Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Leftover Question

Hi Crushers!

Wisconsin, like many states in the central part of the country, got snow dumped all over the place. It's not as bad as the East Coast's storms, but it was enough to give lots of happy children (and teachers) snow days! One such teacher is my husband, Steve, who woke up early this morning to shovel and dig out my car. With the help of a neighbor, they pushed my car out of our cul de sac on to the cross street that was plowed! Thankfully, I made it into work on time for an early conference call.

I just wish I had time to finish those pancakes I was going to make him for a thank you for shoveling! No worries though, since he's the pancake master. I just got him started.

Anyway, yesterday afternoon I remembered that I hadn't taken anything out of the freezer for dinner, so it was time to get creative. We had delicious pork chops on Monday night, so my first thought was to transform those into a new dish. A few weeks ago, my friend Susan asked me to address the question of what to do with leftovers. Since we rarely have them, I was a bit stumped.

Monday's dinner: Garlic Skillet Pork Chops with broccoli and couscous
What will you be?

After doing a mental search of our cupboards and fridge, I hit the Internet for inspiration. Where do I go first? Over to the Food Network where many of my kitchen crushes have recipes, of course!

Thanks to Emeril Lagasse and his guest Sam Choy, the answer to the leftover question was Sweet and Sour Pineapple Pork. I thought I could use the garlicky (yes, that's a word) cooked pork and reheat it with the sweet and sour sauce without frying it to save a few calories. Serve with some rice and steam some peapods and BAM! You've got an Emeril-approved dinner!

Unfortunately, due to a long drive home in the snow and getting to book club, I did not get a chance to make this before Steve just heated up the leftovers and ate it with some seasoned potatoes. Maybe next time?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

MyPlate (with links!)

Hi Crushers,

I have to share a non-kitchen crush today: First Lady Michelle Obama. When I was 11-years-old (give or take a year), I told my parents that I wanted to be the First Lady. To this day, I am so proud of them for asking me, "Why don't you want to be the President?" My parents are the best encouraging, aim-high kind of people! Anyway, my answer was three-fold:
  1. I didn't want the stress of having to deal with all of the negotiating, budgets, defense, and all the hard stuff. (Remember, I was 11, so none of this sounded like fun).
  2. I wanted my dress to go in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
  3. I wanted to have my own agenda and work on things like anti-drug campaigns or literacy or being healthy. (Sounds cool for an 11-year-old, huh?)
I must admit that although I'm a Michelle Obama fan and a HUGE fan of her Let's Move! campaign, I'm a Republican. Weird? Choosing to live a healthier life is for everyone, so reach across those party lines, people! Red or Blue, it's OK!

The Let's Move! campaign focuses on raising a healthy generation of kids through activity and healthy eating. Combined with the MyPlate guidelines of what and how much food you should have for a balanced meal, you've got some pretty strong tools for helping to have a healthy, happy family! If you add in my mom's saying of "at least three colors of food", you are set to have a nutrient-filled meal.

But wait, there's more! (You totally heard that in the late Billy Mays' voice, right?)

Now you can find tons of boards on Pinterest with recipes for healthy meals from some of my Kitchen Crushes publications like Better Homes and Gardens, Eating Well, Food Network and more!

Check it out: Pinterest MyPlate You won't be sorry!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

What to do with chicken?

My sister asked me what she could make with chicken that is easy. My brain instantly thought of 5 recipes that you could make with this versatile meat. I think I might make these a goal to cook and post by spring.

They are (in no particular order):
What can't you do with chicken?

Question: What's your favorite chicken dish?

Breakfast with limits

Good morning Crushers!

Steve and I are going up north (near Lake Superior) for skiing this weekend with a group of friends. We offered to bring things for breakfast since it's unclear if the lodge has anything and we don't really want to pay for every meal while we're up there.

When you are limited to what you can fit in a cooler, I feel like this trip will be a lot like packing food for a camping trip. When we camp, we put all our non-cooler items in a tote and keep it in the back of the truck so no animals get to our cereal and things, and the cooler is packed tight! When summer rolls around, I'll be sure to share some favorite camping meals with you.

What to do about breakfast, though? I would feel kind of silly packing a crock pot and making the ever-popular breakfast egg bake in our hotel room. I guess it could be done, but I just feel weird about that. What do you think?

Anyway, here is what we are bringing for breakfast and snacks:
  • Bagels and cream cheese
  • Oatmeal (with our camping utensils and bowls)
  • Fruit
  • Milk
  • Juice
  • Pancake Mix (we do have one morning at our friends' cabin)
  • An avocado, some onion and tomato = guaca-almost
  • Chips
  • Crackers
  • Cheese
What do you think? Are we missing anything?

When we were on our honeymoon, we did a road trip through California and did a LOT of hiking. We ate a lot of PBJ sandwiches, fruit, veggies and things like that for lunches that we could carry in our packs for when we were out on the trails. I think one weekend of being snowbuddies will be much easier!

I think we'll be fine, but I just have to make it through the weekend without breaking my arm or leg and we're good to go!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Chicken and dumplings: Soup for a chilly day

Like much of the country, Wisconsin is having one weird winter. We've gotten freezing temperatures in the single digits, then 50 degree F weather, and snow and rain all in ONE WEEK. Then it decides to do one thing for a whole week, but then goes back to freaking out. All of this freezing and thawing is really taking a toll on our roads making driving on the streets like driving in a video game, but instead of dodging cartoon turtle shells, you're trying to avoid potholes the size of a kiddie pool.

In order to have a relaxing evening in, may I suggest a warms-you-up soup like one of my kitchen crushes Paula Deen's Chicken and Dumplings recipe? This soup is so good and it fills a whole big pot so you can enjoy this for a few days or hand some out to your friends and family members.

This recipe is so easy to follow, all you need is patience. My kitchen smelled amazing! There is one warning though: watch the salt!

I didn't read that you just needed a teaspoon of the house seasoning, so our soup was a bit salty, but then you just add more water and you're fine. Whoops!

Again, here is the link to the recipe, and below is my commentary on the directions. Learn from my mistakes and experience and you will probably have a smoother soup experience!

Fills the whole pot!
To start the chicken: Place the chicken, celery, onion, bay leaves, bouillon, and House Seasoning in a large pot. 
Note: I didn't use a whole chicken, but instead I used two thigh/leg portions and some extra chicken legs that I had in my freezer. No use in going out to buy more when I've got chicken portions in the freezer!
Add 4 quarts of water and in water and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer the chicken until it is tender and the thigh juices run clear, about 40 minutes. 
Note: This is important because you don't want chicken that isn't cooked through to ruin your soup. Chicken is one of those meats that you should NEVER eat without making sure that it is fully cooked. No one wants Salmonella Soup.
Remove the chicken from the pot and, when it is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and separate the meat from the bones. Return the chicken meat to the pot. Keep warm over low heat.
Tip: I found a really easy way to remove the skin. What you can do is cut a slice down the side of the meat and just peel back the skin. You don't have to wrestle it to get it all off since you're just going to pick the bones clean and chop up the meat. You can toss the chicken bones and skin. You may want to take your garbage out right away, but be sure and tie up your garbage bag otherwise raccoons or cats will be attracted to your garbage can!
To prepare the dumplings: Mix the flour with the salt and mound together in a mixing bowl. Beginning at the center of the mound, drizzle a small amount of ice water over the flour. Using your fingers, and moving from the center to the sides of the bowl, gradually incorporate about 3/4 cup of ice water. Knead the dough and form it into ball.
Note: My dough turned out to be firm, but sticky. You can either butter your hands a bit to keep it from sticking or dust your hands with flour first. It'll help A LOT!
Dust a good amount of flour onto a clean work surface. Roll out the dough (it will be firm), working from center to 1/8-inch thick. Let the dough relax for several minutes.
Note: I read ahead and saw that it said to cut the dough into 1-inch pieces, so I took a pizza cutter and sliced up the dough. That worked nice for a while, but then I ended up just taking a hunk of dough and ripping off small pieces. It was way easier.
Add the cream of celery soup to the pot with the chicken and simmer gently over medium-low heat.

Cut the dough into 1-inch pieces. Pull a piece in half and drop the halves into the simmering soup. (See my note above about ripping pieces - much easier, but not uniform) Repeat. Do not stir the chicken once the dumplings have been added. Gently move the pot in a circular motion so the dumplings become submerged and cook evenly. Cook until the dumplings float and are no longer doughy, 3 to 4 minutes.
Note: In order to submerge the dumplings without stirring them into a goopy mess, I found it easiest to dip my spoon all they way into the pot and gently stir the soup while keeping the spoon in contact with the bottom of the pot. That way it just makes all the soup move together without a lot of fuss.
To serve, ladle chicken, gravy, and dumplings into warm bowls. Enjoy!
I made a few too many chicken legs, so I saved two and added them to our soup bowls. Delicious!
There are solutions in the recipe link for thickening up the soup. You'll want to make sure that your dumplings are cooked before you add the cornstarch though otherwise it'll cling to the dumplings. Then it just gets weird.

Enjoy this soup and I hope you all have had a safe winter so far!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Dad's Favorite Cake: German Chocolate Cake

For as long as I can remember, my mom always made my dad a German chocolate cake for his birthday. As far as I know, the only thing that can trump this dessert in my dad's mind is New York cheesecake with cherry topping. The man has good taste!

This year we celebrated my dad's birthday a bit early at our house because a bunch of us are traveling on his actual birthday. As far as I'm concerned, I think birthdays should be celebrated for a week, so this worked out just fine. We were installing a new faucet and had a few glitches, so I wimped out and we had pizza for dinner. However, I still made him his favorite cake. I'm considering this semi-homemade since I used a box of chocolate cake mix, but I just happened to have all the ingredients for the gooey good topping.

German Chocolate Cake Coconut Topping:
1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup brown sugar
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup butter (one stick)
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup flake coconut (sweetened is fine)
1 cup chopped pecans (optional)

In a large saucepan, combine evaporated milk, brown sugar, egg yolks, butter and vanilla. I mixed all the ingredients in a cold pan as best as I could first and then heated it up so the egg yolks didn't cook too fast. Otherwise you could have weird egg chunks. Ew. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thick. Remove from heat and stir in pecans (optional) and coconut. Let cool to room temperature before spreading on cake. Also, make sure that the cake has cooled otherwise all your waiting will have been wasted.

Since I didn't get to snap a picture of the cake before writing up this post, I have a funny story (with a picture) about cake. Last year, I was asked to make my then-soon-to-be father-in-law's favorite dessert, which is also German chocolate cake, for what I thought was going to be his surprise birthday party. So here I get all dressed up cute, but not too fancy that I couldn't play with my then-future niece and nephews out in the yard, bake a cake and hop in the truck with Steve only to show up at my own bridal shower at my then-fututure-sister-in-law's house! SURPRISE!

Why is the backyard so quiet? What is going on?

Later, Steve's dad did show up to help tear down tables and stuff. He asked where his cake was. I said he could have the cake, but we were keeping the gifts. I thought that was a fair trade.

Friday, February 15, 2013

What in the world is kimchi?

Hello Crushers!

One group of friends never seems to be able to have a Christmas party, so we started having a Chinese New Year party instead. While only a few Chinese dishes get made, it's mostly one big food party with handmade presents. There a sandwiches, egg rolls, hush puppies, slaw, cheese cake, beer and cheese dip and all sorts of crazy but delicious foods! This year, I decided to try something Korean: Kimchi Tuna Rice Patties. Sooooo goooood.

When my mom asked what I was going to make, I told her, and her first reaction was, "What in the world is kimchi?" Actually, I posted a picture of it on facebook and she asked that. Anyway...

From left to right: Chili paste, kimchi, sesame oil
Kimchi is like Korean sauerkraut. It's a cabbage-based condiment that has a vinegary sourness to it. It also has some shrimp and radish in there, so WARNING shellfish allergy people. I had a lot of fun going to buy it, too.

You see, you can't just buy kimchi at any old store. You need an Asian grocery or market. Fortunately, there is a grocery called Pacific Produce in Milwaukee, and let me tell you, it was amazing. My cousin, Caitlin, and her friend Danielle came along on this grocery field trip. I REALLY wanted to take out my camera and start snapping pictures of all the stuff I saw (and half I couldn't read), but I didn't want to be that girl. I also didn't want to get banned from the store. They had foods like jack fruit, frozen cuttlefish, and tofu in every shape and size.

The funniest part of this grocery trip was that I'm in the middle of an aisle entirely devoted to rice and rice noodles (there are that many kinds), a country music song came on over the radio. It was like East meets West in the rice aisle. I'm not saying that to be a jerk, I'm just saying that it totally threw me off-guard.

Anyway, here is my attempt at making these delicious tuna and kimchi snacks!
Kimchi Tuna Rice Patties

1 cup kimchi chopped

1 (5oz, 145g) canned tuna, drained well (depending on your environmental stance, you may want to choose the wild caught, dolphin safe kind like I did!)
3 tablespoon kimchi juice (or as much as you can get out of the jar)
2-3 green onion, chopped
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tsp hot chili paste/sauce (optional)
4 cups cooked short grain white rice (my rice wasn't very sticky)
as many sheets of plain roasted seaweeds as you need
NOTE: buy a triangular rice shaper thingy like the other blog says. Mine worked OK in the cupcake pans, but they fell apart. Argh...

Start your rice since that will take the longest. If you don't have a rice cooker (like me - I know!), follow the stove top directions.
Yes, it really is that bright red. Chop up those big cabbage chunks!
Chop up the kimchi on a washable surface. Throw it all in a pan and saute the kimchi for about 2 minutes or until it gets soft. Take those two minutes to try and scrub the red juice off your cutting board and hands. You'll get it off your hands, but you might as well throw the cutting board right into the dishwasher.

Once the kimchi is heated through, add the tuna, sesame oil, chili paste (optional) and chopped green onions. You'll want this to cook this all together until the mixture gets kind of dry. I have never used some of these ingredients before, but wow does it make your kitchen smell fantastic! Especially the roasty-toasty smell of the sesame seed oil!

The happy red spoon is happily stirring.

NOTE: This is where I totally veer off from how the Holly did it at Beyond Kimchee.

If you don't have the rice shaper thingy, hunt for something in your kitchen that could hold about a half cup of rice. Since I had to travel for two hours to get to the party with these snacks, I used cupcake tins because a) they make travel easy, b) it's about the right size, c) I have two of them, and d) they stack!

While letting the rice and tuna mixtures cool enough for handling, chop up your seaweed into strips about 1.5 inches by 5 inches. I just took the seaweed sheets and cut them in half and half again until they were about right.

This is before you put the rest of the rice on top.
In order to fill them, place a piece of seaweed across the top of one of the holes. Firmly, fill it half way with rice and make a little dent in the bottom so it's shaped like a bowl or nest. Put about a tablespoon of the tuna mixture into the dent/bowl/nest, but not too much that it hangs over the sides. Take more rice and firmly cover it up and then wrap in seaweed. If your rice is the right texture/stickiness, you will be able to pop those things out of the tins and serve them in cute little circles.
Cute little circles!
I ended up making 24 of these things. Can you believe it?

However, if you had some trouble with that, ahem, you're going to need a spoon and some patience. You can eat them cold and they taste pretty great, or if yours totally fell apart when you tried "popping" them out of the tins, just toss the insides of about three of these in a bowl, pop it in the microwave and eat it for dinner with a bit of soy sauce or more kimchi. Either way, it's hit!

Catch up, not ketchup: Buffalo Chicken Dip

Hi Crushers,
I'm sorry for the delay in posts. I would like to blame my cut finger for the inability to type up some of my latest kitchen happenings, but I didn't cut myself that bad...

Anyway, looking back at the past two weekends (has it been that long?!), I've had some really great food and I'm glad to share it with you! For the Superbowl, I made Buffalo Chicken Dip loosely based on this recipe from

Please note that cooking with hot sauce with a cut finger could lead to all sorts of disasters and swearing in the kitchen. Thanks to one of my husband's favorite shows, Swamp People, I have picked up on one of the character's sayings: "Dog it" instead of the other word that starts with a d.

Since I wasn't totally invested in either team and our group of friends are all really good cooks, we had a crazy smorgasbord of food. We had two types of guacamole, rice and seaweed snacks, jalapeno hush puppies (SO GOOD my cousin gave me the magazine that it was from), puppy chow/muddy buddies, shrimp with sesame, and all sorts of things. No one goes hungry at these parties. We enjoyed the food, the commercials and Beyonce. Who doesn't love a good Beyonce performance?

Buffalo Chicken Dip
2 cups chopped cooked chicken (about two boneless, skinless chicken breasts)
1 tbsp-ish olive oil
1 8 oz. package of cream cheese (I used the low fat kind)
1 14 oz (possibly 16 oz, I forget...) tub of Greek Yogurt
1 cup-ish of hot sauce (I used Franks)

1 cluster of celery trimmed and chopped up into dip-able sticks

Start getting a frying pan hot and heat the oil. Spread the oil around so your chicken doesn't stick to the pan. Cook the the chicken all the way through. No pink insides! I chopped my chicken up before I cooked it so that it would cook faster, but you can chop it up afterward too. Just be sure to let it cool down so you can handle it.

Lots of chicken!
In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and Greek yogurt until it's smooth. Then, starting with about a half cup, mix in the hot sauce until you're at a level of spiciness that you can handle. It's important to know your crowd on this one otherwise if it's too hot, no one will eat it! My crowd included a few people who never break a sweat when eating ANYTHING. I ended up using a cup of the hot sauce. Some people said it made their eyeballs sweat and other people wanted more heat. Can't with them all!

Yes, it will turn that bright orange color!
Once the chicken is cooked and chopped up into small bits, stir in to the yogurt-cheese base. Stir thoroughly and serve with celery. You don't need to heat this up at all. I think the celery and the fact that it's cold help to bring the heat level down for people who can't handle a lot of spice.

Question: Which was your favorite commercial? Mine was a tie between the Budweiser Clydesdales, the Jeep/USO, and Ram Trucks "Farmer". All three of them made me choke up!