Boys to Men

It isnt just a boy band from the 90s.  It is my life right now.  My boys are 17 and 1/2.  They are not my little ones anymore.  I am having a hard time with this.  When they were born, they were early, sick and all mine.  Without going into the drama and heartache that brought them to this world lets just say that we were a match made for each other.  We were the Three Musketeers.

Those of you that know me outside of the cyber world you can attest to how close I am with them.  It was just the three of us for many years.  For 13 years we were just the three of us.  As they got older that Three Muskeeters analogy became more and more apropos.  I was Aramis, the self preclaimed boss, the one who had a plan and took control.   Aaron was Athos, a quiet whit that came out when you knew him.  His humor is generally underplayed but still there.  Then Nik was Porthos.  He was a good Porthos.  Large laugh, bright infectious smile and always finding fun in things.  Even if no one else fully understood it.  

We did everything together.  I took them grocery shopping with me and we did laundry together and I was always eager to put them in situations to teach them how to behave.  See it was just me, and them.  There was two of them and one of me.  So I had to be incontrol or they would have taken over!  I know basic math.  I may have be bigger than they were but they had strength in numbers!  I knew if I didnt make sure they knew who was in charge I was in trouble.

That is where cooking came in.  Cooking can be a great way to teach life.  Cooking has many aspects and much diversity.  Beside the types of food and the style the techniques add to learning about life.  Take baking.. it is a chemical reaction so you need to be precise (to a certain point) or you will end up with something inedible.  As you become more proficient you can learn how to tweak your recipe.  This is how some aspects of life are.. it needs to happen a certain way or you will have a disaster but once you have the basics down you can learn how to think outside the box, you are still following the basic premise but you can make it your own.  Stovetop cooking is a bit more free, you can play with flavors and textures and while it may not always taste good, you are have a higher possibility of it atleast being edible, maybe not palatable but atleast you aren’t making a mess.  Stovetop cooking is like being a kid and having play time.  Baking is more like the adult where you have rules and you learn what they are.

I started the boys cooking lessons when they were about 6.  We started off with the basics, PB&J and now to cook an egg.  Then worked up to macaroni and cheese, meatloaf, and mashed potatoes.  We took on lasagna and the architecture of making a meal that built upon itself, and french toast and pies.  Now at 17 they can cook, and bake and can jam and set a mean table.  They may need a recipe card for somethings but they know the basics.  Some lessons were taught and learned in the kitchen, some out in the world.    I tried to take them from boys to men in just 17 short years.    I am hoping that these lessons in the kitchen will transfer over to their life.


Chocolate Chunk Chile Mango Cookies

Big Name for a Huge Flavor.  I was sitting innocently at lunch last week and was checking my email and Rob sent me a Facebook link to a Trader Joes site where they use TJ items and make yummy things like this.  I started planning my TJ trip at lunch that day.  After class that night I went and got the chocolate and the mango.  And it sat on the counter until last night.. 5 long nights it sat and stared at me…. begging me to bake them. 

I of course made the mistake of adding to my recipe builder on Weight Watchers.  Not good.  Not good at all.  If they worked out according to the recipe and the amount you were supposed to get.. it would be 4 points per cookie!!  4!! for each cookie.  Undaunted, I knew they needed to be made.  It was something that I had to do.  I mean.. fruit, chocolate, and chili.. what more could be said. 

So last night I got the help of my twin monkeys…  you remember these two right?

and we went to work making these cookies as is.   Somethings I will tweak so I can have them more often but I am trying to not do that with sweet things.  I need to cut back on my sweet tooth.  It is why I am on WW and why it is hard for me to lose it.  So I will make these as a treat, and only infrequently!  The rest of these will go to work tomorrow.. well the few that are remaining.  I have had half my daily points today in just cookies.   Not good!!

In my defense, we had to rush Rob to the ER last while I was making said cookies.  He had a fever and with cancer, that is a bad thing, so his oncologist said get him in to the ER.  The kids had to bake the last two pans..  and my nerves have been shot ever since waiting for the labs to come back.   

6 oz of dark chocolate  (on the TJ bar shown I used 15 squares)
1 bag of chile mangos (if you don’t like spicy you could use 8 oz of dried mango)
1 cup softened butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp hot water
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
3 cups flour

Cast of characters

Next step is to set the boys/men up to do some heavy chopping.  Nik to dice up the mango and Aaron to chunk up the chocolate.  

At first I was annoyed that the chocolate was splintering and not chunking nicely but once the cookie cooked it was nice to have a little nugget or sliver here and there throughout the cookie. 

While those are being chopped and diced, cream the butter and sugars.

This is what your chocolate and mango will look like..   a bowl of spicy heaven..

Add the salt, vanilla and eggs and mix to incorporate.

Add the baking soda to the hot water and then add to the mixer along with the flour.

Mix 5-6 turns or until about 1/2 way mixed, scrap down your side and then add the mango and chocolate.

Mix until incorporated. 

Drop by spoonful onto a parchment lined cookie sheet or use your well-loved Pampered Chef stoneware.. lol  As you can see ours are well used.  I love how I can cook anything on them and the flavors dont mix.

And the finished product.. ready for a nice study break…..

I have to say, I really liked these cookies.  The mango has a sweetness that works so well with chocolate and the spiciness is just an added bonus.  I can say I would love these without the spicy mango (meaning just dried mango) and other than being a bit crisper than I normally like, these are so rich and flavorful I will be adding these to The Box.   I think I might work to make them a bit less crunchy though. These would be amazing with a bit more chewiness to them.   

Oh and in the end it made 80 cookies, so I corrected it in my WW recipe thing and for 2 cookies it is 5 points.. that was a bit better!!  Enjoy!

Happy Baking!!

Taco Seasoning

I have yet to find a taco seasoning that really does it for me in the stores.  Rob, Nik and Aaron love tacos, fajitas, enchiladas (well Rob doesnt like enchiladas but the boys and I do) and taco salad so not having a good seasoning was kind of annoying!  Okay it wasnt that big of a deal but we decided to make our own and took a couple recipes and did what we always do, made it our own.  

Here is what we came up with.  This is easy, you can halve it, double it, do what you want with it but this is what works for us.  We sometimes like it a little spicier so will add a touch more cayenne or chili powder.  I personally love the amount of cumin in this one.  I think that cumin is an under utilized seasoning.  It is smoky and robust and works with almost every meat, as well as with many sides. 

This recipe is called taco seasoning but you can use this for anything “mexican”, like the aforementioned fajitas, salads and enchiladas.  My personal favorite is a taco salad.  Romaine lettuce, a scoop of meat (we add corn to our taco meat), some shredded colby and monteray jack, diced onion and some green and red pepper.  A dollop of salsa on top and you are good to go.  This is making me hungry..

adapted from allrecipes and some magazine, maybe Better Homes and Gardens
1/2 cup dried minced onion
1/2 cup chili powder
2-3 tbsp cayenne pepper (this is if you like it hot)
1/4 cup kosher salt (definitely adjust to your tastes, I have low blood pressure so salt has been okayed by my doc)
3 tbsp corn starch
2 tbsp dried minced garlic
3 tbsp cumin
1 1/2 tbsp boullion granules (I use beef in mine, go with veggie or chicken if you prefer)
2 tbsp dried red pepper flakes
1 tbsp dried basil

Cast of Characters
All the spices and seasonings in a row…. clockwise from the top; cumin, crushed red pepper, beef boullion, dried onion, salt, chili and cayenne pepper, cornstarch, dried garlic and the middle is the basil.

Mix and pour into your favorite jar, in my case, a mason jar.

All ready for taco making…….. 

To make tacos, just shake the jar to evenly distribute, add 1/4 cup of seasoning and 1/3 cup of water to each pound of drained meat.  You will need a bit less if not using ground meat (ie., chicken or beef sliced) since you wont need as much sauce.    Fill a tortilla, taco shell or dollop on top of your salad.  The great thing about making your own taco seasoning is that it is versatile.  You can change this to how you want it… go ahead.. its okay.. I wont mind, I promise.  

Happy Cooking!!

French Onion Soup

Many of my friends are Nesties.  For those of you who are scracthing your heads asking what a Nestie is, let me enlighten you.  The Nest is an offshoot of The Knot, a webcommunity where many women will go to plan their wedding.  They are tying The Knot…. get it.  It was a great site where I met some of my dearest friends.  The Nest is where you go once you are married, you know building The Nest.   Clever play on words there I know.  There I met Katie, Jodi, Beth, Britni, Jess and a slew of wonderful ladies.  They have brought many things in to my life.  One of those things is this soup.

This was posted last year on a board I frequent by Sue, a fellow NH Nestie.  I had only had french onion soup once before.  I loved it.  It was rich and silky and covered with cheese and crusty bread, seriously what was not to like.  I like this recipe so much i dont even need the cheese or bread on it.  In fact I didnt even have any in the house the last time I made this. 

adapted from Sue-NH Nestie

3-4 large onions
1 tbsp butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp flour
4 cans beef broth or 8 cups homemade (I have made this with beef, chicken and veggie broth, all work)
2 tsp worchestershire sauce

Cast of Characters

First slice your onions, thick or thin, it depends on how big you want them.  I like medium, so that is how i do mine. 
Break them up a bit so they cook even.

Cook in the butter until slightly translucent.

Throw in your sugar.

Stir until incorporated and then add flour.

Cook for 3-4 minutes, it will get thick and look kind of gummy, dont worry it will cook out.  You need to let it cook for that long so that the flour cooks fully and will thicken it slightly.

Then add your stock or broth and worchestershire sauce. 

Let simmer for about 30 minutes, give it a taste.  It might need some salt or a bit of pepper per your tastes.  Serve either as is..

Or like this..  which I just made for the boys.. right now.. to be able to take this picture.. the wine is for me.. i am studying.. haha

For the cheesy way above, you can take croutons (easy but can change the flavor of your soup) or a dense bread that you toasted and lay it on the top of your soup.. lay the cheese over it and broil until the cheese is melty and browned.

Either way it is yummy..  though when I make the cheesy one for me.. I prefer swiss but the kids like colby mix.    This is a great thing to take to potlucks and I took it to the oncology department a couple times while Rob was getting chemo.  It was a hit.  It is a great to use crock pot to keep it hot and you can just bring some cheese and croutons for ease.   Thanks Sue for a great recipe.

Happy Cooking!!

Homemade Cheese Its

You remember me talking about how we like to make things from scratch that are easier to buy.  Well Rob came across this recipe in his Ready Made magazine for home made Cheese Its (yes i know they aren’t spelled like that but I have no idea about copyrights on names) and I had to try them.   BUT they were way too high in points for WW so I tweaked.  Are you surprised??  If you are, you havent been reading my blog enough.  Haha.

The original recipe calls for only 5 ingredients.  I added a couple.  First of all I changed the cheese to low fat.  I KNOW, the sacriledge!!  Cheese is the epitome of yumminess and to a dairy farmers daughter anything that uses milk is essential to life.

I love cheese crackers.  I love the taste, the texture, and goodness knows I love me some cheese.  I think that has been the hardest part of WW has been giving up cheese and its products.  You can eat whatever you want on WW but honestly 1 oz of cheese can be 2-4 points.  That is alot of points for such a small amount, so I have been sparing.  This recipe, makes about 15 dozen!!  which when points are added up.. is only 2 points per dozen!!! Yeee Haw

yield: 15 dozen   adapted from Ready Made magazine
1/2 stick butter
6 oz low fat sharp cheddar
2 oz hard italian cheese (pecorino is what we had in the house)
1 cup flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2-3 tbsp cold water

Cast of Characters

In your stand mixer, add the butter.

Grate cheese into the mixer.

Add the salt.

Beat the butter, cheese and salt on medium until incorporated.

Add the flour.

Mix until the consistency of coarse sand.

We decided to add some garlic powder at the last minute.

Slowly add water 1 tsp at a time while on medium speed……

Until it comes together.

Here is where I will tweak the recipe the most in the future.  The recipe calls for putting it in the fridge for an hour.  I will NOT be doing that.  It made it hard to roll out.   I ended up having to knead it a bit to soften it up.  So next time Iwill just cut it in half and roll away. 
So start off with a lightly floured surface.  I love my Pampered Chef roll mat, barely have to use any flour.

Pat half the dough into a disk.

Roll it until it is thin.  The recipe said 1/8 but i dont think that is thin enough.  So I would roll it as thin as possible.

Cut with a fluted roller or even just use a knife if you dont have a rolly thingy.

Take off the not pretty edges to roll out later.  Here is what they will look like.  See how they are not even.. I love that about homemade.

Put on a parchment lined baking sheet and poke the center out with a chopstick.  This will help them from puffing too much.

Bake at 375 for about 15-17 minutes.  These were in for about 14 minutes.

I think they like them…..

Even Rob who hasnt been feeling well enough to eat real food for 5 days, couldnt resist them. 

The results.  Well they were soooo tasty but a bit thick.  They called for rolling 1/8th an inch thick. I will go thinner next time and bake a little less time AND I will definitely use my Pampered Chef stoneware so they dont burn.  But they were so good and actually pretty fun to make.  As you can see by the masculine hand in some of the pictures, Nik made these with me and we totally had a great day baking and chatting.  Rob was in bed, until he smelled them done and had to sample, and Aaron was at Corries house so this was a fun project for Nik and I.  Granted I think I have about 4 dozen left after Rob and Nik finished but it was so worth it. 

Happy Baking!!

Three Meat Jambalaya

This is totally a spicy food house.  I mean we all like it.  The kids drink hot sauce practically.  Okay well not drink it but it is eaten at almost every dinner.  They even put it on their eggs.  Rob and I like it as well but we are not as freaky as they are.  I like some flavor behind the heat.  The boys just like to brag how hot they can handle.  Typical teenage testosterone. 

My favorite way to have some heat is as part of a wonderfully flavorful dish.  I love my homemade salsa and hot pepper jams but if given the choice would much rather have a deeply flavorful stew-like concoction of this jambalaya.  I have a few friends with yummy recipes but I found this one a few years ago and had forgotten about it tucked away in “The Box”.  The Box is something I have talked about before and if I wasnt so comfortable sitting here leaned back in my chair I would go take a picture of said box.  For those of you new to my blog, The Box is where all my tried and true recipes go.  This is where I hold the recipes I want to pass down.  This Jambalaya is in The Box.  But it was buried, and now it is found. 

It started out as so many recipes do.. something else completely, then I tweaked the hell out of it.  The original  had only 1/2 tsp of cayenne!  Are you kidding me?  This makes 10 cups.  That ratio was way wrong.   The original was only one meat and had only onions.  It was bland and pretty much tomatoes.  This is better.

yield: 7 – 1 1/2 cup servings  (WW 7 points)  adapted: from AllRecipes

1 onion
1 red or green pepper
5-6 cloves garlic
1 lb of turkey kielbasa
1 1/2 lb of boneless skinless chicken breast
1/2 pound of shrimp
1 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tbsp cayenne pepper (start with 1 tbsp and work up is my suggestion, we like this level)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp italian seasoning
1/2 tsp basil
28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
14 oz (or 1/2 of a 28 oz can like I had) of diced tomatoes in juice
1 cup water
1 cup uncooked orzo

Cast of Characters

Add a spray oil to a pan and chop up your onion.

Chop up your garlic and your red pepper.  Add the red pepper and onion to the pan.

Saute the onion and pepper and when starting to release their fluid add the garlic.  If you add the garlic too soon it will brown too much and taste burnt.  Yuck.

Cut the kielbasa up to the size you want,  I like it small so I quarter each round. 

Toss into the veggies.  The great thing about turkey kielbasa is that it adds VERY little fat so you dont have to strain it.

Cube up your chicken and toss that in.

Add the sugar.

Then the rest of the spices.

Then when the chicken has been cooking for about a minute, pour in the crushed and diced tomatoes and the water.  The chicken will finish cooking in the hot sauce.

Stir to combine and increase heat to meduim high.  Once hot, add the orzo.

Peel and cut the shrimp in half.  I like having more bites of shrimp than seeing them whole.   Set aside until the orzo is cooked.

Keep stirring or else you will end up with a gooey mess on the bottom.

Once the orzo is done, about 10 -15 minutes, add the shrimp.  Cook just until the shrimp are done, 1-2 minutes.

Serve in a nice bowl with a side of bread or just like I have it here.. all by itself. 

Pure heaven in a cup.  I was so happy tonight.  HAHA  Nik and Aaron loved it, gobbled it right up.  Just the right amount of spice so they didnt add any hot sauce.  Granted I might have been upset if they had.   Rob is still chemo-ed out, last one was this week, maybe he will get his tastebuds and belly back soon!  I hope so, he hasnt had this yet.  Remember, I told you The Box had hidden it. 

Happy Cooking!!

Chicken W Dijon Sauce

Until about 3 months ago, Rob didnt like mustard.  Then one day he asked to try a lick when I got some on my finger, and proceeded to put it on his sandwich.  That is how life with Rob has been since we started dating.  Nik and Aaron will eat pretty much anything you put in front of them.  That is partly because when they were little they had to try something new each day.  It wasnt a question they just had a new “try” each day.   Now they like just about anything.

The first time I cooked for Rob he ate only about 1/3 of stir fry I gave him.  He ate the chicken and the carrots.  That was it.  Now he is the one pointing out new things to try.   I was so excited when I found a recipe in a magazine (Yes that same Rachel Ray magazine as the orzo recipe) and I mentioned I like chicken and mustard so Rob, in post chemo stupor said go for it.  He was a bit skeptical but hey what the heck right??

So here is my take on that recipe.  I had to do away with some of the items due to lack of ingredients on hand and the salad didnt do too much for me so I made my own. 

yield 8 servings (5 WW point)    adapted from Rachel Ray mag

3 lbs boneless skinless chicken
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
2-3 tbsp dijon mustard
1/2 cup half and half
S&P to taste
Some oil for pan frying

Here is the cast of characters

First step is to trim up and flatten the chicken breasts

Then season with S&P.

Heat up your pan roaring hot with just a little oil. 
Fry your chicken on one side for 3-4 minutes without touching it.  This will create a nice golden brown with yummy crispy bits on the pan.

Flip your chicken when you have a nice golden yumminess and cook for about 3-4 minutes on that side.  Remember that you want the chicken about 3/4 of the way done but not fully for tender juicy perfection.

Take out of the pan and put on a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.

Measure out your vinegar.  As you can see the recipe started out with only one tbsp of vinegar but I found that wasnt enough.  When I put it in the pan it evaporated in about 10 seconds and other than burning my eyes didnt do much for the sauce, so I upped it to 1/4 cup.

Turn the heat down to medium high.  After you have added the vinegar (and the 1/4 cup of water) and got all the crunchy bits off the pan, add your half and half and stir vigorously.  It will look less than appetizing but trust me..

Add the mustard.  As you can see I just eyeballed it. 

Stir to make a sauce then add your chicken back in.. cook for a couple more minutes turning frequently to disperse the sauce onto the chicken.

Serve with sides of your choice.  I did it with rice.  I forgot to put the veggie on the plate.. haha.  This would be so yummy with a nice potato salad in the summer, or sliced and presented on a bed of lettuce for salad.

Rob and the kids response was that it was a keeper.  The kids then asked for more.   Best praise ever.  Post chemo Rob ate a half a breast which is alot for him right now. 

Happy Cooking

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