Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Neighborhood Progressive Dinner

We had our neighborhood progressive dinner this week, where appetizers, salads, main course and desserts are all at different houses. Sixteen adults and 3 children on our block participated. My house was the "salad house."
Here is my "bad kitty" helping me set the table.
Appetizers, lots of them! These dinners are nights when everyone eats too much. The hot artichoke dip was hard to stop eating!

I did three salads: Caesar, chicken salad and a chopped salad. I put out cards listing the ingredients so people wouldn't be surprised by anything they might not like. For example, I put dried apricots in the chicken salad, and that can scare some people. The main dish event I featured on Boise Daily Photo - it was ham and stuffed baked potatoes.

This is a quickly-disappearing dessert tray of cream puffs and "Spinuzzis" - which are similar to a dessert cannelloni. They were fabulous.

That's a cheesecake birthday cake, one of our neighbors was celebrating a birthday on dinner night. There was also pecan pie, pumpkin pie, sugar cookies and that bottle had an interesting concoction in it called bushwhacker. It was a mix of all kinds of liquors, and notice there were really small cups by the bottle, that was a good thing. The giant carafe was filled with spice cranberry juice, and there was also hot chocolate, along with creme de menthe for those who wanted a little extra in the chocolate.

I highly recommend this type of event in your neighborhood. Involve 6-8 houses to keep the number controllable. We've also done this in the summer with a "front yard barbecue" version.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Olive Garden Review

We had gift cards for free dining at Olive Garden. It's a place we haven't been to in years, because when I think of Olive Garden, I think of pasta. And pasta at home is so delicious, we haven't ordered it at restaurants. We started our meal with soup. I had the creamy chicken gnocchi soup with spinach. It was O-K. Tasted kind of like a canned soup.

I ordered the Venetian apricot chicken. The chicken was grilled and covered with an apricot citrus sauce. It was good. A light sauce that was tangy, but not too much. I asked for fresh grated Romano on my dish, I like Romano or parm on just about everything. We had a nice wine, probably a table wine, a red zinfandel from Rancho Zabaco.

My husband ordered the grilled chicken and gnocchi. I took a taste, it was a good dish.
And this is what my daughter chose for dessert, after ordering her usual "mac-n-cheese" for dinner. This is lemon cream cake. It tasted just like cheese cake. It was good, although we didn't get much more than a little taste because my daughter REALLY liked it. She wants to go back and just order this. We had a nice meal and will return. I wasn't crazy about where we were seated, which was bordering aisles on two sides, but the meal was relaxing when it had been a hectic day.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Gravy All Done

Here is the finished product after making the base for our turkey gravy in advance. I scraped the fat off the top, which was easy because the base was cold. Then I put it in a pan over medium heat. Mixed about a quarter cup of flour in some water, and then whisked it in when the base got bubbly. I did add salt and pepper right before serving.
I did a bone-in turkey breast this Thanksgiving and I like the way it turned out. I always "turn" my turkey - rotating it every 25 minutes while it's cooking to make sure it's brown all over. I did rub this turkey with butter before cooking - that was the only seasoning.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Now that I look at this picture, it kind of looks like pumpkin pie filling. It's really "gravy-to-be." I roasted two turkey wings, chopped onions, celery and garlic for about an hour. Then, simmered it all in some white wine and chicken broth, adding a little chopped thyme (still had some in the yard that was usable). I let the liquids reduce by about one-third. Then I removed the wings, and chopped up the meat for my spoiled rotten kitties. I then strained everything, mushing it to get all the juice. I threw away the vegetables and this is what is left. This will stay in the refrigerator until Thursday. I'll show you then how to finish up the gravy. It will be quick!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Butternut Squash Soup Experiment

Some butternut squash arrived in my "organic box" delivery last week, and my friend told me about a fabulous butternut squash soup she had recently. So, I gave it a try. I didn't have the exact recipe, so I did some research and experimented.

First, I roasted the squash. I cut it in half, poked some holes on both sides, brushed with a little oil, sprinkled with salt, pepper and a little sugar. I cooked the squash at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes, until it was soft. I only used the neck so I didn't have to deal with seeds.

I sauteed some chopped up carrots, celery and onion until it was all soft and caramelized. I scooped out the squash into my food processor, added the carrot mixture, and some chicken broth, salt, pepper, a little cayenne pepper, a little half and half, a piece of crisp bacon and a teaspoon of bacon grease. I swirled it around and then put it in a sauce pan to gently bubble until warm. Verdict? It was good! A little too much celery, I think, but really good.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Wine that Goes Perfect with...Popcorn?

My husband spotted this at the store, but he wasn't really tempted to buy it. Interesting marketing. I believe Indian Creek is a local winery. I also believe I have never thought to drink wine with popcorn. Has anyone tasted this chardonnay?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Roasted "Punkin" Seeds

The big treat in carving pumpkins, or cutting up pumpkins to bake and make into the pies: the roasted seeds. You can eat these seeds whole, or crack them like sunflower seeds and eat the meat. When you get the seeds nice and crispy in the oven, the shells taste just as good as the meat.
Make your pumpkin carvers save the seeds.

This is the slimy part, getting the seeds off the strings and goo. Dig in and squeeze and the seeds pop off.

It's O-K to leave a little pumpkin on the seeds, it adds flavor.

Next, boil the seeds in water and sea salt. I used about a quarter cup of salt for this batch. I boiled them for about 15 minutes. Then - you drain them.

Here they are almost ready to roast. At this point, I toss the seeds in about 2 tablespoons of butter. You can use any oil, and you need an oil to get them extra crispy. Heat the oven to 250 degrees.

Spread the oil-tossed seeds on a baking sheet. Stir them around after about 10 minutes. Roast them to the brownness you want. We like ours extra toasty!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Review of Bonefish

We recently gave Bonefish a try. It's in downtown Boise near the Cultural District. I didn't know until afterwards that it's a chain. Let's order a salad....

I was the only one who ordered a salad, this is a Caesar and it was served on a well-chilled plate. That's something I haven't seen in years. It was very good. The night we ate there, there were only a couple people in the restaurant. They do have a children's menu, and the tables are covered with paper - so kids are invited to draw all over them, and my daughter did just that.

This is the shrimp diablo dish that I ordered. It was....o-k. The sauce was thick and tasted to me like something out of a jar. There was a slight kick on my tongue, but the overall flavor was bland and the noodles were overcooked.

My husband ordered grilled salmon with seasonal vegetables and chimichurri sauce. See all the oil on the plate? He said the salmon was fine. His biggest complaint was "too much sauce." I think he was referring to the oil. I did not take a picture of my daughter's penne pasta and cheese dish. She ate one small bite and said it was awful. The sauce looked like melted Velveeta. The server's style in addressing us was patronizing. She seemed to talk down to us, maybe because we were a family and we didn't look sophisticated enough to her. So...two thumbs down for Bonefish. If this is your favorite restaurant, please chime in and tell me about your experiences. I always feel bad when I give a restaurant a negative review, but I am being honest. It was also pricey, which is always disappointing when the food isn't good enough to make me want to lick the plate!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Biscuits and Gravy

Homemade biscuits and gravy. I use the bulk breakfast sausage, milk, flour, water, some gravy seasoning I have on hand, and about a half of a cup of maple syrup stirred in at the end.
These biscuits are perfect for the gravy, or add a little more sugar and treat them like scones with tea. They are messy to make. They're buttermilk biscuits. I use a recipe I got from Cook's Illustrated a couple of years ago. The basic ingredients are:
2 cups flour - and more when shaping the biscuits
1 tablespoon of baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 tsp of salt
4 tablespoons of butter
1 and 1/2 cups of low-fat buttermilk - cold (the powdered buttermilk or the regular milk and vinegar substitution does not work in this recipe)
Use cooking spray to coat the inside of a regular cake pan. Heat the oven to 500 degrees. Put the dry ingredients in a food processor and pulse a couple of times to mix. Then cut the butter into chunks and process with the dry ingredients a few times until it's crumbly. Pour the processed stuff into a big bowl. Mix in the buttermilk. Use cooking spray to liberally coat a 1/4 cup measuring scoop. Spread about a cup of flour on a cookie sheet (I use one with a lip around the edge to lessen the mess). Quickly scoop the 1/4 cup portions of the sticking, wet dough onto the flour. Just keep scooping until you've used it all. Then roll the blobs in the flour quickly, and snug them together in the cake pan. You can brush the tops with melted butter, if you want. Cook at 500 degrees for 5 minutes. Lower temp to 450 and cook for another 15-20 minutes, until the tops are slightly golden. Remove from oven and dump the biscuits onto a kitchen towel. Eat right away with butter, or jam, or drench them in gravy. They don't keep - you must eat them all!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Treat From My Friend

Wow, I'm sooo lucky. My friend brought this treat to me (she lives in the house behind ours). The cookies were warm, the coffee was a blessing (and it said so on the cup!), and the fall adornments darling. And my daughter was very happy to see acorns when she got home.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

"New" Terra Chips - Sweet Potatoes and Carrots

A new kind of Terra Chip - which are vegetable chips made from other than regular potatoes. These are sweet potatoes and carrots. My family loves carrots so I thought these would be a hit, and they're healthy. My husband actually spit out his taste, and my daughter did the same. So much for that idea!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Sauteed Cabbage

This was super yummy and simple. Sauteed cabbage. The cabbage was fresh from my garden. I sliced it thinly, got a little dab of butter bubbling in the pan and then plopped the cabbage in. I added a little salt and fresh ground pepper. I cooked it until I saw a couple of brown edges - probably 5 minutes. Do not be afraid of "cabbage odors" with this dish. That distinct cabbage smell is released only when cabbage is overcooked.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Proto's - Restaurant Review

We went to dinner at Proto's in downtown Boise this week. The restaurant is in the BoDo district. I was attracted to the sidewalk dining, and the food smelled really good. They advertise that they serve "Neapolitan-style" pizza. I'm not expert enough to know about that, but what they serve is pizza on a cracker-crisp thin crust. A large pepperoni is pictured. It didn't get kudos from my family because the cracker crust was salty, and the pizza toppings were skimpy - although I'm sure they had to be to match the crust. Not much flavor. My daughter actually spit out what she was chewing on one point because her 6-year old taste buds found so objectionable. We started dinner with salads.
This is the Caesar salad. It is normally served with white anchovies, I declined mine. The salad is listed on the menu as featuring "handmade croutons" - which turned out to be this piece of pizza crust that was so hard, I couldn't even bite into it. The fresh grated cheese on the salad was good. The dressing was bland.

My husband had the tomato and fresh mozzarella salad. The menu said it was sprinkled with kosher salt, and obviously, it wasn't, but my husband said it was good. He liked the balsamic vinegar.
We didn't opt for dessert. While the food was not a hit with us, we really liked the outdoor seating and it was the perfect night in Boise to sit outside.
If this is your favorite restaurant, please let me know. I feel bad not giving it glowing reviews, but it just didn't work for my family.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Lemon Pepper Panko Chicken

On the dinner plate: lemon pepper panko chicken, jasmine rice and fresh garden zucchini with Parmesan cheese. We also had fresh garden sweet corn.
Lemon Pepper Panko Chicken
I use the lemon pepper chicken breasts from Schwan's for this recipe. Put a little oil in a frying pan on medium heat - don't use non-stick, because the bread crumbs toast up better on a regular skillet. When oil is hot, add the chicken breasts flat-side down. Cook them for 5-7 minutes, until there is a nice brown carmelization on that side. Flip them over and turn heat down a little. Sprinkle panko bread crumbs generously on the top and press them into the chicken. It's O-K to sprinkle them all over the pan, don't worry about being messy. Cook chicken another 5 minutes or so, then flip again, so the crumbs are pan-side down. Sprinkle the chicken with panko again and press down. You'll do one more flip to brown up the crumbs. Go ahead and scoop toasted crumbs from the pan and press them into the chicken. No set time here, just get the crumbs toasty and make sure the chicken is done.
Jasmine Rice
I like to saute my jasmine rice before cooking it. And I rinse the rice. Put a tablespoon of butter in the pan you're going to use for rice (a pan with a lid). Melt the butter until it's bubbly, then dump in rinsed rice - I used 2 cups) and stir to coat with the butter and cook until you see a couple of browned piece of rice. Add 3 1/2 cups of water and bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmer and cover until done.
Zucchini and Parmesan cheese
I peel and slice the fresh baby zucchini to about 1/4 inch think. Place in pan without stacking them. Turn heat to medium and then turn the pieces over when they start to brown. Turn off the heat and sprinkle with grated parm. Let the cheese melt and then serve. Notice that you don't need to put butter or oil in the pan, there's a lot of moisture in zucchini so oil is not needed.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Oatmeal is Perfect for a Turn in the Weather

We've had a couple of gray, cool days - and oatmeal is perfect. I don't usually use the "quick oats" - cooking cut oats really doesn't take much longer and then have more of a bite. The quick ones are usually mushy. The ratio is two parts water to one part oats. Bring water to a boil, stir in the oats and simmer until most of the liquid is gone. I like just a touch of sugar and milk for mine.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

BLT Salad Sandwich

I picked a nice batch of sweet cherry tomatoes for this recipe. It's a BLT salad sandwich. Simple to do. Mix mayonnaise and some red wine vinegar, enough to really cover the salad. Toss chopped romaine, tomatoes, and chopped bacon. Serve on a fresh baguette. Oh, and how to cook bacon. A military cook a long time ago told me, "never fry bacon." And I never have since that day. I bake the bacon in a deep dish, 350 degrees. You don't need to turn it, it doesn't splatter all over, either. Cook until done like you like it, and we like it crispy.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Roadside Ribs and Chicken

We attended a "parents' night" at my daughter's school last night and there was really no time for dinner. So, on the way home, I pulled up to a roadside ribs and chicken trailer and brought some home.
The ribs were good, very tender, but not very flavorful. The chicken was more flavorful, but I was too full to take more than just a taste after eating all these ribs. You can get a rack of ribs and half a chicken for about $20.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Fresh Mozzarella and Garden Tomatoes

This is so simple, and so good. Slices of fresh mozzarella and garden tomatoes sprinkled with coarse sea salt. Sometimes, I tuck fresh basil leaves in. Sometimes, I drizzle with olive oil. You can't go wrong with this combination. Prepare the dish, and then let it sit for 10-15 minutes so the flavors can mix.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Goodwood Barbecue - and I Order a Salad?

My lunch the other day at one of our regular restaurants - Goodwood, which is a barbecue place. This is a chicken Caesar salad with their BBQ chicken, which has a sweet sauce on it. It's a nice contrast to the tart Caesar dressing. The food is consistent and good, the place is kid-friendly, it's nearby, and the service is O-K - not as consistent as the food quality, though. Yes, they do ribs, but I don't order them very often because I don't usually feel like getting that messy. And there's really no way to eat them except get messy when doing it.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Late Summer Backyard Party

A picture from my neighbor's late summer backyard party over the weekend. The flowers are a mixture from both of our yards. I do believe they had more than candy corn for dinner.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Peach Pie from our Friend Ben

Our friend Ben has been experimenting with peach pies because he has a bountiful harvest of peaches this year. His challenge: make a pie that's not so "runny." This one is a hit. It's kind of a combination of a pie and a cobbler, with pecans, too.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Smashed Baked Potatoes

Smashed baked potatoes, or baked smashed potatoes, and I've seen them called crash potatoes. It's National Potato Month - and Idaho is famous for its potatoes, so I'm sharing a potato recipe.
Medium-sized red potatoes - one per person, or two!
Rosemary herb seasoning - I used Pampered Chef
coarse sea salt
olive oil
Boil the whole potatoes until soft. Drain. Heat oven to 450 degrees, rack should be middle position. Brush a baking sheet with olive oil. Put the potatoes on the baking sheet and then take a potato masher and gently squish them into the pan - do a criss-cross squash. Brush them with olive oil, then sprinkle with coarse sea salt and rosemary herb blend. Bake until tops turn a bit brown. I like to put a little dab of butter on them before serving. My neighbor did this with cheese on top - why not add bacon and make a kind of potato skin?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Cherry Tomato Salsa Today

This is how I'm eating my cherry tomato salsa today. I made a big vat of the salsa over the weekend and I'm handing out to my friends and neighbors later today. Here's my recipe.
Warning: I don't measure for this recipe.
as many cherry tomatoes as you can get, garden-fresh is key for this recipe
medium-sized sweet onion, peeled and quartered
4 cloves of minced garlic
sliced deli-style jalapenos - I used a half cup, but we like it hot
Put the onion, garlic, jalapenos, and a couple of handfuls of tomatoes in a food processor. Pulse until you have small chunks in a slurry of yumminess.
Scrape it into a large bowl. Then chop, by hand, cherry tomatoes. It's labor intensive, but a labor of love! Mix it all together and salt to taste. Add cilantro just before serving. Unless you hate cilantro, then, throw the cilantro away! Serve with salty tortilla chips - we like Santitas.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Homemade Pan Pizza

The great thing about homemade pizza is you can easily satisfy your picky eaters. My daughter had two friends over who are the typical "cheese pizza only kids." My daughter, on the other hand, loves pepperoni. And I like fresh basil baked on top of my pizza. We were all happy!
The crust is a yeast crust, it rises for about 40 minutes.

Pan Pizza Crust
2 1/2 cups of flour
2 1/4 tsp yeast
1 cup of warm water
1 tablespoon of salt
1 tablespoon of olive oil - and more olive oil to generously brush the pan
Cooking oil spray

I dissolve the yeast in the warm water in the bowl of my KitchenAid artisan stand mixer. Then, I add the salt and olive oil, and put the mixer with the dough hook on speed 2 for a few seconds, then speed 3. You may need to add a bit more flour, you'll be able to tell because the dough will make a little "tornado" with the bottom end just sticking to the mixer bowl - it's ready. Spray another bowl - big enough for the dough to rise - with the cooking oil spray. Scoop the dough into the bowl and cover with a cloth. Let it rise for about 40 minutes. Brush your chosen pizza pan with olive oil and be generous. If you want, you can sprinkle cornstarch on top of the oil, but that just means more mess when eating the pizza. Punch the dough down, and then stretch it and plop it into the pan. Stretch it to the corners of the pan. If it breaks, just patch it up, it's very forgiving. If it is too elastic and doesn't want to stay put - let it rest for five minutes and stretch again, that usually works. Spread with pizza sauce (I like the kind that comes in the squeeze bottle) and then top with whatever makes your socks go up and down. I cook this pizza on the middle rack of my oven at 425 degrees. It's done when you see the edges turn golden brown, or when the cheese gets bubbly and brown. Enjoy!