Popping into the New Year

I’m not sure I like how this year has started and I’ve got absolutely no one to blame but myself.  It started with New Years Eve.  Don’t get me wrong.  We thoroughly enjoyed an outing at our neighbors. They are terrific people and we truly had a blast, fireworks and all.   The hostess, Mrs. T., is half-Italian as well,  and though she hails from down south and I from the north, I knew we’d hit it off. Mrs. T. was born on a kitchen table (really) in a small town just outside of Bari, Italy, all the way down the Italian boot, literally at the top of its heel. So perhaps you can extrapolate just from that one bit of information that there was plenty of great food at her party. Suffice it to say that I rolled into bed at 2 a.m. New Years day with my belly rumbling mighty uncomfortably from eating too many pot-stickers, egg rolls, jalapeño poppers (yes…the very ones that I prepared), and an ample bowl of spaghetti and meatballs at midnight, just after toasting with prosecco and hugs and kisses all around. I’ll give myself credit that I was good about the sweets (I didn’t eat any) and pretty darned good about the alcohol; just two short-pour glasses of wine and one glass of prosecco-laced Limoncello, the latter of which I enjoyed immensely.

I’d like to think I am out of the woods with respect to overeating but unfortunately football season is not quite over (though to Rocket-man it may as well be since the Steelers lost a critical game last week).  The Super Bowl cannot get here soon enough!  Of course, we are on the heels of Valentines Day.  Then there’s Easter.  Oh for the love of God…..don’t get me started!

Anyhow…..I had to attend a football game party just the other day. Much as I loathe the game (and you know I do), I honestly do want to be sociable. It’s just that there will be so much food and alcohol and since I’m not into the game…and all the other folks fervently are into the game there’s really not much to do except, well….eat and drink. Socializing means something different to a bunch of football folks glued to a big-screen TV watching football; most of them simply cannot talk about anything other than football.  Moreover, they often cannot talk and watch the game at the same time (it’s more like yelling and watching the game at the same time.)  I did attempt conversation with one woman.  She was quiet nice but after three words it was all about football scores and statistics.  I want to talk about books, movies, life in general…even the price of tea in China, not football.  I know….I’m an alien-being from another planet to these football folks….and I’m proud of it!

So folks, this may be the year that I embark on a new journey: total knee replacement for both knees. To that end I must get myself into better shape before the surgery. I know that I cannot face this surgery with a lot of extra pounds. I would be almost no different from refusing to quit smoking before–and after— getting a pacemaker.  The knee doctor that I consulted with in Northern Virginia last month said I was in great shape both in terms of heart health and weight.  “You should see some of the people who come in here; you have nothing to worry about,” he said.  Still, he was forthright in emphasizing that weight management would be more important than ever after total knee replacement.

So, I’ve got to get better control of what I am putting into my body, but more importantly….how much.  I’m pretty good at eating healthy food, it’s quantity that I have the problem with.  It’s not going to be easy. That’s the conundrum; like any “addict,” it’s better to remove oneself from situations that will make one fall off the wagon. At the same time a person doesn’t want to ostracize themselves from social gatherings either.   I love food. Really. I LOVE Food. I’m half-Italian so it’s impossible to not love food. Some eat to live….Italians live to eat (and it’s not grass juices, kale and quinoa diets either).  However, with an aging metabolism (and being female to boot) it’s getting increasingly difficult to keep extra pounds off. I honestly try not to beat myself up too much about it. Even elite female athletes struggle with weight gain and changing body composition after menopause. Still, with all that is stacked against me, including wonky knees, I am determined.  I only need to lose a good 10 pounds. That’s seems entirely manageable, right?  Right.

So where was I? Ah yes…. back to food!

You wanted that jalapeño popper recipe, right? You’ve been clamoring for it in fact. (well…OK….in my head you are!). So let’s start the new year off with something other than black-eyed peas! Trust me, these poppers are O-M-G delicious and they aren’t the breaded and fried variety.  These poppers are wrapped in bacon!  Come on….who doesn’t like bacon?!  This recipe is pretty darn easy to put together although a bit time-consuming due to seeding those peppers.  And full disclosure: I happened upon this recipe from The Pioneer Woman Cookbook by Ree Drummond.  I have not seen her popular Food Network show; I don’t watch any cooking shows because I know what it would do to me!  You can peruse Ree Drummond’s award-winning website ( The Pioneer Woman)  but for me It’s enough to read through her cookbooks; they are extremely entertaining! She’s brilliant and funny. I loved reading her book Black Heels to Tractor Wheels. It’s quite the love story, chronicling her meeting and marrying her cowboy love “Marlboro Man.” Rumor has it that it’s going to be made into a movie. Anyhow, this recipe is my new favorite appetizer. No, it’s not Italian and it’s not even the healthiest of appetizers but I did make a couple healthier substitutions and it was still heavenly delicious.  So thank you Mrs. Drummond….these poppers are pure bliss and they’ve got me popping into the new year.  Let’s just make sure I don’t pop any seams as the year progresses!  That’s the plan anyway!

 

BBQ Poppers

Ingredients:

18 fresh jalapeños
One 8-ounce package cream cheese (I used reduced fat cream cheese)
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 green onion, sliced
18 slices thin bacon, cut into halves (I used 30% lower in sodium bacon)
Bottled barbecue sauce
Toothpicks
Rubber gloves (or plastic bags) for working with jalapeños

 

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.

 

Before handling those jalapeños, wear rubber gloves! Trust me on this!  Accidentally getting just a whisper of a jalapeño seed anywhere near your eyes or nose is like that pepper spray incident I suffered through some months back…only much worse).

1. Cut the jalapeños in half lengthwise. Try to keep the stems intact as they make the presentation all the more lovely.

See those seeds? HOT, HOT, HOT!

See those seeds? HOT, HOT, HOT!

2. With a spoon, scrape out the seeds and light-colored membranes. Keep in mind that some like it hot…some not. The heat from this lovely pepper comes from the seeds and membranes. So if a little heat is what you’re after, leave a couple of seeds.

3. In a bowl, combine the cream cheese, cheddar cheese, and chopped green onion. Mix the ingredients together gently.

4. Stuff each hollowed jalapeño half with the cheese mixture.

5. Wrap bacon slices around each half, covering as much of the surface as you can.  Do not stretch the bacon too tightly around the jalapeño since the bacon will contract as it cooks.

Who doesn't like something wrapped in bacon!

Who doesn’t like something wrapped in bacon!

6. Brush the surface of the bacon with your favorite barbecue sauce. You can also use Chutney or apricot jelly…or, my idea, Raspberry Chipotle sauce.

7. Secure the jalapeños with toothpicks and pop them in the oven for one hour, or until the bacon is sizzling.

8. Serve hot or even at room temperature. Ree Drummond wasn’t wrong when she said “Watch them disappear within seconds.” She also added, “I’ve seriously caught guests stuffing these into their purses. Sometimes I have to call law enforcement.”

Naturally, experiment with different variations.  Per Ree Drummond: For a simpler version, omit the cheddar and green onion from the cream cheese. You can use Monterey Jack cheese instead of cheddar. Also, cut sliced peaches or pineapple into small bits and press them into the cream cheese before wrapping the jalapeños in bacon.

 

Buon Appetito and Happy New Year!

It’s “All the Fat and Twice the Sugar” Time!

‘Tis the season…the most difficult season of all….

to control calories, that is.  Thanksgiving….Christmas…New Year’s Eve….but before it all, my husband’s birthday.

Yes…It was hubby’s birthday this week.  “I’m no longer a cougar,” I playfully tell him.  There’s only six weeks that separate our ages.  Still as silly as it seems, being six weeks older sometimes messes with my head.

So….Hmm….What to do special for hubby on his birthday?

He’s a hard man to buy gifts for.  First of all he is a PhD  Physicist-engineer.  “Rocket-man” has, unlike moi, few real wants.  He’s got simple tastes and is happy as a clam wearing worn sweats and mis-matched outfits (don’t get me started on his fashion sense…er…I mean lack of fashion sense).  Rocket-man doesn’t want fancy-schmanzy clothes or accessories although he does like his car to be luxurious and he prefers 18 year-old scotch.  I think that all of those years of bachelorhood before we met made it easy for him to just get whatever it was that he wanted, not sharing that information with anyone because he really didn’t have to.

I’ve asked him for weeks now:  “What would you like for your birthday? And, while we are at it…how about Christmas?”  “Hmm”….he starts….then his voice trails off and in a blink we’re on to another subject.  Pretty crafty, my hubby is!

Well I may as well prepare him a nice meal then… I think to myself.  He’d probably like a pasta dish.

So, we’re in Costco last week and while perusing the book and DVD section a book catches my eye.  The Pioneer Woman Cooks.”  It’s a cookbook by Ree Drummond who became an award-winning blogger back in 2009 and now has a Food Network show.   I’m actually just now reading her memoir of how she, a city girl, came to fall head-over-black-high-heels for a cowboy.  It’s a funny (and incredibly romantic) read.  I picked up the cookbook and started leafing through it while trying to keep my cart out-of-the-way from other shoppers in the rather narrow aisle.

Ree Drummond

Ree Drummond

Oh my….these photos are beautiful!  

I’m engrossed in the cookbook in an instant.  Page after page there are gorgeous photos of her prepared recipes as well as adorable family photos and shots of the homestead that make you just want to grab a duffel bag of clothes, hop in the car and head straight to Oklahoma hoping you’ll be allowed to camp out somewhere on her 200,000-acre working cattle ranch.  OK….well…almost.  From what I hear the nearest large city with a Starbucks is six hours away and it’s a two-hour drive to the nearest grocery store.  And I think I live in “middle earth?”

I stop on a page that has a photo of Chicken Pot Pie.  Oh God….I’m positively drooling.  I look at the recipe and immediately think to myself  This looks easy. I can do this.  I know.  There’s that little voice in my head that screams “This country cooking stuff is bad for your health.”  Oh DO SHUT-UP voice in my head!  ‘Tis the season!”

I place the book in the cart on top of the twelve bottles of red-wine we’re purchasing (though we have to wonder around the store, dragging our feet for another half-hour until the clock strikes noon before we can checkout.  Why, pray tell?  Because it’s Sunday and it’s the freaking Bible Belt!).

I find my Rocket-man hubster.  He looks in the cart and picks up the cookbook.  “The Pioneer Woman Cooks,” he says, with an understandably quizzical look on his face.   This is not my usual pick;  I’m normally the Italian or Mediterranean Cookbook type.

“I know,” say I….But oh Lord…you should see these recipes.  They look incredibly yummy…and the photos….they’re stunning.”

“Uh-huh,” he says.

I nod to his raised eyebrow.  “Yes…I know….all the fat and twice the sugar,” I say as I plop the book back down into the cart.

The next day I’m in the kitchen and I’ve got the cookbook open to the Chicken Pot Pie recipe.  I’ll confess that I’ve made a pie crust a total of five times in my thirty-some years in the kitchen.  All five times produced less-than-desirable results.  I’m cracking myself up here.  The truth is: All five times were complete disasters and entailed a lot of swearing, some tears, and way too much flour.  Actually, I think it’s God way of saving me from myself.  If I had been able to make a decent pie crust through the years I’d have been churning out pies weekly and eating them with unbridled delight. I would also have been as big as a barn by now.  Whew.  It’s a good thing this pie business doesn’t come easy to me.

So, what made me think that this time would be any different?  I’ve not a clue. Perhaps it was because Ms. Drummond, the Pioneer Woman, made it look incredibly easy.  After all there were detailed step-by-step instructions as well as lovely photos of each step in the recipe process.

Again…what was I thinking?

3 Cups of flour…check….
1 1/2 cups of shortening….hmm…..

Wow…seems like a lot of shortening… but I didn’t bat an eyelash because–

Oh dear….here it comes (forgive me, hubby of mine)…

Truth be told…this pot pie was for ME!  Yes indeed!  With all the drama going on in my life, not to mention in the world… and all the angst and calamity of Obama Care (Grrrrrr), yadda- yadda, etc., etc. I simply wanted to go face down in comfort food and it was going to include PIE CRUST damn it!

Except for one minor problem of course.  I’ve never had one that turned out quite right!   What was I thinking?  In a flash of a second I think of my Northern Virginia friend (a.k.a. “evil twin”) who is the Pie Queen extraordinaire.  How does she do it?  I think of calling her but I am knee-deep in flour and shortening.

Come on Cristina….you can do this.

Sauteing the veggies....

Sauteing the veggies….

Naturally, in short order I am spitting bullets as flour is flying all over the place and I’m working up a sweat trying to work the shortening into the flour with the pastry blender.

My iPhone is on the counter and my ever-so-funny “Asian Sister Calling” ringtone announces that my sis is calling.    With shortening-covered hands I put her on speaker phone getting flour on my phone in the process.  I’m huffing and puffing as I continue to work the shortening into the flour.  I tell sis what I am attempting to do for hubby’s birthday and she is mighty impressed. She loves pot pie too.

“It doesn’t look like Pioneer Woman’s photo,” I say in total exasperation.  “The shortening is supposed to be worked in until the mixture resembles little peas.  I’ve got a big glob of mess going on here,” I all but cry.  “I think the shortening measurement is off…as in it’s too much.”  As I’m talking to my sis I keep adding spoonfuls of flour in an attempt to get to the “pea” part as referenced in the recipe’s photo.  My sis (who admits to zero experience in the pie-making department) tells me that probably my shortening wasn’t cold enough.  “The Pioneer Woman wouldn’t have gotten the measurements wrong,” she wisely added.

AH. Sis is so right.

I look at the mess before me.  My shortening wasn’t chilled enough. Great.  “Well it’s too late now…it is what it is,” I say.  “Besides, I’ve almost exhausted my flour inventory!  I’m just going to deal with what I have.  It’ll probably taste on the heavy side (and, indeed it did) but I’m going to go with what I have and next time I’ll know better….

As in: Cristina, go to the grocery store and buy Pillsbury ready-made pie crusts!

Next time its Pillsbury to the rescue!

Next time its Pillsbury to the rescue!

White Wine not optional!

White Wine not optional!

Delicious, despite the heavy crust.

Delicious, despite the heavy crust.

OK…so how about the filling?  You’re dying to know, right?  In a word….

Heavenly.

Oh yes!  I got something right.   I even tweaked the recipe adding a couple of minced fresh garlic cloves and chopped zucchini because I didn’t have the correct amount of frozen peas.  Oh…and the addition of white wine was not optional!   I got lucky!   I’m usually not good at the “tweaking” part of a recipe; my sis is tops in that department.  She puts in a pinch of this and a dollop of that, right off the fly, and achieves delicious results.

Hubby, my Rocket-man of simple tastes., was positively happier than a pig rolling in the mud.  He had two helpings of my chicken pot pie.

And so did I.

Next up?

Hmm….that meat loaf recipe looks wonderful….it’s wrapped in six slices of bacon!

Yes sir-ree.  It’s that time of year again.

All the fat and twice the sugar.

And… long walks, punch bag classes and more sessions on the spin bike.

Total bliss.