Tuesday, December 31, 2013

most viewed recipes of 2013 & our favorite picks

I love looking at the most viewed posts from the past year.  I rarely pay close attention to what posts are being visited and am usually surprised to see what comes in at #1 at the end of the year.  This year is no exception-a breakfast recipe drawn from a vegan cookbook, I was actually amazed that this had the most hits.  You will have to scroll down to view it, I won't be giving it away right here in the first paragraph.  While you're at it, take a gander at the top ten most viewed recipes here on this little blog.

I also included our favorite picks from this past year.  My pick was hearty, meaty, flavorful and a labor of love.  Hubs pick, well he couldn't decide on one, so he chose two for a tie.  They are very "meat-n-potatoes" type of foods which fit him perfectly.  The youngster chose something sweet, which is not surprising there.

I hope you like this little compilation.  Maybe you can find a favorite amongst the group.

Queen Bee's Pick of the Year
Baked Manicotti with Meat Sauce
Hub's Pick(s) of the Year
Braised Pork Chops
Homemade Chicken Nuggets
The Youngster's Pick of the Year
Apple Pancakes with Cider Syrup
Top Ten Most Viewed Recipes of 2013
10.  Meyer Lemon Bars
9.  Skillet Fajitas with Hatch Chile con Rajas/Sopa de Papas y Rajas con Crema
8.  Banana Bread with Pecans and Golden Flax
7.  Kale Pesto
6.  Cashew Chicken Pizza
5.  Blueberry Lime Jam
4.  Salmon Salad with Blueberry Balsamic Vinaigrette
3.  Cozy Bee BBQ Sauce/Baked Cream Corn
2.  Lime Blueberry Yogurt Cake
1.  Honey Roasted Peanut Butter Pancakes

Sunday, December 29, 2013

a glimpse of our christmas

Lights on Texas Cedar
There was a very proud Joseph
He took his role quite seriously.
There were Christmas bakers...
He takes baking seriously too.
There was new fallen snow...well, of sorts.
The house was filled with the sweet aroma of gingerbread and sugar cookies
There were Christmas wrappings
and gifts for our very good friends delivered on Christmas morning
Our Christmas breakfast included a mile high stack of gingerbread pancakes with lemon syrup, apple cinnamon cured bacon lacquered in brown sugar and holiday fruit salad.  This year I kept it simple, using our everyday plates.  Not breaking out my Spode (Christmas china) enabled us to throw our dishes in the dishwasher and hit the road earlier than usual to celebrate Christmas with my parents.
Star of wonder...caught this image on Christmas Eve.
Marshmallows roasting on an open fire...

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

swept by the holidays

I have been swept by the holidays and have been away from here for a while.  Ironically this is my favorite time to share posts, pictures, and recipes and yet I have been absent.  I wish I had the time this season but because of the late start Thanksgiving gave me I am struggling to catch up.   For now I'm just saying hello to anyone out there and wishing you a wonderful holiday season.  Now time to prepare the house for a holiday party...

Friday, November 29, 2013

the ubiquitous thanksgiving leftover post: chipotle turkey salad

Chipotle Turkey Salad
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
2/3 cup plain yogurt
1 tablespoon canned chipotle pepper, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
Juice of one lime
1/4 teaspoon salt
  1. Add all ingredients listed above into a bowl.  Stir to combine.
4 generous handfuls of chopped romaine lettuce
2 cups leftover turkey, chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup cubed avocado
1/2 cup cotija or feta cheese, crumbled
  1. Toss the salad ingredients in a large separate bowl.  Add dressing and toss to coat.  Serve.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

how to restore a cast iron pan

This past Tuesday I volunteered to bring cornbread dressing to my son's School Thanksgiving Feast.  Confession.  I have never made my grandma's cornbread dressing.  Another confession.  I am a Texan and I do not cook southern food (Cajun, at times, but southern, hardly ever.)    I can't believe I just put that out there.  So I called my mom for the recipe and fished my cast iron pan out of the cabinet.

There it was-hardly used, never abused, just neglected and sticky.  Why was my pan so darn sticky?  Oh, it probably was the copious amounts of oil I used when I tried to season it.  Oi!  What is a southern, non-southern cook to do?

With a bit of research and faith in a lot of strangers I tried my own little method of restoring my sticky, tacky cast iron pan.  This method can also be used to restore rusty pans as well.

Scrub.  This is not the time to use your gentle cloth rags or your semi-scruffy blue scrub pad.  No, no.  Whip out the steel wool or the heavy duty scrub pads.  Yes, go against the rules! Put some muscle into it!  If you'd like, add salt for traction and get to scrubbing.  Once done check for the icky-sticky, discard the salt and rinse pan with warm water.

Wash.  Wash that mess with a dab of soap, if desired.  Be brave, you are once again being lured to the dark side-break the rules again!  Give it a good washing with a stiff brush and rinse when done.

Dry.  Dry your pan completely, thoroughly and immediately.  Don't air dry it on a rack.  Get 'er dry with a terry cloth towel.

Oil.  It doesn't take much.  In fact too much oil is what got me in this sticky situation.  I used a scant teaspoon for my 8" pan.  Rub vegetable or canola oil gently over the pan with a rag or paper towel.

Bake.  At 425 degrees F.  Place a piece of foil on the bottom rack (do this first, so you don't burn yourself).  Place pan upside down on the middle rack and bake for 45 minutes.  Turn off heat and let pan cool completely in the oven.
Ahhhhh, now I have a smooth cast iron pan.  Time to bake some cornbread!

***please note:  I am aware that I recommend a lot of "never evers" (i.e. using soap, using steel wool).  Please keep in mind this is a tutorial for restoring an unwell cast iron pan.  For basic cleaning I recommend a WASH, DRY, SEASON regime.

Monday, November 18, 2013

braised pork chops

Easy.  Flavorful.  Tender.  Aren't those the words you want to hear when describing your dinner?  Braised Pork Chops have been a long time dinner favorite at our house.  Months ago I made these when my mom came to visit.  When I announced that we'd be having pork chops for dinner, she snubbed her nose, her lips pursed and she accepted the menu hesitantly.  She shared that she didn't like pork chops because they are dry and stringy and have no flavor.  My answer was simple.  You've never had mine.  To her surprise she began to like pork chops that day and has since made this recipe several times.  This is evidence on how great these chops really are.  They can convert the non-chop-believers.

Fast forward to present, actually it was last Wednesday, so technically it is the past, but more current than the time described above...anywho...I did something I have NEVER done before.  Something so out of the ordinary I had to tell someone immediately.  My husband was shocked by my text and said he literally LOL'd as he was sitting in his office.

Wow! That's a first.  I BURNT THE PORK CHOPS! I don't know why my phone does that. (my phone randomly does ALL CAPS)  But seriously, burnt as in the wife cookin' for the 1st time burnt!  It's pretty bad...

I couldn't believe it.  Defeated, I salvaged what little meat I could, carving off the burnt edges and cutting it into tiny bits so E and I could eat something for dinner.  The hubs was lucky, he worked late.  However, something wonderful came out of that burnt mess-E actually ate all of his dinner!  And, he asked for leftovers the next day.  Obviously his salvaged portion was not as burnt as mine-mine was pretty bad but still edible. 

That is how good these chops are...they convert the non-believers and even if they are cooked to the nth degree, the pickiest eater in The Lone Star State accepts them onto his plate and into his tummy.  So, if you actually remember that you have dinner on the stove and not get lost in the deep, dark black hole of internet shopping (hem-hem), you will enjoy beautifully glazed, tender, flavorful pork chops.

Braised Pork Chops
serves 4

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3-4 center cut pork chops
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
1 teaspoon garlic salt
  1. Heat oil in a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium high heat.  Brown pork chops on all sides, 3 minutes per side.
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, stir together mustard, red wine vinegar, brown sugar, Worcestershire Sauce and garlic salt with 1/3 cup of water.  Pour over chops, bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until tender, about 1 hour.
  3. Once pork chops are cooked, remove them from pan and tent with foil.  Turn heat to medium high and reduce sauce until thickened, about 5 minutes.  Add pork chops back to the pan and coat with glaze.
Source:  Southern Country Cooking from the Loveless Cafe; Jane & Michael Stern.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

when the light splits, glints & sings

The sun told me it was going to rain today.  He spoke through his halo.  The high cirrus clouds drifted above my head and danced with the sun's light.  They danced until the light split.  They danced until the light glinted and sung.  They danced in the curious world of refraction & reflection.  The sun beamed and burst until an ethereal crown glowed through a cool autumn sky.  Its halo, bright, white and calm, was a gentle reminder that mother nature is a wondrous thing to behold.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

jack skellington on halloween

Jack's Lament
Jack in Halloweentown
On our way to Trick-Or-Treat
Applying makeup to this child was like applying makeup on a rabid squirrel!!!  Tough job.
I thought this was just too adorable.
What! The night is over?!?

Monday, October 28, 2013

(recipe: apple harvest pancakes & cider syrup)

I wish I could wax poetic about how fall is definitely in the air, however this "not too cool, not too hot" weather does not allow me this pleasure.  It is for lack of a better word, heavy.  The clouds sag with heft and the warm air weighs on any cool weather lover's heart. 
This boy is a true ham!
Yesterday was a family day, a rare day in which my husband and I were not at work, or there wasn't a soccer game, or birthday party to attend.  It was just us, husband, wife, son and no plans.  To celebrate, we began the day with a nice family breakfast.  To honor the invisible season of autumn, I made Apple Harvest Pancakes with Cider Syrup.  Hubs made bacon.  You may not think there is an art to frying up bacon, but for some reason I like his better than mine.
Have you ever seen anyone take on pumpkin picking with such fervor?!?
Soon after breakfast, the sun broke free from the heavy clouds and we found ourselves picking our pumpkins for Halloween night.  And despite the heft and warmth of the air and sun, apple pancakes & a pumpkin patch brought a little "fall" to us that fine family day.

Apple Harvest Pancakes
yield:  1-1/2 dozen
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 eggs
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 3/4 cups thinned plain yogurt (fill a 2 cup Pyrex measuring cup with 7 ounces of plain yogurt, add enough milk to equal 1 3/4 cups)
2 small apples, peeled and grated
  1. In a large bowl, combine the first nine ingredients.  In another bowl, combine the eggs, thinned yogurt, canola oil; stir into dry ingredients just until blended.  Stir in apples.
  2. Pour batter by heaping 1/4 cupfuls onto a greased, heated griddle.  Turn when bubbles form on top; cook until golden.
Cider Syrup
yield:  1-1/4 cups
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup apple cider
2 tablespoons butter, cubed
1/2 lemon
  1. In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Stir in cider until smooth.  Cook and stir over medium-high heat until thickened and bubbly, about 5 minutes.  Reduce heat to low; cook and stir 2 minutes longer.  Stir in butter and squeeze in lemon juice.  Serve with pancakes.
*Recipe source:  Taste of Home

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

white bean & kale stew

In a sleepy little university town nestled in the Bannock Range of Idaho, the College of Education could not wait for the weather to turn gray.  For the north wind to chill us to the bone.  For knitted scarves & mittens.  For soup weather.  The department I worked for had the perfect fundraiser during those blustery months, doling out bowls of soup and plates of grilled cheese for a few bucks a pop.  Students, professors and administrators would file down the hall to find comfort in a bowl of our dean's wild rice & mushroom soup (which was delicious) or savor the perfected minestrone of one of literacy professors (which he sheepishly admitted was one of his best recipes.)

Today, in a southern suburb of Austin, the sky was gray and the air was chilly.  Soup weather has come to Texas.  Wrapping myself in a sweater and boiling a pot for tea sent me back to the days of the soup and sandwich sale in the Intermountain West.  Soup on this week's menu is inevitable.

This White Bean & Kale Stew is a healthy, comforting, vegetarian dish reminiscent of that perfected minestrone soup ladled out during those chilly Idaho afternoons.  It is a great "from the pantry" meal as the recipe calls for ingredients typically found in the everyday kitchen. 

White Bean & Kale Stew
serves 4
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 shallots
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
1 stalk celery, diced
salt & pepper
1/2 can diced tomatoes
3 1/3 cups vegetable stock
4 oz. small red potatoes, scrubbed & rinsed, diced
1 15 oz. can cannellini, navy or white kidney
beans, drained and rinsed
1 hefty handful torn kale
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add shallots, garlic, carrots, and celery and season with salt and pepper.  Cook until tender, about 8 minutes.
  2. Increase heat to medium high and add diced tomatoes, with their juice.  Cook, until it begins to caramelize, about 3 minutes.
  3. Add vegetable stock, potatoes, and beans, and bring soup to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes.
  4. Add kale and cook, covered, until tender, about 2 minutes, then season with salt and pepper if needed.  Garnish with Parmesan.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

around the hive: bake sale

Homemade Granola with Cranberries & Apricot; Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread

Mini Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread, Homemade Granola & Popcorn Balls
Our little school hosted the October bake sale booth at the local market day.  I filled a canning flat with many goodies.  It is a prime month and our booth has a great location at the market.  I hope we did well in our fund raising.  These guys were packaged to sell! 
Happy Fall!

**Packaging:  Granola was placed in Mason jars and tied with raffia or decorated with old napkins that I cut to fit (Vera Bradley Portabello Road) & baker's twine.  Mini loaves and popcorn balls were placed in cellophane bags, tied with a ribbon; full loaves were wrapped in plastic wrapped then wrapped in parchment paper and tied with baker's twine.  All products were labeled with recycled remnants of cards that were intended to be disposed of.  I simply punched them out with a scalloped edged circle punch and wrote on them with a golden paint pen.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

simplicity in a carrot (recipes: glazed carrots & curried carrot soup)

During my first quarter in culinary school I attended a course called Intro to Culinary Skills.  It was a broad course, taught by a competition chef that covered knife skills, plating, timing and the basics of all cookery.  During our week of root vegetable cookery our chef instructor asked us to ignore the recipe in our notebook-carrots reminiscent of Thanksgiving, glazed in brown sugar and maple syrup.  The recipe looked divine, however I found myself reluctantly slicing carrots on the bias as the chef scribbled his recipe loosely on the blackboard.

Carrots, butter, chicken stock, salt and pepper, parsley.  That was it.  It was so simple, maybe even too simple.  I added a knob of butter into the warmed saute pan and swirled it into a sizzling foam.  Chopped carrots were tossed into the hot fat and glistened as they were coated in butter.  A shower of salt and pepper was added.  A pouring of chicken stock spattered and sputtered as I added the liquid half way up the carrots.  I increase the fire to bring everything to a boil, covered the pan and lowered the heat.
Once the carrots were tender, I removed them from the pan and set them aside.  Carrot infused chicken stock puddled the saute pan.  I amped up the heat and boiled the liquid, constantly swirling it around in the pan.  With a little patience and sizzling hot spots a carrot infused reduction glistened in the pan.  A dot of butter, carrots and a sprinkling of parsley were tossed back into the pan and coated with the glaze. It was simple and it was simply delicious.

Simply Glazed Carrots
serves 4-6
2 bunches of carrots, peeled
1-2 tablespoons butter
salt & pepper
1-2 cups chicken stock
Parsley, chopped (optional)
  1. To cut carrots into even chunks, begin at the tapered end and cut the carrot at the diagonal.  As you slice up toward the wider end, rotate the carrot one quarter turn creating uniform pieces.  Need a visual, check out this tutorial.
  2. Add one tablespoon of butter into a saute pan and heat it until melted and foamy.  Add carrots and toss to coat.  Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Add chicken stock halfway up the carrots and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer until carrots are tender but not mushy.
  4. Remove carrots from the pan and return heat to high.  Swirl the pan to move the liquid around until it reduces into a glaze.  Add carrots back to the pan and toss in the glaze.  Add parsley (optional).  Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
Curried Carrot Soup (a non-recipe recipe)
Pardon the loose instructions to this soup recipe.  It is a product of leftovers and a quiet lunch on a slow fall day.  Amounts really are dependent on how much carrots are left over from the night before, so it really is an eyeball-it kind of recipe.  Make it your own-I know you can!

Toss left over carrots and a cup of chicken stock onto a small sauce pot.  Heat gently and puree with an immersion blender (alternatively, use a blender but be careful buzzing hot liquids around, they tend to expand and can explode out the top).  Add more stock if soup is too thick.  Add salt, pepper, a pinch of curry powder and a whisper of cayenne pepper.  Add the juice of 1/2 of a small lemon.  Stir and adjust seasonings.  Serve garnished with a dollop of yogurt, pita crisps and chopped cilantro.