Monday, June 11, 2012

Creamy Rice and Veggie Casserole

When I say we eat a 25 pound of rice about every 3 months, I am not lying.  My family loves rice.  We have brown, white, flat, short, long, black, red, Japanese, Basmati and Jasmine.  The only one we don't use or own is INSTANT.  LOL

We just don't like the flavor of instant.  I own a rice cooker and if I plan my meals right I have no problem getting the rice done on time.

We eat rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner and on occasion, as a snack too.

I joke with my kids that when they go to college they will get three things: a rice cooker, a blender and a Nu Wave oven.

There are over 40,000 different varieties of rice.  If you would like to learn more about rice, this is a great place to start.  HERE.

My daughter loves to make rice and one thing we need to work on is portions…LOL  When she makes a batch it is always the largest that can be made with our rice cooker.  We usually eat it all in a few days, but I personally like fresh rice better and not the rice that has been sitting in the fridge for a day or two.

What if you do have rice that is a day or two old?  I hate to waste food.  It makes me crazy when so many people in the world have so little.

In walks Creamy Rice and Veggie Casserole.  This not only uses your left over rice, but you can use your left over vegetables and cheese (if you like).

I will tell you what I used in my recipe.  If you change any of the veggies or cheese, just keep in mind that the flavor will be changed a bit too.  If you use those things you love then that should not bother you.  Be sure to let me know if you added your own twist to the dish.  It would work great to add some chicken to the casserole and make it a one dish "rock the house" meal.

This is a simple meal.  That has the taste of a gourmet dish.  ENJOY!

Recipe:  Creamy Rice and Veggie Casserole

4 cups of prepared white rice  (if you use brown rice it will have a nutty flavor)
2 cups of vegetables (I used: leeks, carrots, onions and red bell pepper)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups of milk
1/2 stick of butter
1/4 cup of flour
1 brick of cream cheese, soft
3/4  cup of cheddar cheese or 1 jar of Old English Cheddar Cheese

Preheat oven to 350.

Prepare your rice or use your left over rice from a previous meal.

Thinly slice and dice your veggies to make 2 cups.  Saute the veggies in a saute pan with the olive oil.

In a medium size pot, add butter and melt.  Sprinkle flour over butter and whisk for 2 minutes.  Add your milk and cook until thick, stir often.  Remove from heat and add cream cheese and cheddar. Stir until the cheese is well combined.

If you would like to add meat to this dish, go ahead and prepare your meat.  Add this to the mixture.

In a large bowl, combine sauce, rice and veggies.  Stir well and pour into a baking dish.  I used an 8X12 baking dish, so if you use a 9X13 reduce cooking time by a few minutes.

Bake for 30 minutes.

Friday, June 8, 2012

My "Everything" Chocolate Chip Cookie

What I love about cookies, is they are a lot like people, they come in every shape and size.  The types of cookies, flavors, textures and sizes are too many to number.

I believe there is truly a cookie for everyone.

This cookie is something that has evolved over the years.  The reason I love the basic recipe is because the cookie is soft and plump. It has some substance to it, a three to four bite cookie.

The secret ingredient is bacon.  I know it sounds strange but it totally makes this cookie.

My son, the other day said to me as were getting into the car, "wow, that bacon cookie is the best."

My Mom made the cookies for a church event last weekend and lets just say that after the cookies were made they didn't make it to the church.  LOL

You can find a lot more of these types of recipes here at The Chocolate Chip Cookie Challenge being hosted by 52 Kitchen Adventures.  It all starts on August 15, 2012.

Recipe:  The Everything Cookie, makes about 24 cookies depending on size of cookie scoop

3 3/4 cups of cake flour
2 tablespoons of corn starch
1 teaspoon of salt (if you use salted butter, reduce this to 1/2 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 sticks of cold butter
1 1/4 cups of packed brown sugar
1/2 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup of buttermilk
2 large eggs, room temperature

6-8 pieces of cooked bacon, diced
1/2 cup of toffee bites
1/4 cup of pecans or almonds
1 cup of chocolate chips, I used semi sweet.

Your options may also include: coconut or dried fruit. Let your imagination guide your "everything" cookie.

With this recipe I did not use my Kitchenaid because I did not want to over work the cookie dough.  This was all done by hand.

Preheat oven to 375.

Fry up your bacon.  I found the bacon that is not super crispy works best.  Set aside to cool until you are ready to add it to your dough.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, salt, baking powder and baking soda.

Grate your two sticks of cold butter into a medium size bowl. Add your sugars and combine until just blended.  You should see pieces of butter.

Add the vanilla, two eggs and buttermilk.  Do not over blend.  Mix until well combined.

Start adding the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar mixture.  The dough should be moist and not dry.

Add: bacon, nuts, toffee bits and chocolate chips.  Mix until combined.

Using a large cookie scoop, place the cookies 2 inches apart on the cookie tray.

Bake for 15-18 minutes.  This depends on your oven.  They should be light to golden brown.

Transfer to a cookie rack and let cool.

St. Michael's, Maryland

Maryland is my home.  It is a place that I could never have imagined living 5, 10, 15 years ago.  I was raised on the West Coast and the furtherest east that I have lived was a short stint in Illinois with my hubby and kids.  I always longed to come to this side of the United States.

Have you ever felt that you were born at the wrong time in history?  This has been me almost my entire life.  I enjoy modern technology and the conveniences that I have in my home but my inner soul has always wanted to be challenged and tested when it comes to living in the past.  I have longed for the old world, I guess.  Not the struggles, famine, disease and hardship which seems to be prevalent in every generation and era,  but the desire to build my own home, bake my own bread, make my own clothes, quilt my own quilts and live without technology (just for a while…wink, wink).

Moving back East has given me a chance to visit these very old towns.  I love the feeling these towns have of enveloping you in their quaintness and history when you enter.  I immediately imagine how life would have been 50, 100, 200 or even 400 years ago.  I try to put myself into this town during those periods.

How would I dress, who would my family be, did I work, did I become a Mom, would I have lived a long life?  So many questions and what ifs.  This is a fun game to me.

As we entered St. Michaels I was taken back to a time of narrow roads,  wrought iron fences, shuttered windows, ivy covered walls (that only happen after being around for years), and replica boats in the small harbor.

I view my life as a journey.  One in which I control how I learn and experience my life.  Traveling is a huge part of who I am.  When I travel to unique and different places I am able to experience what life may have been for those past generations living in these beautiful places.

I have been here for a year and I don't see myself leaving any time soon.  I am excited to take my camera and venture out from the comforts of my home and share with you this beautiful state that I now call home, Maryland.

I hope to make it to the other wonderful areas that I am near and learn all about the histories and stories of the people that have lived in DC, PA, MA, NY, DE, VA, NC, SC, WVA and so many more states.

I have my work cut out for me..LOL

Enjoy the pictures and sites of St. Michaels, Maryland.

This was a fence line in front of a B&B as we walked down to the Maritime Museum.  I love the yellow flowers poking their way out from under the white picket fence.

Another B&B,  look at that date! WOW, the time of top hats and hoop skirts.

Cemeteries are such a fun place to explore.  These were so covered with moss that you could only ready them if you stood at the side or used your finger to trace the letters.  Even this was tricky as they were very old and some of the stone has been worn with time and weather. 

Isabella is participating in the Disney's Channels' Minnie Mouse Travel Game.  When we go somewhere she takes a picture and we submit it and they use it for different things.

We were all shocked to see jelly fish.  The picture above is the original and the one below is what I was able to gleen from it so you could see the whole thing. 

We at at Carpenters Street Saloon…excellent food.

We were captivated by this old and very large tree.  What would cause a tree to twirl during it's growth process?

I love seeing the detail that is apparent all through the town.

Guess what those baskets are used for?  Crabs….yum.

My girls, Isabella and Rye.  We had a great time.

Another large tree.  This one was in the cemetery.  The color of the leaves is the same color of the moss or pollen that has built up on the tomb stones.

We could not resist the silly picture…LOL What a catch Rye!

155. Mulberry Syrup

Last month I was asked to participate along with a group of other bloggers in a Berrylicious blog link up.  This was such perfect timing considering I was dealing with a berry tree of my own.  Read below to learn more about my berry experience.  Thank you Hani, from Haniela's for organizing such a fun linky party!  At the end of this post you will find a banner along with the links to all those that participated.  ENJOY.

When I think of berries I have very fond memories of my youth.  I grew up in California and we always had an abundant supply of strawberries.  As a teenager we moved to Oregon and there I was introduced to the wild Blackberry.

It seemed in Utah, we ate a lot of blueberries.  

Last June we moved to our home in Maryland and to our pleasant surprise we had a berry tree.  This huge tree made an even bigger mess. What in the world was this tree that dumped a ton of berries all over most of our yard?
My neighbors  had an aversion to the tree…LOL It was a constant source of agitation because your shoes were covered in berry juice. This meant that carpets and floors were constantly stained with little purple dots.

The birds were another concern.  They love the berries and when birds eat berries they have a very healthy digestive track if you know what I mean…it's gross…but it's true and they make a mess.

Well, I was just too busy last year unpacking and getting settled to pay any attention to this big messy berry tree.

After all, do berries really grow on a tree that is 25 feet tall?  If you're a Mulberry tree you do.

This year I promised myself that I would use these berries and learn about them.  I discovered that they are Mulberries.  They are shaped like a black berry, but smaller and have a very similar taste.

I was happy.  We used to live in Oregon and they have wild black berries everywhere.  I missed them.

On this sunny day, my daughters and I set out to forage for the berries.  We were not brave enough to climb up the tree and shimmy out on the limbs.

With our bowl in hand, we gently stepped around the blades of grass and found what we were looking for.  You could tell the ones that had fallen recently, they were still shiny and plump.

It was a great mother/daughter activity.

I chose to make a syrup because we love our pancakes soaked in the flavor of berries.  With a little bit of butter added too.  Recipe for a light and fluffy pancake can be found here,  and for a mutli-grain pancake look here. They are both delicious.  

Making syrup is easy and you will find all types of recipes out in the cyber world to follow.  Mine is simple and straight forward.  It usually takes an hour for the sugar and juice to thicken enough to make it sticky and thick.  I will admit that on some occasions I have been impatient and the syrup was thinner…everyone still used it.

Recipe:  Mulberry Syrup

I picked 3 cups of Mulberries
3 cups of water

Wash and sift through berries to make sure that you don't have any extra and unwanted ingredients…leaves and bugs.  Don't worry about the stems because they are a pain to take off and you will be straining everything anyways.

In a pot large enough to hold 6 cups, bring berries to a boil. Reduce heat to medium high. Using a potato smasher, smash the berries.

Let the juice, pulp and water cook for 20 minutes.

You can use any type of cheescloth/cloth straining set-up want or have access to.  I kept mine pretty easy.  I used a dish cloth made out of light weight flour sack fabric and hung it from my cupboard while the juice drained into a bowl.

You can let this drain overnight or if you are like me, let it cool, and then start wringing out the juice.  You should get about 3 cups of juice.

The pulp will look like this.

Return the 3 cups of juice to a pot and add 2-3 cups of sugar.  The more you add the sweeter the syrup will be.

Bring syrup to a boil and turn heat to medium low.  It takes about an hour for the syrup to thicken.  Stir it occasionally so that it doesn't stick or burn on the bottom.

You can test the thickness of the syrup by dipping a spoon, if the syrup is runny it will slide right off.  If it is thick, it should coat your spoon and slowly slip out. 

11 Fabulous Bloggers are sharing their Berrylicious Recipes.  Go check them out.

1. Joan, Chocolate Chocolate and More - Lemon Blueberry Pound cake
2. Charity, FoodletsStrawberry - Banana Popsicles
3. Jamie, Green Beans & Grapefruit - Mixed Berry & Cookie Butter Clafouti
4. Hani, Haniela’s – Red Currant Meringue Cake
5. Katrina, In Katrina’s Kitchen - Frozen Blueberry Basil Lemonade Pies
6. Sue, Munchkin Munchies - English Matrimonials
7. Bia, Rich and Sweet - Blueberry Blackberry Orange Streusel Scones
8. Sam, Sams Kitchen - Eton Mess Mini Cheesecakes
9.  Sherron, Simply Gourmet  - Mulberry Syrup
10. Ann, Sumptuous Spoonfuls  -  Strawberry Chia Jam
11. Karen, Trilogy Edibles - Meringue Nest with a Bumbleberry Compote

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Sauteed Squash, Leeks and Artichokes

My first memory of having squash was when we lived at the "lake".  This is what we called our small community of Woffard Heights in the mountains of California.  The "lake" was actually named Lake Isabella and we spent every summer fishing, swimming, rock climbing and bridge jumping.

When we were not at the lake we were riding horses, hiking, playing with our cousins or working.  Our grandparents had a rock bed for a yard and we spent several summers making these huge rock walls.

This was a lot of work!  It was also my introduction to physical labor.  My grandfather, who we called, "pop" was a military man.  He was a caring man but very stern and felt that the only way for anyone to learn discipline was to rise early, work through out the day and then work some more.  LOL

I gained a lot from these hours spent with him.  I admired him.  I wanted his approval.  I would often spend extra time loading and unloading boulders so that he would think I was a hard worker.  I wanted his approval.  I was a girl and felt as though I had a lot to prove.  (Those were the days)

He passed away while I was a teenager and I do believe he felt I was a hard worker.  I wasn't mature enough at the time to have "that" conversation with him and really share my feelings of how much I admired and looked up to his example of work.

I wish that I could go back for one day and really have a good chat.

So what does squash have to do with this? My grandfather was from Texas.  I grew up on chicken fried steak,  gravy, meat and potatoes and a lot of fried food.

My grandmother would make summer squash for us a lot.  It was the "alien ship" squash.  That is what we called it, because they looked like little UFO's.

She would dredge it in flour, salt and pepper and milk.  Fry them in a pan and serve them with ranch.

Oh it was so good!

This was the start of my love affair with squash and zucchini. I try not to eat my squash fried anymore and that is how this dish came about.  I threw this dish together the first few times with leeks, yellow squash and artichokes.  The second time I made it with zucchini, red onion and artichokes.

It is one of the best side dishes I have made in a long, long time.  The flavors just explode in your mouth.  Adding the red tomatoes at the end add that bit of sweet flavor that only a good tomato can do.

Recipe:  Sauteed Squash, Leeks and Artichokes

Olive oil, add to pan as needed
3 yellow squash (or zucchini), sliced
1 cup of leeks, sliced in rings.  Use the white part.  You can use red onion too.
2 teaspoons of minced garlic
1 cup of un-marinated artichokes, halved
handful of fresh herbs:  cilantro, Oregano and Basil (do not use dried herbs, it's not the same in this dish)
7 Campari tomatoes, quartered
salt and pepper to taste

In a large saute pan, add enough olive oil to saute your first batch of ingredients.  I sauteed the leeks, garlic and artichokes together first.  5 minutes or until the leeks are clear and cooked.

Remove this mixture to a large bowl.  You can steam your squash in the microwave by adding a small amount of water to a microwave safe bowl along with the sliced squash and cook until just tender.  I prefer to cook the squash in my pan so that I get the added flavor of the olive oil and the flavor of sauteing them this way.  It took me 3 batches.

When each batch is finished add it to the large bowl with your artichoke and leeks.  Chop your herbs and toss them into the last batch of squash.  Cook for 2 minutes.

Throw in the tomatoes and cook for another 2 minutes.

 Add the contents of the large bowl back into your saute pan and combine.  Season with salt and pepper.

 This is an excellent main dish, side or left over.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

158. Tamales-Pork

Traveling around the United States has allowed me to meet new people, learn new traditions, see and explore new territory and try so many new foods.

I feel that these experiences have shaped who I am and how I cook.  I have friends from all over the world that are first or second generations living in the US.

What their families have brought to those of us who have been raised here, in the US, is greater than what one could read in a book or see in a picture.  They are living accounts of how they lived, their families lived, the foods they ate/eat, the ingredients that shaped and molded their dishes and why they are here in the US.  

They brought a wealth of information that could easily be found in a book, but it's not the same as talking with them, cooking in their kitchens or listening to their stories.  Feeling and experiencing the emotion behind what they cook is a powerful experience.

I have never been to Mexico, I lived close as a child in LA.  I don't have any ancestry that is from Mexican/Spanish descent.  Yet, I find myself wanting to eat and learn to cook food from this region of the world.

This can be said for so many of the dishes that I make.  I love flavor, exotic spices and ingredients, new techniques, a challenge in the kitchen…I just love ALL facets of cooking, baking and eating it all. The fact that the world cooks so differently creates a challenge for me to learn.  

I never want to stop learning.  EVER!

In Denver, we had friends that would make tamales like they would never have them again.  When you make tamales for a huge family event, we are talking hundreds of handmade tamales.  Our friends would often invite us to such events and my mouth would drop when I saw the amount of food they would prepare.  Their food is a part of who they are.  It made a statement of where they came from.

I learned to make tamales from a lady that my husband worked with.  In their culture it would usually involve several women from different families.  The recipe I share today was made by me, single handily done.  I do believe that cooking in a kitchen filled with women and laughter would be a happier experience. 

 Invite your friends and family to help you make these tasty tamales.  Tell stories, laugh and share in the joy of working together in the kitchen.  It is a bit of work, but so worth it!

Recipe: Pork Tamales

4 thick boneless pork chops
1/2 red onion, sliced
2 tablespoons of garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups of water
1 tablespoon of Cumin
dash of salt

Preheat oven to 375.

I use a cast iron pan.  Lay the pork chops on the bottom and add the other ingredients (see picture below)

Cover pan with foil.  Bake for 1 hour at 375 and reduce temperature to 325 and cook for another hour.

When you unwrap the foil, using two forks, pull the meat apart.  You will notice that some of the water is still in the pan. Do not  pour this out.  The meat will absorb the liquid and make it very tender and moist.  At this point, you can set it aside until the tamales are ready to be made or you can recover and put in the fridge for a 1-2 days.

Recipe: Tamale Batter
Recipe adapted from The Dumpling, a Seasonal Guide by Wai Chu and Connie Lovatt

I doubled the below recipe and had a little bit left over for the meat recipe above.

1/3 cup of Crisco or lard at room temperature
1 cup  masa harina
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 chicken broth, lukewarm

In a medium size bowl, add your Crisco.  With a hand mixer, beat the Crisco until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

After being whipped.

Add the masa harina, baking powder and salt into to a large bowl.  Add the broth and mix until all of the liquid is gone.  Add lard a tablespoon at a time.

After the last bit of Crisco is added, beat on high for 10 minutes. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes before using.  This will last for one day in the fridge.

Time to pull it all together.  You will need the corn husk.  I like to go through the pile and pull out the best ones. I start with 20-24 and add them to a bowl with warm water.  This short bath makes the husk easier to bend and fold.  You will need some cooking twine to close the ends  I usually cut these about 6 inches in length.  You can use pieces of the husk, but for the sake of time…the string is easier.

This process does not need to be perfect.  You basically are wrapping the tamale batter around the pork.  SIMPLE.

Select a piece of corn husk and spread a golf ball size of batter in the middle of the husk…estimate about a 4X6 size.

Add the pork.  I usually estimate a 1/4 cup or less.

This picture below is showing you that the idea is to have the tamale batter go all around the pork.  So you can fold the corn husk in half so the sides can meet and then continue wrapping the corn husk to create a tube.  See picture below.  Use twine to secure the ends.

 Tada…you have a tamale.

I layer mine on a cookie sheet until I am ready to add them to the pot to be steamed.
I use a large stock pot with this steamer basket in the bottom.  I layer my tamales up to the top.  Make sure you add water to the bottom of the pan frequently.  You want the steam to cook your tamales.  I would suggest adding 1/2-1 cup of water every 20 minutes.  The tamales will take about 90 minutes.

The tamales will soften and cook down a bit.  The masa may appear soft, but once it is exposed to the air and has a chance to sit for 5 -8 minutes it firms right up.

We eat our tamales with ketchup but by all means use what dipping sauce you like or none at all.

Donut Breakfast Casserole

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