Last Minute Valentine’s Day Suggestions!

So with the actual holiday of love looming tomorrow, if you want to skip the over-crowded restaurant scene, I have some suggestions to sweep your Valentine right off his or her feet!

Crab Legs! They’re not just for restaurants. Super easy and MUCH more affordable to make them at home!

Julia Child and I agree that one of the best things you can serve guests (or anyone) is a perfectly roasted chicken.

Other go to, fancy but not fussy dinner favorites at our house are Cabernet Beef Stew or Beef Stew with Brandy & Dijon.

Click HERE, there’s more!

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Happy Valentine’s Day, Dear Friends!

We’re a little early but it’s been quite a week here at Idiot’s Kitchen.

If you follow IK on Facebook then you already know that the website was hacked big time a week or so ago. We’re back up and running but trying to get bigger & better security measures in place to prevent this from happening in the future. Fingers crossed!

Heaps of thanks to my tech guru, Thaine for saving my butt and getting Idiot’s Kitchen back from the abyss. Never underestimate the power of a good tech guy! He has pretty much earned cookies for life.

Meanwhile, I’ve been in the opera pit playing my usual winter gig at the Sarasota Opera. Lots of great music (Verdi!) and wonderful friends but oooh, way too much driving.

It’s been a stressful week…

Then I saw this video and knew exactly what to post for Valentine’s Day! (besides Henry)

A little back story:  One of my best friends, who you’ve heard me mention for his tromboning & gardening skills, is my pal Larry from Minneapolis. We’ve been friends for at least 20 years and in addition to his many fine qualities, he is willing to put up with my nonsense by hosting me several weeks each orchestra season when I head north for concerts.

I know his family (they’ve kindly included me in family dinners and birthday parties) and, as you will soon see, they are all wonderful, kind, talented people. Probably the family member I know the least well, however, gave me the biggest shock and delight this week by creating this video.

Larry’s brother-in-law, Harry wrote the music you will hear and created this video, Our Love. Surprise #1 – I had no idea Harry composed music! It stars his daughter and her boyfriend and also Larry’s sweet, sweet parents. The voice you hear bringing to this amzing song and video to life is Larry’s nephew, David Geist.

This family has talent (and love) in spades.

Grab a tissue. Here we go!

Isn’t that the sweetest thing ever? Let’s watch it again! (Also makes me miss Minneapolis…even in the winter.)

I was going to include some Valentine’s Day cooking suggestions here and I’ve just erased them to let this lovely video, song, and sentiment stand on their own.

Recipes tomorrow. Love today.

Henry, Lulu, and I send Our Love to you too!

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The Best Buffalo Chicken Dip.

Just in time for the Superbowl or any serious snacking occasion.

Or even dinner…because once you have this warm, gooey dip sitting on your counter, you’re going to want to eat it all instead of cooking what you had planned for dinner.

This recipe comes courtesy of my neighbor Jody. She made this for a little get together and we all snarfed it down like it was going out of style.

It’s spicy, cheesy, chickeny – completely addictive.

Once you’ve tasted it, I’m sure you’ll agree that it is The Best Buffalo Chicken Dip in the history of dips!

As a bonus, it’s super easy to prepare.

Here’s what you need:

Rotisserie Chicken, Cream Cheese, Crumbled Blue Cheese, Shredded Mozzarella Cheese, Blue Cheese Dressing, Hot Sauce (Frank’s), and Celery

Click here for The Best Buffalo Chicken Dip Shopping List

You’ll also want some sturdy corn chips or crackers and some crunchy celery stalks for dipping.

Click HERE, there’s more!

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Out & About – Snorkeling with Manatees!

Otherwise known as The Best Day EVER!

Every now and then we take a break from food posts here at Idiot’s Kitchen to go Out & About exploring.

Since moving to Florida 10 years ago, we’ve done most of the things people would expect – Disney, Universal Studios (Harry Potter!), the beach, Key West, and my personal favorite, NASA.

But the thing I have loved the most by a long shot is Snorkeling with Manatees.

For those of you who are land locked and might not know, Manatees are big aquatic mammals found in both fresh & salt water. Sometimes called Sea Cows, we happily have them in abundance in the Gulf of Mexico and waters in and around Tampa Bay.

Extremely sensitive to cold, in the winter they seek out warm spring fed waters or even water warmed by the local humungous power plant. This makes for great manatee watching or even better, manatee snorkeling.

If you are viewing manatees from the shore or from a boat, most of the time you will see this…

A big blob in the water floating by. If you stand there long enough, they will come to the surface and grab a breath of air and then you can see their cute noses. Cute but not that exciting.

If you really want to get up close and personal, you can take a charter tour and go snorkeling WITH the manatees!

Here’s how it works…

Click HERE, there’s more!

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Butternut Squash & Bacon Risotto. Hello, my lovely!

So many good things going on in one dish…butternut squash meets smoky bacon with a little zing of fresh sage.

All of this in a creamy, dreamy pot of golden risotto.

Heaven on a plate.

So good that we’re going to get right to it…

Here’s what you need:

Butternut Squash, Onion, Fresh Sage,  Rubbed or Ground Sage (not pictured), Thick Sliced Bacon, Arborio Rice, White Wine (or Dry White Vermouth), Pecorino Romano Cheese (not pictured), Salt & Pepper

Click here for a Butternut Squash & Bacon Risotto Shopping List

I’ve made a lot of recipes with butternut squash. The only thing that ever keeps me from wanting to try a new squash recipe is if it requires you to peel and cut up the raw squash.

I will be honest with you…it’s a complete pain. I usually convert recipes to pre-bake the squash thus eliminating this annoying peeling & chopping.

However, for this recipe, you want distinct cubes of squash and you also want to make a sort of squash infused broth so there is really no way around the peeling and chopping.

That said, this recipe is TOTALLY worth the extra effort. Just PLEASE be careful of your fingers as you are cutting through the hard squash.

Use a vegetable peeler to remove the thin, tan outer peel of a 2½ – 3 pound squash.

With a large sharp knife, cut the squash in half vertically then use big spoon to scoop out the seeds.

I find that the easiest method is to cut the squash halves in half again horizontally so you’re cutting the round bottom end where the seeds were away from the top half.

Then cut both sections into strips and then into small cubes, about 1 inch.

Click HERE, there’s more!

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Brown Butter Granola!

I was never a big granola fan until I started making my own.

Store bought granola is always so hard and crunchy, way too sweet, and suffering from raisin overload.

With homemade granola, once you get the hang of a few basic steps, you can customize it to include a variety of dried fruits, nuts, and extras.

Extras like brown butter!

If you’ve never tried baking with brown butter, I suggest that you go remedy this crisis right away.

Here’s what you need:

Oats, Butter, Coconut, Maple Syrup, Brown Sugar, Pecans, Almonds, Dried Cranberries, Dried Cherries, Vanilla, Cinnamon, and Salt (not pictured)

Click here for a Brown Butter Granola Shopping List

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Brown butter is the key to all things good and caramelly. It is simply butter that has been melted and then as the liquids and fats begin to separate, the fats start to cook and gently turn golden brown.

This releases the most delictable, toasty aroma. Your kitchen will never smell better.

Click HERE, there’s more!

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I have never been a huge fan of the traditional stuffed pepper but I’ll take these Chorizo Stuffed Poblano Peppers any day of the week!

If you’re not familiar with poblanos, you should give them a try. They are a mild pepper – not spicy, burn your tongue, clear your sinuses hot like a jalapeño but definitely have more flavor than a regular bell pepper.

If you’re used to making stuffed peppers with the traditional rice and ground beef in a green bell pepper, I think you’ll be (pleasantly) blown away by the flavors of chorizo, black beans, and cheese in these poblanos.

Time kick those tired old stuffed peppers up a big notch!

Here’s what you need:

Poblano Peppers, Onion, Garlic, Cooked Rice, Chorizo Sausage, Black Beans, Tomato Sauce, Cheddar Cheese, Pepper Jack Cheese, Chili Powder, Oregano, Cumin, Fresh Cilantro, Salt & Pepper

Click here for a Chorizo Stuffed Poblano Peppers Shopping List

For this recipe, you want to buy the crumbly kind of chorizo, sometimes called Mexican chorizo rather than the firm Spanish kind that looks more like smoked sausage.

This comes 6 links to a 1 pound package with each link wrapped in a little plastic-like casing that you must remove.

I can always find this at the Latin market but I know that the regular grocery store in my old neighborhood in Minneapolis used to have lots of chorizo options. (They also had a really great selection of devotional candles.)

Click HERE, there’s more!

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We’re doing another TBT – Throw Back Thursday this week because I’m seriously craving Spicy Orange Beef!

If you’re new-ish here, you might have missed this easy and flavorful recipe from the first year of Idiot’s Kitchen.

I was thinking about it last night because I made a stir fried beef with bok choy that was pretty good, but left me REALLY wanting the oomph and flavors of Spicy Orange Beef.

Like most stir fry dishes, this is quick to prepare. Everything except the rice winds up cooking in one large pan or wok. In fact, the rice takes the most time so be sure you start it before prepping your other ingredients.

Here’s the original post for Spicy Orange Beef.

I still cook this the same way that I did back in 2011 except now that I’m gluten free, I substitute tamari for the soy sauce and try to find GF hoisin sauce.

I also like to switch things up and have steamed snap peas or snow peas as an alternative to the broccoli.

If you want to make this a fuller meal with some fun sides, I highly recommend making vegetable or shrimp Spring Rolls.

I hope you’ll embrace the throw back and try Spicy Orange Beef. It’s one of my favorites!

And since we featured a baby picture of Henry last time, I thought Tiny Lulu should get equal exposure.

Cutest kitten ever!

Happy Thursday!

TBT – Spicy Orange Beef

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Eggplant Parmesan has always been one of my favorite dishes but since it’s usually breaded and fried, I had to give it up when I went gluten free.

Then I found this Baked Eggplant Parmesan recipe from Jamie Oliver in the NY Times and figured that I could make a few changes to accommodate my gluten challenges.

This version has all the good eggplant parm things going on with much less work and no deep frying – just layers of eggplant, cheese, and a fresh tasting tomato sauce.

I also figured that as much as I love Jamie and his cute, cute, cute British accent, he wouldn’t mind if I added some extra cheese and a little shot of wine to his recipe to give the sauce a little more oomph.

Here’s what you need:

Eggplants, Onion, Garlic, Fresh Basil, Tomatoes, Olive Oil, Red Wine Vinegar, Red Wine (optional/not pictured), Tomato Paste (optional/not pictured), Mozzarella Cheese, Romano Cheese, Bread Crumbs (mine are GF), Oregano, Red Pepper Flakes (not pictured), Salt & Pepper

Click here for a Baked Eggplant Parmesan Shopping List

Eggplant can be sort of a funky vegetable to deal with. It acts like a sponge and soaks up whatever moisture you add to it so if you’re not careful, it can become flabby and sad.

A great way around this problem, and also around the deep frying, is to roast the eggplant slices to give them a little color and firm up the texture.

Another good suggestion is to buy 2 or 3 medium sized eggplants rather than the giant, bulbous ones you sometimes see in the store as the smaller eggplants will be much firmer and have fewer seeds.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Slice the eggplants into circles about ½-inch thick.

Click HERE, there’s more!

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Carrot Coconut Curry Soup might not be the recipe you were expecting to see the week of Christmas, but it might be the recipe you need.

When life gets busy and crazy, I tend to make soup.

Not just because it’s comforting and warm (hello, I just turned my AC back on today after what was apparently our one day of winter), but because it’s easy, quick, and can feed you for several meals.

I like to have soup in the fridge to grab for a quick lunch or pop into a thermos to drink on the go.

Plus with all the holiday excess, it’s nice to have something light and healthy like Carrot Coconut Curry Soup in the rotation.

With all that if you still need more convincing, I’ll also tell you that Carrot Coconut Curry Soup tastes AWESOME!

Here’s what you need:

Carrots, Onion, Celery, Ginger, Garlic (not pictured), Vegetable or Chicken Broth (I usually use veggie), Coconut Milk, Olive Oil, Curry Powder, Salt & Pepper

Click here for a Carrot Coconut Curry Soup Shopping List

Carrot/Ginger colored cat optional but highly recommended.

You can also add fun garnishes the soup like green onions, cilantro, parsley, a drizzle of basil oil or squirt of sriracha sauce to spice things up.

Use whatever you happen to have on hand or just eat it as it comes out of the pot.

Click HERE, there’s more!

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