Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Page views keep climbing: Thank you!

I've worked on this blog for a little more than a year, but the real beauty of the "work" is that I can do as much or as little as I want to. I've shared regular snapshots of what I like to cook and eat, and how I prepare various dishes for my family or friends. I take photos when I feel inspired and sometimes even get them posted with my recipes.

In the beginning (August 2010), I didn't have any real analytics to follow. I posted recipes and tips when the inspiration struck, or when I made something particularly interesting or photogenic. A year in, I'm excited to see how many regular followers keep coming to this blog. I have many more lurkers than I do posters, but I appreciate the interest. And I'm eager to hear from you, whenever you do post comments.

For the last several months, I've averaged about 100 views per day. Last week, I reached my highest single day of views with 197. And today I noticed that September is likely to be my highest viewed month since I started this blog. Right now there are 3,177 views for the month. That's just behind August 2010, which had 3,282 views. That's a pittance for some websites, I know, but I appreciate everyone who takes the time to check out this blog.

Since there are still a couple of days left in September, I expect it will become my highest-viewed month. To those of you who come to this site, a sincere thank you. I apppreciate your support and I welcome your feedback.

Happy cooking!

Unbelievable asparagus bargain

Asparagus is one of my favorite vegetables, but its high cost often makes me leave it on the grocery shelf. Canned asparagus, while cheaper, is a crime against all vegetables. Typically, a good price for fresh asparagus might be $2.99 per pound. But last week, I found a major markdown -- fresh asparagus marked less than a buck.

O.K. It's hard to read, but that pacakge came home with me for 76 cents. Of course it was marked down because it was nearing its expiration. Nevermind that -- I took it home and cooked it that day. To cook fresh asparagus, wash and dry the stalks completely. Snap off the toughest part of the stem. I put mine on a baking sheet, sprinkled it with about 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Roast the asparagus at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes, stirring after about 5 minutes.

I love this quick and easy method, and I especially love finding a deal this great for something I enjoy!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sausage and white bean chowder

Like most people, I try to stretch my food budget and I love developing recipes that are low in cost and big in flavor. Soup is a great way to get high nutrition for fewer dollars; using low cost dried beans is a great way to get added protein.

My family really likes kielbasa – I’ve usually got a pound of the stuff tucked away in the fridge waiting to be part of something delicious. Kielbasa is a wonderful substitute for beef in spaghetti sauce. And it is terrific in soups and stews.

This recipe was a delicious variation on white bean soup, often made with ham.

You’ll need:
1 pound of kielbasa, sliced
½ white onion, diced
1 cup navy beans, soaked overnight, then drained and rinsed
½ cup white wine
14.5 ounce can corn, drained
2 teaspoons oil
1 teaspoon diced jalapenos

Soak the beans overnight, then drain and rinse in fresh water. Add to a 5-6 quart slow cooker. Warm the oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the kielbasa and cook for about 5 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove the kielbasa with a slotted spoon and add it to the slow cooker. Add the diced onions to the skillet and sauté for about 3 minutes. Pour in ½ cup white wine and stir to deglaze the pan. Pour the onions and wine into the slow cooker. Add 3-4 cups water. Cook on low for about 6 hours.

Once the beans have softened, remove about a cup of beans from the cooker and smash them with a potato masher. Return the mashed beans to the cooker; add drained corn and the diced jalapenos. (I buy jalapenos that are diced in the jar. It makes a wonderful addition to recipes that need a little bit of tang and heat.) Cook another hour on low.

To serve: Place a half cup of cooked white rice in the bottom of a soup bowl. Ladle sausage and white bean chowder over the rice. Top with a sprinkling of shredded cheddar cheese. Yield: 8-10 servings.

This recipe is smoky and spicy and has a creamy texture without adding cream, thanks to mashing the beans. A great trick!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Last sip of summer

Welcome fall, with all your vibrant colors and cooler days and nights! As we enter the new season, I wanted to post a couple of photos to remember some favorite summer foods: Fresh green beans and okra.

My father-in-law grew the okra in his garden in Wise, Va. My husband and I loved it! I cooked it just like my mother would have -- sliced, dredged lightly in cornmeal

....and fried quickly in oil.

Okra is one of my mom's favorites (despite the fact that the plants make her skin itch). The okra pods have to be cut from the stalks with a small knfe. If you've never grown it, okra has the most beautiful yellow and purple blooms!

I also cooked some fresh green beans last week, which is a favorite food of my husband's.

Break and string about a pound of beans; rinse them well and add them to a medium-sized pot with a lid. Add about a half-cup of water, a couple of pieces of bacon (diced) and a liberal sprinkling of black pepper. Cook them for 20 minutes, or until desired doneness. Yum!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Quickie Broccoli Salad

I was hungry, so I took some shortcuts this week when I made a pared down version of Broccoli Salad Supreme. I left out the raisins and bacon, and added a couple of handfuls of chopped carrots instead. I also used Splenda because I was literally out of sugar.

Consider trying this quickie version of a favorite, while I head to the store!

2 cups broccoli flowerets
1 cup diced carrot
1 tablespoon low-fat mayo or plain yogurt
1/4 cup cashews
2 teaspoons Splenda (or white sugar)
1 teaspoons white vinegar
Salt and pepper

I put the vegetables in a medium bowl, then I mixed the dressing ingredients separately. Pour over all and mix well. I topped it with the cashews and mixed again. This was about 4 servings, but I ate it for lunch over two days this week. As with the Broccoli Salad Supreme recipe, the cashews make the dish -- they are crunchy and rich at the same time.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Beef stroganoff my way

I couldn’t stand beef stroganoff when I was a child. One of my worst food memories was being made to sit and finish it, as it got colder and colder. Ugh. But recently, I’ve had a hankering to go back and try it again, making it the way that appeals to me today.

The dish is creamy, thanks (normally) to sour cream. I used plain yogurt in my recipe since it is so much lower in fat and calories. I also added red wine and Worcestershire sauce – they make everything better. This recipe was a hit with my youngest son, who can be pretty picky.

You’ll need:

1.5 pounds stew beef or flank steak, cut in bite-sized pieces
¼ cup onion, diced
14.5 ounce can cream of mushroom soup
4 ounce can sliced mushrooms, drained
½ cup red wine
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
¾ cup plain yogurt
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper

Sprinkle the beef with salt and pepper. Warm a skillet over medium heat, add a teaspoon of oil and brown the beef pieces for 3-5 minutes. Add to slow cooker. Add red wine and Worcestershire sauce to skillet to deglaze pan, then pour liquid over meat in slow cooker. Add cream of mushroom soup, onion, and sliced mushrooms; stir to combine. Cook on low for 8 hours, or high for 4 hours.

Combine yogurt and flour in a small bowl. Add the yogurt mixture and stir to combine. Cook for another 30 minutes. Cook about 2 cups of thin egg noodles in boiling water, drain and keep warm. Serve the stroganoff over the noodles. This is best when topped with fresh chopped parsley (super easy to grow in the yard!)

Try this recipe! It’s a lower fat option that is full of flavor.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Zingers beat Twinkies every time

I love Zingers. I know you shouldn't eat them, but when I can find them I can't help myself. I hadn't seen any in years, until the vending supplier started putting them in a machine at the Bristol Herald Courier several years ago. I'd snag them out of the machine on long days.

I found this 12-pack at Food City recently and grabbed a box. I don't like the berry ones, but the vanilla ones rock. And yes, they are a distant memory now.

Blast from the past

This is my all-time favorite frozen meal, and one I had not seen in years. I found a couple at the Walmart in Bristol (Va side) recently and had to scoop them up. I'm not a big frozen meals person, but I used to eat these (maybe 10 years ago) when I worked as a writer and editor in Wise County, Va.

O.K. Stouffer's, you were my guilty pleasure. And for some weird reason, I would eat this with saltine crackers. Who knows? But I recreated the experience when I found these meals again recently. Yum!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Pepperoni pizza bake

Tuesday nights are class nights for me, since I am working on a graduate degree. Last night, I made a quick and easy casserole for my husband and son, before heading out the door to class. My family loves pizza, so I used its basic elements to whip up a casserole dinner. Add whatever vegetables you like, as you would on your favorite pizza.

Pepperoni pizza bake

15 ounce can spaghetti sauce
8 ounce package pepperoni
2 cups dry macaroni
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
2-3 slices mozzarella cheese

Cook the macaroni in boiling water for about 8 minutes; drain and place in a 2 quart casserole. Add spaghetti sauce, pepperoni and Parmesan cheese. Mix well. Top with sliced mozzarella cheese. Bake 20-30 minutes at 350, until top is browned and bubbly. Servings? It should serve 3-4, but there weren’t any leftovers when I got home. I’ll take that as a compliment, even though I was hungry!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Spectacular bean salad

Three bean salad is a summer favorite – easy to make and almost universally loved. When my in-laws hosted a family reunion in August, I was asked to make pea salad and three bean salad. I actually made five bean salad, with corn thrown in for good measure. Years ago, when my second child was born, a sweet neighbor brought dinner over to help me out. She made a marinated bean salad with corn, and I have made it this way ever since. Some people slice the onions and green pepper in rings – it makes for pretty presentation, but I think it is easier to eat if the vegetables are diced. Use the beans you love in this recipe.

Spectacular bean salad
Two, 15-ounce can green beans
15-ounce can black beans
15-ounce can yellow wax beans
15-ounce can garbanzo beans
15-ounce can red kidney beans
15-ounce can yellow corn
1 medium onion, diced
1 large green pepper, diced
½ cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup white vinegar
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper

Drain and rinse all the beans, then add to a large bowl. Add the diced onion, green pepper and corn (drained). In a medium bowl, mix vinegar, sugar and oil. Add salt and pepper and blend well. Pour over vegetables and stir. Refrigerate overnight to let flavors blend. Serves 10-12.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Creamy enchiladas

My family loves Mexican food, but I hate how fattening many recipes can be. Too often, Mexican dishes are full of cheese, lard or are fried in grease. I came up with this recipe to fill the craving for Mexican food, without all the extra fat and calories. Plain yogurt with a sprinkling of lemon juice is an excellent substitute for sour cream. Sour cream has about 100 calories per tablespoon; yogurt has about 100 calories per cup. This recipe is creamy and satisfying, but with considerably less fat and calories of many similar dishes.

Creamy enchiladas
2 cups cooked chicken, diced
1 cup plain yogurt
4 ounce can green chilies
1/3 cup salsa
14.5 ounce can cream of mushroom soup
8 flour tortillas
½ cup Monterey Jack cheese, grated

In a large bowl, mix together the yogurt, chilies, salsa and mushroom soup.

Put a couple of spoonfuls of the yougurt/soup mixture in the middle of a tortilla. Add one-eighth of the chicken and a sprinkling of cheese.

Roll the tortilla and place seam side down in a greased 9x13-inch baking pan. Repeat with the remaining tortillas. You should have leftover yogurt/soup mixture – spread this over the rolled tortillas and top with remaining cheese.

Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees until enchiladas are browned and bubbly on top.

Yield: 8 enchiladas. Serve with rice and fruit.