Sunday, January 31, 2010

Slow Cooker Sunday - Taco Soup

Is there a better way to warm up a cold, grey Texas day than...TACO SOUP!?!?! I don't think so. Good and easy, just like me. TACO SOUP 2 cans pinto beans 1 jar Salsa (get the inexpensive store brand) 1 lb ground beef 1 onion 2 packets of taco seasoning 1 can of corn 32 oz carton of Chicken Broth Fritos or Tortilla Chips shredded cheese (cheddar or Monterrey Jack) sour cream Dice the onion and brown with the ground beef. Drain and put it in the Slow Cooker. For God(dess) sake, don't forget your slow cooker liner. Add drained beans and corn, taco seasoning, salsa and enough chicken broth (about half the carton) to make it a good soupy consistancy. Don't make it too thin, remember that the liquid doesn't cook away in a slow cooker. Reserve the extra broth to use another day. Cook on low for 2-3 hours. Add more heat, if desired with cayenne pepper or hot sauce. When serving, sprinkle with shredded cheese, crumbled chips and a dollop of sour cream. This is Mr. Wonderful's FAVORITE!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Beloved Places - Oh to be on the Ile Saint-Louis

Oh, the places you'll go! I absolutely love to travel. New places, different cultures, unfamiliar food, I love it all. And although I know that there are people who have traveled a great deal more than I, you may be hard pressed to find one who can say they've enjoyed it more. I wish I had more photos from my earlier travels, prior to digital cameras, when sometimes the trip itself was a financial stretch, let alone spending $20 a roll for film and developing. So, I am now going to recount many of my favorite places...please make sure your seatbelts are securely fastened and your seatbacks are in a full upright position. This is stop #1 Ile Saint-Louis is one of two little islands in the Seine River smack dab in the middle of Paris. It's a quaint neighborhood that looks like a movie set, almost like you've traveled back in time and it boasts a fantastic view of the rear of Notre Dame. The Ile Saint-Louis is full of sidewalk cafes, shops and such but it just seemed to have a different flavor than the rest of Paris. Cleaner? Smaller? Cuter? I guess all of those things. I think if I return to Paris, which I hope I will, I'd stay on Ile Saint-Louis instead of near the Sorbonne, which truthfully wasn't bad at all. I truly loved all of Paris (and all Parisians I met were very kind). I was especially enamoured of the Louvre -being the art geek that I am, I actually teared up looking at Michelangelo's slaves. Norte Dame was like a giant cave, a good place to explore, and it was great fun just walking around the city. I also loved the cemetary and yes, was photographed at Jim Morrison's grave. I was so poor when I was in Paris that I really didn't eat much of the fabulous French cuisine. I did, however, partake in a morning ritual of French pastry. Mon Dieu! The patisserie near my hotel was enormous and I would stop by there first thing in the morning and thoughtfully choose a pastry from the colorful case along with a bottle of Evian water and walk a few blocks to dine in front of Notre Dame. Heaven! Lunch was usually a crepe du frommage from a street vendor. It didn't matter...I was in Paris! I recall one afternoon a gypsy woman was panhandling rather agressively near the Eiffel Tower and after I politely declined to donate, she poked me and held out her hand in a surprisingly demanding gesture. "I can't afford to eat here, either!", I exclaimed (In English, so I'm sure she had no idea what I was saying). "I ate a Snickers bar for lunch! A cup of coffee is $4! Move elsewhere!" She moved on quickly. I hope to return to Paris one day, it's history and beauty are intoxicating and there is so much more to explore than I was able to do in one trip.

Slow Cooker Sunday - Orange Chicken

Last night I watched the movie "Julie and Julia", which (as you probably already know) is about blogging and cooking. I really liked it, I mean who didn't love Julia Childs? But I digress... Today I am making Orange Chicken in the slow cooker. I got the recipe from the blog "A Year of Slow Cooking", and changed it up just a bit. ORANGE CHICKEN 1 1/2 pounds of skinless boneless chicken breast (cut in chunks) 1/2 c Flour Olive Oil 1/2 t salt 1/4 t cayenne pepper 6 oz frozen orange juice concentrate (1/2 a can- thawed) 4 T brown sugar 1 t balsamic vinegar 3 T ketchup packet of red pepper flakes leftover from take out pizza As always, don't forget to use a slow cooker liner. Heat up some olive oil in a large skillet (med/hi). Dredge the chicken in flour, discarding any extra flour. Cook the chicken in the olive oil (in two batches, so you'll have room to stir it around) just until it's seared. It doesn't have to be done, just brown it a little on the outside, then put in the slow cooker. In a small mixing bowl, combine oj concentrate, brown sugar, cayenne pepper, salt, vinegar, pepper flakes and ketchup. Stir until smooth. Pour sauce over chicken in slowcooker and cook on low for 4 hours or high for 2-3. Serve with steamed broccoli and white or brown rice. This was great! Even Mr. Wonderful thought it was delicious and Orange Chicken isn't his fave. I loved it and I'm sure it's a lot healthier than take out. I'd definitely make it again. I cooked it a little too long, so I adjusted the cooking time in my instructions. I thought the spices were good, but could go a little hotter, so you could add more pepper flakes on top on your individual serving. YUM!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Slow Cooker Sunday - Potato Soup (a quickie)

Okay, I didn't use my slow cooker today. Instead I made potato soup on the stove for the family and went out to a late afternoon movie and then to dinner with some girlfriends. So, sue me. We saw 'Nine'. I liked it. this was all that was left when I got home Spicy Potato Cheese Soup ("It's amazing!" -Chloe) 4 large baking potatoes bunch of green onions 1/2 block of Mexican Velveeta (small block) Tablespoon of chicken bouillion Hot Sauce (I used Cholula) Cayenne Pepper Black Pepper Salt Milk or Land O Lakes Fat Free Half and Half Peel potatoes and cut into small cubes (size of a pair of dice). Slice onions (both white and green part) and put onions and potatoes in a large pot, add just enough water to cover. Add chicken bouillon and some salt and black pepper. Boil until potatoes are good and soft then turn heat down to low/medium. DO NOT DRAIN! Use a potato masher to mash up a little (this will thicken the soup) about 25 good mashes. Cut up and add Velveeta. Stir until it's melted. Seasoning time! Add salt, black pepper, hot sauce and cayenne to taste. I use several different types of 'heat' and I think this gives a dish a certain 'depth'. It has good flavor from many different peppers without being too spicy. (Just a theory of mine). Make it a tad bit spicier than you want, because you're going to dilute it with milk later. Let soup simmer for at least 15 minutes so the spices soak into the potatoes. Add a big healthy dash of milk or half and half until it's the right thickness. Serve with breadsticks or crackers.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Slow Cooker Sunday - BBQ Pulled Pork

I've been blogging a lot lately, I know. Not sure if it's because it's too cold to do anything else or that after the holiday rush I finally have time to do some things that I like. Anyway... I am desperately in love with my Slow Cooker. Especially in the winter. There is just no other way to say it other than just a full out confession, so there ya have it. I am also quite enamored of a blog called 'A Year of Slow Cooking'. Lots of good recipes and easy to follow. http://crockpot365.blogspot.com That said, let's get onto the Meal du Jour: BBQ Pulled Pork (my version but the basic one is from the Slow Cooking Blog) 4 pounds boneless pork shoulder (I bought one with a bone and it was a little over four pounds because after being a semi-vegetarian for twenty years, I am still a bit clueless at the meat counter) 1 yellow onion 24 ounce bottle of ketchup 1/2 c apple cider vinegar handful of brown sugar couple of good squeezes of Worcestershire Sauce few good dashes of hot sauce (I use Cholula because it's what I have right now) 1/4 c Bronco Bob's Raspberry Chipotle Sauce 1/2 t salt Trim the fat from the meat and place in your LARGE slow cooker. ALWAYS use slow cooker liners. If you haven't heard of these, they are the greatest invention of the last ten years - they're like the cooking bags that you put a whole chicken it and are sold in the same area at the grocery store. Add onion, sliced into rings. Squeeze in entire bottle of ketchup. Put about 1/3 c water into empty ketchup bottle and swirl around. Put that in the slow cooker, too. Add vinegar, brown sugar, worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, chipotle sauce and salt. Cook on HIGH for 4 - 5 hours. (Be sure to turn the slow cooker ON, as it doesn't give the same desired effect if you don't. I know this from experience and the residual teasing from this much publicized blonde moment has scarred me for life) Then turn down to low and cook for another hour or until the meat just falls off the bone. If you have a bone. If not, it should be fully cooked and easily shredded with a fork. Shred it up with a couple of forks and serve on rolls as a sandwich or over rice. I served it as sandwiches with cole slaw on the side. The family LOVED it. I added a little more Cholula hot sauce to my sandwich to give it a little more heat. It was really good!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Adventures in Aging ~ Exodus from the Land of Denial

So, I took a huge step this morning and went in for my annual eye exam...well, not really annual but I don't know what the word is for 'once every ten years'. Let me start from the beginning... When I was in first grade, I got my first pair of glasses. Wow! I could see! The problem was, everyone could see me, too. Let's just say that glasses in 1971 weren't all that attractive so there I was. A skinny little awkward kid with stringy brown hair and big nerdy tortoise shell glasses. (Cue downward spiral of self esteem) In junior high, I just went on strike and quit wearing them (Cue downward spiral of grades) and then I got contacts at about the same time that I got boobs and things literally began looking up. Ten years ago I popped for LASIK surgery. Lo and behold! I could see without the mess and fuss of contacts! (Wow, my shower is dirty). I was beyond thrilled to go to the beach with no contacts and be able to read. Over the last couple of years I've been noticing that the writing on Tylenol bottles has gotten much smaller and kinda fuzzy (damn Tylenol) and recently a client walked in my office and commented about me squinting at my computer screen, which is relatively the size of an IMAX screen. Hmmm...driving at night is bad, too. Sigh. I called my eye doctor (remember me?) and made an appointment. The lady on the phone mentioned the word 'bifocals'! GASP! "I am not THAT far out of denial", I told her. Turns out I did get away without bifocals, but only because 'we have options'. God, I love options. By Wednesday I will be the proud owner of a new pair of reading/computer glasses and a pair of distance glasses (for night driving, theater, tv). IN YOUR FACE BIFOCALS!!! Neither of which are big clunky tortoise shell. I have this theory though, that age related eye degeneration is some cosmic attempt at kindness. I mean, have you ever looked at the wrinkles around your eyes in full and direct sunlight? Exactly, me neither. So, I'm not sure what other exciting things I'll find when I get my new glasses, but at least I did it and I'll be a safer night driver. One way ticket out of the Land of Denial? $500. Which is kind of sad, because I really enjoyed my stay there.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Who's Ready for a $10 Tropical Getaway??

$10 buys you not one, but two chances to win a free (yes, FREE) three night stay at one of two glorious beachfront condos on Playa Norte, Isla Mujeres, Mexico! Proceeds from the raffle benefit La Gloria English School, a school owned by a friend of mine on the island that teaches English to the Mayan children (and adults, too!) to help them get better jobs. More on the school here, http://www.folges.org/ We stayed at the Ixchel Penthouse last Spring and here is my review and a couple of pics If you’ve ever wondered what Isla Mujeres looks like from a Goddess’s perspective, check into Ixchel Penthouse #709. Situated on the furthest Northern tip of the East tower of condos, #709 boasts the most breathtaking view on the island. You feel as if you’re up in the clouds on the 7th floor, the tallest accommodation in Isla Mujeres. The condo itself is roomy for a one bedroom floor plan (fold out sofa in the living room) with a bath and a half. It’s beautifully, but comfortably decorated with thoughtful amenities such as flat screen televisions in both the living and bed room, coffee maker, hair dryer, ipod docking station and dvd players. The water cooler was a wonderful convenience, as we could make coffee easily and refill our water bottles, thus saving on bottled water expense. The memory foam topper makes the bed possibly the most comfortable in the Yucatan and having an in room electronic safe was a must for us. Now…let’s talk about that balcony. First of all, I’ve lived in places smaller than the balcony, which is furnished with comfortable chairs, chaise lounges, settee and bistro table. The unobstructed view makes you feel like royalty. Imagine climbing into the hot tub with a cocktail while the sun sets! I’ve seen many sunsets in Isla Mujeres, but being seven floors up takes it to a whole new level. It’s a lovely spot to read and relax in the afternoons, with a pergola providing shade and the cool breeze supplying natural air conditioning. We spent a lot of time on the balcony and enjoyed every moment in our own romantic paradise. Mayan legend tells that the goddess Ixchel was almost too beautiful, this girl with opalescent skin who sat in the skies brushing her shimmering hair for hours on end. All the gods were captivated by her. No doubt she was on the penthouse balcony. More here: http://moongrl722.blogspot.com/2009/05/isla-mujeres-april-2009.html Details, details:Email my friend Donna (owner of one condo) at txlankford@yahoo.com and she will send you information on how to send a check. Once your payment is received, Maggie (owner of La Gloria English School) will email you your lucky ticket number. The drawing will be in April or when they sell out. A total of 800 tickets will be sold. Links to mas pictures of the penthouse can be found here: http://www.picturetrail.com/gid18740305 and pictures of 610 can be found here: http://www.ixchelgetaway.com/ Book the condo directly through the owner, if you are interested at http://www.vrbo.com/166077 It's a great cause and a good excuse to go on vacation!!! Email em with any questions you have. If you win and aren't familiar with the island, I will be happy to recommend restaurants and things to do, or better yet, you can take me as your personal guide. GOOD LUCK!!!!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

How can it possibly be 2010 already?! Chloe threw a party last night, I let her plan the menu and decide on the guest list. It was a lot of fun! David was still dressed for Christmas Some of the eats: Big Bowl O Cheetos! Mr Wonderful and me Chloe and Mallory Rockin' out with Rock Band! Dorian Rocks out Doug and Tyra Tavish loved Chloe's ribbon scarf Will aka Slash in the green hat Chloe and Finley Cameron Payton Shawn Mark, Dale, Jessica and Erin joined us, but I took more pics of the kids than the adults! At midnight we all went out front and screamed "HAPPY NEW YEAR" and set off poppers, streamers and silly string. It was cold!! The boys lasted quite a while out there, tho. Today is the first day of 2010 and the kids went over to their Dad's to visit with him and his parents, who are in town for the weekend. Gerald and I get to celebrate today and tonight with just the two of us. We started off with a New Years Brunch of eggs, biscuits and gravy and I had a mimosa. Yum! Tonight will be a bit healthier fare with salmon, blackeyed peas (for luck) and wine in front of the fireplace. Ahhhh. Happy New Year to you all. I wish you a year filled with love, good health and prosperity.

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Some of these entries are vintage travel reports and have been restored from a lost blog. I hope you enjoy them.