Welcome to my F-ing life!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Easiest Dinner Ever - Ranch Chicken with Red Onion and Parsley New Potatoes

Simplicity. Who doesn't need more of that?

This is one of the household staple meals.  Weather permitting, it's also fantastic done on the grill. There is some day before prep, but it's easy and it's worth it.

Ranch Chicken with Red Onion and Parsley New Potatoes
serves 6

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, halved horizontally and pounded thin
1-1/2 cup Ranch dressing (I like the Ranch with Bacon, but use any bottled Ranch flavor you like), plus more more dipping later
2 or 3 large red onions, each cut into 6 wedge sections
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp lemon pepper seasoning
1/2 cup fresh chopped parsley
1/2 stick butter, cut into chunks
2 pounds new potatoes, halved

**The day before:  Combine chicken and Ranch in a large ziplock. Marinate until tomorrow night! Trust me, this makes all the difference in the world.

Place potatoes in stockpot and add enough water to cover.  Salt the water if you wish.  Bring to a boil. Reduce heat slightly and continue cooking until tender, about 20-25 minutes.

While potatoes cook, melt 2 Tbsp butter in saucepan. Add Onion and lemon pepper; stir to coat. Cover and cook over medium low heat to just soften the onions. Stir occasionally.

While potatoes and onions are cooking, heat a non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Spray with Pam. Add chicken (in batches) and cook until browned, about 5-6 minutes per side.

Drain potatoes.  Add 1/2 stick of butter to stockpot you cooked the potatoes in and return to low heat to melt the butter. Add drained potatoes and parsley, stirring to coat.

Serve 2 pieces of chicken (equals one whole chicken breast), sauteed red onion, potatoes and Ranch dressing for dipping the chicken and onion.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Easy Breezy Summer Salad - Shrimp, Orange and Avocado Salad

Summer is almost over.  For those of you already back in school, summer is over.  As much as I love winter and fall dishes, I still love a hearty (read: not hungry within two hours after eating it) summer salad.

You can always play with a salad and add or drop whatever you like. It won't get mad at you, I promise.  Personally, I really used to dislike salads. Regular (lettuce, tomato, onion and dressing) salads. Boring and pretty tasteless, I think. They don't fill me up at all, and you will find me raiding the cabinets before too long.

Now? I like 'em. But I like 'em my way...with tons of "stuff" in them. Like this one!! After eating a plate of this, I was indeed full and satisfied.  No nighttime kitchen raids for me...

Shrimp, Orange and Avocado Salad
serves 6

2 heads of romaine lettuce, shredded
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
6 small easy-peel oranges, peeled and segments pulled apart
1 cup red or green grapes, halved
1 pound shrimp, cooked, peeled, deveined with tails removed
2 avocados, peeled, pitted and cut into chunks
1 tsp lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil
3 Tbsp lime juice
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

Whisk together the olive oil, lime juice, mustard, salt and red pepper flakes. Set aside.

Sprinkle lemon juice over avocado chunks so they don't turn brown. Set aside. (Cutting the avocado open and slicing/dicing is usually one of the very last steps I do.)

Divide romaine among six serving plates. Scatter red onion, avocado, grapes, orange segments and shrimp. Drizzle with dressing mixture.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


My Mom makes a similar dish, one with flank steak stuffed with mozzarella, and it is very yummy indeed.  It's quick and easy to make, which appeals to my inner lazy cook in me. You know what I'm talking about, right?  Those nights where you want something tasty, that will fill you up and that has minimal ingredients and effort involved. Yeah, those... I knew you knew what I was referring to.

But today the 'lazy cook' portion of my brain was viciously attacked by the 'can't leave well enough alone so I have to play around with it' portion (which, sadly, is a much larger chunk than any other part of my brain) and...well...I came up with this little beauty:


2 cloves garlic, minced
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
8 ounces fontina cheese, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup toasted bread crumbs
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 flank steak (about 2 to 2 1/2 pounds), trimmed of excess fat and butterflied
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400.

In a medium bowl, combine the garlic, scallions, parsley, fontina, parmesan, and bread crumbs and mix well. Add 1/4 cup of the olive oil and mix well. Set aside.

Open up the butterflied flank steak and arrange it so the grain of the meat is parallel to you, and season exposed side with salt and pepper. Spread the breadcrumb mixture evenly over the beef, leaving a 1/2-inch border along the side furthest from you; press and gently pack the stuffing mixture onto the beef to keep it in place. Starting from the side nearest to you, roll up the meat like a jelly roll, pressing any stuffing that falls out of the ends back into the roll. Place the rolled beef seam side down on a jelly roll pan. Brush the outside of the roll with remaining olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Cook the beef in a 400 degree oven for 40-45 minutes. Let rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Stuff My Mom Makes - Beef Stroganov

My Mother is a carnivore. She loves her meat. Who can blame her, right? I love a good filet mignon, a grilled T-bone or a really great flank steak with chimichurri. Most of the meals that my Mom prepares involve some form of meat. She doesn't like seafood at all. When we have a seafood dinner on the menu, she will gladly make herself a hamburger or she will cook up a single serving of prime rib or sirloin she has stashed in the freezer for just such an occasion.

She has been making this version of Beef Stroganov ever since I can remember (which is pretty darned far back) and it is frequently requested on the dinner rotation menu.  When I was little, I couldn't stand it. Ew, it was "grown-up" food. Plus, there is the little known fact that I did not eat meat willingly until I was about 30. It's true! I had to eat it when I was little and a teenager because, well...that's what was for dinner - eat or starve. I would barely eat meat, stuff it in a napkin, or hide it under the mashed potatoes. When I hit 20, I would only eat certain meat dishes, and this one was one I grew to eventually love.

I have read and tried a few different recipes for this dish, but I always come back to making it Mom's way because it is easier and tastes way better.  I was actually horrified to discover that some people make this with hamburger! No, no, no....that's gross. Sirloin, people! It's the only way.  The preparation methods that I have seen for this dish vary, too.  Mom uses both the stove top and the microwave.  Oh, and she doesn't measure anything so amounts are not approximate here...it's really to taste.

Brown about a pound to a pound and a half of bite-sized slices of sirloin in 3-4 tablespoons of butter.
When browned, transfer to a large microwave safe bowl. Keep juices in the pan.
Add quartered (or halved/whole if you prefer) mushrooms to pan juices and cook for about 3-5 minutes.
Add the mushrooms into the bowl with browned meat, still leaving the juices in the pan.
Off the heat, add one envelope of brown gravy (powdered kind) and about 3 tablespoons of all purpose flour.
Combine until there are no lumps.
Add water little by little (for a total of maybe one cup) and keep whisking.
Add 2-3 teaspoons of powdered beef bouillon and whisk to combine.
This is what you're looking for...a slightly thick gravy consistency.
Pour the gravy over the mushrooms and meat. At this step, you can add olives if you like.
Put a large stockpot of water on the stove to boil and prepare one package of egg noodles as directed.  We like the wide egg noodles, but any type will be fine. Cook the noodles while the meat mixture is in the microwave so that everything is done around the same time.

Here's where the microwave comes in:  Microwave the meat mixture at 40% power for 20 minutes. Stir. If the gravy gets too thick, add a little water to thin it out. Microwave again at 40% power for another 15 minutes.

Add about one cup of sour cream to meat mixture.
Stir in the sour cream. This will decrease the temperature of the dish (obviously), so feel free to microwave for a minute or so if it cools down too much.
Drain the egg noodles and get ready to plate!
Place egg noodles on the plate and top generously with meat, 'shrooms and gravy!

Beef Stroganov

You'll need:

4 Tbsp butter
1-1/2 pounds sirloin, trimmed and sliced into bite-sized pieces
1-2 cups of button mushrooms, quartered
3 Tbsp all purpose flour
1 envelope brown gravy
1 cup water
2 tsps powdered beef bouillon
3/4 cup green olives
1 cup sour cream
1 bag wide egg noodles

Brown meat in butter over medium heat. Remove with slotted spoon to large microwave safe bowl, leaving juices in the pan. Add mushrooms to pan and cook for about 5 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon to same bowl as the meat, leaving juices in the pan.

Remove pan from heat and add envelope of brown gravy and flour. Whisk to combine into roux. Add water little by little and keep whisking. Place pan back on heat. Add beef bouillon and whisk to combine. Mixture will begin to slightly thicken back up. Pour the gravy over the mushrooms and meat. Add olives.

Put a large stockpot of water on the stove to boil and prepare one package of egg noodles as directed. 

Microwave the meat mixture at 40% power for 20 minutes. Stir. If the gravy gets too thick, add a little water to thin it out. Microwave again at 40% power for another 15 minutes. Add sour cream.

Serve mixture over cooked egg noodles.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Arrested Development and Pavlova

My love affair with Netflix Instant Streaming continues, as I search out movie and television series that I always wanted to watch, but never had the time because life got in the way.

Which is slightly frightening, since I don't have much of a life to begin with...

I love the instant streaming for two main reasons:

1.  Um, it's instant. I don't have to wait for the disc to come in the mail.  My queue is so large that not only have I reached the maximum amount allowed (several times, thank you), but buy the time I actually get to certain discs, I completely forgot what it was and why I was interested in it enough to want to watch it.

2.  I am what you would classify as a lover of instant gratification. I hate waiting. When I want something, I want it now.  This service satisfies a small part of my instant gratification-ness because I can watch an entire series from humble beginning to bitter end and not have to wait a week (or summer) for the next episode to broadcast. Whether it only lasted one season or seven, I can watch them all in succession and not have to wait. I love that.

I'm not a really big fan of situation comedies either. I mostly am drawn toward sci-fi, dramas or documentary series. If I do watch a sitcom, I would have heard great and wonderful things about it enough to peak my interest. It would have to be a smart comedy, too. I get enough silly, physical slapstick and bodily function humor in my daily life at home (Helllllloooooo, Little Lawyer!). I have no desire to sit through Dumb and Dumber in movie or television form...

I had continually heard great things about Arrested Development.  It began in 2003 and ran for three seasons. There were huge cries of foul when the series was threatened to be canceled.  I queued it up on good 'ol Netflix and gave it a try. I was not disappointed...

It's the story of the Bluth family, who are developers facing bankruptcy with the father in prison for fraud. The somewhat sane and levelheaded son, Michael (Jason Bateman), tries to hold the family together and do the right things along the way. The rest of the family are totally self-centered, and are in complete denial about being broke.  It is a fast-paced, snarkily smart and witty comedy that I actually found myself laughing out loud at quite a few times. Ron Howard narrates the series and I think his deadpan narration is a large part of why I enjoyed it so much. Oh, and Portia DeRossi? Golden. Just golden! She needs to be in a LOT more stuff (and yes, I have seen Better Off Ted and she was the only reason I watched it).

It's a shame it only lasted three seasons (well, really season one was the only full 22 episode season. Season two was whittled down to 18 episodes, while the final season was hacked to a mere 13 episodes.) but there is talk of a movie to wrap it all up.  I would definitely watch it, even though most wrap-up movies for series are usually substandard and end up making you wonder why exactly you liked the series in the first place...

Give it a watch if you have the time - you won't be disappointed!  Then tell me what you think...

And you can make this delicious pavlova to eat while watching....ha!

Light, crispy meringue, freshly whipped cream and juicy berries and fruit make this dessert one of my favorites.  Patience is key here, but you will be rewarded...


You'll need:

2 tsp white vinegar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1-1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch
6 egg whites (at room temp)
1/8 tsp salt
2 cups whipped cream
2 cups fresh fruit/berries
1/4 c granulated sugar

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Place a piece of parchment paper on the cookie sheet (be sure the paper doesn't hang over the edges of the pan - trim with scissors if necessary).

Measure the vinegar and vanilla into a small bowl and set aside. Pour 1 ¼ cups of sugar into a different bowl, add the cornstarch and mix with a fork to blend and set aside. In a large, clean mixing bowl, add the egg whites. I kid not when I say room temperature is important here.

Whip the egg whites with an electric mixer starting on the lowest speed, gradually adding in the salt.

Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat the egg whites until gentle peaks begin to form.

Turn the speed up another notch and begin to sprinkle the sugar mixture into the egg whites

Beat the egg whites for another minute after all of the sugar has been added and then gradually add the vanilla and vinegar.  Adjust the speed of the mixer to the highest setting and continue beating until shiny, stiff peaks form.

  • 8
    Spoon the fluffy egg whites into an icing bag. Squeeze the meringue into a large flat circle, approximately 9 inches in diameter. Pipe a second layer onto the top of the first, creating an outside edge to hold your fillings in the center.

  • 9
    Place the cookie sheet carefully into the preheated oven, and cook for about 75 minutes. Switch the oven off and leave it to cool gradually inside the oven. To speed the process slightly, you can leave the oven door ajar.

  • 10
    Mix berries with ¼ cup sugar while the meringue is baking. Place them in the refrigerator to chill.

  • 11
    Fill the center of the meringue with whipped cream once the shell has completely cooled. Top the whipped cream with berries and serve.

  • Spoon the egg whites into a ziplock and cut off corner (about 1/4 to 1/2 inch). Squeeze the meringue into a large flat circle, approximately 9 inches in diameter. 
    Pipe a second layer onto the top of the first, creating an outside edge to hold the filling in the center.

    Place the cookie sheet (carefully!) into the preheated oven, and cook for about 75 minutes. Switch the oven off and leave it to cool gradually inside the oven. To speed the process slightly, you can leave the oven door open slightly. Let it cool completely before removing from the oven.

    Mix berries with ¼ cup sugar while the meringue is baking. Place them in the refrigerator to chill.

    Fill the center of the meringue with whipped cream once the shell has completely cooled. 
    Top the whipped cream with fruit/berries and serve.

    Sunday, August 8, 2010

    Norwegian Epic - Food, Fantasy and Frustration - Day Seven, Nassau

    Ah, day seven...our final cruise day.

    We actually forced ourselves to wake up early because we had reservations for the Nickelodeon character breakfast at 8am in the Spiegel Tent.  This was primarily for our Little Lawyer's enjoyment, but I had a strong suspicion that Papa Bear had been looking forward to it as well...

    Papa Bear loves him some Avatar...perhaps they were twins separated at birth?

    The food was absolutely gross. Sorry, but it really, really was. The eggs were powdery, the hash browns were little greasy balls of goo, the bacon was like stiff bark...ugh. Thank goodness for coffee.

    It was very cute, however, that the pancake syrup was green slime.

    Little Lawyer got her pictures and autographs (which were ink stamps) and she had a fun time, even though she politely informed me after it was over that they were just dudes in costumes. I told her I didn't believe her!

    Today was our day in Nassau.  Perhaps I should preface this paragraph by telling you how many times we have been to Nassau:  5 or 6.  We really didn't want to even get off the boat, to be honest.  There was a tropical storm still out there, so they announced over the loudspeaker that due to craptastic weather conditions we would not be stopping in Nassau at noon as scheduled. No big deal.  When we got close enough to the island, we were standing on the balcony and saw a Disney ship and a Carnival ship ahead of us. They were pulling into the port - why weren't we then?  They made another announcement over the loudspeaker that they were determining if weather conditions would permit us to pull into the dock now.  It was beautiful and balmy outside with no signs of any storm!! About an hour later, they announced that we were going to pull into port after all.

    See how nice the weather was?
    The Atlantis Hotel

    We all took a vote as to whether or not we wanted to go into Nassau and majority ruled with a no. So we just hung out on the boat all day.  Granma took the girls bowling and pulled something and hurt herself. She went back to the cabin to rest.  Papa Bear felt like getting his butt kicked again by the girls, so he bowled a game with them.

    Since we just hung out and didn't do much-o-nuthin' all day, I will pick up where I left off in an earlier post about what else is on the ship. In earlier entries, I took you through deck 5, 6, 7 and 14. Cabins and suites take up decks 8-13, most of deck 14, and part of 17 - we were not allowed access to decks 16, 18 and 19 as these were private areas for the guests staying in the high priced suites and villas.

    Deck 15 has the Aqua Park and water slide, the Garden Cafe buffet, Spice H2O (an adults only outdoor bar and pool with a huge screen for sports watching), the Marketplace (more shopping), and the Video Arcade.

    Deck 17, aside from the suites, had the Sports Complex - complete with full sized basketball court, batting cage, rock climbing wall, rappelling wall, rope adventure course and 24 foot enclosed climbing cage.

    Let me take you down to the Bliss Ultra Lounge down on deck 7.  We finally got to see the inside today!  Every time we were within 50 feet of Bliss, it was closed for private functions.  I'm so glad we got to see the inside... as soon as we set foot inside, we were home - we wanted to live there! Funkadelic colors and eclectic furniture galore. This is what I would decorate a house in if money were no object... This is where the other 3 lanes of bowling were located, but we never did bowl in Bliss as it was always closed for one function or another.

    This was the carpet - I loved this!
    Lighted mirror ceiling and purple plush...oooh...
    Beds to lounge on...
    Cage dancing? Right on!
    Stage, dance floor and screen
    Bowling lanes
    The eclectic furniture in here was making me drool...
    My Pimp Daddy

    Dinner this evening was in Teppanyaki. I am always up for this kind of dinner! I'm not a huge fan of communal seating, so when two other people filled the last two seats at our table, I was bummed that we didn't have the table (and chef) to ourselves. The woman (who sat directly to my right) was wearing the absolute worst smelling perfume (and about a gallon of it!) you could imagine.  Normally, Papa Bear is the scent-sensitive one when it comes to strong perfumes, but if I had to spend the first twenty minutes of dinner holding my breath and choking when I did have to inhale that stench, I can only imagine what he was going through.

    It just made it worse when she and her husband complained the entire meal. I think our chef was somewhat new and was in the process of being trained - he was pretty good, but messed up a couple of times and joked about it (the six of us just laughed with him), but the smelly couple moaned, rolled their eyes and made quiet, smart-ass remarks about him (I could hear what she was saying because she was right next to me).  Apparently, smelly woman was allergic to scallops (which I of course ordered!) and her husband kept yelling at the chef the entire time to make sure my scallops didn't touch her food! Dude, if she's allergic to scallops, she's allergic to all shellfish...why the hell is she eating shrimp and lobster then??? They both barely ate anything and left before dessert - thank goodness!

    White Miso soup
    Origami with the menu
    Seaweed Salad
    Aw, he made the fried rice into a heart...
    Fried Rice
    Fried Rice and shrimp
    Fresh Fruit Sashimi
    Green Tea Cake with Cashew Nut Brittle

    We didn't venture up top of the ship too much (too hot, don't swim or lay out, don't play sports), but we did go up once or twice at night to see what was going on.  The one time we made it up there with the cameras, it was rainy and icky so whatever activities they had planned were canceled and it was deserted and empty.

    And so ends our last night on the Norwegian Epic...

    I shall leave you with some awesome shots of the Miami skyline that Papa Bear took as we were pulling into port the next morning during sunrise...