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Monday, March 28, 2011

Quick and Easy From Scratch Sloppy Joes and Grandma Nancy's Hot German Potato Salad

Sloppy joes don't always have to mean opening a can of Manwich.  Now don't get me wrong, I think Manwich is delicious.  And it's definitely one of the best/easiest meals to make for your loved ones.  But you can wow you family with these from scratch sloppy joes when you want to do a little more than opening a can or when you want to control just what your family eats (aka reducing the use of those strange ingredients found in processed foods).  And let's face it, everyone loves a sloppy joe.  Kids love them.  Guys love them.  They're delicious.  And easy!

Oh and this isn't my recipe...  Another Rachel Ray recipe.  She's annoying.  Her recipes tend to rock.  Shoot me.

Super Sloppy Joes
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (once around the pan)
1 & 1/4 cup ground beef sirloin (I just get one butcher package - they are generally around a pound and that will        
2 to 2 & 1/2 teaspoons steak seasoning blend (McCormick Montreal Seasonings work well but any will do)
1 shallot, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 cups tomato sauce (I happened to have 1 cup leftover jarred pizza sauce (Mids brand) from the night
     before and used that in conjunction with 1 cup tomato sauce and it worked very well)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 crusty rolls, split, lightly buttered and toasted
Garnishes of your choice (I like shredded cheddar, Rachel suggests tomato & pickle...  Whatever you ate growing up)

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add oil and beef to the pan, spreading it around the pan to break it up.  Combine brown sugar and steak seasoning, then add to skillet and combine with beef.  When meat has browned, add onion and red pepper. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes.  Add vinegar, stirring briefly to reduce, then add Worcestershire, tomato sauce and paste, stirring to combine.  Reduce heat to simmer and cook mixture 5 minutes longer.

I like to toast my buns (insert lewd joke here) on my electric griddle.  Preheat the thing to 350 degrees.  While your skillet is warming, melt 1/4 cup butter in the microwave.  Brush butter on buns and place face down on skillet about 5 minutes, or until brown.  You may have to press down areas in order to get toasty.

I made this recipe with Rachel's proposed Deviled Potato Salad, but I think next time I would serve with baked french fries or tweak the recipe.  They were good, but super heavy.  She also suggested serving Root Beer Floats which made my hubby super happy.  Seriously, when was the last time you had a root beer float???  Make this dinner for your family and score some huge points.  Hubby's response to my informing him we were having this meal was "I just came."  So truly, it's a crowd pleaser.  

A great side dish to serve with this (that can be made ahead of time) is my grandmother's Hot German Potato Salad.  I may have given this recipe before, but here it is again.

Grandma Nancy's Hot German Potato Salad


½ lb. Of bacon, cooked & crumbled  (I usually use about 9 slices...)
½ cup chopped celery
½ cup sliced onion
¼ cup bacon drippings
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1 ½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon celery seed
¼ teaspoon pepper
½ cup water
1/3 cup vinegar
5 medium potatoes, cooked and cubed

Cook bacon until crisp; drain and crumble.  Saute celery and onion in bacon drippings.  Combine sugar, flour, and seasonings.  Stir into drippings. Add water and vinegar, stirring until smooth.  Bring to a boil; add potatoes and bacon.  Mix thoroughly.  Yield: 6 servings.

This is an old, classic recipe.  My hubby LOVES it every time I make it.  It smells so good on the stove.  If you want to make it ahead of time:
1. Cook bacon till crisp and save on paper towels until just before serving.  (I like to cut bacon prior to cooking in order to make it all  equally crisp).
2.  Cook dressing per recipe above, pour into microwavable dish and reserve until time to serve.
3.  Cut potatoes and store in saucepan under cold water until time to serve, up to a few hours.
4.  20 minutes prior to serving, turn on water under potatoes.  Boil potatoes until tender, about 15 minutes.  Microwave sauce 2 minutes or until hot.  Mix drained potatoes with sauce and bacon and serve hot.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Quick Sausage Calzones

I love calzones, but never seem to be able to find the right stuffing mixture to my taste at our favorite Italian restaurants.  I found a Rachel Ray cookbook that had a worthwhile recipe and after a few tweaks, I think I found a winner.

I know what you're thinking.  Rachel Ray is super annoying.  I don't disagree.  But her recipes are great, easy, and approachable.  Anyone can conquer these quick recipes and come out a dinner super hero for their family!!!

Quick Sausage Calzones

1 lb. Italian sausage (sweet or hot, whichever you prefer)
2 cups Ricotta
1 cup mozzarella
1 cup Parmesan
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
3-4 shakes grated nutmeg
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1-2 store bought pizza dough (1 ball of dough makes two large calzones, 2 balls of dough makes 4 smaller calzones)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup marinara or pizza sauce heated for dipping

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Brown sausage over medium high heat.  When thoroughly cooked, drain on paper towels.  Combine ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan, parsley, garlic, nutmeg, and pepper.  Stir in cooked sausage.  Divide pizza dough into two equal portions.  Stretch each portion to 8.5" X 11" rectangle.  Pile half of sausage and cheese mixture onto one side of the dough.  Pull empty half of dough over the cheese mixture and pinch closed.  Place on baking sheet.  Brush with olive oil.  Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until crust is golden brown.

***Don't like this combination of ingredients???  Try your favorite combination of vegetables, meats, and cheeses!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Paranormal Activity

Hubby and I might have a ghost.  Nothing head-spinning, Exorcism creepy.  Just a few unexplained occurrences.

Last night, after hubby took Lola out around 3am, we heard voices coming from the living room.  Hubby was worried that people were in our home.  When he got up to investigate, it seems the TV had turned on by itself.

A few days before this happened, during an evening of insomnia I heard some strange noises.  The first was a "whoosh" sound, sort of like when a towel falls off a hook to the floor.  Of course, no towels were out of place.  The second strange noise I heard was a distinctive click, almost like the sound of a door closing.  Investigation revealed no newly closed doors.

Hopefully this is the end of our paranormal activity experience.  I'm not necessarily a believer in things paranormal.  I am a creature of science, and if it can't be explained by science I don't stand by the logic.  However, I am a believer in physics.  I do believe the law of conservation of energy; that energy can be neither created nor destroyed, but can only transform states.  Are ghosts the manifestation of the energy of a person after they die?  We can't really be certain.  All I know is I don't want to wake up to my TV mysteriously turning on at 3am.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Forgive me Followers, for I have sinned. It has been five days since my last blog.

For no particular reason have I been slacking on my blog.  I haven't been particularly busy.  I haven't been ill.  Just lazy.  But I do have loads to discuss.

New Cookbook is full of Questionable Recipes

I have now prepared 4 recipes from this Cookbook and found three successful.  One of the recipes was so bad that Lola the Shar Pei monster wouldn't even eat it.  This recipe was the Fish, Spinach, and Ricotta Cannelloni.  Just the thought of it makes me gag.  After reading the title of this recipe maybe it was my recipe choice that was questionable.  Either way, we threw the whole thing out.

The other three recipes we experienced, the lemon and garlic lamb (will share recipe at bottom of this posting), smoked trout and the pesto potato wedges were good with one tweak:  The potatoes need cooked lower and slower - maybe more like 400 degrees for 30 minutes.  They stuck to the pan horribly.

Date Night Idea

Last Saturday hubby and I were itching for something a little different to do than the usual.  When we saw the local putt putt golf course full of 4th graders and no movies were being shown that we wanted to see, we attempted to do a wine tasting at The Wine Cafe.  The Wine Cafe has North Carolina's first automated wine tasting machine.  So what you do is purchase a little card, like a credit card, from the store clerk.  You then put money on the card (with the attendant) and get yourself a glass.  You put the glass under the wine dispensing device, and press whether you want a taste, a half glass, or a full glass of the particular type of wine.  While this technology is pretty cool, it takes the "experience" out of what I have come to love about a wine tasting.

My first experience with a wine tasting was when I was in college at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.  My friend Kat and I decided to visit Windgate Vineyard.  My idea of wine before this tasting was extremely limited to whatever bottles someone had bought to slam at IUP homecoming parties.  I never considered the flavor nuances wine can hold.  Or how wine and food can complement each other so well.  I really came to enjoy the education you receive at a wine tasting.  I enjoy everything about a proper wine tasting, the array of wines from white to red, the discussion about each wine, the atmosphere in a vineyard, winery, and wine store, the exchange with the knowledgeable winery employee. So I did not welcome this automated wine tasting experience.  Hubby and I thanked the clerk for her information and promptly left the store.

Still looking for something to do, I directed hubby to The Mash House, a local "brewery and chophouse".  I had been wanting to visit this restaurant and brewery since moving to Fayetteville.  I took my hubby to do a beer tasting of the locally brewed beer.  Hubby isn't much of a wine drinker anyways, so I knew he would appreciate this experience much more than a wine tasting.  We shared a beer tasting platter of nine different beers.  The bartender wasn't swamped and was able to explain the beers we would be tasting and then left us to taste and discuss between ourselves.  This ended up being one of the best dates we have ever shared.  We tasted the beer, talked about what we liked and disliked, compared to beers we had tasted before, and laughed and talked like we don't always take the time to do in our busy, day to day lives.

It felt really good to enjoy some quality time with my husband.  I know, it sounds silly.  We spend each and every day together.  But sitting on the couch watching Drinking Made Easy (will discuss in a later segment) together via DVR in our pajamas doesn't always constitute as quality time.  Sure, we can spend time together and enjoy each other anywhere and at any time.  But at least for me, when we're at home on the couch, my mind is on other things.  The laundry in the dryer, the dishes in the sink/dishwasher, the dog needs out, I need to run the sweeper (aka vacuum - Pittsburghese can comprise a blog post in and of itself), I should shave my legs, did I remember to put away those socks?  So going on a proper date every once in a while and letting your hair down is extremely important in any relationship.  If a beer or wine tasting isn't to your taste, sometimes a nice walk does well.  Although alcohol helps to loosen up any discussion, as long as you don't drink too much and end up fighting about something stupid.  I highly recommend a date at your local brewery or winery.  No boyfriend/girlfriend???  No problem!  Go with your friends for a different drinking experience!

Drinking Made Easy

If you haven't yet tuned in to Drinking Made Easy on HDNet Wednesday nights at 8:00pm you definitely need to set your DVR to record all episodes immediately.  Essentially the stars of this show, Zane Lamprey, Steve McKenna, and Marc Ryan travel the country and try local booze and food while visiting cool local bars, breweries, restaurants, and distilleries.  I admit I'm totally jealous and would die for their job.  But they are super entertaining.  Learning about the different cocktails, brews, and spirits is really interesting to this foodie.

Also, if you're feeling a little adventurous, you can play the Drinking Made Easy game while you watch the episodes.  Rules can be found at their website and if you dig the show you should definitely try this once or twice!  Hubby and I did this on Friday night of last week and thoroughly enjoyed our time making each other drink and laughing at the funny tactics of the guys on the show!  Tune in!

Lemon and Garlic Lamb

2 lbs lamb (I used center cut leg of lamb I cut apart into lean pieces)
1/2 shallot
3 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon paprika
1/2 cup beef stock
3 tablespoons fresh thyme
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons dry white wine

Trim fat from lamb and cut into manageable pieces, discarding any bone.  Heat olive oil in large pan to medium heat.  Brown lamb on all sides and remove from pan.  Add shallot to oil and cook till tender, about 5 minutes, scraping bottom of pan occasionally to loosen browned bits.  Add garlic and cook about 30 seconds.  Stir in paprika and heat through.  Return lamb and any juices to the pan.  Stir in lemon juice, beef stock, and fresh thyme.  Cover tightly and cook, stirring occasionally for 50-60 minutes.  10 minutes before lifting from heat, add 3 tablespoons of dry white wine.  Serve over 4 cups brown rice. 

Saturday, March 5, 2011

New Cookbook, New Challenges

About the same time I got the Cooks Illustrated Italian Classics cookbook I got another cookbook called Everyday Cooking.  I've created a menu for the week using recipes from this cookbook.  (Not to worry, I haven't forgotten my Italian challenge, I'm just taking a break.)

This new cookbook is relatively simple and has great color illustrations of the steps and recipes.  Today, I'm making Home Smoked Trout and Pesto Potato Wedges. As usual, I have tweaked the recipes to my taste and utensil ability.  My grill is really small and I will be baking the potato wedges rather than grilling them as the recipe calls for.  (The grill will be solely reserved for smoking my trout.)  The trout recipe calls for whole fish but fillets were on sale at my local grocer so I'm using them instead. Really simple recipes that should be delicious.

Home Smoked Trout

4 oz smoking chips
1/2 cup white wine
4 trout fillets
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 lemon, thinly sliced
8 sprigs dill

Combine chips & wine in large bowl.  Let soak 1 hour.  Preheat covered grill to low heat.  Place chips & wine over coals 5-10 minutes or until hot.  Place trout on wire rack set in roasting tin.  Brush trout lightly with oil, then top with lemon and dill.  Place on rack in grill, cover and smoke for 15-20 minutes or until trout flakes.  (Fillets will not take as long as whole fish, so check after about 7 minutes.)

Pesto Potato Wedges

4 medium sized potatoes, peeled
2 tablespoons basil pesto
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoon parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 475 degrees.  Cut potatoes into wedges, rinse well and drain, then place in large bowl.  Combine basil pesto, olive oil, and water, pour over potatoes and toss to coat well.  Place in a large foil dish in a single layer.  Cook 20-30 minutes or until browned.  Serve sprinkled with parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Freedom and Justice for All???

Recently the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, allowing continued picketing of service members' funerals citing protection under the First Amendment for the fundamentalist church members' actions, no matter how hurtful or distasteful.

Being the wife of a soldier and staunch defender of the Constitution, I'm torn on this decision.

On the one hand, I have always felt that the old quote "I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it" (attributed incorrectly to Voltaire but actually written by Evelyn Beatrice Hall writing under a pseudonym) perfectly summarized my thoughts and feelings on the First Amendment.  I may vehemently disagree with your beliefs, but your right to express all your deepest, darkest thoughts and feelings is a freedom awarded citizens of the United States we should all hold dear.  We are very lucky to live in a nation where we are allowed to express all our opinions without fear of punishment.

On the other hand, I'm appalled at this group's conscious decision to target funerals to express their beliefs.  Saying their protests of fallen service members' funerals (or any funeral) is in poor taste is a serious understatement.  Attacking a family already suffering inconceivable pain to further their agenda is bordering on evil.  What kind of person can knowingly bring on further grief and sorrow to a family already in the depths of loss?

Clearly, the "church" founder, Fred Phelps, has some serious mental instability.  His charisma has allowed him to coerce his followers, mostly extended family members, to believe in his homophobic, anti-Semitic teachings.  He and his followers believe the soldiers' deaths are a result of a vengeful God smiting a nation that has endorsed homosexuality and supported Jews.  They also believe that plane crashes and other disasters are God's way of punishing a nation whose values have been compromised.

There is a time and place for everything, and a funeral is no place for preaching one's agenda.  A funeral is a deeply personal time for the family and friends of the dead, a time to say goodbye and to process the loss.  A funeral can award those close to the dead a sense of closure.  It also has an important place in many religions, and properly committing the dead to the afterlife is very important.  The mere presence of the protesters disrupts all the above.

Perhaps the protest of funerals was the only way this group could attain National media coverage, and they feel that it was a necessary means to an end.  Regardless, I don't know how they sleep at night.  Having been taught to treat others how I wished to be treated, and learning a deep sense of empathy, I can't fathom their behavior.

While I stand by the Supreme Court ruling to endorse this and any group's First Amendment rights as stated in the Bill of Rights as follows: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,"  I believe that people should exercise a little common sense and courtesy in their expression of beliefs and ideas.  While I know this is asking a lot of the entire population, and I know this group obviously lacks common sense and courtesy, I remain an optimist.  Maybe this group will go the way of Jonestown followers and knock themselves off the radar.  Too optimistic?

I find this group vile and despicable.  Hate has always been something I considered an unnecessary drama people choose to submit to, and yet I find feelings of hate creeping into my heart regarding this group of individuals.  Hate just breeds more hate, like an unmitigated tumor.  I'm going to do my best to let go of my hate for them in the hopes that their hate will subside and desist, or at least their fervor will diminish and these horrible protests will stop.