January 24, 2012

Game Day Goodies vs. New Years Resolutions

Because I'm a neurotic Giants fan, and because I feel the need to brag just a little bit, I MUST say this once before I get to the meat of this post....


Sunday, January 22nd, was a great day for Giants fans everywhere. Of course, there were only two of us loyal fans at my apartment, surrounded by a motley mix of other people, but Jackie and I get the bragging rights today. Our boys in blue brought it home, and the Giants are going to the SuperBowl! Here's a quick look at the defining moment of the game (just in case you missed it):

There is the field goal that ensured victory. In about two weeks, the Giants face down the Patriots... is this to be a repeat of 2007, SuperBowl XLII? Let's hope so! 

Alright, alright... I'm done crowing for now, but prepare for the onslaught when the Giants win again. (Or for my moaning and groaning if they lose). You've been warned.

My intention today was to provide you with several recipes for great food to serve on game day. Normally, I make fairly typical football food, with my own special twist. No worries, you're still going to get some great recipes. But you're also going to get some basic idea templates that you can customize to your own tastes. 

This year, my game day food was doing battle with the dreaded "New Years Resolution".  Some of the most popular resolutions are: 
                                                  a) Spend more time with family/friends
                                                  b) To get fit/lose weight. 
                                                  c) Quit smoking (or other unhealthy habits)
                                                  d) Get out of debt

Care to guess which resolution was fighting with my football goodies? In this scenario, I am the nefarious villain, out to destroy all willpower with my heinous weapons of butter and chocolate. Oh, and don't forget the nachos! Mwahahahahahaha!  

I had the choice to be good or to be downright evil. Sigh. 

This year, I voted for good. Even though I've made a few questionable menu choices, I'm going to provide all the healthy options for those of you with a resolution to keep. Some of these are so simple, they don't even require cooking! 

I'm starting with the most evil thing on the menu. If you lose all willpower, dash to the store for ingredients, make a dozen of these, and then eat them all? Don't come around blaming me! 

First on our list today... 

Chocolate "footballs" 

Chocolate Covered "Footballs", aka strawberries. Fruit is healthy, right?! Plus, if you use dark chocolate, that makes this heart-healthy too, doesn't it? (Nod your head yes, then pretend I know what I'm talking about). 

 This really is a fun and simple way to impress your game day guests. All you have to do is wash your strawberries, then dry them completely. Melt some of your favorite chocolate (I really do like dark the best!) in a small saucepan over low heat until smooth. Be careful not to burn your chocolate! You can add a bit of shortening if you want, but it's not necessary. Then, just dip in your strawberries, and place them on some wax paper to cool. I toss mine in the fridge for about 30 minutes to speed that process along. I have a very impatient nature when it comes to chocolate and strawberries. 

When the chocolate has hardened, melt a tiny bit of white chocolate and place it in a piping bag. Add the football lines and laces, cool again, and voila! Chocolate Covered Footballs. (Hint: If you don't have white chocolate, I bet some royal icing would work fine too!)

Since I seem to be taking this meal backwards, we'll proceed to the main source of sustenance for our day. Normally, I go a little crazy cooking, but it's been a hectic week. Plus, there was all that New Years Resolution mumbo jumbo. In the end, I ditched the zillion calorie feast and prepared something much more basic, which also turned out to be a heck of a lot more satisfying. 

Ta da! It's a create-your-own salad bar! 

The best part about this? Absolutely no cooking. Unless, of course, you are like me and insist on 'real' bacon bits. That might require a few minutes with some pig and a skillet. But that's it. Seriously. 

Here's a rundown of our salad bar ingredients: 

(3) types of greens: Romaine, Baby Spinach, and Spring Mix

 Toppings: Cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, shredded carrots, green apple slices, corn, bacon bits, diced ham and turkey, pepperoni, garbanzo beans, artichoke hearts, radishes, broccoli, green pepper, sunflower seeds, croutons, red onion, mandarin oranges, dried cranberries, and golden raisins

Cheese: Cheddar, Feta, Parmesan, and Blue Cheese

Dressings: Ranch, Honey Mustard, Caesar Vinaigrette, Spicy French, Poppyseed, Chipotle Ranch, Basil Parmesan Vinaigrette, Italian, and Asiago Peppercorn  

You can customize this any way your heart desires. Go big, go small, try new things... and be sure to buy paper plates. Next time, I might try make-your-own sandwich stations. Fun, right?

SO. That was healthy, in keeping with the New Years Resolutions. The last item on my backward menu isn't always healthy, but can be made that way with the right choices. (P.S. I completely lost my head and forgot to take a photo! Whoops, my bad!) 

My favorite appetizer was inspired by fellow Giants fan, Jackie. She brought a similar dish to my home once, and I haven't been able to let it go since. It's amazingly delicious, and I was dying to put my spin on it. 

Ready for it? 

Buffalo Chicken Dip. Yum, yum, yum! It's hot wings without the mess. And, it's super easy to make in a pinch (*Note: I made this recipe for another post, and the instructions there are easier to understand and more detailed… check the link here!)

Start with 2 cups of cooked and shredded chicken. I poach a few chicken breasts, then shred them myself, but you can use the stuff in the cans if it's easier. Healthy so far.... 

Next, place two blocks (8 ounces each) of cream cheese in a saucepan or your crockpot, over medium-low heat. I use the "light" version, but you can always go the "fat free" route. To that, add 1/2 - 3/4 cup of Frank's hot sauce (or your favorite brand). If you like it less spicy, go for the 1/2 cup. 

Still pretty healthy if you make the right choices.

Mix the cream cheese and hot sauce around until melted and combined. Next, stir in 8 ounces of sour cream. Again, I usually go with "light", but you can cut a lot of calories with the "fat free". Stir in 1 ounce of dry ranch dressing mix, then about a cup of grated cheddar cheese. Once the cheese melts, stir in your shredded chicken. Warm through. 

And... you're done! Typically, I would serve this with tortilla chips, but it is complete perfection with celery sticks. Wings, celery, and dipping sauce all in one handy mix!  

Minus the chocolate, this game day celebration was not only fun, but no one had to break their good intentions. All in a day's work around here. 

So, sayonara, alvederzane, and I'll see you later! Miss me while I'm gone  :)  

January 21, 2012

The Great Debate: Chili, with or without beans?

I'm originally from the East Coast, and I have always thought of chili as having beans in it. However, since moving to Texas, I've discovered the population here considers chili with beans almost a sacrilege. In the few years we've lived here, I've never once made chili. There are many reasons for the chili drought in my household...

Reason #1: Texans are weird about their chili, and I'm a little scared a lynch mob may show up on my doorstep if I even whisper the word 'beans'. 

Reason #2: For years, my husband has been convinced that his chili recipe is far superior to anything I can make. I didn't see it necessary to prove him wrong. Until now. 

Reason #3: No one I know around here actually eats chili. Translation: I have no one to pawn off the leftovers to. 

After a huge internal struggle, I finally broke down. The begging from the Hubs was downright pathetic. "Please honey, please make chili for me, I could never do it as well as you!" (Ok, so this never has and never will happen, but all girls have dreams!)

My super-secret chili

It was a difficult decision, but in the end... I put beans in my chili. (I hear gasps of horror from the great state of Texas, but please keep reading!) Actually, I used two different types of beans, no less. I've got my fingers crossed that my ultra-secret ingredient will turn the Texas tide in my favor, if any of them brave this recipe. 

So, let's get this show on the road! I think you'll find this recipe has just the right balance of flavor and spice. At least, I hope so! Here is most of what you'll need: 

Notice there are no kidney beans in this picture... I like to be different. 

The spices

This time, I may have actually gotten all the ingredients in the photos (and pigs fly, right?). Except for the SUPER SECRET one that's coming later... 

I start this recipe by chopping all my vegetables first. Trust me, it's better to have all your ingredients lined up and ready to go, otherwise you look like a madman running around to get things done while other things burn on your stove. Then you accidentally chop off part of a finger. Not good. 

For Christmas, my wonderful sisters sent me a new kitchen toy... this is the best way to make me oohhh and aahhh over a gift. I'm so transparent. 

Isn't it awesome?! Not only is the cutting board removable and reversible, but I adore the dishes on the side for my ingredients. Chop, chop, chop, then slide right into the dish. Repeat as necessary. 

Cool, right? What you have here is a large onion, a red pepper, and one jalapeno pepper. All of them need a quick dice, making sure you removed the seeds from your peppers. Also, you want to shred 2 carrots. OR, you could buy that pre-shredded stuff in the bag if you're in a rush. 

You'll also need about 4 cloves of minced garlic. I mince the garlic fresh, but it's pretty sticky and can be a major annoyance. It's a-ok to use the pre-minced stuff you find in the produce section at grocery stores. If I was smart, I would use that all the time. 

From here, pull out your favorite chili pot. Melt 4 tablespoons of butter in it over medium-high heat. Pretty easy so far, right? When the butter is all melted, throw in the veggies you just chopped (In case you forgot already, that would be the onion, red pepper, jalapeno pepper, and carrots. Um, not the garlic, not yet).  Stir them around for a bit, maybe 5 minutes or so. You want the veggies to soften, maybe even start to brown the tiniest bit. But not too much! 

Onion, red pepper, jalapeno pepper, and carrots
Add the garlic to the pot, and stir for 30 seconds to 1 minute. I know that sounds fast! But you don't want to burn the garlic. Burnt garlic = disgusting. A fabulous aroma will be coming from the pot, so take a big whiff and then add your meat to the pot. 

I used 1.5 pounds of lean ground beef, and 1 pound of Italian sausage. You could probably use any kind of beef that you want, mixing and matching to your taste. I think it would be fun to try some boneless chuck, cut up into cubes... maybe some other time. Whatever you choose, be sure the meat is lean. Too much grease in the chili will make for some painful moments later. 

Brown your meat, being careful to leave it a little chunky. If your taste runs different, feel free to chop it small. I like chili a bit meatier. Drain off as much of the fat as you can, but you don't have to go crazy trying to get out every last drop. 

Now, it's time to get serious. Seriously spicy, that is. 

Return your pot to the heat and stir in the following combination: 1 - 2 tablespoons chili powder, 1 teaspoon paprika, 1 - 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon ground coriander, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper, and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. On top of that, I add ONE finely minced chipotle pepper in adobo sauce. These bad boys add some serious heat to your chili, so be careful! If you don't like things too spicy, you can always leave it out.

Side note: When I say "one", I mean one pepper, not one can. Someone I know made that mistake, and it wasn't pretty! 

Stir everything around so your meat is coated with all the yummy spices, about 2 minutes. Next, you want to add a 15 ounce can of tomato sauce and a 6 ounce can of tomato paste. Keep stirring it all around, letting those spices distribute. I had a little leftover tomato sauce in my fridge as well, about 1/3 of a cup, so I threw that in too. Soups, chili, and stews are a great way to clean out your fridge. 

At this point, you only have to ask yourself one question... what is your favorite kind of beer? Immediately open your refrigerator, take one out, and pour about 6 ounces of it into your chili. Then drink the rest as you cook. It's a win-win situation. 

Along with the beer, add in a cup of chicken stock (maybe a bit more), a can (14.5 oz) of diced tomatoes and a can (15 oz) of pinto beans, with the juice. Since we've previously established that I'm neurotic, it won't surprise you that I didn't add any kidney beans. Instead, I drained and rinsed a 15 oz. can of black beans and added those to my pot. I'm such a rebel. 

Now all you have to do is wait... reduce your heat to low, cover the pot of chili, and let it simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. The chili might be a bit thin at this point, but don't let that bother you. It won't stay that way for long.  

I know what you're thinking now. Where is this magical, secret ingredient that I spoke about? Don't worry, it's the very next step. The secret ingredient is.... DRUMROLL please....

January 18, 2012

When the Hubs is away...

The facts of life for a military wife: There will be times (many of them!) you are separated from your spouse. While deployments are one of the hardest, and usually the longest, separations, they are not the only times you're missing each other.

Many variables will affect your family time together, but one thing is guaranteed. You have to prepare yourself to be alone at times. There are deployments, field exercises, schools, duty times... the list goes on and on. 

Everyone has different ways of dealing with these separations. For me, the why determines how I cope. Is it a short duty span, maybe 24 hours? Is it longer field time or perhaps a few months away at a school? Or is it a year and more, fearing for his safety while he's deployed? Each one is different.

The shorter spans are much easier to handle. In fact, they can even be fun if you let them! When the Hubs is away for a week or less, I try to use the time as an opportunity. Keeping myself busy not only speeds the time along, but I can do things I normally wouldn't when the Hubs is home.  

For example: 

This is one of my 'away' rituals. Takeout Chinese (which the Hubs refuses to eat when home), and some seriously 'girlie' movies. Yep, I'm not ashamed, that's Taylor Launter. Action movie or not, this is still a chick flick. I also rented the Smurfs movie. Don't judge me! 

When I think of the Hubs being gone for those shorter time periods, I think of Chinese and girl movies. Yes, I miss him. Yes, I wish he was here. But missing him and wishing he was here isn't going to change the facts: he's still away. He can't call in sick. He can't just take the day off. Spouses either find ways to cope or they slowly go a bit wonky. Obviously, judging from my movie taste, I went a bit wonky before I discovered these coping skills.   

I have a whole list of 'away' rituals. Sometimes I have pajama Mondays. Or Tuesdays or Wednesdays, or whatever day he's not here. I love just hanging out in my pjs with my fluffy socks on and curling up with a good book. On other days, I score a lunch out with my girl pals. Maybe I cook seafood for dinner, since the Hubs would veto that on a normal day. Or I rack up the miles hiking with my friend Abby (You can check out her hiking blog here, she's amazing!)

Now, thanks to Abby, I have a new outlet... blogging! Hahaha. 

While it's never fun to be apart, you do the best you can. Longer separations require different things, which I'm sure I'll ramble on about eventually. For now though, I'm happy with the Smurfs and Taylor Launter. 

Do you have 'away' rituals? What are the ones you like best? You don't need to be military to have them, other people travel for business too. Maybe you're the one who's gone, how do you deal with leaving your family behind?

Don't be shy! Inquiring minds want to know  :) 

January 16, 2012

The Final Score

When the Hubs and I first met, I don't think he suspected I was the kind of girl to jump up and down and scream over a football game. (American football for all my European friends out there) The sorry truth is that I'm normally not that kind of girl. UNLESS.... my boys in blue are taking the field.

When that happens, I turn into a raving lunatic. Four of my good pals can testify to that fact after our recent evening together.

I try to restrain myself, I really do. But something in my brain switches off when I hear the ref making a bad call... suddenly I'm on my feet, yelling obscenities at the television as if they might take notice and change their minds. The opposite is also true. A touchdown scored is excuse enough for me to do a victory dance right along with my favorite players (also at the top of my lungs). I call out words of encouragement, and I groan when a play goes terribly wrong.

In short, I behave exactly the way my Hubs does over any sporting event on tv. His sickness is more widespread, but I think he might be contagious. And I'm a little scared.

All of that jumping around is hard work! My voice goes hoarse after just a few hours. I really think these demonstrations should be reserved for special events only, don't you? Of course, today certainly qualifies, as the final score worked in my favor.

I'm hoping next weekend is a beautiful repeat, as I'll be doing this all over again when the Giants take on the 49ers in the NFC championship game. I'm saving up all my really good insults, just in case those referees need a talking to, and I've been practicing my dance moves (hopefully no one catches those on film!)

While all of that might be fun by itself, it's also an opportunity to have friends over for some good-natured ribbing. Oh, and the food... game day food is the best. Especially since I work off all those calories with the yelling, dancing, and jumping around. (Please don't shatter my illusions!)

What that means for you are some fun recipes coming up this week. I'm making a fabulous Buffalo Chicken Dip that was inspired by my fellow Giants fan, Jackie. She's my favorite person this week since we're on the same side against all the non-believers. I'm really going to miss her when she moves this spring, but such is the military life. It's a great excuse to party while we can, so I'm taking full advantage of it!

If I'm lucky, no one will have a camera in hand while I attempt my touchdown celebrations. On the off chance the unthinkable happens... well, I'm not shy. I'll be sure to let you in on my humiliation. And naturally, I expect my team to win. I also suspect I'll never hear the end of it if they lose. Such is the life of a crazed football fanatic.

Until then... GO GIANTS!

January 13, 2012

Neurosis and Hawaiian Pizza

First blog post ever, and I'm going to let the cat out of the bag. Eventually you'll find out the truth anyway. It will be little things at first, things that might make you wonder about my sanity. Then the bigger things. So, let's just lay it all out on the table in the beginning and get it over with.... I'm a teensy, tiny bit neurotic. 

There, I've said it! It's true! And I'll tell you my other dirty, little secret.... not only am I neurotic, but I like it that way. 

For example: I started this whole blogging experience in October with the help of my friend, Abby. Here it is January, and this is my first post ever?! 

Yep. I'm not even embarrassed about it! I only started about a dozen times, but 'something' wasn't right. I chased this elusive 'something' for months, searching for the perfect way to start my amazing blogging adventure. You know what I discovered? There is no perfect way. You just gotta jump right into the deep end of the pool and try to swim. Which, by the way, several people have already told me. Repeatedly. Being hard-headed is pretty much a way of life for me. You'll get used to it. 

So, instead of the exotic 'something' that I know you're looking forward to, this is what you get today: Hawaiian Pizza. Which, when made properly, can practically be a religious experience. I know this because I just snarfed down a third of the pie when it came out of the oven. Thank goodness I hit up the gym this afternoon.

I experimented a little with my ingredients, but not much. You don't mess with perfection. Pineapple and Canadian bacon? Perfection.

This is what I started with.... but not how I finished! 

I thought I was so smart, taking a photograph of my ingredients like I've seen other people do. Well, guess what? I'm neurotic. That means I forgot a bunch of ingredients in this picture, and I added ingredients later that I wasn't expecting to use. Total fail. I'll try to do better next time, I promise. 

Naturally, the first ingredient I forgot was the pizza dough. I mean, really? It's only the most obvious part, but that's me. Forgetfulness... also a way of life around here. 

You can use any kind of dough that you want for your pizza. Make it from scratch, buy a bag of mix, or use a Boboli... whatever floats your boat. Making pizza dough from scratch is on my list of things to learn, but today I had some in the fridge from my friend Abby, who spoils me with her pizza dough bounty :) 

Start by spraying your pizza pan with some non-stick spray and dusting it with a little cornmeal (Totally not in the picture, did you notice?). Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, or whatever your package directions indicate. While it warms up, stretch your dough to cover the pan. If necessary, you can coat your hands with a bit of olive oil to make the dough easier to work with. Prick your crust all over with a fork. I pre-cook my dough a bit so it's not so... well, doughy. You don't have to do this, it greatly depends on what kind of crust you are using. But if you're like me, just pop it in the oven for 5 or 6 minutes. When it comes out, it should look a little something like this:

Around here, we call this 'rustic'
Actually, yours will probably look more uniform and prettier than mine. The Hubs and I had just finished an hour workout at the gym, and we were hungry! Looks mostly take a backseat around here when the Hubs is hungry.

Once the dough is pre-cooked, it's just a matter of piling on your sauce and toppings. I wanted to shake things up a bit though. First, I sliced 4 pieces of bacon into 1" pieces. I threw those into a skillet with a tablespoon or so of brown sugar (the brown sugar is the secret here... if you haven't tried it, please do. Yum squared). Cook this for just a few minutes. I wanted the bacon to be done, but not too crispy since it would be going back in the oven on top of my pizza. After removing the bacon to a paper towel to drain, I threw some thinly sliced red onion into the skillet with the bacon grease. Saute the onion slices until soft and lightly browned, then place on the paper towel with the bacon.

You could easily make the pizza sauce from scratch, but the hunger factor allowed no time to make sauce today. Today was all about quick and simple. When I need pizza sauce in a pinch, this is my go-to favorite:

It's not too runny, which I like. Whatever you like best, go for it! It's pretty hard to mess up pizza. I do have one stipulation though - please, please, pretty please, do not use that pre-shredded, yucky mozzarella cheese in a bag. Bleck. Your taste buds will thank me for this, I promise you. Instead of that unnaturalness, try this:

It's yum. It's heaven in your mouth. You will never go back to that stuff in a bag, I swear. You don't even have to shred it for your pizza. Just slice it thin and pile it on!

Top all that delicious mozzarella cheese with some thinly sliced Canadian bacon plus the brown sugar bacon (if you didn't eat it all already!), and the sautéed onions. And don't forget the pineapple! You can't have Hawaiian Pizza without the pineapple, it's just not done. You can buy fresh, buy canned, or you can go the route I did with this:

I gave these a rough chop before throwing them on the pizza, but you can leave them whole if you want. Top everything off with a 1/3 cup of shredded Monterey Jack cheese and a sprinkle of kosher salt.

Nothing left now but to put it in the oven and wait while the amazing smell fills your house. If you've pre-cooked your dough, then this only needs about another 10 minutes in the oven, until the cheese is melted and the edges are golden. When all is said and done, you wind up with a pizza that should look a little something like this:

Ta da! Hawaiian Pizza

From start to finish, this is about a 30 minute meal. Homemade pizza is a new obsession for me, and it's quickly gaining some prominence in our household. It's easily customizable, and not too hard to make healthy. (Although, I doubt this Hawaiian would qualify in that category!) A whole wheat crust, plenty of veggies, and some low-fat cheese would turn this typical junk food into a healthy evening meal. Granted, that's very unlikely to happen here, at least not without many (loud) protests from the Hubs. Maybe someday I will fool him into healthy eating, but today is not that day.

So, I guess this is the end of my first post ever... I know it took me several months to get here, but now that I've started, you'll have a hard time stopping me! You can expect many more recipes, as I'm a closet foodie that finally came out a few years ago. But there will also be photography, and travel, and my random ramblings. Being married to the military has its advantages and disadvantages, ups and downs, and everything in between. I want to share what I can with you. As for my neuroses, we'll just consider this therapy. See you soon!

The Standard Form:

Hawaiian Pizza


1 pizza crust
Non-stick spray
Sprinkle of cornmeal
5 ounces pizza sauce
4 slices bacon, cut into 1" pieces
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
3 ounces Canadian bacon
3 ounces pineapple, roughly chopped
8 ounces Polly-O mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
1/3 cup Monterey Jack cheese
Sprinkle of kosher salt


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Spray a pizza pan with non-stick spray and sprinkle with some cornmeal. Stretch the pizza dough to fit the pan, then pre-cook the dough for 5-6 minutes in the oven on the lower rack. While the dough is pre-cooking, place the bacon pieces in a skillet along with the brown sugar. Cook over medium-high heat for a few minutes, until the bacon is just cooked. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Add the onion to the skillet with the bacon grease and saute until softened and lightly browned. Remove to plate with the bacon.

Spread the sauce evenly over the pizza dough. Top with the sliced mozzarella, Canadian bacon, brown sugar bacon, onions, and pineapple. Sprinkle with the Monterey Jack cheese and a little bit of kosher salt.

Return the pizza to the oven and bake for 8-12 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the edges are golden. Wait a few minutes before slicing. Enjoy!