There was a moment during my journey that stands out, what Oprah would call an “aha!” moment.
It came from Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa on The Food Network.
For months I hadn’t been able to focus on a book, movie or tv show. I had no appetite nor interest in food or cooking which had been passions of mine.
I’d lost my mojo.
Enter The Barefoot Contessa. I’d tuned into her show out of a need to fill the silence with a familiar voice but then found myself engaging. Ina’s on-screen warmth drew me in and whatever she was cooking (though I can’t recall what it was) had my full attention. Her joy of cooking ignited a spark in me and at that moment I felt a shift as my inner foodie began reconnecting with my heart. It was a big step forward. Though she’ll never know, just by being herself, Ina Garten helped me on the path to healing myself.
I’ve mentioned my maternal grandfather and his talent for cooking in earlier posts, sharing some of his best recipes with my followers. This is one, once discovered, that he made often for us; I haven’t made it in years. Farmer’s Markets are currently brimming with vibrantly fresh zucchini and I’ve been thinking how hungry I am for this easy and satisfying dish. As always, I’ve tweaked the recipe but just a bit…. and it was great!
Italian Sausage Stuffed Zucchini Boats serves 4-8
3 – 4 zucchini
1 lb italian sausage
1/3 c chopped shallots
1-2 large cloves minced garlic
1/2 chopped green pepper
1/2 c grated parmesan + more for topping
1 c shredded mozzarella
1/2 c plain bread crumbs
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/4 t salt
1/4 t pepper
1 t fresh thyme (you can use dried)
red pepper flakes to taste (optional)
Start by boiling salted water in a large deep pot. Place the zucchini (whole) in the pot for 15 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool.
In another pan, brown the sausage, onions, garlic and green pepper, drain.
Slice the zucchini in half, scoop out the middles (I used a melon baller), saving them for the stuffing. Turn them face down on a paper towels to dry a bit, then place face up in an oven safe dish.
In a separate bowl, chop the zucchini that was scooped out. To that, add the egg, parmesan, mozzarella, bread crumbs, salt, pepper, thyme and red pepper flakes. Stir just to combine. Add the cooled sausage mixture, stir together. Spoon the sausage filling into the zucchini.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove and top with a few handfuls of parmesan and bake for another 5-10 minutes, until melted. Let them rest for 5 minutes and serve. Bon appetit!
I made these the day before which allowed the flavors to blend even more. I removed them from the refrigerator about an hour before baking and served them with my (famous) bruschetta. Watch for that recipe in future posts…..
Becky’s blog encompasses information about my favorite bubbly adult beverages and frequently pairs them with amazing recipes; I hope you’ll check her out!
To accept The Happiness Tag:
5 Things that Make Me Happy
5 Songs that Make Me Happy
5 Bloggers who Make Me Happy and Notify those Bloggers
5 Things that Make Me Happy
Being married to my soulmate. Spence and I spent 18 years together before making it legal. As we approach our 7th wedding anniversary in a few weeks, I’m grateful knowing how lucky we are to have found each other and made this life together.
Being Cat Mom to Tipper and Biscotti. Our two kitties were born in our back yard. Once they’d made eye contact with us we had to make them a part of our lives. Seven years later and each day they show me love with snugggles, purrs and playfulness.
When they were kittens…
Cooking. If you’ve followed my blog you could have predicted that it would make the list. There is something soothing and zen that happens to me during the creative process of preparing delicious food. Learning new techniques, trying out recipes, tantalizing aromas filling our home and of course, sharing the meals with others who enjoy them all equal happy to me.
My garden. In the first warm days of Spring, my hands start itching for contact with the dirt and with each week that passes, I’m in some stage of planting, pruning, gathering blooms and herbs, weeding and photographing it. Since retiring I’m able to spend more time enjoying it, stopping to smell the roses.
Travel. A goal of mine since retiring two years ago was to travel with Spence as much as possible. Our travel is comprised of new destinations and returning to places we love. I have chronicled many of our trips in my blog and hope to share many more!
5 Songs that Make Me Happy
Uptown Funk – Bruno Mars – no matter how many times I hear it I can’t resist the urge to break into dance. Every.Single.Time.
Locomotive Breath – Jethro Tull – a throwback to my teenage years, this has remained a classic rock favorite that never loses it luster for me. The beat, the lyrics, the imagery plus the power to transport me back in time, simply brilliant.
September – Earth, Wind & Fire – doesn’t this song make everyone happy? I defy you not to smile and stay in your seat.
God Only Knows – The Beach Boys – one of the greatest songs about love. Ever.
Sweet Caroline – Neil Diamond – so many great memories of this song, seeing Neil Diamond perform it when I was a teen, singing and dancing along to it in the ensuing years at numerous parties with great friends.
5 Blogs that Make Me Happy
tastingeverything.com – Chef Anne is not only responsible for creating healthy, delicious recipes but her food photography is unequaled. She plates like an artist and I only wish she was in Michigan so that I could try her food.
storyshucker.wordpress.com – Stuart M. Perkins has a writing style that is honest, touching and his stories make me slow down to savor each word.
badcatchris.com – This blog may have begun with Chris, The Baddest Cat You’ll Ever Love (and he looks like my Biscotti) but he shares this blog with his siblings including recently adopted and adorable kitten, Floki. Cat lovers, this blog is one you need to check out.
https://purrseidon.wordpress.com – Purrseidon is the star of this blog and is a cat. A cat who a fearless lover of water and a water sports enthusiast. But more than that, many posts written to Purrseidon’s “Furiends” feature stories of siblings, selfies and everything that is good, informative and helpful for cat moms and dads. “Purr-fectly fun”!
lovingleisuretime.wordpress.com – Frances is a breath of fresh air, pairing beautifully photographed flowers with perfect quotes and sharing delicious recipes. Retired since 2013 her posts are like a welcome visit with that friend that truly “gets” you. Simpatico.
Thirty sixth thing: I’ve gotten behind on this series of 59 things that make me happy (to commemorate my 59th birthday last May) and realized that I better step it up before my 60th birthday in a few months!
Cookbooks make me happy. Not everyone will get this but there will be those that do. I’ve lost count of how many I have. When remodeling my kitchen, I painstakingly went through the lot of them as I unloaded the old pantry where they were crammed and wedged in. I’ve always said that a cookbook is worthy of keeping if there is one rockstar recipe (or more) inside. I parted with a pile, sharing them with my foodie co-workers. In rennovating my kitchen, my design included special nooks to display those cookbooks that remained.
When my mom sold her house to move north a year ago, she offered up her cookbooks. I happily perused them, adding several more to my collection.
On gray, rainy or wintry mornings, it’s been my habit to pull a couple from their shelves and flip through them while sipping my tea. I’ve also been known to sit on my deck, enjoying my garden on a sunny day, sipping wine while enjoying a cookbook. There’s something comforting in looking at the photos and reading recipes, looking for that next winner! It makes me feel happy.
Stay tuned for more in this series and if you’re interested, check out prior posts for more of my 59 Things (under categories).
I have loved Mole Sauce since I was first introduced to it at age eighteen. My co-worker Loretta, was of Mexican descent and one evening after work made us homemade cheese enchiladas with Mole sauce from scratch. I was hooked. Over the years, I’ve experienced everything from average mole sauce to spectacular mole sauce when dining at Mexican restaurants around the world. What I’ve never done is attempt to make this complex and richly nuanced sauce myself. That is until yesterday….
Cobbling together multiple recipes and then pulling ingredients from my pantry, fridge and freezer, I went to work. It turned out incredibly well (Spence rated it A+ and 5 star). Of course, I neglected to write it down precisely while making it. That said, I’m going to share the steps I followed and what I used. I’d encourage you to try it and play with these flavors until it tastes perfect to you. Was it alot of work? Yes. Was the effort worthy of the outcome? Oh yeah.
3 cloves minced garlic
2 T chili powder
1 t cinnamon
1 t cumin
salt & coarse ground pepper
Place the garlic, olive oil and dry ingredients (above) in a sauce pan set at a medium-low heat, warming and softening the garlic – not browning it – for 7-10 minutes. Into the same sauce pan, add the following:
1/2 c chopped fresh tomatoes
1 – 2 T Chipolte in Adobo
1 16 oz can of chicken broth
1 T olive oil
1 T grated or finely chopped sweet onion
After adding these items, bring to boil then reduce to simmer for 8-10 minutes. Pour through a strainer, place liquids back into sauce pan, discard solids. Increase heat (not to boiling), adding these next ingredients:
2 T tomato paste
2 T smooth peanut butter
semisweet chocolate chips – between 1/4 to 1/2 cup (start with less, add more to taste)
1-2 T sesame seeds – lightly toasted in a dry skillet
Stir together until smooth and allow to simmer at a low temp for at least 1 hour, stirring occasionally. The sauce will reduce and if it becomes too thick, add a bit more chicken stock.
Wet Beef Burritos with Mole
1 recipe Mole Sauce – heated
Taco Meat – Ground Beef seasoned with garlic, onion, red pepper flakes, cumin, salt, pepper & Mexican seasoning blend
Finely Shredded Mexican Four Cheese Blend
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat each tortilla, one at a time, on the burner of your stove until soft and pliable (20-30 seconds). Assemble by spooning in meat, then cheese – rolling up like a burrito. Place in baking dish. Continue assembling the remaining burritos. Spoon a generous amount of mole sauce over each burrito covering top and sides, top with more cheese.
Bake for 20 minutes or until cheese is nicely melted on top.
For those who’ve visited my blog, it’s obvious that I’m food obsessed. I admit it freely. I love to cook and (pat on the back) am really skilled at it. Since retiring, Spence has benefited more than ever from my endeavors. I frequently cook from scratch, often make up recipes and even before I started the blog, photograph my culinary creations. My Pinterest page is a testament to my obsession as are the countless cookbooks and voluminous recipes I’ve clipped or have on cards in my old-school recipe box.
It is rare that I need to buy food staples at the grocery store as my pantry and freezer hold a myriad of items. Recently I started a list of things that I needed to replace. To my shock, several mainstays and comfort foods were missing when I visited my local Kroger store.
Campbell’s Cream of Shrimp Soup
Stouffer’s Spinach Souffle
Stouffer’s Welsh Rarebit
Out of a shopping list of ten items, this seemed a dismal failure but I chalked it up to the condition of the store which has been undergoing an endless “renovation” and is in a state of turmoil.
“Perhaps they are so disorganized that they don’t even know what they need to order” I surmised. I went online and let them know of my concern.
A few days later, we traveled north to Traverse City for a few days with family. Since Spence had to make a beer run I asked him to look for these items at their local IGA store. Struck out – not one of the missing items to be found.My concern was escalating. Gloria, their next door neighbor, stopped by and heard my tale of woe. She’d be at the Traverse City Meijer store that day and offered to do reconnaissance for me. If she was successful, she’d buy every can of the elusive shrimp soup and report back on the frozen items. It’s a huge store but that evening we learned the sad truth. NO LUCK – not one of the items to be found. I felt a rising sense of panic but not to be deterred, committed to searching all grocery stores in our county upon returning home.
Last Saturday, I was on a mission. I drove to the nice, newer Meijer store in the neighboring community of Davison. STRUCK OUT. Next, I went to the Davison VG’s and while the soup and Welsh Rarebit eluded me, I hit gold with the Spinach Souffle, snagging six of them!
I was encouraged.
Recalling that there is a Kroger in Davison, I trudged on. And to my delight, snagged the last six Cream of Shrimp soups and five Welsh Rarebits. As I drove home victorious, I declared “I must blog about my quest“. Spence was impressed with my coup but said “don’t put this in your blog“. What does he know about blogging?
The elusive soup
Please watch in the future for a post of the recipe – my Famous Shrimp Bisque – using the elusive but not discontinued Cream of Shrimp soup as the base!
I like to think I came upon my cooking skills from God-given talent, inspiration by family cooks, collecting and reading numerous cookbooks plus my avid interest in food. What I know for sure is that I’m far better today due to my obsession with watching The Food Network. Keep in mind that I was well into adulthood before The Food Network was ever conceived and what now may pass for common knowledge was not so common back in the day. I’m nowhere close to knowing it all and will continue “my education” while watching my friends/instructors Rachael, Ina, Giada, Bobby, Mario, Michael, Geoffrey, Alex and Jeff, to name a few.
Here are the top ten things that I’ve learned from The Food Network
1. Cooking with Wine – Only cook with a wine you’d drink, as it will reduce. If you wouldn’t drink it (think “cooking wine” ick!) then it isn’t worth cooking with.
2. Salt your pasta water – I’m not talking a dash of salt. Get your “salt on” and in doing so you’ll flavor the pasta while cooking it. It makes more of a difference than you’d think.
3. Dry your Sea Scallops – Spence and I love sea scallops yet for years I sadly wasn’t getting a nice golden crust on these tasty treats. Lay out a paper towel and spread them out, now lay another paper towel over the top and press lightly, removing excess moisture, then let them continue to air dry a bit more. Add dry scallops to a searing hot pan and you’ll get lovely, golden scallops on your plate.
4. Don’t fear the Anchovy – I’ve always liked anchovies but thought of them in terms of topping pizza or an ingredient in a Caesar dressing. Where they really shine is as the “salt” element and that little “je ne sais quoi” when added into a sauce or pasta dish. They “melt” into what you’re making (use the back of a wooden spoon to break down if you want). You will not taste any fishy flavor but I guarantee, they add a depth of flavor that takes any dish up a notch.
5. How to make a better pot roast – I always thought I made a darn good pot roast and I probably did. Then, watching Jeff Mauro (The Sandwich King) who’d just won The Next Food Network Star, I learned something that rocked my pot roast loving world. I rarely follow recipes (I tend to “wing it”) but after having made this one time, I have not deviated since. The most important lesson – sear not just the top and bottom of the roast but all the sides. I use a big fork to achieve this, propping the meat as I turn it, getting a nice sear on all surfaces. But then the recipe is so perfect that honestly, I believe each step is critical to the final success, even the cooking time as something magical happens in the last 30 minutes. Jeff eventually turns this into a sandwich (which I’ve no doubt is fabulous) but I serve it as a pot roast. The gravy that results with the broth, red wine and pan drippings is phenomenal. Here’s a link to the recipe: http://foodnetwork.com/recipes/jeff-mauro/c/ch/chi/chic/chicago-italian-beef-pot-roast-style-recipe.html
6. Use fresh shrimp – It’s so easy now to get raw, easy-peel, deveined shrimp and cooking with raw shrimp is not time-consuming but the flavor and texture is so much better. For years I would buy cleaned, cooked frozen shrimp and just pop them in at the end of a recipe for shrimp scampi (as an example). Using raw shrimp in any preparation is far superior. An example? Try my Shrimp Ceviche (link below) and then report back to me. I also make a cream of shrimp soup (recipe will appear in the future) using raw shrimp and there is a depth of flavor raw shrimp adds.
7. Don’t Fear Red Pepper Flakes – There was a time that I only used red pepper flakes to enhance my pizza. Not so any longer. My friends/instructors at The Food Network always add red pepper flakes to recipes to “kick up the heat” and now I constantly have them at the ready. Use a little or a lot depending on your need for heat but there’s something magical about what they do to the most basic recipe. Trust me.
8. Use good ingredients – When you really love to cook/eat/entertain – wow your friends and family, don’t skimp. I love Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa. If you’ve watched her show or bought one of her cookbooks you’ll notice that she strongly suggests using a good olive oil, mayonnaise or champagne vinegar (as examples). Why? Because when you use good ingredients, your end result is better. Like a Hallmark Card, you care enough to send the very best? Then use good ingredients. Enough said.
9. Deglaze, carmelize, braise, brine – Just knowing terminology and how to apply this to your cooking can put you ahead of other home cooks. I still believe that one day I’ll be competing on The Food Network simply because of the techniques and technologies I’ve learned.
10. The Power of Compound Butter – I love butter. Slathered on an english muffin or mashed potatoes, in a really great shortbread or taking it to the next level and creating a Compound Butter by integrating another ingredient or several ingredients to softened butter, then using that compound to create something magical. It’s no longer just butter. It’s a burst of flavor and I have numerous recipes, here’s one below that you can use for a roast turkey or chicken.
Two of my passions are travel and food. I’m always intrigued by the cuisine of the country or region I’m visiting and love to discover those spots that the locals frequent.
Spence discovered Costa Rica twenty years ago. Retired, he decided to escape Michigan, spending winters there instead. Still working, I’d take two weeks of vacation to visit him. That first year, he’d gotten the lay of the land and sought out a local haunt and a dish we’d never heard of….ceviche. Knowing me as well as he does, he didn’t need to run it by me – I love all food. Knowing him as well as I do, I trusted I was in for a treat.
From the house he’d rented in a little barrio near Quepos, we walked a mile into town. Inside a small, congested bus station, we wound our way through the locals and vendor stands until Spence motioned me towards the tiny Ceviche stand where we deftly snagged two of the five stools.
“Dos Ceviche con Camarones, por favor” Spence expertly articulated to the woman behind the counter. I perused the short menu on the wall, still unaware what ceviche was but with my limited Spanish, knew shrimp were involved while other varieties featured fish, calamari or octopus.
As we waited, the husband handed us tiny napkins, forks and a couple of 8 packs of saltine crackers, setting a bottle of hot sauce between us. The ceviche arrived, in an oval, pyrex-type vessel, vibrant and appealing. Served very cold, it was not only refreshing but incredibly delicious – the tang of citrus, the crunch of the veggies, the sweetness of the tender shrimp. I was over the moon. Spence simply smiled, having anticipated my enthusiastic reaction.
In the years that followed, we made many trips to this area and specifically to that bus station. Having sampled ceviche in countless places, all with more ambiance (and higher prices), I can say without question, none were better than what we found at the bus station.
After much research, here is my recipe which tastes as close to my memory of that Ceviche.
serves 8-12 Weight Watchers Smart Points 1 point per 1 cup serving
1 lb fresh, uncooked shrimp
1 c lime juice
1 c medium red onion – finely diced
2 c medium tomatoes-diced
1 jalapeño pepper – seeded and finely diced
1/2 c green bell pepper -diced
2-3 T chopped cilantro (more or less to taste)
3 T fresh orange juice
1 t salt
Peel and clean the shrimp, removing the tails. Chop the raw shrimp into small pieces. Add the finely minced jalapeño, remove the seeds and ribs if you wish to keep the heat in check.
Add the green pepper and red onion next.
Juice your limes and pour over these ingredients.
Now add the tomatoes, orange juice, cilantro and salt. Stir and refrigerate for four hours (stirring periodically to insure that the citrus “cooks” the shrimp evenly.
Serve and enjoy!
Chef’s Notes: You can substitute the shrimp with grouper or sea bass, just cut it into uniform small pieces. Substitute a sweet white onion for the red. I’ve seen recipes that add cucumber and/or celery diced as well as avocado and if fresh tomatoes are in season, you could add more. While I’ve served this as an appetizer to guests, Spence and I find it a refreshing, chilled entree on a hot night.
I’ve mentioned in other blog entries that my love of cooking came in large part from my Mom and her side of the family. However, my Grandma Nelson is responsible for several of my best-loved family recipes. Though I lost her just before my 13th birthday, for the last 30 years I’ve lived in the home that she and Grandpa built when my Dad was a young boy. I know she watches over me as I prepare meals she once cooked in this same kitchen. So nodding to my Dad’s side of the family on this wintry day, I wanted to share a favorite casserole recipe with my followers with hopes that you’ll try it and enjoy it as much as we do!
Corn Beef Casserole serves 4-6
8 oz egg noodles, cooked
1 can corned beef – diced
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar (I like sharp cheddar)
3/4 cup onion, diced
3/4 cup celery, diced
1 can cream of celery soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
2/3 of a soup can milk (I use 2%)
Bread crumbs for topping (plain, italian) or crumbled buttery crackers (like Ritz)
Saute the celery and onion in about 1-2 T butter until the onion is translucent but the celery is still bright green.
After cooking and draining the noodles, add the soups, milk, 1 c of cheese (reserving the other half cup for topping) and veggies together and stir to fold all ingredients together. Top with remaining cheese and bread crumbs.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes until it’s bubbling and slightly browned on top. Allow it to set for 5 minutes before serving.
Mom has sold her home in Florida, moving back to Michigan to be nearer my sister and I. Part of the process is letting go of things she won’t need in her smaller senior apartment. Cupboard by cupboard, drawer by drawer, closet by closet, she’s offered my sister and I numerous items before donating them. Not unexpected, the items I feel most drawn to wouldn’t be of interest to others; sentimentality has played a large part in items that I’ve said yes to.
Mom’s Mixing Bowls
Her mixing bowls have seen better days. Once a vibrant green, blue, yellow and red, they’ve faded to a more “rustic” look. What I see are bowls used when mom made cookies and cakes, teaching me how to use a rubber spatula with my reward being able to lick off the batter. I fondly remember the large one brimming with bubbling casseroles of baked spaghetti on Sundays and Six Layer Dinner, my Grandma’s recipe. She taught me how to measure and follow recipes, sparking my love of cooking and nurturing it. These bowls were always present. Years later when I’d visit, those bowls appeared when she cooked a requested family favorite for me or we prepared something delicious together. Good times.
Grandpa Fox’s Knives
My love of food and cooking came from not only my Mom but her father as well. My Grandpa Fox found his passion and talent for cooking after a long illness in his forties that necessitated early retirement. Memories of his cooking make me salivate to this day. He was gifted in the kitchen and on the grill. His enjoyment was evident, his enthusiasm contagious and he loved feeding his family. So many memories – the aroma of his fried chicken wafting out the door giving us a preview before we entered. His veal scallopini for which he became a legend (now a recipe I’m known for). His homemade beans, made in a special sunken bean crock built into their stove lovingly stirred and coaxed along over what seemed like several days. His ham glaze and homemade peach jam – divine. His perfectly crispy hash browns made using a potato ricer, dusted with minced parsley from his garden, browned in butter then expertly flipped – in the air. His famous charcoal grilled, rotisserie chickens that drew neighbors to his yard in awe and to whom he offered “a peek for a nickel” (with a wink and twinkle in his eye). And then there’s his Lamb Stew, so beautiful that you wanted to photograph it, the pop of green peas, bright orange carrots and perfect pearl onions in a glistening rich gravy with chunks of melt-in-your-mouth lamb.
So when Mom asked if I’d like two of Grandpa’s stainless steel knives is it any wonder that I’d want to inherit those instruments used to create meals ingrained in my memory and so much a part of my happy childhood?