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Friday, October 29, 2010

Mac Attack

This is one of those days ~ one of those gloriously lazy relaxed days, during which you want nothing more than to sit back, put your feet into something fuzzy, yourself under a blanket, and watch movies that make you laugh, cry, wet your pants. You get the drift! You know you want comforting pasta in a rich, decadent cheese sauce, and you will do anything to get that taste. Having to utilize several cheeses before they went wonky, I devised the following recipe, and it hits all the right notes. Here's how you do it. First assemble all the winning cheeses on your work surface. Ok, you can throw them all in a bowl, I just thought this looked better...




From left to right we have Vermont sharp white cheddar, regular sharp cheddar, Parmesan, goat cheese and crumbled Danish blue cheese. Be still, my heart.  Then, you take about a half an onion and a clove of garlic, and mince very finely...saute' until completely soft, you do not want to feel the onion bits in the final dish, but you want the flavor. Here is my onion garlic mixture at the end of their saute' time...




Then, add two tablespoons flour, and two tablespoons butter, cook until the roux has lost it's floury taste, and is slightly browned, like so...



Then, gradually whisk in two cups liquid such as; chicken stock, milk, water or a combination. Bring slowly up to a simmer whisking quite frequently, until thickened. Do not jack your heat up, or walk away, milk has a tendency to go postal, breach the rim of your saucepan, and pretty much ruin your day stove top! Remove from the heat, and stir in all those glorious cheeses, a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, some salt, pepper, cayenne pepper and perhaps some paprika for color, like so...





When all the cheeses have melted into your sauce, pour over your cooked pasta, and don't forget to lick the spatula or saucepan, that sauce is amazing!! Here is mine, ready for the breadcrumb topping...


I added a little more cayenne (I'm spicy like that, remember?), some salt & pepper and some paprika..just look at that velvety sauce! I then mix panko Japanese breadcrumbs, chopped fresh flat-leaved parsley, dried tarragon and salt & pepper in a small bowl to go over the casserole, and sprinkle on evenly.




Dot with butter, and place in a 350 degree oven for forty minutes. Here's my precious cargo, ready for the oven...




Bake until the casserole is bubbling, and the crumb topping has turned a nice light golden brown.





Let cool for 10 minutes or so, enough so that the cheeses begin to firm up a little, which holds the casserole together a little better. Here is a view of the luscious final product.....




I have always followed tried-and true macaroni and cheese recipes before, and this was one of my first ventures without the benefit of a recipe. The verdict? The combination of cheeses was unbelievable! Every now and again, I'd hit a little pocket of goat cheese, and the slightly tangy flavor exploded on my tongue, the panko breadcrumb and herb mixture retained it's crunch, and the whole dish was a resounding success!

What cheese dish can you not live without? What makes it so good?

In case, loyal readers, you think I have forgotten about THE QUEST (for healthy work breakfasts and lunches), here is a recent example. 

Let me tell you, that a mutant (HUGE) Fuji apple, and some natural crunchy peanut butter can fill you up, and quickly, too. Strangely enough, I was blessed with a huge amount of energy that day. Hmmmmm, wonder why?

Eat well, and cozy up to some real macaroni and cheese, my friends....see you next post, with the big announcement!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Brunette or Blonde?

I admit it freely and without guilt. I. CANNOT. MAKE. BROWNIES. Boxed or scratch, fudgy or regular...the brownie Gods have never smiled upon me, ever. Hey, don't laugh, although a self-taught cook for the last thirty years, I can, in fact bake. I know someone who can't make rice, ok? Ok, self-defense moment over. They are always sodden in the middle, and a little too crispy on the edges. And yes, before you pixie-helpers chime in, I've paid attention to weather conditions, oven temperatures and the like, I'm a cook, remember? Anyway, I simply had to post this photo, because I had success in a related realm.

BLONDIES!!! That worked! That were cut into actual bars....that stayed being bars! First of all, I could not believe it, secondly, my co-workers were certainly happy, and thirdly....I...MADE....SOMETHING...RESEMBLING...BROWNIES...THAT...WORKED!!

What one dish did you finally conquer?

Next; really and truly conquering brownie land. Will I get brownie points? Pixie Points...oooooh, there's a concept!  Eat well, my friends.

I'm a Copycat...no, really!

After being forcibly jacked out of my lovely Northern California by the economy, I missed some of the restaurant dishes that I enjoyed on my rare breaks from the kitchen. One of those dishes; "P.F. Chang's soothing lettuce wraps" was definitely on that list. So, after the usual web-crawling, I settled on a recipe that sounded like the real deal. You can find that version here.

As with most Asian recipes, the wraps are prep-heavy, and quick to cook. Here is a view of my prep for the wraps.



From left to right, shiitake mushrooms, ginger, garlic and jalapeno....minced scallions, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, and rice noodles which have been fried until puffed up and crispy.  Next, marinating the chicken in a mixture that includes cornstarch, sherry and soy.

Then, wash and seperate some immaculate-looking iceberg lettuce leaves. A few have commented that they prefer romaine or butter lettuce for this, and I'm down with that. Whatever gets your crunch on for you best.

After stir-frying the chicken and the vegetation, adding in the easy-to-make sauce mix, and prepping the service bowl with the broken up rice noodles, we have a meal. 

The verdict? Really nice...what I love about the dish is the crunch factor of the lettuce, the crispy rice noodles as well as the bamboo shoots and water chestnuts. The crunchy blends nicely with the meaty chicken pieces and the wraps themselves leave you feeling full and satisfied, but not sack-of-quarters-in-my-stomach full and satisfied.

Which restaurant dish have you successfully re-created? Does it taste just like the original?

Eat well my friends, and prepare to have your sweet tooth satisfied with the desserts I'm making for the best crew in the world, the people I work with!

Let Your....MEAT.....LOAF!

Hahahah I know, the title was an obvious joke, but I like that sort of thing. Making a week-night meal completely from scratch is not difficult. This may be a revelation for those of you, like me, who work all day and come home very tired. The day I made this meal, I had been awake since four am, worked an eight-hour day, and was tired indeed. This is how you make a meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and honey-lemon carrots ~ without feeling overwhelmed at the end of your day. Preheat your oven to a toasty 400 degrees and begin your prep. First, chop about a half an onion and a half a green bell pepper quite small, like so...

Then, saute the onion and pepper with a minced clove of garlic in some canola or vegetable oil until softened completely...like this...

Then, soak a slice or two of bread, in a couple tablespoons of milk. This step (as well as the sauteed vegetables) keeps your meatloaf moist and light, instead of being a baked meat-brick...

Then, put your ground beef into a mixing bowl and add the pepper and onion, the bread, an egg, salt and pepper, garlic powder, steak sauce, hot sauce and finely chopped fresh flat-leaved parsley. Sidebar note; since this was a weeknight, as I used each ingredient (and they all ended up in the bowl you are about to see), I put the ingredient away, and the dish/bowl/utensil in the dishwasher. I make myself  "clean as I go", because then I will not leave a great whopping mess to clean up on a work night.  On to the newly combined meatloaf mixture...

Now, get right in there, and mix all together well. Do not over-mix, you don't want meat mush, you want meat loaf! Now, here is where a lot of folks mess up the loaf-a-licious-ness. You do NOT, I repeat, not want to bake the meat loaf in an actual loaf pan. Why? Well where is the fat from the meat going to go while it bakes? That's right, you smartie, you...it's going to pool up around the meat instead of draining away from the loaf. Here's what you want to do.  Form the meat loaf by pressing it into a loaf pan that has been sprayed with non-stick spray, or lightly greased.  Like this.....

Then, take the meatloaf and carefully turn it upside down into the actual baking dish you are using to bake it in...and combine the following for a yummy tomato-ey sauce.


One small can of tomato sauce, about two tablespoons of brown sugar, and about a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce. Add some salt and pepper, pour over your meatloaf, and pop into the oven. Here is mine, ready for baking....

And oh yes, it tastes just as good as it looks, trust me. Now...I know you have been good little pixie-cooks and have been practicing "clean-as-you-go", so while the meatloaf is going for an hour-long journey, you've got plenty of time. Relax, sip your wine, wash and partially peel enough potatoes for mashing...

I leave a little peel on for nutritional and texture reasons...yes, the peel contains more nutrients than the flesh of the potato. But, you knew that, right? Chunk them, throw them into a pot and add enough water to cover, about a teaspoon of salt, cover the pot and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a good simmer, and cook until tender. Mash with butter, milk, salt, pepper, whatever your favorite mashed-potato technique is. I like roasting garlic and mashing in those lovely softened cloves, what great flavor! Here are my chunks ready for boiling....

I know you've cleaned up from getting the potatoes ready, but keep that peeler handy ~ and peel and roll-cut enough carrots to feed your bunch.  Roll cutting is simply making a cut, and turning the vegetable a quarter-turn before each cut. This is what it looks like....



Then, place them in a pan, add about a quarter cup of water cover the pan amd cook until tender. Remove the cover and continue to cook until the water is mostly evaporated and add a couple tablespoons of honey, lemon rind, lemon juice, a couple tablespoons chopped flat-leaved parsley and some salt and pepper. Here are mine in the pan after the cooking until tender step....

By now, your meatloaf is done and resting on the counter, your potatoes are mashed and keeping warm, your carrots are bathing in lemon-honey goodness (and keeping warm), and your kitchen is not thrashed. Pour off the tomato gravy into a small saucepan, add a little ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and cider vinegar, taste for seasoning and you've made the gravy. Service with a smile, and lemon garnish, anyone?

Now, I have fed my family (and I know that is not a huge portion on the plate ~ but remember, pixie-portions!), a meal that is not boxed, pre-packaged, filled with useless chemicals, and most importantly, made with love and care.

What do you take the time to make from scratch, knowing the effort is worth it?

Eat well, my friends, and eat less processed foods. Your body will thank you for it.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Danger around every corner....

When achieving a desired goal, such as weight loss, one must protect oneself from the pitfalls of the plenty. By this I mean that generally speaking, as Americans we are surrounded by a variety and quantity of food that is really embarrassing. The nutritional quality of this food is usually not what it should be, either. Case in point...the other day my workplace had (of course) a bake sale. A co-worker purchased this...

Now at the outset, this might look like a perfectly healthy "fruit pizza". No. Let us be clear, when you pile fruit on top of cream cheese, on a cookie-dough crust? To my way of thinking, this completely negates any healthful benefit derived from the actual fruit. I think that many convince themselves that since there is fruit involved, it would actually be a healthy treat. I consider that very selective thinking, to say the least.

I steadfastly refused to have even one piece of it, although co-workers were pressuring me mightily. When they asked why I would not have any, I simply mentioned that I had lost six pounds and did not want to sabotage my hard-earned slimness. Instead, when I craved a little cheesy goodness, this is what I busted out of my lunch box.



A little sharp and delicious goat cheese with whole grain crackers. It's all about choices, you know? I have found that I do indeed have will power when it comes to food, and I'm proud of my choices.

What pressure did you stand up to, and how did it make you feel?

Eat well, my friends...and the meatloaf tutorial is coming soon....

Thursday, October 21, 2010

By Popular Request!

By popular request, the very first video I made for the Real Women of Philadelphia cooking competition.

http://www.youtube.com/user/allymv1?feature=mhum#p/u/5/bX0Ftzmsenc

What I learned during this first try...well, you DO NOT need to wear more make-up than a lady-of-the-evening just because you have a camera on.

You do not need to take up nine minutes of filming time, just because your limit is ten minutes.

Stove top lights and open windows are distracting at best.

That, and many more lessons from video number one. I will try to post each video, as the contest went along, so that you may see how I refined everything from how long each dish took, to my "look", to my ease on camera. Just because I majored in Drama, does not mean I am totally at ease in front of the camera, you know!

What did you do that was "outside the box" for you? How did it feel at the time? How do you feel about it now?

Eat well, and stand by for meat loaf fun.....

An Apple a Day.....

As you may well know from previous posts, I go to work in mortal fear of not having enough to munch on, while I complete my tasks, and keep my executives happy. This is simply irrational, I know. But, I am a grazer, not one of those people who can sit down, consume three large meals a day and be done with it! I feel it is healthier for the human body as well, since putting down large quantities inevitably makes me feel sluggish and overly-full. So, for work one day, in keeping with my desire to retain my newly-enjoyable weight loss, I brought this for breakfast.



A GIANT, HUGE, MUTANT Fuji apple, as well as my new love, Special K fruit crisps.  They are like a cross between a pop-tart, and a strudel. Crisp on the outside, but soft and fruit-a-licious on the inside. And no, they are not paying me to say this, I simply love them!  I am veering off topic faster than normal. Anyhoo, the point is; this apple is LARGE, large I tells ya! Just to show you how big it is, I put a standard-size bottled water next to it for this picture...

Now that is ONE BIG APPLE! New York City, eat your heart out! I sincerely doubt I will be able to eat the whole thing in one go. 

In my continuing effort to try to eat healthy work lunches (and since I clearly must have enough food to sustain me through a work day), I created a new salad-y mix up I called "Fall Salad". I call it that because to me the colors are very Autumn-like, as well as the flavors.

What do you make in certain seasons only? Do you crave roast turkey when it is not Thanksgiving? Christmas cookies in July? Do tell!

I threw arugula in my happy lunch box, along with red bell pepper, cucumber, scallions, red cabbage, pepperocini peppers, and chunks of lovely Danish Bleu Cheese. It looked almost too pretty to eat...almost...

I don't know, I guess the shape of the arugula leaves reminded me of trees losing their leaves this time of year, and it left me in a cozy Fall mood. I paired it with a slightly sweet dressing, Catalina, as a counterpoint to the sharpness of the peppers and arugula, and it was amazing, and I happily crunched through it all day at work.

Eat well, and happy grazing my friends...stay tuned for a step-by-step meatloaf tutorial...comfort food here we come!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I've got a wedgie!

In the interest of revisiting some classics, and due to a rapidly deteriorating head of lettuce, I decided to make the 1950's staple, an iceberg lettuce wedge salad. I knew I needed an easy side dish, as my main course was a little intense, being a crab-and-shrimp stuffed flounder that needed my time and attention. 

Preparation is simple, you rinse out the lettuce quarters once they have been cut, and place them on paper towelling to dry. You dice up red bell pepper, scallions and whatever other vegetation you'd like to adorn the wedges. I have been known to fry bacon and crumble it over the top as well. Mine also has luscious bleu cheese crumbled over the top.  Then, place the wedge, open leaves facing up, on individual plates. Next, sprinkle all the vegetation, bleu cheese, bacon etc., over the top of the wedge. Sprinkle with a little salt, and very fresh cracked black pepper, and this should be your result.

My wedge was a little small compared to the rest of the bunch, so I bulked it up with a little sidecar of more lettuce. I mixed together ketchup, mayonnaise, relish, lemon juice and salt & pepper for my own home-made thousand island dressing, and doused the lettuce with every last bit of it.  The results?

Well, a little rough-chopped Italian flat-leaved parsley and we are in business! 

What retro-classic have you been working on? Is it diner-style meat loaf? Clams Casino? What is your favorite dish from back in the day?

The salad was cooling and delicious, and Dear Husband really enjoyed the textural aspect of the classic wedge salad, because crunching through the multiple layers of lettuce in each wedge, gives a whole new dimension to what your salad can be.

Eat well my friends, and stay tuned for a huge announcement!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Little Night Music

Man (or woman, for that matter) cannot live by cooking each night, ya know. So, last night we were able to join some close friends at Simon & Seafort's here in Anchorage. Click on the "our menu" link, and look at all those appetizers! With the exception of the potato chips, our group had every....single....appetizer. We all also sampled each of the desserts, but I'm getting ahead of myself.  Some of the highlights...

Sweet potato fries with some sort of ketchup, and my favorite, a lovely spicy whole-grain mustard.  Those went so fast, we definitely should have ordered another. But, between the wine flights, and all the other goodies, we felt we must keep the variety coming.  Then, a pretty respectable showing of Buffalo wing tastiness....

I apologize for the quality of the photo ~ it was the cel phone, NOT the wine! I promise! I did try to capture some of the other dishes, like the tower of three appetizers which included teriyaki tenderloin tips, a crab and artichoke dip that was outrageous, and a shrimp dish which rested on a lovely mashed potato pillow, but alas, it all went before I remembered...but oh my word, it was all delicious! The meatloaf sliders caught Dear Husband's eye, so the order was promptly placed.


Dear Husband dipped them in marinara sauce and pronounced them tender and delightful. We all then passed around the best creme brulee', berry cobbler, bread pudding, molten chocolate cake and regular cake. The cakes came with cute little scoops of ice cream, and miniature gravy boats full of brandy sauce, and vanilla sauce, and were absolutely amazing. The best part? Well, other than having a really good time smack-dab in the middle of a work week, the appetizers are half price from 4:30 to 6:00! AND, there are many four-dollar drink specials during that same happy hour time frame! Of all the unique discoveries we've made in Anchor-town, this one ranks pretty high.

What local gem have you found in your town? What is the tastiest bargain there?

Eat well my friends, and splurge every now and again on a week night, it is so worth it!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Experimental Cuisine

Everyone that knows me, knows I have weighed about the same my entire adult life ~ with the exception of pregnancy! This has been one of the greatest gifts I feel that I have been given. In addition to being blessed with very good health, my weight has never been an issue. Then......I moved to Alaska. 

The nature of the climate here makes it rather a necessity for me to be indoors for a large part of the year, and totally vulnerable to the goodies I want to create, hiding in my pantry and refrigerator, just waiting to jump out and yell; "MAKE MEEEE TONIGHT"! I, of course oblige them.

So, fast forward two years, and I have joined the human race. I need to lose weight. I determined that my method would be to stop eating the fattening breakfasts here at work, serve my supper on the salad size versus dinner size plate. My work breakfasts became healthier, like this........



The result? Six pounds lighter in less than two months! The feeling of success at something I have never tried to accomplish before is wonderful! I did it all while still eating what I enjoyed, and just cut a few of the not-Pixie-friendly items out.

What personal success took you most by surprise? How did you accomplish it? How long did it take?

Eat well my friends, and get ready for some comfort food...it's Autumn!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Celebrate!

I am proud to announce that my blog has been approved and added to The Foodie Blogroll, as you can clearly see on my sidebar.  Go check them out here and check out their giveaways, contests and oodles of food blogs. Thanks Foodie Blogroll! Love, Pixie (Allison).

Monday, October 4, 2010

Rib-Tickling good!

Well, the winner of the triple-threat hummus taste-test is....

TA-DA!!  The roasted garlic flavor!

I feel compelled to say that although all three varieties were just fine, and the roasted red bell pepper variety was great on the more bitter vegetables, the roasted-garlicky goodness won hands down. Thanks to Tribe for providing a great and wholesome product that I can trust to be good enough to not have to dirty my food processor making hummus on a weeknight, you rock!

Growing up in South Florida, where the chain of rib restaurants called Tony Roma's was invented, I miss that sweet, yet tangy barbecue sauce, and lots of it, on tender baby back ribs.  I did some internet research, and like most everything nowadays, there are copycat-style recipes out there. I settled on one that sounded the most like what I remember, and began by letting the ribs chill out over night with a nice dry rub. Then, it was time for a thirty minute parboil. This is what a rack looks like after a night in rub, and a good thirty minute soak in the hot tub.
Then, in the proper procedure for the authentic recipe, the ribs are slathered with the home made sauce, and returned to the refrigerator for a few hours. My hunch is that this process acts as a marination...here they go, getting wrapped & ready for fridge time...

A different shot, showing all the racks - ready for some absorption-o-flavor!

After a couple of hours in the fridge, I coated the ribs with some extra sauce, and placed in a nice low oven (250) for two and a half hours. I suspect the low cooking temperature is one of the keys to success to these ribs, because then the sugars in the barbecue sauce do not burn, and create that awful over-done taste. A short broil and brush with sauce at the end, and here you have the meal....

I made my Asian slaw, crunch-tastic with Napa cabbage, red cabbage, cilantro and other assorted goodies, and my barbecue baked beans, rich and smoky with bacon and onion, and I was lucky enough to have a shortcut, by using some of the extra barbecue sauce that I made for the ribs.

What is your favorite childhood barbecue memory? Do you make something that takes you right back?

The verdict? Outstanding! I was back in Miami, circa 1979 or so, eating ribs at Tony Roma's with all my friends and family. The ribs were tender, but not so falling-off-the-bone as to be just mush meat, the slaw was perfection, with the crunchy cabbages, and sesame flavor, and the beans were tender and tasty indeed. Eat well, my friends, and make something that takes you back to a great memory. See you later in the week with a new chicken dish I'm excited to have created, and curried lentils!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Tasty Tribal Temptation

Ah, the weekends in Anchorage! Time for cooking, eating, and oh, did I mention cooking? Dear Husband lived up to his husbandly-ness by driving me around to my favorite Pixie-land destinations (read - food and specialty food shops). But, once again, right there under my nose, at the good old Commissary on Elmendorf Air Force Base, was THIS!

Well, the good folks over at Tribe have certainly got it right, the taste-testing will commence tomorrow, along with the return to the work week. Of course, once I ventured over to their wonderful site, I found a one-dollar coupon for it...AFTER purchasing it. That's exactly how my luck rolls...but I digress. You know, as a working adult, I constantly fight the "Sunday Night Depression", whereby your mind is consumed with the fact that your freedom and free time are evaporating with every minute that ticks by.  So, to fight this negative and unproductive trend, I play a little game with myself. It's quite simple, and one must simply have the discipline to wait, and be rewarded! I make sure that I have a little something special, whether it be a new item of clothing, a special candy or snack, and I must ignore it until MONDAY! This week, it is my little 3-flavored tray of creamy garbanzo-beany goodness.


How do you make sure that you are taking care of you, during the work week?


I shall cut fresh carrot, red bell pepper, cucumber and take tiny, sweet grape tomatoes to take a little dip in the 3-kinds of fun hummus. I wonder which one I will like the best? Could it be the roasted red bell pepper? The garlic? Or will I just like the classic the best?  Next post will reveal all (sshhh, maybe the Tribe people will back the truck up to my door and send me enough hummus to swim in! YAY!!)

Since I've been delving back into classical French cooking, I decided to make Bouillabaisse, a very classic, very French fish stew. I was chomping at the bit to trot out a bit of my gourmet Pixie-skills, and it went very well. No pictures, alas, the nature of the stew required it to be served piping hot, straight after spooning on the rouille, and with lots of warm French bread.  I took a very long route to show you what I found for making the lovely dish........



No my friends, that is not some alien celery plant, it's FENNEL! Not only that, IT'S ORGANIC! IN ANCHORAGE! My cup runneth over! The licorice-tasting bulb and fronds of which the Italians are very fond of cooking with. As I prepped it for the stew, I had to julienne the bulb, and tasted some of the strips. I was pleasantly surprised, as in the past I did not care for it's  strong flavor. Now I can see utilizing it more frequently in it's raw state, as well as in cooked dishes.


Have you ever started liking something that you never did before? What was the one thing that tipped you to the other side?

Eat well my friends, and stayed tuned for the results of the triple-threat-hummus taste-test, and this coming weeks' post about the re-creation of the famous Tony Romas' baby back ribs! And please be kind, and do something special for yourself for the work week. Life is short, and sometimes, when we are hurting a little bit, being your own Mommy is just what the doctor ordered.