I was lazy this weekend. Really lazy. I didn’t want to go out, I didn’t get much accomplished at home and I certainly didn’t want to go to the grocery store. Well. I wanted to, but I didn’t want to *go* grocery shopping. So I went for the last meal from my box and the Indian delivery on Sunday. Yes, I intended to cook, but it just didn’t.

But Monday came and I knew I needed to shop and cook. In addition to the holes punctured on the interstate, causing Northern Virginia type traffic, I have been craving chili for a while. The original intention was to make two versions, one regular and one vegetarian, but after a long day at work, I went basic and one chili. All weekend Bob and I have debated what should go in chili; does it have beans, peppers, onions? How much spice should it have and should it be over rice or plain. Is cheese a central component? … Can I just say, that for someone who doesn’t know how to turn the stove on, he has strong opinions about chili.

The glorious part of actually cooking is that, ultimately, I decide what goes in. Since I went with a beef version, I decided onion and a little red bell pepper would also work.


I found a lot of different options for spices for chili, but I went with chili powder (duh), cumin, Italian seasoning, paprika, cayenne pepper and garlic. I also added about two ounces of double concentrated tomato paste.

20140129-193524.jpg I added the spice mixture to the beef, pepper and onions with a cup of beef broth, a can of diced tomatoes and a bay leaf. I let this all cook together for about 20 minutes over medium heat with no cover for the pan. (Yes, I pretty much won on all debates about what went in the chili, but Bob got a meat version instead of the vegetarian version. Fair trade.)


The results were really, really good. Bob couldn’t taste any bell pepper in this (I could) so he was happy and I didn’t have the beans. I’m trying with beans, but it is still a texture issue for me. I made a soup last week with cannelloni beans and kale. Very good with lots of flavor; I ate the beans, but every time I chewed I remembered why I don’t eat them regularly. If I was a kid these days Mom and Dad would probably be told I had a sensory integration disorder; I just think I’m fussy about food whether taste or texture.

I got the basic recipe for the chili here. I tried to follow the recipe, but used way less pepper (about a quarter of one medium red bell pepper), less tomato paste and no salt or extra pepper. Also forgot anything resembling a garnish, but I did put it over the coconut rice we had a few nights before. Oddly, that worked really, really well with the chili.

Stay warm everyone – even Florida saw snow today. /shiver

Chocolate Cupcakes with Coffee Icing

I desperately wanted cake today. I’ve been very good since the Christmas baking has gone and I just wanted cake. Vanilla is my favorite, but I decided to go for chocolate today and made cupcakes because they are cute, individually portioned and take less time to actually cook. After I made said cupcakes, I realized I had not replenished my confectioner’s sugar supply from the chiffon cake experiment. Icing makes the cake – cake is, after all. Only a delivery mechanism for icing and to not have icing is, well, almost a disaster.

Not one to give up I scoured the internet for alternatives. Yes, I could have driven the two miles to the store and picked up confectioners sugar, but this was a do-as-little-as-possible day so I didn’t want to do that. I found several recipes that mentioned using flour in milk, heated to boiling to thicken with granulated sugar and butter. Well, I decided to give it a try figuring the worst that happens is that is turns out like most of my icing experiments, but this actually worked. I used a half cup of coffee instead of milk and three tablespoons flour then let it cool (ok, put it in the freezer since I’m impatient when it comes to cake and icing). I used a stick of butter and a half cup of sugar, mixed well them added half the flour/coffee mixture. I was so shocked that this worked but it really did.


I also made a fried rice this week – used my Pad Thai sauce recipe – and made a nice vegetarian fried rice for dinner. Bon thought it was good. I really loved it.

We are keeping warm these days – We turned the heat on and put the flannel sheets on the bed. The cats have been super cuddly with the cool weather and Tigger slept on my back one night. Almost 16 pounds of dead weight is not conducive to a good night’s sleep, but he is so cute, you just can’t stay mad at him.


Chicken and Dumplings

This little experiment may help me convert to a southerner. I will always be a Jersey girl at heart, but I’ve got so many southern relatives now that I feel I should try a little southern every now and again.

Mom let me borrow a recipe or two that she cut out of Southern Living and this Chicken and Dumplings came from there. Since I can never follow a recipe exactly, my version is below.

1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup vegetable broth
1 egg
1/2 oz grated parmesan cheese (probably less since I didn’t measure it )
1/2 teaspoon parsley
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
Pepper to taste
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour

Combine everything up to the flour together and mix until smooth. Add the flour just until incorporated. Fill quart size storage bag and cut one corner of the bag to make a piping bag. Pipe by 1/2 to 1 inch ribbons (I use kitchen scissors to cut) into boiling water. This was done in batches to give the dumplings room. Cook until they gloat to the surface then remove with a slotted spoon.

3 chicken thighs, boneless, skinless is what I used

Cook in a skillet with a 1/2 cup water or stock until cooked. Remove from heat, let cool a little and shred. (I did the cooking of the chicken while I mixed the dumplings)

2 pats butter (about 1 tablespoon)
1-2 carrots, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/8 cup flour
2 cups vegetable broth
Thyme, sage and oregano – I put mine in a tea bag for easy removal, but you can use cheese cloth, tie with a string, etc)

Melt butter in the skillet used to cook the chicken. Add celery and carrots. Cook a few minutes until slightly softened. Add garlic send cook about one minute. Add wine and stir until pan is deglazed and wine is reduced to almost half. Sprinkle flour over vegetables send stir. Put in herbs and stock/broth and stir to combine. Let boil then cover and reduce heat and cover. Cook over medium low heat for 20 minutes. Remove herbs and add chicken and dumplings. Mix well and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes.


If you have some fresh herbs, sprinkle over the top before serving. Otherwise, divide into two bowls and enjoy.


As for wine, I always go with one that I would drink. I usually use a Kitchen Sink white table wine (it is surprisingly good for a ten dollar white table wine) but today I used a white Bordeaux.

20140119-194751.jpg have to say, I really like this one. A little grapefruit flavor, but a nice round wine. Just enough acid and tang with no oak or bitter notes.

Yes, I did use a French wine for my Southern dish. But like I said, I am a Jersey girl. 🙂


Cats are the teenagers of the animal world. They are moody, needy, insistent little things that eat way more than their size suggests and they stay out way too late and become so very cute and cuddly when they want something.

Tigger is a particularly interesting case. He is a rather large (yes, probably fat) cat, especially when compared to the other two. He is super friendly and cuddly with me – a regular lap cat.

20140119-131605.jpg When Bob and I sit on the couch he curls up with us and you can do pretty much anything to him. Mess with his ears, hold his paws, move his tail … he just rolls over and requests a belly rub.

20140119-131838.jpg He also does all the usual cute cat things like hiding in boxes


20140119-132002.jpg playing in trees

20140119-132106.jpg and just generally looking adorable.

But have company over? Have anyone including Mom and Dad in the house, and he hides under the bed. Look at Tigger when walking by him (or just walk by him) and he runs like his life depends on it. I’m pretty sure Val and Bill have not seen him in person as he is just the scared-y cat of the bunch.

20140119-132627.jpg I suppose that isn’t a bad thing in the grand scheme of things; after all he is a cat.


January Cheese Night


One of the best things about having a great, local cheese shop is getting to know the owners and having the owners know you. We have that and I have to say, I think I benefit the most from this relationship.

We picked up our January Cheese Club box this week and since there was a blue cheese, Louise included a Point Reyes Toma just for me. She knows I don’t do blue cheese so she included a little something extra. She even wrote on the tag my name. I told Bob he got all the blue, I get the Toma. It was rich, creamy, smooth and so tangy and good, I loved it.


When we pick up our box we tend to do a simple dinner of cheese, wine and accompaniments. This month was no different, except we did it two nights in a row. So what did we have that was so fantastic? Well …

Ribiola, a smooth buttery sheep and cow cheese from Italy. He this one rivaled the Von Trap cheese from December and as Val said, the Von Traps know cheese.

Challerhocker. I had never heard of this little cheese from Switzerland, but it will change the way you think about Swiss cheese. It has none of the waxy texture or flavor I generally associate with Swiss cheese. It did have the holes though – just a few.

Colts on Bassett Stilton. As much as I loved the Toma, Bob loved the Stilton even more. He raved, gushed and swooned over this cheese. He almost had me wanting to try it, but … well … I don’t do blue cheese. But he swears this was the best blue cheese he has ever had.

I have done some cooking this week. I made a nice vegetable curry.


I also did a corn chowder. I do think this one came out a little thin, but I followed the recipe almost exactly. We loved the flavor and it wasn’t hard to make, but I still think it needed a thickening agent. Maybe start with a roux instead of plain butter. I added some pork I had in the fridge for Bob.


Trail Ride

After a lot of traveling last year, I haven’t been up for lots of travel. I’ve been enjoying being a homebody and hanging out with the pets. But recently I’ve been getting the itchy feet again, but still want to sleep in my own bed (and not take time off work which I’m sure my boss appreciates). To this end we have started looking at things to do around here. Last weekend I suggested ice skating, but Bob vetoed that idea. In all fairness, it is probably the first time he has totally nixed something I wanted to do, so I’ll give him that one. But after thinking about what might be a fun day out, we decided to try horseback riding.


I looked around for someplace to take out novices and found a few possibilities. When I started reading reviews Cypress Breeze Farms came up over and over as well run, friendly staff and having very healthy and cared for horses. Yes, there were cheaper places out there, but I have a thing about animals – they should be treated well and care for since they depend on humans. We have a responsibility to them. I called and made an appointment for us and was very, very happy when one of the first questions was how much riding experience we had. None pretty much covers it.


We had such a good time. I would never think Pinellas Park would have horse trails and farm country, but there are a lot of horses there. Nestled in among the neighborhoods are trails and equestrian centers that make for a very pretty ride. The horses were very sweet and easy to ride, the guide was awesome and we had a really great day out. Pretty sure both of us will be sore tomorrow, but it was a great afternoon. We made a full day of it and had lunch in St. Petersburg then hit the farmers market there. And the best part is I’m home tonight to watch the Patriots Colts game and sleep in my own bed with my own furry creatures around.


I don’t do seafood. Haven’t in years. Something about throwing up for hours that made eating it less than appealing. But after the visit to the allergist last year where I found out it is fish only (and really only really really allergic to anchovies) I started trying shellfish again. A piece of shrimp in Key West, a taste of Bob’s lobster at Marina Jack’s and the shrimp and rice ball at Mozaic on New Year’s. So far so good and this week, I decided to try cooking shrimp.

This was not an impulse cook. Bob and I really like the Hello Fresh boxes we started getting after I had to stop the veggie baskets because of work hour conflicts. I get to experiment with food and ingredients, but I don’t have to figure the experiment out a few nights a week. One of the options for this week’s delivery was a Cashew Chili Shrimp over brown rice. I figured it looked ok and I liked the idea of shrimp better than mushrooms and Alfredo sauce. Bob really liked the idea of shrimp so we went for it. After a seven meeting day today, I came home and tried my hand at shrimp.

I fully admit I was apprehensive about this little experiment. Would my stomach handle the shrimp? Would I be able to cook it ok (shrimp is temperamental and super easy to over cook)? Would I even like shrimp after all these years? Who knew, but worst case I have leftover pizza or need to take off work tomorrow.

Well, I started the rice, chopped the garlic, ginger and chili pepper and made the marinade with the cute little soy sauce packets they sent (along with the aromatics) and some olive oil.


I cooked the shrimp for a few minutes then added the snow peas and then the basil and cashews. I tossed everything and came up with a pretty little plate.


The results: I went a little heavy on the chili pepper, which means Bob loved it. He thought the shrimp were cooked well (yea me) and had a good flavor. I liked them, but I liked the snow peas more. He also thought the shrimp were a really good quality for something you would buy (instead of fish up yourself I suppose) and was impressed with the overall plate. There was plenty for us – almost enough for a third serving, but Bob had seconds. All in all, a good little meal and I have to give Bob credit for the a Hello Fresh find. And just because I’m throwing around names of things, the podcast Bob found this from is The Morning Stream so if you are looking for an amusing morning radio type program, there is my one recommendation for the year.

It’s Winter

As most of you are in the middle of a deep freeze that I don’t even want to contemplate, I will just say, be careful, warm and safe. I have vivid memories of the ice storms, snow storms and blizzards from my days in Jersey and DC and while there are things about the northeast I loved winter was not one of them.

2014 has started out chilly but pleasant here and I took the last few days of vacation to cook a few experiments. I had a few hits and one pretty bad miss. The miss was a vegetable vindaloo I desperately wanted to try.

It looked beautiful with the squash, tomatoes and potatoes all vying for attention. It smelled wonderful, but I made a classic mistake – I substituted the wrong form of spices and totally threw the balance and flavors off. I could not find cardamon pods, or mustard seeds, so I used ground of each. And since I have no idea of the size or intensity of cardamon pods, I just had to guess. Val was amazed that I couldn’t find the right form of spices in my grocery, but I looked, and looked and looked and could not find them – in either store. So while the first bite of this was yummy and the second was pretty good, the more I ate the harder it became to eat. It was just off and I didn’t know how to fix it.

On the better side, I wanted a cottage pie or shepherd’s pie, but with pork instead of lamb. (Yes, I still have hard time with the concept of eating baa baa black sheep.) So I took some leftover pork from Christmas, carrots, shallots, some beef broth, and flour and made a filling.

To that I made a mashed parsnip top. I know, cottage/shepherd’s pie is usually topped with mashed potatoes, but I only had one potato in the fridge and I had something else in mind for it. So I used parsnips and topped the filling with mashed/whipped parsnips. It worked.

It doesn’t look pretty, but holy cow (or in this case, pig) was it really, really good. I actually like the parsnip top a lot. It was light, but comforting and filling. This was a true comfort food dish and we had no leftovers.

When we went to Val’s for the Solstice, she made this incredible butternut squash, potato lasagna. I wanted to recreate it, but knew I wouldn’t for a variety of reasons, the main one which is I didn’t have any ricotta in the house. So, I went with mozzarella and Parmesan.

20140107-195848.jpg I fully admit this wasn’t as pretty or tasty as Val’s dish, but it was really nice. Good flavor and pretty light.

This last experiment, I fully admit, is not vegetarian, not healthy and probably a heart attack waiting to happen, but I had to do it. When I lived in DC, we use to go to Jaleo more often than I should have. I loved the food there, especially the croquettes. Chicken, ham, a rich béchamel sauce. I found a recipe in an old Tapas cookbook I have and decided to give it a try. I made the filling Sunday night and let rest in the fridge overnight. After work Monday, I made little round balls, coated them with egg and breadcrumbs and fried them.

20140107-200621.jpg They came out super cute and pretty tasty. I need to work on the execution of these, but for a first try, not bad. I do think I need regular milk in these and not soy milk, but they were rich, silky and good. To attempt to lighten them up a little I made a curried carrot salad.

20140107-200855.jpg Couple of carrots, a little pear, cucumber and walnuts in a curry vinaigrette. I liked the concept, but it was too sweet for me. Between the pear and the dressing, it just didn’t work for me. Bob liked it, but I didn’t.

I am hoping to keep experimenting this year, and make a few things that are better for us, but still taste great. If those of you trapped by the cold want to make your own marshmallows for so e hot chocolate, I have a great recipe from the Washington Post – just eliminate the peppermint and you have plain, yummy marshmallows that will forever make you reject store bought ones.

Oh My Pad Thai

I am a huge Pad Thai fan. I love the flavors and the comfortable homey feeling of eating it, but I do not like getting sick when I eat it. Most Pad Thai is made with fish sauce as a main component to the sauce (which, let’s face it, makes the dish what it is) meaning I can’t eat it. Oh, I’ve been known to order it knowing full well I will be very, very sick for the rest of the night (on a very rare occasion) but those days are becoming fewer and fewer. So I did what any self respecting food addict would do – I scoured recipes until I figured out something that would work and hopefully taste great.

I began my search in my favorite vegan cookbooks. I figured if there was a fish free sauce out there, I would find it in a vegan cookbook. I did adjust the recipe a little, and it ended up working really well:

4 tablespoons tamari (soy sauce)
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon chili garlic sauce
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
Juice of 1/2 lime

This made enough sauce for both Bob and I to have plenty for dinner and I have half the sauce in the freezer for use this weekend. As for the rest – I sliced three small chicken thighs and just cooked them through in some peanut oil. I took the chicken out and scrambled on egg in the same oil. Remove the egg and sautĂ© a quarter red onion, one shredded carrot and one clove of garlic, crushed and diced. I added some lemon grass paste I have, then added the rice noodles, scallions and some cilantro. I also added back in the egg and chicken, pour the sauce over everything and toss off the heat. I added some crushed peanuts and came up with dinner.

Bob’s only ‘note’ was that it wasn’t spicy enough for him. He liked the flavor, but he wanted more heat. I liked it as is, so we compromised; he puts hot sauce on his dish and I leave mine alone. Best part of this was that the whole thing (once I figured out what I was doing) took about 15 minutes to put together. Seriously. I chopped the veggies while the chicken was cooking and the rest was maybe five minutes to heat everything through. It was great!

And while most of the country is buried in snow, my Bougainville is recovering nicely in the new pot on the patio. I noticed this little gem while we were eating lunch out there today.

Yes, Mom. That is a flower. There were actually two of them on the plant which means I should be set for the equinox in spring.

Oh, and as I was walking Jessie today I came across this sure sign that I’m in Florida:

20140102-193947.jpg I want to know how I missed them all season and where I can get them!

Happy 2014 everyone.