Feb 25, 2012

Week 7: Wait, you want dinner EVERY night?

Okay, one more week. I'm getting a little tired of my self imposed rules, but I am determined to follow them out. I tried out 3 new recipes this week!

For Sunday dinner I started with these two recipes as inspiration. Then I changed, added, and made them my own. These are super easy, and super yummy. We had fruit with them.

Stuffed Shells
20 jumbo shells
15 oz ricotta cheese
2 eggs
1 cup chopped fresh spinach
1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
2 cups mozzarella cheese
1 jar spaghetti sauce (again, I used Prego Traditional)

Cook noodles. In bowl, mix together ricotta, eggs, spinach, parmesan, and 1 cup mozzarella. Spoon into cooked shells. In 9x13 pan, put one cup sauce on bottom. Arrange shells in pan. Pour rest of sauce on top and sprinkle with remaining mozzarella. Cook at 375 for 30 minutes.

Since it was President's Day and yet I still had to go to work, I asked Pops if he would be willing to grill some chicken for dinner. He agreed and I planned to make a pasta salad to go with it. Well, when I got home, I found that Mom had already made a salad for me and planned to steam some asparagus. What a great surprise!

MARDI GRAS!! To celebrate, we had jambalaya. As you can see, this recipe isn't very exact, but as you probably know by now, I don't usually stick exactly to a recipe, so it was fine! I made this Monday night because Superdad had a meeting he needed to leave for at 6. Funny story, after it was made, Dad was helping me put it in a container to put in the fridge. He asked if he could try some, I said yes, then he asked if it was spicy. I said I thought so. He tried a little bit and said, "It's kind of spicy." About two minutes later, I hear him sniffing. I ask him what's up and he said, "Well, it doesn't get any less spicy!" Anyway. We had a green salad and an apple with it.

Daddy wanted to go to Subway sometime before the end of the month because it's any footlong for $5 this month. So, that's what we did tonight. We split a footlong sandwich. We brought it home and had some chips with them.

We had a wonderful, basic dinner on Thursday: Shepherd's Pie. So easy to make, which was great because I had to come home quick from work, put it together, then go out to do some errands right after. I made a spinach salad to go with it.

Shepherd's Pie
Combine 1 lb gr. beef, 1 can green beans, and 1 can cream of mushroom soup. (I know that a lot of people use tomato soup instead, and I have one friend who makes it with vegetable soup.) Put mashed potatoes on top. (We use the potato pearls from the LDS Cannery.) Top with cheddar cheese. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

So, ol' man went to have dinner with his siblings, which meant I didn't have to cook dinner! Instead I just had some leftover jambalaya from Tuesday.

Since today's dinner is something completely new for me, I thought I'd give a play by play of the day.
8:30 am. I put together the coconut chicken curry. As I was measuring out the spices, I kept looking back at the recipe to make sure that they really wanted me to put an entire tablespoon of both curry powder and garam masala. Yes they do. As I poured the sauce over the chicken, my eyes started watering. And it wasn't even cooked yet. I'm thinking this is going to be a lot spicier than I was anticipating.

10:30 am. Start putting together the naan bread (recipe at the bottom of previously linked page). I used the Kitchen-aid to make bread for the first time and it was pretty amazing! I discovered that the plain yogurt I thought I had in the fridge had been stolen by the Frigerator Fairies, so I had to go get some from Smith's. Let the mixer do it's thing, then I put the dough in the fridge until I was ready to get it out and let it raise.

Noon. Plugged in the crock pot to let it do it's thing while I spend the afternoon in Provo. (Can I just say how great all the appliances I have are? Kitchen-Aid mixers that knead for me, refrigerator to keep things cool, crock pot to do the cooking for me, a blender to make things smooth. Awesome.)

3:00 pm. Went to get brother and took him grocery shopping. Bought some Bazmati rice because I forgot to buy it earlier in the day.

4:00 pm. Took brother home to put his groceries away. Called Mom and asked her to take the naan dough out of fridge to raise. She already had! What a great mom.

5:15 pm. Got home from Provo with brother. Started the rice, got the naan ready to go in the oven. For the next 45 minutes I am getting everything ready for the meal. The curry smells great. (Another thought: isn't it amazing how many cultures have a flat bread/pancake as part of their cuisine? Fry bread, pitas, pancakes, anjera, naan, laffa, crepes. Seriously. So cool the things that connect the entire world.)

6:00 pm. We sit down to eat. The curry is not as hot as I expected, but it tastes so yummy! The chicken is really tender. The naan is great, as is the spinach salad I made. I think even Sir Dad-a-lot liked it--even though he says he doesn't like curry unless it's Ethiopian curry. Success!

And now, another different thing. A picture of this wonderful meal.

Feb 22, 2012

A Conversation Overheard in a Public Place

There are just some phone calls that you shouldn't have in a place where people can hear you. Some people don't seem to realize this.

A few days ago, I went into our little research library on the JSP floor at work to look something up in a book. I didn't want to go through the effort of checking the book out, so I had my trusty post-it notes and a pencil to take notes. I walk in and one of the semester interns from BYU is in there using the microfilm machine (yes, we still use microfilm). He obviously saw me walk in. As I look through the book, he starts having a conversation on the phone. It goes a little something like this (my thoughts are in italics):

Guy: Hey, are you on your way to work? . . . Cool. So, I got those test results back.

Uh . . . is he really going to be talking about medical test results? In public? (I have no idea how I knew they were medical tests. It must have been the way he said it)

G: Yeah, it seems she didn't have a stroke. She just drank herself--


G: . . . She hydrated herself sick.

Is hydrated a euphemism for drunk?

G: Yeah, that's a lot of water.


G: Well, she drank a glass every 10 minutes for [X] number of hours. That's like 24 cups! They just want to keep her to get her electrolytes up.

At this point in time he goes off talking about dinosaurs or something. I didn't really pay attention to much. And then, right as I was leaving, I heard this:

G: So, are you on your way to work?

Um, yeah. She told you that at the beginning of this conversation. Even I know she's on her way to work.

I'm glad that whoever this lady was didn't have a stroke, nor has a drinking problem. But I think I could have missed out on the conversation about it.

Feb 18, 2012

Week 6: Getting Appreciated

Well, I've only got two more weeks to go now! I realize that there are women that do this everyday--and that most of them are cooking for more than just two people. And truthfully, I hope I get to be one of those women someday. But it still doesn't take away from the fact that this has been a tough little Experiment I've created for myself! I don't think it would be so hard if I hadn't given myself those rules at the beginning of it. But it's also been fun trying out new recipes (which I would never do for just myself) and learning more about crock pot cooking.

Sunday was this month's family dinner, so I didn't have to make an entire meal. Instead, I tried a new recipe for a potato casserole and we took a green salad.

Swiss Potato Bake (from Bless Your Heart)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp lemon pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
3 lbs red potatoes, thinly sliced
2 cups shredded Swiss cheese (I was able to buy exactly 2 cups from the grocery store in the deli section)
4 tbsp butter, divided (I used margarine since we didn't have any butter)
2 cups chicken broth (1 can)

Preheat oven to 400 F. Spray 9x13 pan. In a small bowl mix all spices. Place 1/2 of potatoes in the baking dish, sprinkle with 1/2 the seasoning and 1 cup of cheese. Dot with half of butter. Repeat layers with remaining ingredients. Pour chicken broth over the top. Bake for about 1 hour or until golden (30 minutes into the baking time, the bake was starting to get golden but the potatoes weren't done yet, so I covered the pan and cooked for another 15 minutes).

We had one of my favorites on Monday! Fettuccine al Fredo. I love this recipe so much. It's really rich, but so creamy and flavorful. I used to ask for this every year for my birthday dinner. To round out the meal, I heated a can of corn and we had left over green salad. I did make a half recipe since it was just for the two of us, but what is below is the full recipe.

1/4 c margarine or butter
1/4 c flour
8 oz cream cheese (I usually use neufchatel because it's cheaper and less fattening. Slightly.)
salt and pepper
1 1/2 c milk
1/2 c parmesan cheese

Melt butter. Stir in flour, salt and pepper. Add milk and cream cheese. Stir over medium heat until thick. (Just keep stirring. It seems to take forever until, voila! It's super thick.) Pour over noodles, sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Toss and serve.

For our Valentine's Day meal I planned Engagement Chicken--mostly because I thought it was clever. :) There's some story that goes behind the name about how every girl that made it for a boy ended up getting engaged to that boy. It was in a magazine or something. Anyway, because of when I get home, Mom kindly offered to get it together and put it in the oven for me so we could eat at a reasonable hour. I am a little bummed because this was going to be my first time cooking a whole chicken. I made rice, half a bag of Caesar salad, and strawberries.

Engagement Chicken
1 whole chicken (about 4 lbs)
1/2 c fresh lemon juice, plus 3 whole lemons--including 1 slice for garnish
1 tbsp kosher or coarse sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
fresh herbs for garnish (ie rosemary, sage, thyme, or 1 bunch flat leaf parsley)

Position oven rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400. Remove giblets from chicken, wash inside and out with cold water. Let chicken drain, cavity down, in a colander for 2 minutes. Pat chicken dry with paper towls. Place the chicken breast-side down in a medium roasting pan fitted with a rack and pour the lemon juice all over the chicken, both inside and out. Season chicken all over with salt and pepper inside and out. Soften lemons by rolling, then prick 2 whole lemons three times each with a fork and place them deep inside the cavity. If one lemon is partly sticking out, that's fine. Put chicken in oven, lower temp to 350 and roast for 15 minutes.

Remove roasting pan from oven and turn chicken breast-side up. Return chicken to oven and roast for about 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes (I feel like it's always taken way longer than this) or until meat thermometer reads 165 and the juices run clear when the thigh is pricked. Let chicken rest for 10 minutes before carving. Here's the secret: Pour the juices from the roasting pan on top of the sliced chicken--this is the "marry me juice." (That was in the recipe. I'm not making this up.) Garnish with fresh herbs and lemon slices.

We had one of the daddy-man's favorite meals--Enchilada Casserole. Super easy, 5 ingredients, no rolling involved. For a complete meal we had orange slices.

Enchilada Casserole
10 corn tortillas (the smaller ones)
1 lb ground beef (we had some already cooked in the freezer)
1-20 oz can red enchilada sauce (I kind of used the big can of sauce instead of the medium, they turned out fine, just a little saucier than normal)
onion (usually I would dice the onion and cook it with the hamburger, but since the meat was already cooked, I just sprinkled on the layers)
cheese, cheddar or taco blend

Spray 9x13 pan and layer tortillas, meat, cheese, sauce, and repeat. Bake uncovered at 350 for 30 minutes. Top with sour cream, avocado, lettuce, and/or olives.

The new crock pot recipe of the week comes from Betty Crocker's Easy Everyday Vegetarian cookbook. It's a Winter Vegetable Stew. I don't think my dad liked it too much, and it isn't really my favorite either, though it's good. I think we gave it three out of five stars. I put it together the night before. We had the other half of the Caesar salad from earlier in the week.

Winter Vegetable Stew
1-28 oz can of italian-style tomatoes (haha, I did it again! I'm pretty sure I did not use this big of a can of tomatoes. I really should pay attention to these things better! I thought the regular sized can of tomatoes was plenty though.)
4 medium red potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (all veggies cut into 1/2-inch pieces)
4 stalks of celery
3 carrots (totally missed that there were carrots in the recipe--but I was talking on the phone while making it, so . . .)
2 medium parsnips (I had never seen a parsnip before.)
2 medium leeks (never used leeks before either!)
1-14 oz can vegetable broth
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
1/2 tsp dried rosemary leaves
3 tbsp cornstarch
3 tbsp cold water

Put everything except cornstarch and water in crock pot. Cook on low 8 to 10 hours. In small bowl, mix cornstarch and water; gradually stir into stew until blended. Increase heat setting to High, then cover and cook for 20 more minutes, stirring occasionally until thickened.

Last week, as I was cleaning up from dinner, the dad-i-nator says "Since you've been doing such a good job, how 'bout I take you out to eat sometime next week? We could go to the Greek Souvlaki." So that's what we did today! I was talking to my mom about how I had started thinking "Is this what I'm going to be doing for the rest of my life when I get married--trying to think of a different salad to go with dinner every night?" And she said, "That's why you get to be taken out to dinner sometimes." It was nice to know that Dad appreciates what I've been doing for him these past 6 weeks, and it was really nice to not have to cook dinner or clean up afterwards.

We had bought a rack of spare ribs when they were on sale last, so I just cut it in thirds, stuck them in the crock pot, put a bottle of barbecue sauce on them, and cooked them for 8 hours on low. With them I tried a new kind of potatoes. For the work, I didn't seem them as anything really fantastic. We also had a green salad.

Feb 14, 2012


Well, it's that day again. Valentine's Day. The day to celebrate love.

I've come a long way since the first time I ever blogged about the day five years ago. I have tried to celebrate all the love I have in my life. The love of God and His Son. The love of my family and friends. And now that I no longer have to be around love sick college students on this day, I feel that I can turn my attention more fully to the people in my life who love me for me.

But, in my silly, stupid, hopeless romantic heart, I still wish. I think, maybe, just today, something great could happen to me. Maybe, just for one day, I can be that girl walking around with the flowers, and the giant teddy bear. I can be the kind of girl that gets surprised at work, and gets serenaded to. In the sensible part of my brain, I know that those things would all be extremely awkward in real life, but that little secret desire is still there.

I think my parents understood me--their romantic little girl, on the most romantic of days, having to come to terms with a life unromantic. Starting in high school, my dad always bought me something on Valentine's Day. My junior year I got a carton of ice cream. My senior year, a set of fairytales. A couple of years ago I got balloons in my favorite color. Last year I got roses. This year I got a card and candy. I love my parents, and I love that they seem to understand me so completely.

But the fact of the matter is, other than these gifts from my parents, the only thing I've ever gotten on Valentine's Day was an e-card and a sucker. I mean, really? Even the most unromantic person could surely come up with something better than that (especially considering that roses were being sold at school the entire week leading up to the day. Kind of a brainless choice right there.).

I don't mean to complain. I have so many people in my life who love me. I have a wonderful family, and a great group of friends. Valentine's Day is only once a year. I get to be loved every day of the year. Just because I'm single doesn't mean I don't have people who care about me. I will always be a romantic--it's part of my personality, and I love it! I love getting all teary eyed and feeling giddy during movies, or books. I love hearing stories about people who have been married for 70 years and how they still love each other. I may not have the life I imagined at 12, or 16, or even 20, but it's been a pretty good life so far. And I hope that when I do get romance in my life, it will be forever, and not just for a day.

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! Remember the people who love you and show your love for them in return.

Feb 10, 2012

Week 5: Downward Slope

After you make it halfway through, shouldn't it be easier? This week wasn't all sunshine and rainbows, but it wasn't storm clouds and puddles either. Just kind of one of those blah weeks. By Thursday the week started looking up though and I think I'll be just fine next week (once we get past that nasty V Day :) ).

Since it was the Super Bowl, we just snacked on Super Bowl food. This included wrapped lil smokies (smokies wrapped in crescent rolls), a fruit plate, a veggie tray, barbecue wings (Tyson's in the freezer section), and potato chips and onion dip. And we watched the BBC Pride and Prejudice while we ate. (Darcy won! I was rooting for him the entire time--it got sticky in the middle when Wickham intercepted, but Darcy performed a second half comeback and successfully threw Wickham off his game before coming in for the winning TOUCHDOWN!)

We had one of my favorite soups for Monday's dinner; Chicken Noodle! This recipe is adapted from the old (around 1980) Lion House cookbook. We had "good" bread with it, La Brea Country Sourdough (you can get La Brea breads in the bakery section of most grocery stores here in the Salt Lake Valley).

Chicken Noodle Soup
(I just cut up whatever looked right)
2 cans chicken broth (about 4 cups)
Cut up veggies and put in pot with broth. Cook until veggies are tender. Then add:
2 cans cream of chicken soup (this is really what makes the soup. I have a hard time eating clear chicken noodle soup now.)
1 large can chicken (you can also use fresh chicken, obviously, but this is a lot easier)
1/2 bag of Country Pasta noodles (you can use whatever kind of noodles you want, but these taste homemade)
salt, pepper to taste

Heat through and enjoy!

We had hamburgers (grilled by the Dad-man), steak fries, apples, and oranges. I added some avocado to my burger. We actually switched what I had planned since the parentals were going to the temple.

This is the meal I had planned for Tuesday, and switched, but I should have switched it to Thursday since Mom and Dad were going to the tax specialist and this takes a while to cook. We had top-stuffed pork chops and a spinach salad with blueberries, mandarins, and almonds. I was going to put poppyseed dressing on (because that would have totally rocked the salad), but we didn't have any, so instead I used raspberry vinaigrette.

Top-Stuffed Pork chops
4 pork chops (I used two since there is just the two of us)
3 cups bread crumbs (I used the rest of the stuffing from week 1's crock pot meal--I'm pretty sure it wasn't 3 cups, but then I was only using 2 pork chops, so it worked out)
2 T chopped onions (we had a little bit on an onion left in the fridge, so I used that)
1/4 cup melted butter (1/2 a stick)
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp sage (I didn't use this since the stuffing mix was seasoned)

Brown chops (I didn't do this; it takes extra time and is only for the flavor). Cook the chopped onions in butter (I didn't do this either [it's almost like I didn't even make the same recipe], instead I just stuck the onions and butter right in the stuffing mix). Combine ingredients. Place pork chops in pan and put stuffing mix on top. Pour 1 can cream of mushroom soup mix with 1/3 cup water over the stuffing. Bake, uncovered, 1 hour at 350.

This week's new recipe was mostly just a new food, though I did make a sauce to go with it. We had potato and cheddar pierogies with a sour cream and chives sauce. Not too bad, but when I asked my dad if he would want them again, he said something to the effect of "uuhhh, they aren't my favorite" which we all know means "no." :) I don't think I'd mind so much though. Consequently, Thursday was the day I felt the best all week. Part of that might have something to do with the catching up I did with a good friend on the way home.

For our crock pot meal this week we had Herbed Mushroom Round Steak. Oh yum. It smelled so good when I walked in the house. I did cook for a bit more than the recipe says and Mom says she put a little water in when she got home from work. So keep that in mind. I put it together Thursday night, and we just had peas to go with it.

Herbed Mushroom Round Steak
2 lb round steak (3/4" thick) (I used a sirloin steak because it was in the freezer. It worked really well though)
1 T oil (I didn't use this and you'll see why later)
2 med onions, sliced (In case you haven't noticed, I LOVE onions. I use them a lot.)
2 cups fresh mushrooms, sliced, or 2-4 ozcans
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1/2 tsp dried crushed oregano
1/4 tsp dried crushed thyme
1/4 tsp pepper
3 cups hot cooked noodles (I used egg noodles)

Trim fat from meat, cut into serving sizes, brown in oil (I skipped the browning. Again, it's only there for the taste and it takes time). In crock pot place onion slices and mushrooms. Place beef on top. Combine in bowl soup and herbs then pour over meat. Cook on low 8-10 hours or high 4-5. Serve over noodles.

Tomorrow we will be having tortellini (left over from last week's soup) with left over Prego and probably a salad of some sort. (UPDATE: I made a spinach salad with apples, blueberries, and chopped walnuts with pomegranate blueberry vinaigrette).

Feb 4, 2012

Week 4: Halfway!

Well, here I am, halfway through the Experiment! Four more weeks to go and they are going to be good ones (I really don't know if they are or not, since I have no idea what I'm going to make next week let alone four weeks down the road . . . ). I've actually really enjoyed making dinner, some nights more than others. It's a time to unwind, listen to my music, sing out loud, and dance, all while feeding "my man" (ie, Dad). I think the key to enjoying this is just deciding that it's going to be enjoyable. Probably my least favorite thing is coming up with the weekly menus.

Sunday dinner probably used the most pots, pans, and dishes than any other meal I have made so far! We had a pot roast made in the crock pot with a packet of dry onion soup on top. Mashed potatoes and gravy (Dad's the gravy champ), steamed carrots, and a spinach salad. This spinach salad is one of my favorites: toasted slivered almonds (I forgot I was toasting the first batch and had to start over again. oops!), craisins (dried cranberries), red onion, and light raspberry vinaigrette. Yum!

I found Monday's recipe this last summer as I was trying to think of ways to use up zucchini from our garden. This tortellini and zucchini soup is pretty hearty--lots of veggies, and the yummy tortellini. It's even better if you sprinkle some shredded parmesan cheese on top. When I came home today I had the start of one of my stress headaches, but I put on some music, and in the process of chopping up veggies, the headache started going away (rare for this to happen). This is something that I've liked about cooking meals: most of the time it's a more productive way to wind down after the work day; just me in the kitchen making a meal. Anyway, to complete the meal we had strawberries and blueberries (I love it when berries are on sale during the winter!).

Tin Foil Dinners was the menu for Tuesday (when I was a kid we called them "hobo dinners," but maybe that's not considered PC?)! Anyway, really easy, fast clean-up. Put a hamburger patty, sliced carrots and potatoes, with some onion on tin foil (make them individual sized). Wrap the tin foil up. Stick it in the oven at 350 for about an hour (this is the only hard part about this--waiting an hour for them to cook). Pull out of the oven, dump on a plate or leave in the tin foil, and smother with ketchup (I love ketchup--just not this much)! Yum! To make a full meal we had orange slices with it.

We had breakfast for dinner on Wednesday. The great thing about this is that in a couple of weeks, we could have breakfast for dinner again and it won't be a repeat because there are so many different things you can make! For this breakfast we had bacon, hashbrowns (the shredded kind, they're my favorite), scrambled eggs (part egg substitute to watch out for that high cholesterol!), and a fresh pineapple.

Since this was Groundhog's Day we bought a pizza, and as per tradition, we got sausage on it. What does sausage have to do with Groundhog's Day? Well, what's another name for a pig? Hog. What is sausage? Ground up pig. Therefore: ground hog. And now you know how twisted my family's sense of humor is. This actually worked out perfect for me because I had a department meeting at work on Thursday that went late, so I got home, we put the pizza in the oven (Papa Murphey's Cowboy pizza), and I put together a quick salad.

We did something on Friday that we call at my house "Good Sport's": if there is something edible in the refrigerator, it's fair game. Basically, it's leftover night. Now this is not breaking the rules because . . . well because I say so and I made the rules, so I can do that. But I can't do another "Good Sport's" for the rest of the Experiment. This actually worked out pretty well because I spent most of my time at work today standing in on spot, resulting in an aching back and sore legs (it kind of took my back to my days at the CONE . . .) and the idea of having to stand to chop, mix, and cook something would probably have had me dissolve into tears. The clean up is pretty easy too. I guess this week of cooking has been pretty easy.

I tried my hand at Greek food today--not one but TWO new recipes! The first was chicken for Greek pitas made in the crock pot. They probably didn't need to cook for as long as the recipe said, and I added a bit of fresh lemon juice at the end. I also brushed the pitas with a light coating of olive oil and heated them in a pan before we ate them. The second new recipe was Lemon Rice Pilaf. I had to cook this for about 15 minutes longer than the recipe says and the last 5 minutes I did it without the lid on. I think I would have about 1 cup less liquid in it. We finished off the meal with artichokes.