Friday, January 31, 2014

Day 30: Back Spasms and Quesadillas

Most mornings I get up at 3:45 AM. I do this Monday through Thursday and put in a ten hour (at least) day so that on Fridays I can sleep in and enjoy a three day weekend. Now sleeping in is usually between five and six in the morning. Yes, I am a wild one. John gets up earlier than I do and is gone by the time I get up.

This morning though, I woke up to go to the bathroom and John was getting ready. His back had been bothering him and as I got back into bed I heard a little grunt of pain. It is an involuntary sound that breaks my heart. I came downstairs to see him sitting in his chair and not looking good. I told him that we were going to the emergency room and when he didn't argue, I knew he was really hurting.

Five hours later we were on our way home with a prescription for muscle relaxants and orders to rest for the next few days. I, of course panicked, as that meant I would have to cook. I have not made it any secret here or anywhere that I can't cook.

When our son was in second grade, John was out of town and his mom picked Chris up at school. It was a winter day and just starting to snow. Grandma commented that Chris would have to shovel snow when he got home.

"No," he said. "That's Dad's job."
"Your dad isn't home. You have to be the man of the house", my mother-in-law reminded him.
His eyes filled up with tears and he looked at his grandma.
"But...I can't cook!"

So telling all this I knew I had to think of something in my skill set. I decided I could handle Quesadillas. John said we had smoked chicken in the freezer. So I got that out to defrost.

I threw it into the pan to heat it up.

I put some water in the pan to moisten it up and added the spices that John told me would make them fajita flavored. A couple Tablespoons of chili powder, a Tablespoon of paprika, a couple teaspoons of Cumin, and about a teaspoon of garlic powder.

It bubbled away.

After it simmered away some of the liquid I was ready.

Hot pan, a little butter and a tortilla.

A fuzzy shot of adding the Mexican cheese. We have a lot of cheese right now, Hy-Vee has it on sale for a dollar a bag. Thank goodness we can buy cheese!

A scoop of the smoky, spicy chicken.

A flip in half.

Just right. It cooks really fast. I made six of these in about ten minutes.

 I cut them into easy to eat pieces. I don't think John noticed that I cut his two halves different. Only after I cut them did I realize that they were an uneven number. I'm hoping the muscle relaxants are working overtime!

A little salsa and sour cream and it is done. A dinner even I can make!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Day 29: Etouffee!

Today's check of the freezer found something I'd had my eye on for a couple weeks. I couldn't wait to thaw this one out and have it for dinner. Shrimp & crawfish etouffee. I made it this past fall, and it makes enough for 3 meals...this one is our last one. I make it from scratch, and the recipe is a combo of a couple different ones I found. It is sooooo good, and one of my favorite things I make. I even make the stock from scratch using the crawfish & shrimp shells. But tonight, it'll be simple because I'm just thawing and heating.
We'll put the etouffee over that leftover quinoa we made earlier in the week, and some rice. We have regular rice in the pantry, but I also found some boil-in-bag rice. It's instant, but I like it because it doesn't stick together.

Etouffee is mostly thawed. Into a microwave dish to heat it up as the rice is cooking.

Bag of rice is cooking.

Heat up the quinoa and mix it with the rice.

Etouffee is hot and ready!

Bowl of rice/quinoa covered with crawfish/shrimp etouffee. Awesome!

Yet ANOTHER successful and very tasty freezer/pantry only dinner!

As for the etouffee recipe, here ya go:

6 TBSP butter
1/2 cup flour
4 cups diced onion
2 cups diced green pepper
2 cups diced celery
2 TBSP chopped garlic
Small can of diced tomatoes
2 tsp salt
2 TBSP Old Bay seasoning
1 quart of shrimp/crawfish stock (recipe below)
2 1/2 pounds of crawfish
2 pounds of raw shrimp

Shrimp stock: Remove shells from shrimp. Remove tail meat from crawfish shells. Save shrimp and crawfish to add in later. Put shrimp and crawfish shells into a stock pot and cover with water. Cover and simmer for about 2 hours. Then pour thru a strainer to eliminate any small pieces. Return liquid to pan and cook down (reduce) for another hour or 2, until there is about a quart of liquid left. This is your flavorful stock.

Melt butter and add flour to make roux (cook several minutes until it's the color of peanut butter)
Add onions, peppers, celery, garlic and cook 10 minutes
Add tomatoes, salt, and Old Bay and cook 2-3 minutes
Whisk in shrimp stock, bring to a boil, and simmer for 45 minutes
Add shrimp & crawfish meat and cook 5 minutes.

Serve over cooked rice.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Day 28: My Most Favorite Food!

I will let John have the blog in a minute, but I just want to say this is my favorite meal. I can't remember the first time he made it for me, but he ruined me forever for all other mac and cheese recipes.  It is the ultimate comfort food and is just a smooth, cheesy bowl of love.  

Now here's John to tell you how he makes love. Uh..that didn't come out right.  Here is his recipe!

Whoa! OK...let me show you how to satisfy my wife...Get your mind out of the gutter!!!
Today, I found some wonderful Earl Campbell hot links in the freezer. I discovered these many years ago, and you can't get them in Iowa. My dad brought them back from Texas for me. 3 left. And more comfort food with my homemade Mac & Cheese.
When I was in college, my roommates and I ate a lot of Kraft Mac & Cheese. By the end of the year, I was tired of it. I wanted some REAL mac & cheese. My roommate Bill said, "I know how to make that. It's really awesome".
My hopes were very high...and I ended up very disappointed.
Bill's awesome mac & cheese was a bowl of cooked macaroni, covered with a cup of milk and 3 slices of processed cheese on top, then baked. Not my idea of awesome. I knew what I wanted, and that wasn't it.
My sister Julie said she had a recipe I should try. I made it, and it was just what I was looking for. I tweaked it over the years, and still adjust it a little to this day.
WARNING: This dish is not healthy. This dish is addictive. When your plate is empty, you will want just a little more. And if there are any leftovers, this dish heats up great the next day.

Let's make some mac & cheese! Today's ingredients...

As the large elbow macaroni is boiling, heat up a large, deep pan and melt 1 stick of butter (I told you it's not healthy!).

When melted, whisk in 1/2 cup of flour and cook for a couple minutes.

Now, the non-measurable part. Whisk in milk until the white sauce is thick and creamy...but not too thick.

It probably ends up being somewhere between a quart and a half gallon of milk.

Now it's time to add the cheese. Stevie always comes running when he hears me open the bag of shredded cheese. So he always gets a small pinch of cheese!

One 8-ounce bag of shredded mild cheddar and one 8-ounce bag of shredded sharp cheddar go into the white sauce and mix it up until melted.
NOTE: I only use real cheese. I do NOT believe in Velveeta or any "processed cheese food product". Never..never ever! :)

Mix it all up...

All mixed up and ready to add to the macaroni.

Macaroni, waiting for the cheese sauce...

Mix it in...

Pour it into a greased casserole dish. I always save a little of the sauce to pour over the top, along with a little more shredded co-jack cheese. Again, this is not a healthy dish! But it's really awesome tasting. And we only eat it a few times a year!

Into the 400-degree oven for about 30 minutes, until brown & bubbly.

Heating up the hot link sausages in a this layer of water, covered.

Mac & cheese is out of the oven, brown & bubbly.

Hot links are hot and spicy. Let's eat!

THAT is a plate of goodness, right there. And since this recipe makes a lot of mac & cheese, there's enough leftovers for several more meals. Now, time to eat!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Day 27: Beef Stroganoff

Today's check of the freezer found a container of beef stroganoff. Sounds good! I let it thaw out and see it's the sauce with beef chunks and mushrooms. Get a little fettucine out of the pantry to put the stroganoff on and we'll be golden.

Stroganoff goes into the small crock pot on high for a couple hours, stirring occasionally.

I broke the fettucine up into smaller pieces to make them more like short noodles. I only used about 20% of the box.

After the noodles are cooked and drained, into the crockpot they go.

2 hours  and a few stirs later, it's looking mighty good!

Great dinner, and didn't buy anything for it. It's all out of the freezer and pantry. And there's enough left for Jo to take for lunch tomorrow.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Day 26: Fried Chicken Comfort Food

Cold weather again. Need more comfort! Jo is working overtime this week, so I wanted to make sure dinner tonight was extra comforting for her. And nothing is more comforting to her than chicken. And we're kinda like Zac Brown...we like our chicken fried!

Into the freezer for some chicken legs & thighs. These are the pieces we like the most, and we buy them in bulk at Aldi. They seem to have the best chicken prices around. So I package them in little ziploc baggies in pairs.

I sprinkle some seasoning salt & pepper on the pieces, then dredge in flour.

Make sure they get completely covered.

All ready to go!

Heat up some oil in the skillet and get to frying! I do about 15 minutes on each side, and once it's good and brown all the way around, flip it again. Anytime somebody asks me "how long should I cook it?", I always say "til it looks really good and ready to eat"!

I also made some potatoes to mash. Peel them, dice them, and boil them. When they're soft & done, drain them. Add a couple tablespoons of butter and a little milk, then whip them up with a mixer. Fast and easy. I always hate it when I'm at a restaurant that serves "smashed potatoes". For some reason, that seems to be the "in" way to serve potatoes at the "in" restaurants. In my mind, "smashed potatoes" are "too lazy to make mashed" potatoes.

End of potato rant...

I mashed them up and put them in a microwave dish to re-heat when we're ready to eat.

Chicken's done!

Now, some homemade chicken gravy. I pour the oil out of the skillet into a measuring cup, leaving the crispy chicken crunchy crust parts in the skillet. These are full of flavor and seasoning! Then add about 4 tablespoons of the oil back into the skillet, and whisk it around to loosen up all the crispies.

Now, to the 4 tablespoons of oil, whisk in 4 tablespoons of flour. Stir and cook for a couple minutes. Then add milk and continue whisking over medium heat. As it thickens, add more milk until it has the consistency of gravy.

Good, thick gravy!

Pour the gravy into a bowl, and get the heated up potatoes out of the microwave. Serve it up!

Looking good! One of our favorite dinners. And very comforting after a long and cold day.