Create-Your-Own Meatloaf – 110 Days of Cookbooks, Day 7

Create Your Own Meatloaf from Better Homes and Gardens:  New Cookbook, Day 7

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Didn’t expect me to make meatloaf, did you?  I remember being apathetic about meatloaf growing up, only to realize now that my mom made it very well, and probably used this recipe.  She gave me this cookbook when I was 18, and it undoubtedly contributed to my culinary education. It kept my family from starving and eating substandard food for many years.

What I love about this recipe is that it is so adaptable.  It gave substitutions for many ingredients, which is perfect for the home cook.  My larder will not be the same as yours, yet I still need to get dinner on the table at reasonable hour without running to the store every day.

I have made many variations of meatloaf, after discovering my husband really does love it.  (MA – THE MEATLOAF!).  The last celebrated version included bacon and cheese, because that’s how I roll.

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So I added an egg (my aversion), some bread crumbs, spices, milk, onion, and beef.  Easy enough.  I added two baked potatoes, as well, because who doesn’t like a carbo-hydrated vehicle for butter and salt? I also cooked up the ubiquitous green beans, this time with soy sauce, lemon juice, and horseradish.


The result?  Absolutely fantastic!  I definitely wanted MORE … more meatloaf, with my amazing palate (ha ha).  I was impressed with this recipe.  And again, it was because there were some substitutions that really fit my food inventory.  Sweet, another cookbook win!


Pan-Fried Eggplant – 110 Days of Cookbooks, Day 6

Pan-Fried Eggplant, from Tom Colicchio’s Think Like a Chef, Day 6

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Tom, you saved my project!  Top Chef is one of my favorite shows (well, maybe my favorite new show, it still has to compete with reruns of Roseanne, Seinfeld, The Golden Girls, and ALF – judge all you want, they just don’t make sitcoms like they used to). Although I did not agree with his choice for last season’s Top Chef winner, I’ll still be a religious follower.  This cookbook speaks to me.  It’s more of a guide about how to pair proteins and produce during different seasons, which is how I tend to cook.

We’ve dined at two Colicchio restaurants – Craft in Atlanta (phenomenal) and CraftSteak in Vegas (woefully overpriced and under-seasoned).  I aimed low for this recipe challenge with a simple side to use up my CSA eggplant.  I am happy to report that it was a hit.  Tom recommended pairing an eggplant “caviar,” but I was missing a few key ingredients.  I chose tomatoes from my mom’s garden with an aged balsamic vinegar from Olivas de Oro, an amazing olive oil grower in Paso Robles.


I didn’t have the recommended peanut oil, so I subbed olive oil.  I cut the eggplant into hearty discs.


Then I set up my coating station.  Flour, beaten egg, and Panko bread crumbs.


This is a very simple dish, great for summer.


Once you go through the dipping station, you fry it in oil for a few minutes on each side, and you have a nice crunchy side.  Add a simple topping, and you’ve successfully hidden the fact that eggplant really has no flavor.


I made fried chicken bites and mashed potatoes and gravy to go with it, which are full of flavor.  It’s also a favorite meal for my husband.  My fried chicken and gravy recipes need no help.  I highly doubt I will consult a cookbook during this challenge to change my world-famous recipe.  Okay, regionally famous recipe.  I’ve considered serving my gravy as a soup, I think it’s that good.  You can get the recipes in my e-book (shameless plug) – Fresh Food Foundations, found on


Beer Cornbread – 110 Days of Cookbooks, Day 5

Beer Cornbread from Coors – Taste of the West, Day 5

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Are any of you using your cookbooks?  I am ready to toss all of them!  I think I got this cookbook from a library book sale.  I’ve never made anything in it until today (which is a theme with most of my cookbooks).  Since I live in the vicinity of the birthplace of Coors, I thought I’d try this recipe.

It’s fall.  Football season.  Which calls for chili.  I made a chili-based recipe with steak and pinto beans to pair with the cornbread.


I didn’t notice the missing ingredient until I tasted the cornbread – no sugar.  Is anyone testing these recipes?  It turned out dry and tasteless.  Do you know what it tasted like?  Disappointment.



Surely one of these recipes I choose soon will be a winner!  (One of them will be, and don’t call me Shirley.)

All in all, it was not a Sunday-fall-worthy meal.  But tomorrow is a new day.


Grilled Rib-Eye Steaks – 110 Days of Cookbooks, Day 4

Grilled Rib-Eye Steaks with Green Beans, Day 4

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My parents bought this cookbook for me, Christmas 2008.  My memory is not that great, I’ll confess; I know the date because my mom lovingly writes in every cookbook she buys me.

I am a carnivore.  I have always loved meat.  There has never been a single day in my life that I’ve considered being a vegan.  I feel better when I eat meat.

Last night’s foray into this challenge included my husband, the non-chef of our household, because he can grill.  The grill mystifies me.  I can’t get the temperature right.  I constantly stand over the grill with a meat thermometer, worrying that I’m burning the very meat I love.  He instinctively knows the right temperature and times, so that is his one culinary job.


The recipe also included a side dish – asparagus with a mustard-soy sauce.  Asparagus is not in season, but green beans are (from my CSA, and judging by the amount of green beans we’ve had to eat and freeze this summer, I’m going to safely say green beans are always in season – I’m sick of them!).


The steaks are from Craig Angus Ranch, a wonderful family ranch just north of us.  I bought a quarter of a cow earlier this summer, and every cut has been delicious.  The rub for the steaks included paprika, thyme, garlic powder, salt and pepper.  I didn’t have dried thyme, so I used a lavender salt blend instead.  I am not a fan of dried herbs.  There is an element of “fake” in them that is off-putting.  I love spices, but dried herbs are not something I normally use.


What goes better with steak than potatoes?  I sliced two potatoes into thin discs and sauteed them in a beautiful Paso Robles olive oil.


The results were pretty stellar.  Josh cooked the steaks to perfection.  The green beans were crisp and flavorful, and the potatoes were the right amount of crunch and tender.  It was a nice summer meal.


Bon Appetit!

Beef Fajitas – 110 Days of Cookbooks, Day 3

Beef Fajitas – Day 3.  From Ree Drummond’s The Pioneer Woman Cooks:  A Year of Holidays

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Day 3.  I knew I was making beef fajitas, because I needed a picture for my husband to post as a preview for our tailgating party at the War Memorial on Saturday (opening day for Wyoming Cowboys football).  My Aunt Dee-Dee just got this cookbook for me as an early birthday present.  I devoured the book (figuratively, not literally) on the ride home from her house.  I love Ree Drummond.  She is charming and pretty and talented.  She is also humble and funny.  Her blog and her cookbooks are full of pictures at every step, which is really helpful for novice cooks, and entertaining for me, who loves “food porn.”


I happened to have every ingredient in this recipe (good sign), well, except limes.  I had a few limes, but they were dessicated beyond use, so I substituted the lemon juice in a fake lemon that I keep for canning tomatoes.


I love bell peppers.  I’ve read that chefs eschew green bell peppers because they are too bitter, but bell peppers are one of my favorite vegetables.  I even had a purple pepper from our CSA (just one, let’s not get carried away).


So here’s how they turned out.  I paired them with guacamole, the perfect fajita topping.  I appreciate that this recipe tries to add umami (with the worcestershire sauce), but it didn’t taste as good as my normal recipe, which includes a variety of dried chile powder (not the blends, the pure ground chile powder), garlic, and cumin.  It was still delicious, but I prefer my own version.


Add beans and fideo, and you’ve got a fiesta!  Side note:  I was introduced to fideo in Trinidad, Colorado, Mission at the Bell, which my husband found on Yelp several years ago as we were moving his parents to Texas.  Fideo is a Mexican tomato-pasta dish, sometimes a soup.  I use it in place of rice sometimes.  You can break up thin spaghetti, but in the Hispanic foods section of the grocery store, they sell fideo pasta for cheap, I mean cheap, like 47 cents for a bag.  Sautee it, add some chile, salt, garlic, tomato sauce, and water, and simmer, and you’ve got a party.

¡Buen apetito!

Eli’s Asian Salmon – 110 Days of Cookbooks, Day 2

Eli’s Asian Salmon – Day 2.  From Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa at Home.

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I’m already challenged and exasperated.  I spent an hour and a half, hungrier by the moment, scouring for a recipe I felt like making and eating, and wherein had the majority of the ingredients in my kitchen.  Ina is something of a personal hero for me.  She was in a high-powered career when she decided to take a risk and build a culinary empire.  Hmmmm …


I was missing three ingredients for the sauce, but I substituted for two of them.  The salmon was sockeye, so it wasn’t the rich buttery salmon that the recipe called for either.  But I followed the instructions as closely as I could.


The recipe called for a 500 degree oven.  It turns out, this nearly burns the panko crust before fully cooking the salmon, so I turned down the oven, covered it with foil.  Crisis averted.  Another of my chef instincts; I felt 500 was too high, and it was.


I paired the meal with ingredients from our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share.  If you don’t know what a CSA is, let me explain.  You pay a local farmer to grow a full or half share of vegetables, and every week you get a basket of whatever is in season.  In theory, yes, it’s a fabulous idea.  In reality, I am sick of tossing out wilted and moldy rainbow chard (that I cannot stand), trying to eat lettuce (not a huge fan), freezing green, yellow, purple, and whatever else plentiful beans they have grown, testing weird things like kohlrabi (which tasted like crunchy pieces of dirt), finding 1001 ways to make zucchini not taste like zucchini, and trying to use up vegetables that don’t make sense.  Some of them are ending up in the freezer so I can add them to stews this fall and winter.  I think even a boot would be tasty if braised long enough with a fatty piece of meat and  bottle of red wine.  The produce I love best – berries, stone fruits, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, herbs – are rationed like it’s the Great Depression. Next year I will go back to shopping at farmer’s markets, where I can select my favorite things again.  Wait, I was telling you what I paired with the salmon ….

I cut the kernels off an ear of corn and sautéed in lemon olive oil, then at the end, added diced cucumber and tomato, fresh ground black pepper, and a dash of salt.

I then tested the purple green beans.  They actually turn green in the water, and the water left behind is green.  I don’t know where the purple went.  It’s an enigma.  After I blanched and shocked the beans, I sautéed them in a miso-soy-lemon sauce and added slivered almonds as a contrasting garnish.

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The rest … eh, the jury is out.  It’s not my best meal ever, but it at least got me to think creatively, look through recipes, and realize that most of my cookbooks do not really cater to the home chef.

IMG_4311_fotorAllez cuisine!


Gazpacho – 110 Days of Cookbooks, Day 1

And so it begins … the 110 Days of Cookbooks Project, Day 1.

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My mom sent me home today with beautiful tomatoes and cucumbers from her garden.  I knew some would meet their fate in gazpacho.

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My gazpacho traditionally involves ripe tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, garlic, onion, green bell pepper, lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.  The end.  It’s a bright, fresh recipe that I make in the summer to start meals.  It’s also a dish I order when we dine in tapas restaurants – the perfect light starter.

After searching a few indices, I selected Mark Bittman’s The Best Recipes in the World – “Basic Red Gazpacho.”  I believe I got this cookbook, as I do many, from  Obviously, I cannot post the full recipe, as it is copy-righted.  However, I will include pictures of my ingredients, preparation, final outcome, what I’d change, and what I’d learned.


I went so far as to weigh the tomatoes.  Part of this mission is to learn new tricks and tips from chefs and home cooks, including proper ratios, and new ways of challenging myself and getting out of my culinary slump.  I never use recipes exactly.  Like … ever.  Never.  I halved this recipe, as there are only two of us, and I’m not going to be wasteful.

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Then I set up my mise en place. I admit, the bread seemed to be a very odd addition, but I’m following the recipe exactly.

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I followed the instructions, put the ingredients in my Cuisinart, and blended away.  Whoops, I missed a small step with an ingredient.  Carry on.

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Now here is where I must interject and alter my rules slightly.  I learned to cook both from an exact recipe (from my mom) and from throwing a bunch of stuff together and seeing what happens (from my dad).  My dad’s method has served me far better as I’ve grown my culinary skills (no offense, Mom, you are still an equally excellent cook!).  I only put in 2/3 of the water recommended, and it still was far too much.  The soup ended up being far too watery.  I added half as much more tomato and blended again.  I taste-tested, the gazpacho was okay, definitely not as robust as my normal concoction.  I am refrigerating it overnight, and will try it again in the morning.

Lesson Learned Today:  Even though I am trying to learn new recipes and techniques, I must still follow my own instincts.

¡Buen apettito!

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110 Days of Cookbooks

I lost my cooking mojo; I’m guessing about March 17th when the movers started packing up my beautiful Reno kitchen, and when my husband had to put me in the Yukon kicking, screaming, and crying like a petulant child, to head back to the cold, frozen, over-populated Rockies.  Fast forward five months in Denver, and my culinary dreams have not advanced.  It’s time to change that.

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I love cookbooks.  Anyone who comes to my home notices the big bookshelf my husband built for me, and that four of the five shelves contain exclusively cookbooks.  I made the digital leap to Kindle five years ago.  Now I mainly read on my iPad, through Oyster, my new obsession in apps, and through Kindle.  I do have cookbooks through Oyster and Kindle, but there is something so deeply lustful about hardbound cookbooks that I will probably never shake.  The glossy pictures seduce me to try new things, and overwhelm me so much I end up choosing a meal that I’ve cooked a hundred times before. I cannot remember the last time I even followed a recipe exactly, even when baking.  For me, recipes are a springboard for my own ideas.

My cookbook collection is eclectic.  I counted the cookbooks in my living room – 110.  I am sure there are some trapped in boxes begging to be a part of this blog, but for now, let’s stick to the 110 I can easily access and account.  Recently, my aunt found several vintage Nebraska community cookbooks for me.  I have cookbooks dating back to my early cooking years all the way through the accomplished (okay, semi-accomplished) cook I am today, from Julia Child to Thomas Keller to Rick Bayless and everything in between.

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A brilliant idea hit me today, as I returned from visiting friends and my parents from Wyoming.  I have to get back to cooking and writing, and I have to do one thing differently every day to get out of my slump.  My mission is to select one different cookbook every day, choose one recipe, make it, and write about it.  Logistically there will be days I’m not home to cook, but I find that rules, even my own, are acceptable to break occasionally!

It will be an adventure.  Join me!

Happy 4th of July!

Many of you are getting ready to watch fireworks, perhaps surrounded by swarms of small children and mosquitoes.  The Johnsons are sitting comfortably in their living room, enjoying the feasts of the day, and a peaceful evening.  After all, we did see fireworks from our upstairs hall window the other night, after Josh made sure it wasn’t someone trying to murder us with a spray of bullets while we fell asleep.  I do love fireworks, but we see them at ballparks, and occasionally, unexpectedly late at night we were are trying to sleep.

I started the week out by making pan-fried dumplings, one of life’s greatest pleasures for me.


Then we hosted our good friends for dinner:  pepper-sauce marinated tri-tip,
cheesy scalloped potatoes, and asparagus with warm bacon vinaigrette.
I received rave reviews from my favorite food critics.

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I made Josh a rustic rigatoni dish with ground pork,
homemade (yes, my own canned tomatoes) tomato sauce, and cheese.


We got back to our honky-tonk roots last night at the infamous Grizzly Rose, only to realize, we
don’t have honky-tonk roots.  We mostly watched in awe as hundreds of young 20-somethings line-danced,
elbow to elbow, to what sounded like the same song over and over and over.
At least my drinks were free (Ladies Night).
The highlight was the band playing one of our faves, “East Bound and Down” by Jerry Reed,
a song that came out long before these kids were born.


I love salmon.  I whipped up this seared salmon dish today for a light lunch.
Seared salmon with a lemon-pepper crust, sauteed spinach, fresh corn, and a tomato-olive-lemon sauce.
It tasted just like summer!


Josh brought home elk steak after a boys trip in Jackson a couple of weeks ago.
Some women ask for jewelry or trinkets, but
he knows I would much rather have sustainable interesting food with which to create in my kitchen.
Elk is very lean and muscular.  It takes a hearty marinade to loosen it up a bit.
Look at these beauties, marinating in a rosemary olive oil/blackberry balsamic/soy sauce.


The finished product: Josh, while utterly inept in the kitchen (self-admitted), is a master at the grill.
He never needs a meat thermometer (as I do), yet he cooks meat to the perfect temp every time.
Here’s the elk rib steak, with my berry gastrique (a technique I learned from my dad, who hunts elk),
frites, and corn on the cob.  Yes, a true summer meal!


A Louis & Martini Cab Sav, to remind me of home (Reno).
It didn’t quite taste the same, but close enough.


Lastly, I leave you with an All-American dessert:
Homemade vanilla ice cream and fresh strawberries.


Happy 4th of July to one and all!  Thank you to our military personnel and their families, for your selfless and brave service to our country.

Denver Shenanigans

All right, we’ve been here three months, but it feels like eternity.  Would you judge me if I said I shed a few tears when Guy Fieri visited Reno in last night’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives episode?  Fine, judge away.  Reno rocks.

Every day, I feel like I am in that NASA control room from Apollo 13, when Gene Kranz asks, “Let’s look at this thing from a standpoint of status. What do we got on the spacecraft that’s good?”  And his guy says, with extreme exasperation, “I’ll get back to you, Gene.”

So, let’s talk about the good… New Mexican cuisine – THAT is what is good.  Inspired by our fave breakfast spot, Doug’s Day Diner, I made a red chili and green chili to go over beef tostadas.  Home run!  I could eat Mexican food every day (turns out, most days, I do!).


Tired of seeing this meal?  Good, me neither.  Chicken-fried-chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy are my go-to when we are having a craptacular day.  I tried a new recipe for this one, I thought it was stellar, my dear husband likes the old version.


A Rockies baseball game on a beautiful, sunny Thursday afternoon (never mind the altercation we saw in traffic that ended up with a man collapsing and the paramedics surrounding him moments later, sadly, it’s city life to hear sirens regularly), and ignoring the 8 million e-mails I had waiting for me for the punishment of taking a few hours off. IMG_3835_fotor

Let’s have a party!  My dear friends, Lowell and Lenee’ were in town, with their beautiful baby.  I invited some friends over, cooked all day, and enjoyed seeing them again.


Here’s some of my dining success:

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Deviled Eggs (which I think are the devil, because I can’t stand eggs or mayo, but it’s pretty fun to make).
Macaroni Salad (still the devil, but it’s my husband’s request and it got him through some hard times).
Chocolate-Covered Strawberries (I’m glad I tasted one, since they were gone in the blink of an eye).
Raspberry-Mint-Vodka Libation (Probably consumed too much).

And then, drama struck, because nothing about living in this hellhole we call Denver is easy.  My husband got bit by our neighbor’s bulldog, which he innocuously bent down to pet it.  I may have over-reacted, but I felt justified in doing so. I’ve never been to the ER (I’m 38), and I was a bit freaked out.  Fifteen stitches on the chin.  Our ER providers were very nice, and it was nothing like the TV shows.  They were calm and polite, and of course, my husband cracked jokes the entire time.  Neither of us had eaten at the party (which is par for the course), and my macaroni salad was what he requested to eat when he got home.


So I have to take comfort in this view, which is quite nice.  But if you know of any exorcists or priests who can exorcize the demons in this damn house, let me know.