Thursday, January 28, 2010

Recipe #12: Sausage Pasta

Yet another one from! Recipe copied from the site, my changes listed at the end.



  • 3/4 pound pasta
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound spicy Italian sausage
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 (10 ounce) package frozen chopped spinach
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese


  1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain and reserve.
  2. In a large skillet, heat oil and sausage; cook through until no longer pink. During the last 5 minutes of cooking, add onion and garlic to skillet. Add broth, basil and tomatoes with liquid.
  3. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes to slightly reduce. Add chopped spinach; cover skillet and simmer on reduced heat until spinach is tender.
  4. Add pasta to skillet and mix together. Sprinkle with cheese and serve immediately.

I used fresh spinach.
I used mild sausage.
I didn't have diced tomatoes so I used the rest of a jar of chunky pasta sauce I had.
I didn't use all the pasta I cooked- it seemed to be way too much.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Recipe #11: Southwest Chicken Eggrolls

Here's a recipe I found on when I was looking for something to do with the chicken breasts hanging out in the fridge, waiting to be cooked. The recipe's ingredients was close enough to items I already had in my kitchen, so I decided these looked great. Here's a copy/paste directly from the site, and then I will list my changes so you can choose how you'd like to make them.



  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 skinless, boneless chicken breast half
  • 2 tablespoons minced green onion
  • 2 tablespoons minced red bell pepper
  • 1/3 cup frozen corn kernels
  • 1/4 cup black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 tablespoons frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
  • 2 tablespoons diced jalapeno peppers
  • 1/2 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/3 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pinch ground cayenne pepper
  • 3/4 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 5 (6 inch) flour tortillas
  • 1 quart oil for deep frying


  1. Rub 1 tablespoon vegetable oil over chicken breast. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, cook chicken approximately 5 minutes per side, until meat is no longer pink and juices run clear. Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in green onion and red pepper. Cook and stir 5 minutes, until tender.
  3. Dice chicken and mix into the pan with onion and red pepper. Mix in corn, black beans, spinach, jalapeno peppers, parsley, cumin, chili powder, salt and cayenne pepper. Cook and stir 5 minutes, until well blended and tender. Remove from heat and stir in Monterey Jack cheese so that it melts.
  4. Wrap tortillas with a clean, lightly moist cloth. Microwave on high approximately 1 minute, or until hot and pliable.
  5. Spoon even amounts of the mixture into each tortilla. Fold ends of tortillas, then roll tightly around mixture. Secure with toothpicks. Arrange in a medium dish, cover with plastic, and place in the freezer. Freeze at least 4 hours.
  6. In a large, deep skillet, heat oil for deep frying to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Deep fry frozen, stuffed tortillas 10 minutes each, or until dark golden brown. Drain on paper towels before serving.


1. I doubled the recipe.
2. I used canned corn because I didn't have frozen. I also added more corn proportionally.
3. I shredded the chicken after I cooked it instead of cubing it.
4. I didn't have jalapenos.
5. I used fresh spinach instead of frozen.
6. I used dried parsley (and therfore a much larger amount) instead of fresh parsley.
7. I used cheddar and mozzarella cheese instead of monterey jack.
8. I did not freeze the egg rolls.
9. Instead of deep frying (bad bad!) I baked these on a foil-lined cookie sheet for 15 minutes @400 degrees. They came out great! We ate them with sour cream.

If you want these to be more spicy, add more cayenne and jalapenos.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Filet Mignon: The Disaster That Wasn't

Two days ago I stopped up at Chuppa's Marketplace, my favorite place to go for fresh meat and produce between shopping trips. I wanted to make something good for Friday night's dinner, and I walked out with two juicy filet mignons and some sweet potatoes.

I did a little research about cooking the steaks and was looking forward to making them for the first time. I learned a little bit about cooking the filets on youtube, of all places.

Fast forward two days- I went in the fridge to get the steaks to begin prepping them. I unwrapped them to find to my dismay that they had dried out quite a bit and were hard around the edges. I panicked and thought about how much these perfect slabs of red meat cost, and called for my husband, anticipating calling in orders for Chinese food to fix the issue. Amid my disappointed tears I complained about it all while he quietly cut off the dried spots and made them look a little bit better, and admonishing me about my little breakdown, but hey I was excited about making those steaks!

I opened the package of sweet potatoes, and Nick started peeling them. To my dismay, I saw that the meat inside was white like a regular potato, and that the package didn't identify what this impostor potato was. To avoid more tears, I Googled "potato types" and couldn't find anything that matched. Long story short, we finally settled on the fact that these were probably white yams.

After all this, the meal turned out amazing. I was fretting about nothing.

I did not follow a recipe, but here's the method I used to make the steaks. I made the yams the same way I would make regular mashed potatoes. Their texture matched sweet potatoes, so it was close enough to my original intentions.


This is assuming steaks that are about 1-1.5 inches thick. Take the steaks out of the fridge and coat them with your intended spices. I like using McCormick's Steak Seasoning. Let the steaks sit out in room temperature for 45 minutes. Steaks should NOT be cooked cold.

Meanwhile, coat a nonstick skillet with oil. I used canola because it has a higher smoke temperature. Wipe the skillet with a paper towel so it's only lightly coated with the oil. After the 45 minutes of letting the steaks sit out, heat up the skillet and then add the steaks. Sear steaks, including the sides, to help seal in the juices. This takes about a minute or two per side. Shake the skillet so they don't stick.

Pour in some red wine, about a half a cup to a cup or so. Remove from heat and put small dabs of butter or margerine on top of each steak, and put the entire skillet in the preheated oven. Cook for 3-4 minutes and then flip, putting more butter on the other side. Cook another 3-4 minutes. (Note: these cooking times result in a medium-rare to medium steak) Remove from the oven and let sit for about 5 minutes before eating.

I also made some sauteed mushrooms to go on top. I just threw some sliced white mushrooms in a small skillet with some margarine, steak seasoning, and more of the red wine and let the sauce boil for a couple minutes. I poured the mushrooms and wine sauce over the steaks after I plated them.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Recipe #10: Tuna Soup Burgers

Second only to Spaghetti Pie, Tuna Soup Burgers are a favorite Dichtl family recipe. Don't be fooled by the name- these are really good and hearty, cheap, easy to make, and the ingredients are probably already in your kitchen. They are similar to a tuna melt, just more creamy.


1 can tuna (albacore or chunk lite)
1 can cream of mushroom soup
4 hamburger buns (makes 8 open faced burgers)
slices of American cheese


In a bowl, mix the soup and tuna.

Plop the mixture on the halves of the buns.

Cook for 10 minutes in the oven at 350. Remove from oven, and place halved cheese slices on top (if desired) and bake for another 2 minutes.

Told you it was easy!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Recipe #9: Marinated Swordfish

I've always been timid about cooking fish, and timid about using the broiler, but today I conquered both in the form of marinated swordfish. This fish is very dense and heavy, closer to the consistency of chicken. Turned out fantastic and was very easy to make. I slightly modified a recipe I found on


3 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar (I used chicken broth instead because I didn't have this)
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (or more...)
1 pinch cayenne pepper (or more...)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 fresh swordfish fillets (I used swordfish steaks)


In a bowl, stir together all marinade ingredients. Place fish in the bowl and cover, marinate for at least 10 minutes or up to 3 hours. (Note: I instead put the fish each in a ziplock with some of the marinade)

Preheat broiler or an outdoor grill for high heat.

Place fish onto the grill or a broiling pan. Discard marinade. Grill or broil fish about five minutes each side, until the fish flakes easily with a fork.

I was kind of excited to see this recipe and note that I had every single ingredient, minus the white wine vinegar. My kitchen stash is growing!

3 Products I'd Endorse if I Was Famous

When you move out on your own, away from your family, you often buy the same products they do, because you're used to them and know what to expect. For example, I always bought Ragu because that's just what we always had for pasta sauce, except maybe the occasional Prego. But as time goes on, you try new things, and through trial and error, come up with your own favorites. So here are some cooking and food related products I'd endorse if I was famous.

Healthy Choice Cafe Steamers

I'm picky about frozen dinners. The chicken tends to be gamey and chewy, the meals small and not very filling or really salty tasting, and generally not worth the price. But I've FINALLY found frozen meals worth telling people about, and I'm even eating one right now. They're the Healthy Choice Cafe Steamers. The meat (which isn't gross or gamey or over processed like many frozen meals) and many fresh-but-frozen veggies are in a steamable bowl that sits over another bowl of sauce. They cook for about 4:30 and come out perfect- you just pour the upper bowl's contents into the sauce and you have a really good meal. The prices for these run all over the place, but I've been able to get them for 3 for $9 and 4 for $10. They come in a wide range of options. My favorites are the 5 -Spice Beef and Vegetables and Chicken Pesto Classico.

True Lemon

True Lemon is real, crystallized lemon in a little itty bitty packet. Each packet represents 1 lemon wedge and can be used like you'd use any lemon- in recipes, in your water... They taste like real lemon and not a bunch of sugar, because, well, they ARE real lemon. (Funny thing- there was a severe lemon shortage, last year I believe, which meant even True Lemon wasn't on the shelves at the grocery store.) They can be found in the iced tea section at the grocery store with the other water-flavoring packets.


Juicy Juice Immunity Drinks

These small cardboard containers hold the best juice I've had from off of a grocery store shelf. Sure, they're marketed as a kid's drink, but who cares? They come in two flavors- berry and apple- and have no added sugars. They contain added nutrients to help with your immune system. Note to parents: Juicy Juice also has a Brain Development version of these same flavors, but I always get the Immunity ones to help prevent colds, etc. They're a little expensive (on sale 2 for $5) but to me, worth every penny. I don't like juice normally because it's way too sugary, but these are perfect.

I'll add more "endorsements" like these as I go along. Please post comments telling me food products and brands you swear by.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Recipe #8: Chorizo Taquitos

Today we took a break from our healthy meals and had some good ol' greasy mexican food instead. Yet another winner from the Sandra Lee cookbook, I bring to you Chorizo Taquitos:


1 package (or 1lb bulk) chorizo sausage, removed from casings
1 cup shredded cheddar or mexican mix cheese
1 cup Pace chunky salsa, your choice how hot
8-10 burrito or fajita sized tortillas
Sauces for dipping (salsa, sour cream, guacamole, etc)


Brown the sausage in a pan. Be sure to crumble into small pieces. Remove from heat and add the cheese and salsa and mix well. Put approx 1/4 cup of the mixture down the middle of a tortilla. Fold the tortilla in half, then roll and secure with a toothpick. Repeat, placing all the taquitos on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet. Place in preheated oven, 400 degrees, for 18 minutes. Cut in half and serve with sauces.

These brown up so nicely! Cutting them in half makes it easier to dip into the sauces. Be careful when they first come out- the filling is extremely hot.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Recipe #5: Sweet Potato Fries, & #6: Blackened Cajun Catfish, & #7: Dirty Rice

Wow, what a day. Today I tried three new recipes- gotta love Sundays!

My latest obsession is sweet potatoes, which is good because of all the health benefits. According to Wiki, sweet potatoes are rich in complex carbs, fiber, beta carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin B6. And they're so good, nearly a candy with a good cinnamon or brown sugar seasoning. Today I made sweet potato fries using a recipe from my Sandra Lee cookbook.


2 large sweet potatoes (peeled, or leave the skins on for more nutrients)
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice mix (McCormick)
1 tablespoon chili seasoning, or chili powder


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and set aside.

Cut potatoes in half lengthwise, then cut into 1/2-inch thick fries. In a large bowl, combine sweet potatoes, oil, and spices. Toss until potatoes are thoroughly coated. Spread in a single layer on the baking sheet.

Bake fries for 30-35 minutes, turning once to evenly cook.

The result, with the reubens I made to go with them:


One main ingredient that I always hesitate to work with is flaky fish, because I worry that I'm going to ruin it because it's so delicate. I decided that practice makes perfect though, so it was time to try fish again, especially because of the health benefits. I picked out a recipe from my Sandra Lee cookbook for Blackened Cajun Catfish, and its side Dirty Rice. The result was absolutely amazing and already one of my new favorite meals.

Blackened Cajun Catfish


1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, smashed
2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning
1 teaspoon poultry/chicken seasoning
1 pound catfish fillets (this is about 4 fillets)
1/2 cup white wine
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or Real Lemon
1 teaspoon (or more...) of butter


In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-low heat. Add garlic cloves and cook until golden brown. Remove; discard garlic cloves. Remove skillet from heat. In a small bowl, combine Cajun and poultry seasonings; set aside. Rinse fish and pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle both sides of fish with seasoning mix. (Note: I rubbed the seasoning onto both sides of the fish by hand to make sure they were well coated.)

Return skillet to medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add fish, presentation side (the side against the bone) down. Cook fish for 5 minutes per side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Transfer fish to a plate.

Deglaze pan with white wine and lemon juice. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Swirl butter into sauce. Pour over fish. Serve fish over the dirty rice.

Definition: Deglazing: using a liquid to remove cooked-on residue from a pan

Dirty Rice


1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup finely diced onion (or more to taste)
1/4 cup finely diced celery
1/2 green pepper finely diced
2 1/3 cups chicken broth (OR 1 3/4 cups for quick cook rice!!)
3/4 teaspoon poultry/chicken seasoning
1 box (6oz) long grain and wild rice mix, Uncle Bens


In a medium skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, celery, and pepper to hot oil. Cook until vegetables are soft but not brown.

Add broth (2 1/3c for regular cook, 13/4c for quick cook) and poultry seasoning; bring to boil. Add rice and seasoning packet. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 25 minutes (or remove from heat for 5-10 minutes if quick cook). Fluff with fork and serve.

(Note: I bought the quick cook rice without thinking and had to adapt, which led to slightly soupy but still amazing- and strainable- rice.)

The result:

Wow, I can't say enough about this dish. It's moist and full of flavor. I enjoyed the challenge... not that it was THAT hard.

This cookbook by Sandra Lee is really getting a workout. If you're interested, it's Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade Fast-Fix Family Favorites.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Tuna Melts Your Way and Roasted Brussels Sprouts

If you like tuna and need to make a quick meal with whatever you have on hand, tuna melts are always a great option. I won't even attempt to put a typical recipe here- it changes depending on what's in my kitchen.


A hearty bread


Carrots, celery, green pepper, hot peppers, any kinds of onion, pickles, relish, garlic.... whatever you find that's got a good crunchy texture


Mix the tuna, the finely chopped veggies, and the mayo to your desired consistency. Pile generously on the bread and top with cheese. Put into your preheated oven (or even better, a toaster oven) at 350 for about 8-10 minutes. Easy!

My post here contains american cheese, a mix of chunk lite and albacore tuna, green pepper, red onion, relish, and carrots, all on rye. Except for the mayo, all the ingredients are healthy. Obviously you can opt for lite mayo instead of regular.

When we were toddlers, my Grandma Sue introduced my sister and I to what I called lettuce balls. Yep, I loved (and still love) brussels sprouts. Here's a quick recipe for roasted brussels sprouts. Even Nick, who hates them, admitted they're "not bad."


Cut the ends off of the sprouts and pull off any yellow or wilty leaves. Put into a Ziploc bag with some olive oil, salt and pepper. Seal, and shake well to coat evenly. Put into the oven in a greased pan at 400 for 35 minutes, shaking around the pan every 5-10 minutes to prevent sticking. The outer leaves will turn black and some will fall off, but the result is a very flavorful, soft bunch of sprouts!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Grocery Shopping, Healthy Style

Before I took much of an interest in cooking, making a grocery list was mostly a quick task. I tended to buy the same highly-processed, high-sodium, quick fix staples (like frozen or boxed dinner kits), so all I needed to do was just write down which toiletries were necessary to purchase that trip.

Nowadays, making a list turns into a whole ordeal. Usually I make it the day before I even grocery shop. It starts with my recipe box and whatever cookbooks I have. Today I have to make a list and I have four cookbooks sitting on my desk here in a pile. I plan on making all new meals this trip- three of these books are brand new (yay Christmas!) and the New Year brings the desire to start eating healthier.

One book, The Sugar Solution Cookbook, I found on I'm hypoglycemic (meaning I over process sugar, like reverse diabetes) and was in need of some new recipes that would make my meals last longer for me. I eat a meal and am hungry to the point of panic 2-3 hours later. As I type this, I'm eating lunch #1, and it's 9:55am. I'll be having lunch with my in-laws in an hour and a half and will have no problem eating then too.

All of this eating without regard to what my meals consisted of has led to me feeling very blah this past few weeks, especially thanks to the holidays, so I am excited about this grocery trip- my first real attempt at replacing most meals with healthier food. This includes slow carbs, high fiber and whole grain meals. Less white pasta- more whole grain pasta. Brown rice instead of white. More fish and chicken, more herbs and seasonings and less salt. I am currently very interested in "eat this not that" information. I was excited to see that sweet potatoes are GOOD for you, especially compared to regular potatoes! No more regular spuds for me.

Speaking of "eat this not that," there is a line of books out there that does a fantastic job of pointing out great replacement choices at the grocery store or at restaurants. I'd eventually like to own these books myself, but I gave one to my sister for Christmas and she likes it- she says it makes her think while at the grocery store about what she's really buying. The calorie savings add up, and you might not even notice the difference in taste.

Long story short here is that with some extra planning on your grocery list, you can make meals that are so much healthier but don't compromise on flavor or the ability to fill you up.

I'm excited to pick out and try some new meals, and I will be posting the successful ones (hopefully all of them!) on this blog as I make them.

That's not to say I won't still make the comfort foods I like to make, of course. I'll leave a day or two a week for eating "bad" dinners. But 5-6 planned healthy meals a week will hopefully make a big difference.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Recipe #4: Chili MY Way

The reason I have two crock pots is simple: to make more chili. My first crock pot is a 3.5 quart Rival crock pot that was given to me when I was in college by my parents as a birthday gift.

I didn't really use it much until recent years, when I discovered how fun it is to make chili. Eventually, I started making batches of it to take to work for the guys, but the small pot sloshed in the car because the chili barely fit. The other problem was having enough chili left for for home too. Eventually I decided it was time for another, bigger crock pot. Behold, my 6.5 quart crock pot:

From then on, I made one batch for home in the small crock pot, and a spicy version in the big one to take to work. I started with a base recipe that I found on, and over the course of many batches, I've changed and added to it. I've decided to share my secret recipe, so here it is!

  • 2 pounds lean ground beef, browned and drained
  • 1 pound bulk Italian sausage (sweet, or hot if you like hot chili), browned
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes (petite diced work well for those who don't like big tomato chunks)
  • 1 (29 ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans, drained
  • 1 (15 ounce) can black beans, drained
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1 chopped green bell pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (or more….)
  • 1/2 teaspoon white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (or to taste, I sometimes double it)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper (or more…)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/4 cup chili powder (or more…)
  • Extra dehydrated powdered hot peppers, jalapenos, or anything else to make it hot according to your tastes
Place everything in a large (6qt or bigger) crock pot on LOW for 8 hours.

Top with sour cream, crackers, cheese, jalapenos, or put on spaghetti or rice. Makes great leftovers.
My favorite change that I've made to this recipe is the addition of italian sausage. It creates a fuller flavor and a meatier chili. You can easily change the spices and the types of tomatoes and beans being used.
TO SAVE ON CLEANUP: I've recently tried and fallen in love with crock pot liners. They don't make your food taste weird, or burn, or anything that I'd previously thought might happen. They save so much time, especially for recipes that create a ring of burned food at the top.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Recipe #3: Angel Hair Pasta with Red Clam Sauce

I made a fantastic recipe today from my new Sandra Lee cookbook: Angel Hair with Clam Sauce. It has just the right amount of heat and flavor, and is only about 400 calories and 7 grams of fat per serving.


12 oz angel hair pasta (3/4 of a typical box)
1c chopped white onion
1 cup white wine (I used a Riesling)
1-2 tsp minced garlic
1 jar (29oz) tomato sauce (I used about 4/5 of it)
2 cans (6.5oz) chopped clams, drained
red pepper flakes to taste (I have one of those spice grinders and did about 5-7 grinds for mild heat)
dried parsley


Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain; return pasta to pot and keep warm.

In a large or deep skillet, combine onions, wine, and garlic. Bring to boil over medium-high heat. Cook until liquid is reduced to about 1/4 cup. Stir in the tomato sauce, clams, parsley and pepper flakes and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5-10 minutes until the sauce has thickened. Serve over the pasta, and top with fresh, finely chopped oregano (optional).

Oh, and don't forget to finish off that bottle of wine you opened to start the recipe!

Recipe #2: Slow Cooker Carnitas

I'm going to start off by saying that it's probably really hard to exactly duplicate Chipotle unless maybe you work there and know how the everything is made. Their food is amazing (in my opinion!), and I'm sure they have all of their own "secret" ingredients. That's fine, but here's a recipe that does a pretty good job of imitating Chipotle's carnitas... and are possibly even better because you have the control over the amount of fat that makes it into your burrito.

This is a recipe I found on, but with my modifications. Then I'll offer suggestions for how to serve it, but that's up to you.


3 teaspoons salt
3 teaspoons garlic powder
3 teaspoons ground cumin
1.5 teaspoons crumbled dried oregano
1.5 teaspoons ground coriander (although I never have this, use if you please)
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 (4 pound) boneless pork shoulder roast CUT INTO LARGE CHUNKS
3 bay leaves
2-3 cups chicken broth


Mix together salt, garlic powder, cumin, oregano, coriander, and cinnamon in a bowl. Coat pork chunks with the spice mixture. Place the bay leaves in the bottom of a slow cooker and place the pork on top. Pour the chicken broth around the sides of the pork, being careful not to rinse off the spice mixture.

Cover and cook on LOW until the pork shreds easily with a fork, about 8 hours. Turn the meat after it has cooked for 4 hours.

When the pork is tender, remove from slow cooker, and place on a cookie sheet. Place in a preheated oven (350 degrees) for 10-15 minutes to dry the outside and create a little bit of a crust. Remove and shred with two forks.

The result:

To best imitate my favorite Chipotle-style burrito, my toppings included finely shredded mozzarella cheese, black beans, white rice (with some chopped cilantro and lime juice mixed in), sour cream, and fresh guacamole and salsa from the deli section of Giant Eagle (next to the meat counter, typically). I think this was better in a bowl rather than on a tortilla. Reheat leftovers in a small pan on the stove with a little bit of the chicken broth.

You can learn from my mistake: I found that the shoulder roast I used the first time needed much less trimming than the butt roast I used the second time. I don't like fat in my meat, so I'll be buying shoulder roasts when I make this from now on. Either type of roast turns out very good, regardless.

Tonight I try a new recipe- red clam sauce on angel hair pasta. We'll see how it turns out. If it's worthy, I'll post a recipe on here.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Kitchen stuff I recommend

A flat grater is good for garlic, or chocolate shavings for parfaits, or blocks of cheese...

The Slap Chop or any off-brand is good for quick chopping, especially nuts, onions and carrots. Peppers get a little mooshy, though, so you have to be careful to not over chop them.

I learned about the chop and scoop type tools from Rachael Ray; they're awesome when you're chopping and mincing on a cutting board and need to scoop it all up to add to a bowl or pan... This exact one I bought for $6 at Bed Bath and Beyond.

Cookbook holders are great for getting the book out of the way while you cook. Nick got me one for Christmas last year and I love it. Mine folds up flat so it doesn't take up space while I'm not using it.

Quesadilla makers are awesome- my sister gave me one! You can make any kind of quesadilla in these pretty quick- one of those quick dinner things that are nice to have around.

Pampered Chef sells this kitchen tool used for browning meat. I like it because you can chop up the meat pretty small. Only $10 on their site.

I know soap isn't really a kitchen tool, but Softsoap's Kitchen Fresh Hands is awesome for getting all kinds of smells off your hands after you're done working with food. I hate how my hands smell after peeling an orange, for example, and this works great!

I LOVE my crock pots. Every kitchen should have one. First of all, everyone needs to make chili! They're also great for pork and beef. I'll be posting plenty of crock pot recipes! I have 3 sizes, this exact one shown, a smaller one, and a tiny one perfect for dips. (MMM... especially spinach and artichoke dip!)

A salsa maker is great for making your own FRESH salsa, especially during late summer when the tomatoes and peppers are best. Believe me, making salsa by hand is messy and laborious- this makes it much simpler!

I'm running out of room in my kitchen for some of this stuff! I can't wait till we get a house and I have more cupboard space.

Recipe #1, the old standby: Spaghetti Pie

This is the Dichtl meal of choice, a tradition on my dad's side of the family since, well, forever.. I have to make it whenever my uncle comes to town. Twice (no! make that three times!) I've made it for a big crowd of Dichtls. I've made it for friends, and plenty of times for me and Nick. It's simple, cheap, easy to make a little or a lot. Although I like changing and experimenting with recipes, I NEVER change this one because it's how I like it- the same way I had it as a kid. The leftovers are awesome, even cold.

NOTE: I am going to list the ingredient amounts below in a double batch, because it fits in a casserole dish and makes 8-10 pieces, and much of the the packaging can be thrown away. Half of the ingredients listed fit in a pie dish (hence the name). Here goes:

1 box of spaghetti
2c shredded cheddar cheese
2c cottage cheese (I use large curd, but I doubt it matters)
2 eggs

Topping, beaten together:
2 eggs
2 tbs grated Parmesan cheese.

Jar of pasta sauce. The Dichtls use Ragu, but anything works.


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cook and drain the spaghetti according to the package directions. Dump in both cheeses and the two eggs into the pot and mix well. Pour into a greased casserole dish. (I spread margarine around with a paper towel.) Spread the topping over the top. Put it in the oven for 45 minutes or until the edges are looking browned and crispy. Let sit for a few minutes, cut and serve with pasta sauce over the top.

Just a side note for those of you who don't like cottage cheese: I HATED the stuff as a kid but loved spaghetti pie. It melts into everything else so it's not that same texture as eating it on its own.

The Inspiration...

This is a cooking blog.

I'm sure there's a million out there, but one of those million is going to be mine. I'd like to thank my friends for inspiring me to do this, and who knows, maybe my sister and I will some day make that cookbook we've been talking about for,well, forever.

A little background on my cooking history: I am the oldest of five girls. What that means is that our meals growing up were purely functional- there was very rarely anything gourmet about anything we ate for dinner. It had to be cheap and feed seven people, and of course I don't blame my parents for this- we were well-fed. So spaghetti, fish sticks, ham slices, Kraft mac and cheese, and corn were very common. Meat was ALWAYS well done, and seafood was limited to the clam chowder that my dad ate. (No, fish sticks DO NOT count.)

There was nothing wrong with this cooking, and I still make some of the meals I had as a kid. But as I grew up and left home, I was exposed to a world of food I barely knew existed. Trying new food was one thing, though... cooking it was another.

Yeah, cooking. Another part of being one of five kids is that there was no time to teach me how to cook. I remember one solitary time I got to stand in the kitchen and watch ravioli being made. This means taking the bag out of the freezer and dumping it into boiling water for the right amount of time... you get the idea. So when I was in college, I basically made pizza rolls and ramen noodles just like any other college student. My boyfriend at the time liked cooking, so again, I wasn't really learning how to cook- just how to eat.

Eventually, I had my very own apartment and a new boyfriend to cook for... and my own set of crappy pots and pans, limited money and a half-sized stove. Yeah, I even had to bend my cookie sheets to fit into the oven. I started out making the easy stuff, but eventually tried making new things. Once I found out I couldn't scare the new boyfriend Nick away with my hideous beginner's cooking (he IS my husband now, after all), I felt free to experiment and mess up meals. For the most part, things went alright.

Stupid mistakes included throwing noodles in the water before it was boiling (yes, this was MAC AND CHEESE, and I messed it up), lighting my oven mitt on fire while I was wearing it (I was standing there laughing at it before Nick made me put it out), burning stuff (typical), and bawling disappointed tears when the stuffed mushrooms turned out dry...

Eventually I mastered the basics. I credit this to trying a lot of stir -fries... Take a meat, some veggies, and sauce and cook it all together in a pan and put it over rice. Not bad. I also was making some of my old family favorites like spaghetti pie. Things were going alright, despite my cramped cooking quarters and cookware that was probably cancer-inducing.

After I got married, we moved into a place with a much larger kitchen. We also had much nicer cookware and utensils, thanks to our bridal shower. I tried more new things, but I didn't really realize how easy cooking could be until the fall of '08 when I started watching the Food Network. I carefully watched Rachael Ray during one of her 30 minute meals shows and felt inspired to try her chicken riggies recipe, which was a big hit with Nick. Around the same time I received a Rachael Ray cookbook from my best friend, and tried some of those recipes too.

After that, I was hooked. The pictures I was posting on MySpace (and then Facebook) of my successful meals were growing, and I felt bolder and happier with each good meal. Of course I still cook the old standbys, but it's great knowing that a little bit of confidence is all you need to make some easy cooking look fancy.

I'm no cullinary master, that's for sure. I still struggle with long grain rice (I swear I either burn it or under cook it) and fish. I'm hoping to master those soon. I like cooking with new ingredients, learning how they respond, and I have a huge supply of spices now. I try foods I don't like over and over again in the hopes that I'll end up liking them, and it often works (I'm eating black olives now!) I also want to gain a little more intuition when it comes to cooking and rely a little less on recipes, but I've gotten to the point where I alter recipes 90% of the time anyways!

This blog is like cooking for dummies... If I can do it, anybody can. So I'll be posting recipes and pictures, ideas, tips, and mistakes. And please give me ideas too!

Tip #1: is a GREAT place for recipes. I learned a lot from the site, especially since you can find meals based on ingredient searches, and nearly all of the recipes have user input and suggestions for improvement. That especially helps give you ideas for changing other recipes. An example of this is that I almost always use a related broth (chicken, beef or veggie, depending on the meal) instead of straight water, no matter what the recipe says. Check it out.

Tip #2: Food Network star Sandra Lee has a great show called Semi Homemade. She also has a magazine (which I subscribe to- it's great!) and cookbooks (my sister just gave me one of them for Christmas!). She gives very specific ingredients that can be bought at the store instead of being made from scratch, like salsas, dips, spice mixes, etc. It saves time and creates nearly the same effect as a made-from-scratch meal. The shortcuts don't take from the meal- it's just another way of making something that looks great but is easy to put together. Check out her show, cookbooks, or magazine. I'm sure I'll be posting some of her recipes in the future.