Nov 27, 2012

Rainy Day Cooking

Today I was presented with an unusual problem.  Since today was my day off, and it was raining, and I had cleaned the house before leaving for Atlanta, I really didn't have much to do.  So, instead of sitting around relaxing all day (which, in hindsight, I probably would have enjoyed), I decided to spend the entire day cooking.  The whole. darn. day.

I decided to make this soup that my Aunt Jacki made with her leftover Thanksgiving turkey:

Leftover Turkey and Sweet Potato Soup with Black Beans and Lime

Problem: Your leftover turkey is in Atlanta.
Solution: Use a rotisserie chicken.

Problem: Your local grocery store's rotisserie chicken looks like a shriveled carcass.
Solution: Purchase a raw whole chicken and make your own chicken/chicken stock.

Problem: You purchase ingredients to make several other dishes with the leftover chicken, and then the
               cashier forgets to give you one of your bags.
Solution: NONE.  FAIL.

Luckily, I made it home with all the ingredients necessary for the soup tonight, minus the chilies.  Here is what I did for the chicken stock:

Michelle's Homemade Chicken Stock

1 5 lb. whole chicken
2 carrots
2 celery stalks
1 onion
Fresh oregano
Fresh thyme
Dried parsley

  1. Place chicken in a large pot, and fill with water until just covering chicken.
  2. Cut ends off carrots and celery and add to pot.  Peel onion and add to pot.
  3. Add several sprigs fresh oregano, thyme, and about 1 tbsp. parsley to pot.
  4. Cover and bring to a boil.  When boiling, turn down heat and simmer for 2 1/2 hours.
  5. Remove chicken and let cool for 5-10 minutes, then remove meat from bone.
  6. Pour broth through a strainer, and discard vegetables and spices.
  7. Stock can be frozen or refrigerated and used for soups or other recipes!
Of course you can use canned chicken stock and leftover turkey or a rotisserie chicken (if you can find one that looks tasty) and eliminate about 3 hours of work for yourself, and it will be just as delicious.  Let me tell you, this soup was mighty delicious.  Hearty, thick, and creamy from the beans (and healthy), Drew and I both helped ourselves to 2 filling bowls.  Good find, Aunt Jacki!  

For you cilantrophiles out there, add a heaping helping of cilantro on top!

Stay tuned for more leftover chicken and chicken stock recipes!  I sure have a lot to use up...

Cast Iron Skillets and Blueberry Muffin Shots

Boy, oh boy, do I have a lot to say today!  And finally, something to talk about other than cleaning, grocery shopping, and riding.

Let me start off by saying that I hope everyone had a great holiday!  I hope it was filled with friends, family, and feasting.  Mine sure was!  After working a half day on Wednesday, I drove to the Philadelphia Airport and hopped on a plane to Atlanta, Georgia to see my Aunt Christine, Uncle Steve, and cousins Maddie and Jon.  My parents and brother had flown down earlier in the morning.  Being the night before Thanksgiving, the plane with packed with people (and a baby named Malcolm who sat directly behind me and alternately ate pasta and screamed just for the sake of screaming through the whole flight).   I landed around 8:30 pm and my dad and Aunt Christine picked me up.  I haven't seen this part of my mom's family in about 4 years, so it was really awesome to get to spend a few days with them!

Wednesday Night Dinner:

We arrived at their house around 9:30, and a delicious dinner of homemade Chicken and Oyster Gumbo was awaiting my empty stomach.  This was the first time I have ever had gumbo, and it was a hit.  I will be getting this recipe and making it myself for sure!  Served over fluffy white rice with Sister Shubert rolls for dipping (seriously, the best rolls I've ever had!), it couldn't have been better.

 Other highlights of this dinner: Got to see my parents and brother for the first time in almost 2 months!


TURKEY DAY!  My mom, Christine, Maddie and I went out for a brisk Thanksgiving Day walk (a tradition in their family).  We brought their dog Sandy along, and I had a lot of fun chatting with Maddie while we tried to keep up with our intensely-power-walking moms.

Next up, a "grazing" lunch of spiral ham sandwiches, and shrimp cocktail while Uncle Steve cooked the turkey on the Big Green Egg!  And the rest of us decorated and helped cook the sides (I can't take any credit on the cooking, but I did assist with the decorating).  Later on, my cousin Lynn and her partner Tracy joined us for dinner, and brought some super tasty Lemon Artichoke dip.  

Highlights of Turkey Day Feasting:
  •  My brother's witty humor.  While discussing the "presidential ruler" my dad bought on our Washington, D.C. trip years ago:
    • Dad: What year was John Adams president?  If only we had the presidential ruler!
    • Joe: Well I can't tell you what year he was president, but I can tell you he was 4 inches.
  • My appetizer-table centerpieces going up in flames when the candle burned down to the decorative raffi tie, whilst I was standing directly in front of them texting away, completely unaware.  
  • Hanging out in the kitchen with all the ladies after dinner, helping clean things up.  Mom washing dishes, turns on garbage disposal:
    • Christine: OH MY GOD WHAT ARE YOU DOINGG!!!!
    • Michelle, Lynn, Mom, and Tracy (thinking to ourselves): HOLY CRAP something is going to explode out of the garbage disposal and kill us all!
    • Christine: DON'T YOU KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT CAST IRON SKILLETS?!?!?  YOU CAN'T USE SOAP!!!!!  I've been seasoning that thing for 7 years!!!!!!!
    • Mom (probably almost in tears): Um, oh, ok...I'm sorry!  
    • Lynn, Michelle, and Tracy (in tears of laughter): Bahahahahahaha 
  • Dessert.  Enough said.  I actually had to have a dessert intervention with Christine when there was still no dessert in my belly at 10 pm.  I couldn't wait any longer!
  • A visit from some more of my mom's family (Sarah, Jeff, Jimmy and Sue).  

Cousins Jon and Maddie, and brother Joe


We started out working off our Thanksgiving Feast with a hike up nearby Kennesaw Mountain.  It was rather refreshing for me to see an actual mountain after 2 months in the land of no hills.  If only Murphy had been there to enjoy the day with us!

A hill.

Next up: a reunion with my bestest buddy, Jenny!  She was staying with her sister for the holiday in Sandy Springs, and of course we planned an epic reunion.  After pampering ourselves with a manicure with Christine, Maddie, and my mom, we headed over to her sister Natalie's house to catch up and hang out with Natalie and her little munchkin, Ella!  Nothing has changed in past year since Jenny and I have seen each other!   Later on, we picked up Joe and the 4 of us went to check out Fado, an Irish pub in Buckhead for dinner and drinks.  And it was epic!

Highlights of the night:
  • Blue Cheese lamb sliders.  Yum!
  • Blueberry muffin shots (Actually not that great.  Tasted like licking the floor of a bakery.  With vomit on it).  
  • Laughing so much my abs (or lack thereof) hurt!  Jenny tells a story about one of our animal science classes in college:
    • Natalie: Did you say horse semen?  HAHAHA
    • Michelle: There is no situation in which horse semen is not humorous.
  • Joe, who had previously ignored our pleas to come dance with us, suddenly breaks out his dance moves to Gangnam Style.  In a peacoat. 
  • Jenny rolls down a hill in the parking lot in slow motion while the rest of us watch and laugh hysterically.

An awesome night out with some awesome people!


What is the best thing to do after a night of drinking (especially for someone like me who rarely drinks?)  A brewery tour, of course!  I normally love touring breweries, but my stomach was feeling a bit testy after having a few drinks the night before, so alas, I was not able to enjoy Sweetwater Brewing Company as much as I had hoped!  It was still a fun experience, and I got a sweet beer glass to take home.  For $10, they give you the glass, a tour, and 6 tickets to sample any of the beer that they have on tap that day.  A whole glassful!  Most other tours I have been on only give you a small cup with which to sample.  Not Sweetwater...They fill it right up to the tippy-top!  

Highlights of the tour:
  • Tour Guide: Who is drinking the Sweetwater Blue right now?
    • Dad, Joe, and about 50% of the tour group: Woohooo!!
    • Tour Guide: Congratulations, you are drinking the wussiest beer we make!
  • Tour Guide: If you drank 1 gallon of beer from this tank every day, it would take you about 80 years to finish the tank.
    • Joe: Challenge accepted.

Sweet sign.

After a short siesta, my mom, Maddie, Christine and I headed out again to see Maddie's friend perform in The Nutcracker with her dance company.  I have never been to a ballet before, and it was quite magical!  I was seriously impressed with Maddie's 14 year-old friend, who is incredibly talented and had a major part in the ballet.

I definitely was not ready for this trip to end by Sunday morning when I had to head to the airport.  It was wonderful to spend time with my family, and see my aunt, uncle, and cousins.  Hopefully it won't be too long until we see them again!  And of course it was wonderful to see my buddy Jenny and reminisce about our crazy college days.  However, I did miss BearFace and Murphles, so it was a bittersweet homecoming!      

Nov 18, 2012

Don't Step on the Star!

Mission GET OUT OF SALEM COUNTY was a major failure this weekend.  At this point, Drew and I are both getting South Jersey cabin fever.  We skipped our monthly trip to Connecticut since we would be seeing family a few weeks later at Thanksgiving, and 7 straight weeks down here has just been too much.  We both miss our friends and family, and desperately need a break from the parasite that resides in our home (AKA, Room Dog). Yes, RoomDog, who is currently parked on his desk chair in the middle of the living room, watching football at top volume and using his cooler-on-wheels as a computer table.  Not to mention the stench of his Tostito's cheese dip that has saturated the air.  PLEASE HELP US.  Luckily I have something amazing in the oven for dinner that is covering his stink!

Anyway, we planned on going to Philadelphia on Saturday for a change of scenery.  We thought we might check out some free museums (always looking for a deal, I am!), and then stick around for dinner at one of the many, many amazing restaurants in the city.  This plan did not happen for two reasons:
  1. My troublesome little dog just started taking medication for his itchy allergy skin flare-up, which contains a low dose of a steroid.  Steroids make dogs pee.  My dog already pees a lot.  Therefore, my dog on steroids pees even more.  Like, can't hold it all night.  There's nothing like the sound of a pee stream to wake you up at 5 am on a Saturday morning!  Soooo we were concerned that if we left him home alone all afternoon, we would come home to a guilty dog and a urine-filled house.  No fun for anyone involved.
  2. We made online dinner reservations at a sushi restaurant in the city called Fat Salmon.  The menu looked amazing, and BearFace wanted some sushi but unfortunately the restaurant later called to tell us that they were full until 9:00 that night, so our reservation was a failure.  Bearface cannot make it past 7:00 without eating, and everyone knows 9 pm is WAY past our bedtime!  
This reminded me of a story that one of the girls at work told me...apparently there is a star on one of the sidewalk blocks somewhere in Salem.  If you step on this star, you will NEVER leave Salem County.  I must have inadvertently stepped on this star, because I sure as hell feel stuck here!

Our Philadelphia trip cancelled, we decided to head over to Fort Mott State Park with Murphy for a walk.  The park is right on the Delaware Bay, and the beach had some rather impressive damage to it from Hurricane Sandy.  Nothing like Atlantic City, of course, but there were some rather larger trees that washed ashore!

My dog likes to climb stuff...

We did eventually manage to make it out of Salem County and over to Gloucester County Saturday night.  After some general confusion as to the whereabouts of the restaurant, we had a nice dinner date at Samurai Sushi in Glassboro.  Or I should say I had a nice sushi dinner.  BearFace refuses to eat raw fish, and instead orders things such as sweet potato rolls, shrimp tempura rolls, and a even chicken tempura roll! BLASPHEMY!  (I was actually slightly embarrassed to be seen in a sushi restaurant with him and his chicken).

If you think I didn't eat all of this sushi, 
you clearly don't know me very well.

We didn't even attempt to escape Salem County on Sunday, and instead resorted to our usual routine of riding, grocery shopping, and a home-cooked dinner!  As a side note, DON'T GO GROCERY SHOPPING THE SUNDAY BEFORE THANKSGIVING.  Just don't do it.  Not worth it.  As a rule, I try to avoid shopping on the weekends altogether.  Unfortunately Drew likes to go with me, otherwise I would only shop on Tuesdays!  But seriously, the weekend before a holiday = absolute madness.  I thought I was going to have to take someone out to get to the cheese (and no one gets between me and my cheese).

Shopping done, we headed home to whip up a delicious dinner and tasty dessert.  I was looking forward to a relaxing evening of cooking, which was quickly ruined by RoomDog and his cheese dip.  But the wonderful aromas of this dish (which I absolutely did not share with him) covered up his stink quite well:

Kayla's Turkey Lasagna (My friend Kayla made Drew and I this dish at her house one night, and it is definitely the best lasagna I've had!)

1 pound ground turkey meat
1 box No Boil lasagna sheets
15 oz ricotta
2 cups shredded mozzarella
2 cups shredded Italian-blend cheeses
1 egg
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
2-3 cloves minced garlic
2 jars marinara sauce
Italian seasoning
Olive oil
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Brown turkey meat in olive oil.  Add about 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning, and garlic. 
  3. Add 1 1/2 jars sauce to pan and cover, then simmer for 15-20 minutes.  
  4. Mix egg, ricotta, and some Italian seasoning in a bowl.  
  5. Add a thin, even layer of marinara sauce to bottom of a 13x9 glass baking pan.  
  6. Place 3 sheets of pasta on top of sauce.  Sheets should not be touching each other.
  7. Spread ricotta/egg mixture on top of sheets of pasta.
  8. Add a layer of turkey and sauce on top of ricotta.
  9. Sprinkle a layer of mozzarella or Italian cheeses on top of meat sauce.
  10. Repeat 2 more times, alternating mozzarella and Italian cheese.  
  11. For top layer, make a thick layer of mozzarella, Italian cheese, and grated Parmesan.
  12. Bake for 50-60 minutes.  Let stand to cool for 15-20 minutes after baking.  

Home-made lasagna goodness

I served this with a crusty loaf of bread for sopping up extra sauce!  But that's not all...for dessert I treated our bellies with:

I have been wanting to make this for a while, and it did not disappoint.  The texture was a bit unexpected...very moist, dense, and kind of doughy.  But the glaze had amazing flavor, and I am always in favor of moist, dense desserts!  

I am going to have to lock up our dessert somewhere RoomDog cannot get to the last 4 days, he has consumed an entire half gallon of Breyer's ice cream, a pint of Ben and Jerry's, and a HUGE bag of Reese's peanut butter cups.  The only explanation for this recent over-consumption of sweets that I can come up with is that he is having his period.  Pumpkin cake, beware!

Lots of chores and errands to do tomorrow...I'm heading to Atlanta with the family on Wednesday to visit my long-lost aunt, uncle, and cousins for Thanksgiving.  I will also be seeing the lovely Jenny McCoy, who will also be in Atlanta visiting her sister.  I haven't seen her since I went to Kentucky last year, so we are both SUPER EXCITED FOR A REUNION!!  Murphy and BearFace will be going back to CT for the holidays...wonder if they'll miss me!   

Nov 13, 2012

The Most Magical Day

I have solved the problem of the water-stained shower.  It has been my only goal for about 2 weeks now, and I finally did it.  In retrospect, I probably should have been able to figure it out much sooner, but that's the way the cookie crumbles, as they say.

BearFace spoke to our landlord this weekend to see if perhaps our well needed to be conditioned.  Tracy said it was probably just because the shower is being used more frequently than when he lived there alone, and gave us some special cleaner to use that he said should do the job.  I was unreasonably excited at this, and determined that I would not rest today until the shower was clean.

Now, for someone who HATES cleaning showers, that was not a particularly pleasant goal to wake up to on this rainy day off.  But I tackled the bathroom with vigor early this morning.  And failed miserably, once again.  My hopes were raised when the cleaner, Spray Nine, got most (but not all) of the rust stains off the sink, but after a literal hour of scrubbing and scrubbing and scrubbing the tub, I was getting nowhere (except high off the fumes).  So I decided a trip to Walmart was in order, where I spent a good 10 minutes in the All-Purpose Cleaners aisle reading the back of every cleaning product on the market.  I settled on Soft Scrub, a pair of rubber gloves, and some Daily Shower spray.

And happened!  I fell in love (with Soft Scrub).  It is, without a doubt, the most magical cleaning product known to man.  After carefully reading the directions and letting the product soak on the stains for 3 minutes (no more, no less), I scrubbed away.  And watched the stains magically disappear!  I don't think anyone in the history of shower cleaners has ever been so happy about cleaning a shower.  And then I couldn't stop...I scrubbed the bathroom sink, the toilet, even the stainless steel kitchen sink.  SO STINKING SHINY.  But seriously, I think I have a problem (I guess I could have a worse addiction than an obsession with cleaning).

Things I concluded before, during, or after my cleaning expedition:
  • I am 75% sure that my shower is now the cleanest shower in all of New Jersey.
  • I am 100% sure that I am plumb out of elbow grease.
  • If the H1N1 swine flu virus was, for any reason, inexplicably living in my tub, it has now been completely eradicated, thanks to Spray Nine (I guess it wasn't completely useless after all).
  • 10 years from now, I will probably develop carpal tunnel due to the amount of scrubbing that was done today (2 1/2 hours.  Of scrubbing.  Ridiculous).
  • I will NOT be cleaning the shower next week.  End of story.  
Just when I had had enough of cleaning for the day, I headed to the barn with Murphy to ride Chubbles.  Who was FILTHY.  Must have rolled around in the mud for the better part of the morning.  After a thorough scrubbing of Chubbles, we had a nice ride in the rather muddy ring, watched Murphy run around like a rabid dog, and then called it a day.  

Murphy calls it a day. 

Nothing exciting on the menu for tonight....we are having a "detox" week of tasty and healthy salads.  I do have this to share from last week, though.

Unfortunately I do not have a picture, but I loved this soup.  It was easy, hearty, and healthy.  And cooks in the crockpot.  Really, what more could you ask for?!

I apologize for the lack of posts in the last few weeks.  There hasn't been much to report, except the usual weekend riding, hunting, and grocery shopping.  BearFace and I are feeling a bit stir-crazy down here...we are ready for the next move to a hilly-er county (no more RD will be a big weight off our shoulders, that's for sure). I will be going to Atlanta with my family for Thanksgiving to visit a long-lost aunt, uncle, and cousins, so things will be picking up soon!  And after that, only a few more weeks of the police academy, which means BearFace will be going into hibernation for a while.  We are both excited for that to be over, and will hopefully be able to spend some much-needed time in CT with friends and family around Christmas.  Just counting down the days now!

Still not used to the flatness of South Jersey, but it sure can be pretty sometimes.

Nov 6, 2012

Chemistry the Bathroom?

Before we get to my Tuesday chemistry experiment, there are a few orders of business to take care of.  First, a quick weekend recap.

  • Riding, as always.  
  • Buffalo Wild Wings Saturday night...last time I eat there!  A) Their wings don't even begin to compare to Bidwell's.  B) Found a piece of green plastic inside one of my boneless wings.  
  • Grocery shopping after Buffalo Wild Wings at 8;30 pm on a Saturday night.  Almost fell asleep while shopping.  I AM SO OLD.
  • Wreck-It Ralph Sunday afternoon movie date (trying to counteract the onset of old age by pretending I am still a child.  Not working, but it was a fun movie nonetheless).
  • And finally, home after the movies to our Big Sunday Night Dinner.

This week, Drew threw his famous Turkey and Bean Chili in the crockpot.  Warm, cozy, and oh-so-delicious-smelling.  

1 pound ground turkey meat
1/2 white onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 serrano chili, chopped
2 jalapeno peppers, chopped
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 can kidney beans
1 can black beans
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp salt
2 cloves minced garlic
10 dashes hot sauce
  1. Brown turkey meat, green peppers, garlic, and onions in saute pan over medium heat, about 5 minutes. 
  2. Add meat, all peppers, onions, beans, and tomato paste and sauce to crockpot.  
  3. Add spices and hot sauce and stir to combine.
  4. Cook on low for 6-8 hours.  
  5. Top with shredded cheddar cheese and serve with chips.

I pretty much finished off 2 bowls before remembering to snap a pic.

On to Tuesday...Murphy and I headed to the barn bright and early this morning for an 8:30 jumping lesson on Kim's horse, Chance.  Lots of fun, Chance jumped great, and the lesson Kicked. My. Butt.  I managed to scrounge up enough energy to take Chubbles out on a trail ride after, but let me tell you, I was pooped!  Which reminds me that my disgusting dog spent the entire hour-long lesson munching on poop.  He's really not picky, any kind will do.  Horse poop, deer poop, he even found some cat poop buried in the ring today.  I can yell all I want, but he knows there's nothing I can do about it while on a horse.  (He will be eating soap for dinner tonight).  Chubbles was not at all tired, and thoroughly enjoyed cantering and trotting around the newly cleared field, and actually wanted more.  

Follow that pup!  Actually, that's a terrible idea.  
Do NOT follow him.  

Here we have an oddly-colored, yet adorable boxer
modeling the new winter fashion for dogs.  

Handsome fellow. 

Then home to tackle the bathroom.  I did my weekly cleaning on Sunday, in hopes that I would actually have some time to relax today.  However, our bathroom has become a State of Emergency!  Our house has hard water, which has recently started staining the bathtub, toilet, and sink with a rust-colored stain.  I think the water just needs to be conditioned, but our regular bathroom cleaning products have no effect on the stains.  I found several sites that suggested using a mixture of vinegar and baking soda to restore the tub to its former sparkling glory.  So I sat on my bathroom floor with a bowl, mixing baking soda and vinegar to the proper paste-like consistency, then smearing it all over the rust-colored areas.  The site said to let it sit for 15 minutes, then wipe with a cloth.  That simple.  False!  I had high hopes in the beginning...lots of sizzling and fizzing (I felt like I was back in the General Chem lab at Uconn).  Maybe my stoichiometry was off, because the only result I achieved was a bathroom smelling strongly of vinegar.  Major fail.  Chemistry was always a challenge for me, anyway.

Nothing exciting in the kitchen tonight...I'm having a chicken salad craving!  I'm planning something tasty for Thursday though, so hopefully we will still have power after the nor'easter hits us tomorrow.  Luckily we still have a surplus of storm foods from the hurricane that almost completely missed us!   

Nov 1, 2012

The Pizza Debacle

BearFace and I started making our own pizza a couple years ago.  (Well, let me clarify.  We mostly made our own pizza...I'm too lazy to attempt my own dough, so store-bought refrigerated pizza dough it was).  The whole adventure was rather disastrous.  Neither of us had ever made pizza before, and the internet had not yet been invented, so we really had no clue what we were doing.  The results were often floury, chewy, and stuck to the baking pan.  Of course we always ate it, but probably didn't enjoy it.  Some of the later models improved, but not drastically.

That was until the great discovery. One of my CookingLight magazines from a few months ago had a pizza recipe that detailed how to properly make a pizza, and we haven't looked back since.  I have to say, tonight's pizza was my best yet!

Sausage and Broccoli White Pizza

1 pound refrigerated or frozen (defrosted) pizza dough
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
Olive oil
1/2 cup PepperJack cheese shredded
1 cup mozzarella cheese shredded
1/4 cup ricotta
3 turkey sausage links (leftover from our lentil soup)
1/2 cup frozen (defrosted) broccoli, stems removed and chopped

  1. Place non-stick baking pan in oven and preheat to 500 degrees.
  2. While pan and oven are heating, remove casings from sausage and crumble into pan on medium heat.  Cook 5-10 minutes, or until just cooked through.  Set aside.  
  3. Defrost broccoli and set aside.
  4. On a lightly floured surface, roll out pizza dough with rolling pin to a 13 inch circle (you can shape it into a rectangle if you don't have a circular pan).  Poke holes liberally in dough with a fork.
  5. Once oven is preheated, transfer dough to pan and drizzle with olive oil.
  6. Spread minced garlic over dough, and top with mozzarella and PepperJack.
  7. Drop spoonfuls of ricotta on top of other cheeses, then add chopped broccoli.
  8. Bake for 9 minutes, then add sausage, and continue to bake for another 3 minutes. 

I wanted to snap a picture of the whole pizza, but BearFace had it sliced
and on his plate before I could get to it.  They call him BEARFace for a reason!