Thursday, March 29, 2007
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Today, I got up and found it to still be a little cloudy and dreary. However, after a few hours, the sun came out, the temperatures rose to the 70s, and it was an absolutely beautiful, sunny, spring day. Bam! Spring has sprung. Rich and creamy mac and cheese no longer seemed like the perfect menu choice. Who wants to eat a heavy meal when the air is fresh, and the grass is greening, and the world seems to be coming alive? It is time to light the barbecue grill, sit outside on the patio, make plans for the garden and flowers, and, if you live in my house, the new grass in the front yard around last fall's new sidewalk.
However, I didn't give into sensibility. I stuck with my menu plan. I BAMMED the sausage, onions, and peppers as I sauteed. I BAMMED the cheese sauce, and the breadcrumb and cheese topping, and after combining it all, I slid it into a warm oven that forced me to open every window in the house for heat relief. When the Sausage Macaroni and Cheese was bubbly and heated through, we dove into the well-flavored cheesy pasta. I served it with a simple spinach salad to balance the meal, and we were BAMMED. It was rich and heavy, but it was also very good and comforting, even on a warm spring day.
½ pound elbow macaroni
1 pound spicy pork sausage, removed from casings and crumbled
1 cup yellow onions, chopped
½ cup green bell peppers, chopped
1 tablespoon Essence of Emeril (I actually used a Cajun-style seasoning, instead)
4 teaspoons garlic, minced
½ teaspoon anise seeds
½ cup butter
½ cup flour
3 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
3 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
½ cup fine dry breadcrumbs
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Butter a large casserole dish with 1 tablespoon of the butter and set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Add the macaroni and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes.
Drain in a colander and rinse under cold running water.
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the sausage, stirring, until browned and the fat is rendered.
Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pan.
Add the onions, bell peppers, and 1 teaspoon of the Essence, and cook, stirring, over medium-high heat until soft, about 3 minutes.
Add the garlic and anise seeds, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
Remove from the heat.
Melt the butter in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat.
Add the flour, and stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, cook over medium heat until thick, 3 to 4 minutes, being careful not to let the flour brown.
Using a whisk, add the milk in a steady stream and cook, whisking constantly, until thick and smooth, 4 to 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat.
Add the salt, pepper, cayenne, and 2 cups of the cheese, and stir well.
Add the noodles, cooked sausage and vegetables, and stir well to combine.
Pour into the prepared baking dish.
In a mixing bowl, combine the remaining 1 cup of cheese with the breadcrumbs and remaining 2 teaspoons of Essence.
Sprinkle over the macaroni and bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 25 minutes.
Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes before serving. (Serves 6-8)
Sunday, March 18, 2007
But, that doesn't mean that Saint Patrick's Day isn't a time for me to break out the corned beef and cabbage recipes and green beer. I have a standard menu that I prepare each time the showing of the green comes around. My corned beef is trimmed well, layered in a crock pot with new potatoes, onions, and carrots, and slow simmered all day covered in broth and seasonings. An hour or so before serving, I add the wedges of cabbage and some caraway seeds to finish that dish. I round out the meal with an even easier Irish Soda Bread.
You all should know by now that I am not really a baker. Easy baking is my mantra. I have been known to press my luck with ingredients that may seem odd. But, if the end result is good, I am in. Lucky Irish Soda Bread is my four-leaf clover for the Saint Patty's Day meal. This has a sweet flavor and biscuity texture. The caraway seeds add a punch to every bite. It certainly isn't traditional, but it is my lucky nod to the Irish.
1 ½ cups Bisquick
½ cup sugar
1-2 tablespoons caraway seeds
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Grease a 8-inch round cake pan.
In a large bowl, combine until all dry ingredients are well moistened.
DO NOT OVERBEAT.
Pour batter into prepared pan.
Place on center rack of oven and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.
Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for 15 more minutes.
Bread is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes.
Cut into pie shaped wedges; serve with butter and honey on the side.
Bread will keep for 1 week in plastic bag in refrigerator.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 can Eagle Brand Condensed Milk
3 egg yolks, beaten
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 (9-inch) pie shell, baked
3 medium bananas, sliced
whipped cream or whipped topping
Mix water and cornstarch until smooth.
Stir in Eagle Brand milk and egg yolks.
Cook until thick in saucepan or microwave.
Stir in 2 tablespoons butter.
Cool slightly (stirring occasionally).
Pour 1/2 of filling on pie crust.
Place sliced bananas on filling.
Pour remainder of filling on the sliced bananas.
Top with whipped cream after chilling pie (may also garnish with banana slices dipped in lemon juice to prevent browning). (Serves 8)
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Perhaps, I was already insane before I even started cooking. Who plans 3 appetizers (although a friend did make the most fabulous crab rangoon as one of the offerings), 2 soups, 3 main dishes, egg rolls, steamed and fried rice, sesame green beans, fortune cookies, and cake to all be created in one day and served that same night from a lowly, little, home kitchen? Who tries to feed 20+ people on real plates with real flatware in a house without enough table space and no dishwasher? I must be crazy in love with Hubby to even consider it. Thankfully, I have good friends who are always there to lend a helping hand just when I need it most.
After an incredibly hectic week, yesterday morning started with a mad dash to the next town for chicken breasts, as the economy sized Sam's Club bag of boneless skinless boobs that I thought was in my freezer couldn't be located when I tried to pull them out to defrost late Friday night. After that, I settled into the motion of food prep by first tackling meats in need of marinating, then the more labor intensive egg rolls, and finally all of the other things that needed last minute prep. The problem is that ALL Chinese food needs last minute prep. Pulling together multiple dishes requires some choreography and I will be the first to admit that I have no real sense of rhythm. After a full day of hustling in the kitchen, I am more than a little out of step. That is when my friends come in and take over the lead. That is the thing they do for loving me.
After only a few meltdowns on my part, it was a great party with everyone finding something to enjoy on the buffet. Fun and laughter were the theme of the evening. Hubby's 41st year was ushered in with incredible love, camaraderie, and a few shocking experiences. I would say more, but as those in attendance know...what happens here, stays here. :~) You can be sure that while I might not attempt Chinese for 20+ people again, I certainly won't hesitate to host another party. I do love these people.
And...in that vein, I am going to go against what would be expected for my blog report of the party. I am not going to post the Asian inspired recipes served at the party. (Although, if you are interested, just ask. Everything was very good and worth sharing, if I may say so myself.) One of my friends (who WOULD look great in big girl shoes) asked if the birthday cake recipe was going to be posted on this blog. Out of love, I am going to oblige. I haven't had a chance to get a really decent photo of Chocolate Eclair Cake, but that doesn't mean that I shouldn't share a super simple, but oh so yummy recipe with people that I love.
Another good friend and former co-worker provided this recipe back in the early years of my marriage. Hubby immediately claimed it for his birthday cake, and I have made it most of the 18 years we have been together. I think that it is a perfect cool finish for a heavy or spicy meal, and it can even be lightened up with sugar-free pudding and light whipped topping. People inhale it, and Hubby can eat an entire pan by himself. There are things that are unmentionable that people will do for the love of this cake. :~)
Chocolate Eclair Cake
1 (1 pound) box honey graham crackers
2 small packages vanilla instant pudding
3 cups milk
1 (8 ounce) carton Cool Whip, thawed
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons white corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ½ cups powdered sugar
Combine pudding mix with milk.
Fold in Cool Whip.
Pour half of the mixture over crackers.
Add second layer of crackers.
Add remaining pudding mixture.
Add final layer of graham crackers.
Over medium heat, melt chocolate glaze except for the powdered sugar.
Remove from heat.
Beat in 1-1/2 cups powdered sugar.
Pour over crackers.
Refrigerate overnight. (Serves 12)
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
The path down this rocky road started last week with a software issue at the office. There was a large report to print and the computer didn't want to communicate with the printer. During the spooling process, it would hang up and freeze the system. After a very long night, some creative fixes worked around the problem, and some more thought found a solution that will hopefully avoid the situation in the future.
Then, the printer issues wound around that rocky path and followed me home. End of the month means finalizing bookwork for Hubby's business and generating reports and statements. I was putting off part of this process as I prepped for a get-together with some girlfriends and tried to print some recipes to prepare for our snacking. Clank! Bang! Snap! My printer made a horrible noise and refused to feed in paper. One of the paper feed gears snapped off inside the printer. Crud. I knew that I shouldn't have put off the business bookwork.
Hubby took pity on me and picked up a new printer while he was out with the truck on a liquid feed supplement run. (This was an major act of kindness, as it meant maneuvering a semi-truck and trailer through streets that are not meant for truck traffic.) I set up the new printer, get it installed, and find that one of the ink cartridges that came with it is being rejected. How many rocks and bumps are on this rocky road? After half an hour on hold with customer support and not even talking with a human, a very fruitless online chat with other support staff, and wanting to pack the printer up and drive the 3 hours to return it, I found that doing something that I was expressly warned not to do finally allowed the new printer to function.
Fast forward to this evening, I decide that it is time to install the wireless router for Hubby's laptop. I should have known that I hadn't hit the smooth roads yet. Three hours later, and it still isn't functioning properly. I give up. Maybe tomorrow will be the day that I can leave the rocky roads of frustration with computer issues behind.
In the meantime, I am going to speed to a good rocky road. Rocky Road Pizza is a dessert that I prepared for last night's get-together with my girlfriends. Just a small sliver of a slice is more than enough for this super richly topped cookie crust, but with it, I can see the good in a rocky road. I will temporarily stop my whining and will myself to be calm as I indulge in this gooey delight. I want this rocky road on my plate.
½ cup chopped salted peanuts
1 cup miniature marshmallows
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
½ cup caramel ice cream topping
Preheat oven at 350 degrees.
Press or roll cookie dough to a lightly buttered 12 inch pizza pan.
Cook 15 minutes until lightly brown.
Remove from oven.
Sprinkle evenly with peanuts, chocolate chips, and marshmallows.
Drizzle with caramel topping.
Bake addition 5-10 till marshmallows are lightly brown.
Let cool for 20 minutes. (Pizza slices much more easily when almost fully cooled.)
Cut into slices or squares. (Serves 16)
Saturday, March 03, 2007
Today, Hubby will need to spend most of his day digging out at the farm. He won't have time to even attempt to clear any of the 3-4 foot drifts in our driveway to make room for party parking, and won't be in any mood to celebrate his birthday this evening. It will be a long day for him, and I imagine he will be crashed in his chair not long after dinner.
Next Saturday will be better weather for a party. The Kung Pao Shrimp will have to wait to jump onto my plate.
Thursday, March 01, 2007
I know that it will all work out and nothing that is hitting me is really life-threatening, but in the meantime, I am sure that I will fight back more than a few tears of frustration, re-design and re-plan several events and situations, and wish for a BIG bottle of wine. True to my usually fiesty nature, I will throw some of my own Kung Pow back at the forces that work against me, and deal with what happens as best I can.
I also plan on tossing some Kung Pao on my plate this weekend. Hubby's birthday was earlier this week, and we are planning to celebrate on Saturday with a Chinese Buffet. I am looking at a menu of Pepper Steak, Sesame Chicken, Kung Pao Shrimp, steamed and Fried Rice, Egg Rolls, Crab Rangoon, and a few other things, if time permits. My Kung Pao Shrimp is spicy with the heat of chiles coating the succulent shrimp. It is a favorite with Hubby, and I hope that everyone who dares to sample it at the party enjoys the kick of this flavorful dish.
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
8 small dried red chilies, 4 halved
½ teaspoon salt
1 small onion, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 ½ teaspoons minced fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ red bell pepper, cut into 1 inch pieces
½ green bell pepper cut into 1 inch pieces
1 lb large shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 cup roasted cashews
½ teaspoon sesame oil
In a bowl, mix the orange juice, vinegar, soy sauce, sugar and cornstarch.
In a wok or large frypan, heat the oil over high heat until smoking.
Add the chiles and salt; stir-fry until browned, 45 seconds.
Add the onion, ginger and garlic; stir-fry until fragrant, 15 seconds.
Add the peppers and cook until crisp-tender, 30 seconds.
Add the shrimp and stir-fry until nearly cooked through, about 5 minutes.
Stir the sauce, add to the wok and cook until thickened slightly, 30 seconds.
Stir in the cashews and sesame oil. (Serves 4)
If you are around the neighborhood, drop by on Saturday night. I am sure that there will be more than enough food. :~) Come throw a little Kung Pao on YOUR plate and wish Hubby a Happy Birthday.