June 26, 2009

And you thought I was kidding, didn't you?

Below is a note I received from my Dranny after my last attempt at frying:
"Can you not find a meal without the frying bit??? Or at least use the much safer electric skillet to make things a little less dangerous for you anyhow. haha"
Just like I said. She's simultaneously horrified by my insistence on frying without parental supervision and dying of laughter.

Gotta love that about my family. =)

June 23, 2009

Recipes for an Expedition!

When you start out on a cooking challenge like the one I've set for myself, surely you can expect to learn a few things.

For example, I've learned that grease burns hurt like all get out. I've learned that I'm not fan of pimento cheese as prepared by Bobby Deen. I've learned that simple recipes aren't always as simple as they appear. I'm sure there are some other lessons learned so far, but you get the point.

You might also be able to say that this cooking challenge is a bit of an expedition. And, for the purposes of this posting, I plan to do so - if only because it goes so well with the title of the cookbook I used for my most recent adventure. Namely, I used one cookbook titled "The Food Journal of Lewis & Clark: Recipes for an Expedition."

I've had this cookbook for a while and it epitomizes one type of cookbook I adore, which are those that deliver more than just a collection of recipes and that tell a story about the recipes' origins and their place in history or a region.

The Food Journal is derived from the journals of Lewis & Clark as they traveled west to explore the Louisiana Purchase as well as their return east. It begins in 1801 with their meeting in Washington, D.C., with President Jefferson and plots out their course chronologically, including recipes, lists of provisions, excerpts from their journals and much more - nearly all of which is focused on food, food and more food.

Living on the Missouri River in Omaha, this cookbook has even more meaning to me because I'm able to visit a park dedicated to the expedition's crossing of said river. Very cool in my nerdy-ish opinion.

In any case, I decided that I had to use one or more recipes from The Food Journal because I've promised to loan it to a friend of mine who shares my love of cookbooks like this. So, this blog and these recipes are dedicated to her (she knows who she is). I only wish I'd had enough forethought to have invited her over for dinner before diving head first into these recipes.

I will say that I purposely selected recipes that could be dished up as a complete dinner. However, what I didn't realize was that I had selected a collection of recipes that also vaguely resembled a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. All in all, I think this is very appropriate. The Lewis & Clark expedition had much to be thankful for and subsequent generations are much beholden to their hard work and bravery.

Okay... Enough of that! On to the food!

The Lewis & Clark menu consisted of Roasted Cornish Game Hens stuffed with Sweet Potatoes; Hominy and Sunflower Cakes; and Peas with Mint-Butter Sauce.

The cornish game hens were easy-peasy to fix. I seasoned them with salt and pepper; stuffed 'em with some chopped up sweet potatoes; poured a bit olive oil over the tops; and then put 'em in the oven to bake for about an hour and a quarter.

And, apparently, in my case, when it comes time to carve them, the messier the better.

The peas were easy too. Peas brought to a boil for a few minutes with some chopped scallions tossed in for the last minute and tossed with some salt, butter and fresh chopped mint.

The Hominy and Sunflower Cakes were a different story.

First off, they required the use a food processor. I have a mini-food processor. No biggie there since I've learned the art of processing in batches.

The problem came into play when I had to fry them. Ugh. Frying. On my evil, electric-coil stove top. I would have used my electric skillet, but figured it wasn't worth the effort for a such a small batch of hominy cakes.

Yeah... That was stupid. Course, maybe it's just plain ol' stupid for me to be frying considering my recent history (see here and here).

Oh... And let's compound the matter by taking into account the fact that I was frying CORN! Hello! Corn and high temps equals popping! Doh!

Quite frankly, I'm sure my parents are simultaneously horrified and dying of laughter over my seeming inability to fry anything on my own.

Anyhow, by the third batch of hominy cakes (see pic at right), I had turned the heat down low enough and poured off most of the frying grease in order to minimize the damage I could do.

Luckily, hominy cakes like these taste fine even before they're fried and frying them just added some extra zing thanks to the sunflower seeds. And once I added the boysenberry jam as a topping, I had nearly forgotten that I nearly lost a couple of more patches of skin and maybe even an eyeball to this dish.

Ahh... The joy of cooking... It really is an expedition and one that I'm enjoying in all its facets.

June 21, 2009

I've been away for a while. This is why.

It's been a couple of weeks since my last post. I wish I could tell you I was doing something fun, but that's not the case.

I was in Garner, NC, after an explosion at one of my company's plants. Three people lost their lives, many others were injured and countless lives have been forever changed.

There has been a lot of news coverage regarding our plant, where we make Slim Jims, so I won't go into details. However, I do want to say that during the last couple of weeks, I've learned so much about the strength and grace of my ConAgra Foods family in Garner and elsewhere as well as the Garner community as a whole; and I'm absolutely humbled by what I've learned.

Lastly, I hope you'll consider making a donation to the ConAgra Foods Garner Plant Fund, which is being administered by the United Way of the Greater Triangle. The United Way has waived its administration fees for this fund, which means that 100 percent of the money raised will go to employees at our Garner plant and their families.

Chicken Pot Pie Made Easy

Have you ever made a dish that had you wondering, "Really? Are you sure about that?"

I have.

Paula Deen's "Hurry-Up Chicken Pot Pie" from her "
The Lady & Sons, Too!" cookbook was one of them.

All in all, this was a pretty straight-forward dish to
make. Better yet, it allowed me to adhere to a few of my rules, including the new-to-me and the waste-not rules. The chicken I used was from my Pecan Chicken dish (recipe also by Ms. Deen), and I think it gave the dish some extra oomph. Plus, I haven't made this dish before. Although, I have made tamale pies, which are sort of similar, but not really.

The "Do what?" moments starting to come into play when I made the biscuit topping. First of all, the recipe called for the "Lady & Sons Biscuit Mix." Now I don't know about y'all, but I don't have that in my cupboard and it's not stocked at my grocery store. However, I made a calculated guess and went with my beloved Bisquick instead.

I got a little worried as I poured the biscuit mix across the top because it seemed to sink into the layers of veggies, chicken and gravy; and then made the peas float to the top. All of my doubts about this being a successful dish were then compounded by the recipe's directions to pour an entire stick of melted butter on top of the dish.

Uh... An entire stick? Yep. An entire stick.

Oh. And the addition of two hard boiled eggs seemed odd to me too. In all honesty, I don't think I've ever had a pot pie that had eggs in it. But as we all know, there's a first time for a everything.

Anyhow, you bake this little concoction up and then serve wh
ile piping hot.

And this is the part where I learned, again, not to doubt Paula Deen. Dished up, it was not the prettiest thing I've ever seen. But it was hearty and delicious. I suspect that it would make for a much nicer dinner in December as opposed to June, but whatever.

Oh... Please note the presence of vegetables. Lots of them. Peas. Carrots. And a big ol' side of broccoli. My mom would be so proud of me.

June 07, 2009

Well That Was Easy...

I’m not sure what to make of this latest development.

Last night, I made dinner featuring a new recipe and a good ol’ reliable recipe.

And it went just fine.

No injuries. No accidents. No horror stories or overly dramatic moments to share.

Now what? What the heck fuzzy am I supposed to write about? The food itself? Hmm… Well, that would be a novel-ish concept, wouldn’t it?

Okay. I feel better now. I turned a simple dinner into a dramatic moment of some sort.

Actually, last night’s dinner was quite pleasant and pretty straightforward. I used my third Paula Deen cookbook and revisited one of my favorite Paula Deen recipes.
I felt the need to do so because I couldn’t have my most recent Paula Deen recipe be one that I really didn’t like. Although, I can blame Bobby, not Paula, since it was his recipe. (stupid pimento cheese)

Okay. Enough rambling…

Last night I made Pecan Chicken, which is a baked chicken recipe that calls for dredging your chicken pieces in a seasoned pecan, flour and sesame seed mix after dipping them in a buttermilk and egg mixture. Messy? Certainly. Easy? No doubt about it. Delicious? Yep. Even better the next day for breakfast? Why yes, in fact, it was.

I do have to say though, the recipe called for ground pecans. I didn’t have ground pecans on hand. Nor did I have an easy way to grind them myself. So I took the easier way out and chopped the pecans very finely. The results were just fine, but I can’t help but wonder if it would have been even better with the ground pecans.

To accompany the Pecan Chicken, which is featured in “The Lady & Sons Savannah Country Cookbook,” I made Corn Casserole, which is featured in “The Lady & Sons, Too!

I talked about this recipe before. It’s a classic recipe for me. After all, what’s easier than mixing together a can of corn (drained), a can of creamed corn, a box of Jiffy corn bread mix, a cup of sour cream and a stick of melted butter together and then baking it in a casserole dish at 350 until golden? Not much. And when I’m thinking about it, I add some cheddar cheese as a topping when it’s nearly done. Purely delicious, so far as I’m concerned.

However, if I’m following my own rules, neither of these recipes really counts against my cooking challenge. Darned rules. The Pecan Chicken comes from a cookbook I’ve already used; and the Corn Casserole is not a new-to-me dish.

To rectify this travesty, I’ll be making “Hurry-Up Chicken Pot Pie” from “The Lady & Sons, Too!” tonight. This has the benefit of adhering to two rules while officially ticking off another cookbook for my cooking challenge. The first rule being that it’s new-to-me. I’ve never made a Pot Pie that didn’t come from a box or a deli. The waste-not rule will come into effect too because I’m going to use some of the leftover Pecan Chicken. Because, while I could probably eat all of the leftover Pecan Chicken in one or two seatings, it might not be the healthiest thing I’ve done recently.

And, now that I look at the time, I’m thinking I should wrap this up and get my keister into the kitchen. Wish me luck!

P.S. – Your eyes are not deceiving you. There are no not-casserole-ized veggies on that plate. Mom, please don’t be mad at me.

Transparency and Authenticity

As I become more familiar with the social media world, there are two words that I hear repeated time and again.

Transparency and authenticity.

The more time I spend engaging in various social media arenas and the more I hear about the importance of these two concepts within the social media world, the more I have thought about how they apply to me.

Clearly, they do.

I started this blog because “all the kewl kids are doing it,” but also because it’s a great way for me to share my love of cooking and cookbooks and whatnot with others in a way that allows them to engage on their own schedule. Otherwise, I fear that my friends, family and co-workers would have to listen to me talk about it all even more than they already do. And I would really like for them not to bludgeon me over the head to make me stop talking. (a thought that I’m sure has crossed someone’s mind at some point…)

In any case, because I believe in the importance of transparency and authenticity, I want to make sure I’m upfront with all of my readers.

First things first. This blog is my own personal space. I write it because I enjoy doing so. Period. Well, and to be perfectly honest, I like to talk. In case that wasn't already apparent.

All of my readers should also know that I work at ConAgra Foods where I’m part of the Corporate Communication team. As an employee of ConAgra Foods, I recognize the importance of using my company’s products whenever I can because brand loyalty matters.

I’m very lucky in the fact that I love so many of those products. For example, Ro*Tel. We make that. The fates surely smiled on us all when Ro*Tel was created. We also make Hunt’s Tomatoes, Rosarita’s, Gephardt Chili Powder, Peter Pan Peanut Butter, Ranch Style Beans, Luck’s Beans and many other products.

So when a recipe calls for an ingredient like canned tomatoes or peanut butter, I’m going to use the brand made by my company whenever possible.

However, in case you walk away thinking I’m loyal only to my company’s products, let me set the record straight.

I’m brand loyal to the core when it comes to other products too.

Just try to serve me a Pepsi after I’ve asked for a Coke. Not happening. In fact, I might kick you in the shins for insulting me in such a fashion. And if you think you could pry my Starbucks Venti Iced Coffee with two Splendas out of my hands, think again. And Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups… I love them. Love, love, love them. There is no substitute or comparable product in my opinion. And I’m pretty certain that some folks might have noticed my love of Bisquik. Jiffy Corn Bread ranks right up there too.

Anyhow… Enough about my love of various branded food products…

More to the point of this post is the fact that this is my attempt to be more transparent about what it is I do during the typical work day. This blog is my own space, but I would be stupid to claim or to believe that my 9-to-5 job doesn’t have an impact on me during non-work hours. I learn a lot about food, ingredients and cooking thanks to my job; and I’m proud of what I do.

However, that said, I want assure you that the opinions expressed within this blog are authentically my own and do not represent the opinion of my employer, ConAgra Foods. (i added that underlined bit of text on nov. 4, 2009, just to be clear on whose opinion are represented in this blog.) If I don’t believe it, I’m not writing it. Period. That is my promise to myself and to you.

I hope you’ll let me know if you have any questions or suggestions regarding how I can ensure the transparency and authenticity of The Omaha Chronicles.