Monday, February 28, 2011

Herb Crusted Pork Tenderloin

This is another recipe I learned from Barefoot Contessa.  Sure, she's annoying with her "good" olive oil and her Hamptons bridge parties, but her recipes are simple and usually really good.  I simplified the recipe I typically use because I was short on time and didn't have any fresh herbs (it's winter around here, you know).

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large oven-proof saute pan* over high heat. Sear the pork tenderloins on one side until golden brown. Flip them and then place the saute pan in the oven and roast tenderloins for 10 to 15 minutes or until the meat registers 137 degrees F at the thickest part. You NEED a meat thermometer to cook them perfectly!

Cover tenderloins tightly with aluminum foil. Allow to rest for 10 minutes. Carve in 1/2-inch-thick diagonal slices. The thickest part of the tenderloin will be quite pink (it's just fine!) and the thinnest part will be well done. Season with salt and pepper and serve warm.

We ate the tenderloin with steamed broccoli and baked sweet potatoes (I like mine served with just salt, no butter, no sugar). 

*I don't have a pan big enough for the pork tenderloin. so I seared it on the stove top griddle and transferred it to a hot cookie sheet to roast in the oven. 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Roasted Eggplant

I discovered roasted eggplant by accident a couple of summers ago.  We we members of a CSA, and one week we got a whole box of eggplant.  I was feeling a little like Bubba from Forrest Gump with all the eggplant recipes, but what I learned is that it's really good just simply roasted with salt and pepper. 

Peel a large eggplant with a potato peeler and cut into bite size chunks.  Drizzle olive oil on a sheet pan and then spread the eggplant on the pan.  If you put the oil directly onto the eggplant, it will just soak it all up and you'll end up using too much.  I like to chop up a red onion, too, and add it to the pan.  Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, and roast at 400 for 15-20 minutes, stirring once.  It will be brown.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Refried Bean Quesadillas

You can make the leftover pinto beans into tacos, burritos, or quesadillas and it's really all the same.  Mash up the beans, add some cheese, and put it on a tortilla.  Dinner is served in about 5 minutes.  Perfect for a busy night!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Slow Cooker Pinto Beans

My friend who used to live in New Mexico served us these beans a few years ago, and they instantly became a favorite in our house.  My kids could alternate between pinto beans and pizza for dinner and be happy forever.  Read the directions carefully because you really have to plan ahead for this one!  You'll be glad you did, though.

New Mexico Style Pinto Beans

1 pound of dried pinto beans
1 ham hock/bone (I often leave this out if I don't have it)
1/4 onion, as a chunk
2 whole cloves of garlic
8 cups of water
8 beef bouillon cubes (you could also use beef broth if you have a thing against bouillon)

Rinse the dry beans (check for rocks) in the morning the day before you want to eat them, cover with water, and let them soak throughout the day.  That night, rinse them again and put them in the crock pot the with the remaining ingredients.  Make sure the water covers the beans by a couple of inches.  Cook on low all night and through the next day (about 20 hours).  Remove and discard the ham hock, onion and garlic.  Serve with shredded cheese, avocado, and a little fresh lime juice (sour cream, tomatoes, and green onions are all good on top, too).

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Pan Roasted Chicken

Pan roasting chicken is the absolute BEST way to cook the ubiquitous  chicken breast.  Trust me.  You need:

3-4 chicken breasts
salt and pepper
1/2 cup chicken stock
a non-nonstick skillet with an oven safe handle (got that? one that is not non stick)

To cook the chicken:
Preheat oven until 400 degrees.  Dry chicken breasts with paper towels.  Salt and pepper both sides.  Drizzle olive oil in a hot skillet and cook chicken breasts on one side for 3-4 minutes, or until very brown.  Don't mess around with them while they are browning or they won't get good and crusty.  Flip chicken and immediately put the whole skillet in the oven for 5-8 minutes or until the chicken feels firm to the touch (the time depends on the thickness of the chicken).  Remove chicken from skillet, cover with foil, and let the chicken rest for 10 minutes or so while you make the pan gravy.

To make the pan gravy:
Pour the stock (you can use broth, white wine, or even water) in the hot pan and cook, stirring up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, until reduced by half, 3-4 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in any juices from the resting chicken. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper and spoon over the chicken.  You can also add a tablespoon of butter or some cream at this point, but I didn't to keep the calories down.

We had our chicken with Red Onion Roasted Eggplant and a green salad with Fresh Orange vinaigrette.  I'll post those recipes later.  I'm sure you're on the edge of your seat...

Monday, February 21, 2011

Spicy Tilapia with Pineapple Salsa

Sounds fancy, right?  It's not.  But it is super fast, healthy, and reminds me of vacation (which is good when it's 35 degrees outside).  The downside is that your kids might not like it (mine didn't).  But it's so quick that you'll have time to make them some mac and cheese and cook yourself and nice dinner, too.  Here's what ya need:

tilapia (or mahi mahi)

cajun seasoning (Tony's, y'all)

about a half of fresh pineapple (NOT canned, not ever)

half a small red onion

a bunch of cilantro (I use a lot)

juice of a lime and salt

Chop pineapple, red onion, and cilantro and add lime juice and salt. Salsa is done and done. Make the salsa early in the day if you want and keep it in the fridge until dinner. Try really hard not to eat all the salsa with chips before dinner, though.

Thaw tilapia and pat dry with paper towel. Sprinkle with cajun seasoning. Cook in HOT nonstick skillet drizzled with olive oil on one side until it's brown, about 2-3 minutes. Flip fish and cook the other side, another 2-3 minutes. Serve with rice and pineapple salsa.

Out to Dinner

I haven't cooked a darn thing since Thursday! No excuses here, though. We've just been out and about having fun!! I was all prepared to cook dinner Sunday night and came home to a note Alpha had taped on the door for me.  She likes to leave notes.  It's really cute.  So we had pizza.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


We went out for dinner last night, so I thought I'd tell you about something my kids love for breakfast and snacks: smoothies.  I'm sure you've been making smoothies for years, but I've recently discovered making them at home.  I always thought smoothies were just milkshakes, because they are so darn good, but they don't have to be!  Add a piece of toast and you've got breakfast.

Start with frozen fruit in a blender (go easy on the blackberries because of the seeds; kids don't like seeds), add some yogurt (I use vanilla nonfat because it's sweet), and some skim milk. You can put in a banana or any fresh fruit you've got, too. And I've heard tell of healthy folks putting spinach, kale, broccoli, and things like that in them.  My kids watch me make the smoothies and that would never fly with them.

Just blend it up.  Add more milk if you need to make it thinner.  We like our smoothies to be thin so we can drink out of crazy straws...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Banana Bread (um, cake)

My kids are fickle when it comes to food.  Are yours?  Last week, the baby loved bananas.  Couldn't get enough of them.  Ate a dozen in a week.  This week he hates them.  He won't even look at them.

So I made banana bread with those bananas just lying around getting brown.  I'd actually say it's more of a cake;  I mean, it has a cup of sugar and a stick of butter in it!  It's a Paula Deen recipe, you see, so just know it's not good for you.  Eat a little, not a lot.  But this is my go to recipe for banana bread since you don't have to drag out your mixer.

Banana Bread
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 ripe bananas, mashed

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a 9x5 loaf pan. In a mixing bowl, combine the butter and sugar; mix well. Add the salt, eggs, vanilla, flour, baking soda, baking powder and bananas. Mix well. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50 minutes.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Butter Chicken

I've never had "real" butter chicken, seeing as how we have ZERO Indian restaurants in town and I've never been to India, so I don't know how this recipe compares. I sure sounded like a hick just then....Anyway, you must try this recipe even if it's not authentic butter chicken.  My children liked it, too.  Even the one who doesn't eat red, green, or white things, so she says.

Butter Chicken (from Tasty Kitchen)

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (cut into bite sized pieces)
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon cardamom (maybe you have a good friend who will let you borrow some like I did!)
1 whole lime, juiced
1 whole onion, diced
¼ cup butter
1 can (14.5 oz. can) tomato sauce
1 can (14.5 oz. can) petite diced tomatoes
1 pint whipping cream
1 bunch chopped cilantro, to taste (I use a lot)
2 cups rice (I used Jasmine rice)

Combine first 9 ingredients and marinate overnight.

Saute the onion in the butter until soft. Add marinated chicken and cook about 10 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and diced tomatoes. Cook for 30 minutes over medium-low heat with the lid on. Add the whipping cream and cilantro just before serving over rice.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Chicken Berry Salad

There is a restaurant in town that has a Chicken Berry Salad that I always order when I'm there at lunch.  Everybody loves it!  So I made up a home version that is healthier and cheaper (and I think even better!).

Theirs: Fresh greens, roasted chicken breast, bacon, cashews, water chestnuts topped with fresh strawberries and Blueberry Poppy Seed Dressing

Mine: Fresh greens, roasted chicken breast, whole walnuts, goat cheese, topped with fresh strawberries and blackberries, and homemade honey vinaigrette.
about $3 per serving

I used a rotisserie chicken I picked up at Sams, so dinner was ready in about 5 minutes. 

Honey Vinaigrette
Equal parts honey, champagne vinegar, and olive oil.  Salt and pepper.  Shake in a small jar or whisk to combine.  It's a little sweeter than most dressings, but with the tart blackberries, it's perfect.  You can always adjust the amounts to your taste!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Chicken and Dumplings

Every self respecting southern cook knows how to make chicken 'n dumplins, right?  Well, I had never even EATEN them until a couple of years ago.  I didn't know what I was missing!

My friend introduced me to them, and also shared her recipe.  I've since learned that everyone has their own favorite recipes and techniques they use for dumplings.  So I've tried several recipes and I've changed her recipe a little based on what I've learned, but this one is still pretty close to hers. 

Jessica's Chicken and Dumplings
To make the broth and cook the chicken:
3 bone in chicken breasts or a whole chicken cut up
1 whole onion, cut in half
1 carrot
1 stalk celery
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper

Place everything in a big pot and cover with water.  Simmer until chicken is done, about an hour.  Strain the broth through a fine sieve, and add back to the pot.   Discard the vegetables and bay leaf.  Take the chicken off of the bones and shred it.

I'll tell you that I've tried to make dumplings from scratch, and the Bisquick ones just turn out better.  I don't know why.
1 cup Bisquick
1 cup milk

Stir Bisquick and milk together.  I like small dumplings, so once the broth comes to a boil, I use my fingers to pinch off about a teaspoon of dough, and drop it into the broth.  Once all the dumplings are in the pot, boil until thickened.  Add chicken, and taste for salt and pepper.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Best Oatmeal Cookies

For me, cookies are just a chocolate delivery vehicle.  But John is weird.  He likes peanut butter cookies and oatmeal cookies, in that order. And something weirder about his favorite oatmeal cookies?  No cinnamon and no raisins. But let me tell you, they are just good!  They're thin and so chewy.  We love them!

This is the recipe his mom always made for him, so while he was out on Saturday afternoon, the girls and I whipped these up as an early Valentine's Day surprise.

Greta's Oatmeal Cookies

1 cup shortening (I sometimes use butter if I don't have shortening in the house)
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1 1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups oats (not quick cooking)

Cream shortening and sugars together with electric mixer until fluffy.  Add vanilla and eggs.  Sift together dry ingredients and add to mixer.  Drop by tablespoons onto cookie sheet and cook at 350 for 11-12 minutes.  Let cool on sheet to keep them chewy.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Grilled Ham and Cheese

I was going to make a frittata (basically a baked omelette) with leftover ham, potatoes, and cheese for dinner, but I was out with the kids and when I got home John was making his special grilled cheese sandwiches with ham (I don't know what he does to them, but they are so good, and that's why we call them "special"!). Who can turn down a handsome husband who is cooking dinner for you? Not me! So the frittata will have to wait for another day.

We served the grilled ham and cheese sandwiches with raw veggies instead of chips.  We got into this habit a while back, and after a while you really don't miss the chips anymore.

See I told you I was going to use up all that ham!  I'm going to have the rest in an omelette for breakfast.  

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Slow Cooker White Bean Soup

Call it White Bean Soup, Navy Bean Soup, Ham and Beans, Tuscan Bean Soup, Rosemary Bean Soup, Italian Bean Soup, or whatever else you want.  It's beans, it's healthy, cheap, and really good.

I told you I was going to use that $30 ham wisely.  Here's another recipe:

1 pound dried navy beans (or cannellini if you can find them, I can't)
1 whole onion
rosemary to taste (fresh is better, but if it's the middle of winter and there is 2 feet of snow on the ground, use dried)
chicken stock to cover
salt and pepper
ham bone (or leave it out if you didn't have ham the night before)

Rinse and inspect beans for rocks.  I've recently learned (thanks, Mrs. Arnold!) that you don't have to soak the beans overnight if you cook them all day in the crock pot.  Put the beans in the crock pot with the onion, Salt-N-Pepa, ham bone, and rosemary, and then cover with chicken stock and water.   Cook on low for 8-10 hours or longer.  Remove all ham bone and onions, and puree beans with an immersion blender or food processor.  Taste for Salt-N-Pepa (oh yes I did it again); you'll probably need more salt.  Add big hunks of leftover ham to serve. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Ham and Roasted Sweet Potatoes

My kids LOVE ham.  Who knows why, but they do.  And did you know that ham is incredibly easy to cook? 

First, I'll say that I tried to save a little money this week and get an inexpensive random brand name ham.  That was a mistake.  Can you see from this picture that the ham is kind of dry?  I usually get a bone in half Petit Jean Ham (Arkansas product) for the 5 of us.  It costs about $30.  This is really expensive for one dinner, but just wait: we'll eat 3 dinners from this one ham (and a couple of lunches).

Just put the ham, bone side down, in a roasting pan with a rack.  Add about 1/2 cup of water in the bottom of the pan and roast the ham for 10 minutes per pound.  Let the ham rest when it comes out of the oven.

Roasted sweet potatoes are so different and good!  Peel the potatoes, cut into smallish pieces, drizzle with olive oil, salt, and about a tablespoon of regular sugar.  Roast at 400 until browned, about 15-20 minutes. 

Mine here are black, because well, I had about 150 things going on at once and I forgot them.  But you won't do that. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Wedge Salad

The wedge is a salad that people ate in the '70s (so I'm told, I'm way too young to remember) that's trendy again.  And it should be.  I don't know why iceberg lettuce ever went out of style.  It's so crunchy.  I love it.  I think the salad should technically have lots of blue cheese and way more dressing to qualify as a wedge salad.  But this amount was plenty delicious! Add a quick turkey and cheese panini and you've got a meal!

Remember the homemade ranch dressing?  Just drizzle it over a wedge of iceberg lettuce, add a little crumbled blue cheese, and some crispy bacon.

Do you have a panini press?  I have this one (even though I wish I had the one from Williams Sonoma) and it's my favorite small appliance.  Mine is currently in need of a repair, so I just put the sandwich down in the skillet and put a heavy pot on top to press the sandwich flat. The sandwich wasn't as good as it would have been in the panini press, but it was still good and crispy on the outside.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Steakhouse Salad

The big salad is my favorite way to eat leftover steak. We didn't have much leftover, so the kids had baked potatoes last night while John and I ate this deliciousness. 

Steakhouse Salad

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon honey

Shake in a jar or wisk to combine.

Toss salad greens with dressing and add crumbled blue cheese and steak. Salt and pepper to taste.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Macaroni and Cheese

I'll preface this post by saying that tonight's dinner did not follow any of my "rules".  But sometimes you need comfort food, and today was most certainly one of those days.  This is the most delicious macaroni and cheese you'll ever eat, and completely worth the effort and the calories. I actually ate on a salad plate to keep from eating too much (I did anyway).

Macaroni and Cheese
(The Gourmet Cookbook)

2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 cups panko* breadcrumbs
1 cup grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese (I use the food processor to grate since there are 5 cups total)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 3/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
4 cups grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 pound elbow macaroni

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix together panko, butter and cheese in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Melt butter in a heavy pot over low heat. Whisk in flour and red pepper flakes and cook, whisking constantly, for about 3 minutes. Whisk in milk in a slow steady stream. Increase heat and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Simmer for another 3 minutes, stirring frequently until mixture is thickened a bit. Stir in cream, cheese, mustard, salt and pepper until cheese is melted. Remove from heat and set aside.

Cook macaroni according to package directions. Reserve 1 cup pasta water and then drain noodles.
Stir together macaroni, reserved cooking water, and sauce in a large bowl. Transfer to a 3 qt. baking dish, mixture will be loose.
Sprinkle topping evenly over mixture and bake for about 25-35 minutes. Top should be golden and bubbling.

*I saw Panko bread crumbs at a Harps grocery store around here a while back, and I immediately bought them.  I've made this recipe with regular packaged bread crumbs several times, and it's just not as good. If you can't find Panko, I would suggest leaving off the bread crumbs.

Snow Ice Cream

We've got a situation here in Northwest Arkansas.  We've got snow and it's not going anywhere.  And more is coming!  So we are doing our part to get rid of the snow by eating it!

My sweet friend and neighbor brought us a pot of soup for dinner last night (with cornbread, yum!), so for dessert, we whipped up a batch of Snow Ice Cream. 

It's not even a recipe.  Dump a can of sweetened condensed milk into a bunch of snow.  Add a little vanilla if you want to be fancy. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


So John went to Sams on Sunday afternoon.  Every time he goes there, he comes home with lots of red meat, huge boxes of snacks, and random pastries. 

I should mention we live about 1 minute from a new Sams club, so we go there to pick up a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread pretty frequently. I'm really not a hoarder buying 100 rolls of toilet paper every week....Anyway, he came home with 4 filet mignons.   So we had filet mignon on a Tuesday night.  Livin' large, y'all.

When we eat steak, John grills it.  He always cooks it to a perfect medium, it's delicious, and I don't really like red meat very much.  But today, it snowed a lot, so nobody wanted to go outside and start the grill.  I had to quickly figure out how to cook steak inside.  Guess what I learned?  You use the same technique I use for the Simple Salmon.  Easy.  And good.

Season filets with salt, pepper, garlic powder.  Sear in a HOT skillet with a little olive oil for about 5 minutes, until the bottom is crusty and brown.  Flip filets and put in a 450 degree oven until done.  

Here 's a neat touch test my husband shared with me on how to tell if your steak is cooked as much as you like:
if it feels like your cheek, then it's rare.  If it feels like your chin, it's medium rare.  And if it feels like the end of your nose, it's cooked medium.  Don't cook steak any more than medium. 

Let the steaks rest for 15 minutes.  Add one tablespoon of butter to the pan drippings and pour over the steaks (and potatoes, yum) to serve. 

I also made smashed potatoes, which are just russet gold potatoes boiled until done and then mashed with about 1 tablespoon of butter and skim milk (and salt and pepper).  Oh, I don't peel potatoes.  Not for anybody.  I peeled my finger once, but that's a story for another day....And we had a small salad with balsamic vinaigrette using the basic vinaigrette recipe. 

I have a lot to say about portion size, and how it relates to staying thin and also enjoying food (and life) and I'll get to that later in the week.  But you should know that this picture is of John's plate.  The kids and I all split one filet.  The new USDA guidelines just came out and I have to collect my thoughts.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Pizza (Delivered)

With the threat of a blizzard/ice storm coming to our area, gum in hair that warranted a trip to get an after school haircut, a too long trip to Target, and our Bible study group meeting at my house (that actually got canceled), dinner didn't make it to the table as I had planned.  But the pizza arrived in 30 minutes. Hooray for pizza delivery!

Last year about this time, John and I were at a quiet resort in Mexico.   I sat for days with this view.  Ahhh.  I'll be dreaming of this place while it snows, along with fresh guacamole, room service breakfast, fruity drinks delivered to my beach chair, and afternoons spent reading novels.....