Saturday, September 12, 2015

Thank You Miss America Pageant

It's time once again for the Miss America Pageant. That also means it's the "friendaversary" for me and my dear, dear friend Cheryl Lightfoot.

We have been there for each other for the best of times and the worst of times and it's all because of a beauty pageant.

Back in 1989 we were coworkers in the master control area of a cable company and acquaintances, but I don't think we particularly hit it off. That was until we were both working one Saturday night and the Miss America Pageant came on one of the many, many television monitors in the place.

Check out the video. We had so much to work with. I know it says 1990. Miss America is actually selected in the fall of the year before.

I don't know which on of us began to snark on the contestants first, but I do believe it had something to do with clogging as a talent.  (Fun fact: Jeri Lynn Zimmerman was third runner-up that year. She went on to gain fame as an actress on Star Trek: Voyager. Accusations she made in a divorce case against Paul Ryan are believed to have cost him the Senate seat that went to Barack Obama.)

As we sniped and talked, we learned that we have many interests in common. By the end of the evening, we were pals. We were mostly work friends (at that time she still lived in Fremont.) for some time, then she moved to Toledo and we fixed our husbands up on a "date" to go watch Ford Fairlaine together the following July. That resulted in one of the epic bromances of our time.

Once we were couple friends, we became pretty much inseparable. She was a bridesmaid at my wedding, we helped each other move, we drove her to the hospital when she was in labor with her second child. Her sons have spent nearly every Thanksgiving of their lives at our house. Our common interests in books, all thinks British, Barbie dolls, geeky television, glittery makeup and uncounted other things gives us plenty to talk about.


Let's be clear, I actually LOVE the Miss America Pageant. I love the clogging, the juggling and occasional ventriloquist act. I love evening gown and swimsuit competitions. I don't think there's anything wrong with giving out prizes for looks. I mean we give out prizes for being strong and smart - you have to work with what you have. And I really don't think a contest for being a really swell person would be anywhere near as entertaining to watch.

Every year at this time, we mark our friendaversary. One year we made shadow boxes. Thank you Cheryl for 26 spectacular years of friendship. And thank you Miss America Pageant! Now bring on some cloggers!

In parting, I'd like to add this video, which I think pretty much sums up our friendship. If we're ever in a pageant with a talent portion, we should do this one. While clogging and twirling a flaming baton.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Ritzy 2 by 2 Cheese Cake

I came up with this creamy, fruity and incredibly easy-to-make cheesecake for my friend Cheryl's birthday celebration.

I saw a recipe from pastry chef Christina Tosi for an icebox cake made with Ritz crackers, Cool Whip and grape jelly. I didn't make that recipe, but I did come up with one of my own. I call it my Ritzy 2 by 2 Cheesecake.

Ritzy, comes from the buttery Ritz cracker crust, while the 2 by 2 comes from the ingredient list. It's super-simple to remember because it is all in twos.

You will need:

2 sleeves of Ritz Crackers
2 8-ounce packages of softened cream cheese
2 8-ounce tubs of Cool Whip, thawed.
2 12 -ounce jars of fruit preserves. (any fruit you like, I used cherry here. Please make sure to use preserves here, we want the pieces of fruit.)
2 tablespoons of melted butter
2 tablespoons of sugar
2 teaspoons of vanilla

Start by blitzing the crackers and sugar together in the food processor. Alternately, you could put them in a plastic bag and bash them into crumbs.

Make sure there are no chunks of cracker left. You want crumbs.

Add the melted butter and press into a 10 inch spring form pan. You could also choose a 13 by 9 pan. Bake the crust for about 15 minutes in a 400 degree oven until it turns golden brown.

Put your preserves in a microwave-safe bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Microwave the preserves 30 seconds at a time until the preserves melt, but don't get them too hot. Stir them every 30 seconds. You'll then want to let them cool to room temperature.

Add the softened cream cheese and vanilla to a mixing bowl.
Beat until fluffy.
Stir in the softened preserves.

Mix until well-combined.

Slowly mix in the Cool Whip.

Mix carefully with a spatula until there are no white streaks. Then spread the mixture into the spring form pan.
Cover with plastic and put either in the refrigerator or the freezer to set. I like to freeze this if I'm taking it somewhere in the summer or to a pot luck where it might sit out for awhile. Take it out when you leave and it will be nicely thawed to creamy perfection when it's time to eat. In the fridge, let it set for at least four hours.
The pectin in the preserves helps the cheesecake set up nicely. This cheesecake is cool, refreshing and fruity. But the only sugar comes from the preserves, so it's not too sweet. The buttery, salty contrast of the Ritz crust is irresistible.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Slow Cooker Chikcen Enchiladas

This is my super-easy slow-cooker chicken enchilada recipe. Now, the enchiladas themselves don't cook in the slow cooker (that would be a goopy mess), but the meat and sauce do. This Southwestern chicken isn't just for enchiladas. It would be perfect for chicken tacos, burritos, Mexican pizza or a chicken taco salad. It would also be great for sandwiches or in a chicken tortilla soup.
Here's what you'll need to make it the meat.
Boneless, skinless chicken thighs,  1 can of Ro-Tel tomatoes, an onion, 4 cloves of garlic, tomato paste, chili powder, ground cumin, oregano plus salt and pepper.  To assemble the enchiladas later you'll need tortillas, cheese and beans if you want them.
Start by chopping the small onion and the garlic.
Put them in a microwave safe container like this Pyrex cup.
Now add 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, a tablespoon of chili powder, 2 teaspoons or cumin and a teaspoon of oregano. Sprinkle with salt and add about a teaspoon of oil. Stir to combine.


Cover with plastic and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir and put back in the microwave for another 30 seconds. It should come out looking like this: You'll really be able to smell the fragrance of the spices. Do not skip this step and dump the aromatics and spices into the slow cooker. It's very important for the flavor.
Salt and pepper the chicken thighs and add them to the slow cooker. You might be tempted to go with chicken breasts, but I don't suggest it. They will dry out.
Add the spice mixture to the chicken.
Then add the can of tomatoes. If you don't like the spice from the Ro-Tel you can just use a 14 ounce can of plain diced tomatoes. My tomatoes were actually frozen. I freeze unused portions of cans in freezer bags and use them at a later date.
Put the lid on the slow cooker and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours. When it's done, it will look like this.
Using a slotted spoon, remove the thighs and about half of the tomatoes to a bowl.
Shred the chicken with a fork or spoon. It will pull apart easily.
Now put the remaining liquid and tomatoes from the slow cooker in a blender or food processor. You could also stick an immersion blender in the slow cooker as well.  Don't worry if there's a stray piece of chicken.
Blitz and you'll end up with a nice thickened sauce. Obviously, put the lid on before you turn on the blender. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
Pull out a pan for your enchiladas. I'm using a 9 x9 to hold 5 here.
Coat the bottom with sauce to hold the enchiladas in place.
Use flour or corn tortillas as you prefer.
Start by filling the tortilla with the shredded chicken and tomato mixture.
Add beans, if desired.
Then a sprinkle of cheese. We'll top with more at the end.
Fold it up.

Place in the pan seam-side down. I was careless here and spilled some beans and cheese into the pan.
Tuck them snugly together.
 Spread the rest of the sauce over the enchiladas.
Top with cheese and bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Jambalaya: The Freezer, Can and Box Inauthentic Edition

This is my freezer, can and box version of Jambalaya. If you make the authentic version, I do apologize. Navigate quickly away from this quick and easy recipe before it hurts your feelings.

Now for the rest of you, here's how I make what I think is a delicious version of Jambalaya with ingredients from my freezer and pantry shelves.

Here are the ingredients:

From the pantry, you'll need Zatarain's Jambalaya mix, a can of Hunt's Fire Roasted tomatoes (or Ro-Tel tomatoes with chiles if you like spice) and chicken broth.

From the freezer, I have a bag of Kroger's Cajun-style mirepoix mix. It consists of onions, celery and green pepper. If they don't have it in the freezer case where you live, you can always dice up onion, celery and green pepper. I also have a bag of frozen okra. We'll use half a bag of each for this recipe.

My proteins also come from the freezer, but you can always use them fresh. I'm using boneless, skinless chicken thighs (thawed), Andouille- style sausages and raw shell-on deveined shrimp. You can also use the peeled kind. But do use raw shrimp.

Thaw the chicken thighs before you begin or use fresh ones. Take the frozen shrimp and put them in a cup of water with a tablespoon of salt and a tablespoon of sugar. Set aside.

If frozen, thaw the Andouille sausage or defrost for about a minute in the microwave wrapped in a paper towel before slicing. If fresh, just start slicing it into bite-sized chunks. Here I'm using two hot-dog size sausages. You could vary the protein based on the mount of  people you're serving.

Add some oil to a Dutch oven, turn the heat on medium and add the diced sausage.
Cook until the sausages start to brown.
Remove the sausages with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl or on some foil. Pat the chicken thighs dry, then salt and pepper them.  I'm only using two here, but you can add more depending on how many people you're feeding. Add to the hot Dutch oven. While the chicken is cooking, thaw the frozen half-bag of Cajun mirepoix in the microwave and drain off any excess water.
Brown on both sides and then set aside with the sausages.
Add a pat of butter to the hot Dutch oven (totally optional) and then add the Cajun mirepoix mix.

Cook until the vegetables grow soft and start to brown. Add the box of Jambalaya mix into the cooked veggies. You'll start to smell the spices.

Add the canned tomatoes.

Then the frozen okra. Stir well, making sure to scrape any brown bits from the bottom of the pan.

Return the chicken and the sausage to the pot. But leave the shrimp alone for now.

Now, add 2 cups of chicken broth to the pot.

Cover and cook on low heat for about 30 minutes. Stir occasionally. While it's cooking, you can add a little flavor to the shrimp if you like, but it's optional.  Remove shrimp from brine and pat dry.You can either peel the shrimp or leave the shells on and have the fun of peeling them while eating the dish. Either way, add some olive oil and a clove of minced garlic to the shrimp. Stir them together and let shrimp marinate while Jambalaya cooks.

After around 30 minutes, most of the liquid will have cooked away. Break the chicken apart into bite-sized pieces with a spoon.
Turn off the heat. That's very important. Otherwise you'll overcook the shrimp.  Nestle the shrimp into the rice. Then cover and let sit for about 10 minutes until the shrimp turns pink.
It should like this when it's finished.

This isn't a particularly hot version of this dish. If you want to add more spice, you can use the Ro-Tel tomatoes and also put in a few dashes of hot sauce. I like to offer hot sauce on the side so everyone can season to taste.