In The Kitchen: Meatless Monday Skillet

Hubby and I have recently gone through some substantial financial struggles, and we’ve ended up visiting a local food pantry or two.  Some of you might find yourself in a similar situation eventually, and sometimes it’s difficult to know what to do with random cans of beans and veggies you don’t normally use in your kitchen.  I found myself with this problem after we returned home from our first ever pantry visit.  We discovered some black beans, which I had never cooked with before, some canned corn, and tomatoes.

About a year ago, while we were juicing we tried to have at least 2 meals a week that were totally vegetarian.  This little recipe, which I totally made up while throwing things into a skillet, came out quite good the first time and every time since.  This recipe would have sufficed nicely during our “Meatless Mondays.”  It has the warm, fragrant aroma of cumin, which gives it that classic Tex-Mex flavor.  I serve it over brown rice instead of white rice, because the nutty, chewy texture of the rice goes nicely with this dish. I apologize in advance for not having photos.  I don’t possess the eye for photography that some food bloggers have, but I’m working on it.

“Meatless Monday” Skillet

Ingredients

  • 1 sweet onion, diced finely
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can sweet kernel corn, drained (you may also use a 1 pound bag of frozen corn, if you wish)
  • 1 can Ro-Tel tomatoes (or regular diced tomatoes)
  • 1 Tbsp ground cumin
  • Extra virgin olive oil, for sauteeing
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup uncooked brown rice

First, prepare rice by bringing water to a boil; season the water, add rice and cook for 50-55 minutes until done. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add diced onion and cook for 3-5 minutes or until opaque.  Season the onions with salt, pepper and cumin, continuing to cook another minute or two.  Add black beans, corn and tomatoes; reduce heat and cook for 10 minutes, allowing the liquid to reduce slightly.  Serve over brown rice.  Serves 4.


I am always surprised when something I just throw together turns out well, and hubby asks me to make it again.  I hope your family will enjoy this recipe as much as we do!

 

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In The Kitchen: The Best Homemade Pancakes

There is nothing I love more than breakfast for dinner.  Who says you can’t have pancakes, waffles, bacon, sausage and eggs anytime you want them?  Around here, anything goes as long as I feel like cooking it.

Now, I’ve always been a Bisquick girl, trusting the mix that my mom used for years for making my own biscuits, pancakes and other fun recipes.  However, I only will buy that stuff when it’s on sale, because it isn’t cheap otherwise.  I know there existed recipes on the Internet for homemade pancakes, and I know even family members who have made them from total scratch, but it was something I never tried. That is, until now!  Ladies and gents, I have found the perfect homemade “from scratch” pancake recipe.  It makes the fluffiest, most tender and tasty pancakes I’ve ever stuffed into my face.  That Bisquick stuff?  It’s H.I.S.T.O.R.Y!!

Credit where credit is due, this is the link to the actual recipe and the culinary genius who developed it.  For the sake of ease, I will post the ingredients and instructions below.  Seriously, you HAVE to try these.  If you’re a Bisquick hold out like I was, you will never go back, because these are so good, the other pancakes taste like sawdust with syrup.  Trust me on this!

The Best Pancake Recipe EVER!

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 1/2 tsps baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tbsp butter melted

Instructions:

  1. Melt the butter in microwave for 30 seconds, set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder.
  3. Stir milk and egg together.
  4. Create a well in the center of the flour mixture.
  5. Pour the butter and milk mixture into the well.
  6. Use a wire whisk to stir everything together until just combined. It will be slightly thick and lumpy, but should be well incorporated.
  7. Allow the batter to rest while heating a lightly oiled skillet or griddle to medium high heat.
  8. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each pancake.
  9. Cook each side for 3-6 minutes, until lightly golden brown.

 

This recipe should make 10 fluffy pancakes if you use a 1/4 cup measure to scoop the batter.  You could also use a batter dispenser (click this link for more information) to achieve the same results.

If you try this recipe, let me know in the comment section how you liked it!

Happy eating!

Disclaimer: This post contains a link to an affiliated company for whom I sell products. If you purchase an item using that link, I will receive a commission on your purchase.  I thank you for your support!

Juicing Update, Part One

Hey y’all!  I updated about a week or so ago… might be longer, because time gets away from me, about hubby and my new project: Juicing.  We have been on the juice fast for one whole week already, and I thought I’d give a quick update.

Since we began last Wednesday, I have lost almost 11 pounds, which is fabulous!  Hubby is doing even better, but he won’t disclose how much he’s lost other than, “Quite a bit.”  I know his hesitation in telling me, but it would be nice to know.  Weight loss right now is a nice benefit for us.  He is the one with the most to gain from improving his health.

I can get into this topic more in-depth if there is a demand for it.  So let me know if you are interested in hearing our travails on the juicing path.  I will leave you with another recipe that I have found that I love for dinner.  It’s a savory juice with all veggies, but it’s not harsh tasting.  In fact, if you like the V8 type juice, or even if you don’t, you might still enjoy this one.  From Reboot With Joe, I present the “Bloody Mary” juice!

Bloody Mary Juice

  • 4 Tomatoes
  • 2 Red Bell Peppers
  • 1 Orange Bell Pepper
  • 1 Carrot
  • 1 Zucchini (I substituted a green bell pepper)
  • Large Handful of Fresh Herbs (I substituted a jalapeno pepper, seeded)*
  • A dash of Himalayan Pink Salt
  • 1-2 tsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Wash all produce well.  I remove the stems and seeds from all of the peppers, and the stem portion of the tomato before juicing.  Run produce through the juicer.  Pour into glasses; top with Himalayan Salt and/or Olive Oil before serving.  Makes 2 servings

*If you are working with hot peppers, such as jalapeno and hotter, be sure to wear gloves while seeding and prepping, as capsicum from the seeds can get on your skin and have a burning sensation.  Be especially careful when touching your face and eyes after your hands have been exposed to hot peppers, as the capsicum can injure the eye.  Don’t learn this from experience like I did.  Oops!

Happy juicing!


Juicing: Our New Endeavor 

A few months back I was chatting with a friend and the topic got onto dieting. I consider myself to be a professional dieter, having been on almost every diet known to mankind since I was about two. He has been a lifelong dieter as well, and asked if I had seen a documentary called, “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.” I said I had not, and he immediately immersed me into the world of juicing, telling me about the near miraculous weight loss and transformation of the star of this movie. We talked for almost two hours that night; in fact, almost into the morning. Not very long afterwards I sat and watched the movie on my PC, all while munching handfuls of pretzels and probably a soft drink. Nice, huh?

I was very impressed with the content of the film, especially since hubby has been struggling with symptoms of MS, and I had seen what a juice-based diet had done for Joe Cross. Before beginning the journey, Mr. Cross had been suffering from Chronic Urticaria, an autoimmune disease he described as a chronic hive-like rash. Sounds like a living hell to me; as a chronic pain sufferer I would much rather have pain than itching. Pain, I have learned to deal with over the past seventeen years. Itching, however, is a whole different game, and I hate it. But the autoimmune part of his disease is what caught my attention, because MS is an autoimmune disease too. If Mr. Cross could get himself off of his prednisone and other medicine with a juice diet, then maybe hubby could avoid needing one of those scary sounding biologic medications doing the same thing.

Over the holidays, we saved gift cards and cash to plop down on a Breville Juice Fountain centrifugal juicer. Good ol’ Amazon makes shopping for stuff so easy, and the one we had our eye on was $75 off the normal price. Score! We ordered it a week or so into the new year, and it came in all of its 16 pound glory one week later. It’s a good thing we saved money on the juicer, because I think we will need it for produce!  Seriously, right now the inside of our fridge looks like the produce department of Publix, stocked with lots (and lots!) of kale, carrots, cucumbers, apples, oranges, ginger root, celery and spinach.

So this is our plan for the juicer. Hubby has begun a 20-30 day juice “fast,” consuming only freshly made fruit and veggie juice. After his reboot, he will continue to juice every day, probably for the rest of his life. He had experience with juicing before we met, but he never followed through afterwards. Now, he has a fresh diagnosis of Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis and a new, frightening medication hanging in the balance.  His next appointment with his neurologist is March, when we will need to make the decision about this drug. Hopefully, his body can start to heal itself during this time of rebooting, and he won’t need to consider the drug.

As for myself, I will be juicing as well, and have been slowly transitioning to healthier foods and away from animal products. After my first green juice, I discovered (more like remembered) that my body sometimes has a problem with fresh, raw vegetables and their digestion (I will spare you the “juicy” details… take that as you will 😊) So I will need to experiment with other ingredients and greens to discover what works for me, and what will not. For myself, I’m hoping for a significant reduction in pain and inflammation, and a subsequent reduction in the medication I take to manage Fibromyalgia.  I currently take some strong pain killers, and I discovered (again, more like remembered) recently how bad my pain is without these medications. I don’t ever want to experience that pain again. I might go nutty fruit loops if I do, and believe me, that is not a pretty sight!!

I will leave you with two recipes we have found we like so far. A green juice that hubby enjoys, and an orange juice (which ironically has no oranges in it) that I like. Both are credited to Joe Cross’ website, Reboot With Joe. 

Joe’s “Mean Green” Juice

  • 16 kale leaves, washed well
  • 4 apples, cores and washed
  • 8 stalks of celery, with leafy tops, washed
  • 2 cucumbers, scrubbed of any wax on the skin
  • 1 lemon, peeled, if desired
  • 2 inch piece of fresh ginger root

Note: this recipe is VERY gingery, and I tend to use less ginger if I am drinking it. Also, 8 stalks of celery is very strong-tasting, and I cut back to 2-4 stalks when I make this for me. Two is perfect, four is still a bit overpowering for my taste.  I have also found that adding a pear to this juice calms some of the “grassy” taste from the kale.

Get You Going Morning Juice

  • 3 carrots, scrubbed
  • 1 apple, cored
  • 1 inch piece of fresh ginger root
  • 1/2 of a sweet potato, scrubbed
  • 1 handful of spinach

As I noted above with the green juice, this can be very gingery, so if you don’t care for fresh ginger you can either leave it out or just use a tiny piece. This juice is sweet and aromatic, and is good for morning or dinner (I usually have my juice with a smaller meal.)

Over the next few months, I will check in with you and update how we are faring with our new lifestyle.

Eggplant Parmesan – Heaven In A Bowl

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Eggplant Parmesan, all ready for the oven

A week ago at the local grocery store I found two beautiful, purple eggplants and I couldn’t resist the urge to buy them, and better yet, they were on sale!.  I am not used to seeing these wonderful fruits in the store this time of year, as they are in season in most of the continental US in the late summer to fall.  Sometimes, if I venture to a local farmer’s market I can find them in winter (I use the term “winter” loosely because Florida has a year-round growing season and winter never really visits here) but the grocery store has precious few eggplants in decent shape in June.  I knew exactly my purpose for my purple treasures: Eggplant Parmesan!

Eggplant Parm, the way my family has cooked it for at least three generations, is probably much different from the more traditional way.  I know it is not the healthiest preparation for eggplant, but I only prepare it once or twice a year at the most, so I can easily justify my way into a casserole dish of my favorite meal.  Much goes into the preparation and cooking of this dish, starting right at the market.  When I choose an eggplant, I look for long, slender fruits that are firm, not spongy or soft.  They should be a dark purple-black color with no visible blemishes.  The green “cap” sometimes has some sharp little thorns on it, so caution is recommended.

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Slender and firm, dark purple eggplants are the best for cooking Eggplant Parmesan.

Some cooks prefer to prepare eggplant with the skin on.  I always peel mine before I slice them, mainly because the skin tends to be tough, I don’t believe the skin adds anything to the end result, and because that’s the way Dad did it.  Who is going to argue with my half-Italian father about peeling or not peeling eggplants?  Not I!  So, I peel the eggplants and slice them short-wise (so the slices are round) into slices approximately 1/8 inch wide, sometimes thinner.  I am an “eyeballer” when it comes to slicing things.  My dad, however, had a nice slicer that resembled a deli slicing machine.  As long as my knife is plenty sharp, I can slice them just fine by hand.  You don’t want them too thick, or they will not cook correctly and will be rubbery.  As I slice them, I stack them in layers on a plate, sprinkling salt lightly on each layer.  This helps to sweat the eggplant.  I use Salt Sense for this purpose because it’s not as salty as conventional table salt, yet does the trick very nicely!  Sweating eggplant is essential for this recipe to work.  This process helps to draw some of the natural liquid out of the eggplant so the slices are easier to cook without the bitterness for which eggplant is known.  Once all the eggplants are sliced and salted, I cover the pile with another plate, inverted (like a sandwich) and I place something heavy on the stack, usually a saucepan filled with water.  The eggplant need to sweat at least 30 minutes, though I’ve let mine go for an hour and they’re fine.

Once the eggplant are done sweating, I just grab a few slices (about 10 at a time) and gently squeeze some of the remaining water out of the eggplant.   At this stage, they are ready to be fried.  Here is where my “eggplant makeover” differs from how my family has cooked this dish. My method, which I think is a bit less calorie-dense, requires frying just one time, where my family recipe calls for a double fry in the oil.  I’ll explain both ways, but continue on with how I’m making this batch.

The family recipe calls for the eggplant slices to be fried in oil lightly on both sides, 1-2 minutes on each side.  They are then removed to paper towels to drain.  While the next batch is frying, a quarter slice of American cheese is placed on one of the freshly fried slices and covered with another, making a “sandwich.”  This sandwich is dredged in Italian bread crumbs, dipped in egg and fried again, making the cheese melty and delectable and the bread crumb coating crispy and browned.  At this stage of cooking, fresh from the hot oil, they are hard to keep from eating, even without tomato sauce!  Once all of the eggplants have been fried the second time, they are placed in a casserole dish, starting with sauce on the bottom, then layering eggplant, sauce and Parmesan cheese, one layer at a time until the dish is full. Think of layering a lasagna and you get the idea.

My new way of making eggplant is easier and less time-consuming.  I dip my freshly sweated eggplant slices into an egg bath, then into Italian bread crumbs, and finally into a hot oil “bath” where they cook on each side about 2-3 minutes, or until browned.  They are removed from the oil and drained on paper towels until I’m finished cooking the whole batch.  I use a cast iron skillet with light vegetable oil to fry them on medium heat (5 on our stove.)  They should cook slowly enough so that the coating does not burn or get too brown without cooking the eggplant inside.  The slice is finished cooking when it is tender.

From here on out, the method is the same as the tried and true family recipe with one exception: in addition to the sauce and Parmesan cheese, I add a small handful of mozzarella cheese into each layer (approx. 1/4 cup.) Once your casserole dish is full, bake at 350 degrees until heated through, or about 30-45 minutes, depending on your oven.  Serve with your favorite pasta, or just dish up the slices and place in a hard Kaiser roll and enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 Eggplant, peeled and sliced into 1/8″ slices
  • Salt
  • Egg Beaters* I used half of a quart container
  • Italian bread crumbs, have plenty on hand
  • Vegetable or Olive oil, for frying
  • Your favorite pasta sauce
  • Parmesan cheese to taste
  • Mozzarella cheese to taste

*I use Egg Beaters or other whole egg substitute because natural eggs make the oil VERY foamy while cooking.  I have not tried this using liquid egg whites.  If you try this, I’d be curious to know if they worked without foaming, so please leave a note in the Comments section.  Thank you!

From The Kitchen: Slow Cooker Beef Stew

About a year ago, the crock pot that my Mom had given me gave up the ghost right in the middle of cooking a chicken dinner.  Granted, it was probably 10+ years old, but I can almost guarantee Mom had never used the thing.  It looked brand new when I adopted it.  Previously I had used it quite a bit, especially when I was working, to have a hot dinner waiting for us when I was too bone-tired to cook a meal at the end of the day.  I had a few go-to recipes that I used in it, but I really lacked creativity.  So when it was time to replace the crock pot, my husband and I decided on the Ninja 3-in-1 cooking system.  I had seen the commercial and of course was skeptical of the claims it made.  However, despite my initial reservation we purchased it anyway.  Let me tell you, this thing is AMAZING!  Any doubt that crept into my mind was immediately erased by what became my new favorite way to cook spaghetti.  But I digress…

Since we acquired this new handy-dandy cooking tool, I started looking for new and creative ways to use it.  I did find my old tried and true recipes worked just fine, but the same old pot roast and chicken can get a bit old after a while.  On my Internet journey to find new and exciting things, I came across a recipe on Panera‘s website for Slow Cooker Beef Stew.  It looked so wonderfully scrumptious that I saved it and I always had that good intention of actually trying “some day.”  That “some day” arrived when I found a nice lean chuck roast on sale.  Most of the remaining ingredients were already stocked into my pantry and fridge, so today I was good to go when I decided to make this. This takes a little prep, but it’s easy to put together.  My total prep time was about 15 minutes, and I chose to cook at the Low setting on my Ninja for 8 hours.

Photo Courtesy of Panera Bread.

Slow Cooker Beef Stew. Photo credit: Panera Bread

Slow Cooker Beef Stew

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds cubed beef chuck
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbs olive oil (have extra handy!)
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onions
  • 3/4 cup chopped celery
  • 2 1/2 cups small baby-cut carrots
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 3 medium boiling potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 can (14.5oz) no salt added diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups beef broth and/or dry red wine (the original calls for 1 1/2 to 2 cups.  I used 2 cups of broth)
  • 1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 bay leaves

How To Put It Together:

  1. Season beef with salt, pepper and thyme.  Coat in flour
  2. Heat oil in Ninja on High “Stove Top” setting.  When hot, add beef in batches and brown on each side.  Remove to bowl and repeat until all the beef is browned.  Set aside.
  3. Discard all but 2 Tbs of fat from the cooker (the meat I used was lean, so I had to use additional olive oil for this step). Add onions and celery to the Ninja and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Chop 1/2 cup of the carrots and add them to the Ninja along with the garlic.  Cook another 2 minutes.
  4. Add the beef, remaining carrots, potatoes, canned tomatoes (juice and all), broth or wine, Worcestershire sauce and bay leaves. Cover and cook on High for 4-5 hours, or on Low for 8 hours.

Credit to Panera Bread for the recipe and the inspiration for tomorrow’s dinner, and one more goody to add to my growing collection of precooked dinners for the freezer. I can’t wait to try this!

Buon appetito!

From The Kitchen: Kurt’s Chili

I used to do the karaoke thing many years back, before I met and married my husband.  The group of us, who usually met every Friday night at the local pizza joint, became more like a close-knit, if not musically challenged family.  There was one lady, maybe in her 60s at the time, who everyone loved because of her excitement level for every brave soul who picked up the microphone and sang their favorite song.  We called her the “Party Animal,” though her real name escapes me at the moment. The guy who ran the show, Cory, thought of her as his mom and looked after her as such.  Actually we all adored her as a family member, and cheered her on while she sang “Rocky Top,” and not well either.  But every week, we anticipated her rendition of “Rocky Top” as though it was the best song we’d all ever heard.

Outside of the environment of the lounge, we’d occasionally get together and do home parties where we’d all bring a dish to share and sing, sometimes terribly, sometimes better than we did at the bar. On one particular occasion, we all gathered to celebrate Party Animal’s birthday at someone’s home.  This was especially exciting for me, as it was the first home party to which I had been invited.  I arrived, as a bunch of others did, with a tape recorder (remember those??) prepared to record everyone’s performances for the evening, and also with a dish, most likely the Boston baked beans though I don’t remember exactly.  One thing that I do remember is this fantastic, best-I’d-ever-eaten chili, made by one of the attendees named Kurt.  He’d said it was his favorite dish to bring to gatherings such as that one, and I could definitely see why.  It was different than any other chili I’d had before; filled to the brim with chunks of green and red peppers, Spanish onions, at least three different types of beans and that not-too-spicy finish.  Kurt shared his recipe with us, and my family has been making it ever since.  I am now going to share the recipe with you, my readers.

Chili

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 pounds ground beef.  The original recipe called for 2 1/2 pounds of meat, but I find it does nicely with just a pound.
  • 2 green bell peppers, cut into bite sized chunks
  • 2 red bell peppers, cut into bite sized chunks
  • 1 large Spanish onion, or 2 med sweet onions, cut into bite sized chunks
  • 2 cans chili beans, reserve the juice
  • 1 can dark red kidney beans, reserve the juice
  • 1 can light red kidney beans, reserve the juice
  • 1 packet mild chili seasoning
  • 1 packet hot chili seasoning
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, reserve the juice
  • 1 8oz can tomato sauce, have an extra on hand if you like the chili a little juicier
  • 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

In a dutch oven or stock pot, brown the ground beef until no longer pink.  Remove from the pot and set aside.  In the same pot, heat olive oil and saute the onion and peppers until the onions are translucent, about 4 minutes.  Add the ground beef to the pot.  Add all the beans, tomatoes, tomato sauce and seasoning packets; stir until everything is combined.  Add the extra tomato sauce if the mixture looks a bit “dry.” Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and allow to simmer for an hour to and hour and a half.  Be prepared for wonderful aromas to emanate from your kitchen.  Serve with crusty bread.

Of course, I couldn’t have made chili when it was colder outside.  I had to wait until March, which is technically summer in west central Florida.  If you make this recipe, please share your thoughts in the comments!

Buon appetito!