Microwave Caramel Popcorn

Microwave Caramel Corn 2 (640x480)

This is a dangerous recipe because it is so quick and easy. I find that once I open a can of sweetened condensed milk that I’m more likely to make this recipe several times over a week or so to use it up.  No one complains in my house when I do. My boys love this stuff!

As written, this recipe is simple. Feel free to jazz up your caramel popcorn. You could add nuts, pretzels, dried fruit, or various cereals (like Chex or Cheerios).

Microwave Caramel Corn (640x480)

Microwave Caramel Popcorn

8 cups air-popped popcorn
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup brown sugar (packed)
1 tablespoon corn syrup
2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk

Line a cookie sheet with foil or waxed paper. Set aside.

Place popcorn in a large microwavable bowl.

In a small microwavable bowl, microwave the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, and sweetened condensed milk on high in 30 second intervals until mixture is boiling. This takes about a minute. Pour the hot mixture over the popcorn and stir to coat.

Microwave the popcorn on high for 3 minutes in 1 minute intervals, stirring well each minute. Spread the caramel popcorn onto the foil or waxed paper. Let cool completely. Store in an airtight container.


Corn and Broccoli Chowder with Bacon

Corn and Broccoli Chowder with Bacon

Like much of the rest of the country, South Carolina is experiencing super cold temperatures. When I took my youngest son to school yesterday morning it was 16 degrees and with the wind chill it felt like 2 degrees. So cold. Upon returning home, I needed to warm up so I made this thick, hot chowder. It’s warming, delicious, and visually pleasing. I love the colors of the corn and broccoli in the creamy white. Oh, and it has bacon in it.

Corn and Broccoli Chowder with Bacon

4 slices bacon, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1/4 cup flour
5 cups chicken broth
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 head of broccoli, cut into bite-size florets (save the stalk for another use)
2 cups frozen corn
1 cup milk or half and half

In a soup pot over medium-low heat, fry the diced bacon until crispy. Remove the bacon from the pot using a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Increase the heat slightly and cook the diced onion in the bacon fat until it softens. Add the flour, and cook, stirring constantly for about 30 seconds. Whisk in the chicken broth, a little at a time, taking care to whisk out the flour lumps. Add the diced potatoes and bring to a boil. Cook until the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the broccoli and cook until tender (but not mushy), about another 10 minutes. Add the corn and milk (or half and half) and heat through. Season the chowder with salt and pepper and serve in bowls with the crisp bacon crumbled on top.


Pad Thai (LID)

Pad Thai (LID) 2

I am about to go on a low iodine diet (LID) again to prepare my body for radioactive iodine and a nuclear whole body scan to check for a possible persistence/recurrence of thyroid cancer.  The thought of having to go on LID again is almost as bad as the thought of not being cancer free. I’m hoping that being better prepared for LID this time around will help it be more tolerable.

I’m really excited about this recipe. I love Pad Thai. I feel that if I can make LID versions of my favorite dishes, then being on that soul sucking diet will be a little less painful. This LID version of Pad Thai is yummy. Having this recipe in my repertoire will definitely make LID easier.

I adapted/simplified this version from a recipe for Thai Noodles in Victor Sodsook’s True Thai. It’s good, a little on the sweet side, but good. So good that I have made it twice this week (and I’m not even on LID yet). The ingredients are fairly easy to find, although I’m not sure how authentic of an ingredient ketchup is. Once the ingredients for this dish are prepared and assembled, it comes together quickly.

Pad Thai (LID)

Pad Thai (LID)

8 ounces dried flat rice noodles (bahn pho) – look for one that only has rice and water as ingredients
1/4 pound chicken breast, sliced
6 tablespoons Umami Sauce (recipe here)
5 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
6 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt-free ketchup (Hunt’s and Heinz make salt-free ketchup)
1/4 teaspoon chili powder (optional)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
8 cloves garlic, minced
egg whites, equivalent to 3 eggs, lightly beaten
fresh cilantro, chopped

crushed unsalted peanuts
chile pepper flakes
fresh bean sprouts
fresh cilantro, chopped
lime wedges

Soak the rice noodles in very hot water until they are soft, about 15 minutes. When they are ready, drain in a colander and set aside until ready for use.

Meanwhile, combine the Umami Sauce, vinegar, sugar, salt-free ketchup, and chili powder (if using). Stir the mixture until the sugar is dissolved.

Have all the ingredient ready and within reach. This dish comes together quickly once the cooking begins.

Heat a wok over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of oil, turning the wok to make sure the oil coats the bottom. Add the sliced chicken and cook until no longer pink. Transfer the chicken to the bowl or plate and set aside. Wipe out the wok with a paper towel.

Heat 2 more tablespoons of oil in the wok. Add the minced garlic and cook briefly, about 30 seconds. Add lightly beaten egg whites. Cook the egg whites, stirring to scramble them, until they are set. Pour the prepared sauce mixture into the wok. Add the reserved softened noodles, tossing gently in the sauce. Cook until the noodles are tender and have absorbed the sauce, about 3 – 5 minutes. Add the reserved cooked chicken and toss to combine. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve. Have the crushed peanuts, chile pepper flakes, bean sprouts, additional chopped cilantro, and lime wedges on the table so everyone can add their desired condiments.

Adapted from True Thai by Victor Sodsook (William Morrow and Company, 1995).


Umami Sauce (LID)

Umami Sauce 2

I’ve been trying to come up with a soy-free, fish-free, and iodized (or sea) salt-free substitute for soy sauce and fish sauce. I  I saw a blurb in the January 2015 issue of Saveur magazine about a chef (Christian Puglisi of Relae in Copenhagen, Denmark) who makes a Mushroom “Soy” Sauce to add umami to his dishes. I adapted his recipe to fit my needs for a low-iodine diet (LID) I have to go on soon.

Use the Umami Sauce instead of soy sauce or fish sauce (a great way to veganize Asian dishes) in recipes or incorporate  into other dishes to add a umami/mushroom flavor. I used the umami sauce in a low iodine diet version of Pad Thai. I was really happy with the results.

Umami Sauce

Umami Sauce

8 ounces white button mushrooms
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Slice the mushrooms and place in a bowl. Sprinkle the salt over the mushrooms and mix to distribute. Let the mushrooms sit for 1 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Line a small colander or mesh strainer with cheesecloth over a bowl or measuring cup. Pour the mushrooms and their liquids into the strainer. Gather the edges of the cheesecloth and squeeze out all the liquid from the mushrooms. You can use the mushrooms for another purpose. Store the mushroom liquid (Umami Sauce) in the fridge for up to two weeks.


Kale and Mushroom Soba Noodle Bowl

Kale and Mushroom Soba Noodle Bowl

Noodle bowls are really popular right now. Do a search on Pinterest and a gabillion entries pop up. Even Panera Bread has jumped on the noodle bowl bandwagon.  Soba noodles are made with buckwheat and are a nice change from rice or wheat noodles. Feel free to experiment with the veggies you use in your soba noodle bowls. I think shredded cabbage would be a nice addition to this particular recipe. A soft boiled egg would be good too.

Have all your ingredients prepped before you start cooking. Once you start, this dish comes together quickly.

Kale and Mushroom Soba Noodle Bowl

8 ounces soba noodles
2 tablespoons oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
4 cups kale, washed, stems removed, and chopped
8 ounces mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 carrot, peeled and julienned
1 zucchini, quartered and sliced
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon sriracha (optional)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
sesame seeds

Cook the soba noodles according to the directions on the package or until done to the preferred tenderness. Drain.

Combine the soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, sriracha, and sesame oil. Set the sauce aside.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a wok (or large skillet) over high heat. Add the garlic and ginger and stir fry for a few seconds. Add the kale, mushrooms, carrot, and zucchini and cook until just tender, about 3 minutes. Add the drained noodles and the sauce and mix well. Cook until heated through and the noodles have had time to soak up the sauce. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.


Roasted Pork Loin in the Crockpot (With a Vietnamese-Inspired Variation)

Crockpot Roast Pork

Happy New Year! I wish each and every one of you peace, happiness, love, and good health in 2015.

I am extremely happy to see 2014 go. It was the worst year. Ever. My oldest son said I say that about every year, but 2014 was truly a shit year. Good riddance! I am looking forward to better days in 2015.

What are your New Year’s Day food traditions? I have eaten black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day for as long as I can remember. Greens (either spinach, collards, or cabbage) have become a tradition as well. Hey, I need all the luck and prosperity I can get. Pork is a commonly eaten food on New Year’s Day. I’m not a huge fan of pork, so I don’t typically include it in our New Year’s food tradition. Pork loin was on sale at Publix for $1.99 a pound this week, so we are having roasted pork loin today.

The crockpot is the easiest way to cook large chunks of meat and ensure they come out tender, like fall apart tender.  I almost never cook meats in the oven anymore. Plus, the crockpot is so easy. Did I already mention that? : )

Crockpot Roast Pork (640x480)

Roasted Pork Loin in the Crockpot

Pork loin
salt and pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup water

Season the pork with salt and pepper. Place in the crockpot. Add the garlic, balsamic vinegar and water. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 6 to 8 hours. Remove the pork from the crockpot and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes before cutting.

Meanwhile, you can make a gravy with the juices in crockpot. Whisk in a slurry of cornstarch and water (about 1 to 2 tablespoons of cornstarch and enough water to make it pourable) into the leftover liquid in the crockpot. Let cook and thicken while the pork is resting. It won’t get very thick. Alternatively, you can make a gravy on the stovetop using the liquid from the crockpot.

Variation: Roasted Pork Loin in the Crockpot with Vietnamese-Inspired Flavors

Roasted Pork Loin in the Crockpot with Vietnamese-Inspired Flavors (640x507)

One of my very favorite Vietnamese dishes is Bún thịt nướng. Bún thịt nướng consists of rice noodles topped with grilled pork and served with a fish sauce and a variety of veggies, peppers, herbs, etc… When I make Bún thịt nướng at home, I marinate the pork in brown sugar, garlic, and fish sauce. The marinade not only makes it taste good, but helps the pork to caramelize when it’s cooked. It’s delicious! Bún thịt nướng was my inspiration for this wonderful way to prepare pork loin in the crockpot.

I don’t usually make a gravy for the pork when I do this version. I strain the leftover liquid from the crockpot and serve it alongside the pork.

Crockpot Roasted Pork Loin with Vietnamese-Inspired Flavors (640x444)

Roasted Pork Loin in the Crockpot with Vietnamese-Inspired Flavors

Pork loin
salt and pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons Vietnamese fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup water

Season the pork loin with salt and pepper. Place in the crockpot and cover in brown sugar. Add the garlic, fish sauce and pepper flakes. Pour the water around the pork loin. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 8 hours.


Hot Cheesesteak Dip

Hot Cheesesteak Dip

I made this hot dip to take to a New Year’s Eve party. It’s super rich and loaded with beef and cheese. Paired with toasted baguette slices, it tastes just like a cheesesteak sandwich, although not exactly like the cheesesteaks we had in Philadelphia. Cheez Whiz, not provolone, was the “cheese” on the cheesesteaks we had in Philly.  I’m glad I took this to a party and shared it with other people. I could easily see myself eating the whole thing.

Hot Cheesesteak Dip 2

Hot Cheesesteak Dip

1 tablespoon oil
1 onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1 green bell pepper, seeded, quartered, and thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
8 ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 cups provolone or a mix of provolone and mozzarella, shredded (I found a shredded provolone and mozzarella mix at Target)
8 ounces roast beef (from the grocery store’s deli), sliced thin (not shaved, but not too thick)
salt and pepper, to taste

Baguettes, sliced (and toasted if you like)

Heat the 1 tablespoon of oil in a skillet over high heat. Add the sliced onion and bell pepper. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until veggies are tender and starting to caramelize. There will be browned spots on the vegetables and that’s fine. Add the minced garlic and cook one minute more. Turn off the heat and let the mixture sit while you prepare the rest of the dip.

In a large bowl, mix the softened cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, provolone cheese together. Season with salt and pepper (I added about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper). Mix in the cooked onion and pepper mixture. Coarsely chop the roast beef and add to the dip. Mix well to combine. Pour the mixture into a small baking dish that has been lightly coasted with cooking spray.

Bake at 375° F. for 20 minutes, or until heated through and slightly browned around the edges. Serve with toasted sliced baguette.

You can prepare this dip up to a day in advance. Cover the dish with foil and place in the refrigerator until ready to bake.


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