Holiday Hens

We had a very low-key Easter for the third year in a row. Three years ago, J had just graduated the police academy and had to work on Easter. Last year, he had just gotten back from military leave and had to work on Easter. This year, he got back from military leave the day before Easter, and he didn’t have to work but he was exhausted and wanted to lounge around the house with no company. Which is fine by me – I love all my relatives dearly, but having overnight guests and making huge holiday meals takes effort.

Since I wasn’t feeding a ton of people, I wanted to experiment with an ingredient that wasn’t going to be too difficult, but was unique enough to count as a ‘special’ holiday dinner. I decided on Cornish hens – they’re frequently mentioned on creative dinner party menus because they’re small enough to serve one bird per one guest, but being a whole bird, you can still get that ‘special occasion’ feeling by stuffing it and roasting it. Plus, don’t they just sound all pretentious – not a chicken or a turkey or even just a plain old hen, but Cornish Hens. Like a fowl Duke of Corning, not suited to share a coop with the roosters.

But I digress. I used this recipe for the hens. And they turned out amazingly well. The meat itself is rather bland – much more similar to the blank flavor of a chicken than a turkey or a duck. Without creative seasoning, they would be boring. But this recipe instructs you to stuff the hen with lemon wedges and onion. The only deviation from the recipe that I did was to use red onion instead of green onion – I already needed a red onion, and when I buy green onions I never use them all in time and end up throwing them away. But the lemon and red onion combination on the inside really infused the breast with the flavors of both, and the fresh sage created aromatic, crispy, flavorful skin.

I didn’t have time to snap many artful pictures before J pounced on his plate and inhaled the hen in about 4.2 seconds. When all that was left were bones and worn out lemon wedges, he raved about how flavorful the meat was and how convenient the portion size was, and even questioned me on how difficult it was to make and how much they cost before requesting them for the next bird-roast-worthy-holiday.

For our sides, I put some baby red potatoes in the bottom of the roasting pan, as directed by the recipe. Because the juice from the hens aren’t too flavorful, we had to throw some extra seasoning on the potatoes when it was time to serve them. But on the flip side, not a lot of grease come off the hens, which made the potatoes a lighter dish than you’d usually get from roasting potatoes in the juice from the roasting protein. I also threw together a tomato and cucumber salad with a simple vinaigrette – you can get the recipe here. Quick, healthy, and light enough to balance out a heavier main dish.

Bona Pasqua!

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Crockpot Beef, Broccoli and Bok Choy

In my latest efforts to eat healthy, I have been trying to not eat out or order in. Which was definitely hard after a whole week of eating out while on vacation. When I was making my grocery list for this past week, I had an intense craving for Chinese take out, and specifically beef and broccoli. I have no idea what they put in that stuff to make it so delicious, but it probably isn’t healthy. So after searching for several beef and broccoli recipes to satisfy my take-out craving, I pieced together my own crock pot version. I decided to throw in bok choy as well, because it sounded like a nice combination. And I’ll fit in my daily servings of veggies wherever I can get them.

Prep and Cook time – ~15 minutes prep plus 8 hours on low or 4 hours on high; plus 15 minutes on high

Servings: 4-5

What you’ll need:

3 green onions, chopped (white and green parts)

1 1/2 pounds of beef round steak, sliced into 1/2 inch strips

3 small heads of broccoli

1 bunch of bok choy (I ended up using only about half the bundle, but its all about your preferred broccoli to bok choy ratio)

1/2 cup water

1 3/4-ounce envelope of reduced sodium beef gravy mix

2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon ground ginger

1 tablespoon garlic powder

What to do:

Slice the beef and place it in the slow cooker. In a bowl mix together the water, gravy mix, soy sauce, ginger, and garlic. Pour mixture over beef. Cover and cook for 8 hours on high or 4 hours on law. 15 minutes before you’re ready to serve, cut the broccoli heads into smaller pieces and chop the bok choy into about 1 inch chunks. Put the veggies in the slow cooker and turn it on high for 15 minutes, or until broccoli is tender but still crisp. Serve and enjoy!

I hope you find this to be a satisfying alternative to take-out, especially if you’re attempting to make some healthy changes. It can be so difficult to change your eating habits, especially if you’re home alone and look forward to the idea of leftovers for lunch. And then maybe dinner again. There’s certainly nothing better than leftover pizza during the middle of a crazy work day. But don’t worry, this recipe warms ups well for lunch, too! And my co-workers were pretty impressed to find out that it was homemade!

Orzo and Asparagus Salad

I’ve been out of town – on vacation for spring break, visiting J – until yesterday. Vacation was FANTASTIC, but I’m awfully glad to be back in my own kitchen. Eating out is fun, but when you do it for a solid week, you start to crave something homemade.

This Orzo and Asparagus Salad is something that I adapted from this recipe over at Feasting at Home. It is light but filling enough to be a dinner, it can be served warm or cold, and it has a lovely combination of the acidity from the dressing and the olives balanced by the pasta and the feta. Oh, and it is pretty healthy, too. (Except, carbs, yeah yeah whatever I need my pasta.)

Prep and cook time: ~30 minutes

Servings: 4

What you’ll need:

1 bunch of asparagus

1 1/2 cups of orzo, uncooked

1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and sliced

1/2 cup feta cheese

2 green onions, finely chopped

For the Dressing:

1/3 cup olive oil

2 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper

What to do:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Break the tough ends off of the asparagus (if you’ve never done this before, it is very easy – you can just snap the bottom inch or so off with your hands). Put some tin foil on a cookie sheet, spread the asparagus out on the tin foil, give them a light coating of olive oil, and put in them in the oven for 20 minutes.

While the asparagus is cooking, bring a pot of water to boil. Cook the orzo according to the package directions (about 10 minutes). Drain the orzo and put it in a large bowl. Chop up the green onions and the olives.

Make the dressing by whisking all of the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl.

When the asparagus is done, chop it up into bite sized pieces. Mix the asparagus, onion, and olives in the bowl with the orzo. Mix in the dressing. Sprinkle feta cheese on top and serve warm, or cover and chill.

After a wonderful week of gourmet meals at fancy restaurants (ok, and a couple not so fancy ones that might have included several colorful cocktails), it was so relaxing to cook a simple meal in my own kitchen. I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I did!

Sausage, Kale, and Black Bean Soup

I was definitely late to the kale party. I’ve had it a few times, but always in the company of another vegetable – usually in the pre-packaged bags of mixed greens from the grocery store where kale is mixed in with lettuce, spinach, and arugula. I bought a big bag of it in the raw last week and packed a salad for lunch the morning that I got sick. By the time I got back to my house, I was so sick that I didn’t take the time to fully unpack my car, and my lunch stayed there overnight. My poor kale leaves froze. And then thawed. And I can tell you with utmost certainty, thawed, decaying kale leaves are one of the WORST smells that I have EVER encountered. I had to double bag the garbage, throw it outside, Febreeze the whole kitchen, light a candle, and turn on the overhead fan. And it still took a day for the smell to wear off. It turned my stomach so much that I couldn’t even look at the rest of the kale in the fridge for a few days. Tonight I finally got over it, but not enough to eat it raw. The solution? Soup!

Sausage, Kale and Black Bean Soup

What you’ll need:

5 cups of vegetable or chicken broth

5 cups of water

1 pound of sausage (I used our own homemade pork sausage)

1 can of diced tomatoes

1 can of black beans

1 white onion, chopped

5 cups of kale, roughly chopped

4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon of black pepper

1 teaspoon of salt

1 1/2 teaspoons of fennel seeds *

1 teaspoon of dried thyme

Prep and Cook Time: 1 hour

Servings: 5

What to do:

Take the sausages out of the casings and break them up into quarter sized chunks, or slice it thinly. Put about a teaspoon of olive oil in a pan and brown the sausage, cooking it through. Meanwhile, put about a teaspoon of olive oil in a large stockpot. Chop up the onion and slice the garlic and put them in the stockpot, cooking about 5 minutes. Add the broth, water, tomatoes, and black beans to the stock pot. Roughly chop the kale and add it to the broth. When the sausage is cooked through, add it to the soup. Add the pepper, salt, fennel seeds, and thyme. Simmer on medium low heat for 30 minutes.

*A note about the fennel seeds – most sausage that you buy in the store, like hot Italian sausage, has a lot of fennel in it already. Fennel can be a very overwhelming flavor if you use too much of it. I used 1 1/2 teaspoons because I was using homemade pork sausage that had very little seasoning in it to begin with. If you’re using store bought sausage, I would recommend decreasing the amount of fennel, to one teaspoon or even a half a teaspoon, depending on what kind of sausage you’re using.

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Steak with Garlic Mushroom Bok Choy

I had an unexpected day off today. Both of my classes were cancelled because my professors were out of town, which really worked in my favor because in the middle of the afternoon the weather turned nasty and I would not have been happy to drive home in it. More cooking time for me!

On my last grocery shopping trip, I focused my list on foods that I have been looking forward to trying, but I knew J would not be thrilled about. So, first up, a red wine vinegar and soy marinaded flat iron steak. The recipe is extraordinarily simple: 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1/2 cup red wine vinegar, a pinch of salt and pepper. That’s it! I’m accustom to marinades that have a teaspoon of everything in them, so this was refreshingly easy to throw together. The end result, however, was only ok. Not bad, but not super exciting. The 1:1 ratio of the salty soy to the tangy vinegar blended a little too well, and it seemed to turn into a one unexceptional flavor. But hey, that’s why we experiment.

The bok choy, on the other hand. Oh my goodness. Who new such a simple veggie could taste so amazing! I have never worked with fresh bok choy. I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Bok Choy itself does not have a ton of flavor, but sauteing it creates a really wonderful crunchy, fresh texture, and it soaks up any other flavor you give it.

Another super simple recipe: Rough chop 8 oz of mushrooms of your choice (I wanted shitake, but the store didn’t have any, so I used baby bellas). Put a teaspoon of olive oil in a wok or large pan and put in the mushrooms. Chop or mince 4-5 cloves of garlic and add to the mushrooms. Rough chop the bok choy and add to the mushrooms and garlic. Add one teaspoon of lemon juice, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Let this all saute until the boy choy wilts. Serve and enjoy!

I know! So easy, right! Easy, fast, and healthy! Sometimes you don’t need fifty ingredients and every kitchen utensil you own to enjoy a delicious home cooked meal.

Mushroom Bacon Frittata

Originally, I intended to make the Frittata with Tuna and Tomatoes out of Giada de Laurentiis’ cookbook, “Giada’s Feel Good Food.” It is a very health-focused, easy-to-follow cookbook with gorgeous photography. But I don’t like tomatoes, generally, unless they are in sauce form. And although I love tuna, I’m not sure it sounds like a great pairing with eggs. So I dug around my fridge for a few substitutes, and came up with mushrooms, which both J and I love, and leftover bacon from yesterday’s breakfast.

Mushroom Bacon Frittata

8 eggs

1/4 cup milk (the original recipe calls for whole milk. I used skim milk and added a little extra butter to make up for it)

1 tablespoon dried parsley

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

5-6 pieces of cooked bacon, roughly chopped

1 cup mushrooms, roughly chopped

1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

Prep and Cook time: ~25 minutes

Servings: 6

Position an oven rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the milk, parsley, salt and pepper and whisk again. Add in the mushrooms and stir thoroughly.

Melt the olive oil and butter in a large, oven safe skillet on the stove over medium high heat (a 7 on my electric stove). All of my normal pans/skillets have rubber handles and are not oven safe, so I ended up using my oven safe wok. The shape of the frittata ended up a little weird, but it didn’t change the cooking time.

Pour the egg and mushroom mixture into the pan and let it cook, WITHOUT stirring, for 5 minutes. Sprinkle the bacon and cheese on top, let cook without stirring for another 3-5 minutes. Then put the pan in the 400 degree oven for about 8-10 minutes. This will get the inside cooked through without burning the edges. When it is done in the oven, loosen the edges of the frittata with a spatula, and it should slide right out of the pan for you. Cut into wedges and serve!

J and I both really liked this (he said “Thank you for breakfast! Well, dinner. Both!”) and it was just so EASY. I can’t believe I haven’t made one before. And the beauty of it, is that you really can put anything you want in it. If you’re looking for something vegetarian, use mushrooms and spinach instead of bacon. Or go with the tuna and tomato combo from the original recipe. Or get spicy and add hot peppers and onions. The diversity of the dish makes it a good go-to dinner for someone with not a lot of time on their hands.

I had grand ambitions today to go on an organizing spree, and bake, and catch up on some studying. Instead I started out my day with energy, then was suddenly hit with an awful, depressed, grumpy mood. This isn’t unusual in and of itself, its just that I’m never sure when it will hit. This past week was very good – I got to go help Boo, J and I spent some great, fun quality time together, I relaxed and had some “me time” yesterday with my DVR. I’m super excited about our Valentine’s Day plans – going on a double date to a charity raffle dinner / dance. I have an interview for my dream job on Tuesday that I am very pumped for.

But, in the back of my mind I’m also thinking about J leaving. He is a state trooper, but he is also in the Guard. When we first moved to PA, I started school and less than a week later he left for the state police academy, which requires cadets to live down in Hershey, PA (far away from us) for six months. He was allowed to come home or have a guest visit every other weekend, and he was allowed to use his cell phone for 30 minutes per night. That was it, no texting, no computer, no freely coming and going. Two months after he graduated and came home, he left again, this time going away for the military for almost seven months. Then he came home and was sent away again for three weeks. Then for another three weeks, with no communication at all. Between early fall of 2012 and late spring 2014, he was home for a collective total of maybe four months. He was gone during almost the first full year of our marriage.

He’s been home for about nine months solid now, and the initial “re-adjustment,” as I started describing it, was extremely difficult. After two different houses and two years of law school essentially living by myself, I had a hard time learning just to share a space again, let alone the learning curve of compromise that comes with the first year of marriage. But we made it through, and late this spring we’ll be celebrating two years of marriage. It doesn’t sound like much, but to us, it’s the product of so much hard work.

Intellectually, I know I’m dreading his next stretch away with the military way more than necessary. It’s only eight weeks. Compared to what we’ve already been through, an almost insignificant amount of time. And at this point in our marriage, we are certainly stronger as a unit that we were the first time he left – emotionally, mentally, and financially. But maybe there’s an ingrained response that I’ve developed, something that triggers depression and stress, when anticipating another period of separation.

He leaves on February 15th. The past couple of days, he has mentioned casually that he wants to go out to dinner a few times before he leaves, that he doesn’t want me to stress too much about meals, and that he would love a few easy dinners that I used to make, back when we first started living together and before I started developing my cooking skills. He knows, without us having to discuss it, that I’m stressed at his impending departure. I know he wants me to handle these negative feelings by being in the moment when I do spend time with him in this week before he leaves, instead of bottling it all up and hiding out in the kitchen.

So this frittata was my first attempt this week at doing what he’s been asking me to do, even though he never actually asked. I’m cutting down my kitchen time so I can spend more time with him. But I’m still doing what I want to do, too – experimenting with recipes and finding the best way to express my love for him on a plate. And even though when he’s been gone in the past I’ve let the depression pin me down, that doesn’t mean the same thing has to happen this time. This time we’re stronger, I’m stronger, and my arsenal of culinary equipment is stronger.

Besides, when he’s gone, I’ll be able to eat the WHOLE frittata.

A Week of Working With What We’ve Got

I’ve been on the road and away from home since Thursday. Between the traveling, the awful weather that dumped inches upon inches of snow in exactly the places I was driving, living out of other people’s houses for almost a week, and trying to cook and bake on the fly, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of adaptability.

Thursday morning I was off to school, got out of class at 8:30 pm, spend the night at a friends house, went back to class Friday morning at 8 am. Friday after class was done in the afternoon I drove up to my in-law’s home. Saturday morning I left for Connecticut to stay with my friend who was scheduled for surgery Monday morning. Boo, as I nicknamed her long ago (yes, it is a Monster’s Inc reference), has been having foot/leg/back problems for years, and some doctors finally got around to figuring out she’s been living with a bad disk in her back, and decided that surgery was necessary to fix it. So I thought I’d spend Saturday and Super Bowl Sunday with her, go to the hospital with her Monday, and stay until Wednesday morning to make sure she she has some cookies and some company during her first few days home.

Super Bowl Sunday, the plan was to make a Philly Cheesesteak Stromboli. I took Boo’s grocery list and my own grocery list and attempted to navigate the local grocery store. On Super Bowl Sunday. How do you think that went? Yes, yes, very well, thanks for asking. I COULD NOT find pizza dough. Anywhere. Looked up and down every aisle multiple times. It just wasn’t happening. So, my options were 1) puff pastry dough, or 2) pre-cooked pizza crust. I opted for the pre-cooked crust because I thought that the puff pastry dough would give the finished product a weird, not-pizza texture. Turns out, this was the wrong choice. The pizza crust wasn’t malleable enough to fold into a stromboli shape, so it ended up more like a philly cheesteak sandwich on pizza crust. But it was still yummy, and there were only three of us for our wild super bowl party, so, good enough!

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Then today’s project was cookies. I let the patient pick out the type of cookies she wanted, and she opted for Mocha Crinkle Cookies. While her parents were picking her up from the hospital, I was scrambling to clean her apartment and make the cookies. However, this involved a total of FOREVER looking around her pantry and kitchen trying to locate all the cleaning necessities/ ingredients/cookie sheets/baking utensils, ect. Not to mention, in my desperate need for coffee, I couldn’t find coffee filters. So I ended up using a paper towel as a coffee filter, only to stumble upon the coffee filters after said coffee was brewed. Then I proceeded to spill the whole cup of said brewed coffee all over the kitchen just as Boo arrived home. (I’m sure she would have appreciated the comedy in the situation had she not been in miserable pain – my poor girl). I really had my shit together, as you can tell. It also turns out that we didn’t have granulated sugar, just powdered sugar, and I couldn’t find the proper sized measuring cups, so I eyeballed most of the ingredients. The cookies weren’t done when she made it home, but she did get to lick the spoon, so she was happy. And the finished product turned out pretty good.

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And just in case you were wondering, that plate has a picture of a bell pepper and an onion holding hands and it says “Lettuce Be Friends”

I guess being adaptable is really the key to minimizing stress. Boo wasn’t ever expecting to have the kinds of physical issues that she’s had over the past few years, but she’s handled every new twist and turn and development in a graceful, calm manner. Her attitude inspires me to take my problems as they come and stay calm and collected while evaluating my options and coming up with solutions. Just like her. Sometimes when I feel overwhelmed, remembering to take this attitude is very difficult. Thankfully I have people in my life like Boo, who are always there to lead by example.

So, that’s what I’m going to really focus on for the next few months, while J and I are buying our first house, while I’m interviewing for jobs, while I’m trying to get through my last semester of school  – working calmly with what I’ve got. No coffee filters? No problem, you can still get a cup of coffee with a paper towel. No granulated sugar or cookie sheets? No problem, powdered sugar and a pizza tray still get you cookies. Unexpected developments don’t have to send me into a depressed panic – I can always work happily with what I’ve got.

Spiced Venison Steak-Ums

My Healthy Lifestyle Change Efforts have been paying off recently (nope, still not calling it a diet), in the form of both lower scale readings and, this morning, a very sore knee. I’ve cut my mile time down quite a bit in the past two weeks, and in return the legs mutinied and demanded a day off. Without the gym time to factor into my day, I wanted something exceptionally lean for dinner.

Which led me to reach for venison again, but I was craving something other than a burger. We usually have multiple forms of venison in our fridge, so tonight I grabbed a bag of it in Steak-Um form. For those of you not familiar with Steak-Ums (I have absolutely no idea if that is a universally understood term, or if its something colloquial. Like Speedies, which are HUGE in the area of New York state where I grew up – but then I transplanted one state over and people looked at me like I had three heads when I asked where I could get Speedies), it is essentially a loin sliced extremely thin. Think of the slices of beef you’d find on a Philly Cheesesteak. And although I like the taste of venison au naturel, I was in the mood to jazz things up.

As well as attempting to keep my diet a little cleaner these days, I was desperate to get something into J that wasn’t ice cream, which has become his staple for the past week. He’s still very sore and can’t eat anything other than soft foods after getting all four wisdom teeth yanked last Monday, so ice cream is his best friend. I feel like an evil witch if I give him the side eye at his frequent trips to the freezer, because he looks at me with this innocent, pained face and cries “but my TEETH HURT!”

Ok, so, soft, healthy veggies. Whaddowegot? “Power Greens” mix! Which is a pre-bagged mix of spinach, kale, bok choy, arugula, and a few other dark green leafies that you can find pretty much anywhere. The spinach is the predominate flavor, so J eats it willingly. Cook that down and throw in a can of butter beans for more substance, and you’ve got a healthy, filling side dish. Good stuff!

Spiced Steak-Ums

Servings: 4

Prep and cook time: ~15 minutes

What you’ll need:

1/2 pound of venison or beef, thinly sliced

1 egg

4 tablespoons garlic powder

4 tablespoons chili powder

4 teaspoons dried dill

2 tablespoons olive oil

Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. When working with meat that is this thinly sliced, you don’t want your heat too high, or the meat will burn quickly. If you’re using an electric stove like I am, don’t get your heat above 6, at most.

Whisk an egg in a bowl. On a plate, thoroughly mix together 2 tablespoons garlic powder, 2 tablespoons chili powder, and 2 teaspoons dill. Working with one piece of meat at a time, dip the steak-um in the egg to coat, then roll each side of the steak-um in the spice mixture. I reserved half of the spices initially, because as you continue to put the egg-coated steak-ums in the spice mixture, the remaining mixture on the plate will become gummy consistency. You’ll want to add the rest of the spices about halfway through the process so that all of the meat gets an even layer. Same concept applies to that second tablespoon of olive oil – as the meat is cooking, some of the spice will end up coming off and gumming up the bottom of your pan. Add the second tablespoon of olive oil halfway through the cooking process, and even more if you think it is needed. If you don’t keep enough oil in the pan to coat the bottom, your spices will burn almost immediately.

Because they are very thin, the steak-ums will cook very quickly, so you’ll want to keep a sharp eye on them. Especially if you’re working with venison instead of beef – venison is much leaner, so it will dry out and burn much quicker than beef.

Sauteed Greens with Butter Beans

Servings: 2-3

Prep and cook time: ~10 minutes

What you’ll need

2 cups of dark leafy green of your choice (I used a pre-bagged mix, but straight spinach or kale would work great)

1 can of butter beans, aka great northern beans, aka cannellini beans (I don’t know either why they can’t just pick a name), drained and rinsed

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

Super easy side dish here – put about 1 teaspoon of water in the bottom of a pot or a pan, doesn’t really matter, as long as you can put a lid on it. I used a wok. Put your greens in, put the lid on top, set the heat to the low side of medium (4 on my stove) and let the water steam the veggies until they’re wilted, stirring every couple of minutes. Once the veggies are wilted, throw in the butter beans. Leave the lid off to let the remaining moisture in the bottom of the pan cook off so you don’t have soggy beans – about 3 or 4 minutes. Mix in the black pepper, garlic powder, and salt. Let the spices warm up and cook in the mixture for another 2 or 3 minutes, and you’re ready to serve!

Beef Barley Stew and Other Foods to Eat Without Wisdom Teeth

J got his wisdom teeth out yesterday, so his food options have been restricted to soft foods he can chew gently. My poor guy – he didn’t get put under for the procedure, because as of January 1st, our insurance company has a new policy that they won’t pay for anesthesia for wisdom tooth extraction (except for little kids). And because of J’s job, he can’t take narcotic painkillers without having to fill out a bunch of paperwork for his employer, and its a hassle. So he was awake, and his only pain management was a shot of novocaine to the jaw. He walked out looking like a zombie movie extra, and the only thing he could stomach yesterday were protein shakes and vanilla ice cream.

Today he was feeling a bit better, and I felt like tackling a more time-consuming dish because I don’t have class or work on Tuesdays. I am attempting to generally improve my diet (I’m not calling it dieting or losing weight because that’s never worked before!), and thanks to Pinterest, I have a whole stack of healthier, filling, especially-good-for-cold-weather meals.

Tonight’s selection was Beef Barley Soup, which, in my case, ended up being Beef Barley Stew. I’ve never used barley before, and I really enjoyed it in this stew. It is a great filler and a healthier alternative to the white pasta that I usually crave. I got the recipe from Skinnytaste – http://www.skinnytaste.com/2012/09/beef-barley-soup.html. This gal has some really fantastic, healthy recipes and I highly recommend you go over to Skinnytaste and check it out. I was going to use her picture, too, because none of mine worked out (must have been my lighting, because my liquid looked gray! And it wasn’t, really! Time to get serious about Googling food photography), but I didn’t know if that would be a breach of blogging etiquette of some sort.

I made a couple of changes from the original recipe. I added a whole cup of barley instead of 2/3rd cup. I have never worked with barley before, and when I measured it out and dumped it in the soup, it seemed like the proportions were off and I’d need more barley. What I didn’t realize is how much water barley absorbs as it cooks, and the full cup of barley soaked up enough of my liquid to turn it into a stew, not a soup. Lesson learned! I also added 2 tablespoons each of oregano, parsley, and thyme, which I think gave it an extra oomph.

For J’s portion, I had to scoop out the pieces of beef first and shred them, pulled pork style, to reduce he chew-time-per-spoonful. He didn’t seem very enthusiastic about it, but I’m not taking offense because he hasn’t been enthusiastic about anything since watching his own teeth getting yanked out. Of course, his suggested remedy was ice cream, so after dinner he got his second heaping bowl of vanilla for the day. This stew was so yummy, though, I don’t care if he eats all the ice cream and leaves all the leftovers to me! Unless……..barley and vanilla ice cream? Hmmmm……..better not.

Mozzarella Curry Venison Burgers

I know what you might be thinking – Mozzarella and Curry and Venison? Weird combo! Which, it is. But its a YUMMY weird combo.

It was just me for dinner tonight, and I was looking for something pretty lean and healthy to balance out our fantastic meal out on the town last night with friends followed by the incredibly gooey chocolate brownie disaster. I had venison burgers planned along with veggie mac and cheese, but J not being home for dinner was an unplanned, last minute thing and I didn’t want to make mac and cheese all for myself. So, I figured venison burgers and a side of steamed broccoli sounded yummy and reasonable to cook for one.

The perk of J not being home for dinner is that I get to use CURRY. I LOVE curry. He doesn’t like it. You see my dilemma. Curry and venison gave me pause, but I figured, hey, I’ll try it. And I’m glad I did because it’s actually quite the delicious combination! The spiciness and slight nuttiness of the curry compliments the game-y taste of the venison, and the more smooth, basic flavor of the mozzarella balances out the meat and the spice and kind of brings them together and makes them get along. But then again, melted mozzarella makes anything amazing.

So here’s how you make Mozzarella Curry Venison Burgers!

Servings: 6

Prep and cook time: ~30 minutes

What you’ll need:

2 pounds ground venison

2 eggs

1/2 cup breadcrumbs (I used Italian seasoned breadcrumbs)

2 tablespoons curry powder

1 tablespoon black pepper

1 tablespoon garlic powder

6 slices of whole milk mozzarella

Put your thawed, ground venison into a bowl. Add the breadcrumbs and eggs and mix thoroughly. I usually just use my hands to mix things into raw, ground meat to make sure it is evenly distributed. Mix in the curry powder, garlic powder, and black pepper. Spray olive oil or some other type of cooking oil into a pan, put the pan on medium heat, and let the pan heat up for a couple of minutes. Form burger patties out of the ground venison and place them in the pan.

Venison is tricky to work with when its ground. Because venison is very lean, it won’t make a good burger by itself. Regardless of what other ingredients I use, when I make venison burgers I always mix in egg and breadcrumbs – 1 egg and 1/4 cup breadcrumbs per pound of venison. If you don’t, you’ll end up with a pan full of ground venison, because every time you try to move or flip your burger, the patty will fall apart. Also, if you’re pan frying instead of using a grill, always let your pan heat up on medium heat and let the burgers get a good initial sear. This will help keep them together as they continue to cook. But venison also burns easily on high temperature if you don’t watch it, so after you get a good sear on each side of your burger, turn the heat down to low. I have an electric stove, and I start the temperature on 5, then turn it down to 2 after I sear the burger.

So after you get a good sear on each side of your burger, turn down your heat and cover the pan. Make sure you let them cook until they reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees (any ground meat needs to reach a minimum internal temperature of 160 degrees to kill the bacteria that is distributed through the meat during the grinding process). My burgers took about 20-25 minutes to cook. During the last 2-3 minutes of cooking time, place a slice of mozzarella on each burger and cover the pan again to let the cheese melt. When the cheese is fully melted, serve and enjoy!

venisonburgers2