Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Mystery "Meat"

As I may have expressed last night, Johnnycakes are reaching the bottom of the barrel as far as groceries and dinner items are concerned. Johnnycakes is at school tonight so I thought I would run to the grocery store and pick up something remotely healthy to eat as well as a few other edible items. Then I remembered that Johnnycakes had my car while his is in the shop. There went that idea.
Left to my own devices, I scoured the fridge for something to eat. I was super excited when I discovered Morningstar Black Bean burgers in the freezer. As many of us know, beans provide a lot of protein in the absence of meat and pack a lot of other healthy attributes. Combined with corn tortillas, lettuce, tomato, sour cream, cheese and salsa, I had all the fixins' for a tasty meal. Not to mention the cheap eats!
I didn't really put too much foresight into planning the photo because I was hungry at that point and the whole concept was a bit cumbersome. Basically, I just piled everything on top of the corn tortilla and ate it! You can't really see the black bean burger or melted cheese in the photo (hence the "mystery") but let me assure you they tasted good.
Tonight's dinner hit the spot, especially after I realized that for probably the first time in my life I skipped breakfast. I actually forgot to eat breakfast today. That is an absolute first! I never miss a meal:)
The best part is that there were two black bean burgers in the freezer, so I can make Johnnycakes a quick and healthy meal if he is hungry when he gets home.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Have it Your Way: Buttered Sea Scallops with Spinach and Rice

Tonight's dinner was another last minute creation that turned out to be a success. In fact, Johnnycakes was trying to tempt me to go out to eat for cheeseburgers but I resisted! A lack of pre-planning or selection in the freezer necessitated a trip to the Cross Street Market. Johnnycakes and I were also very indecisive but I eventually decided on some large sea scallops which are one of his favorites.

I knew that I was in the mood for brown rice and we always have plenty of that on hand. I used the rice cooker to prepare a couple of cooks. While the the rice cooked, I marinated the scallops in a sweet white wine and salt. Johnnycakes sauteed some mushrooms and onions in Smart Balance in one pan and the scallops and butter in another one. It was also his idea to add spinach to the mix.

Once everything was prepared, we both went separate ways when it came to plating and presentation. I mixed everything together in a bowl and topped it with the scallops and Parmesan cheese. Johnnycakes chose to eat each item separately. To each their own! We both enjoyed this impromptu dinner which was both nutritious and tasty. Much better than cheeseburgers. At least for tonight, anyway.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Dinner and a Draft

Normally, Fantasy Football is a point of contention between Johnnycakes and I because of all the time Johnnycakes spends watching football, researching players and stats and just generally talking football with his friends. Tonight, I actually found a reason to like Fantasy Football! Since tonight was "draft" night for Johnnycake's Fantasy League, he was anxious to eat before the fun began. I was running a little late from work, and when I got home Johnnycakes had dinner all prepared. All I did was fix a plate!

Dinner was a classic "meat and potatoes" dish which always aims to please. He seasoned the sirloin steaks in "Rudy's Rub", a Texas blend of barbecue spices, garlic pepper and salt before grilling them out back. An overly generous portion of sour cream topped the mini baked potato. All that topping was probably overkill but it tasted good! A healthy dose of steamed broccoli helped to round out the meal.
I'll tell you, I hope the rest of football season goes this well. I'll have to repay the favor by fixing him some "tailgate" treats once Ravens football and the season gets underway.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Stress Eating!!

I am trying to control myself and not stress eat! Johnnycakes and I are having a string of bad luck. His car was stolen two weeks ago and we finally got it back two days ago (minus a car stereo but with minimal damage). Then, today we were getting ready to leave for three days at the beach and swing into a service station for a quick oil change and the mechanic breaks my car! It's not that simple but let's just say we're not going to the beach tonight and maybe not at all this weekend. I'm feeling like we've stepped into some bad cosmic energy.
I quit smoking a while back but I used to turn to cigarettes in stressful situations. Since that's not an option anymore I am thinking about junk food to comfort myself. Luckily, I haven't actually shoved anything in my face yet but it's tempting. I'm kind of thinking about McDonald's french fries and ice cream. I am going to try to control myself and not stuff food in my mouth. Do others stress eat? What do you eat? What do you do to quell cravings?
Sorry about no photos!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Leftover and Loving It!

Tonight is a repeat of last night. I could almost paste the part about eating my delicious spaghetti dinner curled up on the couch with Moo Shu Gato. Even the weather is similar; chilly and rainy. Since Johnnycakes is out of town for a few days, I am enjoying a no hassle lifestyle. I ate leftovers for lunch and dinner and plan to do the same for the next couple of days. I guess it's a good thing that I love spaghetti. Plus, I always enjoy leftovers because the flavors have time to sink in and take hold of the dish.

The only difference between tonight and last night was the super simple garden salad I ate first. The assembly took all of one minute and included chopping a few florets of cauliflower, red onion and heirloom tomato. I added a few croutons and topped the healthy mix with some lite raspberry vinaigrette dressing. I enjoyed it immensely.

I have no complaints. Dinner was delicious, cheap and there was no clean-up. Sorry this post isn't very exotic but sometimes it's great to be boring.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Comforts of Home

A chilly rainy night home alone pretty much signals comfort food for many of us. That's exactly what I was thinking tonght when I made a big pot of spaghetti and meat sauce.

I didn't want to go to too much trouble with cooking or cleaning so I just doctored up some jarred spaghetti sauce. I complemented the sauce with plenty of vegetables including eggplant, carrots, onions, mushrooms and red peppers. I also added some extra lean ground beef seasoned with plenty of red pepper flakes, garlic, salt, italian seasoning and a little red wine vinegar.

It sounds simple but I actually ended up dirtying four pots because I was trying to cook in a hurry. I used one pot to boil the eggplant, one to cook the meat, two for the spaghetti sauce because the first one wouldn't fit the sauce, meat and all the veggies at the same time and a large stockpot to boil the whole wheat pasta. Once everything was cooked and relatively cleaned up, I filled a big bowl with pasta and sauce and topped it with lots of freshly shredded Parmesan cheese.

The rain was coming down pretty good at this point and it was starting to get dark outside so I curled up on the couch and polished off the whole bowl. It was completely delicious and satisfying. In fact, the sauce's flavor was almost addictive. The large variety of vegetables, including the eggplant and mushrooms, combined with the savory beef made this dish irresistible. Moo Shu, our cat, loves spaghetti sauce. I know it's bizarre but it's the one human food we feed her. I always let her lick the bowl once I'm finished. She loves it and tonight was no exception. Despite missing Johnnycakes, Moo Shu and I shared quite an evening on the couch enjoying one of our favorite comfort foods.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Like Grandma Used to Grow

Johnnycakes and I picked up this "superfruit" from the Reid's Orchard Stand at the Farmers Market this morning. I read that grapes, while uncommonly common, are actually considered a "superfruit" because of all the antioxidants and nutrients they contain.

I was actually intrigued by these local garden variety grapes because they reminded me of my grandmother. My "Nonna", who passed away some years ago, used to grow grapes at her suburban Baltimore home. My Italian grandparents recreated their homeland by growing grapes on overhead vines and on various racks and trellises throughout their property all inside the Baltimore beltway. In addition to grapes, they also had a plum tree, peach tree, a rather large vegetable garden and they raised chickens for eating.

We used to visit my grandparents and many cousins every Sunday night. In the summertime, my sisters I would always ask if the grapes were ready. "Are the grapes ready, yet" would be our mantra as Summer progressed. It seemed we could never eat enough of the grapes once they arrived.

I don't know what kind or variety they were. All I know is that they were "slipskin" grapes like these which meant you couldn't eat the skin. You had to spit the skin out and swallow the "meat" whole. Nonna's grapes were sweeter and had a more blue appearance than the ones I picked up today. I wouldn't be surprised if my grandparents somehow brought the variety from Italy since there is an old "fig tree" story in my family that goes something like that.

I'm not sure what you would call them. I don't recall seeing a sign at the stand, which usually labels all of the fruit varieties. I would call them Concord grapes but I'm probably wrong. Are there any Viticulture experts out there that could help with this?

Regardless, I plan to enjoy these "superfruits" and reminisce about my childhood summers running through the grapevines and playing with my cousins and, of course, gorging on grapes!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Sweet Treat!

As summertime winds to an end, Johnnycakes and I are trying to have as much fun as possible. Yesterday we took a fabulous trip to Hershey Park, a chocolate lover’s fantasy! Johnnycakes and I got to share this great day trip with my sister and my little 6-year old nephew. 2007 is an extra special year for Hershey because it marks the 100 year anniversary of the Hershey Kiss.
I never realized how many varieties of Kisses there were until I went into the legendary Chocolate World. Being from Baltimore, I’ve been to the park many times since it is only about an hour and a half away from Baltimore. Somehow, I never made it to Chocolate World which includes a tour ride of how Hershey Chocolate is produced, a 3-D movie, small food vendors and huge gift shops. I was super excited to experience this illusive (at least for me!) portion of park and enjoyed the free sample of Kissables as the end of the tour. The gift shops had just about every type of Hershey kiss imaginable including dark chocolate, cherry cordial, chocolate truffle, caramel, swirl, nut lovers and the list goes on….
It’s amazing how many sweet products the company makes in addition to the Hershey Bar including Icebreakers, Bubble Yum, Reeses, York Peppermint Patties, Twizzlers and Jolly Ranchers.
On a side note, we didn’t eat too shabbily at the park either. We were very impressed by a stand out barbecue stand by the Trail Blazer roller coaster which sold delicious pit beef sandwiches. I topped mine with plenty of barbecue sauce and fried onions. I even sampled a bit of horseradish. Johnnycakes had a barbecue chicken leg quarter which was fabulous and flavorful. The coleslaw was some of the best I’ve had all summer! It’s hard to believe we found this delicious food at an amusement park. You just have to search it out and bypass all the typical hot dog and chicken finger stands.
I would highly recommend a trip to this super sweet destination if you can steal away for a day. In fact, the park has expanded so much since I was a kid, I would recommend two days instead. If you are a chocolate lover, this is the place for you!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Something Simple

A busy schedule necessitated something simple for dinner. I have found that just because it's simple doesn't mean dinner has to lack in flavor.

I am a new convert to boneless chicken thighs! They pack twice as much flavor as a boring old chicken breast. Plus, they tend to be smaller which makes portion control much easier. I "rubbed" the chicken in Rudy's Rub. Has anyone ever heard of this? It was given to us by a friend who got it in San Antonio. The branding says it's the "worst" barbecue in Texas or something to that effect. We thought it was pretty damn good because of the natural blend of traditional barbecue seasonings. We also mixed in some honey to add some sweetness.

Tonight also marked a milestone for Butters! I "manned" the grilled solo. I have never actually used our grill alone before. In fact, I have had trouble even turning it on in the past. Johnnycakes had to run an errand so I was left to my own devices. I think I may have cooked the meat too quickly on too high of heat but overall everything turned out. The meat really held on to a lot of it's own juices and was very tender.

We rounded out the dinner w/ traditional southern mixed greens in butter and a mini baked potato topped with sour cream.

Despite it's simplicity, tonight's dinner was relatively healthy and had a lot of flavor. Johnnycakes raved about it when he got home and I enjoyed it myself. Sometimes it's best to keep things uncomplicated.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Summertime Rolls

One of the best things about summertime is undoubtedly the cookouts and barbecues. We certainly enjoyed ourselves yesterday at our neighbors house where the hospitality was unmatched. I wish I had taken more photos to demonstrate the spoils of our labor in the form of glorious food plates and leftovers but I didn't.

Here is a sampling of the many palate pleasers offered to us:

Margaritas (blended to perfection by Johnnycakes!)
Pork tenderloin - seasoned in honey, soy sauce and garlic chili paste.
Italian sausage
Chicken kebabs
Cheesy potatoes
Corn bread
Corn on the Cob - grilled with the husk on
Guacamole (a la butters)
Fresh salsa
Fruit salad ( a beautiful one, I might add, with a ton of variety)
French apple pie
Homemade Black and White cookies
Peanut Butter brownies

A local restaurant even donated delicious watermelon salsa, broccoli , bacon and cheese salad, pasta salad and potato salad. Our neighbors really have the connections!

I hope we can squeeze a few more of these events in before summertime rolls to an end. What about you? Has anyone been to some great barbecues and cookouts this summer?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Holy Guacamole!

Guac, as my neighbors call it, has got to be one our favorites. It's hard to beat a really good guac dip, especially when you've got tortilla chips and a salsa on the side.

This simple recipe packs a lot of buttery goodness and is tough to beat.


3 Hass avocados, ripe

1/2 red onion, chopped

1 medium tomato, chopped

2 cloves garlic

1/2 lime, squeezed

1/4 cup of cilantro, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

I like to cut the avocado in half and strike the round seed hard with the knife so it pops right out. Mash the avocados into slightly chunky in a medium bowl. Add the chopped red onion and tomato. Using a garlic press, press the garlic cloves into the mixture followed by the lime juice and cilantro. Mix all the ingredients together and add salt and pepper to taste.

This dip was a big success at our neighbors cookout today. We always get rave reviews whenever we serve it.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Taco Night ! Enough Said.

A lack of imagination and desire to cook ironically resulted in one of our favorite dinners: TACOS! Sometimes you just can't beat taco night. I didn't really have much to do with it. Johnnycakes whipped up these up in a flash.

He cooked lean ground beef with red peppers and onions until well done. The rest of the preparation was a simple as chopping some tomato and gathering the other toppings out of the fridge and assembling them on the counter. We topped corn tortillas with sour cream, tomatoes, shredded cheese and lettuce. That was it. Nothing fancy. No sides.

I enjoyed two tacos while Johnnycakes devoured five! Since I didn't have anything to do with the preparation, I ended up on dish duty. I didn't mind though.

Sometimes a quick, no frills dinner is best. It leaves more time for other pursuits, like blogging, visiting friends, etc! Enough said.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Restaurant Review: Ann's Dari-Creme

Johnnycakes and I have been anticipating a trip to Ann's Dari-Creme on Ritchie Highway for some weeks and finally ventured there tonight. We stumbled across this nostalgic joint a few weeks back after a rare trip to Marley Station Mall and stopped in for ice cream. We were surprised when we got inside and saw a concise menu of burgers, hot dogs and fries. We were completely intrigued by the cramped and diner-style decor and the feeling that we were stepping back in time. The restaurant opened in 1951 and was probably akin to many other roadside stops at the time but we were especially interested when we read the newspaper clippings inside about how the small family owned business fought the developers of Marley Station Mall and won! The place really does sort of stick out like a sore thumb amongst the mall's imposing presence. After all this, we vowed to come back for dinner one day soon.
We declared tonight "date night" and planned our dinner and a movie accordingly. We drove out to Ann in anticipation of a good old fashioned greasy American dinner of burgers and fries. We actually accidentally ordered rather large subs because we didn't realize that you could order either a sandwich, half or whole sub. That somehow escaped me and I ordered myself a whole cheeseburger sub with fried onions, lettuce, tomato, mayo and mustard on a huge sub roll. Johnnycakes ordered a whole hot dog sub with chili and cheese. We split an order of fries. I think they are most known for the hot dog sub but I preferred the cheeseburger sub. I noticed on the menu that you can order a a "double dog" which I can understand because the hot dogs are rather skinny and get lost in the large sub rolls. Next time I will order just the cheeseburger "sandwich" because the sub rolls are enormous and the meat sort of gets lost inside. Overall, we enjoyed our traditional grub and of course managed to polish off the large portions.

The inside only seats about 10 people at the stainless steel counter and the volume of folks coming in and out to order dinner is pretty heavy so we decided to eat in our air-conditioned car. God Bless America! Normally, you would be able to eat outside at the various benches scattered throughout the large parking lot but we were dissuaded by the sweltering August heat.

I was ready for some ice cream or a milkshake afterwards but Johnnycakes talked some sense in to me. Next time, he said....

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Double Bird

Sometimes there's nothing like a good old grilled chicken sandwich, especially when it's topped with fresh local tomatoes. At least that's what I was in the mood for tonight. Johnnycake's softball game necessitated a quick dinner so sandwiches seemed like a logical choice.

I bought some boneless chicken thighs at the grocery store last night. I wanted to buy chicken breast but the grocery store was ransacked and they didn't have the "family packs" that we prefer. The thighs worked well because their small size pre-portioned them for sandwiches. and the dark meat had extra flavor the chicken breast often lacks. I marinated the meat quickly in Ken's Steakhouse Raspberry Vinaigrette dressing for lack of other ideas or preparation.

After we grilled the chicken outside, we topped the chicken with melted Alpine Lace reduced fat provolone cheese and turkey bacon.(hence the "double bird" name) I chose to put the sandwich on a hot dog potato roll while Johnnycakes opted for wheat bread. Both were delicious, especially with a little LTM. Unfortunately, as you can see by the photo, mine was so "overstuffed" that I had to serve it open-faced!

BTW, I recently read or heard (I can't remember which) that sandwiches are the most popular dinner in the United States. Do you think that's true?

Monday, August 6, 2007

Groceries at Last!

I think Johnnycakes and I have set a new personal record for the longest we have ever gone without grocery shopping. It's been three whole weeks since the last time we have gone to the grocery store. Let me tell you, I would not recommend it. We spent twice as much money on food eating outside the house and our diet has been pretty unhealthily. This is not a good example to set as a food blogger who tries to promote the benefits of home cooking!

I would blame our hectic work schedules but I would also blame our full social schedule for our inability to get to the grocery store. We have been very busy with work but we've also been having a lot of fun hanging out with friends and family. The other truth is that I just plain dislike going to the grocery store. In fact, I don't like to shop much, period. I tend to prefer visiting local markets and shopping on a daily basis but you can't really buy soda or bulky items that way.

I have been contemplating starting to use a grocery delivery service more regularly, such as Safeway or Giant's Peapod. The Food Maven blog addressed this topic today. Maybe I should take that as a sign that I am just not cut out for these arduous grocery excursions. My problem in the past has been the scheduling but I'm sure I can manage if I really want to.

For now, Johnnycakes and I are excited that we can enjoy our favorites, such as Silk Chocolate Soy Milk, Kashi Go Lean Blueberry Waffles, yogurt, seltzer water... The list goes on. How much did we spend? I spent around $157 and some change and that included plenty of meats to prepare healthy dinners, fruits, veggies and some frozen meals for when we are in a pinch!

Now we just have to get back on our weekly Sunday evening visits to the grocery store or committ to online shopping so we don't end up in this situation again.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

A Bridal Luncheon

Today was a great day! Not only did I attend my best friend's bridal shower, but it was held at great friend's excellent restaurant, the Laurrapin Grille ( in Havre de Grace, MD. I highly recommend trying this restaurant if you are in the Havre de Grace area and want to try some unique and tasty cuisine in a cool setting.

The food is always top notch at the restaurant. In fact, our friends have held several occasions there recently because of the overwhelming demand for the food! Today was no different. The appetizers were highlighted by a delicious artichoke,eggplant spinach dip served with crostini and crackers. A fruit platter with a raspberry cream sauce was also a hit!
My girlfriend is a real "meat and potatoes" kinda gal, to use her own words, so the lunch was just that! The meal consisted of a fresh mixed green salad, chicken breast topped with a corn chowder type sauce, roasted potatoes, roast beef and creamy veggie bow tie pasta dish. As you can see, I really loaded up my plate. I hope that doesn't look to gross!!!

For dessert, our friend made these delicious light and fluffy strawberry cupcakes. Also, the bride's sister brought a delicious cake from the famous NYC Magnolia bakery. She has brought a cake down from the City for two occasions now. The cakes are so beautiful and I wasn't able to get a photo:(

As I said before, today was an exceptional day. It was a significant and memorable day for my best friend as she approaches her wedding day and more selfishly because of all the good grub!

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Simple Things

Sometimes it's the simplest of ingredients that have the most impressive results. Johnnycakes and I certainly felt that way recently when we made a beautiful mozzarella caprese dish using the simple ingredients of fresh local Maryland tomatoes, olive oil, fresh basil and mozzarella cheese.

Mozzarella Caprese

1 large tomato
1/2 cup of fresh basil
1/2 cup of slice fresh mozzarella
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Drizzle the bottom of a dish with olive oil. Delicately space the salted, sliced tomatoes along the bottom of the dish. Gently place on basil leaf on top of each tomato and then stack a piece of mozzarella (about a 1/2 piece) on top. Drizzle the plate again with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper.

I like to each these little towers on top of freshly baked crostini, which is only sliced french bread topped with a bit of olive oil and baked until crunchy.
With the remaining fresh tomato, basil, bread and cheese. We even found time to make little pizzas. We topped the bread halves with tomato, mozzarella, basil, red onion, sausage and Parmesan cheese and baked for about 12 minutes.

As you can see, our efforts yielded spectacular results!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Fish in a Fix

Tonight we had our "go-to dinner" when we don't have anything planned: fish from the Cross Street Market. I always walk past the market on my way home from work and the local fish monger always has a fresh selection. I also was in need of some extra veggies for side dishes. After an extra pleasant visit to the market, I decided on tilapia, cabbage and tomatoes for dinner. We already had potatoes at home to round out the plate.
We seasoned the fish in paprika, cayenne pepper, lemon juice, salt and pepper and let it chill for about 30 minutes before grilling it in the backyard. We also sliced the potatoes, tossed them in olive oil and salt and grilled them in foil next to the fish.
Johnnycakes and I both love cabbage and we haven't prepared it much lately. I bought a rather cute baby cabbage at the market and prepared it simply. I chopped it and pan-fried it in olive oil in a covered pan.
For a little color, we simply sliced the tomatoes and tossed them in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. They added some extra flavor to the dish which was otherwise plain.
I would say that tonight's dinner was a success considering we were in quite a fix with an empty fridge and pantry. I can't say how lucky we are to have the local market within walking distance because quite frankly, I often don't have the time or energy to run to the supermarket after work.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Not so "Drunken Noodles"

I had the brainstorm idea of making "drunken noodles", the well-known Thai restaurant staple, since we he have a rather successful Thai basil plant growing in our kitchen. Unfortunately, I must have been "drunk" when I decided to make it because it didn't turn out too well. I did a brief Internet search and decided that I probably had enough of the traditional ingredients to wing it.

Johnnycakes, who is still out of town on business, was not supportive of the idea during our phone conversation. He is a huge drunken noodles fan and it's hard to dissuade him from ordering anything else when we visit a Thai restaurant. Looking back, I think he was probably right.
First off, I did not have the distinct "glass noodles" that give the dish it's slippery texture. I decided to use Barilla Plus whole wheat penne pasta in an effort to be healthy. What I did have was the Thai basil, which I think has an almost fennel taste to it. I also had fish sauce, soy sauce and sugar, which I used to make a sort of sauce to coat the noodles and lean ground beef. I used red pepper flakes and chili garlic pasted to give the dish it's familiar heat.
One good thing about the dish is that it had plenty of vegetables. I used a can of tomatoes (a shame during tomato season, but I digress), a large peeled carrot, three chopped celery stalks, and chopped scallions to boost the veggie factor.
I mixed all these ingredients together and achieved a rather colorful bowl of pasta. Unfortunately, the flavor just wasn't there. It was rather bland despite the peppers and tasted salty (fish and soy sauces) more than anything else. Even the Thai basil failed to shine through. I am hoping that the flavors have a chance to mingle and gain potency overnight and the real flavor might be more discernible in my lunchtime leftovers.
Oh well! I tried! I have made a rather successful Pad Thai in this sort of rigged manner before but I guess drunken noodles is best saved for restaurants.