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Cooking: Keep It Interesting

I love watching Hell’s Kitchen and Master Chef.  If I catch another cooking show like Lydia’s Kitchen, I’ll watch that, too. I’ve become an ingredient snob.  The only olive oil I will use is of the “first cold pressing” and I must see the sediment floating around in the oil.  It’s a MUST~!  That is where all the flavor is.  I love to eat tuna steak, shark steak, and swordfish, you know, that fish meat that makes you feel like you’re eating something.

New olive oil, just pressed. It has a dense co...

New olive oil, just pressed. It has a dense colour at first; later, it clarifies by decantation. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love what great ingredients can do to a dish!  I’m a true Italian in the cooking arena. Creative cooking is so much a part of me that it makes my whole body sing.  “Like Water For Chocolate” is one of my favorite movies.  The connection Maria has with the ingredients and the food she makes is phenomenal and inspiring. That’s how I feel when I’m cooking, like my whole self is going into it. I’ve got to chuckle because sometimes my experimentation is not appreciated and sometimes for good reason.  DH hates mushrooms.  He can’t get out of his mind that they are fungi.  My dad’s neighbor in PA is from the old country and knows how to forage for mushrooms.  He dries them and gives to my dad, and he in turn gives me some.  What a different taste.  Another item that once you’ve had the real thing, you can’t go back to canned.  Canned mushrooms are so bland and scuzzy I don’t buy them anymore.

Herbs.  Fresh all the way.  I used to have a pretty nice herb garden up until last year… until my landlord’s son pulled everything out because he wanted to make his girlfriend happy and give her a flower garden.  Don’t mind the fact that his father gave me permission years ago to plant there, AND that same December they broke up… but I won’t go there.  I got over it and we ironed things out.  Still, I miss the rosemary and English and French lavender bushes.  I miss my lemon thyme and greek oregano.  I miss my basil and spearmint.  I managed to fit quite a bit in my little plot of clayish earth.  This past year or so, I’ve splurged on saffron and two years ago, whole vanilla beans.  Once I started grinding up my own spices, I started blending them for my cooking.

Myristica fragrans Nutmeg. The picture was tak...

Myristica fragrans Nutmeg. The picture was taken in Zanzibar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once you taste fresh nutmeg, mace, allspice, cinnamon, etc., you can’t go back to the pre-ground up kind.  Mace.  I thank my friend Pauline for turning me onto that one!  She gifted me with some fresh whole nutmeg nuts, so I had the luxury of trying out fresh mace, and I will not soon forget that.  See that reddish web-like stuff around the pit? Thats mace.  Smell that?  Ah~!  I use nutmeg (sometimes mace) on chicken in the oven.  I discovered that when I stopped cooking with salt and needed to find other substitutes.  Now, while I do use salt, I use much less than recommended in recipes.  Oh, and I love using course sea salt.

I’ve always been one to experiment in the kitchen, and now I’m adding home canning, and pickling into the mix.  I have my mind set to try out homemade dairy products like making butter, ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, and utilizing whey and whatever else, oh, cream.  There are plenty of tutorials on the net with loads of pictures and that’s right up my alley.

Oh.  so the reason for this post.  This past year, I’ve had to pretty much give up on quality ingredients for my cooking.  Or rather, I don’t cook much at all.  So what I’d like to do here is tell you how I am getting by on pretty much nothing fresh.  I hate it, but I keep telling myself that it’s temporary until things start looking up around here.  My pep talk pretty much consists of me telling myself that it could be worse and that others have it much harder than we do.  It’s temporary.

My basic goal is to cook everything in one pan.  First cook whatever meat, chicken, beef, whatever.  Then remove the cooked meat and use those juices as a base for sautéing veggies.  I don’t like to cook veggies too long.  I prefer my veggies to have bright colors to them.  Also, if you recook them another day, they won’t be totally overcooked and mushy.  After the veggies are done, I quickly throw the meat back in and whatever extras and serve when everything is hot.  You can imagine my glee when I found a recipe online for a one pot pasta dish.

Pasta.  Pasta can be healthy and it can be filling.  My favorite experiments are with left over veggies and pasta, Pasta Primavera.  There is no set-in-stone recipe; but the key, I think, is to have at least one veggie going in there that is not a left over.  The cool thing about primavera is that you and use any veggie you want.  Another thing that I strive to do as much as I can is “One Pot Meals.”  Just found one recipe on Pinterest and it blew my mind to put dry pasta in with all the ingredients into one pot, cover, cook, and VOILA, it’s a meal 20 minutes or so later… and all the water is used, no draining. Pasta, Tomatoes, Veggies Recipe link.

As it stands now, we buy frozen veggies.  Not fresh, but much better than canned.  In addition to the excessive salt content of can, those veggies are mushy and I hate that.  I only tolerate canned corn and peas for their texture.  What can I say?  We don’t eat as nearly healthy enough as we should.  It’s temporary.  I throw out nothing.  I make use of left overs within the week.  Actually, I love repurposing leftovers and creating another different meal from them.  Left over broccoli? Broccoli and egg omelet the next morning or for lunch.  Stale bread?  Don’t throw it out!  Make french toast or bread crumbs.  Two or three bowls of fragmented veggies hanging out in the fridge?  Do I see beans in there?  Throw it all together for a primavera dish tonight, or add a bit of tomato sauce and make a nice side dish.  Do you have garlic that’s not looking so plump anymore, or onions in the same predicament?  Chop up those babies and stick them in a sandwich bag and into the freezer they go.  What I like to do with garlic is mix it up with butter in the food processor with some basil, if I have it, and whip up some delicious garlic butter.  Add some olive oil and you have a nice spread.  Some milk that’s approaching the questionable point?  Throw it in a blender with some ice and a packet of hot chocolate mix for a quick summer’s chocolate treat for the kids (or yourself).  Add a teaspoon or more of instant coffee and make it a mocha.

Okay, I guess that’s enough to boggle your mind with today.  These are just some things I like to do to keep things interesting and useable on a limited budget.  Once you try out some ideas, you’d be surprised at how easy it is to just think up something new, delightful and unique to your own refrigerator and cupboards.  Next time maybe I’ll talk about how easy it is to make your own pita chips and roti.  Oh, and easy slushy-type drinks.

Chicken Casserole

My next Posse
Recipe! Haven’t done much food posts lately, but couldn’t resist sharing this one found today on

Smooth Move

Okay… Here’s something I might regret posting about, but for me it’s a new discovery I’m sure to exploit.  I have the reputation in the family of being the “weird” one.  This post will either prove that right, or prove me a genius.

So last week, I was confined to the house by a series of torrential storms and found myself going crazy, HUNGRY for something to snack on and there was nothing, nada in the house.  As I rummaged through all the places I store food I came upon a can of crushed pineapple.  Aaah, I thought to myself.  Suddenly I had remembered a Weight Watcher’s snack/dessert my mom used to make.  It was a pack of single serving chocolate powdered Alba skim milk and the serving measurement of crushed pineapple, mixed up and put into the freezer for a delightful dessert for only one serving of fruit and one of milk.


I am not on that diet and did not remember serving sizes and nor did I care to.  All I had was a can of fruit and an envelop of regular powdered milk.  I pulled out a mixing bowl and dumped the envelop of milk in there, then added the whole can of pineapple and 2 TSPS. of baking cocoa.  Stirred it up and found it too liquid-y.  What to do, what to do?  The light bulb goes on and I added, get ready for the kicker, 2 TBS. sugar-free orange Metamucil.  You read that right.  I was looking for something to absorb all that juice and was not disappointed.  Spread the mixture on top of a piece of aluminum foil, wrapped it up and put in the freezer.  I love orange/chocolate flavor… and this was SO good that it was all I could do to stop myself from eating the whole thing before it hit the freezer.  Well, let me just say there was an unexpected benefit from eating this snack.  Do I really have to say?  TMI?  Let’s just say I was one happy camper the next morning!

Over the weekend, Father’s Day weekend, I told my family about my recipe and I got gawks, comments and laughs.  My family’s like that; but I’m damn proud of myself!  So happy to invent a great tasting, low calorie snack that won’t penalize you for indulging.  So what’s your reaction to this slightly different recipe?

FYI about the recipes below.  I’ve not personally made any of these, though will try them at some point.

Holidays ARE Kicking in

The holidays are sneaking up on us.  While I don’t have sugar plums dancing in my head, I most certainly DO have the recipes for holiday dishes and desserts dancing up there!’

Right now, I’ve got a batch of whole cranberry sauce cooling on the stove and I do believe I outdid myself this time.  It’s Traditional Cranberries with a Kick.  I usually do not make spicy foods, though I love them.  One reason being is that DH has a very delicate stomach and the other is that hot spice gives me heartburn… ugh.  BUT… there’s always a but.  Today, I stepped outside of the norm.  No pics yet, but I’ve just got to write down the recipe before I forget.

Whole Cranberry Sauce, with a KICK…

Traditional Cranberries With a Kick

  • 1 package Raw Cranberries
  • 1 cup Sugar (used white today, but usually use dark brown sugar)
  • 1 cup Water
  • 1 can Crushed Pineapple (with juice, try to make the water and juice add up to 1 cup.)
  • 1/4 tsp. Cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. Nutmeg (fresh ground)
  • 1/8-1/4 tsp. Cayenne Pepper (secret kick-but ingredient)

Put all ingredients into a saucepan and heat to boiling.  Watch all the berries pop… this is the fun part.  This recipe is forgiving in that you can just start with the cranberries and water, then add the rest of the ingredients at your leisure.  Stir.  I started out with more than a cup of liquid, so I had to keep this boiling until the liquid thickened a little.  The amount of cayenne pepper should be to your taste.  I’m assuming you can use chili peppers, and maybe jalapeno peppers… but not sure on that.  That’s too spicy for me, though I might try it.  Just received a couple of homegrown jalapeno peppers and this might just be the experiment for it.  Okay, if you use the correct amount of liquid combination, you should just need to boil for 5 minutes, or to whatever thickness you like.

Edited 10/19/2012 1:01pm:  To insert pic of cranberry sauce above.  I do think mine is not as thick as I’d like, so I will cook it down further or add a thickening agent if I have one on hand.

Fig Nut Cookies

Italian Fig Nut Cookies.  Cute but compared, visually, to what I remember is like comparing a toddler’s artwork to a one of the masters.

Another holiday tradition that snuck back into view this week is an old Italian fig cookie recipe that I first experienced during the years of my first marriage, mid-late nineties.  They are called by various names: cuccidati, buccellati and Emril even has a recipe.  If you look close, he’s got TWO recipes listed for fig nut cookies.  Hey, this is a BIG thing in Italy.  The ex’s aunt, Tsi Tsi (aunt), and totally not sure that I’m spelling that correctly, would make the most delicious fig cookies that reminded me of all the cookie recipes my own grandmother would make with love every year, stretching from October on into Jan.  Every time company would come over, she’d come out of her room with a plate of mixed cookies.

Anyway coming back to the topic of fig cookies.  I believe I was slated to receive this secret family recipe, but then the divorce threw a wrench into that idea.   Yeah, his aunt took a lot of pride in these cookies and she even let me help her make them one year.  Of course, I was never privy to the exact ingredients, but I helped her form and cut the cookies.  They were beautiful and reminded me of graceful flowers.  If I remember correctly, the fig filling was encased in the dough, like a calzone.  Then she’d cut along one edge, making thin pieces on one side.  THEN came the fun part.  She’d pick up each little “arm” and twisted and turned each piece in turn.  Each cookie was a unique piece of artwork.  I’ve yet to find any pics of these cookies that look even similar to what Tsi Tsi created.

I am so totally psyched.  Little do my nephew and new niece know, but I am going to use Thanksgiving to test out whatever recipe I use or tweak or whatever.  So many recipes out there and that is not uncommon, I’ve learned.  Each town has it’s traditional way of making it.  Wow, even FAMILIES have their own version, of course, being a well guarded secret family recipe.  I can’t wait to start my own family tradition, over here in the USA…  I don’t remember my own grandmother making this recipe, but so what.  It will be brand new one, coming from me and hopefully, I’ll be able to put my own spin on this one.

Pics to follow….. of COURSE~!

Pita Chips For the Snacking

Homemade Pita Chips

This just a quickie.  Tomorrow will be writing about Little Drake’s (remember him?) birthday; but for right now, I want to share this great little recipe for the most delish homemade pita chips.

Very simple really.  You know how sometimes we don’t consume a purchased amount of product, then end up throwing it out… OR feed the birds?  Well, we have a bird problem in my neck of the woods, precisely because my neighbor feeds them.  Every week my car gets bombed with pigeon doody and it sckseeves me out, totally; and I’m steadfastly refuse to contribute to the problem.  Seriously, one time, well, several times there were bread slices on the roof of the garage and whole half loaves of artesian bread sitting in our driveway.

So, last week I had a high volume of breadstuffs left over from a gathering at the house, and one was an almost whole package of pita pockets.  Ten big, fresh pockets which proceeded to get hard by the end of the week.  I’m an advocate for DIY’ing anything I can and knew that I could do this.

Okay, so before I get into this recipe, please note that there are no exact measurements.  Just throw the stuff in, to your taste.  If you don’t like garlic, then by all means don’t use it.  You can use any herbs you like, as little or as much as you want.  Have a problem with salt?  You don’t have to use it….

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 deg., line a shallow cookie pan with aluminum foil.
  2. Prepare herb oil by heating up 1-2 cups of olive oil, then adding sea salt, garlic-I use Goya Garlic paste in the glass jar, rosemary, oregano.  Mix that up real well, then set aside.  I had this mixture already in the fridge, so if you are using something you already have, just heat it up a bit in the microwave, just so that all the oil is melted and back into liquid form.
  3. Cut up your round pita into eight or so triangle pieces.  Remember that these will be snackable chips.  Arrange these slices all over your lined pan.
  4. Bush herb oil mixture all over your pita slices.
  5. Pop into the oven for 7-10 minutes.  You must keep checking as these can burn pretty quickly and if I remember correctly, I did not readily smell the pitas toasting.  Depending on the brownness, either take them right out, or flip them over to toast the other side…. these will only require a couple of minutes until done.

And that, people, is IT.  These are very sturdy chips and will stay strong through the roughest of spinach dips.  Want to add a little extra something?  Try sprinkling asiago cheese on top before putting into the oven.  What I love about this recipe is that anything goes.  No exact measurements, all ingredients are added to taste.  Don’t like garlic, though it’s good for you, don’t put it into your oil.  Want a sweeter taste?  I’m sure you can brainstorm and maybe add a little honey into the mix.  I’ve never tried that, but I’m thinking it will be some kind of awesome adventure to see how it lends itself to this recipe.  I would just experiment on a few pieces as opposed to whole batches for experiments, however.

Well, I’d love to hear about whatever you come up with!

Adding Spices To Coffee

I see that I came up on someone’s search that said, “adding spices to coffee”; so I decided to write a little about what I do in that area. Those search terms picked up my, “More Food” which was the post about my Asparagus and Corn Recipe.

First of all, the absolutely best coffee is, by far, perked! You younger whipper snappers will not even know what I’m talking about! It’s called “progress”. Alas, I also have a coffee maker because I need to be quick in the mornings with getting the coffee out and love the programming feature of the automatic drips. I started adding spices to coffee well before these specialized coffees came out in the supermarkets. My favorite is grating fresh nutmeg into either my cup or with the grinds in the basket, though I do others, as well.

Another little special thing I do is add honey in place of sugar. Before I get into this any further, I must state “DIABETICS BEWARE”. Using honey is just as bad as eating sugar right out of the sugar bowl. I read this book one time on back water medicine that talked a lot about remedies containing apple cider vinegar and honey. At that time, I was really turned off by white sugar, so it seemed natural for me to use honey. At first, the taste was strange to me, but I liked it. Another factor that affects taste is the kind of honey you buy. If you look on the label, you will see a little blurb about what type of flower the bees were getting their pollen from. I started with NJ Wildflower Honey from a particular place called “Cheesequake Farms”; but then I went to another place and got honey labeled the same way and the taste was far different. Also, you can see that different honeys have varying colors, or hues to them. The darker ones have a more intense flavor than the light ones… kind of logical. In the supermarkets the most you see is clover honey that is “okay”, but once you start being aware of the differences out there, you just might want to try others. I would suggest paying that extra money for what they sell on those farm produce stands.

Getting honey with a bit of cone in it is great, too. I read that chewing on the cone can relieve sinus symptoms. My nephew did corroborate on this after he tried it. Another consideration before consuming a lot of honey, as I had when drinking at least 3 cups of coffee a day at work, is that honey is a great bowel regulator, though consuming a lot of it might give you diarrhea. I started using honey as a bowel regulator. I mean, you will GO the very next day and it’s a normal, natural “GO”. Since I am in danger of getting diabetes, however, I have stopped using it like that. Keep in mind that honey is pure sugar, though, it’s predigested so the body does not have to work as hard digesting honey as it does for white sugar.  Ah, I remember a special person once telling me that honey was actually bee excrement!  Well, that might turn some people off, but not me.  If you look at it, technically, it IS excrement, but not in the sense that we know.  After all, honey is what bees feed to their babies developing in the egg chambers of their hives.  Special honey, called royal jelly is given to the eggs destined to be queens.

Another thing you can do with coffee is add a teaspoon of cocoa to it and get mocha. I was definitely doing this LONG before it came out commercially. I loved cocoa and wanted to blend the two and got a bit of heaven right there on my counter. Try adding a bit of orange extract to it… if not with the coffee, definitely put it in hot chocolate. Chocolate and orange a marriage made in heaven. I even have a basic hot chocolate recipe of my own doing for people wanting to get the perfect hot chocolate, but without the time or the incentive to stand at the stove, attending to a proper hot chocolate recipe.

In a mug, mix a tablespoon or so of baking cocoa, preferably dutch processed, and equal amount of powdered coffeemate. Emulsify with a bit of hot water. Once this is done, add in milk and sugar, stirring. Microwave until piping hot. Ta da! To really get that chocolaty flavor, add a teensy pinch of salt. This recipe leaves plenty of room for experimentation. Add a little bit of something here and there. I’ve also added a teaspoon of instant coffee for that mocha taste. Better get with it now and perfect your own special cup before the cold winter sets in. I have special gigantic mugs to accommodate my lust for chocolate… ah!

If you don’t have much imagination, but love to try different flavors, you might want to try out International Gourmet or Coffeemate liquid creamers. I love the current Pumpkin Spice that is out in both brands. Very expensive, however, and after I am finished with what I have, I will just add my own spices to get the same flavor. Plus, if you really like the coffeemate creamers, getting the plain one is almost a dollar cheaper than the flavored ones. Something I was doing for awhile was getting actual cream to lighten my coffee. That is a real treat for the holidays. I use the heavy cream to get that really creamy taste, while actually using less product.

Another thing I put in coffee is dark brown sugar. That is a flavorful kick if I ever tasted one. I suppose you can use light brown sugar, too, but remember, I always go for the “darkest” possible offering of a product. Brown sugar… or even molasses… Yes, I’ve used molasses and it’s another heavenly flavor for coffee. Have you ever tried mixing coffee and tea together in the same cup? Another nice change, but not for the squeamish. Nothing bad or bad tasting about it, it’s just the “thought of it” that would deter some people.

Yep, I’ve tried a lot of things in coffee, but never soy sauce!

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