Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Southwestern Shepherd's Pie

Here's a yummy recipe that Jeff and Michelle shared with me. I've made it tons of times and it gets better EVERY time! :)

Southwestern Shepherd's Pie
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 small green bell pepper, diced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon chopped green jalapeño
1 pound ground beef
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 cups tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup cooked corn
1/2 cup black beans, rinsed
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup milk

1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and bell pepper; cook, stirring, for 10 minutes. Add garlic and jalapeño; cook for 2 minutes. Raise heat to medium-high; add beef and brown for 5 minutes.

2. Add tomato paste and spices; cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes; simmer until liquid reduces, 15 minutes. Add corn, beans, and 4 tablespoons cilantro. Spoon into a 9x9-inch baking dish.

3. Place sweet potatoes in a saucepan with water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes. Drain; mash with butter and milk. Spread mash over the meat mixture. Bake in a 400°F oven until brown, 30 minutes. Garnish with more cilantro.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Was God Playing a Joke on Us?

A True Brownie Story

Brownie. Brownies. Chocolate goodness. Everyone in my family loves chocolate. Dark Chocolate, semi sweet chocolate, chocolate dipped bacon, chocolate dipped chocolate. Everyone loved chocolate but me. Brownies are the epitome of chocolate so of course they were made very regularly at my house growing up and they always make me think of my sister Ellen. Ellen, who still loves chocolate, loves brownies and always baked them. I’d eat them of course, I mean, they’re sweet! I’d rather have had some sort of non chocolate dessert but they were fine. I didn’t really have a choice. Ellen never believed that I didn’t like chocolate. I’m not sure my mother did either but I was not a fan. I’m not sure if Ellen just couldn’t wrap her mind around it or if she really thought I was trying to pull wool over her eyes but in all seriousness….I was NOT a chocolate fan as a child. Not a fan. So this is a story about a brownie disaster involving my sister Ellen. I can giggle about it now but at the time I thought I was in a heap of trouble. I promised my mother I’d blog about this story so here it goes.

It was summer time and the East Texas heat was killer. It was one of those days where you could see the heat coming off of the pavement in waves that made everything look blurry in the distance. We had a huge house with 2 AC unit and my parents, who I believe were trying to get us not to watch too much TV, didn’t like turning the AC on in the part of the house that had the TV in it so instead of sweating our poor little tails off watching TV we always decided to swim first, then bake, and finally partake in our yummy goodness. Mama had a strict schedule back in the day. She’d start in the morning with breakfast and then clean from room to room. The kitchen was usually the first thing to get cleaned then the floors so once those things were taken care of you better not screw it up with dirty feet or dishes. Mama had dropped us off at the pool that morning then picked us up and what did Ellen want to make? Of course, brownies.

Mama had already cleaned, I mean sheesh, she had probably been cleaning the whole time we were lounging at the pool and I’m pretty positive she didn’t want two girls in her kitchen messing things all up and getting things dirty again. But we asked, kind of begged for a little bit and finally mama said something to the extent of , “listen, I’ve cleaned the floors and kitchen already so if you mess it up I’ll be upset”. That’s all she had to say, we knew we had to be careful in that kitchen! So we got home and got our things together for the kitchen. Eggs, check. Oil, check. Water, yup. Box of chocolate brownie mix, check. Since I hated brownies I was positive that Ellen would let me enjoy the one fun part of the brownie baking process, pouring in the mix. I’m not sure why it was so exciting but I guess when you’re twelve those things can really rile you up. Ellen gave me her well practiced “hell no” face and then the sass came out. She snatched up that brownie mix bag then I snatched it back. We were crazy. After about ten seconds of pulling back and forth, fighting over who was going to do the ever so important “brownie mix pour” the darn bag split open and brownie mix soared all over my mother’s pristine kitchen counters, floors and daughters.

For a moment I felt like it was the end of the world. My mother’s floors? She just told us to be careful about the stupid floors and of all things, brownie mix? Was God playing a joke on us? We didn’t even have a plan of action here, all hope had been lost. The white flag had been drawn and I could see mama coming through the fire place room to our kitchen. The time had come. She came into the kitchen and saw the floors and the counters and started laughing at us. Really? You’re going to laugh at us? I was completely confused. First of all my sister and I were arguing which didn’t bode well in our home. Secondly, we were in her kitchen making food she told us to be careful about making. Lastly, we had failed at those directions. So, why was she laughing? I guess now that I’m a mom I understand. She wasn’t really laughing out of nervousness or anxiety. She was laughing at us. We looked like idiots and she knew that we were so scared out of our pants for making a huge mess and she knew that the kitchen would be cleaner than before after we were finished. I love my mom for laughing at us. She could have done much worse. We baked more brownies that day. My sister, mother and I enjoyed them very much.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Norman Rockwall

When I started interviewing people for Salty Brownies I knew that I wanted to interview our friend Jeff. First of all I knew that he has a passion for cooking and secondly he’s a hoot to chat with. He’s from Iowa, like most of my husband’s family, and we’ve been blessed to become really good friends with him and his fiancé Michelle, who is actually one of Chris’ cousins from Iowa. When I married my husband I kind of giggled about all his family being from Iowa. I’d been there, there’s lots of corn. An absurd amount of corn, but even though it’s a big staple in people’s diets up there, they make some MEAN corn and I love it up there now. Chris’ family, the beautiful state and yes, the corn.

What were your first memories in the kitchen?

Mom cooking. Wearing an apron. Listening to the radio. Whistling away. It was a regular Norman Rockwell.

Any stories of amazing turnouts or disasters?

The most ambitious meal I ever made was pan seared Bay Scallops on a bed of white beans, bacon, and spinach. I had never cooked scallops before, so I was worried. End of the day, I was quite impressed with myself. Another amazing turnout was a Southwest Sheppards pie. It was spicy and used sweet potatoes instead of white ones. Kind of a flyer, but it was delicioso.
Disaster. Pretty much anytime I try to cook fish. When the smoke clears the apartment reeks and I’m usually on my way to McDonalds. I make the worst tilapia you’ll ever taste.

Anything that you love that most people think isn't good at all?

Ice Cream. I know most people can’t stand the stuff, but I find it to be delicious.

What are you afraid of cooking and what's your best dish?

Omelets. They intimidate the pants off me. I think I’ve made 1 presentable omelet in my life. Coinsidently, I make some mean scrambled eggs with cheese and ham!

What do people say about your cooking?

Work in progress. Michelle says I’m better than I think I am. I don’t get too crazy. But things usually turn out pretty well. I hope to eventually graduate to a blow torch and liquid nitrogen….but I think that’s a way down the road yet.

Anything special that people make in your part of the country?

Corn on the cob, loaded with butter, Cajun spices, salt and pepper. Num. Nothing makes me feel more like I’m at home than getting after a couple ears of corn.

What are your family holiday menus like?

Ham and Turkey. Sometimes ma would throw in a lasagna to keep things interesting. Cranberries, potatoes (sweet and normal both) green bean casserole, rolls, and this ridiculous pistachio jello type thing that had chunks of God knows what in it. It always reminded me of Aunt Bethany’s jello mold in Christmas Vacation. She makes it every year without fail, and every year it’s the only thing I don’t have.

Describe a holiday meal at your house

Chaos. Lots of yelling. Panic from my mother. But in the end, a spread like you couldn’t believe. The woman makes the best turkey gravy in the world. That stuff goes on EVERYTHING at our Thanksgiving table.

Who do you like to cook for or if you could cook for anyone who would it be?

I would love nothing more than to have dinner with Michael Jordan, Dave Matthews and Albert Pujols. Brats and Steaks sounds about right.

What would be your last meal?

Filet, tempura vegetables and garlic mashed potatoes from Sidney Street Café in St. Louis.

If you could eat anywhere in the world where would it be?

The food in Paris was pretty darned good. Looking forward to our honeymoon in Ireland and sampling lots of fish n’ chips, Sheppard Pies and the like.

Anything that's in your freezer or fridge that would surprise anyone?

Worcestershire sauce. Not really a surprise. But I couldn’t think of anything and Worcestershire is fun to say.

What's your guilty pleasure when it comes to cooking or baking?

Sampling. Maybe a little too much sometimes.

When did you eat your veggies?

Sparingly for the first 25 years of life. Michelle has turned me on to them though. Broccoli and Cauliflower are my favorites. Being from Iowa, corn was obviously always a staple. And I’m coming around on peppers. Especially banana and red. Yummy.

Are there any foods that you don't like at all?

Waterchestnuts. Ehh. Worthless. No flavor, just awkward crunching when you don’t expect it. The dammed things are opaque, so they sneak up on you. They’re like a bad tasting ninja.

Cheese or Chocolate?

Chocolate covered cheese.

Monday, August 9, 2010


I'm going to begin to interview people about their kitchens very soon! I thought it would be really interesting to hear some other people's stories about what inspires them to cook and bake. Funny stories or complete disasters either way, it'll be great! If you're interested in being interviewed please let me know. I'd love to chat with you. I recently went to my mother's house to visit with my sister from Chicago. My mom had bought some tamales from a woman from her church...DELICIOUS!! I've decided it's going to be my next kitchen adventure. I hear it's an all day even. Disaster or materpiece?? I dunno...we shall see :)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Your Pizza Dinner

A great way to get your kids and other family members in the kitchen is to have a pizza night. My husband doesn't like to cook and my kids are little so getting everyone in the kitchen together can be a challenge. But, our pizza dinner nights have really brought us together in a fun way. It gives us something to chat about while working on a meal together. I personally do not like store bought, pre made pizza dough, I think it tastes funny. Take a trip to your local Whole Foods, Sprouts or Central Market and they'll usually sell their extra pizza dough. I buy mine at Sprouts Farmer's Market for $1.50 a bag. While you're there pick up some good cheeses and toppings. Get your family in the kitchen and have them make their own pizzas. It's easy, fast and yummy! The pizza dough makes all the difference and you'll be proud of your handiwork at the end.

The Incident

I have no shame in saying that I truly love pizza. My first memories of dating my husband Chris usually involved a 12 am pizza delivery from Gumby’s in Austin or Tuesday’s buy one get on free pizza rolls from Double Daves. By midnight we’d get our second wind and we’d stay up talking in my dorm room till the sun came up. He became my best friend during those long nights with our pizza in hand. My other best friend Meg told me stories about her life in Rome and the fresh pizza that she could buy everyday…I’d listen as she’d describe this pizza. Pizza in Italy everyday? Sounds good to me! I’ve had New York pizza and pizza from Chicago and seriously I’d eat both all day long if I had the chance. I think I’ve even dreamt about pizza a few time. There’s just something about it Ahhh….pizza…. It's something that everyone can enjoy. So here’s my pizza story. I’m still apologizing to my mother about it.

My sister and I had made a pizza for ourselves one evening. We were young, maybe I was in middle school and my sister Ellen was a few years older. She was definitely the boss of me so I’d try to follow her every move, you know, make the sister proud. After making pizza one evening we were sitting together eating, chatting, and there it was, staring me in the face. The last pizza slice. There was no way in hell that I was going to let my sister eat that slice of pizza. Didn’t care who she was. I racked my brain thinking of how I could make that slice MINE. So, in an instant, and no forethought of course, I picked up that beautiful slice of yummy goodness and licked the crap out of it right in front of my sister. I knew that it would gross her out. I laughed inside. I knew I’d have to pay for it later, but something, probably my sassiness, made me do it. The pizza slice was mine. So, I set the victory slice down so I could finish the last bit of pizza that I had on my plate. About 30 seconds into my triumph my mom walked by and eyed the pizza. She picked up my victory piece and ate it. She ate my licked piece of pizza right in front of us. We tried to hide the “oh shit” look on our faces, and I guess we did a pretty good job because she didn’t find out but the panic set in. We discussed if we should tell her and we decided against it. Finally after about 10 years the guilt was too much. We broke down and told her. She of course, being the mother that she was, didn’t care. She was hungry and it was pizza for goodness sake.