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Friday Recipe Exchange: What’s in the Pantry?

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The sun is peaking through the clouds after two days of excellent rain. A little thunder, a steady drizzle and snow in the mountains, perfect Colorado fall.

Tonight’s recipe exchange was prompted by a friend of mine who recently lost her husband. I was working at her house and she asked me to come into the kitchen and began going through her pantry, freezer and refrigerator and filling a bag for me with things she didn’t think she’d be able to use. She doesn’t really like to cook much and cooking for one can be a challenge. That’s when I had an idea. I asked her if I could come over every once in a while and cook for her and use up a lot of these amazing ingredients. Her husband was a bit of gourmet, so the whole kitchen is filled with mouth-watering things.

What sold her on the idea was my desire to just pop in, look around the kitchen and come up with something on the spot based on what ingredients sparked my imagination. She thought that sounded like fun and I agree. One of the things I’m really looking forward to is using the black rice. I’ve never cooked with it before.

So for tonight, I went looking through my recipe files to find the ones that started out as a “whatever is in the pantry” meals. They are rarely the same thing twice, but I put the basics in a recipe.

Here are a few:

Pineapple and Bacon Fried Rice is one of the reasons I keep Ponzu Sauce on hand. Click here for that recipe and click here to see all of JeffreyW’s photos and recipes for a variety of fried rice dishes (including the one pictured above).

Pasta is always a great base for a quick dinner.  Here is my Pasta Rustica, (basic recipe here), that can include any number of items from your vegetable drawer or freezer.

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Of course JeffreyW has a great photo of Beef and Broccoli. Yum.

Spicy Beef and Broccoli (click here) is one of my favorite dinners to make with sirloin. And it’s great if you forgot to take the meat out to thaw until late. There is also a full menu, recipes and shopping list at that link.

I thought I hated vegetables, until I had Stir Fried Vegetables in a Bread Bowl, (recipe here) at a local restaurant. Quick and easy, serve over rice or noodles if your basket weaving skills are minimal (that would be me).

Finally, the weekly dinner menu starts with a basic recipe that you can jazz up with whatever you have on hand, Beef Vegetable Soup and Apple Pumpkin Butter. Menu, recipes and shopping list are here.

What are your go-to “raid the pantry” meals? Are there ingredients you always keep on hand for quick dinners? What’s on the menu for the weekend? I’m not sure there will be a recipe exchange next week, I’m hosting a dinner. Stay tuned…

For tonight’s featured recipe, I kept it as simple as it gets. If you can’t find pineapple salsa, JeffreyW has a recipe for it.

Frijoles Ananás

  • 2-15 oz cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 16 oz pineapple salsa
  • 1 tsp to 1 tbsp chili powder (start with 1 tsp and add more to taste)
  • 1/4  tsp to 1 tsp cayenne pepper (start with 1/4 tsp and add more to taste)
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro

To serve:

  • 8 oz shredded cheddar
  • 6 to 8 taco size tortillas, warmed


Add beans, salsa and spices to a saucepan, bring to a low boil for 1 minute, reduce heat and let simmer 10 minutes, add cilantro and simmer for 5 additional minutes. Serve with cheese and tortillas.

If you want to make it a one-pot meal, add corn or cubed zucchini to the mix for a complete dinner. Serves 4 generously.

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend – TaMara



Friday Recipe Exchange: A Dash Less Salt

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Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had requests to pull together some of my recipes that go easy on the salt. I found quite a few and this week lemon made the biggest appearance, but tonight’s featured recipes bring in a whole host of other flavors that make it easier to go lighter on the salt.

Reducing salt with out losing flavor can be managed with several steps. First of all, try to use fresh foods whenever possible.  If you begin to read labels you’ll see many packaged foods contain extra fat, salt & sugar that you wouldn’t add if you prepared it fresh. And good, fresh ingredients bring their own flavors to a dish.

When you need to buy something, such as canned tomatoes or frozen vegetables, go with the no-salt version whenever possible. Then you can be in control of the sodium.

Adding flavors that enhance a dish is the key to cutting back on salt. Wine vinegars (especially on potatoes and meats), lemon juice (great for fish, vegetables and chicken), limejuice, and different spice mixes, including peppers, garlic, basil, rosemary, celery seeds, dill, toasted sesame seeds and citrus zest – go wild, try something new, you might surprise yourself – can transform a dish.  You can also buy prepackaged spice mixes to shake on, just make sure to read the label looking for sodium content.

With all that in mind, I went searching through my recipes to find ones that used a dash less salt.

I started the week with Lemon Ricotta Pasta with Chicken and Spinach, recipe here.

This week’s dinner menu (pictured at top) is Cranberry Chicken and Lemon Cheese Cauliflower, click here for menu, recipes and shopping list.

JeffreyW makes a flavorful Shrimp,Ham and Kale in Garlic Lemon Sauce, recipe here.

And finally, click here for Grilled Lemon Salmon with Corn Pepper Relish.

For the pet lovers, lots of pictures of Bixby in the next Bixby Diaries installment here.

How about you, what do you use to spice up a dish? What’s on the menu this weekend?

Tonight I’m featuring a few recipes that bring in some sweet and spicy flavors. These beans and rice are a nice change-up from the standard Wash Day Beans and Rice I usually make.

Caribbean Jerk Beans & Rice

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup rice
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • ½ green pepper, sliced
  • 1 tsp crushed garlic
  • 1 lb lean boneless pork, cubed in large pieces
  • 14 oz can diced tomatoes
  • salt to taste (this is a good recipe to substitute white wine vinegar for salt)
  • pepper to taste
  • ¼ to ½ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 to 2 tsp Caribbean jerk spice (you can buy it or make your own, recipe below)
  • ½ cup fresh chopped cilantro (Italian parsley works well in this recipe if you aren’t a fan of cilantro)
  • 14 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed (or substitute dry beans, soaked and cooked)

saucepan & skillet

Add water & rice to saucepan, bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and let simmer until all liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Heat oil in skillet, add pork and brown on all sides for 5 minutes, add onion, celery, pepper & garlic, sauté for additional 5 minutes. Add tomatoes & spices. Let simmer 15 minutes, add cilantro, black beans and simmer additional 5 minutes, until beans are heated through. Add cooked rice & mix thoroughly.

Caribbean Jerk Seasoning

  • 2 tablespoons dried onion flakes
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 4 teaspoons crushed dry thyme leaves
  • 2 teaspoons ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Blend together and store tightly covered (I keep old spice jars around for mixtures like this)

Orange-Mango Coleslaw

  • 8 cups shredded green cabbage
  • 1-1/2 large mangoes, peeled, pitted and diced
  • ½ medium red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • ½ medium yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 6 green onions, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

Combine cabbage, mangoes, bell peppers, green onions and cilantro in large bowl; stir gently to mix. Add Orange-Mango Dressing; toss gently to coat. Serve, or store in refrigerator up to 1 day.

Orange-Mango Dressing

  • ½ mango, peeled, pitted and cubed
  • 6 ounces plain nonfat yogurt
  • ¼ cup frozen orange juice concentrate (not diluted with water)
  • 3 tablespoons limejuice
  • ½ to 1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed, seeded and rough chopped
  • 2 tsp minced fresh ginger (substitute 1/2 tsp ground ginger if desired)

Place mango in food processor; process until smooth. Add remaining ingredients; process until smooth.

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend – TaMara


Grilled Lemon Salmon with Corn Pepper Relish

This is a great recipe and you can cook it on the grill or indoors in the oven.  Add baked potatoes or rice and fresh greens from the garden for a nice summer meal.  Serves 4.

Grilled Lemon Salmon:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp lemon zest
  • 4 – 6 oz skinless salmon fillets

zip-lock bag

Add ingredients to bag and refrigerate 1 hour or overnight.  Grill on a clean, oiled grill or use a well oiled grilling pan, or broil in oven in a heavy skillet or broiler.  Cook for 4 minutes on each side, or until fish flakes easily.  Serve with relish.

Corn Pepper Relish:

  • 1 cup cooked corn (or canned, drained)
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • ½ green pepper chopped
  • ½ red pepper chopped
  • ½ yellow pepper chopped
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp chopped cilantro
  • 1 tbsp chopped jalapeno
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • ½ tsp crushed garlic


Combine all ingredients and let marinate while salmon cooks.  You can use the remaining peppers in a salad for your next dinner.



DSC_0892 (1600x1060)I’ve mentioned the turkey we cooked the other day.  We really didn’t have any particular aim for the meat so I had a big ziplock bag full in the fridge waiting for me to do something.  Turkey salad sounded like a good way to move some of that along.  I have fun putting these salads together, chicken and turkey are pretty much interchangeable.  This one has a dressing of sour cream and mayo, in a 1:1 ratio.  I like to add cheese to mine and I usually have partial bags of shredded cheese laying about.  This one got a little cheddar and Monterey jack, and a substantial amount of Parmesan.  I can recommend Parmesan as being a particularly good addition after tasting this batch.  Also mixed in – pickle relish, chopped celery, a smallish Vidalia onion, a half cup or so of red bell pepper, a few minced cloves of garlic, and a tablespoon of well chopped fresh parsley.PICT1237 (1600x1060)More wildlife!  Not all that random, Mrs J adds corn and sunflower seeds to that pile daily and the local deer know to stop by.IMG_20150901_113041165 (1600x1200)Mrs J discovered a coupon app from her favorite store, she exercises it weekly.  DSC_0889 (1600x1060)Pork chops cooked in mushroom soup for a fantastic gravy and one of my all time favorite comfort foods.  I nearly ruined the box mix rice, it was all set to go in the rice cooker when I grabbed the rice vinegar bottle instead of the olive oil and gave it a good dose.  I dumped it out through a sieve and added it back to the cooker with fresh water.  It came out fine!arrgh!...I can't look (3) (1600x1060)Here’s an oldie but goody of Toby. Caption contest!DSC_0846 (1600x1060)I’m getting better at shaping the buns.  I’ve standardized on 8 buns per recipe, they make fair sized buns, not too big or too small.DSC02803 (1600x1200)I had to ask Mrs J how this momma-to-be cat got so dirty but she assures me that it’s natural coloration.DSC02796 (1600x1200)Here’s a handsome boy!  Ringo has some pretty blue eyes, he’s five months old and is ready to go out the door.  Hurry, he won’t be waiting long!

Mmm… jambalaya

DSC_0483 (1600x1060)It’s rainy today here in Beautiful Southern Illinois™ and so I passed some time looking around for something to fix for dinner.  Found some of the Andouille sausage I made a while back and thought jambalaya might hit the spot.  I try to link to this guy whenever I can, he’s my goto guy when I do anything Cajun-style.  The link goes to a jambalaya recipe that informed my take on it today, you could do worse than spend a little time looking over his recipe collection.

Chicken Marsala

20150615_165337 (1600x1060)Mmm… this is so easy to make!  The link is to Emeril’s recipe but there isn’t much variation in the recipes that I’ve found on line.  The easy to yummy ratio is right up there with peanut butter jelly sammiches.  The green beans were steamed and then sauteed in garlic butter and a splash of balsamic vinegar and were very good that way.  I’m no cooking purist, the Zatarain box mix rice was on point for this.20150615_165351 (1600x1060)

Chinese Five Spice

DSC_0076 (1600x1060)I was browsing among various recipes for green beans and noticed a call for Chinese five spice in one of them and wondered if I had the ingredients to make my own.  Yes!  –  or at least close enough for my purposes.  I looked over several recipes and they all had the same ingredients with a few variations:  Star anise, fennel seeds, cinnamon, cloves, and peppercorns.  Some used Szechuan peppercorns and others called for the more familiar black peppercorns, one recipe used cassia bark in lieu of the cinnamon, there were differences in the ratios so I just eyeballed mine as I loaded them into my little spice grinder.  I ended up with about a quarter cup of some great smelling stuff.DSC_0077 (1600x1060)Those are the Szechuan peppercorns between the cinnamon sticks.  They have an interesting effect in the mouth, some heat and a numbing sensation on the lips.  Another name for them is prickly ash seed.

After all of that, I used about a teaspoon of the spice powder in the soy sauce marinade of the chicken for the green bean dish pictured above.  That was a simple enough recipe, the most prep went into the sauce: 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1/2 cup chicken stock, a tablespoon of sesame oil, a tablespoon of ginger garlic paste, a tablespoon of honey, and a tablespoon of rice vinegar with a little corn starch to thicken it in the pan.  I steamed the beans for five minutes while the chicken was cooking then added them to the pan with the chicken and then poured in the sauce and cooked until it thickened, a few more minutes.

Crawdad Pr0n – Andouille, Crawfish, and Shrimp Gumbo

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Friday Recipe Exchange: Not Just For Mardi Gras

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We are prepping for the big storm (ok, not New England BIG, but looking at 8-16 inches of big wet flakes) and I almost forgot it was Friday. Since it was Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras this week, that always puts me in the mood for some Louisiana-style recipes and a trip to Lucille’s restaurant for their beans and rice (and boy am I going to miss living within walking distance when I finally move – and I am so tired of house hunting).

When I can’t get there, I make my own Washday Beans and Rice, recipe and full dinner menu here.

A trip to New Orleans a few years ago gave me my first taste of authentic Beignets at Cafe Du Monde and Po’boys at Johnny’s, I liked the sandwiches so much, I hunted down some recipes, (click here).

Looking for something fancier? How about Trout Amandine with Creole Meuniere Sauce (recipe here).

What’s on your menu for the weekend? I’ll be scanning travel sites looking for somewhere warm to vacation!

Tonight’s featured recipe (pictured above) is from JeffreyW:

Shrimp and Andouille in a Creole Mustard Sauce

  • 1 pound uncooked peeled deveined large shrimp
  • 1 tablespoon Creole or Cajun seasoning (recipe below)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 1 pound andouille sausage, cut crosswise on diagonal into 3/4-inch-thick pieces
  • 1 large onion, halved, thinly sliced
  • 1 large red bell pepper, cut into 1/3-inch-wide strips
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 cup low-salt chicken broth
  • 5 tablespoons Creole mustard
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Toss shrimp with Creole seasoning in medium bowl to coat. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in heavy large skillet over high heat. Add sausage pieces, cut side down. Cook until browned on both sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer sausage to bowl. Add shrimp to skillet; cook until browned and just opaque in center, about 3 minutes. Transfer to bowl with sausage. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil, onion, bell pepper, and thyme to skillet. Sauté until vegetables are beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Add broth, mustard, and vinegar. Stir until sauce thickens, about 2 minutes. Return sausage and shrimp to skillet. Simmer until heated through, stirring occasionally, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper.

Creole Seasoning

  • 1/3 Cup Paprika
  • 1/4 Cup Granulated Garlic
  • 4 Tbsp Onion Powder
  • 1/3 Cup Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • 3 Tbsp White Pepper
  • 2 Tbsp Cayenne Pepper
  • 2 Tbsp Dried Thyme
  • 2 Tbsp Dried Basil
  • 1 Tbsp Dried Oregano

Combine all ingredients and place in an airtight container.

Makes about 10 oz.

Bixby hit 115 lbs this week and I’m thinking that raising a Great Dane puppy should be considered an Olympic sport. He exhausts me and then is so damn cute, I’m ready for another day of puppyhood. I’ll see if I can get him to do a diary update later this weekend. That’s it for this week.  Stay warm – TaMara



DSC_9765 (1600x1060)Cloudy and drizzly and chilly days make it easy to stay in and cook.  Found some frozen shrimp and decided to do a gumbo.DSC_9762 (1600x1060)I started with about a half cup of flour and poured in oil until it looked like plenty.  I’ve seen cooks make a very dry looking roux but I prefer to go with it about like this because I find it easier to keep stirred.  A roux is usually defined by its color, this one is past the peanut butter stage and is well on the way to milk chocolate.  Keep the temps low and you can get by without standing over it every second but it will take longer.  This is about as dark as I care to take it but you can stay with it until it’s much darker if you want.DSC_9763 (1600x1060)You’ll want a nice stock for your gumbo.  This one has an onion, a carrot, a rib of celery, one sliced lemon, parsley, peppercorns, sliced garlic, thyme, and the shells from the shrimp.  There are about two quarts of water in it and it’ll simmer for an hour or so.

There are tons of gumbo recipes, with tomatoes and without, with okra or not, with other meats like sausage or chicken.  They all have a roux in common, and the trinity of onions, green peppers, and celery in water or stock.  Knock yourself out!


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