Sunday, August 26, 2012

Super Easy Sunday - Vegetarian Wraps

So, I figured it was time again to do a recipe that was delicious and healthy on the blog.  It's been a while.  This recipe comes from my sometimes-Vegetarian friend, Rachel.  (Everybody wave and say "Thank you, Rachel!")  The best part is that in addition to being yummy, these wraps are also easy to make.  And, once you've got the ingredients on hand and a little basic prep work down, you'll have fixings for even more wraps in the future. Yep, awesome.

What You'll Need
Cutting board                                                            2 spoons
Knife for slicing and dicing                                       Plate
Bell pepper                                                                Morningstar "bacon"
Tomato                                                                      Shredded cheese
Wraps                                                                        1 can black beans
Mayo                                                                         Head of lettuce
Mrs. Dash

Now Let's Make Vegetarian Wraps!
Start by prepping your "bacon." You'll need two pieces for one wrap, so plan accordingly. Lay the "bacon" out on your plate and heat it according to packaging directions, which should be on one of the thinner sides of the box (Hey, I spent an inordinate amount of time looking for those the other day). Set aside when done.

Only real bacon deserves a photo, hoomans. You'll thank me.
While your "bacon" is heating, prepare your bell pepper. Insert the knife at the top of the pepper around the stem and remove the stem.  Slice the pepper in half and carefully excise the pith (the whiteish looking flesh). Rinse the inside of the pepper to remove any remaining seeds. Starting with one half of the pepper, slice it vertically (beginning at what was the stem end). Turn yours slices so that they are perpendicular to your knife and dice the pepper. Repeat for the other half. Unless you're making a ton of wraps today, you won't be using all that pepper, so store it in a plastic baggie for later use.

Now it's time to slice up your tomato. You need about 1 - 1 1/2 slices of tomato per wrap, depending on the size of your tomatoes (mine were puny small). Slice the tomato beginning at the end opposite the stem. You want thick slices, about the size you'd use if you were planning to dice it. When you have enough slices, cut all of them in half.

Let's build some wraps! Start by placing one wrap on a plate. Take a spoon of mayo and smear it around the wrap with the back of the spoon.  I used about 1 Tbsp of mayo per wrap, maybe slightly less.  You want the mayo to be pretty thinly spread; you really don't need much.  I always use mayo made with olive oil, but follow your bliss (say the words Miracle Whip and I'll throttle you. Just as soon as I cease gagging). Top the mayo off with a liberal dash of Mrs. Dash (see what I did there? huh? huh?). I usually use the table blend, but pick your favorite.

Next, add two slices of "bacon." Pick and end of the wrap to be the top and use that as a reference point. You want to place the bacon slices starting about half and inch away from the top. It's important to leave the bottom of the wrap (about 1 1/2 - 2 inches) clear for folding.

Now place your tomato halves running down the wrap on top of the "bacon." I like to lay them so the rounded edge faces alternate directions. I find this creates a more stable wrap.  Sprinkle the top with diced bell peppers in the color of your choice.  You might also want to add some red onion slivers here. The Rachel's recipe doesn't call for them, so I didn't include them, but I bet they'd be tasty.

Liberally sprinkle the top of the wrap with shredded cheese.  I'd say you need no more than 1/4 cup, but choose your amount according to taste.  Now, open your can of black beans and drain them (I also rinse mine out, because the black juice creeps me out. Looks like octopus ink). Add the beans to the top center of the wrap in a line over the tomatoes. I used at least two heaping spoonfuls and then added a few more for good measure. Don't be shy with the beans, as they will be the protein that makes the meatless wraps satisfying.

Top everything off with several leaves of lettuce. Tear the lettuce up so that it fits over the center strip of the wrap. There's probably three or four layers of lettuce there.

Fold the bottom of the wrap up and over the veggies. The fold should be right where the veggies end.  Then fold the side of the wrap in, tucking the edge slightly under the veggies. It's helpful to choose the side of your dominant hand.  Turn the plate so the open end faces your dominant hand and the side fold is toward your body. Tightly roll the wrap away from your body. And, voila! You now have a tasty wr - om nom nom nom. (sorry I still haven't eaten breakfast).


Friday, August 24, 2012

Up to Date

Hey all.  Tonight's post is a little bit different than usual. I haven't had much time for reading lately, so for one thing I don't have a book to review.  Why? Because I've been working a lot on some of the behind the scenes aspects of my blog lately.

You might have noticed a few things changing, like the side bar, whose layout I was more than a little spastic about recently.

Soooo, what's changed?

  • I've added the option to follow my blog via email. Sign up is over there on the left, by the way. See? See!
  • You might also notice that up at the top of the blog are some new tabs. Definitely check out my About and Cast of Characters page, especially the latter. You might also want to take a looksie at the "I'm on a Roll" tab, which features my blog roll.
But most important is the tab I added today. A few seconds ago, even.... The Recipes tab! I've finally broken down and created a master list of all the recipes I've done for the blog. It took a while! So, check it out. You now have easy access to recipes for your perusal and general entertainment. 

What else is coming? I'm glad you asked (Shut up, you did so!).  I've long geared my blog to cooks of all skill levels. I especially try to make my recipes beginner friendly.  So, I'm working on a Basics section that will feature basic cooking techniques and terms.  

I hope you enjoy! I'm already plotting Sunday's recipe post. Requests?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Chicken Berlin

Yep. I'm just too tired to come up with a cutesy title tonight, guys; I'm afraid utilitarian will have to do.  This recipe is loosely based off a dish at one of my favorite local restaurants, Ol' Heidelberg, which serves up fine German cuisine.  I've no idea if this is an authentic dish or not, but it's darn tasty!

What You'll Need
Cutting board                                                         Measuring spoons
Knife for slicing                                                      Small pan
Small mixing bowl                                                  Large pan
2 forks                                                                    Large Cast Iron Skillet
4 chicken breasts                                                   1 tbsp thyme
2 eggs                                                                     1 tsp rosemary
1 tbsp mustard                                                       Swiss cheese
Bread crumbs                                                         Large onion
1 tbsp salt                                                              Apple
Black pepper                                                           Olive oil
2 Tbsp butter

Now Let's Make Chicken Berlin!
Start by preheating your oven to 375 F.

While the oven heats, begin your prep work.  Slice your onions thinly and separate the layers so you have lots of rings.  Set these aside. Position your apple so that the stem is facing the palm of the hand that you use to steady what your cutting. Slice the apple thinly until you have 8 rounds. Remove any seeds and core. Set aside.

Crack two eggs into your small mixing bowl. Measure and add 2 Tbsp of mustard. Beat the eggs together with the mustard until there is little visible egg white left.  On your plate, pour out enough bread crumbs to cover the plate in a small heap.  Add 1 Tbsp salt, 1 tbsp thyme, 1 tsp ground rosemary and black pepper to taste. Use your remaining fork to mix the dry ingredients together.

Coat the bottom of your large skillet with olive oil. Trim any fat off the chicken breast. Take a chicken breast and dip it into the bowl of egg, thoroughly coating all sides of the chicken.  Hold the breast over the bowl, allowing any excess egg to drip, then place the chicken on the plate of bread crumbs. Using your fingers, lightly press the breast into the crumbs to coat, flip the breast and press again. Transfer the breast to the large skillet. Repeat for remaining chicken breasts.

Bake the chicken at 375 F until cooked; chicken should be white throughout.

While the chicken cooks, heat your pan to medium heat. While you allow the pan to come up to temperature, take your swiss cheese and slice it.  You want enough slices to cover the top of your chicken, so judge according to the size of the block your using. I highly recommending using a higher quality swiss cheese, like Jarlsberg, to get a better flavor. It matters, trust me. Set aside

I ate the cheese, so the only picture you get is me, hoomans
Once the pan warms, add 2 tbsp butter and allow the butter to melt.  Add your onions and saute until translucent and tender.  By the time your down sauteing your onion, the chicken should be done. Reduce the heat of the eye to low until your ready to use the onions.

Turn the oven off. Place your slices of swiss over the top of the chicken. Put the chicken back in the oven and allow the cheese to melt. While you wait, take your small pan and add a little butter. Heat the pan to medium, and place your apple slices in the pan. Saute lightly, just enough to warm the apple. Plate the chicken breasts. Top with apple slices, then add onions over the top of everything.

Serve with other delicious German sides, like pan fried potatoes and slaw.

I put my apples on top, but it's better if they're under the onions. True story.


Friday, August 17, 2012

Cooking the Books - Quick-Fix Southern

It's time for another cookbook review.  I was at work digitally wondering the cookbook section of the catalog the other day, and wound up putting far too many cookbooks on hold. What can I say? They're my kryptonite.  Amongst my finds was Quick-Fix Southern, by Rebecca Lang, which claims to offer up "homemade hospitality in 30 minutes or less."

The Basics
Lang, Rebecca. Quick-Fix Southern. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel, 2011. Print.

Rebecca Lang is a contributing editor to Southern Living, so I'm assuming she knows her stuff when it comes to Southern cuisine.  Combine that with the promise of speedy cooking, and you've got me hooked. Quick-Fix Southern promises over 100 thematically grouped, Southern recipes that can make it to table in under 30 minutes.

The (Cook)book

Let's talk practicalities for a bit.  There's a lot to like about the set up of this book (and a couple teensy gripes). Firstly, it's light and well proportioned; there's nothing quite so awkward as lugging an enormous cookbook around the kitchen that weighs more than my largest cast iron skillet. This book is light and it's size is perfect, easily allowing for propping or flopping, and stays opened to your recipe easily. I also like the overall layout of the book. You get one recipe per page in an easy-to-read, simple font; the orange of the title stands out without being obnoxious and the orange background for the ingredients set them off nicely.  The pictures, on the other hand, are black and white with orange tint and leave me feeling more than a little meh. I know, I know color photos are expensive to print, but they just don't quite live up to the nicely modern feel of the rest of the book.  Overall the cookbook is highly user friendly.

I love the content of the book and the way it's organized. For starters, the section of basics Lang provides at the start of the book is supper handy. I like her list of pantry and refrigerated staples, which is pretty darn close to my own and always something that's nice to keep in mind. She also provides a quick run-down on what she means when she calls for certain ingredients; I like that she doesn't keep readers in the dark. I also like her section on cast iron care, definitely a must read if you're less familiar with it. But my favorite part of this section is her basic recipes!  These include recipes for southern all-purpose flour, buttermilk, sugar syrup, and barbeque sauce. Simple, but essential!

What about the recipes, you ask? They sure look tasty to me! Here are a few of the one I'm especially looking forward to trying out (or already have): Sweet Potato Biscuits (p20), Drop Biscuits (23), Soft Buttermilk Waffles (15), Classic Sweet Tea (33), Tarragon Chicken Tea Sandwiches (85), Pecan-crusted Racks of Lamb (99), Mozzarella Corn Spoon Bread (130). I know how to make a lot of this, but it never hurts to try something new, and they sound delicious. Many of her recipes also have a little blurb containing some interesting fact about the dish or its history.  I particularly like the one about beaten biscuits.

I really enjoyed flipping through this cookbook and cannot wait to try out some more of its recipes. Maybe I'll do a few test recipe posts, which I've not done in a while.  The author has a great blog, which showcases many of the recipes from the book, with some truly delicious looking photography. It's a fairly affordable choice, too, retailing at 16.99, but as low as 6.80 on Amazon. I'd say this is a book definitely worth adding to a cookbook collection. Although, I'll admit, I was probably a goner as soon as I saw those biscuits on the front cover!


Sunday, August 5, 2012

Super Easy Sunday: Poor Boy Cake

As usual on a Sunday I've worked, the last thing I wanted to do tonight was get in the kitchen.  Time to pull a easy recipe out of my hat.  This one is so easy, it hardly qualifies as a recipe really (but hey, I'm shameless).  Tonight, I made a Poor Boy Cake.  I've been making this cake with only small alterations since I started cooking; it was one of the first things I learned to make (aaaahhhh, nostalgia *tear*).  A little online research reveals a lot of variation for this cake, so let's just call this my version and leave it at that.

What You'll Need
Large mixing bowl                                                        13 x 9" casserole dish
Mixing spoon                                                                Fork
Cooking spray
Box chocolate cake mix                                                 Water
Eggs                                                                               14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
Vegetable Oil

Now Let's Make Poor Boy Cake
Preheat your oven according to the directions on the box. Yep, that's right: boxed cake mix.  Choose your favorite chocolate variety, or if you have a basic chocolate cake recipe, use that.  

Prepare the cake batter according to the directions on the box. Most basic box mixes call for a combo of eggs, water, and vegetable oil, so that's what I listed above. Use the amounts indicated on the box.

Pour the batter into the 13 x 9" casserole dish, scraping the bowl. Tilt the casserole from side to side and corner to corner to force the batter to spread out thoroughly. Bake according to the time listed on the back of the box. Do not overcook. Cake is done when a knife inserted comes out clean.

Allow cake to cool slightly, about 5 minutes.  Take your fork and stab the cake until it is covered in holes (make like a senator in Julius Caesar). Open the can of sweetened condensed milk and pour over the top of the cake. 

 Et tu, Brute?

Allow the milk to settle into the cake and the cake to cool. Serve and enjoy! It goes great with vanilla ice cream.

It's not a pretty cake, but it's a tasty one!


Friday, August 3, 2012


Sorry, I just couldn't resist. Today's book post features a review of Changes by Mercedes Lackey.  It's the latest installment in her long-running Heralds of Valdemar series, which has long been a favorite of mine. For whatever reason, I've left this book languishing in my to reads stack since its release last October, but I finally picked it up a few days ago, and have hardly put it down since.

The Basics
Lackey, Mercedes. Changes. New York: Daw Books, 2011. Print

I'm going to skip my usual author's bio, since I've already done a pretty thorough one in a previous post. Instead, I'm going to provide a little background on the series itself.  Valdemar is kingdom governed by a King or Queen backed by his or her Heralds.  Heralds (in Valdemar, anyway) are the kingdoms special forces, chosen at a young age by their Companions. Companions, in their turn, look like white horses but possess a human-level intelligence. Since this is Fantasy series (you know, in case you were still wondering), most Heralds are chosen because they possess special Gifts, which can range from mindspeech, to telekinesis, to fire-starting.

Changes, is the third book in Lackey's latest installment known as the Collegium Chronicles.  The book finds Mags and his friends once again pitted against mysterious agents of an unknown enemy to the kingdom. Along the way, Mags and his friends, Lena, the Bard, and Bear, the Healer, each find themselves proving their worth in their various professions in a pretty basic coming of age tale.

The Book
As is my norm, I greatly enjoyed this book.  I've long been a fan of Lackey's writing and style, and this novel lives up to that standard. I suppose, in a way, it's more of the same, but that same is great. I can never have to much of the world Lackey has painstakingly and thoroughly built.  This book picks up the interesting Heraldic role of spy, that she dabbles with in some of her other novels (Alberich, Skif), and runs away with it. Having Mags in training to be take over the role of spy allows readers to follow along and learn the ins and outs of the position, the kingdom, and the capital city of Haven. What results is an immersive and engaging read.

I do, however, have one complaint. Mags's speech.  Let me provide you with a sample: "Well, reckon now thet th' King's put 'is oar in, ye won't hev'ta see 'em if'n ye don' wanta. Le's git a walk afore it gits stinkin' hot." And that's not even the worst passage I could find; there are a few words I still haven't puzzled out.  It's tiresome and makes reading through it a slog. Towards the end of the book I'm used to it enough that I can convert as I go, but still.  Lackey overdoes it, and she attempts an explanation by having Mags prove that he can speak properly if he wants to put in the effort and doesn't because his speech allows people to underestimate him. This just doesn't cut it. If you need to work an excuse for something into your novel, something is wrong. I can handle poor speech, but tone it down a bit!

Nevertheless, the characters Lackey utilizes in this book (and really this whole set of books) are some of my favorites. Each character offers a different window into life at the Collegium (the training ground of Heralds, Healers and Bards located at the Palace).  Bear gets us a glimpse into the Healers' Collegium from the unique perspective of someone without the traditional healing gift. Lena gains us access to Bardic and all its ins and outs. Mags of course offers a view of the fledgling Heralds' Collegium. And his other friends provide a view of Palace and noble life. I think that for the first time in Lackey's Valdemar series, readers are given a full picture of the Collegium, making the experience that much more engrossing.

I love the books, and they'd make a great place to pick up the Valdemar series if you haven't already. Start with Foundation. Another good places to pick up the series: the Arrows of the Queen trilogy.


  • Checkout Mercedes Lackey's lengthy bibliography organized in series order (and the rest of the website while you're over there).
  • The fourth novel in this set is due out October 2 of this year. Keep an eye on the Goodreads page for more info.