mozzarella!

earlier this month i wanted to plan a little date night in for phillip and me and was inspired when my coworker sue told me about a creamery in pennsylvania that offers mozzarella-making kits and instructions.  no sooner were the words out of her mouth than i had placed my order for a pound of our very own curds.

you want to know the most interesting thing i learned about making mozzarella?  that once you have the curds, it really doesn’t take long at all!  rynn takes you through the mozz-making process step by step in an adorable online video you get access to once your curds arrive.  to echo her suggestion, i highly recommend pouring yourself a drink, kicking back, and simply watching the process first before diving in to make your own.  rynn is charming and entertaining and informative all at the same time and really does give you deep insight into cheese and, of course, mozzarella.

once we felt prepared, we inched our aprons and shred our curds and boiled our water and sprinkled our salt and got to work.  the process, again, really isn’t too difficult, and i ultimately think the most important step is getting your water hot enough.  i don’t know that ours was because our mozz balls were a little lumpy and not as smooth as i think they could have been.  however, it was still a fun time watching those curds clump together and then pulling them with the spoon for that picturesque waterfall effect.  i mean, i think they look pretty good for first-timers!

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so now that we had our fresh mozzarella available, how did we enjoy it?  well, we sliced up one of the balls and enjoyed it on its own, and some things just taste better when you make them yourself.  next up that night were individual pizzas with our lovely mozz plopped on top.  each bite was super cheesy and super delicious.  then, we paired the mozz with some fresh tomatoes, basil, and vinegar for a little caprese salad.  how gourmet!

if you like cooking and you like cheese, please order yourself some curds and join in on the fun.  it was a delightful evening in and almost makes me feel like i’m right in italy alongside the experts.  almost.  🙂

quarantine calories

i feel like most folks are doing a handful of things with their time these days:  working (if lucky enough to do so), cleaning, hobby-ing, childcaring, and eating.  among all those things, the last one might be the most fun.

over the past two weeks, we’ve been hosting phillip’s sister natalie and her doggie wyatt, and as a household of individuals who love food, we have been fortunate to support some local businesses and adventure into some new recipes together.  today’s post includes mouthwatering photos of all our eats.  get ready to drool!

nat and wyatt.

our first stop after picking up natalie and wyatt from the airport was zaxby’s.  natalie doesn’t have zaxby’s up in nyc, so it was definitely a homecoming meal.  oh, and in case you want a pro tip, check out this recipe to make your own zax sauce.  it’s super easy and worth the minimal effort, i promise.

hhhnnnggg, homemade zax sauce.

the next night, phillip and natalie were together to celebrate their 32nd birthday!  aw, it made my heart so happy.  we started with a specially delivered dinner from alessio’s restaurant & pizzeria in norcross.  from the lasagna and garlic knots to the tortellini cardinal and the chicken francese, it was quite a feast, and i don’t doubt we’ll go dine in once we can.  and, no birthday is complete without a cake!  thank you, publix, for the fudge and strawberry filled chocolate cake with buttercream frosting.  🙂

the mornings were definitely prime opportunities for some tasty treats over the past several days.  from whipped coffee (i promise this trend is worth the work)…

to avocado toast…

to simply done donuts

to dirty horchata

to mimosas…

cheers!

and finally chrissy teigen’s banana bread.  it was some good eatin’.

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we didn’t leave dinner out at all.  we became kroger recipe experts, first with their arugula, goat cheese, and olive pasta salad.  i couldn’t keep natalie away from it, lol!  on Easter sunday we also tried out and really enjoyed their pork & peach tacos with ginger brown rice.

alongside the tacos we chowed down on my favorite corn dip.  i don’t know where on earth i got this recipe, but i’m glad i have it.

our tex-mex dinner that day had been preceded by a monkey bread breakfast and a deviled egg snack.  om nom nom.

in addition to trying out several kroger recipes, we also busted out the blue apron cards and loved the pork burgers with potato wedges and beef and rice bowls.

beef rice bowl and those pickled radishes. yum.

at some point over the past several days, i also whipped up this spicy pasta salad by ree drummond.  anything with gouda in it just makes my heart sing.

the evening was, of course, always an opportunity to nosh and also spend some of our hard-earned dollars at the nearby establishments.  we had mcdonald’s on our anniversary, freddy’s on thursday just because it was thursday, noodles from lon u on friday because we were craving pad thai, and marco’s pizza on saturday because who doesn’t love some ‘za.

and of all the sweet treats we had for dessert, i think phillip’s homemade ice cream sundaes were my favorite.  ❤

so, have you discovered any tasty recipes you’d like to share?  or have a local restaurant you think we just must try?  let us know and, above all else, stay safe.

p.s. i realize that many people out there are not currently in a position to splurge on food and groceries or even acquire the essentials.  if anyone out there needs a helping hand, i hope we can either assist or that you are able to find what you need right when you need it.  let’s keep everyone in mind these days, especially those severely impacted by everything that surrounds us.

that blue apron thing

after much advertisement dodging and internal reflecting, i decided to take the plunge, jump on the bandwagon, and try out blue apron.  for those of you who do not know, blue apron is a meal-delivery service.  now, when i say “meal” i mean that they mail you all the ingredients and instructions for a few meals that you then get to cook in the comfort of your own home.  now, there are all sorts of companies like blue apron, but considering they were offering three meals for only $20 in your first week, it sounded like a deal too good to pass up.

when you sign up for blue apron, you do get to decide what day of the week your box arrives.  i figured tuesday was as good a day as any, so a few days ago our first box was waiting at the back door for me to scoop up and bring inside.

in addition to designating your delivery day, you get to provide some meal preferences.  for example, if you’re vegetarian or only eat seafood, you can indicate just that in your profile.  a handy feature, especially for someone who might be on a more restricted diet.

the box that arrived was quite compact, at least in my opinion, and i got as excited as a child on Christmas morning when i grabbed the scissors and cut that box open.

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before i proceed much further, it is clear that blue apron definitely has some thinkers working for them.  the way they package the ingredients and recipes along with the charming notes and witty branding really does the job it should:  it gets you excited to cook!

one of the delightful things about blue apron is that each refrigerated item is individually packed, “pantry” produce is loose in the box (which is fine because less packaging means less waste), and you get these awesomely large freezer packs that you can re-use or, if you desire, you can have blue apron recycle for you – nifty!  however, maybe above all else, the best part is that everything comes in the cutest little bags and cutest little containers with the cutest little labels!  again, their marketing dollars hard at work.

our box had three meals that have two servings each.  of the options in front of us, phillip and i decided to make the burgers and slaw because we were hungry.  as such, we wasted no time at all grabbing the recipe (complete with instructions, pictures, and recommended wine pairings) and getting to work.

now, the estimated completion time for this particular recipe was 25-35 minutes.  my friend judson who had done a similar meal-delivery service said that it always takes him longer than what the recipe says.  well, challenge accepted!  i kept our trusty chef timer around at all times to see if we could beat the clock.

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the recipe’s step-by-step instructions were perfectly clear.  i chopped away and mixed up the slaw while phillip was on burger duty.  phillip enjoys being in the kitchen and was especially entertained as he marked off each completed step with a little check on the recipe.  #adorable

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just as phillip was flipping the burgers to finish them off, our chef timer rang out loudly, sounding the buzzer for the suggested 35 minutes to cook the entire meal.  well, it turns out we needed about 10 minutes more.  but still, a home-cooked meal in under an hour isn’t something to be too upset about, right?  sure!

with the oven off and the stovetop cooling down, phillip and i plated our first blue apron meal, poured a couple glasses of delicious red wine, and dug in.  first things first, yes, this meal was as delicious as it looks.  the slaw was a great crunchy texture to have with the tender beef patty and schmear of sriracha mayo.  and, as you can see, there was plenty of slaw that we really even had it as a second side next to the sweet potato wedges.  those wedges were cooked through just right and were so easy to make!

now, i know what your next thought is.  “that looks like a pretty big plate of food.”  well, it certainly was.  in fact, the portion size for this meal was so large that i almost couldn’t finish!  i let phillip polish off the last few sweet potato fries and then i think we were both stuffed.

besides the end result of a delicious and different dinner on an otherwise normal tuesday night, what is our review of blue apron?

  • are you happy you tried it?  yes, especially with the first week at only $20!
  • did the box provide everything you needed to make the meal?  almost.  blue apron assumes you have things like extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper on-hand.
  • was the food you got a good value for what you paid?  again, for the first week, yes!  it’s hard to go out to restaurants and spend only $20 on six humongous meals.
  • what are you liking most so far?  i think the convenience factor is the ultimate perk of something like blue apron.  i didn’t have to stop at the store on the way home from work, which saved me time and got us cooking earlier in the evening.  i also very much like the variety of recipes.  for example, this week’s recipes were the burgers and slaw, creamy shrimp spaghetti (which we made last night and also was quite tasty), and then chicken enchiladas.
  • will you do blue apron again?  well, considering i forgot to cancel next week’s “order,” yes!  at least for one more week.  do know, though, that the regular price for three meals with two servings each (so six meals total) bumps up to $60 per week.  however, if you don’t like eating monstrous dinners, you could likely split these two servings per meal into four, so then you’re getting twelve total meals for $60 rather than just six.  so, in the end, still a pretty good price.
  • anything else we should know?  well, yes!  apparently i have three free meals i can give to my friends, so if you’re interested, let me know and i’ll hook you up!  also, for those of you who want more per meal or have more than just a pair like phillip and me, they do have family-size options you can order.  and (i promise this is the last thing) you can also skip weeks without any penalty at all.  just make sure you do so a week before your next delivery date.

bon appetit!

ze best chili ever

yesterday at work we had the annual chili cookoff at the office.  like a good sport, i offered to bring some in.  however, i don’t really have a go-to-chili recipe on hand.  lucky me, my family out in california is all about a good chili competition, so i went to the experts for a little help.

my cousin ali was quick to supply a recipe that put her in first place at a local competition in southern los angeles.  well, if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me!  i pulled up the recipe and was slightly intimidated by the required prep work and number of ingredients, but i figured if i was going to make some chili i may as well go all out for it.

to make things easy on myself, i chopped all the vegetables earlier in the week so that the actual cooking would be a quick process.  now, after having made the chili and also eaten more bowls than i care to admit, i think it goes a long way if you chop the vegetables up as tiny as you can.  i mean, i’m not sure a big ‘ole hunk of green pepper is really what you want, but if that’s how you like your chili, go for it!

also, whatever you do, do not leave out the italian sausage.  in my opinion, the sausage is what makes the chili, so please, please, make sure you have it in there.

finally, i think i could have used a bit more heat.  now, the recipe calls for four tablespoons of chili powder which, honestly, terrified me.  as such (and not wanting the chili to be inedible because it was too spicy), i used only a single tablespoon of chili powder.  however, this recipe makes so much that i think i easily could have done at least two if not three, and i am a spice wimp.

so!  the chili cooked overnight as i dreamed happy dreams, and when i awoke in the morning, my nose was warmly greeted with the delectable scent of a cozy, home-cooked meal in the crockpot.  after freshening up, i loaded up the car and headed to the office, where i counted down the minutes until noon so that i could eat.  it’s hard to not be hungry when there are crockpots full of chili in the office!

once the hour was upon us, our moderators meghan and greg explained that we could try all three and then vote for our favorite chili, for the most unique chili, and then for the hottest chili.  the votes would be cast and collected and then the winners would be decided.

my coworkers and i gabbed and relaxed between bites of chili and cheese and bread, but i was secretly (and anxiously) awaiting the results of the competition.  now, i wouldn’t say i am much of  a competitor, but i wanted to make ali proud!

so, after all bowls were emptied and the tally sheets were in, the results were……that i won the most unique chili!  people liked the seasonings and sausage (duh!) and thought the flavor profile was unexpected (in a good way).  greg won the award for the hottest chili and then our other coworker tabri won the award for the favorite chili.  i think the potatoes in tabri’s chili is what won over everyone, even i admit it!

it was such a pleasure to become part of this company tradition, and even though the chili was a bit of work, i’d say it was worth every minute spent.  this chili is hearty without being heavy and is so delicious that i had a hard time putting my spoon down.  if you’re looking for a warm meal as the winter weather sweeps in, give this recipe a try.  i bet it’d be a hard thing to be disappointed with it.

tabri, greg, & me.

tabri, greg, & me.

get ‘dis cashew chicken

earlier this week i decided to whip up some dinner for phillip and me.  i wasn’t terribly interested in any of the tried-and-true recipes from my cookbook (although they all have a special place in my heart), so i took to the world wide web in search of something good.  i didn’t have to look too far or too wide to find this delectable cashew chicken recipe from the pioneer woman.  this dish was so tasty that phillip barely said a word to me in between bites; compliments to the chef!  feel free to put the chicken on a bed of rice or noodles, whatever tickles your fancy.  the brown rice we had was a great base for the rich flavors of this sauce.  my only comment?  do be careful to not add too much salt; the ingredients you are using will be sure to take care of that for you.  🙂

au naturale!

earlier this week i needed to whip up a quick dinner for phillip and myself.  we’d already done some serious work on my mom’s famous chicken tortilla soup, so i was in the mood for something summer-y and easy.  i knew bratwursts were a good choice along with some velveeta shells and cheese.  i needed something a bit healthy to go on the plate, though, so, in a moment of inspiration, i decided asparagus would be an excellent idea.  it’s one of those vegetables i don’t usually prepare too often for myself but very much enjoy whenever i have it with my meal.

after a quick trip to publix, i got home, lopped off the rough ends of each piece, and lined them up nicely on a foil-covered cookie sheet.  i coated them with some olive oil, salt, and pepper and then popped them into the 425 degree oven for about 10 minutes.  it was just enough time to get them crisp and crunchy, avoiding that soggy, chewy texture that no one likes in their asparagus!

the oven beeped loudly to announce that its job was done, and after setting the tray on the countertop, i kind of stood and admired what was before me.  okay, maybe admired is the wrong word to use here, but the beautiful color of this natural food that had come from the earth almost mesmerized me.  i mean, sure, i love a good processed and pre-packaged guilty pleasure just as much as the next foodie, but every now and then i eat something so simple and fresh and flavorful that i just have to stop and appreciate the moment.  join me, won’t you?

how to roast squash, by kelsey v

this story is about a girl named kelsey v who needed to roast some squash for an early office thanksgiving potluck.  prizes were going out to those cooks who whipped up the best dishes, so this little chef didn’t waste any time getting her winter squash soup ready.

step one?  roast some fresh squash for the ultimate autumnal flavor.  well, seeing as how this young lady had never purchased or prepared anything larger than a four-inch yellow squash in her life, she was in for a treat.  she perused the shelves at publix, picking out a sizeable butternut and dainty acorn.

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next, all she had to do was take a sizeable knife to those sweet squashes, lop off the ends, gut ’em, and halve them up for the pan.

that oven was all hot and bothered at 350 degrees fahrenheit, welcoming the squashes cut side-down with about a fourth of an inch of water in the pan.  things were going to get steamy!

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the kitchen filled with fall scents as the squashes roasted for a solid hour.  after checking their tenderness with a knife, they were declared perfectly cooked!  they cooled for a half hour, and then came the fun part.

those skins just had to go, so a spoon had services to provide.  the insides were mercilessly scraped out and chopped up and…

…dumped into a bowl for later use!  and she was scared?  they’re just little squashes!

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chicken tortilla soup

i’ve had a rather relaxing weekend, and i didn’t want to spoil it by slaving away in the kitchen all night to make an outstanding meal.  sometimes i just want something simple, and this recipe for chicken tortilla soup was just the ticket.

my mom made it when we were in high school, and it has become a dish i now know by heart.  i mean, something that only requires a crock pot and no cutting at all has to be a keeper, right?  it’s so insanely easy and wonderfully delicious that i just had to share it with you all.

since this recipe makes quite a few servings, it is great for families.  for those of you who are single like yours truly?  bag this stuff up in single-serve ziplocs, throw them in the freezer, and keep ’em for later when you’re feeling extra lazy around the house.  enjoy!

ingredients

1 box or can (32 ounces) chicken broth

2 cans (15.5 ounces each) chili beans

1 can (15 ounces) great northern beans

1 can (14.5 ounces) mexican-style stewed tomatoes, diced

*sometimes i cannot always find the mexican-style stewed tomatoes.  If you can’t either, just go with the traditional.

1 can (10 ounces) diced tomatoes & green chiles

2 cans (15.5 ounces each) white corn, drained

*tori thinks just one can of corn is enough, but i like two.

2 packages lawry’s chicken taco spices & seasonings

*you do not have to get the lawry’s brand.  i often use kroger’s brand and love it just as much.

1.5 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts

shredded cheddar cheese

chopped cilantro

chopped scallions

directions

set chicken in bottom of large slow cooker (crock pot).  top with chili beans, great northern beans, stewed tomatoes, tomatoes and green chiles, and white corn.

stir in the chicken taco seasonings and add as much chicken broth as needed to fill the crock pot just below full.  there’s a good chance you will not need all 32 ounces of it, but it depends on the size of your cooker.

cover and cook on low 8 to 10 hours.  if you need to get it ready sooner, crank the crock pot to high for 4 to 6 hours.  you just need to let everything sit long enough so that the chicken is cooked through and tender.

use a pair of tongs to shred the chicken in the crock pot.  fill up your favorite soup bowl and top with cheese, cilantro, and scallions as desired.

p.s.  i personally also like to dollop on some sour cream.  you could probably even add a little bit of hot sauce if you like things spicy.