26 February 2007

Fresh Salsa Cheat

I love salsa almost as much as I love my husbands guacamole and over the years I have made several different batches. I use to chop everything by hand - ughh! To make it worse, I enjoyed the salsas, but the flavor was never quite what I was looking for, it was always missing layers of flavor so I kept trying. And trying. And trying.

Then I found what I was looking for - my husband's mother and uncle both made a homemade salsa with the layer of flavors I was looking for so of course I asked for the recipe. I about fell out of my chair when they told me the secret. "Start with a jar of Pace" *GASP* What? So they told me again, start with a jar of pace and add your own ingredients, them mix them all in the blender and Voila! Fresh flavored salsa in a matter of minutes. This solved so many issues for me it was unbelievable - part of the reason I don't like jarred salsas is the chunks of cooked (I DO NOT like chunks of cooked tomatoes in anything - odd, I know) AND it allowed me to have that fresh flavor I enjoy so much. Add to that how easy this is and I knew it was the end to my "homemade salsa in a flash" search. Plus, you can change the flavors by changing the salsa you start with as well as the fresh ingredients you add, but here is my basic method.


1 average size jar of your favorite salsa
2-3 roma tomatoes
1/2 - 1 red onion
2-3 fresh peppers (Serrano, Jalapeno, etc)
Handful of fresh cilantro


Chop tomatoes and onions into manageable pieces to add to blender / food processor. Seed peppers. Combine all ingredients in blender / food processor and process until smooth. Serve with your favorite tortilla chips.

Matty's 'mazing Guacamole

Normally Sunday night is reserved for a grand dinner served on our china and enjoyed at the dining table ... well, not yesterday. We were all set to get our surround sound set up after being in our house for almost 2 years so we spent the day in the attic ... and lost our battle, which really doesn't matter here other than it explains why we wanted a quick dinner. Sooo - we decided on Taco Night which is one of my FAVORITE'S, especially when my wonderful husband makes his oh-so-tasty guacamole. Yum. Seriously, yum! And to think growing up I never ate guac - how crazy was I!?!?! And what makes this even better is when served with the lime Tostito chips - let's just say perfection.

***Note: all measurements are approximates, we never measure for this. Feel free to add as much or as little as you want - I like mine chunky with lots of stuff besides avocados.


2-3 avocados
1/4 C diced red onion
1/4 C diced roma tomato
1/8 C fresh cilantro
1-2 Serrano peppers, seeded and diced (can use jalapenos)
juice of 1 lime, fresh
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder


Peel and seed avocados and place flesh into a bowl. Use 2 forks to chop / smash avocados until desired consistency. Add onion, tomato, Serrano, and cilantro and mix well. Squeeze limes to add juice, watch for seeds. Add garlic powder and salt to taste. Serve with tortilla chips.


Avocados should be slightly soft to the touch, enough to give way when pressed but not super soft. I think of it almost like chilled cream cheese.

Roma tomatoes are best since they remain firm even after being diced.

If using garlic SALT, omit the remaining salt.

20 February 2007

Mardi Gras Hooray!

Three years ago today, my cousin and I (pic above) made the trek to New Orleans for the great celebration of Mardi Gras. On our first full day there, we found a balcony along Bourbon that you could pay to be on for a few hours, so for anyone who hasn't been, the balcony's basically run the crowds so they are the place to be.

There were a few other people up there, one of who we ended up talking to and quickly learned his uncle owned the place - GOOD PERSON TO KNOW! We chatted for a while and he invited us back later that evening, so of course we came back and spent the night indulging in free beverages and the greatest entertainment of throwing beads at people (yes AT them, not necessarily TO them). Anyhow, to make a long story short, 3 years later I am now married to the guy who's uncle owned the business with the balcony we met on and Mardi Gras has special place in our hearts.

On to the food! I know I said I was going to post a Jambalaya recipe but I have to admit, it was less than I hoped for so I'm not posting the recipe. However, we have made Shrimp Etouffee on several occasions and while I haven't made it lately, I still have the recipe to post. I was amazed at how simple this one is and how good it came out, so I hope you enjoy it to!



1 lb shrimp, devined
1/4 lb butter
1 onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced (I do red for color)
1 rib of celery, diced
2 tsp cornstarch
1/4 C water
1/4 C parsley, chopped
1/4 chives, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Creole or Cajun seasoning to taste (start with a tsp and go from there)
Cooked white rice


Saute onions, peppers, and celery in butter until soft. Stir in shrimp, seasoning, parsley, and chives and cook thoroughly.

Dissolve cornstarch in water and add to pan, stirring constantly. Let simmer for about 5 to 10 minutes, adding salt and pepper to taste. Serve over white rice.

***Note: water and cornstarch can be adjusted to create a thinner or thicker sauce depending on personal taste. Crawfish can be substituted for shrimp.

18 February 2007

Lemon Spritz Cookie Press Cookies

For Christmas, I received a cookie press kit and I have to admit I had NO idea what to do with it. Luckily, it came with a few recipes, one of which I tried tonight. These are light cookies that are good plain or would be even better with a little lemon frosting - or filling if you make them into sandwich cookies. I would add the frosting, but I don't need to extra sugar! While making these cookies, I've learned a few things about my handy dandy little cookie press:

1) If the recipe calls for zest, make sure to use one of the discs with larger holes. My first attempt ended in the zest getting stuck in the holes and then the cookie wouldn't form correctly.

2) You have to clean the grease off the cookie sheets between batches. If there is the grease (butter) from the previous set, the dough won't stick to the cookie sheet.

3) Don't refill the cookie press if there is still a seal of dough at the disc - you end up with a big air pocket in the middle and the cookies again don't form correctly.

4) This is totally my fault - if your cookie sheet comes with instructions to reduce ALL recipes by 25 degrees, don't forget. My first batch got a little OVER baked. Oh well.


1 C Butter, softened
3 oz Cream Cheese, softened
1 C Sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tsp Vanilla
1 1/4 tsp lemon zest (I used 1 lemon, will use at least 2 next time)
3/4 tsp Lemon Extract
2 1/2 C flour
1/2 tsp salt


Cream together butter and cream cheese. Add sugar and mix until fluffy. Add egg yolk, vanilla, lemon zest, and lemon extract. Mix well. Gradually add flour and salt and mix completely. DO NOT CHILL DOUGH.

Set up cookie press (select disc) and put dough into press. Press cookies onto UNGREASED, COOL cookie sheet.

Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes.

***Extra's: dough can be colored by any food coloring, or you can use a mix of colors by creating various small colored logs that are placed into cookie press together. These will be great around holidays or other events where you can play with various shapes and colors.

17 February 2007

A Tribute to Ray

Ray was a man I worked with for a little over a year and he passed away earlier this week unexpectedly. It's been a sad and numb few days as my work group mourns his loss and at the same time attempts to cover his duties until we determine the best way to either delay projects or find a replacement. The service is being held tomorrow and at this point it still doesn't seem real. We expect to walk past his desk and see him, or to have him stop by to chat a little before heading home. We remember stories he'd share of his children or how he had to coax his cat to come out and play. In times like this you remember the small things, how he brought in Pixar's Cars to let you borrow because you mentioned once in passing you'd like to see it. Or how every time he choose lunch it ended up being fish. Or how no matter how many times you worked with him on one particular program, it always seemed to get the best of him so he'd ask again. I guess for me what I feel is the worst is that none of those memories are as vivid as the memory of the instant I learned he passed away. I'll never forget how numb I was, or the phone call asking me to come to the conference room - when I knew what was going to be said. In that short minute walk, those thoughts were flowing through my head and I knew, I just KNEW - but even now I still am in some denial. How could someone I was talking to Monday, some one who was at work and normal on Monday, be gone now? It just doesn't seem right. I guess we all know it is part of life, that death is inevitable and unpredictable, and unfair, but its the one thing that no matter what else happens, it'll be there. And while I mourn, while we all mourn his sudden loss, I have the joy of remembering a conversation we had a short time ago, when he told me he enjoyed the chance to work with me and enjoyed knowing me. And as silly as it may be, knowing I made his life a little brighter makes me feel good and helps me through the grief a little easier. If nothing else, remember that little piece and use it - tell those around you how important they are to you and how you enjoy having them in your life. You never know when you'll run out of tomorrows.

Ray, this one's for you (written by my grandfather, Stanley Stefanski):

Passing through life is like a thread in a piece of cloth.
Some threads are strong others are weak.
Some are deeply colored to withstand time and weather while others are slightly tinted on the surface and fade at the least provocation.
Some are bright colored while others are dull colored, but each is beautiful to behold in a place all their own.
The most beautiful cloths are multicolored with colors that make an impression on all who experience the privilege of contact with them.
Since beauty is also expressed through the sense of touch, some cloths are soft and cuddly, while others are coarse and sturdy but each with its use in life – since one would not do in the place of the other in a specific need.
Some cloths remain in the memories of all who saw or felt them, all their lives because of the colors or feel.
Others are forgotten in accordance with the old motto “out of sight, out of mind.”

My only wish out of life here on Earth, is that as I go through life – just as a thread weaves through other threads to make a cloth – that the pattern I help to make will be preserved in the minds and souls of all I come in contact with.
I would like to be the colored thread that adds a bright spot to a sad place, like bright flowers in an otherwise dark forest.
I would like to be the touch of dark in an otherwise too bright area, which makes the difference between irritation or a warm, friendly atmosphere.
I would like to be the neutral color between bright and dark, so that each would be beautiful in its own way individually.
I would like to be the raised part of the pattern when it’s necessary for a rough texture, and the smooth part when it will enhance the pattern.
All this I would like so that when my thread runs out – God will say on my judgment day – “Every thread you touched while weaving the cloth was made better because of your contact with them which is life lasting.”

Valentine's Dinner

Let me start by saying I married the best man in the world. Valentine's week was a bad one this year, not because of my husband, but because of other things that we had to deal with. However, this year my husband decided that he would take care of Valentine's Day and luckily, he had the evening off. We had decided a while back that we would NOT be going out to eat since it seems most places have a set menu and jack up the prices for everything - this along with the crowds just is not what we consider a nice, relaxing night. We'll save our trip to the Melting Pot or other yummy restaurant for another night. Meanwhile, my husband decided to make this scrumptious dinner for us at HOME that we could easily enjoy in our pajama's. So while I had to work late, he was able to start dinner.

We ended up having quick broiled Filet Mignon with sauteed mushrooms, steamed asparagus topped with butter and garlic powder, and garlic mashed potatoes boiled with chicken bouillon. He also bought a bottle of Cline Red Zinfandel that was really pretty tasty. We had ever intention to follow it up with the chocolate souffles with hot fudge sauce I tried earlier, but we had already stuffed ourselves as well as ran out of time. All in all, we didn't miss it anyhow! I have included some of the tricks used for this meal below.

Steak - marinated with steak season and a little Worcestershire, broiled on each side for about 8-10 minutes (depends on thickness and how you like it cooked).

Mashed Potatoes - boil them with a few cloves of garlic and a couple chicken bouillon cubes. Drain most of the water once the potatoes are done and mash with butter and milk. These have enough flavor that gravy is NEVER needed.

Asparagus - cut off the hard ends, place in a steamer in a pot of boiling water. I usually turn the stove off once I put the asparagus in and let the heat from the burner and the water cook the asparagus. This keeps it from getting over-cooked so it is still crunchy. We then switch it to a bowl and top it with butter and garlic powder.

I have to admit, there is nothing better that a marvelous steak, grand mashed potatoes, yummy asparagus, a nice glass of wine all served on your wedding china and enjoyed IN pajama's with the one you love. I couldn't have asked for a better Valentine's Day.

Cinnamon Banana Muffins

I love bananas. Love them. However, I buy them and for some reason I am bad about eating them, which is crazy since I love bananas. So, I end up with a lot of very ripe bananas which means making lots of banana items. This leads to my latest - banana muffins with cinnamon chips - yummmmm.


1 1/2 C flour, sifted
1 tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C White Sugar
1/4 C Brown Sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
3-4 ripe banana's, mashed
1 tsp Vanilla
1 egg
1/3 C butter, melted
1 C Cinnamon Chips (or chocolate)


Mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, sugars, cinnamon, and nutmeg until well blended.

Add banana's, vanilla, egg, and butter - mix just enough to blend. Add cinnamon chips and again mix just until blended. (Very little mixing helps lead to fluffy muffins so take care not to over beat).

Drop by spoonfuls into either greased or lined muffin tins. Bake 25-30 minutes at 350 (15-20 for mini muffins).

The Best Damn Slow Cooker Chili

Chili is one of those meals I grew up with that never had a set recipe. My parents always used a little of this and a little of that - never giving it the same flavor twice. This was fine as a kid since they always made it and the chili always tasted great, but when it comes time to make it yourself, the lack of recipe makes it quite a challenge. I tried a little of this and a little of that over the past couple years and while my chili always tasted good, it never tasted GREAT, so the search continued. Until now. This is by far one of the best chili recipes I've ever found. And, while I still do measure exactly and the ingredient list may change slightly, I still have the main base which always leads me to a wonderful finish.


2 Lbs beef stew meat
1 can black beans, drained
1 can pinto or kidney beans, drained
1 can chili beans in spicy sauce
1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
1 onion, diced
2 bell pepper, seeded and diced (any color or combination - I use 1 red and 1 green)
2-3 green chile peppers, seeded and diced
1 Tbl bacon bits
4 cubes beef bouillon
1/2 C beer
1/4 C chili powder
1 Tbl Worcestershire
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbl dried Oregano
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp hot pepper sauce
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp sugar

TOPPINGS (optional)

Frito's Corn Chips
Diced onion
Sour cream
Shredded cheese


Place beef in slow cooker, add all other chili ingredients and stir to mix. Simmer on low at least until meat is cooked. The longer it sits, the better it tastes. I will mix all the ingredients the night before then place the removable pot in the refrigerator so I can just put it in the cooker and simmer all the next day. Works perfectly for a week day meal that is ready when you get home.

CAUTION - make sure your slow cooker is larger enough for all ingredients.

11 February 2007

What's new

I haven't made many "new" recipes lately, but I have a few planned for the near future, so be patient! I have an amazing chili recipe I want to make tomorrow as well as some slow cooker BBQ beef and a Jambalaya to try just in time for Mardi Gras - keep your fingers crossed that they come out tasting great. Meanwhile, we have been a little crafty at home AND added to our family with a new cat.

We picked up Tugboat Charlie (Tugsy - above) on Sunday Feb 4th - he's about 3-4 years old and weighs about 16 pounds. We brought him home, set the carrier on the floor and open the door, thinking it would take him a little time to get adjusted - WRONG! He immediately came out, sniffed around a little and laid on the floor. A few minutes later he joined us on the couch, climbed into our lap and started purring - and has been like that ever since. I was amazed as how quickly he became comfortable here. Now, if we could just get our other cat, Squeakers (below), to get along with him everything would be grand. Hopefully with time.

On this same Sunday, we were able to pick up our new dining table. As we were taking the pieces out to put it together, we learned it was not exactly what we ordered and had cushions instead of solid wood seats. At first, we were going to take it back but really didn't want to deal with the hassle nor did we want to wait any longer to get the new one, so we decided to just recover the cushions instead - I mean, this can't be TOO complicated, could it? We went and picked out new fabric, then headed to the hardware store to pick up a staple gun and staples. A few hours and a blister later, we were finished - and highly impressed with the outcome! One the right is the original cushion - it was almost a yellow and looked AWFUL with our decor. On the left is the recovered cushion, a dark greenish-gray suede like material - and looks perfect! My husband decided he liked the recovered cushion even better than the solid wood, which of course makes me happy. And what's even better? I have enough fabric left to make a matching table runner. Three cheers for a wonderful Sunday!!!