Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Marinated Flank Steak

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.  It's been a week since my last blog post.

Ack!  I apologize to my few but loyal readers for this little break, especially so early in my blogging career :(

But Mr. Vittles and I have been very busy this past week... doing so many good things!

Mr. V has been working on getting our boat ready to go back in the water (with some sweet new upgrades, might I add, like a GPS and fishfinder!).  Now this is hard to do when you are working 13 hour days, 6 days a week :(  But, it's almost ready!

As for yours truly, I did a walk for Parkinson's in NYC this weekend with my girlfriends Nessa and Smary Vittles, which was awesome.  We had a ton of fun and it was for a good cause to boot!

AND, I have been preparing for my own event that is very close to my heart - a brunch in honor of Momma Vittles.  I can hardly believe it, but this coming weekend will mark 6 months since she left us... I miss her every day!

But the good news is I am totally ready to celebrate her life in a fun way, with our family and friends, in just a few weeks.  And since I've been in DIY withdrawl since the wedding, I've been reveling in the small details of this celebration :) 

The restaurant where I'm having it will be handling the main fare, but I am responsible for dessert.  So I decided it would be fun to do a dessert buffet of all bite-sized treats, and I've been hunting for recipes.  (Which I will, of course, share with you all when the time comes.) 

I also collected & sorted through tons of old pictures to make a slideshow DVD chronicling my mom's amazing life.

Momma Vittles and me circa 1986

Which turned out to be a much bigger and more emotionally difficult undertaking than I originally thought... but I am so happy with the result!  I can't wait to show it to everyone at the brunch.

Anyway, the reason I'm going on about all this is - since I've been so active in other areas, I've been rather lazy in the cooking and blogging areas!

So being as though I have barely cooked or baked, and the things that I've made were nothing spectacular, I am going to cheat a little.  I have a recipe for you that I actually have not made since March, when we celebrated Pammy and Douggy Vittles 30-year wedding anniversary.

Now this is a recipe whose origin is unknown to me.  My grandmother passed it on to my mother, who passed it on to me ... via a TYPEWRITTEN copy that is simply titled "Marinade for Meat."

Meat?  Hmm... way to be specific.

But my mom always used flank steak, and my grandmother prefers skirt steak.  I'd imagine you can use whatever you want, but those are the tried & true cuts.

Now at the Anniversary Celebration, I was lucky enough to have Dan's brother C. Ochovittles helping me cook - so all I did was bring the marinated meat, and while I was busy cutting & roasting potatoes, he cooked it on the grill.  He also cut it, which is something I always struggled with as you must cut on a bias. 

It's good to have brother-in-laws :)

Anyway we all enjoyed this thoroughly, and I hope you do too!

Marinated Flank Steak
  • one flank steak (size is your choice)
  • 1 1/2 C. oil
  • 3/4 C. soy sauce
  • 1/4 C. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 T. dry mustard
  • 2 1/4 t. salt
  • 1 T. ground pepper
  • 1/2 C. red wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 t. dried parsley
  • 2 crushed garlic cloves
  • 1/3 C. lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in large casserole dish or Ziploc bag & mix well.

Score steak lightly with a knife in a criss-cross pattern on both sides, and marinate overnight.

Broil or grill on high, about 5-7 minutes on the first side then flip and cook additional 2-5 minutes for rare to medium rare.

Transfer steak to cutting board, and tent loosely with foil.  Allow to rest 5 minutes.  Slice thin on a bias across the grain.

Note: The marinade can be saved in refrigerator & re-used within a week, or frozen for later use.

Recipe Origin Unknown

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Coconut Kona Ice Cream

It seems like coffee is one of those things you either love or you hate.  Rarely do you find a person that drinks just an occasional cup - its either all or nothing.

Personally, I always hated the stuff.  Bitter and nasty.  I wondered how people could actually bring this repulsive beverage to their lips every morning.

And then... a few things happened.

First, I graduated college and got myself a "real" job.

Let me tell you something, my friends.  Commuting every day to New York City from an hour and a half away will drive you to drink a lot worse than coffee.

That's when I realized most people don't drink coffee for the taste, they drink it to stay the h%#$ awake.

But, with this new-found realization, I also discovered cream, sugar, and ice can go into the coffee.

Meaning, it doesn't have to be bitter and nasty ... some people just prefer it that way. 

And then, just when I thought my chilly new friend couldn't get any more delicious, I walked into a Dunkin' Donuts where I found 'coconut' was a flavor choice for iced coffee.

I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

Now I'll admit, the marriage of coconut and coffee is an unlikely one.  But if you like each flavor separately, then take my word that you must give this combo a chance.

Mr. Vittles actually didn't like coffee, either, before met me - not so much because of the taste, but because he doesn't like warm beverages.  However,coconut iced coffee converted him to a believer as well.

Now, as I mentioned a few posts ago, Food Network Magazine has a contest where you come up with an original recipe featuring their "secret" ingredient for that issue.  And when I saw the secret ingredient was coconut for an issue I had read, I felt inspired.

Unfortunately ... my inspiration did not lead me to victory.

Apparently, coconut kona ice cream pales in comparison to coconut SCONES.

(Yup... I'm still bitter.)

But the good news is, I did create one of the most delicious ice creams I've ever tasted.  So at least it was a victory on some level.

I hope you enjoy this creation as much as Mr. V and I.

And please tell me if you do!

It will help me feel less bitter about the scones :) 

Coconut Kona Ice Cream
  • 1 C. sweetened coconut flakes
  • 1 C. half & half
  • 1/4 C. coconut milk
  • 3/4 C. sweetened cream of coconut
  • 1/2 C. whole Kona coffee beans
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 C. heavy cream
  • 1 t. vanilla
In medium saucepan over medium heat, stir flaked coconut until browned (about 5 minutes) being careful not
to burn.

Remove from heat and add coconut milk and cream of coconut, stirring after each addition.  Add half & half and whole coffee beans, and return saucepan to burner over medium heat.  Stir until mixture returns to a simmer.

Remove from heat and let beans steep for about 30 minutes.  In the meantime, prepare an ice bath big enough to fit the saucepan.

Strain coconut mixture through medium mesh sieve over a container, pressing the solids with the back of a spatula or spoon to extract all liquid.

While mixture is straining, rinse out saucepan and add 3 egg yolks to pan.  Whisk to combine.  Then discard solids from sieve, and return half the liquid in container to saucepan with the yolks.  Whisk to combine, then add remaining liquid.

Return pan to stove burner on medium-low heat, stirring constantly until mixture thickens & coats back of spatula (about 7-8 minutes). Be careful here - you want this to become a custard, but you don't want to cook the eggs too much and have them get chunky!

Immediately transfer saucepan to prepared ice bath and allow mixture to cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.

When mixture is cooled, transfer to a coverable container and stir in vanilla.  Then add heavy cream but do NOT stir after addition.  Cover & refrigerate until chilled, at least an hour.

Transfer to ice cream maker & freeze according to manufacturer's instructions. Then transfer to coverable container, and freeze about 3-4 hours before serving.

Original Recipe

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Puffed French Toast

Oh. My. Goodness. 

I am in love.

Oh don't worry, Mr. Vittles, it's not what you think...  I wouldn't do that to you on our half-year anniversary (yes, that's today!)

But I am in love with a slice of bread that's been fried until its crisp on the outside yet soft on the inside, and then rolled in cinnamon sugar.


Now this is a very special friend, because if I ate this on a regular basis I might not fit out my front door.

But on a special occasion, like today, this french toast is AMAZING.

I saw this recipe a while ago on one of my favorite food blogs, Our Best Bites, but I was having trouble finding Texas Toast at the store.  (For those of you who are not familiar, its basically just thick white bread)

Then this week, not only did I find it, but it was actually on sale.  Which was clearly a sign that I needed to make this.  Immediately.

And Mr. Vittles only has one day (Saturday) off work now that the weather is getting warmer (he manages a golf course) so luckily our half-year anniversary coincided with his off-day :)

I even dragged myself out of bed at 8:15 AM, which is almost unheard of for me on a weekend!  Mr. V is an inhumanly early riser by nature, he gets up at 3:45AM for work, and 5:45AM on a day off.  (Crazy, right?)  But I have always hated waking up, and usually sleep til 9 or so when I have nothing to do.

I have enough friends with kids to know that I have to appreciate sleep while I can.

But... I got myself up, and boy am I glad that I did.

Now I will confess, I don't really love french toast.  Mr. V does, but he likes it soft... which is precisely why I don't like it.  I like the taste but not the texture.  It's usually all ... bleh.

You probably won't find "bleh" in the dictionary but you know what I mean.  Rubbery and limp.  Ew.

So this recipe is a good compromise for us - it has a nice crispy crust for me, but still a soft middle for Mr. Vittles.

And we both love cinnamon sugar :)

Puffed French Toast

  • 1 egg
  • 4 t. sugar
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 C. milk
  • 1/2 C. half & half
  • 1/2 C. flour
  • 1 1/4 t. baking powder
  • 6 slices Texas style toast, cut in half diagonally (you could also cut them into strips for french toast sticks!)

Preheat oven to absolute lowest setting (you will only be using oven to keep cooked toast warm until you eat it).  Line a baking sheet with 2 layers of paper towels.

In a large skillet or frying pan, heat about 1/4" of vegetable oil over medium heat. In a shallow bowl or pie plate, whisk together eggs, sugar, salt, vanilla, milk, half & half, flour, and baking powder. 

Test oil heat by flicking some water into the frying pan. If it pops, reduce the heat. If hardly anything happens, turn up the heat. If it sizzles, it's just right.  (This is important - too hot oil will burn toast before it has a chance to cook, and too cool oil won't cook fast enough & too much of the oil will soak into bread)

Working quickly, take each 1/2 slice of bread and soak it both sides in the liquid mixture. You want the bread to be saturated, but not soggy. Gently shake to remove excess batter and place in hot oil. Cook until puffed, golden brown, and a nice, crispy crust has formed on each side  - probably 3-5 minutes per side. (Monitor them closely!)

When cooked, remove from oil and place on baking sheet lined with paper towel in oven.  

Then when all slices are done, remove baking sheet from oven and roll each slice in cinnamon sugar. Serve warm.

Note:  Mr. V and I ate them plain and they were awesome - but you can use a little syrup too if you like!

Recipe Adapted from Our Best

Friday, April 16, 2010

Cucumber & Yogurt Salad

So I will confess another secret... Mr. Vittles and I are not huge into vegetables, at least not of the cooked variety.  We eat a lot of salads as sides to our meals, as we seem to prefer uncooked veggies.

And for the past two summers, I have grown my own cucumbers from seed out on the back deck.  This year we are going to try to grow them again (this is an old picture from May 2008 & the deck is way more jam packed now - but you get the idea, cucumbers were just getting going toward the back of the picture :))

Now, as you can imagine, two people can only consume so many cucumbers cut up over a green salad.  Sure, I give some away to family and friends, but we always seem to have some laying around.

So... I came up with this recipe for my friend the cucumber to have a salad all to itself!

Interestingly enough, Mr. Vittles really does not like vinegar, but he does seem to like this.  I also made it for his family at a dinner for his parents 30th wedding anniversary & everyone that tried it appeared to enjoy it. (More on that later, too, as I have photos and a recipe from another item I made that night - marinated grilled flank steak, yumm!)

Anyway, its very simple but quite delicious and has all healthy ingredients.  I've seen various other recipes for cucumber salad using sour cream, but I think the Greek yogurt gives it a nice tang and it's better for you as well. 

And I mean, after bombarding you with bacon and pepperjack cheese, I have to give you something that won't instantly throw you into cardiac arrest, right?

Cucumber & Yogurt Salad

1 cucumber, peeled & cut into slices
2 T. plain, Greek yogurt  (I prefer Greek because it seems more substantial, but you can use any plain yogurt)
2 T. white vinegar (you can also use red wine or apple cider vinegar if you prefer)
1/4 t. garlic powder
1/8 t. onion powder
1/4 t. celery seed
salt & pepper to taste

Mix yogurt, vinegar, garlic & onion powders, celery seed, salt & pepper in a bowl.  Add cucumbers and toss to coat.  This is best after it sits for a few hours in the refrigerator, to allow the flavors to meld together.

Original Recipe

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pepperjack Bacon Mac & Cheese

If there was ever any doubt that I truly love my husband - my undying devotion has been proven.

Using a basic (but wonderful) Cooks Illustrated recipe, I have brought together 3 of Mr. Vittles' favorite things into one glorious dish:

  • mac & cheese
  • pepperjack
  • bacon

    And let me just tell you all, this received the prized and coveted eyebrow raise + emphatic "really good" rating from The Man himself.

    In fact, I could barely make out the "really good" part as he was stuffing his face with mouthfuls of this creamy macaroni!

    Ok, listen.  I don't see such reactions often, so allow me just a moment to revel in this achievement.

    To prove its few & far between, the last time I received this level of praise was about a year ago.  I entered a contest for Food Network Magazine's secret ingredient (which, for that particular issue, was coconut) and created an original recipe for a Coconut Kona Ice Cream.

    Which was A-MA-ZING, if I do say so myself.

    More on that soon - don't worry, I'm more than free to share that recipe with you since I got robbed in the contest by some chick with a coconut scone recipe.

    Scones?  Like, seriously... who even eats scones?


    (I dunno, maybe you eat scones.  Sometimes I do too.  The real issue is actually that I was a big ol' loser in said contest, and am clearly still bitter).

    Anyhoo - my point is, Mr. V was loving every second of the coconut-coffee ice cream combo.  Much like when he took a bite of my Pepperjack Bacon Mac & Cheese.

    So enjoy!

    And if you're a wifey like me, you can go make your husband even happier that he married you :)

    Pepperjack Bacon Mac & Cheese
    • 1 lb. elbow macaroni
    • 1 T. salt
    • 3 T. butter
    • 3 T. flour
    • 3/4 t. ground mustard
    • 1/8 t. cayenne pepper
    • 1/4 t. garlic powder
    • 2 1/2 C. milk
    • 8 oz. pepperjack cheese, grated
    • 8 strips of (cooked) bacon, crumbled or chopped in small pieces
    • 1/2 t. salt
    • 1 C. panko bread crumbs
    Preheat broiler.  Cook elbow macaroni in 4 quarts water with 1 T. salt until tender (just past al dente stage).  Drain macaroni and set aside. 

    In now empty pot, melt butter over medium heat until foaming.

    Add flour, mustard, cayenne & garlic powder and whisk well to combine.  Continue whisking about 1 minute, until fragrant.

    Gradually whisk in milk about a cup at a time, then bring mixture to a boil while whisking constantly.  (This is important - mixture must reach a boil to thicken fully).

    Then reduce heat to medium & simmer, whisking occasionally, until consistency becomes that of heavy cream (about 5 minutes). 

    Remove from heat and whisk in cheese, salt & bacon. Add drained pasta and return whole pot to burner over medium low, stirring mixture until steaming & heated through (5-6 minutes).

    Transfer mixture to a broiler-safe, greased 9x13" pan and sprinkle panko on top.  Place in broiler on middle/lower rack and broil 3-5 minutes until crumbs are browned.

    Allow to cool 5 minutes before serving.

    Recipe Adapted from Cook's Illustrated's "Classic Macaroni & Cheese"

    Sunday, April 11, 2010

    Flourless Chewy Chocolate Cookies

    My friends, the sorbet is gone and the craving for chocolate goes on.

    We had a busy day yesterday. Taxes, shopping, some planting on my end and some boat trailer fixing on Mr. Vittles' end.  Then mid afternoon we went to a birthday party for our friends' one year-old, where there was delicious food aplenty - so neither of us was hungry for dinner. 

    Which meant I had time to make a new chocolate delight.

    But even after making it, this recipe (found on New York Magazine online, courtesy of Fran├žois Payard) still boggles my mind.

    Its a thin, but very fudgy, chocolate cookie... with no flour or butter?

    Ok so let's pretend for a second that it doesn't have 3 cups of powdered sugar.  Which, I believe, roughly equates to about a cup and a half of granulated sugar.

    When you look at it that way, the sugar content doesn't sound quite as bad.  But its still enough to potentially keep your kids up for 26 hours like some of Pammy Vittles' treats.

    What I'm saying is - that's a lotta sugar, people.  Don't say I didn't warn you.

    But otherwise.... unsweetened cocoa, egg whites, salt, vanilla - boy, that almost sounds healthy!

    So yeah let's just forget about the sugar and enjoy these half-meringue, half-brownie, all-chocolate goodies.

    Flourless Chewy Chocolate Cookies
    • 3 C powdered (confectioners) sugar
    • 1/2 C plus 3 T unsweetened cocoa powder
    • 1/4 t salt
    • 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
    • 1 T pure vanilla extract
    Preheat oven to 325, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

    Separate eggs and place the whites into small bowl or measuring cup.  Add vanilla and whisk briefly to combine.  Set aside

    On low speed, combine powdered sugar, cocoa powder & salt in mixer fitted with whisk attachment.

    With mixer still on low, add whites & vanilla a little bit at a time, whisking after each addition.  Once all has been incorporated, increase speed to medium and beat for 3-5 minutes.  Batter should become very thick.

    Using an ice cream scoop or large spoon, mound batter onto parchment paper in 5 spots, about 3 inches apart.  <--- learn from my mistakes & don't try to make these small! Towards the end I tried to stretch the batter out, and the small ones came out pretty weird :P

    Place sheet on middle rack of oven, and cook 15-17 minutes until tops are glossy & lightly cracked.

    Remove pan from oven, and transfer parchment paper with cookies onto wire rack.  Cool 8-10 minutes on rack before attempting to peel from parchment.  <-- also important! They'll break if you do this too soon.

    Repeat with remaining batter.  Cool completely and store in airtight container.

    Recipe Adapted from Fran├žois Payard's Flourless Chocolate Walnut Cookies, as it appeared on

    Saturday, April 10, 2010

    Baked Buffalo Chicken Strips

    I was never one for super spicy things.  That gene must have skipped me, because my dad has plenty of hot sauce, hot salt, hot relish, etc. on hand to spice up his meals.

    I do like a hint of hot ... a little "kick," if you will... but nothing that's going to make your eyes water.  Personally, I think when a dish is too spicy you can't taste anything else.

    But Mr. Vittles tends to disagree.  He likes things that are going to set your mouth (and potentially other parts of your body) on fire.

    No bueno.

    So thankfully we have come to somewhat of a happy medium in Frank's Red Hot.

    This was a staple in his household long before I came into the picture, and although its tame for him, he does seem to really enjoy the taste.

    And its a "hot" sauce I can handle.

    So when I noticed this in the store the other day, I could not resist:

    The little spice-o-meter picture on the bottle suggests that its actually hotter than Original Frank's Red Hot ... but after tasting a dab on my finger I disagreed.  So I decided to use this in a recipe I saw on the Active Foodie for Lightened Up Boneless Buffalo Strips that I bookmarked to try.

    That particular recipe called for the Original Frank's, both in the marinade and for brushing on the strips after cooking. 

    But I wanted to try the new chili sauce in place of the original Frank's + "chili garlic sauce" that the recipe called for in the marinade.  Also, I brushed half the strips with the original Frank's and the other half with the sweet chili variety.

    Both were delicious.

    This one got not only an eyebrow raise but a "really good" rating from Mr. Vittles.  I'd have to agree, especially considering the strips were baked rather than fried.

    And I won't eat buffalo wings anyway since, as you read in About Me, I don't do "bones."  Eww.

    Baked Buffalo Chicken Strips

    • 1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
    • 2 t. salt
    • 3 T. Frank's red hot sweet chili sauce
    • 1 C. buttermilk
    • 1 t. garlic, minced
    • 1 T. apple cider vinegar
    • 1 1/2 C. panko bread crumbs
    • 1/2 C. flour
    • 1 1/2 t. paprika
    • 1 t. cayenne pepper
    • 1 1/2 t. salt
    • cooking spray
    • 1/4 C. Frank's Red Hot sauce

    Whisk together buttermilk, salt, chili sauce, garlic, and vinegar.  Add chicken & marinate overnight.

    Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Spray rack with cooking spray & place over baking sheet.

    Combine panko, flour, paprika, cayenne & salt in a large bowl.  Dredge each piece of chicken in flour mixture and place on wire rack.

    Spray chicken breasts with cooking spray, making sure to hit all parts of the chicken.  Cook for 10 minutes. Then turn pieces over and cook an additional 5 minutes, or until all pieces are golden brown.

    When chicken is done, use pastry brush to coat each strip with Frank's Red Hot sauce.  Serve with blue cheese or ranch salad dressing as dip.

    Recipe Adapted from The Active Foodie

    Thursday, April 8, 2010

    Dark Chocolate Sorbet

    When I was younger, I used to get so excited when I came home from school and saw that my mother had gone to the grocery store.  My first thought was, "What did she get me?"

    Yes, yes... I was a greedy little monkey.

    But Momma Vittles was good to me - she always picked up something with me in mind. 

    Now one good thing (or, perhaps the only good thing) about doing the grocery shopping in your household is that you're always sure to come home with something you wanted.

    Tuesday, though, I was a very good girl.  I put something back that I wanted because it was too expensive.

    Ever had Haagen Dazs' chocolate sorbet?

    Man, is it good.  And for someone that looooves chocolate but also realizes that in less than 2 months it will be time to put on a bathing suit, it's the perfect treat.  It has all the richness of chocolate ice cream without all the fat from cream & eggs.

    I mean, not that its good for you or anything, but let's be honest - if not chocolate sorbet, it would just be chocolate-something-else right?

    Or wait, is that just me...?

    Anyway... delicious as it is, I just could not fathom paying $3.99 for a tiny pint of the stuff.

    Especially when the first ingredient listed is... water?  Ugh.

    And then it dawned on me... I have an ice cream maker and could probably make this at home.

    A quick search for "chocolate sorbet recipe" brought up loads of stuff.  But some of the recipes involved too much work.  Like ... allowing the sugar and water to carmelize in the saucepan for 5-7 minutes without stirring. 

    Carmelize?  Did I miss the memo that we were making candy now?  Please.

    In the wise words of my high school math teacher Mrs. Bertolami - "We do not need to reinvent the wheel here, people."  So, I settled on a nice simple recipe for a nice simple sorbet.

    And... it had 3 ingredients.

    Ok, which is almost too simple, so I did jazz it up a bit. 

    But it came out de-LICIOUS. 

    So take that, Haagen Dazs! You think because you came up with a fancy, foreign-sounding name you can charge me $3.99 for frozen water, sugar & cocoa??

    I think not.

    Rich Chocolate Sorbet

    • 2 C. water
    • 1 C. sugar
    • 1 C. unsweetened cocoa powder
    • generous pinch of salt
    • 1 t. vanilla
    • 2 T good quality dark rum  (optional- mostly it helps the consistency, so it won't freeze too solidly)

    Prepare an ice bath.  (*This isn't ice cream so it doesn't have to be crazy, just a few ice cubes in a large pan or bowl of water.  In fact you could probably skip it altogether if you want?  I only did it because it speeds up the cooling process).

    In large saucepan, combine sugar & water over medium heat & stir until sugar is dissolved.

    Whisk in cocoa and salt, and bring to a simmer. Simmer 3 minutes, whisking constantly.

    Remove from heat & stir in vanilla.  Pour mixture into a bowl & set bowl in the ice bath.

    Cool mixture to room temperature, stirring occasionally.  Then cover bowl and transfer to refrigerator.  Chill 2 hours, then freeze according to ice cream maker's instructions.  If using alcohol, pour it in about halfway through before mixture is totally frozen.

    You can eat the sorbet straight from the ice cream maker, or transfer it to freezer-safe container & freeze for later.  Makes about 3 cups.

    **Note: Per a comment I saw on the original recipe, you can supposedly make this without an ice cream maker.  The commenter said to just put it in the freezer in a container and it will be fine.  I haven't tried this so I can't confirm - but if you don't have an ice cream maker, it's worth a shot!

    Adapted from Recipezaar

    Wednesday, April 7, 2010

    Chicken Tortilla Soup

    I have been wanting to try a Slow Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup recipe I saw on gimme some oven for a while now.

    Then, during the much-dreaded grocery shopping trip I took yesterday, I got a great deal on a 3 lb. bulk pack of chicken.

    Oh, the things we delight in as we get older - "You will not believe the deal I got on this chicken today! $1.99 a pound!"  Yikes.

    So anyway ... I decided the time had come for chicken tortilla soup.

    Naturally, I pick the most unseasonably warm day we've had yet this year to try it out.  82 degrees?  Sweet, let's make soup!

    Not to mention Mr. Vittles doesn't really like soup.  So I was really rolling the dice with this one.

    Meh.  May as well go for broke.

    Oh, by the way, I only needed one pound of chicken for the soup but I trimmed it all and marinated some for tonight's dinner (baked buffalo chicken strips, coming soon!) 

    My forethought astounds you, doesn't it?  It astounds me too, sometimes.

    Ok now that we've all basked in my glory for a split second, I will tell you a couple of secrets.

    One, my forethought is actually not that great because this soup required 3-4 hours of cooking on HIGH, and I got home from grocery shopping after 5PM.  Ack!  Meaning, unless we wanted to have dinner at 9:30PM, I needed to speed things up.

    So... I cut up the chicken breasts into pieces, and lessened the cook time to 2 hours + 15 minutes after shredding the chicken.

    Which worked, but your preferred cooking method is totally up to you.  You could cook for the recommended 3 to 4 hours on high if you start the soup early enough.  Or, you could start it in the AM and cook it on low for 6 to 8 hours.  Or maybe you eat dinner at 9:30PM and are shocked that I don't do the same?

    Anyway, moving on to the second secret - I am not a huge soup fan myself.  I find it sort of weird and generally un-satisfying.  There are very few soups I would even say that I like.

    But this soup just gave off a magical aura of scrumptiousness, and I guess I couldn't resist its powers.

    Well, I'm glad I didn't fight the feeling.  Even Mr. Vittles gave it the eyebrow raise & admitted "It's pretty good... for a soup."

    I like how he had to throw that last part in.  Just in case I got any crazy ideas, like putting us on an all-soup diet or something? 

    Anyway ... if you, too, like to eat soup on 80-degree days, I suggest you fire up the slow cooker and go to town with this.  You won't regret it.

    Slow-Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup

    • 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts or tenderloins
    • 1 (14.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes & chiles (i.e. Rotel)
    • 1 (10 oz.) can good-quality mild enchilada sauce
    • 1 (15 oz.) can black beans, drained
    • 3 cloves garlic, minced
    • 3 cups chicken broth
    • 1 cup water
    • 1/2 t. cumin
    • 1/2 t. chili powder
    • 1/2 t. onion powder
    • 1/8 t. cayenne pepper (optional- can also use more if you like spicy)
    • 1 t. dried oregano
    • 2 T. fresh cilantro, chopped 
    • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
    • crushed tortilla chips, for topping
    If using chicken breasts, cut each into 3 or 4 pieces.  Place all ingredients except tortilla chips in a large crock pot and stir briefly to combine. Cover & cook on“high” setting for 2 hours.  With crock pot still on, remove the chicken breasts & let cool briefly.  Then shred and return to soup to cook for an additional 15-20 minutes.  To serve, ladle soup into individual bowls, and garnish with crushed tortilla chips.

    Recipe adapted from gimme some oven

    Monday, April 5, 2010

    Fresh Pico de Gallo Salsa

    Following an unbelievably fun (but extraordinarily busy) holiday weekend, I decided after work today that it was time to relax and enjoy the weather.

    At least just for a little while.

    So I got myself some lemon water (which I looove) and settled down on the back deck with my Kindle, which was a Christmas present from Mr. Vittles (that I also looove).

    In case you care, I am currently reading The White Queen by Philippa Gregory (who, for those of you that don't know, also wrote The Other Boleyn Girl).  I'll admit I typically don't like "girly" books/movies - I'm more about thrillers, mysteries, and death & destruction.  But Philippa Gregory's books are super scandalous, and I like to indulge in them every now & again :)

    So after reading several chapters, sipping my ice water, and overall enjoying the sun, I got to thinking about the next task at hand- dinner.

    I was envisioning something light and fresh to go with the mood of the weather.  But unfortunately anything too fresh would require me going to the grocery store... Yucky.

    I will put that one off until tomorrow. 

    In the meantime, "Hmm, let's see what we're working with..."

    Umm... Operation Fridge Recon was pretty disheartening, particularly in the "fresh" category.

    The "nearly-bad lettuce" used to make Thursday's Honeyed Bacon BLTs was now officially bad.  Otherwise, there was a half an onion, a few potatoes, a few small tomatoes, and a lonely lime.

    Yikes.  What to do, what to do?

    Then I got to thinking about my Easter present from Pammy & Douggy Vittles ... which was a planter full of fresh herbs, YAY!  

    Don't worry, it also had Reese's chocolate peanut butter eggs on top for Mr. V :)

    But one of the herbs that was included in this glorious gift is CILANTRO.

    By the way, I am also attempting to grow my own cilantro from seed.  But I am thinking it's not entirely ready to be used in a recipe yet ...

    Yeah... not so much.

    But anyway ... onion + tomato + lime + cilantro can only mean one thing in this house - fresh pico de gallo!

    I noted that we also have flour tortillas, so with the canned goods I always keep on hand (for just such a lazy occasion), I can either make black bean enchiladas or refried bean & cheese quesadillas to go with.  I will see if Mr. Vittles has a preference when he gets home from work.

    Not that I should bother, since his response 99% of the time is "Whichever.  They are both good."

    So in the meantime, I'll share with you this very special recipe handed down from generation to generation in the Vittles family.

    Its also extremely long and complicated.  So brace yourself.

    ...ready?  I hope you have at least 2 pieces of paper handy... 

    Totally kidding. It's so easy you won't even believe it.  And sadly it's not a treasured family recipe - its based on one in a favorite cookbook that was a gift from my good friend Natalie Vittles, How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman.

    So if you, too, are in the mood for something fresh, I suggest you get to choppin'.

    Fresh Pico de Gallo Salsa

    • 2 large (or 3 smallish) ripe tomatoes, seeded & chopped
    • 1/2 large onion (white or red works- I used white today)
    • 1/2 teaspoon fresh minced garlic (or one clove garlic, minced)
    • 1/4 C. fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
    • Juice from half of a lime
    • 2 t. white vinegar
    • 1/2 t. garlic powder
    • 1/4 t. chili powder
    • 1/2 t. salt
    • freshly ground pepper, to taste
    • optional: minced jalapeno or cayenne pepper, to taste (if you like spicy)

    Combine tomato, onion, garlic, cilantro, lime juice and white vinegar in a bowl.  Season with garlic & chili powders, salt, and pepper.  Add jalapeno/cayenne pepper if desired.  Stir and taste to adjust seasoning if necessary.

    Let sit 30 minutes to allow flavors to meld. Serve within a couple hours of preparing with tortilla chips, or as a garnish to your favorite Mexican recipes.

    Recipe adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

    Friday, April 2, 2010

    Honeyed Bacon BLT

    I guess you could say I was feeling the spring fever yesterday.  For one it was beautiful out, and then, while I was doing a little evening workout, I rather belatedly came up with the perfect April Fools joke to play on Mr. Vittles.

    Let me start by saying Mr. V takes every opportunity to get people to believe crazy things.  It's happened to me many times.  Stepdad Chris Vittles is also like this, so luckily I've had 22 years of preparation for what is now going to be a lifetime of wondering, "Is he being serious?"

    But Mr. V and I had already discussed the fact that it was April Fools... meaning, any jokes coming from me would put him on high alert.

    So my idea was to get his sister, Melissa Vittles, to call and tell him she was receiving compensation to carry the child of one of her rich friends - who was afraid he'd be perpetually single & wanted to ensure his "legacy" would carry on.

    Sounds a little far-fetched, I know.  But Mel V is known & loved for her free spirit and free thinking... and she has a friend that could potentially fit this description.  So this is an entirely possible scenario.

    Ok, well maybe not 'entirely'.  But enough possible-ness (?) to get Mr. Vittles going for a while.

    Anyway, since my evil plan depended on the help of both my sister-in-law and mother-in-law (in case Mr. V called his mother to verify), I had to call them and get that all set up before the hubbs got home from the gym.  I also had to fit a shower in there somewhere.

    Plus after all that baking of cakes and cupcakes I did the day before, I was not in the mood to cook much of a meal anyway.

    So the moral of the story is - the day got away from me, people.  Don't judge.  BLTs are fine for dinner, I swear.

    But aside from the laziness factor, I had just seen an inspiring recipe on Food & Wine magazine's 4/1/10 newsletter "The Dish" for Crunchy Asian Pea Salad with Honeyed Bacon.

    Honeyed bacon sounded pretty heavenly to me.  So I got to thinking about the tomatoes and nearly-bad lettuce and package of bacon I had in the fridge.

    Which means I got to forgetting about the whole "Asian Pea Salad" part.

    I'm sorry, pea salad.  Don't be angry, it's nothing personal.  I'm sure you're great.  Just look at you!

    © Kana Okada, for Food & Wine

    Now the kind of bacon I had wasn't thick slices, and I also don't have Chinese five-spice powder (to be perfectly honest, I have no clue what that even is?).  So I just made a little mixture of honey & soy sauce to brush on the bacon, and then I sprinkled a little garlic powder & ground pepper on top.


    I personally thought this bacon made a great BLT, and Mr. Vittles agreed.  He said he could tell that something was different about the bacon, but he wasn't sure what it was.  (He is admittedly dreadful at identifying ingredients).  When I told him it was honey, the look on his face told me that was definitely not his first guess.

    But that's ok, that's why I do the cooking around here.  And let's be honest - that certainly wasn't the biggest surprise he'd have that night! Heh heh.

    So anyway, go make yourself up some honeyed bacon and enjoy a delicious BLT.  I'm pretty sure you guys don't need an ingredient list or instructions on how to make the sandwich part... but I'll pretend you do, just in case :)  This recipe made 3 sandwiches.

    Honeyed Bacon BLT
    • One 16-oz. package of bacon
    • 2 T. honey
    • 2 t. soy sauce
    • garlic powder & ground pepper to taste
    • 1 tomato, cut into thin slices
    • a few leaves of lettuce
    • 6 slices toasted wheat bread
    • mayonnaise for spreading (optional - Mr. V hates mayo!)
    • salt & pepper to taste

    Preheat your oven's broiler & set top rack about 8 inches from the heat source.  I wouldn't put the broiler on full blast unless you want blackened bacon - but you want it fairly high (heat source should be glowing red).

    In a small microwave-safe bowl, mix honey with soy sauce and microwave for 10-15 seconds until honey is runny.  Stir.

    Spread bacon slices out on a baking sheet.  They can overlap, but not too much because you want to be able to get the honey mixture onto as much of the bacon as possible. (My sheet fit about 14 slices comfortably, which was plenty for 3 sandwiches.)

    Dip a pastry brush in honey mixture, and brush lightly onto each bacon slice. Sprinkle with as much garlic powder and pepper as you like.  (Surprisingly for me, I went with a very light sprinkle of both and I thought it came out perfect).

    Put pan in oven under broiler, and leave oven door ajar slightly.  Cook five minutes, then take pan out & flip slices.  Brush other side of bacon with honey mixture and repeat sprinkling of garlic & pepper if desired.  Cook an additional 4-5 minutes, depending on how cooked you like your bacon.  Drain on paper towel-lined plate.

    Slice tomato & toast bread slices.  Spread mayonnaise on bread if desired, & assemble bacon, lettuce and tomato however you like.  I usually sprinkle a little salt & pepper on the tomatoes, and use 4 slices bacon per sandwich.

    Honeyed Bacon adapted from recipe by chef Ratha Chau for Food & Wine magazine

    And just in case you're wondering... Mr. Vittles totally fell for the joke :)  Or should I say Uncle Vittles?  Haha!

    Thursday, April 1, 2010

    The Only Chocolate Cake Recipe You'll Ever Need

    In my About Me section, I mentioned that my mother-in-law makes an absolutely delicious chocolate cake that I have fallen in love with...

    I actually had to marry Mr. Vittles in order to get this recipe.

    No no, just kidding - in reality it was given over quite willingly and was not the reason for our nuptials :)

    But even if it was, it might have been worth it.

    Exhibit A:  I made this cake for my stepdad Chris Vittles' birthday about a month ago.  And during a completely unrelated phone conversation we had this week, he sneaked in a very subtle comment in regards to this cake.

    "Boy, I sure did like that chocolate cake you made..."   

    Well, lucky for C. Vittles, when it comes to my treats flattery gets you everywhere.  So I told him that I could probably make it again... someday.  And it just so happens that when I made my Chocolate Peanut Butter Frosted Cupcakes yesterday, I had a decent amount of frosting leftover and nothing to do with it.

    Welcome to "someday," my friends.

    Now let's just have a brief moment of honesty together.  Since I had already technically made two batters for the cupcakes by that point, I was not really thrilled with the thought of baking something else.  (Mr. V. walked in from the gym and said it looked like a bakery in our kitchen.)  But... never one to waste anything chocolate, I decided to take one for the team and make 'a halfer' of Pammy Vittles' chocolate cake recipe.  Luckily it's super simple to make, and its super scrumptiousness outweighs any expenditure of effort anyway!  In the words of P.V. herself, "Great cake, very easy."

    So... while I only made an 8" square cake in this instance to go with my leftover frosting, I will share with you the full recipe to make either a 9"x13" sheet cake or two 9" rounds for a layer cake. 

    Totally delicious either way.  And you didn't even have to marry anyone to get it!  Just try not to eat it all in one sitting, ok?

    The Only Chocolate Cake Recipe You'll Ever Need

    • 1 3/4 C. flour
    • 2 C. sugar
    • 3/4 C. cocoa
    • 1 1/2 t. baking soda
    • 1 1/2 t. baking powder
    • 1 t. salt
    • 2 eggs
    • 1 C. milk
    • 1/2 C. vegetable oil
    • 2 t. vanilla extract
    • 1 C. boiling water
      Preheat oven to 350 degrees & boil water.

      Combine dry ingredients in large bowl.  Add remaining ingredients, except water, and beat with an electric mixer 2 minutes.

      Remove bowl from mixer and stir in boiling water by hand until incorporated.  Batter will be very thin.  Pour into two greased & floured 9" round pans, or one 9"x13" pan.

      Bake 30-35 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in middle of cake comes out clean.  Cool ten minutes on wire rack & remove from pan if making a layer cake.  Cool cake completely before icing.

      Note: Now there is no frosting "recipe" with this cake.  Pammy Vittles uses a chocolate frosting & starts with a softened stick of butter, adding unsweetened cocoa, powdered sugar, milk and a little salt until she gets it to the taste & consistency she wants.  Which is what I typically do as well, but of course in this case I used the Chocolate Peanut Butter frosting. Or, you may already have a favorite of your own! :)

      Update 4/7/13: I was just informed by a reader that this recipe is originally from Hershey's! Never knew that, apparently it is/was on their cocoa can :) Thanks for the info!


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