June 30, 2013

Karen's Corn Salsa

Everybody has one or two dishes that are your go-to foods to bring somewhere.  If you're headed to a friend's lake house, having some friends over, or going to the neighborhood block party you'll whip it up.  Your friends know you'll bring it, and you hope it's one that people are excited you came and brought rather than a perpetual joke.  Ideally, it's something that takes little effort and can be done in advance so you don't have to time it well. For our next door neighbor it's a massive (store bought) chocolate cake that her son described as "seven pounds of deliciousness" with a mouthful of frosting.  It doesn't get much better than that.

For my mom, it's corn salsa.  She raised us that you never go anywhere empty handed.  Bring food or bring beer but don't show up expecting to eat their food and drink their beer without offering any of your own.  I remember my mom making this up for my brother to go hang out with his friends at the lake so he wouldn't be rude.  And he obviously never refused.  You can whip it up ahead of time, and requires only minimal chopping skills.  You can make it up early in the morning, and just set it in the fridge until you throw it in the cooler on a bed of nice cold beers. Not only does it taste awesome, but you also don't have the guilt of eating nothing but red hots, a bag of chips and french onion dip all day. It's hits that sweet spot of healthy and something you actually want to eat.

June 26, 2013

Blackberry Bourbon Fizz

My first drink post!  On one hand it's a bit of a shocker, considering the origin of Charm Hour, and my affection for a nice drink.  On the other hand, I'm pretty straight forward when it comes to booze- give me a dark beer or a dry wine and I'm a happy woman.

On this particular afternoon, Joe texted me about doing something fancy for dinner.  I had a bag of tricks up my sleeve for a nice dinner to cook, and it turned out Joe didn't have ideas for food, just for drinks.  Somewhere in the world wide wed he came across this little charmer:

Who could resist?!  Especially when Joe seriously loves bourbon.  We even have a painting of a Maker's Mark bottle in our kitchen (and a Budweiser bottle- gotta keep that class under control).  Painting is another one of those artistic things that I have little training beyond hanging out with my grandmother but love to pick up from time to time.  Which is basically everything here on Charm Hour, now that I think of it.

Before I get any more distracted, the Blackberry Bourbon Fizz!

You'll Need:

Bourbon - pick your favorite
Ginger Ale
Club Soda
Blackberries (duh)

And now for those very simple directions:

Add your blackberries and crush as much or as little as you please.
You can always crush them later with a spoon.

We like this stuff.

  Joe more than me- you can guess which one's mine.

Fill most of the way with ginger ale.

And add a spritz of club soda.

And that's it!  I crushed up my blackberries at this point to get a little more fruity flavor in there.

Drink up!

June 22, 2013

Stovetop Popcorn

This is another one of those super simple things that is totally worth making yourself.

I seriously love snacking.  Especially something both salty and crunchy. So popcorn is right up my alley.  Especially because it's actually good for you.  At least if you make it yourself, that is.  For one cup of just plain popcorn it has only 30 calories, 1.2 grams of fiber, over 4 grams of complex carbohydrates, and 1 gram of protein.  That's not a ton of any of those good categories, but it's little to no fats, simple sugars, or any of the bad stuff.  So if you're going to grab a bowl of something to snack on while you're curling up on the couch with Netflix it's about as good as it gets.

Keep in mind that's just the popcorn itself, so whatever you're cooking it in is what adds the less healthy stuff.  Which is why rather than opt for microwave popcorn which has all that mystery yellow stuff, I cook mine in a few tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and Old Bay seasoning.  But you can make it sweet, salty, spicy, or cinnamon-y all depending on what you're in the mood for.  And it's good for you!

You'll Need:

3 TB olive oil 
1/2 cup of popcorn kernels
Seasoning of your choice

Let's get started!

Pour a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot with a top.  Put in a few kernels too so you can tell when the oil is getting hot.  Put the burner on medium heat.

Once those kernels pop, pour in your remaining kernels (about 1/2 a cup or so).

Shake it periodically.  Once you can count to two mississipi nice and slow without any pops in between remove your pot from the burner and take off the cover.

At this point you can season as much or as little as you want.  I shake some salt and Old Bay on mine, but you can drizzle a little melted butter, or shake some cinnamon and sugar over it for a sweeter variety.  It's easiest to mix it up well if you have a mixing bowl with a top you can shake it in.  1/2 cup of kernels makes about a medium sized mixing bowl.

And that's it!  Eat up you savvy snacker, you!

June 19, 2013

Fresh Strawberry Muffins

As you can probably tell by this being by third strawberry-related post in a row, buying two pints of strawberries might have been a bit much.  The better part of the first batch went into sauce for our french toast and some strawberry rhubarb crisp.  A few days laters the already ripe strawberries were getting a little harried by our very warm kitchen and our fridge that has a tendency to freeze things.

Before they got squishy and gross I figured I'd be best to bake them up.  I scoured the internet for a recipe that I could bring to work with me so it wouldn't go to waste.  Most recipes seem to be in the cobbler/pie variety- which are delicious but pretty impractical for nurses running in and out of the break room in a jiffy.  And then I came across these muffins!

You should know if you're considering making them that they're a little time intensive.  There's a couple steps, and they take probably 2 hours or so.  It's good for a summer day when you're doing other things and can jump in and out to check on them.  It's not terribly complicated, but maybe not worth the trouble if it's not a labor of love.  For me, I was enjoying a nice summer morning where I didn't work until 3, so I had time to bake and stress-relieve.

They end up being the consistency of a nice gooey banana muffin, with a light, sweet strawberry flavor on the inside and a strong tangy flavor from the roasted strawberries on top.  And, of course, they're best warm and fresh from the oven.  This makes 1 dozen muffins.

June 16, 2013

Snow Crab Dinner

This week I started my first week of my last clinical.  Basically, I'm working full time alongside a nurse and transitioning into the role of a nurse.  This means we take on all aspects of their care- including using a pager to talk to physicians and hope I don't make a fool of myself.  Considering the only pager I'd even handled was a sparkly pink one that came with gum in it when I was five, I had an awkward learning curve.  But I'm getting it down!

I worked four days and then had Friday off, so Joe and I obviously had to celebrate- I'll take every excuse to celebrate- so we got hard to work at making dinner.

I have been in this phase where I'm obsessed with crab for a little while now.  It's less than ideal that I'm in the middle of the freaking country, but I'm making due.  Fortunately we have three grocery stores within a 15 minute walk/train ride, so I've surveyed the options before.  Trader Joe's has frozen crab cakes that are okay at best, and I barely trust Dominick's to sell edible chicken breasts.  That leaves us with Whole Foods.  In general I really can't stand this one, as they have 30 kinds of milk, none of which are just regular freaking milk, and it takes me an eternity to hunt down the essentials.  It's a great place for people with weird diets, but it's too much for me.  That said, they have a fantastic meat selection.  It's too pricy for my blood normally, but for celebration it's totally fine.

The snow crab we got was $28 for close to 2 pounds.  Which is a lot, but when you figure that Joe and I usually spend $30 a person out at dinner, and never less than $30 to order in it isn't really that bad.  Plus we seriously made it way better than my favorite seafood restaurant around the corner does.  With the rest of our food included (potatoes, corn, and pasta) our dinner was $40.  I'll take it!

On to the cooking!

The basic premise is that you boil your potatoes on the bottom of your big pot, with the water level just above the potatoes, so that your crab can steam on top of the potatoes.

Old Bay is an essential ingredient in there with your red potatoes. 

That's Old Bay sprinkled on the crab legs too.

Our corn went in a separate pot with sugared water (probably a couple tablespoons or a really big pinch worth).

The Chef!  Joe is responsible for everything but the pasta sauce in this dinner, although I did help a little.

Even Oy helped!

Joe was concerned we didn't have enough food, so we threw some pasta in yet another pot.

The sauce was a simple one- I poured some white wine and lemon juice over the noodles, and added some fresh garlic and shredded parmesan.

Then pile up everything on top!

As a funny aside, I brought my wine, butter, and lemon juice over to the table to find this:

So I took a much needed cleaning break to clear the table while Joe did the finishing touches.
What can I say, we take Father's Day seriously around here- we did some serious watercolor cards!

So as I was saying, our amazing dinner...

You really can't go wrong with putting Old Bay on anything.  My brother always puts it on his grilled corn- he's pretty damn smart.

Joe's successful crab acquisition!  For the record, we don't have nut crackers, so we just used our hands, teeth, and forks.  And it was super fun- no need for fancy tools around here!

Seriously though, this crab meat was fantastic.

Just look at that claw!  It's my favorite when you get that little wiggly piece at the end out.

And we finally worked our way down to those starches.

And that's it!  You can melt a little butter to dip your crab in, but I personally love dripping lemon juice on mine.

This little groveler didn't get any of this meal!

And now it's time to settle into that food coma...

June 15, 2013

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

As I said yesterday, I went a little gung-ho on the strawberries and rhubarb at the farmer's market. While I was making up some Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce for our french toast, I started the prep work for this dessert while I was at it.

I know I've said before my family wasn't huge on dessert, but my brother has always loved apple crisp.  It's really the only thing I remember my mom regularly baking from scratch. I've made a lot of cobblers in the past few months (the mango and raspberry varieties haven't hit the blog yet), so I thought I'd try something new!

What I like about this dish is that you can do your prep work in advance before dinner, toss it in the oven when you sit down to eat, and have it warm and toasty by the time you're finished.

You'll Need:

1+ 1/2 cups chopped rhubarb
2 cups chopped strawberries
3/4 cup brown or white sugar

1 cup oats
1/4 cup flour
4 TB cold, unsalted butter cut in pieces
1/2 tsp salt

Start by chopping up your fruit.  I used most of a pint of strawberries, and maybe four sticks of rhubarb?  But feel free to adjust to what you have.  Peeled green apples would also go mighty fine in this.