This meatloaf would make you do anything for love….

If there’s one dish my husband believes I make the best…it’s meatloaf. Before I really started cooking, this was one recipe that had stuck with me from when my mom would cook dinner (without burning anything.) And one night, on a whim, I decided to try it on Matt. Like me, prior to this recipe, I had such an aversion to meatloaf. I’ve seen it doused in more tomato sauce/ketchup than I could stomach…and I love tomatoes! (Just not in meatloaf.)

So if you’re a non-tomato meatloaf person like me, then you can understand the sheer joy I felt when I took my first bite of this delectably flavorful dish. In fact, I’ll almost guarantee that your reaction could resemble that of my husband when he initially (and a little reluctantly) tried my meatloaf….his eyes bugged out like a cartoon character and he went back for seconds! (Later he proclaimed “you’re holding out on me”….and thus started my cooking tutelage.) In part, I guess I can thank this recipe for jump-starting several tasty concoctions and personal cooking/baking challenges. (And you might thank me too, especially when you try it! During the winter, I must make this dish at least 1-2 times a month. With all the things we cook, that’s saying a lot.)

(It’s also great when you want to re-heat it, trust me….it’s even better.)

Normally, I would pair this dish with some tasty egg noodles (and of course, brown gravy!), but since we had some white potatoes to move since we used the rest to make homemade french fries (and freeze them to use as needed), why not whip up some mashed potatoes? And while they’re no Yukon Gold or Red Bliss, it’s super easy to make them creamy and delicious! (And as for gravy, if you have a recipe, use it! If not, I recommend Heinz Beef or Pork Gravy.)

Sometimes in cooking, I have come to the conclusion that you don’t always need to be armed with a ton of recipes. Whether you’re a good cook or a bad one, we all have that one recipe that we have mastered. And I’m sure if Randy from A Christmas Story could try this one….he would quit saying “I hate meatloaf!”

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


meatloaf

Jenn’s “Rockstar” Meatloaf with Homemade Mashed Potatoes

For meatloaf:

2-3 pounds meatloaf mix (if you can’t find meatloaf mix, you can use beef. If you want to make meatloaf mix, use ground beef, pork, and veal)

One packet Onion Soup Mix

Worcestershire Sauce

1 egg

1/2 cup bread crumbs

1-1 1/2 cups shredded cheese

For mashed potatoes:

4-5 large potatoes, scrubbed and cubed small

2 heaping tablespoons sour cream

1/3 to 1/2 cup Milk or heavy cream 

1/2 stick butter, cut into four pieces

Salt

Pepper

1) Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. In large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients for meatloaf and mix well using hands. Add Worcestershire Sauce to your taste. (I never measure for Worcestershire, because it’s preference, so just add as much or as little as you want. It all depends on how much salt you want in the mix. And yes, Onion Soup Mix….because when the dried onions re-hydrate, they have that meat flavor!) Place mix into loaf pan (glass or metal), push into the pan (especially the corners), then place in oven for about 1 – 1 1/4 hours.

2) When meatloaf is about halfway cooked, fill pot with water halfway for potatoes and place on stove. Make sure potatoes are scrubbed clean before being cubed, skin left on. (And if there are any “eyes” or brown spots in the potatoes, don’t forget to get rid of them!) As each potato is cubed, place cubes in cold water. Once all potatoes are processed and in the pot, turn on high and cover, checking periodically. When water starts boiling, remove lid and keep cooking until potato breaks apart when fork is stuck into it; if done, drain water and place potatoes back into pot.

3) Combine butter, milk, and sour cream in with potatoes, then using a masher mix thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste. (And don’t be afraid to season!) Set aside and cover. (If the potatoes are done before meatloaf, you can heat it up after meatloaf comes out. Just place back on stove on medium to high heat, continually stirring for 2-3 minutes)

4) Once meatloaf is done, remove from oven and using a steak knife, go around inside of pan and separate meatloaf from the sides (because the cheese normally makes it stick a little to the pan.) If done right, the meatloaf should come out in one solid loaf; transfer to a place and slice as thick (or thin) a slice as desired. Serve with potatoes and gravy. (Or no gravy…it’s up to you!)

Bringin’ home the Bacon(-wrapped Shrimp!)

Over this past weekend, Matt & I celebrated what I consider our first milestone as husband and wife: the one-month anniversary. After over 6.5 years together before making it official, we still take pleasure in those simple moments by spending our time doing what we do best….cooking together. It’s a way we share our love with each other and with everyone in our life that is important to us. And last night was no exception! Why go out when we could whip up an extra special dinner in the comfort of our own home?

As evident by my previous post, we do love some shrimp in our house. Living by the beach, seafood is simply a staple in our diet. (Just you wait….we do love fish too and I have quite a few good recipes to share on that topic later.) Shrimp is just so easy to make and you can incorporate just a few simple ingredients to make it delicious….like bacon! If you have package of bacon, a griddle, and some patience, then you are going to love this recipe!

And what goes better with shrimp than homemade pasta? Ever since I acquired my KitchenAid pasta press attachment, courtesy of Matt’s Aunt Lori (and family), cooking with box pasta sometimes seems as daunting as eating a McDonald’s cheeseburger. Granted, in a pinch it works just fine, but if you have the time to sift flour and knead dough, I suggest rolling up your sleeves and giving it a go! (And no worries if you don’t have a pasta press or a KitchenAid, there are plenty of recipes online to make it without a pasta machine! But I do recommend this dough recipe, it’s perfect to use and you can adjust as needed.)

It’s a great meal that looks like restaurant quality, but won’t break your bank to make! When it comes to big celebrations in life, sometimes the best way to honor that moment is not to go out, but to stay in and savor the memory from the comfort of your own home….with a tasty meal, of course.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


baconwrappedshrimp

Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp with Homemade Pasta

Ingredients:

4-6 slices of bacon

2 dozen raw frozen shrimp, thawed and peeled

Sauce:

1 lemon, sliced

2 teaspoons minced garlic (or 2-3 cloves)

1/3 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup Cooking wine

2-3 tablespoons butter

2-3 teaspoons flour

Pasta Dough:

3 1/2 cups sifted flour

4 large eggs (Should be 7/8 cup. If it’s below, gradually add water until it is 7/8 cup)

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon water

1) Start by pounding out bacon slices to make them a little thinner, then cut into pieces to wrap once around bacon. Place on skewer. Make it six shrimp to each skewer and set aside.

2) For pasta dough, in mixer using flat beater, add sifted flour and salt together, giving it a quick stir. Turn on lowest setting (Speed 2) and gradually add eggs and water until mixed, then switch flat beater to dough hook and mix on low for 2 minutes. Dough may be crumbly, but not too much. If it is super crumbly, gradually add water one tablespoon at a time until dough starts to form a ball. Remove and knead dough on wax paper or clean countertop until dough starts to get smooth and pliable, should be able to hold the shape of a ball. Break into walnut-sized balls for pasta press.

3) Start a pot to boil water. Attach pasta press attachment to KitchenAid and turn mixer to highest speed. Gradually place balls of pasta in press, using cutter on attachment to make strands of pasta as long or short as desired. Hang pasta on drying rack or on sheet pan lined with wax paper.

4) In a saute pan over medium-high heat, add butter and flour to make a roux, then add chicken broth, cooking wine, garlic, and lemon slices, bringing sauce to a boil, then lowering to simmer and cover.

5) On griddle pan over medium-high heat, place skewers of shrimp down, turning as bacon starts to brown and shrimp starts to turn pink, about 4-5 minutes. Once cooked through, remove from griddle and cover with foil on plate to keep warm.

6) Once water is boiling, add 1 teaspoon salt to pot and throw in pasta, stirring gradually until cooked through, about 4-6 minutes. Strain and return to pot, then add sauce over pasta and give a quick stir. Serve with shrimp on side.

Breaking out of the shell: Panko Edition

If there’s one item Matt and I have become almost addicted to when we’re food shopping….it’s frozen shrimp. Our supermarket charges this criminally inexpensive price every now and then, and we snatch it up and cram the delectable treat of the ocean into our overly-packed freezer! (Well, now it’s super packed…thank our wedding cake for that…if only we had more room!)

The best thing about frozen shrimp is you can do practically anything with it, especially if it’s raw and frozen. Of course, you’ll need to defrost and (in our usual prep work) peel the shrimp, but it’s super easy to work with (and so damn tasty.) And you can cook it so many different ways….if you need to know how, I recommend you watch Forrest Gump. (Little joke, sorry.)

Tonight’s recipe was actually one we attempted about a week ago, with “so-so” results: fried shrimp. (aka: it’s delicious, but how can we make it even better?) After our first attempt, it was determined that while regular bread crumbs are nice, panko would give us the desired crunchy texture that fried shrimp needs. (And as a bonus, I even made homemade cocktail sauce, courtesy of Food Network….which I will gladly share with you! Or if you want, their recipe is here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/quick-cocktail-sauce-recipe.html) I’m a little sad there are no leftovers for work tomorrow, but it was a delicious idea. (One I hope to repeat again soon.)

Now, if you don’t have a deep fryer like Matt and I do, you can always fry shrimp in a regular frying or saute pan. Just be sure to put a healthy amount of oil in the pan and allow it to warm up on medium-high heat. Give that oil time to warm, otherwise, you won’t get a good crunch. (And make sure your room is well ventilated….last thing you need is the smoke alarm going off, something Matt and I are very used to hearing when we cook with high temperatures. Towel at the ready to fan away! Haha.)

Another great idea is breaking the shrimp up into small pieces, applying the same breading and making a variation of “popcorn shrimp”. Or maybe you want different seasonings? Again, don’t be afraid to add your own flair to this dish! The world is your oyster….or should I say, shrimp?

Haha, enjoy!

~ Jenny V


pankoshrimp

Panko-Fried Shrimp with Homemade Cocktail Sauce

For the shrimp:

1 1/2 pounds of raw peeled shrimp

1/2 cup flour

1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning

1 egg

1 cup panko bread crumbs

For the cocktail sauce: (Again, thank you Food Network!)

1/2 cup ketchup

2 tablespoons horseradish

Worcestershire sauce

1/2 to 1 lemon

Tabasco sauce

1) Pre-heat deep fryer to 350 degrees. In a plastic container with lid, put in shrimp and season with Old Bay, thoroughly coating the shrimp. Add flour, close lid, and give a good shake until shrimp are all lightly coated in flour.

2) Dredge shrimp in egg mixture, then place in another plastic container (with lid) in panko. Once all shrimp are in, close lid and give a good shake, coating each shrimp thoroughly. Place in deep fryer basket. (Now my trick is once I have the shrimp in the basket, holding the basket over a garbage can or a sink, dump residual bread crumbs on shrimp and give basket a good shake. This way, any shrimp needing extra breading gets some and you’re not making too much of a mess.)

3) Place basket in deep fryer and close lid. Cook for about 2-4 minutes. When shrimp looking dark golden brown, they’re done. (Shrimp take practically no time to cook, so watch them carefully.) Remove and place on a plate with a paper towel to cool.

4) In a small bowl, combine ketchup, horseradish, a dash of Worcestershire, lemon, a dash of Tabasco (and if you’re feeling adventurous, a few shakes of Old Bay Seasoning). Mix thoroughly and serve with shrimp.

Ramen….not just a college food

Before I share today’s recipe, I want to preface this post with one important truth: my husband and I are not gourmet chefs. Sometimes we get a little less Jacques Pepin and a little more Sandra Lee, depending on time. (And if you watch cooking shows as much as we do, you’ll get the joke. If not, you need to Wikipedia both of these names immediately!)

I say this because while most food posts that I see use all fresh ingredients or lots of fancy items that seem more at home in a Chopped basket, Matt and I pride ourselves on being able to use ingredients we find on sale and throwing them together to create one delicious meal! Canned and/or frozen vegetables, store-bought chicken stock, dried spices, leftovers, etc. (But from time to time, we do try ingredients that should be in a Chopped basket….mainly out of curiosity.)

Which brings me to tonight’s tasty treat: ramen noodles. Now, for those of you who have either been a college student or looking for ways to eat on a budget, ramen is your best friend. And especially on a late night of studying where Easy Mac is just not cutting it, ramen was perfect. Yet I enjoyed dressing up my ramen a little bit, especially with a little bit of egg and some sage & thyme. But what most don’t realize about ramen, it makes for great noodles in chicken soup! (Not to mention, one of those flavor packets can definitely be a bonus if you’re looking to add a little bit of flavor in a pinch! With a big batch of soup, one packet will not cram what feels like a metric ton of sodium into your meal.) And if you have leftover chicken (like we did from our braised chicken on Sunday) and a little bit of the liquid that the chicken was cooked in (like we did), then making a quick and easy chicken soup can be accomplished! And no worries if you don’t save the residual cooking liquid….you can always use chicken broth and seasonings to accomplish a similar effect.

This is not my slow-cooker recipe (which I may share at a later date, because once winter gets here, lots of meals end up being made in the Crock Pot, even homemade chicken stock), but rather a quick recipe for those of us who work all day and need to figure out dinner. (And with Matt and I immersed in hectic work schedules, if a meal takes longer than an hour or two, frustration and hunger is going to set in. Never a good combination.)

You can create this dish any way you like, maybe you like more veggies and less noodles, maybe more chicken, maybe different spices….just don’t be afraid to dress up ramen noodles! They’re an inexpensive find at the supermarket and a great reason to use leftovers! So here’s our version, a chicken soup concoction that made my husband tell me it’s the “best soup he’s ever had”.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


ramen

Jenn’s “Grown-Up” Ramen Chicken Soup

3 packages Ramen Noodles, Chicken Flavor

2-4 cooked chicken thighs, skinned, de-boned, and diced

1-2 cups concentrated chicken stock (preferably liquid you cooked the chicken thighs in)

6-7 cups water (depending on how much you love broth, you can always add more)

One can mixed vegetables

One medium onion, diced

2-3 stalks celery, diced

1 tablespoon poultry seasoning

1 tablespoon sage

1 tablespoon thyme

Salt & pepper to taste

Butter

1) In a stockpot over medium-high heat, add chicken stock, water, poultry seasoning, sage, and thyme. After about 4-6 minutes, add diced chicken and give broth a stir.

2) In a separate saute pan, over medium-high heat, throw in 2 tablespoons of butter and allow to melt thoroughly. Once pan has had a chance to warm, throw in onion and celery, cooking until onions start to look translucent. And if needed and vegetables start to brown a little, add additional butter by the tablespoon until translucency is achieved. Once cooked, remove and add to soup mixture with can of vegetables. Turn heat on high and bring soup to a boil.

3) Take ramen noodle packets and roughly break up package. (I normally try to break them up, one break horizontally, one vertical.) Open package, remove flavor packet and add noodles to soup. Stir to submerge noodles in broth.

4) Check flavor of broth. If needed, add just one flavor packet from the noodles, then finish up with salt and pepper until desired flavor achieved. Once noodles are cooked through, turn off and serve!

A “Duck” to rule over Turkey….burgers

If you have never tried duck fat for cooking….you’re missing out on a delicious alternative to olive oil and butter. Maybe not quite as healthy as olive oil, but definitely a more flavorful venture, in my opinion!

During the summer, when I came home from Williams-Sonoma with a jar of duck fat (purchasing the item with a gift card, purely on a whim to amp up our cooking), Matt was a little perplexed….I mean, what does one use duck fat for? Initially, he had assumed that the Ancho Chili Powder (also purchased on a whim…you will soon understand I am notorious for this) would yield better results with our meals than duck fat. (Funnily enough, we have yet to find a meal that has been made better by a specialty chili powder….although taco nights do seem to take the top spot…more on that later.)

And then it hit me….turkey! We had purchased a package of ground turkey meat since it was ridiculously cheap (gotta love sales) and had thought of making turkey burgers to try and vary up our menu. With the duck fat, I suggested using it to cook the burgers, to which Matt quickly agreed. Add a little bread crumb and egg here, onion soup mix (because the dried onions re-hydrate with meat flavor–yummy) there, and some Worcestershire sauce….and behold….turkey burger bliss was born!

Now, duck fat can get a little pricey (depending on where you get it, Williams-Sonoma was $15.00), but just one jar can yield quite a few meals. We have made these turkey burgers at least half a dozen times and we still have half a jar (give or take) left. (And if you still want to save a little, save your bacon fat! Any fatty meat that produces grease can be utilized in cooking….although I would still recommend giving the duck a try, because it’s just that damn tasty. Also, refrigerate any fat that you do have–cold fat is easier to scoop and less messy!)

Sometimes, those “on a whim” buys can truly produce some of the greatest meals. Don’t be afraid to be adventurous from time to time. You don’t need to go all out and get crazy in the kitchen–keep it simple and incorporate 1-2 new items into a dish….the risk is worth it.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


turkeyburger

Turkey Burger “Bliss”

1 package ground turkey

1/2 to 1 package Onion Soup Mix (depending on how much you like onion flavor)

1/2 cup bread crumbs (I usually don’t measure this out, but 1/2 cup is a good place to start and you can always add more if needed. Turkey meat is a lot leaner than beef.)

1 egg

Worcestershire Sauce, as needed

8 slices of cheese (Matt and I normally do half of the burgers with Swiss and the other half with American, but pick a nice melty cheese that you enjoy! Or if you’re not into cheese, no worries, because this burger is packed with flavor.)

1 package of hamburger rolls (or not, if you’re looking to lessen the carbs, skip the bun!)

Condiments (Onions, Tomatoes, Pickles, BBQ Sauce, Ketchup, etc., whatever you prefer! Personally, I make mine with Onions, Tomatoes, Pickle Relish, and BBQ Sauce…but the choice is all yours.)

1-2 tablespoons of duck fat (maybe more, keep this on hand while cooking)

1) In a bowl, combine ground turkey, egg, bread crumb, Worcestershire, and Onion Soup mix until thoroughly mixed. Score the mixture into 8 identical patties, pressing them a little flatter since meat shrinks up when it cooks. Once pressed, lay them on a plate four at a time, then place down a sheet of wax paper to place the remainder on top. Refrigerate for at least 10-15 minutes to let the patties get some cohesiveness, since turkey meat is leaner and feels a lot softer than ground beef.

2) In a cast-iron pan (or frying pan, griddle, something that has a flat surface with no grates), heat up the two tablespoons of duck fat, allowing it to melt. Once thoroughly heated, place the burgers in the pan, browning on both sides. Cook burgers thoroughly, roughly between 8-10 minutes. (You may need to cook these in batches, so be prepared to add more duck fat into the pan as needed.)

3) Before burgers are done, and have been flipped, place desired cheese on top (if you want) and cover pan, allowing cheese to melt. Once cheese is thoroughly melted, place burger on bun (or not, for the carb-friendly folks) and top with desired condiments. (A little tip: if you have fried onion rings, may I suggest one of those on top? Holy deliciousness Batman!)

Feel the Braise

When we received our cast iron Dutch Oven as a shower gift, Matt and I were not quite sure how to proceed with it….it’s heavy as hell! I mean, carrying that thing requires at least some weight-training, or a strong husband. But as we continue to use it, whether it be for cooking roasts, chili, turkey burgers, gravy for Sunday dinner (yes, gravy, Italians call it gravy), it has become our favorite toy in the kitchen….aside from the pasta press, but we’ll get to that later.

So today, as a change from our usual cooking methods for chicken thighs, I wanted to try them in the Dutch Oven, which brings us to braising. Now, for those who are not familiar, braising meat means that you use dry and wet methods of cooking. First you cook to sear in the juices, then in the oven it cooks in liquid.

Matt was on board with it, especially since he loves when I suggest new methods to cook our favorite foods. And the best part? Chicken thighs are dark meat, which means if you cook it longer, you won’t dry it out, due to its fattier content (never a bad thing, especially since that fat is jam-packed with flavor.) Now, the recipe I found had ingredients like fennel and red potatoes, so we varied it up a little bit and made this our recipe with the ingredients that we had in the house.

Feel free to change it up any way you like it, especially if you have a favorite veggie that you’ve worked with that cooks beautifully in the oven.

****And if you don’t have a dutch oven, use a deep pot, like a stockpot, and cover it with foil when you put it in the oven.****

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


chicken

Braised Chicken Thighs a la Jenn & Matt

4-6 Chicken Thighs (you can trim the excess fat if you like, but not always necessary)

4 carrots, peeled and sliced

4-6 small potatoes, washed and cubed (we went with white potatoes, which gives a thinner sauce, but you can thicken it up with red potatoes)

1 medium onion, chopped

2-3 stalks celery, chopped

1-2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 can of chicken broth (a cup)

1/2 cup of Marsala cooking wine (any cooking wine you prefer will work, be creative!)

1 tablespoon thyme

dash of red pepper flakes

1 bay leaf

salt & pepper to taste

Olive oil

1) In the cast-iron, heat up 1 tablespoon olive oil on medium-high heat (closer to high, because you want a sear on the chicken)

2) Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper on both sides, then place skin-side down in the cast iron first, browning them on both sides. Once browned, remove thighs and place on a plate.

3) Drain some of the fat from the cast-iron until only about a tablespoon remains, place back on heat and throw in the potatoes, onions, celery, and carrots first, cooking until they start to brown. When they start to brown, throw in the garlic. Cook until garlic browns.

4) Once garlic browns, add chicken broth, cooking wine, thyme, red pepper flakes, and bay leaf to the vegetables. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pot for all that residual yummyness!

5) Place the chicken thighs on top in the cast-iron, keep on heat until liquid comes to a boil, then cover and place in oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

6) Once it’s done, remove the bay leaf and serve with a little bit of the braising liquid over the chicken and the vegetables….yummy!

A Slice of Jenn….

Just like meeting someone new, I believe introductions are in order.

Hi, I’m Jenn, and before meeting my wonderful husband (Matt, who you will probably read a lot about here)….I was cooking-challenged. Of course, I knew how to cook, thanks in part to high school cooking classes being made part of my core requirement, but to apply those skills?

Not so much.

Matt still makes the joke that I used to microwave hot dogs before him. (I still have on occasion…he has no idea how delicious they can be when you’re in a bind to eat something quick!)

So as our relationship progressed, so did I under Matt’s tutelage of cooking. He showed me the basics of knife skills, so that I could be his sous-chef. He taught me the importance of knowing how certain ingredients cook and why you should know the hot spots on your heat source. He demonstrated how to prep various meats. And most importantly, he was patient enough to show me these skills over and over again until I felt confident enough to try them on my own.

(I’ll tell you, I think it’s one of the many reasons I love him so much.)

With that said, our relationship grew in part to the way we cooked together. The ying and yang of the kitchen, so to speak. Food became less about takeout and more about finding new recipes to try.

When I got my KitchenAid, I was attempting to fine-tune my baking skills so Matt could have fresh cookies instead of the preservative-laden junk that has sat on the shelf for months. After cookies, we tried fresh bread and rolls. After that, pies and cheesecake….which I am proud to say I successfully mastered.

And especially after the bridal shower, we were finally able to take our cooking/baking to the next level with new gadgets to test out more advanced recipes.

Which brings me to here….why I decided to start a food blog. More and more lately, Matt and I have made it a point to try new creations, whether it be from a recipe or something that we come up with on our own. As Matt always reminds me, a recipe is a “snapshot” of that moment when it was made, and while it is good, there is always room to tweak it a little. (Except chocolate chip cookies….I think my husband is addicted to my recipe. Lol.)

So, come prepared with your appetite as I share some of our favorite dishes, new concoctions, and everything in between.

~ Jenny V