Big Sister’s Cookin’….

My sister is one of those hard working women – with a job, a husband, a kid, a house and everything else to take care of, I don’t know how she manages to find time to cook (and sometimes she doesn’t – but a pizza night every now and then never hurt anybody, right?). Sometimes she’ll stumble across a recipe that was extra yummy and kindly pass it on to me (woo hoo!). The latest recipe she’s given me was this Okra Gumbo. Surprisingly easy and super fast, but really really tasty at the same time! Its one of those dinners that you can have on the table in no time on a busy night , yet it tastes like its been cooking all day! Hubby really enjoyed it, as did I! Thanks, big sis!! Keep the recipes comin’!

Lindsay’s Okra Gumbo

1-16 oz. package frozen cut okra, unthawed
1 onion, chopped (I used half)
1-15 oz. can diced tomatoes (don’t drain them)
2-3 slices bacon
salt & pepper and cajun seasoning (lots) to taste
(I added 1 1/2 chicken breasts cut up into small pieces for a little extra flavor)

In a large pot over medium-high heat, cook bacon, reserve grease. Remove the bacon from the pan and add the onion, cooking until translucent, then add the chicken (season it with a little s&p before tossing in) and sautee until cooked through. Add the frozen okra and tomatoes; season with plenty of salt and pepper and lots of Cajun seasoning (yum!), then add the bacon back in and cook over medium to low heat for 15 -20 minutes until heated through.

Serve over white rice.  *Here’s a little tip: throw in a splash of white vinegar – it helps to cut the okra’s “sliminess” and you don’t taste it a bit!

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Missing Italy…Tuscan Chicken

Ok, ok, so I didn’t go to Tuscany. I’ve never actually been to that part of Italy. But I guess the point is that I have been to Italy; last summer – I was fortunate enough to visit a tiny little coastal town called Vietri sul Mare on the Amalfi Coast. Bliss. Sheer bliss. Ok, not all of it. In fact, most of it was grueling, un-air conditioned, who-schedules-voice-lessons-at-eight-AM-after-a-midnight-performance-the-night-before WORK. I was there doing a summer opera program and between voice lessons, staging, and rehearsals we barely had time to sleep, let alone do all the sight-seeing, gelato eating, picture taking and shopping I had had in mind. Silly me. However, it was gorgeous and as busy as I made it out to be, there was time for plenty of gelato eating! (And another added plus – being a blonde, in a small southern town where blondes aren’t commonly seen does wonders for a girl’s self confidence! I’ve never been whooped and hollered at like that!) One of the things I miss most about Italy (obviously) is the food. I’ve never in my life had better pizza. Everything was so fresh and light. I ate like a big fat pig the entire time! But that’s neither here, nor there.

I’ve really been missing my little southern Italian town this summer. Its been exactly a year since I was there and I’m dying to go back. Since a trip to Italy isn’t really within our budget right now, I decided to do the next best thing and just make some yummy Italian food. I saw this recipe in Chelle’s blog – Brown Eyed Baker, formerly known as Sugar and Spice and knew it was just what I was looking for!

Tuscan Chicken

-Sugar and Spice blog

1 lb boneless chicken cutlets
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white wine
1 bag fresh baby spinach leaves (5–6 oz)
1 cup fresh pre-sliced mushrooms (rinsed)…I left the mushrooms out
1 (14.5-ounce) can Italian-style diced tomatoes (undrained)-I used fresh grape tomatoes cut in half
4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese

Preheat large sauté pan on medium-high 2–3 minutes. Season both sides of chicken with salt and pepper.
Place oil in pan; swirl to coat. Arrange chicken in pan and  cook 3–4 minutes on one side or until lightly browned.
Turn chicken and add remaining ingredients to pan (except cheese). Cover and cook 4–5 minutes or until internal temperature of chickenreaches 165°F. Use a meat thermometer to accurately ensure doneness. Meanwhile, slice mozzarella thinly.
Remove pan from heat. Top chicken with cheese slices; cover and let stand 2–3 minutes or until cheese melts. Serve.

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Ok, ok, I’ll admit it – when I had heard people talking about this recipe, I was a little skeptical – even snobbish, if you will. The title just doesn’t sound very appetizing to me – “Crockpot Salsa Chicken” – I always imagined it as throwing chicken in the crockpot with some jarred salsa and letting it go. Blech. Then I read the actual recipe – chicken…salsa…taco seasoning…cream of chicken soup…wait, WHAT?! Cream of chicken soup?!…..with SALSA?? Double blech!! But THEN I actually saw a picture of the stuff on Annie’s blog, Cooking For Fun and it looked creamy and delicious! How could something that sounded so unappealing look so very enticing and comforting?? Well, I decided I just had to find out for myself if this was as delicious as it looked on Annie’s blog! To get a second opinion, I even called up my sister and gave her the recipe and the idea to make it for her family’s supper too! (we would compare notes later – that’s what sisters do, right?) So she made hers and I made mine; the result: SUCCESS!!! It was completely delicious! Hubby gobbled it up over rice, and my sister’s hubby ate his with tortillas and chips. I was surpised at how moist and flavorful the chicken was. My sis and I both agreed that this would be an excellent filling for enchiladas. I’ll admit, even as I was combining the ingredients, I was still a little wary of it, but as it cooked and the smell starting filling my apartment, I knew it was going to be darned tasty! So thanks a heap, Annie – you convinced me! Next time, I’ll think twice before turning my nose up at a recipe!

Crockpot Salsa Chicken

-Cooking For Fun blog

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup salsa-Fresh
1 package taco seasoning
1 can reduced fat cream of mushroom soup (condensed) or cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup reduced fat sour cream

Add chicken to slow cooker. Sprinkle taco seasoning over chicken. Mix salsa and soup (this was the part that looked a little iffy, but persevere! Its well worth it!); pour over chicken. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours. Shred chicken with a fork. Stir in sour cream until heated, then serve over rice or tortillas. I topped mine with cheese. De-lish!!

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Pioneer Woman’s Chicken Salad

For those of you who don’t know – Pioneer Woman is a cooking blog I really enjoy reading. Her recipes are really reasonable, simple, and of course, very tasty! She reminds me a lot of my big sister, Lindsay – they have the same sharp, witty personality. Maybe that’s why I love her blog so much…  Anyway, I saw her recipe for chicken salad recently and decided I just had to try it (chicken salad is big in my family!).  As usual, it was very simple to make and tasted pretty good too – not as good as my mom’s (hi, mom!), but you know how that goes…nothing is ever as good as mom’s.

Pioneer Woman’s Chicken Salad

1 whole fryer, cut up and poached
2-3 stalks celery, chopped
green (or red) grapes, cut in half (as much as you’d like, really)
fresh chopped dill
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup plain yogurt or sour cream (I used sour cream)
tablespoon or 2 fresh lemon juice
tablespoon brown sugar
salt and pepper to taste
pinch cayenne pepper

After chicken has been poached and cooled – cut into small chunks. Toss in a large bowl with chopped celery and grapes (I also added some chopped pecans.) In another bowl, mix mayo, yogurt, dill, lemon juice, brown sugar, salt and pepper, and cayenne together. Pour over chicken/grape/celery mixture and toss to coat. Let sit in the refrigerator for at least 2 or 3 hours (overnight is best) so all the flavors can “marry”. Pioneer Woman adds that you can also add some chopped bacon if you want! Yum!

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“Holy Enchiladas!!!”

Sorry for the cheesy title….you can thank Joel for that. :-) Hey, I guess I should just be thankful he takes an interest in my blogging, right? Anyway, tonight’s dinner got off to a very rocky start, but finished strong. I had a hankering for chicken enchiladas and discovered a really delicious-sounding recipe from Renea of Sweet, Savory, Southern

So, everything was going along great – Joel had just walked through the door, I was really organized, dinner was just about ready – all I had to do was make the sauce and throw the enchiladas in the oven. I had just started my sauce – I added the oil to the pan, then the flour and spices, yadda, yadda… as I was stirring, I happened to notice the mixture seemed a little thin, even after adding the flour. So I went back and checked my recipe…um, ¼ cup of oil…NOT ONE cup!!! Yeah – I used an entire cup of oil as opposed to the ¼ of a cup that the recipe called for. I have no idea where I got that….so, to try to fix things, I just added a whole bunch more flour…and spices….and used up all the rest of the chili powder I had. I ended up with a giant saucepan full of MUCK. Poor Joel had to get back out and go to the store for me (since I had used up all my chicken broth and chili powder) so I could attempt the sauce again. Luckily, the second time around was muuuuuuuuch better (and didn’t end with me dumping the pan in the sink and throwing kitchen utensils every-which-direction).

This isn’t your usual, run-of-the-mill Sour Cream Chicken Enchilada – in fact, that’s why I chose this recipe – there’s no sour cream! Now, for those of you who can’t fathom a chicken enchilada sans the sour cream, don’t worry: this dish definitely delivers (Renea knows what she’s doing!)! The chili gravy topping is full of flavor and spice – topped with gooey, melty cheese and a dollop of cool sour cream (so, I guess there’s a little sour cream in the recipe…), its a perfect enchilada, in my opinion (and Joel’s). Even though this recipe calls for chicken, I think it would be fantastic with beef or ground turkey as well – whatever tickles your enchilada-fancy!

    Chicken Enchiladas

    (from Renea at Sweet, Savory, Southern)

    2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and shredded

    1/2 a green bell pepper, finely chopped

    1/2 onion, finely chopped

    2 Tbsp olive oil

    1 tsp garlic powder

    salt and pepper to taste

    2 cups chili gravy (recipe follows)

    4 flour tortillas (I had enough filling for 5-6 tortillas)

    1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

    Preheat oven to 350. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.

    Add onion and peppers and cook for about 5 min. Add shredded chicken and stir. Add salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Remove from pan and set aside. Using the same pan, make the chili gravy as follows.

Chili Gravy

    1/4 cup lard (she used vegetable oil and so did I)

    1/4 cup flour

    1/2 tsp black pepper

    1 tsp salt

    1-1/2 tsp powdered garlic

    2 tsp ground cumin

    1/2 tsp dried oregano (Mexican oregano is preferred if it’s available)

    2 T chili powder

    2 cups chicken broth (or water)

    Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the flour and continue stirring for 3 to 4 minutes, or until it makes a light brown roux.

    Add all the dry ingredients and continue to cook for 1 minute, constantly stirring and blending ingredients. Add chicken broth or water, mixing and stirring until the sauce thickens. Turn heat to low and let sauce simmer for 15 minutes.

    Once the chili gravy is done, add 1/2 a cup to the chicken mixture and stir. Spoon the chicken mixture into the flour tortilla shells and roll up. Spread another half cup of the sauce in the bottom of a baking dish and place the rolled tortillas in the dish. Top with the remaining cup of sauce and shredded cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 20-25 min. (I baked for 15 minutes minus the cheese, then added the cheese and cooked for 5 minutes more – just to melt the cheese)

Prep time: 12-15 minutes

Cook time: 20-25 minutes

Serves: 3 to 6 (depending on appetites)

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Saturday Night Comfort Food


This was a pretty uneventful Saturday, but sometimes those are nice…

We had originally planned on going out, but the more I thought about it, the more I didn’t want to mess with getting dressed, fixing my hair and putting on makeup…all that stuff. Plus, I couldn’t think of one single restaurant that sounded good. It was a little chilly and dreary outside, so I thought it might be fun to just stay in, eat something “comforting” and watch a movie. So, I decided on Chicken Tortilla Soup. This soup is one of our all time favorites. It takes no time to make and it’s “no-fail”, not to mention delicious. The lime juice adds such great flavor, and the melty cheese with the cool avocados and fresh, bright cilantro….Y.U.M. That’s all I can say….

Chicken Tortilla Soup

-adapted from Williams-Sonoma: Food Made Fast: Soup

6 cups chicken stock, homemade or purchased (I use reduced sodium)

2 cups cooked, shredded chicken (I like to roast mine)

½ white onion, chopped

(I also add 2-3 zucchinis, chopped)

2 teaspoons chili powder (I also use 1 teaspoon or so of cumin)

juice from 3-4 limes

salt and pepper to taste

1 cup crumbled tortilla chips

Coat a large saucepan with olive oil over medium-high heat, add onion and zucchini and saute until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the chili powder and stir until fragrant. Pour in stock and bring to a boil. Add the shredded chicken, reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the chicken is heated through. Add the lime juice and salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into bowls and top with tortilla chips and garnishes.

Garnish ideas:

shredded Monterey Jack cheese

chopped avocado

fresh chopped cilantro

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