Monday, May 31, 2010

Miscellaneous Mondays

Happy Memorial Day!  It is absolutely pouring rain here in Charlotte NC, complete with thunder rumbles.  Glad I had no plans...........

Here are random things I heard, found, and saw this past week:

Buy a box of 500 foil sheets from a warehouse digging out the box of aluminum foil and fighting with the cutter. Perfect for lining the baking pan of your toaster oven.

Use plain tomato sauce for pizza and prosciutto is a good replacement for pepperoni....leaner.

Melt butter in the microwave on defrost and it won't explode.

Check out The Produce Lady's Blog for good information on your summer produce.  Two tips I just learned:  oranges should not be refrigerated and produce should not be washed before storing, but just before eating.  The water speeds decay.

I just made a homemade pizza using ButterYum's wonderful tips. 

Want quick fried potatoes for breakfast....cube the potato, cook it in microwave for a couple of minutes (test for doneness), heat skillet, pour in some oil and fry those cubes til nice and crispy.  (I got this tip off of a blog and neglected to note which one, so if you recognize your recipe let me know)

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Guest Columnist

We love Costco. Who doesn't? There's always fun new stuff to check out, and they feed you while you shop. On nearly every trip we linger by the San Marzano canned tomatoes - not something we can find in our local markets. However, we have always passed them by - the world's most amazing tomatoes or not, what does one do with 6 pounds of them at once when it's just dinner for two? On our last trip, we were once again lingering when inspiration struck - crock pot marinara sauce! I had no idea how I would go about it but at under $4 a can, we figured why not?

Found a simple recipe in what is fast becoming my favorite slow cooker book - Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook (no offense of course, mom!). The recipe called for 3 pounds of tomatoes, so it was an easy double for my jumbo can. It came out perfectly - a beautiful bright red color and full of vibrant, fresh flavor.

Crockpot Marinara Sauce (for a six quart cooker.)

6 pound can tomatoes (San Marzano from Costco)
2 sweet onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic (or more to taste)
6 oz. can tomato paste
1 T sugar (2 pinches)
olive oil

Saute onions and garlic in a few T olive oil, pour into crockpot. (6 quart cooker)
Add tomato paste, sugar, salt, pepper and 2 T olive oil. Open can of tomatoes and squeeze out most of the seeds, put the crushed up tomatoes into the crockpot. Make sure to add the puree left in the bottom of the can after you have removed the tomatoes to squeeze out the seeds. Cook on low 5 hours. Use handheld immersion blend in the pot to make the sauce smooth.

So far this tasty sauce has appeared in three meals....pasta and meat sauce, pizza on the grill, a dipper for garlic knots. It will be the base of a few more meals, then into the freezer for later.

And all for a total cost of about $6!


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Check Out This Choo Choo Train

My nephew, Patrick Williams, is an amazing photographer.  Who knew he was a food designer as well???

Bet you could get your kid to eat his veggies if you presented them this way on the table!!

His business is in Atlanta and his blog is full of beautiful photos of amazing places and events.

Friday, May 28, 2010

And Add an Egg

I have decided I have to add an egg to my breakfast some days.  Now, I am not a fan of eggs.  I am not a breakfast fan, and eggs generally have a starring role.  But I go to yoga and/or pilates MWF midmorning, and have noticed I have started having the low blood sugar shakes about halfway through the class.  Plus I come home after class and am grabbing for anything edible in the pantry.  Not good.

I do know from experience that eating some egg in the morning will carry me for hours.  I also will eat a boiled egg without too much anguish.  So this morning I took a custard cup, broke an egg into it and stirred it up a little to break up the yolk, but not blend it all together.  Then I covered it and put it in the microwave on level 5 for about a minute, dumped it onto a plate and let it cool.  Cute shape.  I went ahead and built my cereal breakfast and after that I cut up a tomato and got some cilantro out of the fridge and made myself another breakfast.  I only ate half the egg, so I have breakfast in the fridge for tomorrow.  And I made it til 2 pm before I got hungry.  So it worked.

(and, yes, Jenni, I adore your scrambled eggs...but you fill them with goodies and you are the one standing over the skillet cooking them......)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Building My Breakfast

Breakfast is said to be the most important meal of the day, and it is.  It sets you up for the rest of the day.  If I eat the wrong breakfast, I get the low blood sugar shakes before lunch, sending me into a snack fit.  The problem is I hate breakfast foods.  I love it when a restaurant will let me order off the lunch menu at a late breakfast meal.

I have spent many years searching for a breakfast I will eat.  I switched to 'fake' milk when my daughter pointed out that perhaps my feeling icky after breakfast every day could be due to the milk.  Spot on.  So then I started on my quest for a cereal that I liked.  I don't like sweet stuff in the morning...that is for late afternoon!

I've done smoothies, toast with peanut butter, all sorts of 'healthy' dry cereals, a year of freezing cooked oatmeal in muffin cups, etc, etc.  A few months ago my daughter was visiting and her Dad was eating the bowl of Grapenuts he has had every morning for 40 years.  And I was laughing at him, as usual....I mean, they are little rocks!

My daughter pointed out that she, too, liked Grapenuts and I should give them a try.  I did, topped with granola and frozen blue berries and I was hooked!  So now I have to buy twice as many Grapenuts for the pantry.

Here is how I build my breakfast:

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Bragging Rights

If you are raising, or have raised kids, you earn 'bragging rights'.  My son and daughter are grown, but I still love to brag about them.  Today I want to brag about each.

First, my daughter, Jenni, is a gifted writer and a super researcher and is super organized.  We always say 'you should get paid for all that talent'.  She has a full-time job and salary and on that job she writes training manuals, over and above her job description, but no extra money.  Well, she just got paid for a writing/editing job:

She found a wedding planner we wanted to hire and the young woman sent her a contract.  Jenni thought the contract was not specific enough, and told her.  The planner responded by asking for ideas and suggestions.  So, Jenni, using all her knowledge from wedding websites and magazines and personal research, mocked up a contract.  The girl not only accepted it as her new contract, but knocked $50 off of her fee.  And that, ladies, is getting paid for writing!

Next up, my son.  He is not known for spur of the moment things.  Well, week before last he and his wife went to a Jimmy Buffet concert in their home town of Houston.  They are big fans and go every year.  Well, they had so much fun, and they had an offer from her sister and her Dad to babysit this past weekend....and Jimmy had a concert in Dallas.....and they found a ticket online at original price...and they googled and found a good deal on a 4 star we get a phone call from Dallas!   This is their early wedding anniversary trip.  I think it is so cool they could put this together.

Now it is your turn to brag about something......

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Salad Redux

The above photo does look familiar.  I made all these salads for Saturday lunch, and had leftovers.  I served the three salads again on Monday, but made changes in each.  The black bean salad went into a fresh avocado boat, I added slivered teeny cucumbers (see below) and some ranch dressing to the potato salad, and I added a chiffonade of lemon balm and some lime vinaigrette to the salmon salad.  I had a lovely market tomato that I added for some color.  Now all the salads are gone and I have to make new salads.

Note:  Here is a photo of the teeny cucumbers I found at the Farmer's Market.  They are extremely crunchy and have no particular taste.  I like to cut them into fourths vertically and put into salads for a nice texture.  To show you the size, I have placed a teaspoon beside them in the photo. If anyone knows anything about these little delights, please tell me in the comment section.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Miscellaneous Mondays

In the course of my week, I find lots of interesting tidbits, facts, columns, newspaper articles, etc, etc., that I want to share.  Rather than scatter these items throughout my blog posts, I decided to have  Miscellaneous Monday. 
Today's Miscellaneous:

Hilarious column : In the dark about light fixture rules. For more on Marni, here is her blog

Not another chemical ingredient we have to worry about............NOW its oxybenzone in sunscreens.  And it is on my hypoallergenic, unscented sunscreen label.  It is probably in my makeup and day cream, too, but the print on the container is so tiny.   

I learned in the local paper today that the triangle area of North Carolina has the third largest collection of modernist houses in America.  The hundreds of midcentury gems are here thanks to the Modernist influence of the NC State University College of Design over the past 61 years.  So what exactly is a modernist house?I found this youtube video, and lo and behold, these are the houses that were the 'fancy' houses when I was a kid/teen.  In fact, my nephew owns one of these modernist homes and he has a rock garden in his foyer.

In a Women's Health magazine, I saw this exercise boost from Celebrity trainer Bob Harper:

  • stand with feet together

  •  take one step to the right, bending your right knee while keeping your left leg straight

  • as you lunge to the side, twist your torso and try to touch the right side of your lower back with both hands

  • return to standing position and do this on other side

  • repeat this move while the water is boiling for your pasta (that's my addition)
Did you plan fish for dinner, then realize at 7 pm that it is still in the freezer?  You can cook it from frozen.  Go to and see how.

Food Shopping help:  this article was featured on my computer news feed today.  We all pretty much know these things, but it helps to have it all in one place and the reasons expanded.  Eight Packaged Foods to Avoid Buying.

And here is a good article on supermarket tips.  Most of them I knew, but it is always nice to find out how well-informed one is!!!

This week, Kathleen Purvis, local food writer, wrote about not cooking in the summer. She described a raw asparagus salad, a raw zucchini ribbon salad, and the thawed frozen pea salad from Mario Batali's cookbook "Molto Gusto" . All three are going onto my summer menus.

Then there was this idea, using a teeny bit of cooking, from food blogger Cheri Wiles. She blanches her asparagus and marinates it in the fridge with minced garlic, olive oil, and sesame oil.

 In the Parade magazine of Sunday's newspaper I read the column of Pulitzer Prize winning Connie Schultz.  So I googled to find more of her articles.  I love this one on Scrabble.  Personally, I am not at all competitive, so I play scrabble online, by myself.  I tend to only make 3 and 4 letter words and anybody at all competitive will not play with me.....

Also in Parade Magazine this week was Homer Simpson's Grilling Tips  My favorite tip is that a pound of ground meat really wakes up a veggie burger.  Also, Homer does not know what leftovers are!!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Lime Coconut Chicken

In my constant online food blogger reading, I spotted a recipe for chicken piccata and it lodged in my brain.  Last night I thawed a boneless, skinless chicken breast and proceeded to make up another version, since I had limes instead of lemons.

Lime Coconut Chicken
  • 2 Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 lime, zest and juice
  • 1/2 cup flaked coconut
  • 2 T butter
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 2 T. cooking oil
  • 2 T. chopped cilantro or parsley
  • Pound the chicken breast flat between two pieces of plastic wrap (put smooth side of breast down)
  • Heat some oil and butter in a pan over medium heat.
  • Dredge the flattened breast pieces in the flour and cook in pan until both sides are brown and chicken is done.
  • Remove chicken from pan to a plate and keep warm.
  • Toss the coconut into the hot pan and stir a bit til it turns golden.
  • Pour in lime juice and white wine to taste and cook to form a sauce, scraping up the browned bits.
  • Pour over the chicken and serve with rice.
  • Garnish with chopped cilantro or parsley.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Salad Saturday

I spent all week shopping to restock my kitchen after being out of town.  I went to the regular supermarket, Trader Joe's, a local vegetable stand, and the Regional Farmer's Market.  So with a full fridge and time on my hands, I made salads, spurred on by having a bunch of fresh dill that needed to be used quick. 

The black bean salad is in a little zucchini bowl.  I found a recipe on a blog that used the vegetable bowl to serve soup in.  I did not want to make the soup, but I liked the bowl idea, so the salad went into it.  Neither of us ate the bowl, so I chopped up one to put into the potato salad for tomorrow.  The other one just might get julienned and deep fried for a garnish. The black bean salad is basic, and constantly changes.  This one has canned, rinsed black beans, uncooked kernels from a fresh corn cob, cilantro, red bell pepper, red onion, slivered radishes, some diced jalapeno pepper, bottled italian dressing, coriander, cumin, and a few grinds from a pepper/salt/garlic mill.

The potato salad is simply those gold skinned potatoes peeled and chunked up.  I cooked too many, so half went into mashed potatoes last night, the rest into the salad.  I wanted boiled egg in the salad but did not want to boil an I cracked an egg into a glass cup, pierced the yold with a fork, put a vented plastic wrap cover on it and cooked it on medium on was perfect.  Celery, red onion, parsley, olive oil, rice vinegar, fresh dill complete this one.

We had salmon for dinner last night, so I boiled some pasta and combined it with the leftover salmon, added lemon juice, fresh dill, parsley, and a little olive oil based mayo.

Friday, May 21, 2010


While browsing Foodgawker yesterday I found this photo. Now,   you have to understand that my favorite salad in the whole world is black bean and corn salad.  I also love raw red bell peppers.  So I swooned when I saw this.  I clicked through and found a great food blog.  Click on the photo, get the recipe, and enjoy the ButterYum blog!

When you read her recipe, you will see that the basis of the dressing is bottled Italian dressing.  This is the secret ingredient.  I take this to all my potlucks and nobody believes it.  I do add cumin, coriander, and sometimes chili powder.  I also add either cilantro or flat leaf parsley instead of basil. Green peppers work just as well, and cost less...just not as pretty.  I also add either diced red onions or sliced green onions. The corn can be canned or thawed frozen.  I have also cut the corn off a fresh cob during the summer and put it raw into the salad.  It is a very refreshing salad, and the beans give it protein.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Update Notes

I have been polishing up my blog a bit.  My current email address is now in my profile, so you can email me about any posts if you wish.  I have also activated Feedburner and provided the option to subscribe to my blog through email.  I have subscribed to quite a few blogs and enjoy having updates appear in my inbox, so now my updates can appear in yours, if you desire.

The appearance and features on NanCooks will continually change as I experiment.  I get bored easily and also like to learn new things.  The background on the blog will also periodically be different as I find new free designs to use.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

'Use By' Date?

I just picked up a hand-out at my local YMCA on Spring Cleaning Your Refrigerator.  It was the same old, same old, until I got to the part on "Use by" or "best if used by" dates.  Now, if you are like me, you toss those out when the date is past.  Well, according to these dates on the processed foods are not safety-related.  They represent the last recommended date for using the product at its top quality.  The term "expiration date" means don't consume the product after this date.

While looking for a clipart illustration on, I found out from a Consumer Reports article more about using food past its 'use by date'.  So I pass it on.....

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Two Become One, Twice

I enjoy sewing and I like to save money and I hate to get rid of clothes.  I also like to shop at Goodwill, for things to wear and items to 'repurpose'.

Dresses are quite popular and so comfortable to wear in the summer.  Last year I bought I long, soft jersey sundress that looked horrible on me.  This year I found a really interesting rayon print skirt at Goodwill with an impossibly tight elasticized waist.  I thought of turning each into a skirt, and then I had an 'aha; moment.

The black dress joins with a too-short black tank (from Goodwill); the print skirt joins with a $9 tank top.

The skirt on the black dress starts just under the bustline.  The other dress is very long waisted, because I wanted the skirt as long as possible.  I kind of made them up as I went along; I've been sewing for many years and have learned to figure out what I want and think backwards to get the plan, then start cutting, sewing, and hope...................

For those of you who want more specific instructions....

Clip Art Kitties

You have noticed I love clip art.    I have been volunteer editor for numerous newsletters over the years and developed a real attachment to using clip art for illustrations; I spend a lot of time trolling through looking for illustrations for this blog. Today I found some cute cartoon kitties.  Here they are.

Which one is cutest?
I kind of like the one with the ball of yarn, but the two-tone brown is a close second. is a really neat site, each clip art images is free and when you click on it, often you are taken to an  to an interesting site to explore. 

Old Favorite Reappears....Healthier

I enjoy trolling through Foodgawker and was amazed today to see a photo of a salad/dessert I grew up with....'Heavenly Hash'.  I was amazed it would make it on Foodgawker, so I had to check it out.  No, it is not the old 1970's version us Baby Boomers grew up on.  This version is called 'Creamy Coconut Fruit Salad', and can really increase your fruit intake, and anything with coconut has my vote.  Warning:  this newer version nixes the CoolWhip and the marshmallows.....wonder why?  

Monday, May 17, 2010

Meet the Parents Weekend

This past weekend was "Meet the Parents Weekend"....Jenni's fiance's mother and father drove down from Fire Island, NY, to meet us on Ocean Isle Beach, NC, and see the wedding venue for next May. 
Everyone converged at The Giggling Mackerel...excellent mahi sandwich and fries.  A good start to the weekend.

We had good food,  fabulous seafood, and lovely weather.  Jenni found a house to rent that was full of cute 'beachy' decorations.  It also had a very nice kitchen and a shady deck overlooking a canal.  We cooked at the house and had fresh shrimp and clams both nights.  Kory's mother, a wonderful cook, roasted the shrimp each night and steamed the clams. This was my first time to have a bowl of fresh clams to scoop from the shell and dip into butter and they were fantastic.   We ate them on the shady deck overlooking the canal, as we fed shrimp tails to the turtles gathered near the shore.  (we attracted dozens and they were most willing to come out of the water to grab a shrimp tail, if they could beat the birds to it).  This is entertainment you cannot plan for! The second night we tossed the clams with pasta, butter, white wine, and the juice from the steamed clams.  Pure heaven!
This is the wedding venue, Knots Landing, on the left.    A view of the beach, right.  The reception tent will be in the front, so the bride and groom will enter down that gorgeous staircase after the ceremony.

All in all, a wonderful weekend. 

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Baked Donuts?

Jason and Lindsay and the boys gave me this for Mother's Day.  (They are so clever, they heard me saying I wanted one during my visit with them).

I found this cake site on the internet....gotta love Google search engine. Today I baked the donut recipe and the little cake does taste just like a cake donut.  Yum!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Future of Cookbooks

On the March 10 KCRW Good Food Podcast,  Lessley Anderson of discussed the future of cookbooks and other food publishing.
Among the points I gleaned: 
Cookbooks are moving into the role of inspiration and out of the role of being used for actual recipes.  She said people tended to look through cookbooks to get ideas and inspiration and then go to the internet to find the practical, easy way to make the dish.

Publishers and Authors are looking to make cookbooks into Art Books,

One of my neighbors had a yard sale with a box full of cookbooks.  She is moving and made the comment that with the internet, she no longer used the cookbooks.  I, too, have thought about giving more of my cookbooks away, but I do enjoy the pictures.  Bottom line, in my opinion, cookbooks in the future will have to have beautiful photos of all the recipes.  If you find a recipe online, you can print it off and file it.  If it is in a cookbook, you have remember which cookbook, what page, what shelf......(on my Tips for Recipe Organization page, Melissa says she uses a rolodex to keep up with this, bless her....)
I periodically try and get rid of some of my cookbooks, but if the photos are pretty I simply cannot.  They ARE inspiring. 

Friday, May 14, 2010

Rotisserie Chicken on Hand

Nothing in the kitchen and it is time for lunch or dinner...supermarket rotisserie chicken to the rescue is what I always say!
First of all, they are really inexpensive as prepared foods go.  Second, they smell wonderful when you bring them into your cold, dark kitchen after shopping.  Third, they will cover about four meals for me and hubby when lots of other things are added.  Fourth, I did not have to cook it myself.
After I pull off enough of the chicken meat for the immediate meal, I pull off the breast in chunks and package it separately in a quart freezer bag.  Then I pull off the rest of the dark meat and the breast meat still clinging to the bones, discarding skin and tendons and fat.  I shred this and put it in another freezer bag.  Now I am set for several meals.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Chicken Tostada for Lunch

I read so many recipes in so many places that they begin to blur a good way.  Today's lunch was made up as I went, but I think it combines quite a few recipes that I have in my head from internet and magazines.

I have only been back in town for a day from visiting my son and his family, and am headed out again to see my daughter.  I don't really know what is in my kitchen or what to cook.  But I want to eat!

On the way home from Pilates class I dashed into the grocery store so I could make chicken tostadas for lunch...I had seen a gorgeous photo in a recipe just recently.  I bought a rotisserie chicken, an avocado, cilantro, limes, green onions, and corn tortillas.  While the deep fryer heated up, I pulled some of the rotisserie chicken off the bone, chopped a green onion, cilantro, and some pieces of leftover raw chayote squash I brought back from Texas in a plastic baggie.  Fried two tortillas in the fryer and drained them on a rack. I mixed some mayo, hot sauce and lime juice with my milk frother for a dressing.  Stirred the dressing into the chicken mixture.  I put the chicken mixture onto the crisp tortillas and topped the salad with chopped bacon (because I wanted to...) and diced avocado.  To keep the tostada from slaloming all over the plate, I put a few pieces of romaine under it. 

We dispensed with knife and fork and just picked up the crispy tostado and nibbled.  This was one for the record books!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Jenni and Kory's Garden

Things are coming right along in the garden! We've got visible fruits and veggies now, and the lettuce is already ready for harvest - will be bringing some along for our parents to try the fruits of our labor this weekend :-) We had a couple of strawberries already turn red, but they were mushy when we picked them so thinking we left them on the vine too long, or it could just be that's what happens with the first few from the plant, not sure. Not much maintenance so far, other than training vines to trellises, but we will need to get to weeding soon. Looking forward to harvest!

Jenni Williams
Guest Blogger