Wednesday, April 27, 2011

You win some, you lose some...

I love trying new recipes.  The anticipation of something new, the process of learning new cooking skills, and of course, the great taste that comes along with it.  Most times I hit the jackpot.  New dish, new fave, all is well in the world.  But then there are the other times...

... like when I tried homemade spinach gnocchi for Christmas dinner and we wound up with something that resembled a pile of bird droppings on our plates...

Yeah, sometimes it doesn't work out as planned.

This Monday I tried something that just sounded amazing.  A-maze-ing.  Fusilli with ricotta and crispy kale.  As a lover of pasta, this was one I had been waiting for.  Finally, it was time to make it happen. 

First, I needed to find the Dinosaur Kale, or as I called it, "flat kale."  Known in Brazil as couve, Paulo was ecstatic.  His mom makes a side dish with chopped up couve, fresh squeezed lemon juice, and some salt.  Yum.  So I set out, knowing what I was looking for.  But apparently, in the entire South Bay area, I was the only one.  Lucky, Trader Joe's (which I was pretty sure wouldn't have it, but you never know...), Safeway, and finally Whole Foods.  Surely Whole Foods would have it, as they carry all things weird and organic.

"Oh, Dino kale?"  the checker asked.  Excited head nod from me -- Yes, you have it!  "Yeah, with all this rain it stopped coming.  I think it was ruined for the season, but you know, I am not really sure about that. I might just be making that up.  Come back and check in a few weeks."  Bummer.  After two hours driving around, I picked up that stupid batch of curly leafed kale, which I found at EVERY grocery store and could have bought hours ago, paid the high price that one pays to buy food at Whole Foods, and headed home.

All of that, and I wasn't that fond of the dish.  What a waste of time.  Well, Paulo's coworkers said it smelled really great and he told me it made for wonderful leftovers and apparently (according to that wealth of knowledge we call Google) it is quite popular, but nah, not going to happen again.  The crispy kale, however, that is a repeater.  (Click on picture to get recipe). 

Photo from Rachael Ray Magazine

Simple change I made: chicken sausage instead of regular.  Healthier (as much as sausage can fall into the "healthy" category) and tasty.  Move over girls, chicken sausage is my new best friend!  (Which is why, if you come at any given time, you will find a pack of it in my fridge.  And it comes in so many flavors!)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Beans, beans, the musical fruit...

I sang it as a child, and I am sure you did, too.

Beans, beans, the musical fruit
The more you eat, the more you toot.
The more you toot, the better you feel,
So let's have beans for every meal!

And then, like you, I giggled ("We just said 'toot'!") and then went on my way, not thinking about it anymore.  After all, nobody wanted to toot all the time, so nobody would even consider having beans for every meal, right? 

Until four years ago I could easily count the time I had eaten beans.  It was pretty much limited to the large spoonful that was slopped onto a tortilla at Taco Bell whenever I ordered a 7-Layer and my haystacks that were devoured at after-church potlucks.  And I am not even sure we can consider that brown mush that is served up with the label "refried beans" as beans.  It should more accurately be labeled, "Bean Puree".  It once was in the state of beans, yes, I agree, but now?  Nah, brown-bean-mush with a ton of seasonings.

And then I wound up with a Brazilian man, and this answered my what-I-once-considered-a-rhetorical-question:  Yes, there really are people who like to eat beans at every meal.  As far as most Brazilians (and Puerto Ricans and Costa Ricans and many others I hear) are concerned, a meal is not a meal unless it has the necessary components of beans and rice.

So a new quest began.  Not only did I need to learn how to cook, but I needed to learn how to cook beans.

Luckily for me, my best Brazilian friend Querubia taught me how to make beans: saute the onion and garlic in oil, open the can, add the beans, and cook.  Easy!  No problem!  Obrigada, Querubia, not only did you get me the man, but you taught me how to feed him, too.  She is quite a wonderful friend to have around...

Except Paulo didn't believe that beans from the can counted as beans.  Try as I might ("See, 'Beans', it says so right there.") he didn't see my point.  Yes, he agreed that they were beans, but they were not real beans.  However, being the ever gracious man he is, he said, "It's OK, I don't need beans and rice.  You are a good cook, I can live without it."  A quick kiss and a smile to let me know that I had his support, beans or no beans.  One of the many reasons I love this man.

We continued on, living in our bean-free existence, until one night we had some Brazilian friends over.  The conversation was great until they found out that Paulo had gone two months without eating beans and rice.  "WHAT?!"  This was uttered so loudly that you would have thought we had said Paulo had gone two months without food.  Apparently to our friends, this was the same thing.  "It's not a problem," Paulo answered.  "Tiffany is a great cook, I don't need beans."  "No, no!  You cannot be saying this.  You are BRAZILIAN!  You need BEANS!"

Well, today I can make beans.  All it took was a little lesson while I was in Brazil one day and a pressure cooker.  Then I came home, quickly forgot everything I learned, and made up a recipe myself.  I am not going to say that I make them as frequently as Paulo's friends would expect, but I make them often enough to keep Paulo happy.  And he is really the only one whose opinion counts.  About once a month, maybe twice (maybe) I pull those beans out and get to work.  It is not that hard, it just takes a little bit of time.  As far as the beans-and-rice, well, my rice sucks.  It is always too wet or too sticky or whatever, so Paulo makes the rice, I make the beans, and together we have a dinner that counts as the only true option in the mindset of most Brazilians.  Although he really does like everything else I make and always compliments me, whenever the smell of beans fills the house a smile crosses his face.  "Yes," he says, "tonight we are going to eat real food!"

My Bean Recipe:
Ingredients -
  1. beans (about one cup)
  2. 1/2 onion, chopped
  3. two cloves of garlic
  4. salt, much more than a pinch (maybe 2 teaspoons???)
  5. one bay leaf
  6. a little bit of oil
  7. water to cover the beans plus a little more
Directions -
  1. Sort and rinse beans.  Add to pressure cooker.  Cover with water until about knuckle-deep.
  2. Boil for 15-20 min.  Add more water at end if needed.
  3. Add onion, garlic, bay leaf, salt, and oil.  Cover with lid, and cook on high until the pressure cooker starts singing.  Lower heat to medium and cook for 25 - 35 minutes. 
  4. Turn off heat and let cool down so the pressure releases.  Viola!  Delicious (and incredibly nutritious) beans!

Beans on FoodistaBeans

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Peas-and-Carrots Soup with Dumplings (Vegetarian)

For my Monday Night Special (the new name that I just now gave my attempt at creating a tradition of trying a new recipe every Monday evening) this week we tried this soup.  First, let me say, I am a lover of soup.  Lentil soup, split pea (Andersen's... yum!), tortilla, avgolemono (if you don't know, find a Greek restaurant nearby and check it out; you will not regret this decision) chicken noodle, and the list goes on.  The smooth texture, all the flavors mixed together, the warmth... all in all, soup was a great creation.  I can almost understand why Esau was willing to trade his birthright for a bowl of soup.  Almost.

Let me also say, Paulo hates soup.  Really, truly, this man does not like it.  I am not fully sure the reason behind that, but I think it boils down to this: I don't think he feels that he can get full on it, even if it is a hearty soup.  That being said, I must admit my soup pot I received for Christmas two years ago largely goes unused.  Sad to say, but it is the truth. 

But not anymore!  I have found two, yes two, soups that Paulo now likes.  And this one tops his list (yes, his list of TWO).  He actually had it for lunch the next day (Oh, how I love to sing the praises of leftovers!) and texted me to tell me that it was even more delicious the next day.  Honestly, I am not sure how that can be possible, but sure enough, that's what he says.  And he almost never sends a text to me during the day, so I guess it must have been worthy of it. 

So simple, so easy, and so delicious!  The best part is, it cost me under $5 to make, allowing enough for four servings.  And with most of the ingredients you probably already have at home, this is a no-brainer to make on a rainy day.  Or a sunny day, for that matter.


  • 2 tablespoons EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil)
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 carrots—peeled, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 1 rib celery, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • 2 rounded tablespoons flour
  • One 32-ounce container (4 cups) chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 rounded tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon, dill or parsley
  • One 8-ounce box biscuit mix (about 2 cups), such as Jiffy Buttermilk Biscuit Mix, batter prepared according to package directions


  1. Heat a couple of tablespoons EVOO, 2 turns of the pan, over medium-high heat in a large soup pot or dutch oven. Add the butter to melt, then add the carrots, celery and onion; season with salt, pepper and the bay leaf. Cover the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the carrots soften, 7 to 8 minutes. Sprinkle the flour on the vegetables and stir for a minute, then whisk in the chicken (or vegetable) stock until thickened. Stir in the mustard and peas. For a thinner soup, add 1 to 1 1/2 cups water with the stock.
  2. Add the chopped fresh herbs to the biscuit batter and combine. When the soup is bubbling, form the batter into small dumplings using 2 spoons, then drop onto the surface of the soup. Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and cook the dumplings, gently stirring, until just firm, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the soup and dumplings to shallow bowls; discard the bay leaf.
COST: $4.65      Per Serving: $1.17
Plus bread & butter with a small salad: $2

Monday, April 11, 2011

And so the quest began...

Five years ago I was a single college student, living off of cafeteria food and Rice-a-Roni.  One night a good friend of mine was hanging out with my roommate and me and we were talking while my roommate was making us a great dinner.  "She's going to be the kind of mom whose kids always have a great meal in front of them," she said.  "Your kids are going to eat Mac-n-Cheese every night, but that's OK, because you will have time to play with them, while she will be too busy cooking for hers."  I laughed, knowing that what she said was true.  Really, Mac-n-Cheese?  Yum.  Rice-a-Roni?  Yum again.  Really, why did I need more?

And then I grew up.  College was over, job was landed, and I was seriously dating a Brazilian man whose mother had probably never made a box of Kraft's cheesy goodness in her life.  Suddenly I needed to find ways to feed myself and often a very tall and hungry guy.  And besides, as funny as that comment was, it burned in the back of my mind.  Why, I asked myself, can't I be the mom who has time to cook AND play?  Who says I can't do both?  And so I set out on a quest to learn what I needed to know to make that happen.

That's where Gina stepped in.  First step: teach me to make mashed potatoes.  Oh, I made some good mashed potatoes!  And then I made them some more (with fish) and some more (with chicken) and some more (with whatever else I could find), until Paulo finally said, "Babe, I really like your mashed potatoes, but can we have something else for dinner tonight?" 


Somebody had stepped up to the plate, though, and I had been given the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.  If you want to eat it, this book has the answer for you.  Everything from how to boil an egg (which, sheesh, even I knew how to do) to distinguishing between the different cuts of beef, it was there.  So, now, instead of mashed potatoes at every meal, we had tuna casserole, broiled salmon, broccoli and beef stir-fry.

I don't know when it happened, but at some point a switch was flipped.  Instead of looking for food I could make in order to stay alive, I looked for food I wanted to make to enjoy my cooking.  Cooking was not only functional, but it became a form of personal entertainment.  And this is where it finds me today.  I cook because I like it, and I cook to make sure that we (currently, my husband and I) are putting healthy things into our bodies, not packaged junk that I used to be filled to the brim with.  The truth is, I will be forever grateful for that random comment made by a friend on a lazy afternoon.  It buried itself somewhere inside of me and later was my inspiration to do something more.

Some very important things to know about my cooking:
  • I am not a vegetarian, and I am not planning on becoming one.  I was for seven years, and although it was fine, I choose to eat meat.  However, I do try to make at least a few of my meals each week without meat, and I still love vegetarian options, so there will be plenty of those shared here. 
  • I don't drink milk or (sadly) eat cheese, except feta-types and cream cheese.  But if it melts into a gooey mess, it does not go into my body.  My taste buds love it, my digestive track does not.
  • I am not a gourmet chef nor will ever claim to be.  I like good ol' home-cooking.  Sometimes I will try something more complicated, but I try to stick to meals that do not consume my life to prepare.
  • I limit the amount of processed foods I bring home (although I am a sucker for Joe's-Joe's and sweets).  No chips, no more Pasta-Roni, etc. 
  • If I can make it, I do.  Hollandaise, pesto, etc.  But if it takes a ridiculous amount of work, no sirree.  I am not boiling chicken bones to make broth.  I have better things to do with my time, thank you very much!
  • I do not believe in spending exorbitant amounts of money on food.  This means that you might find me with a basket full of produce in Mi Pueblo or a cart full of food in Trader Joe's, but you will not find me spending a lot of quality time in Whole Foods (or even Safeway, for that matter).  I work hard for my money and like to enjoy it in as many ways as possible, not just on my dinner plate.
  • I am a sucker for Rachael Ray.  Simple, easy, and cheap.  Feel free to let me know of any others I should check out :)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Rachael Ray Weekly Planner - March 2011

I did it! Seven new recipes done and complete, except for the left-overs in the fridge. This project was a blast. Not only did I get to learn new things and enjoy doing something I like to do, but I got to eat really scrumptious meals every night of the week. I like my regular cooking -- I do a good job at it. But it is nice to mix things up once in awhile! Some highlights:

  • The estimated price for the weekly grocery list was $80.90, which I stayed well within.
  • Since I already do a weekly menu and weekly grocery list, this was no different than my norm. But it was so nice to have someone else do that work! The best was not having to search my brain for seven meals that sounded good, would work with our time frame, and haven't been served in the previous week(s).
  • As each recipe is for four people, Paulo and I had lunch for the next day out of the leftovers. Easy-peasy!
NOTE -- "Cannellini Beans" are also White Kidney Beans. Save yourself and the Trader Joe's guy some time by writing that down on your grocery list!
*Also, for several of the recipes there are vegetarian variations listed.  But you are all smart, you can figure it out if you want to!

The food I started with:
(One week's worth of groceries for the our little family.)

The meals I wound up with:
(Click on a picture to be taken to the recipe.)

Chicken and Orzo Soup ~
Instead of a chicken soup, I made it with potatoes.  Delicious.  Paulo and I both loved it, even though he is a hater of soup. 

Beef-and-Mushroom Tacos with Avocado Salad ~
My favorite!!!  I left out the jalapenos because, well, they are too hot for me.  But the meal was fantastic.  Paulo has asked me to do it again this week.

Stewed White Beans with Spinach and Bacon ~
My other favorite.  Very hearty.  Beef Bacon is a great bacon choice for this, but Turkey Bacon would probably work well, too.

Baked Buffalo Chicken with Blue Cheese Salad ~
Delicious!  BBQ sauce was substituted in place for the Buffalo sauce, and it turned out great.  The salad is quite heavy as it has a sour cream and blue cheese dressing, and although the chicken made great leftovers, the salad did not.  So only make enough salad for that night and have the chicken separate if using it for lunch the next day.

Orzo Risotto with Spring Greens ~
Ok, but I make a better risotto on my own.  I eat minimal cheese (if any) so risotto has to be done in a certain way in order for it to be cheese free, and this one didn't allow for that.  Not going to repeat, but alright for one time.

Peppers 'n' Potatoes Beef Skillet Supper ~
Paulo loved it, I was OK with it.  Made without beef because I already had beef in the tacos and beef bacon in this and another recipe and I like to limit beef consumption.  Still tasted fine.  All the same ingredients as a Shepherd's Pie, yet completely different taste as the bell peppers add a bit of flavor.

Tilapia with Bell Peppers and Parsley-Spiked Couscous ~
Yum!  So simple, yet great flavor.  I was afraid that it would be bland, but not at all.  A repeater.
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