The Drought Is Over

I admit it. I fell off the cooking wagon. Would that be the chuckwagon? Who knows. At any rate, I have been neglecting my personal goals of trying new recipes and cooking more meals. Thankfully, invitations to join good friends and family for dinner over the past weekend inspired me to revisit the kitchen.Caramel Cake: I wanted to take a two-layer cake as my contribution to an outdoor dinner with friends. Searching through www.myrecipes.com revealed several possibilities. However, because of dietary requirements of my friends, I made the cake from one recipe and the frosting from another. The cake turned out to be a little more dense than a normal cake, almost like a distant relative of a pound cake. The frosting was good, although I almost did not have enough to frost the entire cake! All-in-all, everyone had second helpings of the cake and the leftovers did not last long at home. I’ll make this one again!Darlene’s Healthy Salad: Thankfully, the latest issue of Cooking Light magazine came in the mail last week! Flipping through the newly redesigned layout, I came across this easy salad. I did not include radishes but added cherry tomatoes. This salad came together fairly quickly, especially since I used my awesome food processor to slice the cucumbers and red onion. The tangy combo of red wine vinegar, onion, and cucumbers made this salad a modern version of the cucumber salad my grandma used to make. I bet I would have loved it even more if I would have picked out a ripe avocado instead of an unusable rock-hard one. Oh, well. I already made this salad again! It will be a regular next summer.Cold Sesame Noodles with Chicken and Cucumbers: This recipe was fast, easy, and delicious. I was able to quickly assemble it even after working late and walking the dog! Other than dicing the cucumbers instead of slicing, I made the recipe as directed and had no problem finding any of the ingredients. My husband loved the recipe. I think he was surprised about how much flavor was in a dish with relatively few ingredients (and relatively few dishes to wash!). This would be a great dish to take for lunches. Also, I liked the “game plan” feature in the magazine. We’ll be making this again!


Snappy Meals

Lunchtime at work is supposed to be a time for refreshment and relaxation; however, on some days, it seems just like more work. Another sandwich? Terrific. I’ll add it to the other 10,000 I’ve eaten in my life already. Another container of yogurt? Fabulous. If only the lunchroom gods would shine upon me and there will be a clean spoon available in the silverware drawer instead of challenging me to eat yogurt with a fork, once again.So, when I saw recipe for Potato, Chicken, and Fresh Pea Salad in this month’s Cooking Light, I felt like lunch could be reborn! I made the recipe over the weekend and it came together quickly and easily thanks to the precooked and chopped chicken. The resulting dish filled the kitchen with an appetizing aroma thanks to the dressing of mustard, onions, and French-style seasonings. Eating it the next day during lunch was a welcome break from the sandwich monotony! With chicken and potatoes to add substance, snap peas to give it a crunchy texture, and a flavorful dressing to punch up the taste, I would recommend this salad for lunches or potlucks! One thing to note, if your job requires interacting with people, you might want to pack a breath mint along with this in your lunch. Gotta love onions!Weeknight meals can also fall into a rut and this weekend’s new recipe, Chicken Tamale Casserole, was a delicious remedy for dinner boredom. The bottom layer, made of corn bread, diced chilies, and cream corn, was baked and then topped with enchilada sauce, shredded chicken and cheese. The combination of flavors and textures was very satisfying and we will be making this again soon!


Spicy Sweet Nighttime Meals

Nothing drains my energy more than pondering the question “What to make for dinner tonight?” So, this week I decided to find some interesting and fast recipes to try out for weeknight dinners. Each meal turned out well enough to be considered in future meal rotations!First, we tried Spiced Pork Chops with Apple Chutney. This meal came together fairly quickly with me sauteing the apple chutney on the stove top while Stacy grilled the pork chops. The final result was a pork chop with a kick that combined well with the sweet fruity chutney. Next time I will serve something other than the long grain wild rice with this meal – maybe white rice or a green vegetable would be a better choice.Next up: Sweet Orange Salmon! We need to eat more fish, but we are often daunted by the idea of preparing it. We fear no more! This recipe was fast, easy and seriously delicious. We used frozen salmon fillets and rubbed the sweet orange mixture (brown sugar, spices, orange zest) on prior to broiling in the oven. We loved the spicy, slightly caramelized topping on the fish and it was so easy to make! Watch the broiling carefully, however, as I let it get a little too caramelized, if you know what I mean. (Hence there is no picture!)


Quesadillas, Rum, and Restaurants

Don’t try to fool me – you’re still reading because the rum caught your attention! This weekend we tried two new recipes and one new restaurant. Since our Saturday afternoon was cold and snowy – I decided to make cookies! However, looking through recently collected recipes revealed only doughs that needed time to chill. No time for that, I thought, and I decided to make the much anticipated Butter-Rum Pound Cake from Betty Crocker! But, alas, we were both disappointed. It had a nice texture and decent taste, but we both were looking for a moister cake with more rum flavor – something similar to the tasty goodness of Stacy’s mom’s recipe for almond-poppy seed cake that turns out rich and moist due to drizzle added during the last step of the recipe. We might try something similar with a Tastefully Simple pound cake to experiment.While the cake was cooling, I tried another new recipe for our dinner – Roasted Corn and Goat-Cheese Quesadillas. Stacy loves quesadillas, but I cringe everytime he eats them in a restaurant since they are always served dripping in cheese and grease (no offense, quesadilla chefs of America). I also thought this would be a good dish to try to make using our new panini press. In the end, we were both satisfied with the meal that also included Rice-a-Roni Mexican rice (yum!) and black beans. The quesadillas were tasty, although a bit heavy on the goat-cheese side…probably because my container of goat-cheese contained slightly more than the recipe called for (but not enough for me to go to the effort of removing – .3 oz). Using the panini maker resulted in melted quesadillas, but they weren’t as crispy as they probably would have been using the skillet as the recipe indicated. I do think I would make a variation of this again, however. The recipe was fast and easy to make, as well.On Sunday, I needed to go to work unexpectedly so, for a special treat, we visited a new local restaurant and had a very nice time. Toscana Restaurant and Lounge in Rolling Meadows is a nice, intimate sit-down Italian restaurant. We had delicous bread, more bread in the form of bruschetta (my ultimate favorite) and I had Pollo Limone and Stacy had the Tortellini Paesano for our main entrees. It’s special occasion spot, with entrees running from $13 and up, although maybe we will try their lunch and/or take-out menu sometime as well. The service was outstanding; the staff were friendly and attentive. I look forward to trying their version of garlic pizza. It is very nice to find a nicer place in our area – we’re still looking for our “Cheers.”


Re-inventing the Ramble

One of my New Year’s Resolutions a few years ago was to give up doing New Year’s Resolutions. Now I just make and break resolutions all year through! Right now, one of my mini-resolutions is to become a culinary and organizational genius.What’s that mean? I need to cook and clean more. Therefore, the last few weeks I’ve been making an effort to cook new dishes and “weed” various collections throughout our house. Therefore, I’ve decided to bring my blog back and document my progress – if nothing else than for my own amusement.The most recent culinary experiment was Korean-Spiced Beef and Cabbage Rolls – a recipe that I saw last year in Cooking Light magazine. It was winning recipe from one of their readers that was inspired by my husband’s favorite food from Nebraska – the Runza! I spent a good part of Saturday afternoon putting this recipe together and, thankfully, Stacy helped by making dessert – a rum pound cake also from CL. The dish was relatively easy to make – just a little more time consuming that I would usually like.Honey was one of the dough’s main ingredient, resulting in a light, sweet dough that I would consider using for other dishes as well. Overall, the Korean flavors were tasty, yet subtle. I would like to experiment with making the rolls smaller to create more of an appetizer snack bite, although I hope they won’t be too hard to fold together. Additionally, I want to try adding different things to the filling – more vegetables and a little cheese.The rum pound cake was carefully created by Stacy as he channeled his inner chemical engineer. It turned out ok – our favorite part was the mild taste of Captain Morgan’s. Thankfully, a colleague at work shared a similar recipe with me today that might be a good one to try this weekend.