Spoiler Alert – I’m a terrible introvert.

North Carolina has moved to Phase 2. This means, for those of us that are ready, self isolation can start coming to an end gently making way for social activities. Before self isolation I thought I was a perfectly good introvert. I was going to clean closets, detail my car, learn the accordion, brush up on my very remedial Japanese, make fancy dinners and the list went on. Being someone that worked from home and didn’t tend to go ‘out and about’ it felt like an introvert paradise.

Spoiler alert – I’m a terrible introvert.

It was novel at first. I straightened up a closet, tackled a yard project even started that book languishing on my night stand. Then work slowed down so I lost some structure there, the husband was home everyday continuing to blur the lines between days. Meal planning brought no joy because the stores were struggling to keep their supplies consistent. My muscle memory wasn’t capable of assimilating anything new so the accordion became confusing. Things that brought me joy just didn’t, not anymore.

I sat down at my sewing machine on a Saturday, one of my most favorite things to do; play in my fabric stash and create something new. We needed fabric masks, I found a pattern that I liked, spent time selecting and cutting fabric. I was gonna make something and it was gonna be awesome, surely this would cheer me up and add purpose to my day. I finished, proudly looked at my new fabric masks in polka dots, stripes and peacock feathers – I felt worse, so much worse. I was frustrated I didn’t feel better, frustrated I had to spend time sewing for a pandemic. I didn’t want to sew because of a pandemic, I wanted to sew because I wanted to sew. I was devastated and felt lost.

I don’t even know how to explain the weeks that followed, I was just kinda going through the motions feeling like a terrible introvert. I’m very thankful for the relationship with my therapist. We talked about integrating the new normal, being okay with going with the flow and (what turned out to be most important) being kind with myself. I jokingly called it being mindful to be mindful. Mostly just oodles of conscience reminders that I’m resilient, flexible and can do hard things (cause this is hard).

I’ve not perfected it, and I’m sure I’ll wreck it a few more times – otherwise it wouldn’t be a process. I’ve been enjoying time with the neighbor ladies, we sit outside keeping a social distance appreciating each others company. Giggled myself into hysterics over some really strange but informative scientific research about bats. Amused myself with puzzles, new cookbooks from different regions and reading my first graphic novel.

For the first time in a while I feel content.

6 best things I’ve cooked during “quarantine”

There are a few weeks left until we are gonna be allowed to roam about freely, but here is south eastern North Carolina we have at least had a gorgeous spring. Even with warm temperatures and sun shinny days I’m still getting tired of being stuck at home in self isolation.

I always find joy cooking with fresh flavors and bright colors, it’s become even more therapeutic over the, what’s the count, 55 days? There is something about a delicious fresh meal that just lifts my spirits, and recently has created a feeling of structure and accomplishment. So please enjoy the best things I have cooked while keeping myself squirreled away at home.

(Disclaimer: the photos are subpar, I didn’t really expect to be blogging about eating during a pandemic. Thanks for being understanding. )

Vietnamese Noodle Bowls. The first place I ever had Bun Thit Nuong is a local Thai/Vietnamese restaurant, they have an garden with little private pagodas open during dinner hours. Cold noodles and fresh veggies make the Vietnamese bowls perfect for out door summer dinning. Partly reminiscent for summer and partly because they are delicious, creating these bowls at home always makes me happy. I prefer mine with lemongrass pork and a health pile of chopped peanuts.

Steak and Nectarine Salad. This one came pretty much straight out of the new cookbook Half Bakes Harvest: Super Simple, which you can find on her blog. I ditched the sauteed peppers and skipped to the steak and nectarines. All on a bed of arugula with lots of sliced cucumbers and basil. This is another bright cheery meal that makes me think of summer and not being stuck at home.

Indian Butter Chicken. I love Indian food, and was excited that this was simple to make and didn’t require a special skill or anything I couldn’t find in the grocery store. I fiddled around on the interweb googles, mushed together a few recipes, bought some naan and went for it. Its a nice warm but not spicy flavor, so very popular with the husband.

Lemon Something Chicken. Typically called Chicken Francese or French or Rochester, it’s all the same; breaded chicken cutlets in a lemony butter sauce that is delicious over pasta. I’ve made this allot during self isolation. Bright citrus and buttery sauce plated over angle hair pasta, it’s fabulous comfort food.

Avocado Toast. I honestly never thought I would warm up to the thought, but now I can’t get enough of it. My favorite accompaniment is sliced cherry tomatoes and everything bagel seasoning, with sourdough being the popular toast choice. It’s crunchy and creamy, hot and cold with a salty garlicy flavor sending it right over the top. Best part; being home all the time I can catch the avocados in that 1 hour window where they are perfectly ripe.

Street Meat, or at least that is what we have come to call it. Using recipes modeled after the sidewalk vendors in NYC, which I’ve actually never had myself so I’m not sure how it compares, it still manages to be delicious. The hot chicken and rice mixed with cold crispy lettuce topped with tangy white sauce vanquishes hunger. It’s also made me love tolerate chicken thighs.

So that’s the list. I’m sure there is more that captivated me but it’s been a long couple of weeks and my brain has taken several days off. Cooking and exploring new cultures through cookbooks and food blogs alike has been a staple for keeping me occupied these past weeks. Self care comes in many embodiments. Stay safe everyone.

Bow ties, chicken thighs and a tradition dies.

This dog! Who would have thought he would look so cute in his bow tie. Okay so I never doubted it. He needs a red plaid one for Christmas.

Newest revelation in the kitchen; chicken thighs. No seriously, I’ve never been a fan until recently. Now I’m nearly obsessed with them and finding the perfect way to cook them. I have done BBQ sauce on the grill, lemon buttery BBQ baked, skillet sweet and sour, and a few other disasters, I mean experiments. So far my favorite is cooking them in a skillet with a honey lime sauce. It’s sweet, tangy and juicy. Totally perfect. Once I feel like I’ve nailed it, I’m gonna share!

Speaking of changing things up and trying something new, we have always done a Thanksgiving dinner at our house. In recent years this has become more difficult to coordinate and, if we are being honest, personal reasons to much to endure. This year we are joining a local church body to deliver Thanksgiving meals rather than eating one! Not looking for any validation just encouraging others that’s it’s okay to break tradition once in a while, they can always be revisited later.

Italian Stuffed Flank Steak

Flank steak is inexpensive and versatile, it makes great fajitas, stir fries or even cheese steak. It picks up flavors from a marinade easily, and can be grilled, pan seared, baked or broiled. Although, my favorite is a stuffed flank steak, by pulling together whatever sounds good from the fridge and pantry, there really isn’t a wrong way to “stuff” the steak.

I’ve used leftover sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onions, asparagus, tomato paste, sliced ham, various cheeses the list just goes on. However, my personal favorite is mushrooms, sauteed spinach and sun dried tomatoes. It’s savory and a little sweet, add in provolone or mozzarella coupled with a balsamic glaze- perfect.

I promise next time flank steak is on sale you will want to try this.

Print Recipe
Stuffed Flank Steak with Balsamic Glaze
Stuffed flank steak is probably the most flexible recipe I have right now, and it's simple. The glaze is optional, but it's delicious, I like to make it ahead of time so I can be attentive while it cooks down.
Course Main Dish
Prep Time 25 min
Cook Time 15 min total
Servings
8 pinwheels
Ingredients
Stuffed Flank Stead
Balsamic Glaze (optional)
Course Main Dish
Prep Time 25 min
Cook Time 15 min total
Servings
8 pinwheels
Ingredients
Stuffed Flank Stead
Balsamic Glaze (optional)
Instructions
The filling
  1. In a skillet with a lid, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and saute until they are golden, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the shallots and cook for an additional 2 min while string.
  3. Reduce the heat to low and add the spinach, a little more olive oil if you need to and the garlic salt. Stir to mix and put the lid on allowing the spinach to wilt. Pull this off the heat, stir in the sun dried tomatoes and move on to stuffing the steaks (see notes).
Steak Pinwheels
  1. Preheat the oven to 350C
  2. Place the steak on a cutting board with the grain of the meat parallel to the edge of the counter. Pound the meat thinner to make it easier to roll, or if it's really thick/uneven butterfly it and then pound it flat.
  3. Starting with the edge closest to you begin to plop the filling on the meat. Evenly spread it out avoiding the top third of the steak.
  4. Starting with the edge closes to you roll the steak like a big meaty jelly roll.
  5. Secure with toothpicks and slice into 2 inch thick pinwheels.
  6. Heat an oven proof (I like cast iron for this) skillet over medium heat with a drizzle of olive oil.
  7. Lay the pinwheels cut side down and sprinkle with half the herb seasoning, then place them seasoning side down in the hot skillet. Sprinkle the rest of the seasoning over the pinwheels while they sear.
  8. Once they are nice and brown on the bottom (about 1 min) flip the pinwheels over and sear the other side for about two minutes.
  9. Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the steaks.
  10. Place them in the oven for 7-10 min until the desired doneness is reached. If the cheese hasn't browned I like to give them a min under the broiler before I pull them out.
  11. Allow the steaks to rest for a few min before plating them and drizzling the glaze across the tops (if using it which you really should).
Balsamic Glaze
  1. While the pinwheels are in the oven and resting it's time to make the glaze, if you are using it that is. In a small sauce pan mix the balsamic and brown sugar.
  2. Bring to a gentle simmer while stirring. Reduce the heat slightly and allow it to reduce by half. It's really that simple. Drizzle over the finished pinwheels. Sometimes I make a double batch the day before and use it on other stuff too.
Recipe Notes

This can stand alone with a very simple side like rice to catch the extra juices.  Myself, I'm a veggie lover and so I make a simple side salad or steamed carrots.

Note about the balsamic vinegar, you don't have to break the bank but do pick one that has a nice well rounded flavor.  In making the glaze those flavors will be concentrated and made a little sweet, so it's best to start out with a decent quality vinegar.  

Note about the filling, this can be made up to two days ahead of time.  Just store in the fridge in a airtight container until you are ready to stuff the steak.  Any longer than two days and I find it loses it's bright flavor and color.

Weirdness, Gishness and DragonCon

I had a terrific and busy summer filled with exceptional friends and big adventure. I wish I had blogged as the summer went but, I guess I was so excited to be in the moment that I forgot in a weird way.

Speaking of weird I went to Charlotte with my friend Jennifer to see Weird Al Yankovic’s Strings Attached show. The word phenomenal isn’t even enough. He is tremendous, a complete showman with costume changes, running through the audience, sitting in some ladies lap, he even rode a segway across the stage. All of this while being backed by a 40 some piece orchestra and his band. I had fun can you tell.

Shortly after that it was time for the annual GISH scavenger hunt. If you’ve paid attention in the past then you know it’s always chaos coupled with merriment to yield some pretty strange scavenger hunt ‘finds’. I think my favorite item this year was fishing for a compliment, mostly cause I liked the cheesy pick up like we used. “If you were a box of crayons you’d be the giant name-brand one with the buily in sharpener”. Oh man! HA!

Once I finally got my house back in order (a week long scavenger hunt takes it’s toll) it was time to get ready for DragonCon. This was my second time attending and I had a blast. My husband and I stayed in a host hotel putting us in the thick of the excitement and rabble-rousing. Favorite panel; gosh it’s hard to pick but i think the Farscape one. I fan girled so hard over – not Ben Browder – but Brain Henson. Cosplay is always fun, I worked really hard on my RamboBrite outfit, and probably harder painting a nerf gun gold and red glittery. Although I’m probably most proud of the last min 80s prom costumes I put together, even bleached those jeans!

Binge Cleaning, Doggy Noses, and Satisfied Cravings

I love a successful task master cleaning sessions. We are expecting company in a few days and what’s the best way to get ready; make sure they don’t have to look at my filth! Well as long as they don’t look on top of the fridge or in the garage. So yep – that was how I spent the weekend.

However, the one thing I can’t seem to get ahead of is dog hair. Boomer has been doing nothing but shedding the past few weeks, and I do mean nothing. He is adorably lazy just like a pupper should be. He also likes to insert himself in all activities, here I am trying to take a picture of the new run to send to my husband, but wait – dog nose.

Time and again I’ve said I want to take a foodie tour of Wilmington exclusively eating shrimp tacos. It’s shrimp and it’s tacos, how can this ever be a bad thing. My current favorite is Fish Bite’s blackened shrimp tacos with a side of their Thai sauce. Here I even indulged in zucchini fries.

Not my Momma’s Meatloaf

Before I get into the meat of the post (ha get it, meat!) allow me a moment of candor.  As I was growing up my mom’s  meatloaf was just a terrible grey mass with ketchup drizzled on top. After time in the oven, the ketchup resembled a slightly sticky red shoelace (lawdy I hope she isn’t reading this).  Looking back now I should have appreciated her effort more; She was in college, had a family and was putting home cooked meals on the table.  I’m grateful she taught me that the experience of cooking for others can be rewarding, also thankful she didn’t teach me her meatloaf recipe.

Okay so enough sounding like a brat, time to share my take on the meatloaf. I knew it had to be moist (yes there is that word), full of flavor and boast something unwarranted. The jobs of flavor and juicy; those fall on the shoulders of finely chopped veggies and panko breadcrumbs. I love the sweetness from the veggies and added nutrition (scoffing laughter, okay a little added nutrition) all bound up with the panko. I wanted to take meatloaf past some unseen barrier from my childhood experiences, so I slathered it with BBQ sauce, wrapped it in bacon and added more BBQ sauce. Now you see why I had to convince myself the addition of the veggies brings nutrition to the equation.

I hope y’all enjoy my meatloaf recipe, that you fall in love with this comfort food all over again or for the first time.

Print Recipe
Not my Momma's Meatloaf
Juicy and full of flavor, this meatloaf will become a family favorite.
Course Main Dish
Prep Time 20 min
Cook Time 90 min
Servings
4 servings
Ingredients
Course Main Dish
Prep Time 20 min
Cook Time 90 min
Servings
4 servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 325C, we are going for low and slow.
  2. In a bowl mix together the bread crumbs and seasoning, set this aside.
  3. In a food processor pulse the red bell pepper, carrot and onion.
  4. In a large bowl place the meatloaf mixture, veggie mix (sometimes I don't use all of it, try for a shy cup), followed by the dry ingredients and egg. Mix this together gently, seriously don't give the meatloaf a deep tissue massage just gently fold the ingredients together.
  5. Shape the loaf in a jelly roll pan or large casserole dish, whatever is on hand that is big enough to allow the drippings to move away from the loaf. Otherwise it will just bake in a pool of fat. (I like to line my pan with parchment paper. ) Then brush the loaf well with BBQ sauce, cause that's way better than ketchup.
  6. Cut the three slices of bacon in half to make six short slices. Lay the short slices over the loaf to make it a little bacon blankie. Hush little loafy don't say a word.... Brush with more BBQ sauce.
  7. Put that gloriousness in the oven at 325C for 90min. Drool and remove from the oven.
Recipe Notes

As any meatloaf, it's best the day of but makes great leftovers, if there are any.  The veggies and panko keep this juicy and full of flavor, while the bacon and BBQ make it special.    

A few notes about recipe and technique.

Carrot note - sometimes all I have is shredded carrots, or baby carrots... don't feel like you have to get anything new.

Seasoning note - I adore the Salt Sisters.  I have used their Mediterranean rub, Tuscan farmhouse blend  and smokey BBQ rub in the recipe.  You can't go wrong with them.

Mixing note: I said it but I'll say it again - don't over mix it!  Just fold gently otherwise it will affect the texture. 

No loaf pan:  Despite loaf being in the name I recommend skipping the loaf pan.   I'm pretty sure sitting in it's own slop while it bakes is what turns it into a grey glob, instead of baking it just kinda boils.  No one wants boiled meat.  

 

Buggos, Doggos, and Avocados

It’s been a pleasant week so far here in SE NC. Not too warm and the breeze is pleasantly swift most afternoons. So much so that teeny tiny praying mantis have been blowing out of the trees and onto the deck. I’ve found them on my clothes, the dog and in the planters. Isn’t it just adorable.

Speaking of critters; our new pup Boomer is curious about everything. We decided a trip the Carolina Beach marina might be fun for him. The marina has walking trails, a campground, and a little strip of “beach” which is where we went. I don’t know how he managed to muster up the volume, but he tinkled on everything. Every blade of grass, a random stump, some rocks, dead crabs, a rouge seashell or two …. all of it. I think he liked it.

Food post! I’m always reluctant to partake in a fad, it’s not that I’m a rebel with a cause don’t follow the masses person, I guess I’m just hesitant to change my routine for something new and unknown. Like avocado toast… it just kinda sounded gross to me especially since having only recently deciding I liked the “dragon eggs”. Sure enough, it’s tasty! Mashed up avocado, slathered on toasted sourdough bread, itty bitty tomatoes and a generous sprinkling of everything bagel seasoning. Drool.

Sweet and Dirty Rice

I originally posted this recipe back in 2012, I don’t know what made me think ‘yummy apricots and sausage’ but I’m glad I did because it’s fabulous (still). When I decided to start operation recipe revive I quickly thought about my sweet and dirty rice.

This is a casual side dish, although I’ve been know to make a meal out of leftovers.

Print Recipe
Sweet and Dirty Rice
Delicious sweet and savory side.
Course Side
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
4-6 servings
Ingredients
Course Side
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
4-6 servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Over medium high heat in a large, preferably non stick pan, cook the sausage while breaking it apart with a wooden spoon.
  2. If you are adding the sage sprinkle it over the broken up sausage and continue to cook.
  3. When the sausage is nearly done (still a bit pink) add the shallots. Continue cooking until the onions are slightly translucent and the sausage is no longer pink.
  4. After the sausage is done cooking turn off the heat and stir in the rice.
  5. Once the rice is mixed in add the apricots and parsley, stir to incorporate. Serve warm.
Recipe Notes

This is a very causal side dish but I've been known to serve it with Thanksgiving dinner.  Scarfing it down the day of is best, but heating up in the microwave works just fine.  

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Hot temps, Sunset Jeep Rides, and Food

Well, here in the south the heat has been about as relentless as a dog when you have a bag of potato chips. All up in your face with stinky, sticky hot breath. The grass is turning brown earlier than usual and my hair is set to maximum frizz. It’s hot and gross y’all, but that ain’t stopping us.

Husband finally got the jeep back and just in time too. The weather has been perfect for sunset rides. Our favorite stretch of River Road was gorgeous the other night. We were starting to cool off too, it was only 96 when we took this ride.

Food, I think it’s always on my mind in some capacity. This time it’s all in the meal planning, grilled chicken salad with a mango dressing, grilled pork tenderloin with something sweet and mustardy happening, and when it cools off to the upper 80s chocolate chip cookies. So come back next week and hopefully I’ll have a good recipe to share.