Monday, July 2, 2012

161. Fajita Salads and a Family Visit

If you live in the east, then you already know that it is hotter than hot…and that is pretty hot!
I have seen the temperature this week rise to 110 with the heat index and felt like I could not breathe outside.  I have not felt that way since my time in Nevada when I was a teenager.  That was a pretty scary feeling.

I am grateful for my grill outside.  This is something that over the past year I am finding myself using more and more, in fact we use it all year round.  I can do that in Maryland (another reason I love it here).

I usually do not buy pre-made spice packets because I already have so many individual spices at home.  On this day I wanted fajita's and threw my own mix together.  My family loved it and this salad was a hit, along with the salsa.  ENJOY!

Recipe:  Fajita Salads

To make meat:

1.5 pounds of top sirloin steak
1 red onion, sliced in half
2 bell peppers, cut in half with seeds removed

To make Fajita Spice, I used 1 teaspoon of each:  garlic powder, onion powder, salt, smoked paprika, cumin and chili powder and a 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.  Mix well.

Season the steak on both sides with liberal amounts of spice mix.  Have your grill temperature get to about 400 degrees. 

Add meat and veggies to the grill.  You can use a veggie basket so that the onion does not go through your grill grid.  Cook until charred on all sides.

Grill steak on both sides until meat is medium rare.  Depending on thickness of your meat, this will take about 10-12 minutes.  I recommend using a meat thermometer or checking the meat so that you do not over cook your steak.

Take meat off of the grill, cover and let rest while you prepare the onion/bell peppers.

Take the onion and bell pepper and slice into strips.  Add olive oil to a saute pan and continue to brown the mix.  The onion and bell pepper should start to caramelize and turn brown.  Remove from heat.

Slice meat into thin strips.  I used a platter to first add the bell pepper/ onion mix and topped it with the meat.

Prepare your salad.  I used spinach and lettuce.  I also served sour cream, salsa, jalapeno's and ranch for those that would like additional condiments.  

You can add your favorite veggies to make this salad suit your families taste buds.

If you would like to see pictures from my visit with my family, see below.  It was a whirlwind two weeks, 6 state visit and a ton of fun.

My sister and I took a bicycle ride through the diamond district.  This was the best!  We screamed and laughed the whole way.  The driver was amazing.  We would come within inches of cars and people and he never had an accident.  I will never forget this ride.

The carriage ride through Central Park was so much fun.  It was a great way for my family to see a bit of the park and to learn some history too.

We found the Naked Cowboy right off the bat.  It was fun to see this icon of NYC.  He is wearing underwear, it is just hidden behind the guitar.

Rye and I on the carriage ride.
My Mom and Sisters first time to Time Square.

Sailing on the Chesapeake Bay.

A man at the Irish Festival in Annapolis.  Cute head!

Trip to DC…the white house in the back ground.

Amish carriage ride through the hillside in Intercourse, PA.

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.

Donut Breakfast Casserole

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