Welcome to Food thoughts....

I created this blog to help friends find fun in cooking by sharing tasty recipes, cooking techniques and answering questions. I hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Fast and Easy dinner tonight

Just thought I'd share with you the fast and fabulous dinner I made tonight.  Took little effort and came together within less than 30 minutes.

Lemon pepper Angel Hair pasta with shrimp and artichoke hearts

1- 1 lb. package Angel hair pasta
1 - 1 lb. package,frozen cooked, peeled and deveined shrimp, tails off
2 packages frozen artichoke hearts
3/4 cup butter
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 tbs. granulated garlic
1/4 cup Lemon Pepper

1. Boil pasta according to package directions.
2. When pasta is done, add the shrimp and artichoke hearts to pasta water and pasta.  Stir and allow to thaw the shrimp and artichokes
3.Drain pasta, shrimp and artichoke hearts.  Meanwhile, add butter and olive oil to pot. 
4. Add drained pasta mixture and toss to coat. 
5. Serve immediately.

Simple, easy and delicious.  Hope you enjoy!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Keeping it fresh with dried herbs and spices.

Okay I know that just about everyone out there has herbs and spices in their cupboard that they have no idea how long they've been there.  And every time you open that cupboard or drawer you ask yourself "How long have I had this, and is it still good?" 
     Here's the low down for you.  Whole spices are good for up to 3 or 4 years.  These are things like nutmeg, peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, cloves, cardamom pods, star anise, etc.  Ground spices don't really go bad, and neither do dried herbs.  However, they both lose potency after a while.  You have about 2 - 3 years for ground spices and about 1 - 3 years for dried herbs.  This doesn't mean they're bad, they just might not have as much flavor as something that hasn't sat around in your cupboard for as long.  There are a couple ways you can test them.  First take a look at the colors.  Chances are if they are still vibrant they're probably still pretty good.  If they've lost color, they've probably lost flavor too.  You can also test them by taking out a pinch and rubbing them between your thumb and forefinger.  If they are still nice and fragrant, they're still good.  When the aroma is weak or flat it's best to toss them and start fresh.
     As for your bottles of extracts, they tend to fade after about 4 years.  All except PURE vanilla which lasts indefinitely.
Please, please please do not store your herbs and spices on the back of the stove, close to the sink or the dishwasher, in the cupboard above the stove, or near a window.  Keep them away from heat, moisture and direct sunlight.  This affects their quality, viability, color and flavor.  And can cause ground items to clump or become hard blocks due to moisture or steam.
     Store your herbs and spices tightly sealed in a dark cupboard, the pantry or in drawers that are dark and cool to help maintain their quality.  They'll thank you for it and stay better for you longer!!!
     One more thing, don't sprinkle herbs or spices directly from the bottle over steaming/simmering pots, this can cause moisture to enter the container and degrade the product or cause caking and or clumping.   Remove what you need from the bottle or container into another measure, cup or bowl then add to your food.  This will help you keep your herbs and spices in the best shape.  And when using measuring spoons, be sure they're completely dry before dipping into your tins or jars too.  You don't want to introduce moisture that way either!

I hope this helps!  Enjoy and happy cooking!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Steak Broiling 102, Timing and doneness

So here's a chart to give you a hand with times and doneness for your steaks.  I give all the credit for these charts to the Easy Steak Marinades website.  I like how they've laid it all out so I thought I'd pass it on.  They've got some good stuff too.  Check them out at www.easysteakmarinades.net

Steak Broiling Times

Broiling is best for medium thick cuts of steak so it is best to use steak that is less than an inch and a quarter thick, else the outside will burn before the inside has warmed through. If the broiler keeps turning itself off because the oven has reached "the right temperature" you can prop open the oven door slightly so the broiler stays on.
Your broiler needs to be set to the highest setting. Make sure the broiler and broiler rack are both hot before you start cooking and have the rack three inches from the heat.

¾" Thick Broiled Steak
Steak Cooking Charts Three Quarter Inch Thick Broiled Steak
1" Thick Broiled Steak
Steak Cooking Charts One Inch Thick Broiled Steak
1¼" Thick Broiled Steak
Steak Cooking Charts One and a Quarter Inch Thick Broiled Steak
1 ½" Thick Broiled Steak
Steak Cooking Charts One and a half Inch Thick Broiled Steak
1 ¾" Thick Broiled Steak
Steak Cooking Charts One and Three Quarter Inch Thick Broiled 

Broiling Steaks 101

I had a friend ask me the proper method of broiling steaks.  She mentioned that her husband always turns them into shoe leather.  Now that can't be very tasty!  So here's the right way for a tasty, tender and juicy steak.

1. Prepare your steaks and preheat your broiler. 
  First, prepare your steaks.  All meats cook better, more evenly and easier if they've been allowed to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes.   A good steak according to any purist really only needs 3 things for seasoning, a small amount of vegetable oil rubbed over the entire surface of the steak (keeps them from sticking to the grill-pan, allows seasonings to adhere to the meat and helps promote that ever so tasty caramelization we crave), kosher salt and cracked black pepper.  You may season accordingly or as you like, then allow your steak to rest while your broiler heats.  Preheat your broiler on high, let it get screaming hot!

2. Broil the steak.
Once the broiler has achieved maximum heat, place the steaks on the broiling pan and place in oven. The cooking time for the first side is going to depend on a three major things: how thick your broiling pan is, how thick your meat is, and what type of oven you have. A gas range will get hotter than an electric range, it's just how they're made.   Also, it depends on how well-done you like your meat. Personally, I believe anything past medium-rare or medium is a waste of good meat but if you can't stomach a little blood or pink in your meat, you will need to cook yours a little longer than the rest of us.  ***I'll post a chart in my next blog on cuts, weights and timing for meats from the Iowa Beef Council.  

 3. Don't forget to flip your steak half way through cooking time.  

4. Time to eat.....ALMOST.
So your steak is done, it's sitting there on your broiling pan and you're salivating over the smell.  But wait!!!!!  You need to let your steaks rest for at least 5 minutes.  This gives the meat time to redistribute all the juices so they don't just gush out when you cut into it.  This ensures it will stay juicy (provided you didn't cook it well done) and all that flavor will stay in your steak, not on your plate!  You can cover it with foil to help retain heat.
5. Now you can eat!  Enjoy 

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Blueberry & Craisin Spinach Salad

As many of you know I seldom leave recipes as is when I find them and start to try them.  I found the origins for this recipe's jump off point from the Blueberry Council.  You can check them out at www.blueberrycouncil.com.   I found them when I was looking for recipe's for our "Pick of the Month" at work which this month happens to be Frozen Local Blueberries.   For those who don't know, the "Pick of the Month"  is part of a government program called Fruits and Veggies, More Matters.  The pick of the month is a featured fruit or vegetable we choose to feature that is locally produced and available during the month of feature.  Anyway, we featured this recipe I modified and thought it was worth passing along.  Hope you enjoy.

Blueberry & Craisin Spinach Salad

Fresh or frozen blueberries1 cup
Walnuts, toasted, chopped1/4 cup
Craisins1/4 cup
Extra virgin olive oil 1/4 cup
Blueberry Vinegar2 tablespoons (recipe follows)
Feta cheese, crumbles1/4 cup
Baby Spinach, washed & dried  2 cups (packed)

1. To prepare blueberry dressing:  In a cup, whisk the olive oil and 2 tablespoons of the Blueberry Vinegar.

4.  In a bowl, toss spinach with half of the blueberry dressing; arrange on four serving plates. In the same bowl, combine blueberries, Craisins and walnuts; toss with the remaining dressing; arrange on serving plates, dividing equally. Garnish with Feta cheese.

YIELD: 4 portions

Blueberry Vinegar

In a blender container, combine 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries, 1/2 cup sugar and 2 cups white wine vinegar. Blend until pureed; strain. Refrigerate until ready to use.

YIELD: about 1 cup

A "healthy" recipe for you....

     Hey there, I thought I might post this for everyone.  It's something I made for my mother in law for Mother's day.  I made  lunch for her and she happens to be gluten intolerant so I found this recipe, modified it a little and it turned out great.
     Don't be deceived by what's in it.  I think it's an awesome way to sneak some healthy stuff into your family's diet.  It turns out rich, chocolaty and moist almost like a cheesecake.  Give it a try, you won't be sorry.

Black bean Brownie cake

1 (15.5 oz.) can black beans, rinsed and drained
3 eggs
3 T. vegetable oil
1/3 c. cocoa powder
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1 pinch of salt
3/4 c. white sugar (I substituted 2/3 c. Agave syrup, my m-i-l doesn't use refined sugar)
1 t. vanilla extract
1 t. instant coffee or 1 T. strong brewed coffee (optional)
1/2 to 3/4 c. chocolate chips (or I used chopped 70% cacao dark chocolate because it's my favorite)
     (choc. chips are optional too, but I think they add to the final product)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease an 8x8 square baking dish or a round spring form pan.
  2. Combine the black beans, eggs, oil, cocoa powder, salt,  baking powder, vanilla extract, sugar, and instant coffee in a blender or food processor; blend until smooth; pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top of the mixture.
  3. Bake in the preheated oven until the top is dry and the edges start to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 30 minutes.

Allow to cool completely and enjoy!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Refrigerator/Freezer Pantry Basics

Alright, last but by far not least are basics for the Refrigerator and Freezer.  I truly hope that you find this helpful.  I know most of it's just common sense, but it helps sometimes to have it all written out.

Pantry Basics for your Refrigerator and Freezer

Cheese – cheddar, Parmesan and other favorite flavors
Milk – or soy and cream and or heavy cream
Sour cream
Vegetables –fresh and frozen
Fruits – fresh and frozen
Yogurt – plain
Beef – ground bulk and patties, round steak, rump roast, bottom round and country style boneless ribs
Chicken – whole, parts, boneless skinless breasts and ground
Pork – ground bulk, sausage and links, tenderloin, chops and roasts
Ground turkey
Fish of choice, fresh water or salt water, whole or fillet
Seafood of choice....I like to keep IQF shrimp in the freezer for fast pastas or stir fries. I like scallops and crab too.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Condiment Basics and Herb/Spice basics.

So let's keep the ball rolling and add to the collection of my kitchen staples.  Hope these help too!

Condiment Basics

Sesame oil
Pickles – dill and sweet, whole and relish
Olives – black and green
Soy sauce
Worcestershire sauce
Sun dried tomatoes, dried and oil packed
Barbecue sauce
Maple syrup - the real deal, not some "flavored" stuff
Chile paste and sauce
Mushrooms – dried and canned
Mustard – yellow, Dijon, brown and spicy
Hot pepper sauce
Molasses, dark


Basic Herbs and Spices

Bay leaves
Chili powder
Cinnamon – ground and sticks
Cloves – ground and whole
Coriander, ground
Cream of Tartar
Cumin, ground
Curry powder
Dill weed
Garlic, granulated and or powdered
Ginger, ground
Mustard, dried ground
Pepper – cayenne, dried red flakes
Pepper – black peppercorns and ground
Rosemary, dried
Sage – ground and rubbed
Salt – kosher and sea
Sesame seeds
Thyme – ground and dried
Vanilla extract
Seasoning blends:  Italian Seasoning, Taco Seasoning, Season Salt, Montreal Steak Seasoning, any of the Mrs. Dash blends and Creole seasoning

Monday, May 10, 2010

Pantry Basics

Below you will find a list of common staples that you would most likely find in any pantry, mine included (plus extras, but we'll cover those later!).  For now, I'll cover just the pantry staples, I'll do Herbs and Spices and Refrigerator/Freezer in later blogs.  With this list, you should be able to pull a meal together anytime.  Hope this is helpful.  :-)

Pantry Basics

All purpose flour
Baking Mix (Bisquick or Krusteez)
Cake mixes
Milk – powdered, evaporated and shelf stable
Sugar- granulated, brown and powdered
Oatmeal – rolled oats and quick cooking
Cereal – cold and hot (cream of wheat, malto meal, cream of rice and or grits)
Plain and or Italian Breadcrumbs
Crackers – saltines, club, butter, wheat, rye or other whole grain
Cooking spray
Vegetable Oil
Olive Oil
Shortening for baking
Extracts – vanilla, almond, lemon and orange and maple
Nuts (almonds, walnuts, peanuts, pecans and pine nuts)
Long or short grain white Rice
Other favorite shaped pastas IE. Penne, Angel hair, Fettuccine, shells, etc.
Baking soda
Baking powder
Kosher salt or sea salt
Black pepper – whole peppercorns and ground
Garlic – fresh
Fruit, canned – peaches, pears, pineapple, pumpkin and applesauce
Beans - canned red kidney, black, white (cannellini and or great northern), garbanzo
Beans - dried (black, red, white, pinto, lentil, split pea)
Broth canned and dried chicken, beef and vegetable
Coffee, beans or ground and instant
Chocolate – cocoa powder, semi-sweet chips
Soup – canned and dry bouillon
Tuna, canned
Chicken, canned
Tomatoes – canned whole, stewed, crushed, sauce and paste
Peanut butter
Fruit preserves, jam and jelly
Potatoes, fresh russet, red, Yukon and sweet and instant mashed (pearls or flakes)
Yeast, dry
Vinegar – white, cider, balsamic, white wine, red wine
Lemon – juice and fresh
Lime – juice and fresh
Onions - yellow and red
Dried fruit – raisins, apricots

Monday, May 3, 2010


Who doesn't love bacon????

     Yeah, I know it's something pretty simple.  But for some people it's a pain in the hiney.  This is my favorite way to make it and I think it's the simplest and best method.   It doesn't curl up like when you stand over the stove and babysit it while it fries and splatters your entire stove and the wall behind it and you yourself.
    The best part is, you don't have to babysit it!!!!  You can do other things.....like fry your potatoes, slice tomatoes, fry your eggs or make your pancakes or waffles or omelets or whatever else you might be having with it. 

What you need.......Bacon, a cookie sheet with sides and your oven!

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. 

Place bacon on cookie sheet, no need to grease it.

Bake the bacon for 15 minutes then check to see how it's doing, pull it out and drain some grease. No you don't have to flip it either!

Please tell me you don't throw your grease away either, I don't wanna hear it!  I save mine to cook and or flavor other stuff.  Too good to waste!

All total it will probably take you 25 to 30 minutes.  I don't time it, I just watch it and go by smell.  But check it every 5 minutes or so just to be safe.

When it reaches slightly under your desired doneness, remove from oven, drain again and transfer to a paper towels to finish draining and cool.  It will firm up a bit more as it sits and cools. 


Hard Cooked Eggs 101 (NO GREEN RINGS!!!!)

I don't know about you, but I seriously hate to see those ugly green rings around the yolk of hard cooked eggs.  It means they've been cooked to death and in my opinion, it changes their flavor too.  So here's the secret to hard cooking eggs the right way, not just according to me and how I learned but also by the American Egg Board.  Happy Cooking!

What You 
Need What You Need
Step 1 Step 1
PLACE eggs in saucepan large enough to hold them in single layer. ADD cold water to cover eggs by 1 inch. HEAT over high heat just to boiling.
Step 2 Step 2
REMOVE from burner. COVER pan. LET EGGS STAND in hot water about 15 minutes for large eggs (12 minutes for medium eggs; 18 minutes for extra large).
Step 3 Step 3
DRAIN immediately and serve warm. OR, cool completely under cold running water or in bowl of ice water, then REFRIGERATE.

Compliments of the American Egg Board!  Check them out, you'll learn everything you ever wanted to know and then some.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Crock Pot Chicken Stroganoff

I like this recipe very much.  It's a different spin on beef stroganoff and I can throw it in before work and forget about it until I get home!  Then all I have to do is add the sour cream and flour then cook up some pasta and a vegetable.  Not to mention that there are always leftovers for lunch the next day...yum!

Crock Pot Chicken Stroganoff

  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch pieces (*can use frozen, then leave whole)
  • 1 pkt. Lipton Onion Soup Mix
  • 2 t. minced garlic
  • 1/2 t. ground black pepper
  •  1 can Cream of Mushroom soup
  • 2 small cans sliced mushrooms or 2 c. fresh sliced button mushrooms
  • 1 12 oz. carton light sour cream
  • 2 t. flour
  • 2 t. chopped fresh parsley

1. Layer ingredients into the crock pot as listed above until you reach the sour cream.
2. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.  *IF you used frozen chicken breasts allow to cook for 8 -10 hrs. or cook on high for 6-8 hrs.  Then you can shred them at this point or leave them whole and serve one per person.
3. Stir the flour into the sour cream and then stir into chicken mixture, replace lid and allow to cook for an additional 30 minutes while you cook your pasta.  Stir in parsley and serve.

You may choose to serve this over the pasta or stir the pasta into the chicken and sauce.  The latter is a better idea if you're taking this dish to a potluck!

Happy Cooking!

Muffin Frittata's

     I found this recipe from the American Egg Board some time ago.  It's so simple and easily adjustable depending on what you have on hand.  Just use your imagination and go for it! Change the veggies, add herbs and spices, change the cheese, add some bacon or ham or sausage...the possibilities are endless.
      Makes for an easy breakfast, lunch or dinner to pull together fast, just add some potatoes or toast and or fruit or a salad and you've got it!

Muffin Frittata's
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 3/4 cup chopped zucchini
  • 1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped red onion
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Beat eggs, milk, salt and pepper in medium bowl until blended. Add cheese, zucchini, bell pepper and onion; mix well. Spoon evenly into 12 greased muffin cups, about 1/4 cup each.
  2. Bake in 350 degrees F oven until just set, 20 to 22 minutes. Cool on rack 5 minutes. Remove from cups; serve warm.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Ridiculously Fast Chicken Taco Filling

Hey there!
     Here's a super fast and easy recipe to pull together in minutes.  Use it for tacos, burritos, on a salad or over rice or even pasta....whatever you happen to have on hand.  I almost always have tortillas on hand and usually some cooked up rice in the fridge, so it's an easy meal to pull together when I'm dragging.  I have no fear of taking help wherever I can get it!

Ridiculously Fast Chicken Taco Filling

  • 2 cans canned chicken breast (I get the kind from Costco)
  • 1 packet taco seasoning
  • 1 (15 oz.) can of beans (your choice...kidney, black, garbanzo, white) drained and rinsed.
Open both cans of chicken and pour contents, liquid included into medium sauce pan, add taco seasoning and beans, heat through and until it reaches desired consistency. I sort of break up the chicken as it heats and flavors blend.   Serve as desired with your favorite accompaniments.  

Hope you enjoy!  Happy Cooking!

Black Bean Hummus

This is a tasty, easy, low-fat and even healthy dip, spread or filling.  What you choose to use it for is up to you.  I think it's great spread on tortillas and filled w/ veggies for a great snack or lunch.  Great for dipping pita wedges, tortilla chips, crackers or veggies.  Also lovely for a sandwich spread with or without meat!  You can spice it more if you like things hot or tone it down a little if you don't like big flavor.  Myself, I like things with a kick!  Here's my moderate spice version.

Black Bean Hummus
  • 1 (15 oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed and reserving 2 tablespoons bean liquid
  • 3 cloves garlic (I really like garlic!)
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 chipotle pepper or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (the chipotle gives it a smokey flavor)
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
Place all ingredients except the bean liquid and paprika in the food processor, blend until smooth. Use the bean liquid if needed to thin the consistency if needed.  Garnish with the paprika and a few extra cilantro leaves if desired.
You may use it right away, or let it chill for a few hours.  It's even better the next day. 

Hope you enjoy the recipe!

Happy Cooking!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Rice Cooking 101

     Everyone needs to know how to make rice and not that instant stuff either.  Making rice and having it turn out right is much easier than you might think and no you don't need a "rice cooker".  Just follow these few simple instructions and your rice will turn out perfect EVERY time.  
     Once you know how to make rice, you have the start of an easy and excellent meal.  You can stir fry some veggies to go with it, add some meat if you like and there you have it.  Or serve it under your favorite chicken and mushroom sauce.  The possibilities for rice are endless.  

     Whether it's long grain or short grain, Jasmine or Basmati, just about any white rice will turn our great with these few easy steps.  Always use a two to one ratio of water to rice and remember rice doubles when cooked.  So one cup rice will equal two cups cooked.  Also remember to add salt to your rice and water before cooking, it's your only chance to season your rice from the inside and if you don't it's going to taste flat and blah.  

Basic Rice

1 cup Rice
2 cups cold water
1 pinch of salt

1. Place rice, water and salt in 1 quart saucepan with a lid.
2. Turn heat to high and bring water to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cover with lid.  Allow to simmer for 8 minutes.  
3. DO NOT remove the lid at any time!  
4. When 8 minutes have elapsed, remove from heat with lid still in place and allow to sit for 15 minutes. 
5. After 15 minutes, rice is done.  Remove the lid, fluff with a fork and serve!

I've had someone ask about brown rice too so here's the scoop. 

Brown Rice

1 cup brown rice (long or short grain)
1 1/2 cups cold water
1 pinch of salt

    Follow basic directions for white rice except let rice simmer for 20 minutes remove from heat and allow to sit covered for 10 minutes minimum.  You can let it sit longer just make sure it sits for 10 without lifting the lid.

Happy Cooking!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

My first blog, for all my friends.

Alright my friends, this is a first for me so per your request here we go. My pledge to you is to post tasty recipes, offer some simple cooking techniques and answer your cooking questions.
As I go along and learn more about blogging and posting I will expand per request or as needed. Feel free to let me know what you'd like to see and I'll of course give my own bits of information as well.

Happy Cooking!