Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Venturing Out

Being from Texas, I really haven't tried many kinds of barbecue sauce except for the thick tomato-based sauce we make here.  And I love that sauce.  Slathered on ribs, chicken, in pulled pork, even in spaghetti. Yes, I did say spaghetti.  But sometimes we need to venture out and try new things, right?

My husband is a fan of shows like Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and barbecue competition shows.  He sees something on TV and says, "I want that!"  So we go in search of recipes and try to create those things.  On one of these said shows, he saw something called Western North Carolina barbecue sauce.  It is a vinegary sauce with a hint of ketchup.  Being a huge fan of vinegar, I was on board and headed to the kitchen.  We made the sauce, and boy oh boy it was good.

So recently, while grocery shopping, I found a pork butt on sale and thought, why not.  Let's do pulled pork in the crockpot with Western North Carolina barbecue sauce.  Not only was it darn tasty, it was fall-apart good and so easy to make.  We made ours into sliders, but regular buns would do just fine.  Topped with some tangy, sweet coleslaw, it was a hit!  Our son ate all of the leftovers.  You would think, from my previous posts about my son eating all of something or all of the leftovers, that he should weigh 800 pounds.  But he doesn't.  He's skinny as a rail. Guess he has a hollow leg.

Ready to try something new?  Don't be scared.  I'll hold your hand.

1 onion, chopped
8 cloves garlic, chopped
2 C brown sugar
2 C ketchup
1/4 C butter
1/4 C lemon juice
2 T mustard
2-4 T tabasco sauce or hot sauce
2 T Worcestershire sauce
One 7-8 lb pork butt
2 C apple cider vinegar
Salt & pepper to taste

1/2 C sugar
Cayenne pepper, to taste

Put all of the ingredients except the sauce ingredients into a crockpot. Cook on low 8 to 10 hours or until the meat is falling apart.  Remove the meat from the liquid (keep the liquid) and let it rest until it has cooled enough to shred.  Pull (shred) it with your hands or two forks.

Strain the cooking liquid and discard half of it.  Put the reserved liquid into a large pot.  Add in the sauce ingredients and boil about 10 to 15 minutes to slightly thicken and reduce.  Mix the sauce in with the pulled pork.  Serve it on buns with your favorite coleslaw.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Ultimate Breakfast Quesadillas

These quesadillas have everything you want for breakfast...eggs, cheese, bacon, sausage, potatoes, bell peppers, green onions, serrano peppers, and cilantro.  Topped with salsa, sour cream, and avocados, it's a darn tasty breakfast!  This makes 4 large quesadillas.

3 small potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 serrano peppers, chopped
3 green onions, chopped
1/4 C cilantro, chopped
Peanut oil
8 eggs
Salt & pepper to taste
1/2 lb bacon, cooked and crumbled
1/2 lb breakfast sausage, cooked
Shredded cheese
8 tortillas
Sour cream
Sliced avocados

Cook the potatoes, bell peppers, serranos, green onions, and cilantro in about a half inch of peanut oil. Cook until the potatoes are slightly browned and tender.  Drain on a paper towel and season with salt and pepper.  Whisk the eggs together and season with salt and pepper.  Melt some butter in a large skillet and cook and scramble the eggs until done.

To assemble the quesadillas, butter one side of a tortilla and put the butter side down on a large flat skillet.  Spoon on some of the potato mixture, eggs, cheese, bacon and sausage.  Top with another buttered tortilla, butter side up.  Cook until browned on the bottom, carefully flip the quesadilla over with a large spatula, and brown on the other side.  Cook the remaining quesadillas the same way.  Serve with the salsa, sour cream, and avocados.

Louie Louie

So it's no secret that my husband loves pasta.  He eats it any chance he gets.  When I'm at work on Saturdays, he makes his own creations with pasta.  Sometimes Ramen, sometimes spaghetti or whatever pasta we have in the house.  He mixes in cheese and his own concoctions of spices. And then he eats his pasta in the same big pot he cooked it in.  And our son has now developed that habit too.  I'll find him sitting in the kitchen, usually with no shirt on and no shoes, eating out of that big pot.

The other night, I decided I was going to make my own invention too. Have you ever heard of Shrimp Louie?  It's a salad that usually consists of shrimp, boiled eggs, tomatoes, asparagus, a creamy sauce, and sometimes black olives and green onions.  It's served on lettuce.  I wanted to make a baked version though, so I changed it up a little.  I made a sauce in a skillet, tossed it with pasta and shrimp, covered it with cheese and baked it.  I was a little skeptical of the sauce, but it worked great.  Our daughter missed it since she was babysitting, but my husband and our son devoured it.  By the way, do you know what teenagers are getting paid to babysit these days?  She gets paid $8 an hour, and supposedly that's the going rate!  That's crazy!

Anyway, back to the pasta, the sauce is made with mayo, chili sauce and some other stuff.  You can use reduced fat mayo if you want.  You could also use chicken instead of shrimp or use both.  Either way, it's good.

Remember that old song, "Louie Louie"?  Yeah, we gotta go...cook that is!

1 onion, chopped
1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 T butter
1 1/2 C chili sauce
1 1/2 C mayonnaise
1 C half & half
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 C white wine
2 T lemon juice
Olive oil
1/4 C Italian parsley, chopped
Cayenne pepper, to taste
1 1/2 C shredded pepper jack cheese
Sliced green onions
Sliced black olives
1 lb pasta, your choice

Cook the pasta according to directions.

Drizzle some olive oil into a large skillet and melt in the butter over medium high heat.  Cook the shrimp a few minutes until they are done and pink.  Remove them to a plate and keep warm.  Cook the onion in the same skillet until tender.  Deglaze the pan with the white wine and cook to reduce the liquid.  Add the mayo, chili sauce, half and half, garlic, lemon juice and cayenne pepper to the skillet.  Cook and whisk until thickened and bubbly.  Remove from the heat and stir in the shrimp and parsley.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Mix the pasta with the sauce and put it in a 9 x 13 casserole pan.  Top with the shredded cheese, black olives, and green onions.  Bake for about 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted and slightly browned.

Red Red Wine

I love using my crockpot, especially in the summer.  It gets so hot here and turning the oven on makes it even hotter.  Plus crockpots are so convenient.  It really does most of the work for you.  Chop a few things and throw them in, add some liquid and seasonings, and turn it on.  And most recipes you usually don't have to babysit.

I love cooking with wine too, mostly because of the great flavor it gives food, but also because the cook gets to take a sip or two.  I have been craving Beef Burgundy for a while now, so why not put it in the crockpot. Beef Burgundy is a dish originating in the Burgundy region of France. The French word for it is Beouf a la Bourguignonne.  But I don't need a fancy-pants name for my recipe.  Beef Burgundy is good enough for me. And it's delicious!  It's beef braised in red wine with pearl onions and mushrooms.  Served over egg noodles, it's a hearty satisfying meal.  The house smelled amazing all day.  My daughter hovered around the crockpot for hours.  I gave her a little push because I thought her feet were glued to the kitchen floor.  She wasn't glued, though.  Perfectly capable of walking away.  So here's the recipe.  I think you'll like this one.

Go put your fancy pants on.  It's time to cook!

4 lb chuck roast, cubed
One 10-ounce bag pearl onions (I used red, but any color will work)
4 carrots, sliced
One 8-ounce package mushrooms, halved
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 C beef stock
2 C red wine (use your favorite)
1/2 stick butter
Salt & pepper, to taste

For the pearl onions, peel off the skins and cut the root end off.  Put the beef cubes into a large zipper bag.  Add in enough cornstarch to coat and shake the cubes around.  Put the butter in the bottom of the crockpot. Add the beef and remaining ingredients to the crockpot and cook on low for 6-8 hours or until the sauce is thickened and the meat is tender.  If your chuck roast has a lot of fat, you may want to occasionally skim the fat off the top of the liquid.  Serve over egg noodles.

Kiss My Grits

If you were around in the late '70s, early '80s, you will remember a TV show called "Alice."  The show was centered around a widowed woman who worked at Mel's Diner as a waitress.  There was another waitress there who was from Fort Worth named Flo.  She had really big hair and always told people to "kiss my grits."  I loved that show.  I think I'll watch it on YouTube now.  Oh, wait, I'm supposed to be giving you a recipe here.  YouTube can wait.

One of my favorite breakfast foods is grits.  I am a Texas girl, and grits are a staple around these parts.  But they aren't just for breakfast.  Shrimp and grits were a staple breakfast for fishermen in the Southern states. They cooked the shrimp in bacon grease and served them with grits.  I love the combination of shrimp and grits.  Creamy, cheesy, buttery grits covered with spicy shrimp and gravy.  And, of course, bacon.  If you've never had grits, it's kind of similar to cream of rice in texture.  It's coarse ground cornmeal that you cook on the stovetop.  And they're darn tasty!

What's your favorite old TV show?

3 C chicken stock
1 C quick-cooking grits
2 T butter
1/4 C heavy cream
1 C shredded Cheddar cheese

2 T butter
1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 C chicken stock
1-2 T Cajun seasoning
1/4 C flour
1/2 lb bacon
Green onions, for garnish

NOTES:  The Cajun seasoning, bacon, chicken stock, and cheese will all add salt to this dish.  I would suggest making your own Cajun seasoning (Emeril has a really easy one) and use less salt than is called for.  I wouldn't add any more salt to any part of the dish without tasting it first.  If you aren't a fan of salt or want to reduce it, use water in place of the chicken stock in the grits.

To make the grits, bring the chicken stock to a boil.  Add in the grits and butter and bring back to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low and cover.  Cook for an additional five minutes or until the grits are creamy and thick.  Remove from the heat and stir in the cream and cheese.

For the shrimp, cook the bacon and then drain and crumble. Only save about 2 T of the bacon grease in the skillet.  In the same skillet with the bacon grease, melt in the butter and then add the shrimp.  Cook for just a couple of minutes until the shrimp is fully pink and done.  Remove from the skillet and cover to keep warm.  Whisk the flour into the same skillet.  Whisk in the chicken stock, garlic, and Cajun seasoning.  Continue cooking and whisking until thickened and bubbly.  Remove from the heat and add the shrimp back in.  Serve the shrimp and gravy over the grits with the bacon and green onions.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Who Needs Takeout

My husband adores Chinese food.  His favorite themed dinner is "Chinese Food Night."  And I've said before that our traditional New Year's Day meal is Chinese food.  When I decide to do Chinese food for dinner, he does his little "I love Chinese food happy dance."  That's not a joke either.  Our kids love it too. Sometimes, when they aren't being mysterious, sulking, brooding, melancholy teenagers, they will join in on the happy dance.

One of my favorite flavors in Chinese food is Hoisin sauce.  Hoisin is the Chinese version of barbecue sauce, although it doesn't taste like any barbecue sauce I've eaten.  But I get the concept.  Sweet, salty, vinegary, spicy.  Goody.  Now, these meatballs can have a tendency to become dry, so I wouldn't use ground beef any leaner than 80/20.  Served with Fried Brown Rice, which is a healthier version of fried rice, and you'll have one tasty meal!

What's your favorite themed dinner night?

1 lb ground beef
2 green onions, chopped
One 8-ounce can water chestnuts, chopped
2-3 T soy sauce, to taste
A few drops of sesame oil
1-2 T chili paste (depends on how spicy you want it)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 egg

One 7-ounce jar Hoisin sauce
1/2-3/4 C sugar (depends on how sweet you want it)
1/4 C rice wine vinegar
A few drops of fish sauce (optional)
A few drops of oyster saue (optional)
1-2 T chili paste (depends on how spicy you want it)
2 T cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Mix the meatball ingredients together and shape into 1-inch meatballs.  Place them in a casserole pan and bake 25 to 30 minutes or until done all the way through and browned.

In a saucepot, mix the sauce ingredients together.  Fill the Hoisin jar with water twice and pour into the sauce mixture.  Whisk and stir until thickened and bubbly.

Remove the meatballs from the casserole pan using a slotted spoon.  Pour the sauce over the meatballs, mixing to coat, and serve.

Healthier Fried Rice

For a great fried rice taste but with a little healthier spin, try this Fried Brown Rice.  I made it with brown rice (duh) and olive oil, which still contains fat but doesn't clog your arteries.  Enjoy.

3 C cooked brown rice, cold
1 carrot, shredded
1/2 C frozen peas
1/2 C frozen corn kernels
One 8-ounce can water chestnuts, drained and chopped
2 green onions, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
2 cloves garlic, minced
Drops of sesame oil (optional)
Soy sauce, to taste
Sriracha (optional)

Generously drizzle some olive oil into a large skillet and preheat to medium high. Cook the carrots and water chestnuts until the carrots are tender.  Add in the rice and garlic.  Drop a few drops of sesame oil in. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly, until rice is heated through.  Stir in the corn, peas, and green onion.  Pour in enough soy sauce to suit your taste and Sriracha, if desired.  Make a well in the center and pour in the eggs.  Cook and stir until the egg is done and mixed through.  Serve with additional soy sauce, if desired.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Secret is in the Sauce

Everyone probably has a lasagna recipe.  And your family probably raves over your lasagna.  But we all like to try new versions of our favorites, right?

I made this lasagna last night, and my son, who never would eat lasagna before, finally ate it and loved it.  So what's so different about mine?  For starters, I make my lasagna with ground beef and Italian sausage.  I put basil and red chili flakes in the sauce for a little kick.  I used six cheeses on top.  And I made my own sauce.  That's the key to this lasagna.  The sauce.  I absolutely love this sauce.  I make it in big batches and freeze smaller portions to use any time I need a red sauce.  So you make your own sauce from scratch too?  Good! I'm so glad to hear it.  But maybe, just maybe, you could hook a girl up and try her sauce???  Please??? Okay, I'm done begging.  But I really think it's worth a shot.

Aren't you just dying to say "reecoata" like Giada de Laurentiis?

1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb ground beef
1/2 lb Italian sausage, removed from the casing
2 T fresh basil, chopped
1 teaspoon oregano
Red chili flake, to taste
Olive oil
Three 15-ounce containers ricotta cheese
2 C shredded Parmesan, divided in half
1 egg
Shredded 6-cheese Italian blend
1 lb lasagna noodles
3-4 C Basic Marinara (click to go to the recipe)

Cook the lasagna noodles according to package directions.

Drizzle some olive oil into a large skillet.  Cook the onion over medium high heat until tender.  Add in the ground beef and Italian sausage and garlic.  Cook, breaking the meat apart, until it is done.  Add in the oregano, chili flake, and season with salt and pepper.  Stir in enough sauce to cover the meat and to desired sauciness.  Heat the sauce through and remove from the heat.  Stir in the basil.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Mix the ricotta, egg, and 1 C of the Parmesan cheese together with a whisk.  In a 9 x 13 pan, layer the lasagna noodles, ricotta mixture, then sauce mixture.  Keep repeating until you end with sauce on top.  Sprinkle as much or as little of the 6-cheese blend over the top.  Top with remaining Parmesan.  Cook about 30 minutes or until heated through and the cheese on top is melted and browned.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Pepperoni Pizza Bread Spirals

Our son loved these so much that he tried to rip the rest of ours out of our mouths.  We had to bite him to make him stop! Just kidding.  We really didn't bite him.  But he ate all of the leftovers within a day!  So darn tasty!

1 packet highly active yeast
1 1/2 C warm water, about 110-115 degrees
2 T olive oil
3 1/2 C flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 C shredded Mozzarella
6 slices smoked Provolone cheese
About 40 slices pepperoni
1 C marinara sauce
3 T butter, melted
2 teaspoons garlic powder
Additional marinara sauce for serving

Combine the yeast, sugar and water in the bowl of a mixer. Let it sit about 5 minutes until it becomes foamy.  Add in the oil, flour and salt. Mix with a dough hook until it forms a ball. Place the ball in a large greased bowl and cover.  Let it sit about an hour in a warm place.

Once the dough is doubled in size, turn it out onto a well floured board. Roll the dough out to about a 16 by 12 rectangle.  Spread the sauce all over the dough and sprinkle some oregano around.  Lay the cheese slices and shredded cheese over the sauce.  Lay the pepperoni in a single layer all over the dough.  Roll up the dough starting at the long side.  Using a serrated knife, gently cut the spirals into about 1-inch sections.  Lay them on a greased baking sheet and cover.  Let it rise about 45 minutes or until very puffed up.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until the dough is done in the center and the bread is browned.  Combine the melted butter and the garlic powder together.  Brush the bread with the butter as soon as it comes out of the oven.  Cover it tightly with foil and let it rest about 10 minutes before serving.  Serve with additional marinara sauce.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

I Love Chips

Drop everything you're doing right now.  Seriously.  What I'm about to share with you is mind blowing.  I made a touchdown in the kitchen last night with this ridiculously amazing chicken. It's Tortilla Chip & Pepper Jack Cheese Crusted Chicken with Avocado & Jalapeno Ranch Sauce.  I know, right?  I just heard you fall out of your chair.  It's okay.  Take some deep breaths.  It was really really easy and so darn tasty!

We really do eat a lot of chicken in our house, and I love it coated in stuff or smothered in stuff or stuffed with stuff. That's a lot of stuff.  But this chicken, oh, how I loved this chicken.  My husband and our kids loved this chicken.  The dogs loved this chicken.  Wait...they love any people food we give them, so I guess their opinions don't count.  But the crispy, cheesy coating on this chicken has a wow factor unknown to man, well, except for my husband and my 12-year-old son who thinks he's a man. Trust me, this one is a keeper.  And Avocado & Jalapeno Ranch Sauce?  I could eat it on cereal...or a paper bag.  Okay, probably not a bag.  But it's good enough to dip everything into!

Are you ready for this?

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
One 12-ounce bag tortilla chips
4 ounces Pepper Jack cheese, shredded
1 C mayonnaise
1/2 T garlic powder
1/2 T cumin
1/2 T chili powder
2 teaspoons lime juice

1 C mayo
1/2 C buttermilk
1 C sour cream
1 packet Ranch dip mix
1 T garlic powder
1 T onion powder
1-3 T diced jalapeno slices (from a jar)
1 teaspoon lime juice
2 avocados

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Put about half of the bag of chips into the food processor and blend.  You should have 2-3 C crushed chips. (Reserve the rest of the bag in case you don't have enough.)  Mix the shredded cheese and the crushed chips together.

Whisk together the mayo, garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, and lime juice.  Dredge the chicken breasts into the mayo and then into the chip mixture, pressing down to make sure it's all coated.  (Here's where you may need to grind extra chips for coating if you run out.)  When all the chicken is coated, put it in the oven and bake for about 25-30 minutes or until the chicken is done all the way through and the chips are crispy.

Blend the sauce ingredients together in a food processor and serve over the chicken.

Jumps in the Mouth!

That's what "saltimbocca" means, by the way.  I'm not sure why it means that.  Maybe because the combination of flavors in this dish are so yummy that your tastebuds are throwing the chicken around in your mouth and it feels like jumping.  Now that I think about it, I had that very sensation when eating this.  It was like the chicken was doing cartwheels in my mouth!

So what the heck is Chicken Saltimbocca?  Well, I'll tell you. Traditionally, it's an Italian dish that has a lightly floured piece of chicken with proscuitto ham and sage leaves and Parmesan cheese, and it's usually served in a Marsala wine and butter sauce.  The ham and sage are either stuffed inside the chicken or pounded onto the chicken.  I changed my version somewhat.  I love ooey gooey cheese melted on top of chicken, so I used Mozzarella instead of Parmesan.  I also stuffed spinach inside the chicken and used the sage in the sauce.  And, for the sauce, I used white wine instead of Marsala.  And, let me tell you, the sauce for this was so good that my husband raved about it all night.  He called all of his friends and family to tell them about this sauce.  He licked the pan out and nearly cried when the sauce was gone.  Okay, not really.  If you know my husband, he is all guy and not like that at all.  I just like to let my imagination get away with me.  But it really was divine and worth repeating.

What food "jumps" in your mouth?

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 T butter (for the chicken)
One 8-ounce bag fresh spinach
2 T butter (for the spinach)
One 3-ounce package proscuitto, chopped
Flour for dredging
Seasoned salt (like Lawry's)
Black pepper
Garlic powder
2 cloves garlic, minced
Olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
1/4 C flour (for the sauce)
2 T butter (for the sauce)
1/4 C wine (for the sauce)
2 C chicken stock
2 teaspoons ground sage
Juice of half a lemon
One 8-ounce block Mozzarella, sliced

First, butterfly the chicken.  If you don't know how to do that, watch a YouTube video here.  Set the chicken aside.

For the spinach, drizzle some olive oil into a large skillet and melt in the 2 T butter.  Put the spinach in the skillet and cook, stirring continuously, until the spinach shrinks and wilts down.  Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Divide the spinach and the chopped proscuitto into the middle of each chicken breast.  Secure the chicken with three toothpicks each.  Mix about 2 C flour with some seasoned salt, garlic powder, and black pepper to taste.  Lightly dredge the chicken in the flour.  Heat the 3 T butter in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Put the chicken into the butter and cook until browned on both sides.  Lay the chicken on a sheet pan and lay slices of Mozzarella over the tops.  Cook an additional 10-15 minutes or until the chicken is done all the way through.  (A digital thermometer will help greatly if you're unsure.)

To make the sauce, drizzle some olive oil into the same pan you cooked the chicken in.  Cook the shallots and garlic over medium heat until tender.  Deglaze the pan with the wine and cook for about a minute or two.  Whisk in the flour and cook for about a minute.  Add in the chicken stock, lemon juice and sage.  Cook and whisk until the sauce is thickened and bubbly.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve the sauce over the chicken.  **Don't forget to tell your eaters to remove the three toothpicks before eating!

French Toast Casserole with Nutella, & Strawberries

Here's a very decadent breakfast casserole.  Maybe serve it to your mom or wife to butter her up.  She'll probably give in.

1 loaf French bread, sliced
12 eggs
2 C half & half
1/4 C orange juice
1/2 C syrup
1/2 C sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 pint strawberries, sliced
One 13-ounce jar Nutella
Two 8-ounce packages cream cheese, cut into small cubes

The night before you want this casserole, spray a 9 x 13 pan with pan coating.  Lay half of the bread slices in the pan.  Dot the cubed cream cheese all around on top of the bread. Layer on the strawberries.  Drizzle half of the Nutella over the bread.  Layer the other half of the bread over the top.  Whisk together the eggs, half & half, orange juice, syrup, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla.  Pour this mixture over the top of the entire casserole, pushing the top layer of bread down.  Cover the pan and refrigerate overnight.  TIP:  If the top layer of bread isn't all the way in the liquid, put something weighted on top of the pan to smoosh the top layer down.

The next morning, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Bake about 45 minutes or until the center is cooked and set. Drizzle the remaining Nutella over the top and sprinkle on powdered sugar if desired.  Serve with additional syrup if desired.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Everybody's Got One

Do you have a good Chicken Spaghetti recipe?  I know a LOT of people out there have one, and they are all pretty similar.  Most start with boiling a whole chicken, shredding the meat, and making a sauce with cream of chicken or cream of mushroom soup and Velveeta.  Some throw in Rotel or mushrooms or shredded cheese.  And they're all good.

So why in the heck should you even consider making my Chicken Spaghetti?  Well, for a couple of reasons.  I used chipotle peppers.  I used only white meat that I poached in butter.  I used mushrooms.  I used fresh tomatoes.  I used garlic (of course I did).  I used chicken stock.  And I used real cream, no "cream of" soups.  Now, please don't get all upset with me now.  I'm not criticizing those of you who use those soups.  They are full of great flavor and very handy and convenient for busy people.  I just seem to have an affinity with making my own sauce.  It does take more time, but I enjoy it.  If you need to save time and effort, I applaud you for still cooking and using convenience products to get you there quicker.

But, back to the spaghetti, this one is rich and full of flavor with a spicy kick.  It isn't that time consuming, but it takes a little bit longer than using the cream of soups for sauce.  And I guess you could sub out all real cheese instead of the Velveeta if you're avoiding that.  If your family won't protest and ban you from the kitchen for changing your Chicken Spaghetti recipe just this once, then please try this one.

I wonder if I can make homemade Velveeta...

1 1/2 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2-4 chipotles in adobo, chopped
1 lb Velveeta, cubed
1/2 to 3/4 C heavy cream
1 tomato, chopped
One 8-ounce package mushrooms, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 stick butter
1/2 C chicken stock
1/2 C Cheddar cheese (or Pepper Jack if you're brave)
1 lb spaghetti noodles

Cook spaghetti according to directions.

In a dutch oven or a large pot, melt the butter and cook the chicken over medium high heat for 3-5 minutes or until cooked through.  (Don't overcook them or they'll be tough.)  Remove the chicken to a plate and cover with foil.

Add the onions, bell peppers, and chipotle to the pot.  Cook until the veggies are tender.  Add in the mushrooms and garlic and cook until the mushrooms are tender and the liquid is cooked out.  Add in the chopped tomatoes, garlic, and chicken stock.  Deglaze the pan for about 2 minutes. Turn the heat to medium and add in the Velveeta and shredded cheese. Continue stirring until the Velveeta melts.  Add in the cream (1/2 C for thicker sauce, 3/4 C for thinner sauce.)  Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and stir in the spaghetti.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Meatball Sliders with Six-Cheese Marinara

Nothing beats a good slider.  And one with meatballs, cheese and pepperoncini peppers?  Absolute heaven. You can use store-bought marinara sauce, but you really really REALLY must try making your own. It's easy with just a little chopping, and you get several meals out of the sauce.  Just once in your life, try making homemade marinara.  You'll be hooked!

1 lb Italian sausage, removed from the casings
1/2 lb ground pork
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1/4 C shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 C Italian parsley, chopped
1/2 C breadcrumbs
Olive oil

2-3 C Basic Marinara
1/2 C shredded Six-Cheese blend
1 recipe Soft Savory Butter Rolls (or slider buns)
Sliced smoked Provolone cheese, cut to the size of the meatballs
Pepperoncini peppers

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Mix all of the meatball ingredients together except the olive oil and form into small meatballs, about 20-24. Place them in a glass casserole pan.  Drizzle them with olive oil.  Bake for about 25-30 minutes or until done.

Meanwhile, put the Marinara Sauce into a saucepot and heat through. Turn the heat to low and whisk in the cheese until smooth.

When the meatballs come out of the oven, place the Provolone cheese over each meatball.  Cover the pan with foil and let the cheese melt.

To serve, place one meatball between a split slider bun.  Spoon on some Marinara sauce and add some pepperoncini peppers.

Monday, July 15, 2013

A Nod to NOLA

NOLA, or New Orleans, is an entity all of its own.  The culture and heritage is so rich there, and the city is teeming with life.  And it could certainly be argued that New Orleans is the one city in America that is richest in musical heritage.  The music, the sounds, the people, the food all make NOLA a true treasure.

Every year in New Orleans, they hold the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, a multi-day event honoring the birthplace of jazz music.  The festival is rich with culture, music and food.  One dish that can be found at the festival is a dish called Crawfish Monica.  The dish was created by a chef named Pierre Hilzim and was named after his wife, Monica.  Chef Hilzim owns Kajun Kettle Foods, and the Crawfish Monica can be found at a food stand at the festival.

So I, being a huge crawfish fan, had to try this dish.  Although the true recipe is a secret of Kajun Kettle Foods, I found another recipe that mine is loosely based on from Emeril Lagasse.  With the addition of shrimp, mushrooms, bell pepper, and Pepper Jack cheese, this dish is truly amazing.  If you're a crawfish fan, I think you'll approve.

Who's going to throw me some beads?

1 lb pasta (I used cavatappi)
1/2 stick butter
Olive oil
1 lb shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 lb crawfish tails
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
Creole seasoning (recipe to follow)
One 8-ounce package mushrooms, sliced
1 C white wine
1/2 C chicken stock
1 pint heavy cream
Juice of one lemon
2 C shredded Pepper Jack cheese
1/4 C Italian parsley, chopped
Sliced green onions, for garnish

Cook pasta according to directions.

Melt the butter into a large skillet over medium high heat.  Drizzle in some olive oil.  Cook the onions and bell pepper until tender.  Add in the mushrooms and garlic.  Cook until the mushrooms are tender.  Season with the Creole seasoning, to taste.  Deglaze the pan with the white wine and cook for about a minute.  Add in the chicken stock and deglaze the pan again, cooking for about another minute.  Add in the cream, lemon juice, crawfish and shrimp.  Cook for a few minutes or until the shrimp are opaque and done.  Remove from the heat.  Stir in the cheese and parsley, continuing to stir until the cheese is melted.  Serve the sauce over the pasta, garnishing with the green onions.

2 1/2 T paprika
2 T salt
2 T garlic powder
1 T black pepper
1 T onion powder
1 T cayenne
1 T dried oregano
1 T dried thyme

Mix all the ingredients together and store in a sealed container.

Maque Choux (Stewed Corn)

Maque Choux is a Cajun dish.  It consists of corn stewed in its own juices which is called "corn milk," and tomatoes, ham, peppers and celery.  "Choux" means cabbage in French, but there really is no translation for Maque Choux.  Whatever the real meaning, this dish is darn tasty.  The amount of flavor in this is impressive!

1/2 stick butter
8 ears fresh corn (I used white and yellow)
1 onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 serrano peppers, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 C chopped ham, like Tasso (or your favorite ham or even bacon)
1 C chicken stock
2 tomatoes, chopped
1/4 C heavy cream (optional)
Sliced green onions, for garnish
Salt & pepper

To prepare the corn and get the "corn milk," cut the kernels off of the cobs but don't cut the entire kernel.  Cut about halfway through the kernels, leaving the other half on the cob.  Once you've done that, then scrape the remaining kernel halves and juice with a dull knife into another bowl.  Reserve the corn milk.

Melt the butter into a large skillet.  Cook the ham until browned.  Add in the remaining veggies and cook for about 15 minutes over medium high heat.  Once the veggies are tender, add in the chicken stock and reserved corn milk.  Continue cooking for about 15 more minutes or until the sauce is somewhat creamy.  If there doesn't seem to be enough "juice," you can add in the cream.  Season with salt and pepper and garnish with the green onions.

Whatchamacallit Candy Bar & Peanut Butter Cheesecake

Three 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1 C peanut butter
1 C sour cream
2 eggs
1 C sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 Whatchamacallit candy bars, sliced
One sleeve graham crackers
1 stick butter, melted
1/4 C sugar
Melted chocolate (like chocolate bark)
Caramel sauce (like you would buy in a jar for ice cream)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grind the graham crackers in a food processor.  Combine the ground graham crackers, melted butter, and 1/4 C sugar.  Press into the bottom of a springform pan.  Bake for 6 minutes.

Meanwhile, cream the 1 C sugar, peanut butter, and cream cheese in a mixer.  Add in the sour cream, eggs, and vanilla and beat until smooth. Layer half of the cheesecake filling onto the crust.  Layer half of the candy bar slices over the cheesecake.  Spread the remaining cheesecake filling over the candy bars, being sure to cover the candy bars completely.  Make a foil tent to put over the cheesecake to prevent browning.  Bake for at least an hour, maybe up to an hour and a half, depending on your oven.  It's done when a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.  As soon as you take it out of the oven, sprinkle on the remaining candy bar slices.  Chill completely.

To serve, drizzle the melted chocolate and caramel sauce over the cheesecake before cutting.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Eggs Benedict with Jalapeno Hollandaise

Here's my version of a classic breakfast.  Traditional versions use Canadian bacon, which is a fancy name for thick-cut ham.  I prefer deli-style ham, but use whichever you want.  And, as you know me so well, I put bacon on it too.  Topped with a spicy Jalapeno Hollandaise, it was a big hit for breakfast.

4 egg yolks
3 T heavy cream
1 stick butter, melted
Juice of half a lemon
2-3 T chopped jalapeno slices (the kind from a jar)
Salt & pepper

4 English muffins
1/2 lb deli ham slices (or Canadian bacon)
1/2 lb bacon, cooked and drained
4 eggs

To make the hollandaise sauce, put the egg yolks, cream, jalapenos, lemon juice, and some salt and pepper into a blender.  Start the blender on high.  Slowly drizzle in the melted butter while the blender is running. Continue blending until the sauce is thickened.

To assemble the Eggs Benedict, start by buttering the English muffins and toasting them in the oven.  Put the ham (or Canadian bacon) in a small skillet to quickly heat it and brown it.  For the eggs, poach them to your desired consistency.  (If you don't have an egg poacher or don't know how to poach in boiling water, you can fry the eggs instead).  Layer the ham, bacon, and egg on the English muffin.  Top with the Hollandaise sauce.  Garnish with additional jalapenos if desired.

Puffy Does It

If you know anything about San Antonio, you know it's a charming city rich with history.  Of course it's known for the Alamo and the historical events surrounding that fateful day in 1836.  The city is mixed with modern buildings and historical old mission buildings.  It's truly a beautiful place to visit.  My husband and I plan to move to the San Antonio area after the kids are grown.

But another great thing about San Antonio is the food.  Chili was invented there during the 1800s when "Chile Queens," who were women that emigrated from the Spanish Canary Islands, set up stands in town and served Chile con Carne. This Chile con Carne later evolved into what has become chili in Texas.  (I'm sure my latter comment will open up a debate, but I'm standing my ground on that one.)

Yet another San Antonio great is the Puffy Taco.  In 1978, a man named Henry Lopez opened up Henry's Puffy Tacos.  If you've never had one, you're missing out.  Tacos are amazing on their own, but in a homemade puffed-up corn tortilla, they're divine.  The traditional way to fill a puffy taco is with the classic Tex-Mex flavors of seasoned ground beef, cheddar cheese, iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and salsa.  But I made these with the most amazing shredded chicken filling ever.  It's so good that my son ate them leftover for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  They were so good, in fact, that my husband wanted to fry more puffy taco shells the day after that to eat the leftover chicken.  That's how good they are.

One last note about the chicken.  I use something called El Pato, which is a Mexican hot style tomato sauce.  If you can find El Pato, absolutely use it.  If you can't find it, use regular tomato sauce and spice it up with some cayenne pepper or red chili flakes or even chopped up serranos or jalapenos.

Are you ready for Puffy?

1 lb shredded, cooked chicken
One 7 3/4 ounce can El Pato (or tomato sauce)
One 4-ounce can diced green chilies
1 C chicken stock
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 T chili powder
1 T cumin

2 C dry masa (corn flour)
1 to 1 1/2 C warm chicken stock
Peanut oil (for frying)

Chopped lettuce
Diced tomatoes
Shredded cheddar cheese
Sliced avocados

Make the chicken filling first.  Drizzle some olive oil into a large skillet and cook the onion until tender.  Add in the El Pato, green chilies, chicken, garlic, chicken stock, chili powder, and cumin.  Cook over medium high heat until most of the liquid is cooked out.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Mix the masa with 1 C chicken stock.  You should be able to form the dough into a ball.  If it's too dry, add in more chicken stock.  Divide the dough into 12 equal balls.  Keep the dough covered with a damp towel until ready to press and fry. Preheat the peanut oil to 350 degrees.

You will need to use two pieces of plastic (like a gallon-size zipper bag with the sides split down) sprayed with nonstick spray to roll out the dough or to press into a tortilla press. Roll or press one ball between the plastic into about a 5-inch circle.  Only press and cook one at a time. Gently remove the tortilla from the plastic and slide it into the oil.  Cook the tortilla on one side for about 20 seconds.  Flip it over to the other side and let it puff up.  Once it's puffed, take a spatula and push down in the center of the tortilla to make the dent. Hold it in place with the spatula until the taco shell is crispy. Drain and repeat.

Fill your tacos with the chicken and your desired toppings.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Is it a Burger or a Taco?

Somedays, when I get home and I ask the family what they want for dinner (actually most days) they say, "whatever you want to make."  But sometimes they want something specific, like burgers or tacos.  Now, what do you do when there's no general consensus between the two? Make both!  I remember, years ago when I was a teenager that Taco Bueno had a Bueno Burger, which was, in fact, a taco burger.  So I thought, why not.  I can make my own Bueno Burger.

I wasn't sure how many people out there were doing taco burgers, so I Googled it.  I love Google.  I got 33,100,000 returns.  That's a lot of taco burgers!  I guess I shouldn't be surprised.  Two of the most common household foods are burgers and tacos.

Anywho, my taco burger has a taco-flavored patty, pepper jack cheese, bacon (of course), lettuce, tomato, jalapenos, and my Jalapeno Ranch Sauce.  You could also add salsa and guacamole to this for an even better burger.  Mine just got too big, as you can see from the picture.  Have fun with it though.  It's your burger.

I'm craving MexiDips & Chips right now.

1 lb ground beef
1 packet taco seasoning
2 T minced sliced jalapenos (the kind from a jar)
2 T minced onion
1 egg

Jalapeno Ranch Sauce (you may want to add extra mayo if you want it thicker)
1 lb bacon, cooked
Pepper jack cheese slices
Sliced tomatoes
Chopped lettuce
Extra jalapeno slices
Onion buns

Mix the ground beef, taco seasoning, minced jalapeno slices, minced onion, and egg together and form patties to your desired thickness.  Cook on the grill or in a frying pan until done, melting the cheese slices onto the patties the last couple of minutes.

Butter and toast the buns.  Assemble the sandwiches as you like with bacon, tomato, jalapenos, lettuce, and Jalapeno Ranch Sauce.

Jalapeno Popper Bread Ring

My oh my...there are no words for how good this was.  Wait, yes, there are.  Scrumdiliumptious, fantabulous, freakalicious, bomb diggity!  There's some words for you!

1 packet highly active yeast
1 1/4 C warm water, about 110 degrees
2 T olive oil
3 1/2 C flour
1 teaspoon sugar

Two 8-ounce packages cream cheese
About 8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 T garlic powder
3 T chopped jalapeno slices (the kind from a jar)
1 1/2 C shredded Cheddar cheese

1/4 C butter, melted
Extra jalapeno slices, for garnish

For the dough, put the yeast, water, and sugar in a stand mixer and let sit until a little frothy.  Add in the olive oil, salt, and flour.  Knead until it becomes a ball.  Place the ball in a large bowl sprayed with pan spray and cover tightly.  Let the dough rise in a warm place about an hour or until double in size.

Mix all of the filling ingredients except the Cheddar cheese together in a food processor.  Set aside.

Turn the dough out onto a well floured board.  Roll it into about a 20 x 8 inch rectangle.  Sprinkle the cheddar cheese along the length of the dough, leaving about an inch border all the way around.  Plop on the cream cheese mixture and gently spread.  Fold one long end over the filling, then the other end over the dough.  Sprinkle some cornmeal onto a large cooking sheet or stone.  Turn the dough seam side down onto the sheet and form a circle.  Tuck one end into the other to complete the circle.  Cut some slits over the top of the dough.  Place the extra jalapeno slices on the top.  Cover and let it rest an additional 20 to 30 minutes or until puffed back up.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Bake about 20-30 minutes or until browned and feels hollow.  Remove from the oven and brush the butter all over the top and sides.  Cover with foil and let cool about 20 minutes.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

A New Family Favorite

It's no secret that my family loves Tex-Mex food.  Seriously loves it.  I've done a lot of enchiladas and tacos, but I haven't blogged yet about burritos.  And, you know me, I have to put my spin on everything.  I couldn't just do burritos.  Since one of my favorite ways to cook is to "smother" things, why not smother a burrito.  My most favorite sauce for Tex-Mex food is from Robb Walsh and The Tex-Mex Cookbook.  It is truly the best Tex-Mex enchilada sauce and the same you would find in any good Tex-Mex restaurant.

I cooked the meat for these burritos in the crockpot so we would have tender shredded beef.  I used the cooking liquid from the crockpot to make the chili gravy.  And I made homemade refried beans.  Gotta love homemade refried beans.  And, of course, cheese.  Wouldn't be a burrito without cheese.  These burritos were so stinkin' good!

There's still two in the fridge.  I shall eat one now!

1 onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
2 serranos, chopped
A 3-4 lb chuck roast
3 T cumin
3 T chili powder
1 T beef bouillon paste
2 T chopped fresh cilantro
Salt & pepper to taste

1/4 C lard or shortening
1/4 C flour
2 C reserved cooking liquid from the crockpot
Additional cumin and chili powder, if desired

8 flour tortillas
Refried beans (homemade or canned)
Shredded cheese
Black olives (optional)
Green onions, chopped (optional)

Put all of the meat ingredients into a crockpot and about 4 C water.  Cook on low for about 8 hours or until tender.  Remove the meat from the crockpot and cover it to let it rest about 10 minutes.  Shred the meat. Strain the cooking liquid and reserve 2 cups.

Melt the lard in a skillet.  Whisk in the flour to combine.  Pour in the reserved cooking liquid and whisk to make it smooth.  Let it cook until thickened and bubbly.  Add additional cumin and chili powder if needed and taste for salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Pour some of the sauce into a 9 x 13 pan.  Spread some beans down the center of a tortilla.  Top with meat and cheese.  Fold it up like a burrito.  Lay the burritos, seam side down, into the sauce.  Pour the remaining sauce over the tops of the burritos. Sprinkle on some more cheese.  Bake about 10 or 15 minutes or until warmed through and the cheese is melted.  Garnish with black olives and green onions.

Pull-Apart Cinnamon Rolls

(As adapted from Alton Brown)
4 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
1/4 C sugar
6 T melted butter
1/4 C 110 to 115 degree water
3 teaspoons yeast
1/2 C heavy cream
4 C flour
1 teaspoon salt

6 T melted butter
3 T cinnamon
2/3 C sugar

3 C powdered sugar
3 to 4 T half and half or cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

Put the warm water, melted butter, and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Let it sit about 5 minutes or until frothy and bubbly.  Add in the eggs, egg yolk, sugar, and salt and whisk.  Change the attachment to a dough hook.  Add in the cream and flour and knead until it forms a smooth ball.  Put it in a greased bowl and cover.  Let it rise in a warm place until it's at least double in size.

On a well floured board, roll the dough out to about a 20 by 24 inch rectangle.  Spread the butter for the filling on the dough from edge to edge.  Mix the cinnamon and sugar together and sprinkle over the entire surface.  Cut the dough into roughly 2 by 3 inch rectangles (doesn't have to be exact).  Grease a loaf pan and turn it on its end.  Lay the squares in the pan, kind of like stacking cards, overlapping them randomly to reach side to side.  When they are all stacked, cover the pan and let it rise again, 30-45 minutes.  You can put them covered in the fridge overnight to bake the next morning, or you can bake them now at 350 degrees for about 35-40 minutes.  If cooking them the next day, sit them out on the counter for about 30 minutes before baking and then bake as above.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

What Would Genghis Khan Think?

Man, it's been hot here in Lubbock, like 110 degrees hot.  And, although I love to cook every day, I don't love it so much when the house heats up from turning the oven and the stove on.  So it's time to get out the crockpot!

My husband just adores it when we have "Chinese Food Night."  It's probably his favorite meal.  We even now have Chinese food for New Year's Day.  Yes, I live in Texas and I know you're supposed to eat black-eyed peas on New Year's Day.  But we are always changing things up and putting our own spin on everything, so why not.  I've been wanting to make Mongolian Beef and I wanted to do it in the crockpot.  Now, Mongolian Beef is a Chinese-American dish and really has nothing to do with the Mongolian way of cooking.  It was apparently named "Mongolian" because it sounded exotic to whomever created it.  Whatever the origin, it's very tender meat in a thick sauce that is slightly sweet, as spicy as you want it, and great for "Chinese Food Night."  The version I created amazed me at how perfectly the sauce thickened up in the crockpot.  Served over some soft rice noodles, this dish made my husband and kids run up and down the streets yelling how awesome I am!  Yeah, you're right.  They really didn't do that.  But they asked for seconds, and that's pretty close to the same thing.

I think Genghis Khan would like this, don't you?

3 lbs lean beef roast, like tri-tip or tenderloin, cubed
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, smashed
One 7-ounce jar Hoisin sauce
1/2 C soy sauce
1/2 to 3/4 C brown sugar (depends on how sweet you want it)
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 C water
1/2 C rice wine vinegar
Sesame oil
A few drops of fish sauce (optional)
A few drops of oyster sauce (optional)
1-3 T chili paste (depends on how hot you want it)

Put a generous amount of cornstarch into a large zipper bag.  Put the meat in and shake it around.  Shake off the excess cornstarch.  Drizzle a small amount of sesame oil into a crockpot.  Add in the remaining ingredients.  Cook over low heat for about 6 hours or until the sauce is thickened and the meat is tender.  Serve over rice noodles and with steamed broccoli, if desired.

Crispy Chicken Egg Rolls

2 green onions, chopped
One 16-ounce bag coleslaw mix (without the dressing)
2 cooked chicken breasts, shredded
1 small can water chestnuts, drained and chopped
Sesame oil
Olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
Soy sauce (to taste)
Sriracha (optional)
Egg roll wrappers
Peanut oil

Drizzle some sesame oil and some olive into a large skillet.  Add in the coleslaw mix, water chestnuts, green onion, and garlic.  Cook until the cabbage softens some but still remains slightly crunchy.  Add in the chicken.   Drizzle in soy sauce to taste and the Sriracha if desired.  Cook until all of the filling is coated with the soy sauce and tastes the way you want it.

Remove from heat.  Put about 3 T of filling into the center of each egg roll.  Here is a picture of how I roll egg rolls.

Brush each edge of the wrapper with water on every fold.  Once they are all rolled, lay them in a single layer on a sheet pan lined with foil.  Freeze them for at least an hour.  Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.  Fry them in peanut oil at 350 degrees until golden brown.  Drain them and then put them on a sheet pan in the oven to ensure that they are completely warm all the way through.

Crab Rangoon

One 8-ounce package cream cheese
1 green onion, rough chopped
6 ounces crabmeat
3-4 T sugar
1 T Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons garlic powder
Wonton wrappers
Peanut oil

Combine the cream cheese, onion, crabmeat, sugar, Worcestershire sauce, and garlic powder in a food processor.  Spoon about 2 teaspoons of filling into the center of each wonton.  Don't overfill the wontons or the filling will all ooze out during frying.  Some people fold crab rangoon like a little purse, but here's a picture of how I fold crab rangoon.

Brush water on each edge of the wonton before folding each fold to seal. When they are all folded, lay them in a flat single layer on a sheet pan lined with foil.  Freeze them at least an hour.  Fry them at 350 degrees in the peanut oil until golden brown.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Picking up the Pieces

As most of you know, there was recently a devastating fire in Black Forest, Colorado, which is close to Colorado Springs. My parents lived in the Black Forest.  Their house was one of the first of 509 houses to burn. They narrowly escaped the fire.

On June 11, 2013, my mother was doing something she loved to in the yard.  She had beautiful flower beds around their house in the forest.  She was planting and weeding.  At 1:30 in the afternoon, she started smelling smoke.  She went in the house to call my father to ask if they should worry.  He said to go ahead and pack some things and he was on his way.  After he got there, they began loading one of their three cars and a trailer with valuable things.  My mom was upstairs packing clothes into a suitcase.  
Suddenly the house across the street, which is more than five acres away, exploded.  Yes, exploded.  I don't know how or why that is possible, but it did.  My father ran upstairs and told my mother to get in the car.  They raced down to the car, gathered up their dogs, and got ready to evacuate.  By then, there were flames racing across their meadow.  And then something terrible happened.  The car wouldn't start.  All of their precious things would have to be abandoned as they got in a second car to leave.  

As they drove down their long driveway, my mother describes the flames shooting up all around the car as driving out of hell.  By the time they reached the second car, the flames were starting to engulf their second-story deck which spanned the length of their house.  They made it out of that fire with my mother's car, their dogs, and her purse.  That's it. No other possessions in the world. The same tragedy happened to 508 other families.  The fire burned at least at 2,500 degrees, leaving nothing behind but ashes.  When we finally got back in, expecting to find things to take away and salvage, there was nothing but ash and chunks of sheetrock and two burned cars, one with a trailer attached.

I usually try to post happy and even funny posts, but not this one.  I spent nine days with my parents during this trying time, waiting to be let back into their neighborhood, only to be turned away by National Guardsmen, who were doing their job trying to keep people safe.  We attended press conferences hosted by the El Paso County Sheriff, Terry Maketa, and the Type I Incident Commander, Rich Harvey. (A funny note about the first press conference we attended:  My mother was interviewed by five different TV stations and one newspaper about her ordeal!)  We spent days wondering if their house had burned, if their neighbors' houses had burned, if there was any hope left.  

I wanted to do something, albeit it small, to honor the military, the firefighters, the sheriff's office, the volunteers, the families.  I want to honor the fact that these people need to find a way to pick up the pieces of their lives and start anew. Some of those families had no insurance and nowhere to go, no hope in sight.  My parents are fortunate enough to be able to move on.  They found a house to rent while they figure out what they want to be when they grow up.  When you lose 60 plus years of things and memories and special treasures, where do you start picking up the pieces?

As I said, this is a small, simple way to show our support for these people. I made a cake.  Big deal.  But I sometimes deal with life the best when I'm in the kitchen, and I feel at home there.  I'm comfortable there.  I feel at my best in the kitchen. The feeling I put into that cake represented, in a small way, my feelings for this entire situation.  If you look at the cake, there are three distinct colors.  Red, black, and white.  Red represents fire, but it also represents strength.  Black represents death, but it also represents power.  White represents kindness, purity and new beginnings.  For my parents and the other displaced people of the Black Forest, I wish them strength to move on.  I wish them the power to keep going.  And I wish them the best of new beginnings.

FOR THE CAKE (as adapted from the Whimsical Bakehouse book):
4 eggs
1 C real butter, softened
2 1/2 C sugar
3 C flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 C cocoa powder
1 C hot coffee
1 C cold water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 lbs powdered sugar (I's a lot, but it's a big cake!)
1 C real butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 C shortening
2 teaspoons vanilla

2 to 3 1-ounce blocks chocolate bark
Two 14-ounce cans cherry pie filling

Grease and flour two 8-inch round cake pans.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Cream the eggs, butter, and sugar in a mixer with a batter attachment.  Add in the remaining cake ingredients and beat until smooth.  Pour evenly into both pans.  Bake for about 30-40 minutes or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Cool the cakes on a rack. Remove them from the pans, wrap them in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until cold.  The cakes must be cold to withstand the weight of the cherries and the frosting.

For the frosting, cream together the butter, cream cheese and shortening in a mixer.  Add in the powdered sugar, a little at a time, until it is all combined.  The frosting should be stiff. However, if it is too stiff to work with, add water a tablespoon at a time until it's still stiff but able to be worked with.

Split each cake in half so that you have four layers.  Spread some frosting on top of the first layer, being sure to have more frosting around the outer ring to hold in the cherries. Spoon about 1/3 of a can of cherries onto the center but not pushing it out onto the edges of the cake.  This will keep the cherries from oozing out between the layers.  Add another layer of cake and repeat the frosting and cherries process (You may get into the second can of cherries).  When you put the top layer of cake on, frost the top and sides of the cake. Don't worry about dragging crumbs into your frosting.  The top and sides will be covered.  Put remaining cherries on top. Microwave the chocolate bark for about 15-20 seconds to soften. Use a potato peeler to shave off chocolate curls. Press the chocolate curls onto the sides of the cake all the way around.   Keep the cake refrigerated.