantro, mint and parsley.

This blog is brought to you by—photographs of hideous faces with a serene seascape as a backdrop, polka dots, and Marcel the Shell (http://vimeo.com/14190306 )

Chicken and Grape Pesto Pizza

1 (11-ounce) can refrigerated thin-crust pizza dough

Cooking spray

½ cup refrigerated pesto

1 ½ cups seedless red grapes, halved

1 (6-ounce) package grilled chicken breast strips

¼ cup sliced green onions

1 ½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese

½ cup grated Romano cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 425°.
  2. On a lightly floured surface, pat dough into a 12-inch circle; gently place dough on a pizza pan coated with cooking spray. Spread pesto evenly over dough, leaving a ½-inch border around edges. Arrange grapes evenly over dough; top evenly with chicken and green onions. Sprinkle with mozzarella and Romano.
  3. Bake at 425° for 20 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Cut into 12 wedges. Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 3 wedges)

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The Casserole

I went to a concert a while back. It was Brandi Carlile, it was acoustic, and it was in an old church. I should not have to tell you that it was dan dan good! What made it even better was that she did a lot of chit-chatting in between songs, and as it turns out, she is quite funny. One item of discussion was how Southerners share a penchant for putting “the” in front of certain nouns as if to signify something as the only real one. Case in point—Mama made “the” casserole, or Aunt Shirley came down with “the” cold. This observation made me chuckle to myself because, well, it’s true.

Brandi lounging on an antique couch while a little ray of sunshine burst through the serene room. I love the boots!

Brandi is from the Northwest, but she can throw down a Johnny Cash or Willie Nelson song like no other chick I’ve ever heard. Her music speaks to the very depths of my soul, which interestingly enough is also where the redneck lies. Speaking of redneck tendencies, in my family, we each have certain dishes that Mama makes specifically for each one of us on a special occasion. These favorite dishes are usually in casserole form—since in the South, we do love our casseroles.

When my brother comes home, it’s chicken pot pie casserole. When I come home, it’s a creamy chicken and broccoli casserole that is covered with cheese and topped with cubes of buttery, toasted bread. It is The Casserole, and no casserole could come close to my mom’s, which prior to being my mom’s was my grandmother’s casserole. However, my roommate Matt prepared a casserole that has come closer than any other one thus far. It’s a play on the Italian-American dish Chicken Florentine. Allow me to explain.

First of all, Chicken Florentine did not wash up on our shore from the boot country of Italy to christen our tables. “Florentine” actually comes from a French phrase “a la Florentine” which means “in the style of Florence (Italy)” and refers to dishes (usually eggs or fish) that are presented on a bed of spinach and topped with a white cheese sauce known as Mornay. Here in the US, we like to dish up chicken atop the spinach, but Matt’s casserole takes it one delectable step further. He throws all the ingredients together in a casserole-style consumption method—sprinkled with cheese and browned lightly in the oven.

In case you don’t know, casserole in Latin translates to “pile of sinful goodness.” Alright, maybe that’s my own interpretation. Needless to say, this casserole is NOT as nutritious as it is delicious, but heck, it does have some spinach in it. It’s just disguised by an unholy amount of creamy, cheesy goodness. It’s really all about moderation. Right?!

Unfortunately, casseroles are not so photogenic. Say cheese!

SIDENOTE: I’ve had the great pleasure of attending a concert by Ms. Carlile a total of three times, and all of which exceeded my expectations. She is an amazing singer/songwriter who dabbles in a cluster of genres—a good helping of indie/folksy inspiration, drizzled with some rock-n-roll, a twist of country and maybe the slightest hint of yodeling. Her grandfather was a yodeler. No, I’m not a stalker. Well, at least not yet. She informed the audience of this before serenading us with an improvised yodeling session. Let’s just say, it doesn’t get any better than a Brandi Carlile yodeling. She is also accompanied by a handsome set of twin brothers, who lend their voices and instrumental skills as bandmates. The bottom-line is she puts on one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen. My only complaint is that every time I see her she seems to get skinnier and skinnier. I’m just saying maybe somebody should indulge in The Casserole.

Sidenote to SIDENOTE: Whoever decided on the genre name Adult Alternative shouldn’t have; it sounds really lame, which is unfortunate because most of the music is not.

This blog brought to you by—Miranda Lambert, who also speaks to my redneck soul, and baby cheeses.

Chicken Florentine Casserole

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

1 (9-ounce) bag of fresh spinach

2 tablespoons butter

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 (10 ¾-ounce ) can condensed cream of mushroom soup

½ cup half-and-half

½ cup Parmesan cheese

1 (8-ounce) package fresh white mushrooms, sliced

1 ½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°.
  2. Place chicken on a baking sheet, and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until no longer pink and juices run clear. Remove from heat and set aside.
  3. Increase oven temperature to 400°.
  4. In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, add spinach to pan; sauté until wilted. Set aside.
  5. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stirring constantly, mix in garlic and next 4 ingredients (through Parmesan cheese).
  6. Arrange spinach over the bottom of a 9- x 13-inch baking dish. Cover spinach with mushrooms and pour half the sauce mixture over mushrooms. Arrange chicken breasts in the dish, and cover with remaining sauce. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese.
  7. Bake 20 to 25 minutes until bubbly and lightly browned. Yield: 4 servings

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The Bee’s Knees If You Please

As I was pulling into the parking lot of my workplace one bright, shiny morning, I noticed a sign that read, “Bee Meeting.” This immediately flooded my imagination with cartoon bees fully dressed—the males decked out in brown and tan suits (pants optional) and the ladies in powdered blue dresses with flower hats. I have a rather long commute to work so this sort of imaginative thinking is not out of the ordinary for me. I began to notice that the parking lot was unusually full, being the summertime, which made me further considered the vehicles bees may drive. Maybe bees have gotten lazy over the years, much like us human folk, and they no longer just buzz off to their points of destination but find the automobile to be much more logical and an “energy-saving” alternative. This was all dually noted as I made my way up several flights of stairs in the overheated stairwell with the gazillion bags and other appendages I tote to work every day.

My creative curiosity was in overdrive as I laid my stuff down in my office and strolled to the restroom. Are bees larger now than in previous eras? Do they have an obesity crisis too? Inside, I took care of the business caused by drinking a cup of orange juice, a cup of coffee, and an obscure amount of water, and then as I walked out of the stall, Liz, my friendly office neighbor, bounced in holding a big glass jar of some amber concoction.

“Look what I got from my bee friends,” she merrily noted.

“Is that what’s going on here? I did notice the parking lot was full. Who knew bees drove cars.”

She laughed, and I headed out of the restroom wondering why she was laughing. I was dead serious. Okay, not really. In the lobby of the building, I saw dozens of middle-aged men and woman, all wearing name tags, congregating around tables that offered a wide variety of honey-savoring devices. I sighed. No Jerry Seinfeld-voiced bees after all. They weren’t even wearing retro Mad Men attire. Luckily, I was able to brush off the feeling of being slighted by being keenly reminded of how much I adore honey.

When people hear the word “honey,” the usually think one of two things: an endearing name to call a loved one or the sweet liquid that oozes out of a cute, plastic bear. The latter honey is a strong sweetener made from the scrupulous work of honey bees in the world’s most efficient factory, the beehive. Bees create this thick, golden sweetener by gathering nectar from flowers, and they travel as far as 55,000 miles and visit over a million flowers just to gather enough nectar to make one mere pound of honey. Doesn’t that make us all feel lazy and inadequate?

Contrary to popular belief, the various colors and flavors of honey are not associated with the bee but the type of flower blossom. While there are over 300 varieties of honey in the United States, the three most popular are clover, orange blossom, and sage. Honey’s color can range from almost colorless to dark amber, and its flavor varies from satisfyingly mild to boldly rich. In general, a darker color signifies a stronger flavor. Honey also comes in three basic forms: comb honey with liquid still in the edible comb (not to be mistaken with the cereal variety Honeycombs); chunk-style or cut comb with pieces of the honeycomb included in the liquid; and liquid that has been extracted from the comb and pasteurized to prevent crystallization.

This recipe was passed down from my grandmother to my mother and then to me. Well, it wasn’t so much passed down as it was decided as a standby recipe among three separate generations. When in doubt of dinner, I usually turn to these Honey Mustard Chicken Tenders. It is beyond simple as well as tasty. All you need is honey, mustard, and chicken. You also need butter. I love butter, not as much as Paula Deen, but that’s for another day and another blob (not a spelling error). As far as mustard is concerned, use whatever type or style you prefer on your sandwiches. If you are a plain-jane, yellow mustard gal or a grainy Dijon boy, then go with it for this recipe. You can even mix and match mustards—a little spicy with a little plain. This recipe is great with chicken tenders or chicken breasts, but you may have to vary the cooking time depending on the thickness of the chicken you use.

SIDENOTE: There are plenty-o-phrases that I’ve heard and even said only to not really understand the origin. For instance, I’ve heard people refer to someone or something as “the bee’s knees,” which is to say that said person or thing is of excellent quality. Why? Well, bees just so happen to carry pollen back to the hive in sacs on their legs, around the knee area if they had knees. During the search of this phrase’s origin, I also stumbled upon some other useless knowledge. For instance, the phrase “the bee’s knees,” became popular in the U.S. in the 1920s, along with “the cat’s whiskers,” “the cat’s pajamas,” and similar phrases which made less sense and didn’t endure: “the eel’s ankle,” “the elephant’s instep,” and “the snake’s hip.” I don’t know about you, but next time I want to refer to someone as being unequivocally awesome, I’m totally using “the elephant’s instep.” It just roles of the tongue rather nicely just like, say, honey.

This blog is brought to you by—an overactive imagination, a good cry from The Secret Life of Bees and a good laugh from those new Old Spice commercials: http://www.youtube.com/user/oldspice?v=uLTIowBF0kE&feature=pyv&ad=5066079497&kw=old%20spice%20commercial&gclid=CKntx5uo-KICFSUXswodnD-Ylw

Honey Mustard Chicken Tenders

1 pound skinless, boneless chicken tenderloins

salt and pepper, to taste

½ cup honey

½ cup melted butter

¼ cup mustard

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚.
  2. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper and place in a 9- by 13-inch baking pan. In a small bowl combine honey, butter and mustard. Mix well. Pour honey mixture over chicken, tossing to coat.
  3. Bake at 350˚ for 45 minutes, basting every 15 minutes, until chicken is cooked through and golden brown. Yield: 4 servings

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