Sunday, December 28, 2014

Crazy Breakfasts from Leftover Chinese

We love Chinese food.  Actually, I haven't yet met an Asian food that I didn't like.  We get take-out Chinese about twice a month.  I know I can make Chinese myself; and I do.  But, some days I work so many hours in the day that I need someone else to do the cooking.

This week, I had a shrimp lo mein dish for my dinner.  As my mother used to say "my eyes were bigger than my stomach."  I ordered a large quart of it and couldn't finish it.  So, the next day I mixed the lo mein with eggs and made a frittata and the following day, I made a dressing and ate some of it as a noodle salad.

Here is my Asian/Chinese Vinaigrette:

2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
2 Tablespoons Rice Wine Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Toasted Sesame Oil
1 Teaspoon Raw Sugar or Honey
1 Teaspoon Freshly Grated Ginger
1 Teaspoon Freshly Grated Garlic
1/4 Cup Canola Oil

This amount is good for a large salad.  Double or triple the quantities and keep it in the refrigerator for about a week.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Mushrooms 101

Lots of good information on cleaning mushrooms.  There are so many old wives tales out there that are pure
bunk.  Rachael Ray shares the misinformation at least once a week.  Here are some links to the information needed to understand that it is OK to wash mushrooms in a sink or bowl of water.

Is it OK to wash mushrooms??

How should I wash mushrooms?? Will they get soggy in water??

Thursday, July 31, 2014

My Own "Vlasic" Bread and Butter Pickles!

Bread & Butter ChipsI am hooked on Vlasic Bread and Butter Pickles. 

I have always loved bread and butter pickles, but none compares to Vlasic for me.  It is relatively easy to make pickles.  Rachael Ray has an entire fan base "quick pickling" everything.   I have tried many combinations of sugar, vinegar and spices.  While they are all good, nothing compares to Vlasic.

Next problem is the expense.  Vlasic pickles aren't cheap.  The jars of the Bread and Butter Sandwich Snackers are sometimes as much as $4.79 and they don't go on sale very often.  Combine that with the fact that when I open the jar, it makes about 3 sandwiches.  So, the pickles ends up costing more than the meat or cheese on a sandwich.

My solution of sorts was discovered today!!  I had saved the jar with the brine in it to use as part of a barbecue sauce.  I have done that before.  All of a sudden I had an idea!  I cut up some baby cucumbers and  a small onion and added it all to the jar.  Then I added a few handfuls of grape tomatoes.  It is all brining in the refrigerator.

So, I added the veggies but the flavor is pure VLASIC!!
A second jar for the price of one!  

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Slow Cooker Baked Beans in a Rice Cooker (DRIED BEANS!!)

Here is our dinner tomorrow night.  One of the great things about it, is that you can start with dried beans and 4 hours later, you have a full meal.  My rice cooker has a slow cook setting.

Slow-Cooked Baked Beans in a Rice Cooker
Serves 6–8 as a side dish and 3-4 as a main meal.
  • 3/4 lb thick-cut bacon, diced
  • 1 lb kielbasa, sliced into coins 
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 lb dried pinto beans
  • 5 cups water
  • 3/4 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup spicy mustard
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  1. Cook the bacon over medium heat in a medium-size skillet. When the bacon begins to brown, add the onions and kielbasa and sauté until translucent.
  2. Place the beans into the slow cooker with the water, bacon, kielbasa and onion. Cover and set the slow cooker on high for 3 hours.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare the sauce. Combine the molasses, ketchup, mustard, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Set aside.
  4. After 3 hours add the sauce and stir to combine. Cover and let the beans cook an additional hour.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Master Quench Chicken and Pasta

A few years back, I was enjoying an evening of music and friendship at the Lion's Den in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.   They always have a wonderful choice of local brews and high end wines.  That's what I usually drink.  I was drawn to a specialty drink on the menu called a Master Quench.  One of the ingredients is maple syrup, the real stuff of course.  I had to try it!  Maple syrup is one of my addictions.  It was made with vanilla vodka, ginger beer (not ginger ale), maple syrup, and a dash of cayenne pepper.  Yes, it sounds strange!  But MY OH MY!  It is so good.  The sweet of the maple syrup takes some of the bite out of the cayenne pepper and the blend of those flavors is awesome!
My favorite REAL maple syrup

Fast forward to today.  I decided to make a marinade/sauce for my chicken and pasta based on those flavors.  I melted 2 ounces of butter and added 1/3 cup of Sriracha hot sauce, 2 tablespoons of freshly grated ginger, 3 tablespoons maple syrup and a cap full of real vanilla extract.  I let it warm slowly until I could smell all of the flavors had melded.

I cut up 1 1/2 pounds of boneless skinless chicken thighs into bite sized chunks and put in the bottom of my rice cooker.  I poured the melted butter mixture over the chicken.  I add 1 pound of elbow pasta and 4 cups of chicken broth. I mixed with tongs and put into the rice cooker base.  I cooked on the white rice setting until done.  I checked it after 12 minutes and stirred to be sure there was enough liquid for the pasta.   

It was AWESOME!!  My husband had 4 helpings.  It was so colorless though.  Next time, I will add diced sweet green and red peppers.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Melting Pot

The United States has to be the best place to eat!  Where else can you have an Italian panini filled with
sauteed vegetables spiced with Indian seasonings and melted together with sharp Vermont cheddar cheese?  And the bread used was San Francisco sourdough.

That's exactly what I had for lunch on Sunday.  I tutor long hours on the weekend and the mother of one of my students must have felt badly that I was missing lunch on Sunday.  So, she made me a sandwich.  It was awesome.  It got me to thinking about the melting pot that is this country, not only in the people, but the food.

For example, how about having an egg roll filled with BBQ pork and cole slaw?  Or a pizza with feta cheese and spinach?   I think my favorite melting pot food is Italian polenta served as a base for American BBQ pulled pork. 

The possibilities seem endless!!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

South of the Border Breakfast

This morning I took a trip to Mexico.  Well, not really!  I never left my kitchen in New Jersey.  I sauteed two poblano peppers with an onion and two minced cloves of garlic in 1 teaspoon of olive oil.    I added a few turns of freshly cracked pepper and a pinch of seasoned salt.  When the peppers and onions were completely wilted, I folded it all into a warm flour tortilla.  To round out my breakfast, I had a fresh mango that I peeled and sliced into chunks.  HEALTHY AND SO DECADENT!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Diane's Casablanca Meatball Stew


The "scribble" above is not scribble.  It is Arabic for Casablanca, the largest city in Morocco. 

I love to try ethnic foods and I love to experiment with spices.  My palate has grown each year as I experiment with flavors.  I love the flavors that originate with the ancient spice trades.  The cinnamon, ginger, coriander and cumin flavors that traveled the world with explorers in order to warm European bellies are among my favorites.

Today, I made up my own spice mixture for a fake out Moroccan meatball stew.  


1 cup pearl barley

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 teaspoons freshly ground ginger
1 cup chopped mushrooms (any kind words, I used reconstituted porcini mushrooms)

1 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon

3/4 to 1 pound meatballs (preferably lamb)
1 pound baby carrots
1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes with chilis
1 bouillon cube or  1 packet onion soup mix
 3 cups water or beef broth

Pour barley into a rice cooker.

In a skillet, heat olive oil using medium heat.  Add the onion, garlic and ginger.  Stir as the onion becomes translucent and the garlic and ginger give off their fragrance.  Do not brown and don't use higher than medium heat.  Poor into rice cooker. Stir to coat the barley with the oils and mix with the aromatics.

In the same skillet, turn heat to medium high and add mushrooms.  (If using dried porcini mushrooms, skip this step.)  Saute mushrooms until they begin to color and have given off much of their moisture.  Add them to the rice cooker.  Add cinnamon to the cooker and stir to coat everything in the warmth of the spice.

Put the bouillon cube or the packet of onion soup mix in the cooker.  Add the carrots and meatballs to the rice cooker.   Add 3 cups of water or beef broth.

Set rice cooker to white rice and cook until done.  

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


I love cheese!!!  I didn't always like it though.  When I was a kid, I wasn't fond of it at all.  Except on special occasions, we only had American cheese.  And, as it turns out, that is the only cheese I don't like.  So, I assumed that I didn't like any cheese.

On special occasions we would get cheese in a jelly jar.  I am not even sure it is sold anymore.  It came in a threesome.  If memory serves me well, one was pimento cheese, one was a cheddar spread and one was a blue cheese spread.  This was a specialty for when my parents were entertaining guests.  I don't remember getting more than a taste of this delicacy.

On Fathers Day or other celebrations for Dad, he would get a Cracker Barrel log of sharp or extra sharp cheddar.  He would set himself up with a beer and a sleeve of Ritz Crackers and enjoy his day.

I don't remember when I first decided that I loved cheese almost as much as Steve Urkel does.  I do remember knowing that sometimes really good sharp Swiss cheese makes my tongue itch.

Anyhow, now I love all cheese.  But here's the strange part.  With only three exceptions, I don't like cheese on my sandwiches.  I will eat Swiss cheese on a tuna salad sandwich and I will eat cheddar cheese on a bacon cheddar burger, but otherwise NO CHEESE on my sandwiches.

The third exception is what this post is really about.  My very favorite sandwich!!  A grilled veggie sandwich on a crusty baguette or ciabatta bread with a creamy, tangy goat cheese.  I grill veggies in large batches and keep them in the refrigerator ready for salads or sandwiches.  In this case, it works best if the veggies are warm, so that they help to melt the cheese a bit.

Most people steam or boil vegetables.  Almost all veggies can be roasted or grilled and the flavors that come out when they cooked this way are phenomenal.  Some work better on a sandwich.  Basically a mix of juicy and dryer vegetables works best.  For example, grilled tomatoes are fabulous, but if you use too many on a sandwich, they will make your bread soggy.  Before grilling, I usually brush my veggies with olive oil that has been infused with lots of garlic and rosemary.

My favorite combination for a sandwich is grilled eggplant, zucchini,  peppers - one sweet and one chili, onions, and tomatoes.  I slice open the bread and spread both sides with a thick layer of goat cheese.  If I am feeling extremely decadent, I will mix the goat cheese with some oil cured sun-dried tomatoes first.  Layer on the veggies.  Close the sandwich and it's ready to eat.  If you have a panini press, this is a great time to use it too.

Don't limit yourself to my list of vegetables.  Many people like grilled carrots, asparagus and portobello  mushrooms on their panini.  Adding a grilled chicken breast, sliced leftover steak or grilled salmon is also a delicious addition.  Get creative and enjoy!!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Diane's Orzo and Peas

Our menus have been a bit up in the air lately.  My tutoring schedule has changed daily based on weather conditions and snow, snow and more snow.  But, I always have a list of possibilities ready to prepare at a moments notice.  We have also been living on an austerity budget, so this weeks list includes many "cheap" meals. 

Ditilini Pasta
The dinner for today is already in the rice cooker.  It is a modified version of ditilini and peas.  Ditilini and peas is an Italian quick meal.  It features a buttery sauce of garlic and herbs poured over freshly made ditilini shaped pasta and peas. The peas should be small enough to hide inside the ditilini.  And it should be served covered in freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. 

Orzo Pasta

My mother used to make the dish with small shell pasta.  The peas could hide in there too!  Her plan was always to make it when we had leftover peas.  Now since I love peas, there were rarely any leftover, so I would put a cup, or so, aside ahead of the meal to ensure we would have this comfort food favorite the next day.

Today, I am making this dish with orzo pasta.  Orzo pasta looks like large rice.  It maintains its "al dente " texture even as it cools and is great for cold salads and warm recipes as well. 

Anyhow, here is my method:

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in the bottom of a rice cooker turned on the white rice setting.

1 6 cloves of garlic, sliced 
1 jalapeno pepper (or 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes)
1 large onion, diced the size of orzo

Stir as the  aromatics soften and begin to smell luscious.  Add 1 package of onion soup mix.  You know the kind; it's used for dips.  Stir around and add 4 cups of water. 

Stir in 1 pound of orzo pasta.  Close the rice cooker and let cook.  After 10 minutes, open the cooker and stir to keep the pasta from becoming cemented to the bottom of the cooker.  I use the rice cooker paddle to stir pasta.  If your rice cooker tends to cook hotter than mine, you might have to add 1 cup more water.

When the rice cooker beeps and is done, add 2 cups frozen peas or a combination of frozen green veggies.  Broccoli, kale, or spinach all work well.  Also add 1 full stick of butter sliced into slabs that will melt fairly quickly. 

Stir all around and close the rice cooker.  Wait about 5-8 minutes to allow the veggies to defrost and the butter to melt.  Serve in bowls with lots of grated cheese.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Mini Pumpkin Pecan Bundt Cakes

Today's breakfast was homemade mini pumpkin pecan bundt cakes. I got a Bakery Bites Express for Christmas a few years ago and decided to use it for the first time today. I guess I thought that it was just a silly trend but it was so easy to use, and even easier to clean up. I will definitely be using it often. It has plates to bake mini cupcakes and brownies too.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Chicken and Barley Stew

I love using whole grains as often as possible.  They add so much nutrition and are full of fiber.  They are inexpensive.  They are also great tasting!

Barley is one of my favorite grains.  Most of the barley grown in the United States is used in beer and other malt beverages.   As it turns out, I like it that way too!

Today I invented a stew to use some barley.  I browned 4 Cubanelle peppers, that had been slivered in a tablespoon of olive oil.  I added a medium onion also slivered.  After they had softened I added 3 cloves of garlic that had been minced.  I put a cup of pearl barley in the bottom of my rice cooker and poured the skillet of peppers and onions in over the barley.  I stirred to mix and coat the barley grains with the olive oil.  I crumbled a handful of dried porcini mushrooms on top of the mixture.

I browned 4 chicken thighs in a skillet and then laid them on top of the mixture in the rice cooker.  Then I added 2 cups of water and put the rice cooker on the white rice setting.  It is bubbling and steaming away.  I can't wait to taste it.