Flavorful Cheese Spread

Yesterday, I decided to get a little creative and make myself a cheese spread. I was checking out quite a few recipes, and the main ingredients that I saw over and over again were mayonnaise and cream cheese. Good options, to be sure, but I wanted to do things slightly different, and I did.

I started by finely chopping one vidalia onion, about 1/3 of a red bell pepper, 1/3 of a green bell pepper, and four cloves of garlic.

Next, I added in 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon of onion powder, and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper. I mixed those dry ingredients in, and then added the wet ingredients. 1 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce, 1 teaspoon of hot sauce, 1/2 cup of sour cream (I used reduced fat), and 1 cup of plain yogurt (I used non-fat). If I left it at that, it would have made for a good dip, but I wanted a little something more.

I added in 8 ounces of shredded cheese. I used a block of extra sharp cheddar. After that all got mixed in together, I put it in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.

At first, I had it as a dip with some pita chips. The flavors were nice, and there was a bit of a bite to it, which wasn’t overbearing. This was a tasty treat, and it worked pretty well.

Later on, I decided to amp things up and make a grilled cheese sandwich with the spread. Nothing else added to it, other than some butter on the outside of the bread to give it that nice crisp texture and buttery flavor. This worked well as a hot sandwich, but the bread cooked too quickly. I’ll have to work on ways to get the inside a bit hotter and the cheese slightly melty. The filling was hot, but I was hoping for a bit more. Maybe next time I will just leave the mixture out for a little to get to room temperature, instead of taking it directly from the refrigerator.

Overall, I was happy with the mixture. I think I would scale back on the peppers a bit in the future, or increase the amount of cheese in there. There is a good balance of flavor right now, but I would prefer that the cheese play a more prominent role. No matter what, this was a great way to get the weekend off to a positive start.

Homemade Potato Salad – May 25, 2020

Since this is Memorial Day Weekend, I thought about the traditional meals – hamburgers and hot dogs, potato salad, baked beans, and so on. I decided on making some potato salad. I made this on Sunday because I wanted to give time for the flavors to come together.

The first thing I did was cook up some bacon. I wanted it extra crispy, so I cooked it for 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven, flipped them over, and cooked them for another 10 minutes. Once they were cooled, they were easy to break apart.

The next step was boiling the potatoes. I decided to go for a potato medley, since I thought that would give some nice colors. I chopped them up into bite-sized pieces and boiled them until they were tender, about 20 minutes. It’s important to keep testing the texture, since they can go from not cooked enough to mush if you aren’t paying attention. My goal was to have these firm enough to bite through the exterior, but with an interior that was smooth and creamy.

I usually enjoy adding some celery to my potato salad, but I saw these carrots and thought they would fit in well with the potato medley.

I put a little bit of the bacon grease on the bottom of a pan, chopped up the carrots, and let them cook for a few minutes. Although raw carrots are fine, I wanted to add a little flavor and soften them up just a bit. I do the same thing when I am adding celery, so this was business as usual for me. After a few minutes, I added in about 1/4 cup of water and let that continue to cook for a couple of more minutes. The goal was to have the carrots slightly cooked and have them absorb some of the bacon flavor, but not be completely cooked and soft.

After all the veggies are done cooking, they have to get completely cool. I let them sit in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, then let them get to room temperature. I added in the chopped bacon and three hard boiled eggs.

Next, I added the dry ingredients and mixed them all in. 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon of onion powder, 1/2 teaspoon of celery seed, 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper and 1/8 teaspoon of celery salt.

It was now time to add the wet ingredients. I added 1 tablespoon of honey mustard and approximately 1/4 cup of mayo. I didn’t want to completely overdo it with the mayo, but wanted to make sure everything held together well. I took a couple of bites and it tasted really good.

After letting it sit overnight, I finally had some more today. The flavors really did come together well. Some people might add in pickle relish, or maybe just pickle juice. I think the combination of the wet and dry ingredients pleased my palate enough that it didn’t need much else. I really enjoyed the small bites of carrots. This was a fun and colorful potato salad, and definitely kept me in a positive frame of mind on this Memorial Day.

A Potato Filled Week

This past week, I decided to finish up a bag of potatoes in a few different ways. I was originally thinking about making scalloped potatoes, or mashed potatoes, or some breakfast potatoes. But I decided that I would just try to make baked potatoes and top them with different things. I had some homemade marinara sauce, and that was incorporated a few times.

The first potato I had was with a fried egg on top. It didn’t take a great picture, and it was missing a little something. I liked it, but thought it needed an extra kick. On my second attempt, I decided to make a basted egg. This worked better than I expected. This was probably the best basted egg I’ve ever made. The yolk was cooked to perfection (for my tastes). Slightly runny, warm, bright orange-yellow, and full of flavor. The bites that had the yolk and the potato together brought some real joy to my tastebuds. Adding a dash of spices gave it the extra kick it needed.

Next up was a chicken parmigiana potato. I had some frozen breaded chicken patties in my freezer, so this was a good way to use my marinara sauce. After the chicken patty and the potato were cooked, I put them together with the marinara sauce and cheese and popped them in the toaster oven for a few minutes. The flavors and the textures all came together really well. This was a delicious meal.

This picture is not pretty, but my next potato was mozzarella sticks (with marinara sauce). I baked the mozzarella sticks, so they were nice and crispy on the outside and very cheesy on the inside. This one tasted like there were two distinct components. The bites with the baked potato and the mozzarella sticks hit my tastebuds in different places. While it tasted good, and each component had good flavor, I didn’t think these worked well together.

Next came a pasta filled potato. I used a microwavable pouch of pasta, which had been sitting on the shelf for awhile. I was still able to use my marinara sauce, so that was a plus. This was another one that was better than I expected. The only drawback for me was that I used pasta that was too big. I think something smaller (mini shells or elbow macaroni, for example) might have worked better. But this was a pleasant dish. There is melted mozzarella cheese on this, but it’s underneath the pasta. This is a real carb heavy dish, and definitely not for everyone.

I finished up the week with an attempt at a potato burger. I had an idea of how I wanted this to work out, and I failed. But at least I tried. I baked the potato, and wanted to smash it down while it was still hot, with the hope of having it a little flatter and being able to use it in place of a bun. That did not work. I was able to smash it down, but when I did that, it broke apart into thirds. I used a frozen, uncooked hamburger patty, and that was a bit disappointing in terms of flavor as well. The best components of this were the thick shredded cheddar cheese and the barbecue sauce (which was needed on this). This was my least favorite of the bunch.

My favorite out of all of these was the chicken parmigiana. I really liked how all the flavors really ended up coming together and working in harmony. I would make that one again. My second favorite was the basted egg. There’s no guarantee that I can make the egg as good as this time, but the flavors still worked together well. The pasta was my third favorite, followed by the mozzarella sticks. The hamburger was last on the list.

I had fun trying the different toppings. I could have just gone with the traditional butter and sour cream, or even go with some steamed veggies, but I wanted to use some things that I had around the house and freezer, and also wanted to see how the different toppings might work. It’s always fun for me to try something new. I stayed within my comfort zone, but brought familiar flavors together in different ways. They didn’t all work, but trying is half the fun. Stay positive!

Staying Local – May 16, 2020

Today I decided to stay close to home when going out and about. We still have limited openings, and it was going to be a hot day (close to 80), so I didn’t want to wander too far from home.

I read some good news earlier in the week. One of my local favorites, The French Twist Cafe, re-opened on May 13th with limited hours. They were going to be open at 8AM this morning, so I wanted to get there as close to opening time as possible. I’m glad that I did. There were only three people in front of me when I got there, but there was a line that was starting to accumulate before I left.

Tempting as it might have been to get a crepe, I decided to go with an almond croissant and a Mocha Frappe. I missed this place, and they still have a great focus on quality. When I walked into the store, they had areas taped off for distancing as well as partitions. They wiped down the credit cards and all machines in between customer orders, so they were diligent with keeping with the current recommendations. The food is the main focus. Although I had been considering a crepe, the almond croissant looked too good to pass up. It was a really good croissant. The exterior was nice and crunchy, then you got some flakiness when biting through the croissant, and you ended up with the mild almond flavor. It was a very good almond croissant. The mocha frappe was delicious. I really enjoy their drinks, so I’m glad I was finally able to go back. The flavor and consistency were on point, as always, so they did not skip a beat in terms of quality.

Since it was still in the low to mid 70s in the morning, I decided to take a drive in the countryside and took a few moments to enjoy nature (from a relative distance). Sometimes we focus too much on what is behind us and what is directly in front of us, but we never consider to look a bit beyond and take an appreciation for what else is out there.

When it was time for lunch, I decided to stay close to home again and made my way back over to the Big Belly Deli.

I decided to go with the Italian Cold Cut sandwich. Bologna, ham, pepperoni, salami, lettuce, tomato, hots, red onions, Italian dressing and Provolone cheese on sourdough bread. This was a huge sandwich (it filled me up so much that I didn’t need to eat dinner. The combination of everything in this sandwich was just incredible. I especially like the hots, since they had a little bit of sweet heat to each bite. I didn’t just stop with the sandwich, though.

I also decided to go with a chocolate chip lava cake. If you think it looks good just like that, it was even better once I cut into it.

The liquid chocolate flowing out of this was truly a delight. The cake itself was really good, but having the liquid chocolate made those bites even better.

I was happy to stay local for breakfast and lunch (both within a mile from my house). I’m not sure if I’ll be venturing too far tomorrow, but today was definitely a good way to start the weekend and stay positive.

Creative Refresh – Bringing New Life to Leftover Food

Some people can eat the same meal over and over again, day after day, without wanting anything else. Some people don’t like leftovers and don’t like having the same meal twice in a row (or even twice in a week). They always want variety. I fall somewhere in between, but it really depends on the food. I could eat chocolate every day, but I would always want some sort of variety after awhile. When I make a big amount of food to eat during the week, I tend to eat the same thing over and over again. I think 7 meals (lunch and dinners) is usually about my breaking point for wanting variety. But that’s just me.

When you are running advertising, it’s always good to have a creative refresh. You don’t want to keep running the same ads over and over again, month after month, year after year. The viewers get tired of seeing the same old thing and their minds want something new. A creative refresh is a way to bring the same or similar content in a different way. I decided to bring that to this blog with leftover food. I had plenty of slow cooked pork leftover from last week. I made a huge portion of shells and cheese this week, and had plenty of leftovers from that as well (still do, but they’re almost finished). I thought I would share some of the different ways I used my leftovers.

First up is some modified chilaquiles. I heated up some of my leftover pork in a skillet and added in some of my leftover salsa verde. I had the bottom part of a bag of tortilla chips (all broken up into tiny pieces), so I added those as well. I wanted those to cook in the salsa verde for a while to get nice and soft. I then added in a couple of eggs and cheese, and it was ready in a few minutes. All the flavors came together really nicely. The tortilla chips were softened, but still had the nice flavor of a tortilla. The pork, salsa, and eggs all worked well together, providing a different flavor of some familiar ingredients.

Next was an old standard. Nothing too special about this. Took some of the pork, added some barbecue sauce and slopped it on a bun. Still good, though. It was a familiar way to have the leftover pork, but it did the job.

Since I had made shells and cheese, I was provided with an opportunity to add two different leftovers together. Again, it’s another old standard, but still really good. I added some barbecue sauce to this one, but not everyone is a fan of that. Even without the barbecue sauce, this was still good. The flavor of the meat works really well with the pasta. But that was the last of the pork, and I still had quite a bit of pasta leftover.

This may not look pretty, but it was easy to do and worked out really well. I had some lunch meat available, so I made myself a quick lunch. I heated up the shells and cheese, then I heated up the meat for about 10 seconds in the microwave (turkey and ham). Made an easy rollup and viola – fast lunch. I was not sure if this would taste good, but it surprisingly did. I thought the ham worked much better than the turkey. The saltiness gave it an extra bit of flavor that was really nice.

This one is probably my favorite. You probably can’t tell, but this is a fried shells and cheese “patty” with some Sweet Ginger Chili Sauce on a bun. It was not a perfectly fried patty, but I didn’t mind. I took out a chunk of the shells and cheese and tried to flatten it with my palms (unsuccessfully). I coated it in some flour, then in an egg wash (1 beaten egg with a smidgen of water), then in a mixture of crumbled up bacon flavored crispy-and-thin crackers. I fried that in a cast iron pan that had a small amount of oil. I flipped it once when it was smelling extra crispy (close to a burned smell). If I deep fried it, it might have looked better, but I care more about flavor than appearance. This tasted really good. I was surprised at how good the crunchy cracker exterior worked in terms of texture and flavor. It was a lot of food in each bite, but it was delicious. The sweet ginger chili sauce gave it a slight kick, but a lot of good flavor.

I don’t always get creative with my leftovers, but I’m glad I did. It can be fun trying to come up with new ways to enjoy leftovers, breaking the monotony. And when they taste good, it makes it even easier to stay positive (and to stay full)!

Homemade Shells and Cheese

I’m going to start tonight’s post with a disclaimer. This site has ads on it. There have been some recent ads that imply you can print this recipe. Those are just ads and not part of my site. I don’t want to mislead anyone who might click on something accidentally. Thank you.

Now, onto the food. I was planning on making some pasta and cheese sauce for a few weeks, but I got busy making and eating other foods, and didn’t buy the ingredients I needed until this past weekend.

I started by heating up some water over medium-high heat. I added a little butter and garlic powder to it, but that is optional. Once it was boiling, I added a box of pasta – my choice for today was shells. As soon as I put the pasta in the water, I knew I had between 8-10 minutes to make the cheese sauce.

I started by making a roux. With the burner on medium, I melted 1/4 cup of butter and then added 1/4 cup of flour (should be equal parts). As soon as the flower was incorporated and the bubbles started going, I was ready for the next step.

I added in 1 cup of heavy cream and 1 cup of milk. I constantly stirred this until the roux and the liquids were completely incorporated. It’s also important to frequently stir the pasta, to prevent any possible clumping.

I then added in 2 cups of shredded cheese. I used some extra sharp cheddar today, but there are days when I go with a milder cheese and there are days when I go with something with a little more tang. I turned the temperature to low and stirred in the cheese. It was right at this point that the pasta was done, so the timing couldn’t have been better.

I drained the pasta and then added it to the cheese sauce. I turned off the heat and mixed it in and it was ready to be served.

This was a lot of creamy, cheesy goodness. I only added a little pepper to it, but could easily have added more. This had a nice, smooth flavor. It was a bit mild, but still really good. This was a great way to get the week started with a positive frame of mind.

Warm German Potato Salad

I am a fan of Potato salads and macaroni salads. I like trying different styles as well, since each adds their own unique style and flavors. A potato salad that I tend to enjoy every now and again is a German potato salad. I had some potatoes, and I thought I should put them to use.

I started by boiling four russet potatoes. I boiled them until they were ready and they easily slid off of a fork when checking for doneness. I set them aside and saved the water (to be used later).

I sliced up one half onion and one shallot into thin strips. I cut them up this way because this is how I am used to enjoying them in a German potato salad. I used the same pot that I boiled the potatoes in, and heated up 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil (your choice of oil should be fine). I added the onions and shallots and let them cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently.

While the onions were cooking and the potatoes were slightly cooler, I sliced the potatoes and set them aside. I also put together a mixture of dry ingredients in a small bowl. These were: 1 1/2 teaspoons flour, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon celery salt, 1/8 teaspoon black pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder.

I cooked the onions until they started to slightly brown.

Next, I added in the dry seasonings and stirred those all around to get the onions coated.

Next, I added in 1/2 cup of the leftover water (you can use fresh if you would prefer) and 2 tablespoons of white vinegar. I stirred it all together and continued to cook until it came to a slow boil. I then removed it from the heat, added in the sliced potatoes, and incorporated everything together.

The end result was a delicious, warm potato salad. The potatoes were cooked perfectly – they were not too hard to bite through and not so soft that they dissolved before you could pick them up. The onions had really nice flavor. They absorbed the seasonings and the juices well. The flavors and the textures of this dish surpassed my expectations. I know that my leftovers will be cold, but they will have had time to absorb the flavors, and I am looking forward to them.

This was a great way to start the weekend and I was happy to eat them (even the second and third helpings).

Crispy Carnitas Tacos

This past weekend, I made some slow cooked pork as well as some salsa verde. I did this with the intention of using them today. Today happens to be Cinco de Mayo, but it is also Tuesday, so I am counting that as a Taco Tuesday as well.

I started by taking some of those slow cooked chunks of pork and placing them on a pan that’s covered with aluminum foil. It’s important to note that this pan has four sides. The meat is juicy and I did not want to have to deal with any more mess than was necessary. I put this under a broiler for about five minutes. I made sure that it was not too close to the broiler, since I did not want any of the grease to catch fire.

Next, I spooned some of the saved drippings over the top of the meat. Since this is adding even more grease, it’s really important to keep a close eye on things. This was back under the broiler for another 3 minutes.

Once the meat was done, it was time to start assembling the tacos. I used some flour street tacos, and heated them a little bit first. A small portion of meat, some cilantro and chopped onion. I could have stopped there, but I didn’t.

I sprinkled on a little cheese, drizzled some of the salsa verde over it and topped it off with a lime wedge. I wanted the visual appeal and familiar feel, which is why I placed this on aluminum foil.

The carnitas were really good. I wanted to have the nice crispy exterior with the tender and juicy interior, and I succeeded. The salsa verde complemented the pork nicely, and the squeeze of lime juice was the perfect topper. I can’t say that this is better than what I used to be able to get in some hole in the wall restaurants when I lived in Southern California, but it was still really good.

This was a great way to shift into the middle of the week. With food that tasted this good, it was easy to stay positive!

Smooth Salsa Verde

Since I was trying to prepare some foods for this coming Tuesday, I also decided on making some salsa verde. This will be going well with what I plan on doing with my slow cooked pork, so I’m happy that I got the first pieces of the plan in place.

I started by setting the oven to 450. I used 10-12 tomatillos. I removed the skins and then rinsed them down (they were a bit sticky and I wanted to make sure there was no residue on them). I cut them in half and placed them in a roasting pan. I then cut two medium onions into chunks and cut two jalapeño peppers in half (removed the stem and the seeds). I cut the top off of one bulb of garlic. I drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper and then put it in the oven for about 20 minutes.

Once it was ready, it smelled incredible. The juice of the tomatillos got out, but that was okay. The garlic was soft and melty and it was tempting to just it the cloves right then and there.

I was able to resist the temptation and put everything in a blender (minus the garlic skin. I decided to let it go until completely blended, but if you want some chunks, just pulse it for a few seconds.

I added the juice of one lime and 1 tablespoon of chopped cilantro, and it was good to go. The jalapeños give it a nice bite, but it still has a coolness to it that doesn’t burn the throat. I snacked on this a little bit, but wanted to save the rest for Tuesday. A great way to finish the weekend!

Slow Cooked Pork

I am getting myself ready for this coming Tuesday. It’s a two for one – Taco Tuesday and Cinco de Mayo. I wanted to do some slow cooked pork in preparation for carnitas on Tuesday, and today was the perfect day to get it done.

I bought a huge bone-in pork butt (the smallest of the ones they had left, but it was more than 9 pounds). Instead of just putting it in the slow cooker as is and then shredding it once done, I cut it into chunks. I tried to get as many meaty chunks set aside for the slow cooker. I set aside the bone and the fattier pieces.

I started by putting 1/2 cup of apple juice in the bottom, then I put in the chunks of meat. I added one tablespoon of paprika, one tablespoon of chili powder, 1 teaspoon of cumin, and 1 teaspoon of black pepper. I poured another 1/2 cup of apple juice over the top and then mixed it all together. I let that cook on low for about 7 hours.

While that was cooking, I heated the oven to 450. I put the bone and trimmed fatty pieces in a roasting pan with a drizzle of olive oil, some cracked salt and pepper, and let it cook for about 30 minutes. Once that was done, I set aside the meat and I also saved the drippings (I plan on using the drippings on Tuesday). I then made a broth with the bone and fat, and set it aside for another day.

Once the meat was done, I took it out and let it cool. The pork had really nice flavor, and the chunks were tender and juicy. I saved some of the juice, since I don’t want it to dry out for Tuesday. This was an effective way to spend the day inside, and it was easy to be in a positive frame of mind with the wonderful aromas in the house.