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Category Archives: Peppers

Salsa Chicken is a Simple Choice

It is frustrating at times to be a passive-aggressive indecisive person living with an equally passive-aggressive indecisive person.  Figuring out what to have for dinner often goes something like this:

Bill:  I’m starving.

Me:  Yep.  It’s getting to be about dinner time.

Bill:  It is.  Oh my God.  I’m starving.

Me:  Did we thaw any meat?

Bill:  What kind of meat do we have?

Me:  I’m guessing that’s a “no,” so we’re going to have to go out to eat or pick something up.

Bill:  OK.

Me:  What are you hungry for?

Bill:  (Playing Scrabble on smart phone) I don’t know.  What do you feel like?

Me:  I’m not the one who’s starving.

(Bill becomes re-absorbed in Scrabble and I go off to feed the dogs, who have blissfully eaten the exact same thing for dinner every night of their lives).

Bill:  (20 minutes later) So, what are we going to do for dinner?  I’m starving.

For a while, we thought we had this dilemma solved by inventing the ABC Restaurant Run game.  Starting with the letter A, each time we went out to eat, we would choose a restaurant beginning with the next letter of the alphabet.  Once we hit Z, I made up little pieces of paper with names of restaurants on them, and we would randomly draw one when we couldn’t make a decision.  I think I need to find those papers again…

Why is it so difficult for us to figure out where to get a simple meal?  Because we are JINXED, that’s why.  You see, far too often, when we have a hankering for a certain restaurant and actually make a hard and fast decision, we get thwarted.  To prove this point, within the past couple of weeks, here are some scenarios that we have encountered upon driving to our destination:

Chosen eatery:  Colombo Italia.  We decided to check out this restaurant in downtown Mt. Clemens that we had never tried.  It was pitch black inside–creepy even, with no sign of being inhabited anymore…except maybe by Freddy Krueger.  Which is entirely plausible, knowing what the basements of those old buildings are like.

Chosen eatery:  Firehouse Lounge (on Harper).  We got close and noticed that there were no cars in the parking lot, and there were no lights on.  There was a note on the door, but we didn’t even turn into the parking lot to read it.

Chosen eatery:  Quiznos.  Closed at that location. Forever.

Chosen eatery:  Zack’s Hot Dogs. I was craving a Rachel Dog.  Sadly, they no longer have dinner hours at that location.  Only lunch.

Chosen eatery:  Maya’s Deli.  This little place in downtown Mt. Clemens has some spectacular sandwiches!  Only, apparently, they are not open on the weekends.  So we decided just to get some tacos from Taco Bell.  Simple enough, right? I shit you not, our local Taco Bell, which we pass several times a week, has suddenly been reduced to a pile of rubble.  A pile of rubble! Because it knew we were coming.

This is why I am thankful for easy recipes, such as Salsa Chicken, that can be thrown together in a matter of minutes–even using oven ready tenders if we haven’t thawed anything–thus avoiding the drama of choosing a restaurant that will ultimately be unavailable.   For example, last week, after returning home from a party where we had just nibbled on appetizers, Bill uttered his famous words, “I’m starving.”  I yanked a package of breaded chicken tenders from the freezer, poured some salsa on them, topped them with cheese, and threw the whole thing in the oven.  When it came out, we garnished it with jalapenos and sour cream–and it was the perfect stomach filling, liquor absorbing, post-cocktail dinner.

Salsa Chicken has many variations.  For the meat, you can use boneless chicken breasts, tenders, breaded tenders or just about any other poultry parts that you know how to cook in an oven.  The salsa can be from a jar, the deli department, or homemade–hot, medium or mild.   Cheese?  You know me with cheese…the more, the better!

Here is a link to the base recipe for SALSA CHICKEN that we’ve use for several years now:  http://allrecipes.com/recipe/salsa-chicken/detail.aspx

More about the salsa: In the summertime Bill and I make two different kinds, using a base recipe, but throwing in whatever kinds of tomatoes and peppers happen to be ripe in the garden.  The first salsa is good with chips and with the chicken, but because of the beans and corn it can also be eaten as a stand-alone side dish.  The second salsa is a nice fresh pico de gallo.  We adjust the heat by how many jalapeno seeds and membranes that we leave in.   I would give credit to the creator, but I’ve had that one in my recipe book for a while, and did not print the source.

Cilantro, Black Bean and Corn Salsa

CILANTRO, BLACK BEAN AND CORN SALSA

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/heathers-cilantro-black-bean-and-corn-salsa/detail.aspx

Fresh and Chunky Salsa

FRESH AND CHUNKY SALSA

Ingredients

  • 3 large ripe tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp onion, finely chopped
  • 2 small cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 hot chile peppers, Serrano or Jalapeno, finely chopped
  • 2-3 tbsp cilantro, minced
  • 1 1/2 -2 tbsp lime juice
  • salt and pepper

Preparation

1.   Boil enough water to cover tomatoes.  Dunk them in for a minute, take them out and plunge in cold water. Peel, seed and chop.

2.  Put chopped onion and garlic in a strainer; pour 2 cups of boiling water over them, then let drain thoroughly.  Discard water. Cool.

3.  Combine onion and garlic with chopped tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper.

4.  Refrigerate for 2-4 hours to blend flavors.  Makes about 2 cups of salsa.

Click FRESH AND CHUNKY SALSA for a printable PDF of this recipe.

Broccoli and Cheese: A Favorite Combo

As a prelude to today’s recipes, I thought I’d haul out a little bit of fiction that’s been hiding on a CD of my old writing from 2004:

A Detective’s Tale

“Lemme tell you a little story about a dame named Madame Gruyere.  Brianne Gruyere to be exact.  She’s known as Brie to her friends, although I doubt she’d consider me a friend.  She was the main suspect in a case I was working on a couple of months ago.  I was investigating a burglary at the Sargento Cafe.  Made me real upset, cuz it’s my favorite pizza joint.  Anyway, the owners, they claimed a masked lady with a French accent was the perpetrator, so I hauled in one of their regular customers, this Madame Gruyere, for questioning.

I get her into the interrogation room, and give her the once-over. She’s the kind of broad who probably used to be a knockout: long legs, creamy skin, but she’s not aging all that great. She has stringy over-processed yellow hair, and her orange polyester dress is straight out of the 70’s —really cheesy.  I suppose not everyone’s born with good taste.  But there’s something about her–her eyes, I guess–that kinda makes me melt. 

I got a job to do, though, so I try to get her to talk.  Turns out she’s a smart-aleck with a sharp wit, and a grating laugh that makes my blood curdle. She mocks me for being American, and says she doesn’t understand our culture. Her sarcasm is so thick you can slice it with a knife. Finally, she opens up a bit and tells me she’s been feeling blue lately, ever since her boyfriend, Jack, moved across the country to Monterey.  She’s been flying between Philadelphia and there whenever she can afford it, and has also been hanging out at the cottage of a friend in Pinconning, Michigan.  She then proceeds to lay out a pathetic alibi for the night in question, and right away I can tell her story is full of holes.  I mean, it really stinks.

So after I’ve milked everything I can out of her, I do some digging into her affairs.  She’s got a clean record, although she seems to be pretty cozy with the Romano crime family.  And she used to have a rep as quite a whiz-kid.  That genius IQ means this lady should have some smarts —at least enough to make up a stronger alibi.  I manage to convince a judge to give me a warrant to search her house, but that turns out to be a bust.  Nothing suspicious there, except some statements from a Swiss bank account, which I skim though.  Nothing.  She’s already shredded any evidence of the crime, I’m sure of it.

So now it’s part of my cold case files.  And unless I can think of another way to approach this crime, it’ll remain unsolved. Who would want to steal a hundred pounds of mozzarella anyway?”

————————————————

As you may have noticed, there is a bit of a theme running through the entire story.  Can you find all 31 cheese-related references?  Some of them are admittedly a bit of a reach, but they are in there nonetheless.

Oh, how I adore cheese!  When I was little, my mom would drench most vegetables in Cheese Whiz to get my sister and me to eat them.  Even our Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’ house–to this day–features a broccoli, rice and Cheese Whiz casserole.  As I have gotten older, I still love to enhance my veggies with cheese, although I no longer rely on pasteurized processed cheese-food products.  Rather, I prefer to make a sauce with the real stuff, preferably a nice sharp cheddar. The recipe that’s linked below is a cinch to whip up, and can be poured over broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower…you name it.

Broccoli with Onion Cheese Sauce

BROCCOLI WITH ONION CHEESE SAUCE:  http://www.food.com/recipe/broccoli-with-onion-cheese-sauce-133517

Also, I’ve included a link to a recipe for a Chicken and Broccoli Braid, which I tried out last week in my attempt to use some of the vast amounts of broccoli that I’ve picked from the garden lately.  I cut the recipe in half, since I was just cooking for two and used walnuts for crunch instead of almonds, because that’s what I happened to have.  I also did not have dill, so I used celery salt, as suggested by one reviewer.  Purple peppers from the garden stood in for the red peppers.   Truthfully, the whole thing looked like a toddler’s art project gone wrong before I put it in the oven, because the crescent roll dough was not braiding prettily as I had hoped.  It stretched and broke a lot, so I ended up just pinching it together haphazardly.  But when I took it out of the oven, it was actually appealing to look at–a nice golden brown with a bit of shine from the egg white.  And best of all, it was wonderfully cheesy!

Chicken and Broccoli Braid

CHICKEN AND BROCCOLI BRAID:  http://allrecipes.com/recipe/chicken-and-broccoli-braid/detail.aspx

Julie’s Homemade “I Can Do It” Spaghetti Sauce

Spaghetti with my Homemade Meat Sauce

Since this post is about my making my own homemade spaghetti sauce, the context of the experience would be incomplete without the story of how I set water on fire in my early spaghetti making days.  Yes, folks, for years afterward I considered myself such a horrible cook that I could even set water on fire.  This incident happened back when I was in high school, and was one of three major kitchen mishaps of my youth–the other two being The Great Mustard War and the Wall Oven Meatloaf Disaster.  There were also intentionally horrifying culinary creations that originated in my parents’ long ago kitchen, with its turquoise boomerang formica countertops, blond wood cabinets and built-in Carol Brady oven.  Those, however, are stories for another day.

Setting water on fire was particularly mortifying to me because it happened when I was cooking what was supposed to be a romantic dinner for my date.  Also, because my date was the kind who would never let me live it down.  There I was, about sixteen years old, trying to impress my boyfriend with my domesticity.  When he arrived at my house, I had the Ragu-based meat sauce simmering and the salad all ready to go.  All that was left were the noodles.  While waiting for the water to boil, we ate our salads, and I awkwardly tried to be a charming and flirtatious hostess.  I had taken the seat closest to the stove, which meant my date–who sat across from me–was facing it.  All of a sudden, his eyes got huge.  I thought he was either choking or about to lavish praise on the miraculous salad I had bestowed upon him.  Instead, he shouted that the pot on the stove was on fire.

I was relieved that I did not have to perform the Heimlich maneuver, sad that my salad got no props and terrified that I was about to burn the house down.  We both leapt from our chairs, not sure what to do, but fairly certain that “Stop, Drop and Roll” did not apply to this situation.  As quickly as it started, the fire burned itself out, and we cautiously approached the stove to examine the forensic evidence.  My date was baffled by the fact that there was only water in the pot.  I knew that appearances could be deceiving.  You see, I had heard that if you put just  a bit of vegetable oil in the water when cooking pasta, the noodles won’t stick together.  It quickly became apparent that I had filled the pot with too much water, and when it boiled, it overflowed, causing the vegetable oil to ignite on the burner.

If I were to psychoanalyze myself, my lack of desire to cook during the following twenty years of my life could maybe be traced back to this embarrassment, as could the failed marriage to the guy who incessantly mocked me about it for years.  Hmmm…gotta love blogging as therapy.

Back to the present. Now that my self-esteem has mostly recovered from the trauma caused by that formative life experience (except for my lingering fear of fire), I once again enjoy making spaghetti.  I have tried many jarred pasta sauces in the past few years, and have settled on Sockarooni by Newman’s Own.  Not only is it all-natural and tasty, but the name is AWESOME and fun to say (Sockarooni! Sockarooni! Sockarooni!), and all proceeds go to charity.

However, when  tomato season arrives at our house, it seems silly to use tomato sauce from a jar, so last year I boldly did some experimenting and created my own recipe.  And it’s GOOD, if I do say so myself.  🙂  It is a thick and chunky meat sauce that is easily adapted to different tastes.  Leave in more jalapeno seeds if you want a kick or leave them out if you prefer a non-spicy sauce.  Bell peppers and mushrooms can be used or not, depending on your preferences.  I don’t like something that’s in Italian Seasoning, so I just add basil and oregano, but if you’re a fan of Italian Seasoning, go nuts.  Also, I used ketchup, but you could put in tomato paste instead. Use as much of it as you need to make the sauce the consistency you want.  Oh…and I no longer spike the pasta water with oil–go figure. It’s much safer just to toss the cooked noodles with some olive oil to keep them from sticking together.

BTW, if you are looking for something to do with any leftover spaghetti noodles, I highly suggest feeding them one by one to your dog, if you have one.  It is highly entertaining, complete with slurping and teeth gnashing, as you can see in this YouTube video featuring my dogs Dieter, Tigger, and the late Katie.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RfWUTW1arGc

JULIE’S HOMEMADE PASTA SAUCE

Note:  All measurements are approximate and may be adjusted to taste. Makes approximately 4 servings.

  • 1 lb ground sirloin
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/3 cup chopped onions
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Dried basil, oregano, salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 jalapenos, minced–leave a few seeds in for some spice
  • 5-7 medium-sized tomatoes
  • ½ cup ketchup (a few squirts)
  • 1-2 tbsp fresh basil leaves, minced
  • 1 small can mushroom pieces
  • 2 tbsp ground flaxseed (this is not necessary, but why not sneak in some healthy Omega 3s)
  • Cornstarch, if needed for thickening

Set a pot of water to boil for peeling tomatoes.  Meanwhile, brown ground sirloin in olive oil with onions and bell peppers.  When meat is almost browned, add garlic, jalapenos and dry seasonings.  Turn off heat when done, to deal with tomatoes.

When water boils, plunge tomatoes in pot for one minute, then remove. When cool enough to handle, core, peel and seed them.  Chop and mix remaining pulp into meat mixture.  Use a turkey baster to drain any excess liquid/grease.

Add ketchup, fresh basil, mushrooms, and flaxseed to meat/tomato mixture. Bring to a boil, and then turn down heat to simmer.   Simmer for 15-20 minutes minimum, longer if possible, until tomatoes and peppers have softened.  If sauce is too watery, cook longer or add a bit of cornstarch to thicken.

Serve over pasta or spaghetti squash with parmesan cheese and a salad and/or garlic bread.  Actually, I found a yummy bruschetta recipe that would make a great appetizer or accompaniment for this dish.  Stay tuned…

Click JULIE’S HOMEMADE PASTA SAUCE for a printable PDF of this recipe.

A Cucumber-iffic Meal with Special Guest Appearances by Zucchini, Cherry Tomatoes, Purple Pepper & Basil

Giant cucumbers picked recently:  10.   Cucumbers left at the end of the day yesterday: 0.  Whew!  Lucky for us, our cleaning lady likes cucumbers and took a few off of our hands.  We delivered a couple more–along with a monster zucchini–to some friends.  (Bonus:  Got some homemade blackberry jam in return that we can’t wait to break into!)  Bill made some experimental pickles with a couple more, and finally, we finished them off by using making some cucumber-based recipes for dinner with Bill’s parents.

To serve with our appetizers, we prepared Tzatziki sauce for the first time.  We followed the recipe on that one exactly, except that our cucumbers are not English cucumbers.  I wrangled as much water as I could out of the shredded cuke by salting it and mashing it between paper towels and then using centrifugal force in the salad spinner.  We were glad that we chose to add the optional dill, since that really enhanced the taste.  The sauce turned out nice and thick, and we paired it with both mini pita breads and Fried Zucchini “Crab” Cakes.  Just a tip:  Unless you are actively trying to repel vampires, it is not advisable to use Garlic Cloves of Unusual Size, like we did.  Regular sized cloves would be quite sufficient.  Although, we did sit outside all evening and I didn’t get a single mosquito bite, so perhaps the pungent garlic scent emanating from my every pore kept those blood-sucking demons at bay.

The Fried Zucchini “Crab” Cakes were a spur-of-the-moment decision by Bill, who wisely began preparing them without my knowledge while I was on the computer blogging.  By the time his parents arrived and I saw that he had a pan of EXTREMELY FLAMMABLE oil on the barbecue with fire licking up around it, there was not much I could do except for whimper softly and internally berate myself for always forgetting to buy a fire extinguisher.  Fortunately, all turned out well.  The cakes were crispy and delicious, and we did not have to bother the nice men at the fire department.  When making the cakes, Bill used Panko breadcrumbs and seasoned them with paprika, garlic powder, cayenne, salt and pepper–rather than Old Bay.

For our dinner, Bill grilled up some steaks and I put together a Quinoa Greek Salad.  Quinoa (keen-wa) is such an intriguing little grain.  It has a good deal of protein, which I love, since I am prone to getting dizzy and shaky between meals if I eat too many carbs.  So, I actively seek out sources of protein such as Greek yogurt (used in the Tzatziki), nuts, and soy-enhanced cereal and meal replacement bars.  This salad was lemony and refreshing, and I definitely will be adding it to our regular rotation.  I stuck to the recipe fairly closely, except that rather than red and green bell peppers, I used a purple pepper from the garden.  I also added some of our cherry tomatoes, but served the feta cheese on the side, since Bill’s parents are not big on it.  Also, I lightly browned the quinoa in a bit of butter before adding the chicken stock in order give it a bit of a toasted flavor.

TZATZIKI: http://www.food.com/recipe/tzatziki-59336

FRIED ZUCCHINI “CRAB” CAKES: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/connies-zucchini-crab-cakes/detail.aspx

QUINOA GREEK SALAD:  http://www.food.com/recipe/quinoa-greek-salad-97764

Let’s Hear it for Simplicity

One of the best things about having a garden is being able to enjoy foods at their absolute freshest–moments after being plucked from the plant.  This past week, we picked our purple pepper and enjoyed an impromptu snack with just a pinch of salt.  We harvested our tiny crop of sugar snap peas and popped them in our mouths without any adornment or cooking.  And this morning, I collected a handful of juicy, ripe raspberries and ate them for breakfast seconds later atop some plain Greek yogurt.  As the tin sign in my guest bedroom says, sometimes it’s nice to “Live Simply.”