Do you pickle? Homemade pickles and more

Don’t ask what prompted me to try the homemade pickle recipe I saw on GimmeSomeOven. I probably was drawn to it because I love English cucumbers, and buy them at Costco. Costco “keeps the costs low” as my kids always tease me, and it’s true. I can get three large English cucumbers for a much lower price than my neighborhood Harris Teeter. It kills me, however, when they go bad. But there’s just so much cucumber I can eat.

Then I found that homemade pickle recipe and I was hooked. It’s ridiculously simple. Mix some water, vinegar and spices in a jar, add cucumber slices and let sit. The longer, the better. My daughter now eats them for a snack right out of the mason jar. And when the pickles start disappearing, I just cut up another cucumber. My husband puts them on his sandwiches. I chop them up and put them in tuna salad.

I ‘ve only stuck to the basics: vinegar, water, peppercorns, garlic and bay leaves. But you can definitely switch up the flavors. Here’s a few varieties you can try from the Kitchn.

 

 

Comparing My Leftovers to Professional Photos

I love looking at photos of food on the web and trying to recreate them at home. While they often taste good, they never look quite like the professional photos. Here’s a few examples.

Eggplant Rollatini. My husband recently worked hard at a local art show (you can see him in this TV spot) and I wanted to reward him with some good meals when he got home. I made this eggplant rollatini recipe and it was really good.  However, a home cook’s reality is nowhere nearly as beautiful.  I did not leave the skin on since I read somewhere that it could be bitter and tough. I definitely could have added more sauce because the whole thing was a little dry. Mine has way more breading than this photo, but it was good. We’ll be eating this again soon.

This is from Epicurious
This is my leftover version.

Teriyaki baked chicken. This came out really good. This time I left the skin on, but I think next time I’ll take the skin off because it came out a little rubbery. The trick to this chicken is to baste it with the sauce every 10 minutes. Sugar burns fast, and this sauce has a lot of it. Basting it every ten minutes prevented it from becoming a blackened mess. Another tip: I sprayed the pan, then put aluminum foil down, sprayed the aluminum foil and then put the chicken down. This goes a very long way toward cleaning up fast and easy. That sugar is a you-know-what to get off if it burns into the pan.

This is the Allrecipes photo.
This is my leftover version.

I served the chicken with watermelon, cucumber and feta salad, potato salad and a cold asparagus with balsamic vinaigrette.

Beef and broccoli. This is a favorite in my house, and easy to make after work. Usually, I use this recipe from Pioneer Woman. I tried this Mongolian beef and broccoli recipe from Delish.com. I used one piece of filet mignon that we had instead of flank steak. My husband hates flank steak and we buy the filet mignon from Costco. It never fails. The taste was good but the sauce was thin. I think I’ll go back to the Pioneer Woman version next time.

Mongolian beef from Delish.com

Do your leftovers look like the photos? Let me know in the comments below.

Roasted eggplant dip

My favorite restaurant is Kipos in Chapel Hill. Everything there is delicious, however, the one item we order consistently is the roasted eggplant and walnut dip. It has a smoky, creamy flavor that is enhanced but the crunch of toasted walnuts. I tried to make my own last night using this recipe. I didn’t have any lemon juice so I added a little extra balsamic. I also added parsley, however, I only had dried. Next time I’ll use fresh. And next time I’ll add a little less cayenne because it had a little too much kick.

 

This dish was awesome paired with some store-bought pita chips. Give it a try.

Egg and avocado breakfast – Mexican style

This is one of my favorite breakfasts for several reasons. It’s easy, it’s good for my diet, and it’s delicious!

You can doctor it any way you want, as long as you start with a hard boiled egg. How much avocado you add depends on how big your avocado is, and how much you enjoy the creamy fruit. I usually do about a quarter of an avocado, chopped in large chunks. Add some cilantro and salt and you’re good to go.

Not me. I like to add a lot more. Sometimes I’ll add Sriracha, other times I’ll drizzle some Herdez’ guacomole salsa. (Have you tried this stuff? It’s absolutely awesome.)

Today I went full hog. My other favorite thing to do is fry up one small corn tortilla in a pan. I love egg and avocado tacos but they are so messy. So now I cut up the tortilla, spray some oil in a pan, sprinkle the tortillas with salt, and fire up the pan. I get it good and hot so the tortilla crisps up.

In this dish, I rough chopped my egg and avocado, sprinkled in some salt and Mexican cheese, added the crispy tortilla bits and topped it with Mrs. Renfro’s roasted tomato salsa. It’s my new favorite salsa. Got it when I saw it on sale in my Ibotta ap.

The best part of the dish is that it comes in at 200 calories and it keeps me filled up till lunch! A double win!

Let me know if you give this a try and what you think!

Lose weight with me – my journey

I stepped on the scale this weekend and I did not like what I saw.

Last year the same thing happened to me (although the number was higher). So I bought myself a FitBit Alta, downloaded MyFitness Pal and started tracking my steps and my calories. It worked. I lost 10 pounds in a few months and kept them off. Until I went to Cancun for Christmas with my family.

We stayed at the Hyatt Ziva (amazing, amazing resort) using points I’d amassed from learning how to use credit cards. It was fantastic, but, it’s also all inclusive.

The back pool at the Hyatt Ziva in Cancun at sunset.

 

 

How can you resist this amazing selection of sweets? It’s free and open all day and night.

(This is the “sweets” restaurant. Just take what you want. As much as you want. Whenever you want.) 

I gained five pounds on that trip, and I’ve been gaining ever since. I’m almost back to where I was when I started my FitBit journey and that’s not ok. I figured I could just do what I do – eat and sew and work 8 hours a day sitting at a desk, maybe walk a little – and I’d lose the weight. Nope. That’s not the way it works. Now I weigh more than when I came back from Cancun 6 months ago and something has to be done.

So I’m back on a mission to lose weight. I’m using my Bullet Journal, my FitBit and MyFitness Pal. I started on Sunday, June 11 at 148 pounds. Here I am on a 3.5-mile walk. I did 20k steps that day. I’ve started doing a 31-day yoga challenge on YouTube with Yoga by Adrienne. I like her style.

I’m also watching what I eat. Here’s what  I ate for lunch yesterday (I’ve been eating it every day since Sunday and today is the last day. Chickpea salad with tomato, avocado, red onion, tuna, and spinach. (It had some chunks of fresh mozzarella in there but I think my daughter ate them all.) Here’s the recipe to use as a base. Do like I do and embellish with what you like.

If you’ve got good food recipes, exercise ideas, or any suggestions for helping me lose 10 pounds, please share below! Look forward to sharing my journey with you.

Debbe

Easy summer dinners for May

Every Sunday I sit down and figure out what I’m going to make for dinner each week. Everything doesn’t always go according to plan, but at least I have a plan. That helps me stick to a shopping budget, which is also dictated by what’s on sale and what I can get rebates on in Ibotta and Coupon 51.

Right now I’m cooking mainly for my husband and myself. My teenage daughter is only home for dinner sometimes, my mother in law will come for dinner occasionally, and my college-age son will come home once in a while too. This week, I’m not sure who will pop in, but I’m going to be ready, just in case.

So here’s my dinner plan:

Sunday – My college-age daughter was here last week for dinner and made a terrific combination of oven baked Indian-spiced sweet potatoes with teriyaki steak. She served it on a platter with sliced jalapeno, avocado, and cilantro. We helped ourselves to her homemade peanut sauce that she made from the teriyaki glaze, peanut butter, and coconut milk. We all loved it but now we have leftover peanut sauce. I’m going to doctor it up and use it to make Grilled Thai Curry Chicken Skewers.

Monday – We’re heading to Costco as part of her Sunday food buying routine. I’ll be buying some lobster ravioli and pairing them with a light tomato sauce we buy there. Granted, lobster ravioli ain’t cheap, but this is simple, easy, restaurant quality and always a crowd pleaser.

Tuesday – My son will be home so we’ll be having filet mignon, mushrooms and tomato and mozzarella. I buy the big container of baby Portobellos at Costco, saute them whole with chopped garlic and oil until they are practically half their size, then finish them with a splash of ponzu. Have you tried ponzu? It’s a sweeter, citrus-based soy sauce. I love it!

Wednesday – Joey will leave after dinner but not before we eat some wings. He loves buffalo wings but we love these baked General Tsao wings. We don’t fry them; we grill the wings then coat them in whichever sauce. They will go great with a Greek salad. Or, if I have time, I’ll make potato salad.

Thursday – There will be something left over, or something won’t work out as planned so I usually only plan three nights. We keep Naan bread in the freezer in case we want to throw together a ham and cheese pizza. I’ll buy some zucchini and eggplant when I go shopping so we can always do a veggie pizza.

salmon-with-avocado-salsa.jpg

Friday – Normally we’re ready for some fish if we haven’t any yet. This Salmon and Avocado Salsa dish looks good to me.

That’s my plan for the week! What are you planning? Let me know so I have some ideas for next week!

I’m saving money with coupon apps

I’ve always been a coupon clipper. But I really moved my savings up a notch when I started using coupon apps like Ibotta and Checkout 51. I saw a story about a woman who uses them on the news and thought I’d give it a shot.

At first, I found it a little off-putting. They’re essentially collecting data about my shopping habits. But then I thought, so what? Everybody is collecting data about me, through Facebook, buying online, even websites you visit. That’s why ads follow you all over your online universe. If it saves me money, I’m in.

Now, when I use coupons and check Ibotta, I can see I’m saving more. And, I’ve already got nearly $30 in my account to take as a gift card or to put in my pay pal account.

Interesting in trying Ibotta? Click on this link to get a $10.00 reward.

Do Tasty recipe videos really work? Sometimes

My love affair with gazpacho

My first freelance article for the News & Observer was a year in the making. I am passionate about gazpacho and wrote about my love affair with the cold Spanish soup.
I have a love affair with gazpacho that started when I was a child. In the 1970s, my parents celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary with a trip to Spain and brought me along. My father was born there, and the trip marked his first return since he left as a young boy. In preparation, my mom read James Michener’s “Iberia” and soon recreated his recipe for authentic gazpacho.

His classic version, popular throughout the Southern region of Andalucía, featured juicy, vine- ripened tomatoes, crusty, stale bread, cucumber, red bell pepper, a lot of good Spanish olive oil, top shelf sherry vinegar and, of course, salt and pepper. To top it off, my mother would coat days-old French or Italian bakery bread with a garlic-infused oil, then toast the morsels on low heat in the oven until they were crunchy, golden brown. My mouth waters just thinking about those garlicky croutons floating in the well-chilled soup.

Fast forward to today and I still make that soup several times during a hot summer. It’s the perfect way to consume the overabundance of lush, juicy tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers (yes, even a jalapeno or two) that may be growing in your garden or tempting you at the local farmers market.

As my go-to lunch staple, I will often enhance my gazpacho with protein in the form of diced avocado, a dollop of Greek yogurt or sprinkling of feta, grilled shrimp or smoky sausage (how much you add is really a personal preference). Depending on what I have on hand, I may pair it with a light sandwich, salad, quiche or my personal favorite, a cold wedge of potato and onion omelet, better known as a Spanish tortilla.

Since I’m not one to leave well enough alone, and time is always of the essence, I’ve created many adaptions of this traditional cold soup to suit my taste buds. For example, while many feel adding bread to thicken the classic Spanish gazpacho is a must-have, I leave it out. I also don’t feel it’s necessary to skin the tomatoes or remove their seedy pulp. I throw it all in a blender and let the whirring blades do their work. Some people also like a few chunky vegetables in their soup. For me, it depends. In this version, I prefer the smooth, silky texture created by the olive oil.

I’ve also expanded my horizons well beyond tomatoes. Gazpacho can be equally delicious when made with the bounty of summer’s sweet fruits. My colleague loves the cantaloupe gazpacho recipe I shared with him. I like to enhance it with a bright red zing of Sriracha sauce. I’ve recreated Whole Foods’ pineapple and cucumber gazpacho after sampling it at their salad bar, and I absolutely love the crunch of vegetables in another Spanish classic, white or blanco gazpacho, which is often sweetened with green grapes and sometimes thickened with blanched almonds. The version I enjoy uses half and half and no almonds.

No matter what ingredients you choose, you can’t beat gazpacho’s refreshing simplicity, the many ways it can be enjoyed and its powerful nutritional punch.

Simple pizza dough makes amazing pizzas

My family loves pizza night, but I don’t mean buying it from the neighborhood pizza place. Making your own pizza dough is simple, fast, and fun. Let me tell you how I do it.

Cheese pizza and buffalo chicken pizza
Cheese pizza and buffalo chicken pizza

Making the pizza dough

Pizza dough is so simple – it’s just flour, water, yeast and salt. Some recipes call for oil and sugar. But that’s it. Mix it up ahead of time, let it rest, and soon you’ll be making pizza.

I started making pizza with a bread maker. When it broke, I resorted to buying pizza dough in the store when it was on sale for $1 per one-pound ball. I’d buy several and freeze them, then pull one or two out and leave them in the fridge to thaw. One, one-pound ball feeds about four adults. Eight slices, two per person.

Looks like I added some leftover sauteed peppers and onions. I always drizzle with Sriracha.
Looks like I added some leftover sauteed peppers and onions. I always drizzle with Sriracha.

Then I discovered this free Craftsy perfect pizza at home class. It’s a great introduction to making a variety of pizzas. Again, simple recipe, make the dough ahead of time, cut the recipe in half, store, and you have two pizzas ready to bake by later that day or, (better yet), the next day. (The dough needs to rise for several hours. Don’t rush it.)

Things got even easier when I signed up for Artisan Bread in Minutes on Craftsy. I still can’t get over how simple it is to make bread. Put your ingredients in a bowl, mix by hand, let sit, refrigerate, make pizza. That’s it. And it comes out fabulous. I made this Sicilian pizza last night. I made it on a cookie sheet. It’s covered with a simple marinara sauce from a jar, shredded mozzarella and Asiago, and pepperoni. It was delicious.

Sicilian pizza with  tomato sauce, mozzarella and pepperoni
Sicilian pizza with tomato sauce, mozzarella and pepperoni

Toppings

That brings me to toppings. We are not typically plain pizza people. I like variety, and a pizza can really hold anything. I’v even put Thanksgiving leftovers on pizza (sans the stuffing).

Our favorite starts with a layer of mayonnaise, which is topped with broccoli, tomato, bacon and cheddar cheese.

Broccoli, bacon and tomato pizza with cheddar cheese
Broccoli, bacon and tomato pizza with cheddar cheese

We also love starting with a layer of Italian dressing, topped with sautéed spinach, carmelized onion, and bacon. Hawaiian pizza starts with tomato sauce, followed by chopped deli ham, mozzarella and pineapple. Then there’s buffalo chicken pizza – which is a layer of ranch or blue cheese dressing, mozzarella cheese, then loaded with leftover chicken smothered in Texas Pete mixed with melted butter.

Cheese pizza and buffalo chicken pizza
Cheese pizza and buffalo chicken pizza

Barbeque pizza is a hit too. We’ll start with a layer of your favorite barbeque sauce, then top it with mozzarella cheese, leftover chicken dressed with more barbeque sauce, peppers and onions (cooked or uncooked – it’s up to you.)

As you can see, the possibilities are endless.

Pizza stone

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk a little bit about cooking your pizza. First, your oven/grill needs to be piping hot. I cook my pizza at around 450 degrees. Whether on the grill or in the oven, it is crucial that your pizza stone also be preheated and hot.

The one exception to this rule is my Sicilian pizza. While my oven was heated up for at least 15 minutes, I did not pre heat the cookie sheet. My pizza came out good, however, in my opinion, the top was a little overcooked. The dough was perfect. (I cooked this pizza at 475 for 15 minutes. Next time I’ll do 450.)

I use an Emile Henri pizza stone. You can buy a cheaper one, but they are typically very heavy. This stone retains a lot of heat and is easy to move out of the oven when the pizza is done because it’s thin. You can see it here resting on my stove top.

Spinach, carmelized onion and bacon pizza
Spinach, carmelized onion and bacon pizza

A pizza peel is also a must. And parchment paper. For a long time, I was flouring my pizza peel, rolling out my rested dough, then shuffling it into the oven or on the grill. If the pizza became heavy from the toppings, it would stick just a little, causing the toppings to tumble into the oven (or the grill), and remain there as burning reminders for the next few days. Now I flour a piece of parchment paper, put that on the peel, easily transfer the pizza to the oven (no dropped toppings), and take it off the parchment paper when it comes out.

Let it rest

In making all these pizzas, the most important tip I can give you is to NOT use your dough straight from the cold refrigerator. Take the dough out and let it rest on the counter for at least 20 minutes. That will let the gluten relax, and allow your dough to be stretched into your pie shape much easier. We’ve tried fighting with the dough, but it would just bounce back and not hold its shape. If you have that problem, walk away. Have a glass of wine. The dough will rest and become more pliable and you’ll have a more enjoyable experience.Two pizzas ready for eating

Two pizzas ready for eating

So, armed with all these simple and amazing pizza options, what’s on your menu tonight?