Category: Eating in

Two nights in a row now I’ve spent a little extra time on supper and been really pleased with the results. In both cases, the extra time meant a little more thought going into planning what I was going to do with the food than usual more than anything else, but that’s often the case with a good meal.

Last night, I made smothered pork chops with au gratin potatoes and green beans. The extra planning required came from the fact that I was using a technique and a recipe that I had not used before to make the chops. One inch thick pork chops would usually go on a grill, not into a hot pan with some salt and pepper to be browned lightly until a mushroom, onion, and garlic gravy gets dumped over them to simmer for a while. They turned out a little more done than they would have if I had grilled them (Medium Well instead of Medium), but the gravy was really nice with them.

Tonight, I made whole wheat penne with italian sausage and mushrooms in tomato sauce. I normally don’t use whole wheat pasta, but we’re trying to eat a little healthier, so I thought we would give it a try. I do know that whole wheat pasta doesn’t get as flavorful as easily as semolina pasta does, so I put a little more salt in my water than I normally do and took the pasta out of the water sooner to put into the sauce. I figured, the sooner I could get the pasta into the sauce, the more flavor the pasta would absorb. I’m glad that I didn’t wait any longer than I did, because even with almost 10 minutes of swimming in the tomato sauce, the pasta just barely had flavor. I’m gonna miss semolina.

That is something. I’m having trouble finding semolina flour in my area. I’m not sure whether I should be going to a specialty market for this or what, but I’m not finding it at any of my local supermarkets. I’m wondering if anyone else is having trouble finding certain staple goods like this one.

As promised, I have made the Chocolate-Peanut Couscous again, refining the recipe, and I believe that it is ready to be shared with the world. Or at least the little slice of the world that reads this thing. I even have a new picture!

As you can see, I have added whipped cream on top. Completely optional of course, but I think it’s fun. It’s actually quite easy to make this dish.

To make 4 servings, I start by putting 3/4 cup of water and 3/4 cup of half and half in a small saucepan. I add 1/2 cup of sugar, 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder, 1/2 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract, 1 teaspoon of peanut butter, 1 teaspoon of butter, and a pinch of salt. This may not seem like much peanut butter, and you can add more if you really want, but it really isn’t necessary. Bring the liquid just to a boil. The cream in the half and half will keep it from scalding easily, but you don’t want it to get to a heavy boil. When you are just starting to see the liquid bubble, add 3/4 cup of couscous. Stir it, remove it from the heat, cover it, and let it sit for 7 to 10 minutes to let the couscous absorb the liquid.

When all of the liquid is absorbed, stir in 1/4 cup roughly chopped dry roasted peanuts. The couscous should be very moist and sticky. If you want to add more peanuts, feel free! They add a bit of flavor and a crunchy texture to a soft, pudding-like dessert. Portion it into your serving dishes and either top it with whipped cream, drizzle it with chocolate syrup, or both.

I found that while this can be served hot or cold, whipped cream worked a little better with it when it was cold. When it was hot, the cream just sort of un-whipped itself and became cream again. In any case, it was sweet and nutty and chocolate-y and made a good dessert.

If anyone has any ideas for how to improve it or any comments about it as it is, let me know and I’ll try it out. Enjoy!

I tried something new tonight. I once tried to make a chocolate risotto and it didn’t work out that well for me. It could be that I was not using the correct rice, or my technique might have been off. At any rate, the entire thing was an abyssmal failure.

Tonight, I wanted to try something similar to that, but a little more foolproof. Enter Chocolate-Peanut Cous cous. It turned out much better than the chocolate risotto debacle. It was quite edible. Not HIGH praise, but I now know that I didn’t put enough sugar in it. I will post a photo, but I will forego posting the recipe until I have it perfected.

I made dessert for our gaming group tonight. As I’ve said before, I am not very adept at making pastries. So instead of making anything that would involve any kind of pastry, like a pie or cake or anything of that nature, I opted for berries and cream. Making a Mixed Berry Salad with Whipped Cream was quick, easy, and was a very economic dessert for 7 people.

I took 2 quarts of strawberries, quartered, 1 pint of blackberries, 1 pint of raspberries, and 1 pound of halved, pitted cherries and combined them together with the juice and zest from one lemon, 1 tablespoon of water, 1/4 cup of sugar, 1 tablespoon of honey, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. I let the mixture sit covered in the refrigerator overnight to let berries release some of their juices.

Right before I served the berries, I took a bowl of ice and put a second bowl on top of it. In the second bowl, I put 1 pint of heavy cream, 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract, and 1/2 cup of powdered sugar and whipped them together. I used my immersion blender, which has a wire whisk attachment, but I’ve used beaters or even just a handheld wire whisk before. It just takes longer to do it by hand.

The berries are very sweet and I ended up not being able to eat as many of them as I wanted to. Everyone else seemed to go nuts for them. I was debating whether to use 1 quart of strawberries or 2, and it’s a good thing I used 2 or there wouldn’t have been enough for 7 people.

Cherries have been really reasonably priced this year, so buying some fresh cherries every now and then is definitely in the budget. Of course, figuring out what to do with cherries when I am really not that good with pastry, other than just eating them, isn’t always easy. Just eating them can be fun, but there’s more that can be done with cherries than simply eating them raw.

This morning, I made Chocolate Cherry Turnover Puffs for breakfast. I stemmed and pitted the cherries a couple of days ago and let them sit in a couple of tablespoons of sugar and a little lemon juice. Then yesterday, I added a teaspoon of cocoa powder and stirred it up.

This morning, I cooked the liquid off the cherries and added about a teaspoon of chocolate syrup. I then took some store bought puff pastry in a can, otherwise known as crescent rolls, and placed a tablespoon or so of the prepared cherries in the middle of the dough, bringing the ends up to the center and closing it up. I then brushed the top with melted butter and cooked the puffs according to the package directions on a Sil-pat lined cookie sheet.

When I brought the puffs out of the oven, I quickly brushed the puffs with a little more butter and dusted them with a little sugar. They have a sweet cherry flavor with a hint of chocolate richness. The chocolate flavor is really understated, and I could enhance it by drizzling chocolate syrup on top instead of sugar, but I like that the chocolate is just a seasoning and not a powerful flavoring.

For supper tonight, I would have loved to have taken photos, but alas I didn’t. I ate it too fast. It smelled too good and tasted too good for me to take the time to grab my camera.

I made Poached Tilapia with Creamy Tomato Orzo Risotto. I poached the fish in the cream and tomato sauce that eventually got mixed with the orzo to become the risotto, and the tilapia was so juicy and tender that it practically melted on my tongue. It was still firm enough though that it didn’t fall apart between the pan and the plate. I’m definitely going to make this again because we both enjoyed it.

There are times when I go into the kitchen to make one thing, but I don’t have what I need to make it. Or my oven is broken down. Or any of a hundred other different things have happened to keep me from making whatever it is I’m wanting to make. When that happens, I cheat!

Several months ago, I wanted to make meatloaf, but our oven was down for the count. It was experiencing death by styrofoam and seriously could not be used safely until it was cleaned, a task I didn’t have the time or energy for before making supper that evening. I had, of course, not thought about this before mixing the meat, eggs, seasonings and such together for making the meatloaf however. I had already taken to making several small loaves instead of one large loaf because they cook faster and are easier to serve. I decided to take it a step further and try something new by searing the mini meatloaves in a skillet on the stove, then simmering them in a sauce to allow them to cook through. I made the sauce by mixing tomato juice and beef broth and the process worked amazingly well. Not only did the meatloaves cook more quickly and more evenly than in the oven, they were incredibly moist due to the very wet conditions they cooked in.

Last week, I found another easy cheat. I’m fairly certain the makers of Progresso Soup weren’t expecting people to turn their product into gravy, but the French Onion variety can be reduced down to what is actually a rather tasty onion gravy. I put the soup into a medium saucepan on medium heat and let it simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until it is reduced by 3/4. Since the soup is mostly beef broth, the gravy it makes ends up being nice and rich and goes well with any number of vegetables and meats.

So today I simmered some green beans in the soup until it reduced to sauce, made the mini meatloaves, and served them together with some Garlic Parmesan Couscous.

The entire meal, start to finish, took less than an hour to make, including prep time. Most of the cooking time is simply waiting for sauces to reduce.

Drunken dessert

Dinner tonight was fun, but I enjoyed dessert much more. I made Drunken Strawberries and Cream. This is actually very easy to make and tastes wonderful! First, I quartered a pound of fresh strawberries and put them in a bowl with about a 3/4 cup of shiraz, a teaspoon of honey, a teaspoon of sugar, and a pinch of cinnamon. I covered the bowl and put it in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. (I used shiraz because I really like shiraz, but any sweet or semi-sweet red wine like sherry or port will work.)

When you are ready to serve, whip a half cup of heavy cream, two tablespoons of powdered sugar, and two tablespoons of the wine from the strawberries until the cream is firm. Remove the berries from the wine with a slotted spoon and top them with the whipped cream in serving bowls. Serve the wine in glasses on the side as a quick cordial.

This doesn’t take long to make, and it’s sweet with just a hint of a spicy note from the cinnamon. The wine is a great way to relax after the meal and unwind at the end of the day. Given the week we’ve had, it was a welcome refreshment.


Last night, I ended up eating vegetarian, which is unusual for me, but there are some dishes that are filling enough and good enough to give up meat for, at least for a meal or two. One of my favorite dishes is Ratatouille. Unfortunately, while I had summer squash and zucchini on hand last night, I didn’t have any eggplant. An easy substitution and I had a dish that was just as wonderful.

Originally, I had planned on having a hamburger because I made Crispy Lemon Garlic Chicken Strips for James. I made the ratatouille to be a side dish, but it smelled so good, and I always enjoy it so much, that I decided to forgo the hamburger and just nosh on veggies.

Since I didn’t have eggplant, I substituted cauliflower, added a clove of minced garlic and a half cup of quartered kalamata olives. While the flavor wasn’t exactly the same as traditional ratatouille, it was surprisingly close! As always, it was a very economical dish. In spite of the fact that I only used two small zucchinis, two small squashes and twelve ounces of cauliflower, there was enough for six to eight servings.

The chicken I made James was very easy to prepare. I took two chicken breasts and pounded them flat with a mallet. Then I tore the meat into strips. I then marinated the meat in a mixture of lemon juice and Garlic-Peppercorn Salad Dressing for about 45 minutes. Once the marinade had a chance to soak in, I dipped the chicken strips in Panko bread crumbs and fried them in vegetable oil. Since I had pounded them thin, they didn’t take long to cook and the panko insured that they got nice and crunchy.