• The 2006 Weblog Awards

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What is….146?

146 is the number of my homegrown tomatoes that I blanched and peeled tonight, in preparation for canning. Oh….and that doesn’t include the 25-30 that aren’t yet ripe, or the 8 billion (or so it seems) still in the garden. My fingers feel like the outside of the driest.raisin.evah.

My Roma tomatoes are getting ripe now, which is exciting. I’m planning on canning spaghetti sauce out of them. We eat a lot of pasta in the winter, and I can’t think of anything better than homemade sauce fresh from the garden!

/garden geek


Kung Pao Beef Recipe

This is the first year we are growing a *real* garden (let’s not discuss the tomatoes, though…they have literally taken over most everything!). My hubby has a love for peppers, and we’ve been pulling dozens of peppers out of the garden…including Kung Pao peppers. So….in thinking about some of my favorite Chinese food, I started searching around for a good Kung Pao Beef recipe. I found one from Tyler Florence here, but had to do some modifications to fit our taste and because some of the ingredients aren’t in our regular grocery store. I hope you enjoy this as much as my hubby, who has declared this recipe part of the “top 5″ list!

Kung Pao Beef


1 1/2 pounds boneless beef sirloin
1 tablespoon Tamari soy sauce (regular will do as well)
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon sherry
1 egg white
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 tablespoons light colored oil
3 fresh Kung Pao peppers, split
4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1/2 tablespoon ginger, grated
1 teaspoon whole black pepper, toasted and crushed
3 green onions, cut in pieces
1/2 red bell pepper, cut in very thin strips
2 tablespoons Tamari soy sauce
3 tablespoons sherry
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon cornstarch, stirred into 2 tablespoons water


Very thinly slice steak, against the grain. Combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, sherry, egg white and salt in a bowl. Add the beef and stir to coat. Marinate for 1/2 hour to an hour, covered in the refrigerator.

Place oil in a wok and turn heat on to high. Add the Kung Paos and cook until they begin to darken. At this point, you can choose to remove them from the oil or you can keep them in…I usually remove half of them. Add garlic, ginger and crushed black pepper, cooking for about 30 seconds to a minute. Add the green onions and red bell pepper. Remove the steak from the marinade and add it to the wok. Stir-fry the beef until brown. Add soy sauce, sherry, rice wine vinegar, sugar and chicken broth. Stir the cornstarch mixture and add it to the wok. Stir until slightly thickened. Serve over Jasmine rice (the best rice for Asian food….YUM!).

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope each one of you has a wonderful holiday!

I usually take time each year to reflect on what I have to be thankful for. There are so many things. I feel so blessed!

I have two amazing children and an amazing husband. We’re celebrating our 11th Anniversary on Sunday. Our kids are healthy, happy and life would never be the same without them.

We have a nice home, a beautiful yard (other than the newly dug holes thanks to the dogs I should also be thankful for!), stable transportation and all kinds of gadgets and thingys to keep us busy and entertained.

I have a great job, of which I should be extremely thankful for!

I know how to cook - and the turkey will be awesome this year! :-)

I have my health…at least for the moment.

We have my dad for another year. And we have hubby’s dad, too. Thank God!

We have many wonderful friends online and in “real life.”

We have Nebraska football on Friday…and Nebraska will kick Colorado’s ASS!

Jack Bauer will be returning for another season of “24″ in a couple of months!

We have freedom in this country of ours. We aren’t ruled, we aren’t dictated, we aren’t killed because we don’t share the same belief as others. We have brave men and women who put their lives on hold and on the line to protect this freedom and give it as a gift to others who desire it.

God Bless each of you on this holiday!

Oh, and if you plan on waking up for the early bird specials on Friday, please be sure to load up on the Starbucks and carry a large handbag or other objects to protect yourself with if needed!

Plains Feeder linked with Happy Thanksgiving
A New Favorite: License to Grill

A few weeks ago, I was surfing channels on the tube and found a show called “License to Grill.” The show is on the Discovery Home Channel and is hosted by Rob Rainford.

I didn’t post about it previously, because I didn’t know whether I truly liked the show or not. At least not right away. It’s definitely grown on me. Rob Rainford hails from Canada, and his backyard plethora of grills makes a girl like me wanna go get more than one. He’s got an amazing outdoor kitchen, too. But who knew a guy from Canada could grill so good?

I haven’t found a show that I didn’t like at least one of the items he was cooking. Sometimes when you watch cooking shows you just *know* something doesn’t sound good. All of his grilled meals make my mouth water. And the other thing I like about his show is something that I equally like about Rachael Ray. I’ve learned a few tips and tricks from him (as I did from watching her show).

The one thing I need to do is 1) find some good wood chips here and 2) plan meals a bit better. He does a lot of dry rubs, marinades and smoking. I can’t seem to plan so far ahead, but he’s basically convinced me in a few short half hour shows that I should reconsider.

Check him out. He’s a bit quirky with a strange sense of humor (probably why I like the show!), and you’ll get jealous when you see his yard, his outdoor kitchen and his grills (hey…I did!), but you’ll drool and want to go invest in, like, 8 grills and a bunch of wood chips.

Rachael Ray Updates

Rachael Ray is featured in the August 2006 issue of “Good Housekeeping” and is even pictured on the cover. The article is titled “Rachael Ray’s Recipie for Joy.” You can find a teaser of the article here. Here’s an exerpt:

The unpretentious Rachael Ray might not seem like a top-rated television host who draws more than 18 million viewers a week. But with four programs on regular rotation at the Food Network and 14 best-selling cookbooks, she has become a force to be reckoned with. It’s an understatement to say cooking is her life: Even after a long day of cooking in front of cameras, Ray unwinds by preparing meals for her husband, John Cusimano. In fact, she knew he was The One after he requested this carbonara dish for his birthday dinner.

“I knew my boyfriend was the man to marry when I asked him what he would like for his birthday dinner,” Rachael Ray writes in her cookbook Cooking ‘Round the Clock. “I offered up lobster, steak, fine foods of all nationalities, to which he replied: ‘Can I just have some of your carbonara?’ Whoa! I was right about him….

“Carbonara is bacon-and-egg pasta, a true classic from Italian cuisine. This is the food of the people! I never order it out because everyone messes with it: They add cream, mushrooms, ham — all kinds of stuff that simply doesn’t belong. Yes, I acknowledge that this dish is heavy and bad for you, especially when eaten in copious amounts. But eating this out of the pan or one large bowl with two forks is extra-sexy. Usually, this recipe makes six servings, but late at night, when no one can see us, my husband, John, and I eat as much as we want!”



Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pound pasta, such as spaghetti or rigatoni
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (enough to coat bottom of pan)
1/4 pound pancetta (Italian bacon), chopped
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
5 to 6 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 large egg yolks
Freshly grated Romano cheese
Handful of finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish


1. Put a large saucepot of water on to boil. Add a liberal amount of salt and the pasta. Cook to al dente, about 8 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil and pancetta. Brown pancetta 2 minutes. Add red pepper flakes and garlic and cook 2 to 3 minutes more. Add wine and stir up all the pan drippings.

3. In a separate bowl, beat yolks, then add 1 large ladleful (about 1/2 cup) of the pasta cooking water. This tempers the eggs and keeps them from scrambling when added to the pasta.

4. Drain pasta well and add it directly to the skillet with pancetta and oil. Pour the egg mixture over the pasta. Toss rapidly to coat the pasta without cooking the egg. Remove pan from heat and add a big handful of cheese, lots of pepper, and a little salt. Continue to toss and turn the pasta until it soaks up egg mixture and thickens, 1 to 2 minutes. Garnish with parsley and extra grated Romano.

There’s another great Rachael Ray article out at People.com.

TV chef Rachael Ray has a lot on her plate – but worrying about her weight isn’t one of them.

The Food Network host, best-selling cookbook author and lifestyle-magazine editor – who is about to launch her own daytime talk show – says, “I don’t care about any fashion enough to give up food.”

Asked how she manages her weight, “I don’t,” she said at the Television Critics Association’s summer meeting, reports the Associated Press. “I buy jeans with stretch. Everything I have has stretch in it. I haven’t known my weight since I was 12-years-old. I have enough pressure.”

It’s easy to see how she has an ever-growing fan base. She seems like “real people” to me - down to earth and not wanting to get too far from reality. Honestly, who has time to be Martha Stewart? If you aren’t out refinishing that table from 1812, you are drying your pine cones or making your own plates for the 12 course dinner you are serving 30 tonight. I like Rachael Ray because she gets things done in 30 minutes or less, she is no-nonsense, and a bit crazy. Some people can’t stand her loud, gabby, arm-flinging antics on her show. I personally think it is part of her appeal (hint: maybe because I’m a bit like that in person?). It hasn’t hurt her pocketbook, either!

Introducing Alton Brown’s “Feasting on Asphalt”

As I have been watching my Tivo’d “30 Minute Meals” with Rachael Ray, commercials for Alton Brown’s new show “Feasting on Asphalt” have appeared. Even my kids like his show “Good Eats” because, well, he’s kind of crazy. It appears that on “Feasting on Asphalt” he’ll be just as crazy, but won’t be clean-shaven, will ride a motorcycle and will make his way around parts of the country’s backroads, diners and even VFWs and churches. Here’s some Q&A regarding the show:

What is Feasting on Asphalt?
Alton Brown’s cross-country search for the nation’s best road food.

Where is Alton Brown going?
Georgia, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, California and more.

How is he going to get there?
On a motorcycle. “Why a motorcycle? As far as I’m concerned, there’s no better way to experience the road than from the back of a bike. Being exposed to the elements presents thrills and challenges alike, most of which can’t be captured in a ‘cage’ (that’s what motorcycle people call cars),” says Alton.

What will Alton eat?Every kind of road food available–from foraging in the forest (grubs are great protein) to camp cooking (think Lewis and Clark) to diners, truck stops and even the corporate fast food chains. Alton also intends to eat (and cook) in nifty regional joints, churches, community centers, VFW halls, RV parks and the homes of folks nice enough to offer a weary traveler a meal.

You can read more about the show here. There’s some video, great photos and a newsletter you can sign up for. I’ll definitely check out his show. After all, I bought his Sodium Chloride Containment Unit, didn’t I? Oh, and if you don’t know what this is, shoot me an email or drop a comment…always fun to see who is Alton-savvy!

The Canning Green Beans Experience

What, might you ask, has Merri been doing all day?


…and this.

Twenty pint jars of freshly grown green beans. All nicely packed and sealed into jars for the dead of winter. YUM!

Next on the canning list for summer? Tomatoes and catsup. The first is simple, the catsup is a 2-day job (and takes a LOT of tomatoes to do!). Is it worth it? My kids sure think so! :-)

Post-Independence Day Thoughts

Of course I know that the number one reason we celebrate Independence Day is to commemorate our freedom, those who fought for our freedom and those who continue to fight so we can have the gifts of freedom. I do think of those things on a daily basis, honestly. We usually celebrate the day with a cookout and fireworks, and this year was no different. We did the hamburger and brats thing, and I surprised the kiddies with this fun cake (which tasted awesome, by the way!):

Ain’t it cute? Look at the inside:

I love Jell-o and what it can do. :-)

We wrapped up the night with some fireworks. The neighborhood was illuminated with tons of fireworks, but we had a great show, too, including this big daddy finale, which was no less that 1 foot in diameter and close to 3 feet tall. Put it this way, I had a hard time carrying it outside!

Hubby said that watching the kids kinda brought him back to the past a bit, and I wouldn’t disagree. They had a great time and we’re ready for next year already! I won’t mention the 2 pitchers of mango fruity drinks I downed, either. Heh.

Rotisserie Chicken and Veggie Grill

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted a recipe, so I thought I’d share a most recent meal we had, all prepared on our backyard grill:

Rotisserie Chicken


1 whole chicken (mine was around 3 to 3.5 pounds)
extra virgin olive oil
salt, pepper, thyme, any seasoning you enjoy on chicken (I like McCormick’s Montreal Steak Seasoning)

(below is the basting liquid)
1 bottle of Apple Cider Vinegar
Several cloves of garlic, crushed
1-2 cups of chicken stock (you can use water, if desired)
1 stick of butter, cut into pats
seasonings to taste (I used thyme, a couple of bay leaves, salt and pepper, red pepper flake)


Heat the grill for 15 minutes on high heat. Feed the bird onto the rotisserie rod, ensuring the wings and legs are either tied or tucked so they don’t fall away from the bird. Lightly coat the chicken in olive oil and rub the seasonings lightly into the skin of the bird on all sides. In a rotis pan (a pan that would fit on your grill, under the chicken on the rotisserie), combine the remaining ingredients. What’s cool is that you can pretty much personalize this basting liquid to your own flavorings. One great example would be to throw in some lemon juice to make more of a lemon-pepper flavoring. You could also toss in some BBQ seasoning or some hickory flavored salt to add new flavors - the possibilities are endless! Once you have put the ingredients into the rotis pan, use a whisk to combine. Place on the grill, then connect the rotisserie iron to the grill’s rotisserie motor. Cook for one and a half hours (approximately), basting every 15-20 minutes. The rotis pan should NEVER become dry. If the fluids are cooking away, you can reguarly add more chicken stock and/or water. The bird’s juices will drip into the pan, allowing for further flavor throughout basting.

About 45 minutes before the bird is done, you will want to assemble your veggie packet, which will need about 25-30 minutes on the grill. Again, you can personalize this however fits your lifestyle and your taste. Here’s what I used in the above meal:

Veggie Grill


3 ears of corn, husked and cut into 3 pieces each
2 cups fresh green beans
1 cup fresh sliced carrot (or baby carrots)
1 container of mushroom caps, cleaned and chopped in half
1 pound of red potatoes (I used a small size), halved or quartered
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 packet of onion soup mix (I use Mrs. Grass)
thyme, salt and pepper to taste
2-3 tbsp butter, cut into pats


In very large bowl, mix all ingredients except the butter. The veggies should all be evenly coated. Place in a foil pouch, spreading out the butter pats on top of the veggies. When creating the pouch, it should be made of two layers of extra heavy aluminum foil (double-fold all edges, allowing space for steam during cooking). At about 30 minutes before the bird will be ready (at the hour mark), place the veggie pouch on the grill. All of the veggies should be fully cooked and ready to eat withn a half an hour at high heat on the grill.


You Say Small and I Say Large!

Funny! In the midst of running around getting things done today, the kids and I stopped at at at Wendys, which we hadn’t done for quite a lot time. To see this story on Fox News today made me laugh as I experienced the “shift” in size names today.

The Biggie portion size, formerly the fast food restaurant’s equivalent of a large, will now be called a medium. It’s only a name change, and the portion customers get — the equivalent of almost three 12-ounce cans of soda for the drinks — won’t get smaller.

Wendy’s International Inc. research shows demand for big drinks, but people were confused by the designation of Biggie and Great Biggie, the former extra-large size, spokesman Denny Lynch said. Switching to a more straightforward small, medium and large sizes made sense, he said.

The nation’s third-largest burger chain has used the Biggie designation since the early 1990s.

The Great Biggie, equal to 3 1/2 12-ounce cans of soda, will now be classified as a large. Medium portions will be bumped down to small sizes.

So, in other words we continue to focus on dumbing things down for us Americans. But see, I figured it out! They basically don’t have a small any more, their “medium” became a small, and so on, and so forth. All I know is that I wanted a medium, and the guy behind the counter was kind enough to say “um, you may want a small.” To myself, I was thinking “um, NO…if I had wanted a small, I would have ORDERED a small!” until he showed me what the small cup looked like. …and so I got a small! And they were worried that “Biggie” and “Great Biggie” were confusing?!?!?!?

It was nice to see an expanded menu, though!

Wendy’s says it has made several changes to give customers healthier choices, including offering salads, chili, baked potatoes or yogurt instead of fries with combo meals.

I do find it rather amusing that their reason for changing the drink size names was to appease fast food critics who complain that the fast food industry is increasing portion sizes and contributing to the obesity epidemic. Um, how does this appease anyone, truly? I think the solution is clear. Let the customers order the size they wish to have and let *them* be in control of their food choices. Novel idea, I do believe! :-)

Baked Haddock with Cheesy Crunch Topping Recipe

I made the family some dinner tonight once I was back up and about, and found this recipe to be simply delightful! I served it with some rice pilaf and some fresh green beans with pancetta and shallot. Oh, boy, I smell summer just around the corner!


1 1/2 to 2 pounds haddock fillets, with or without skin
3 tablespoons butter
6 green onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
2 to 3 tablespoons minced red bell pepper or roasted red bell pepper
2/3 cup crushed small white Cheddar cheese crackers (I used Cheez-Its)
1/3 cup bread crumbs, plain or seasoned (I used seasoned)
2 to 3 tablespoons cream or half-and-half (I used skim)
salt and pepper, other herbs for seasoning as desired


Arrange haddock fillets, skin side down, in a buttered baking dish.
In a small to medium skillet heat butter over medium low heat. Add green onions and bell pepper; sauté until tender. Add parsley, cracker crumbs, and bread crumbs; stir to blend.

Add cream (skim milk) to moisten. Sprinkle haddock with salt, pepper, and herb seasoning, if using. Sprinkle with the crumb mixture. Bake at 375° for 25 minutes, or until fish flakes easily with a fork.

Serves 4 to 5.

I had a bit of Italian flavor going throughout my dishes tonight, so for my herbs I used a tuscany dry blend (oregano, thyme, rosemary…the usual suspects). I also put those same herbs in my pilaf and on my green beans. I would add that I used fresh red bell pepper in both the pilaf and the fish topping. In both cases I diced them small (my kids and hubby normally don’t like peppers, but when they are small, they almost absorb…a good trick to get veggies into your resistent family members!)

While this may not seem to be the right choice when you are attempting to lose weight, you can make a number of substitutions (i.e. skim milk for cream or Smart Balance for butter, etc.) and serve it with lots of veggies. Even my son loved the fish!

Sodium Chloride Containment Unit

I love kitchen stuff. This is something any true fan of Alton Brown - or any user of kosher salt - would enjoy.

I bought Alton Brown’s Salt Cellar quite some time ago and it is a favorite part of my kitchen. You don’t have an open container of salt, but because of the flip top lid, it’s the next best thing. It comes highly recommended! Besides, who wouldn’t want a “Sodium Chloride Containment Unit” like this one?


Vince Aut Morire linked with They Could Be The Best Of Friends
Chicken Parmesan Rolls

This was a little experiment in cooking that actually worked out and hubby suggested I post it. Hmmmm….must have been good!

Chicken Parmesan Rolls

1.5 pounds of boneless chicken breasts (4 large, cut into 8 smaller pieces)
Fresh Flat Leaf Italian Parsley, finely chopped
2 gloves of garlic, finely chopped
4 pieces sundried tomatoes in oil, finely chopped
dried thyme and dried oregano leaves for seasoning
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
Mozzarella cheese slices (8 large slices or 16 small slices), or grated
1 cup (or more) freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Italian Seasoned Bread Crumbs
EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil)


Cut 4 large chicken breasts in half, so you have 8 chicken breast pieces. Pound out to about 1/4″ thickness. If you are using large mozzarella cheese slices, cut them in half, so you have a total of 16 slices.

Heat a large skillet over medium to medium high heat, coat bottom with a few turns of EVOO.

In a separate pan, heat up the spaghetti sauce (of course you can substitute your own!).

Layer the following evenly on each chicken breast piece: parsley, garlic, sundried tomatoes, thyme, oregano, salt and pepper, 1 small slice of mozzarella cheese, a small handful of parm (reserve about half of the parm to put on top of the rolls in the end). Once you have done this, roll each chicken breast into a log, taking care to tuck in the cheese and other ingredients, secure with toothpick. Roll in bread crumbs, assuring you have a generous coating.

Brown the rolls in the skillet on both sides. Most of the cooking will be done in the skillet, but the rolls will finish off in the oven, so you do not need to ensure they are fully cooked in the skillet - just nice and brown on both sides.

Pour about 1/2 of the spaghetti sauce into the bottom of a glass rectangular dish and place the chicken rolls in the dish. Pour the remaining sauce over the top of the chick rolls. Place the last pieces of mozzarella on top of each roll. Spread the remaining parm across the top of the dish. Heat in a 400 degree oven until the chicken is fully cooked and the cheese has melted.

YUM! I served this with a sundried tomato cheesy orso pasta dish, which is a take on one of Rachael Ray’s recipes. I’ll be sure to share this recipe with you as it is a good one. I just layered the pasta on the plate, placed the chicken roll on top of it and spooned out a bit of sauce as well. It was a nice meal!

2005 Weblog Award Finalists!

…and the finalists have been announced!

Merri Musings is in the running for an award for Best New Blog! Polls are open tomorrow (and you can vote every 24 hours if you’d like)…if you enjoy my site, please be sure to stop by and slip a vote in the ballot box for me!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a few of my favorites!  Please be sure to drop them a vote, too!

Best New Blog (but only if you don’t wanna vote for me…wink, wink, nudge, nudge):

Common Sense Runs Wild and Soldiers’ Angel Holly Aho

Best Group Blog

The Cotillion (who individually received a number of nominations….excellent job, ladies!)

Best Humor / Comics Blog

Six Meat Buffet (didn’t you know there were six meats?)

Best Conservative Blog

The Jawa Report (a MUST read!)

Best Culture / Gossip Blog

Knowledge is Power (SondraK - bringing a bit of culture to the Cotillion ladies!)

Best of the Top 250 Blogs

My Vast Right Wing Conspiracy (go Beth!)

Best of the Top 501-1000 Blogs

Vince Aut Morire (there are many I could mention here, but by and far my hubby stands out for me for many reasons, so I’m pitching his site!) 

Best of the Top 2501-3500 Blogs

The Wide Awake Cafe

Congrats to everyone that was nominated!  I think it’s an honor just to be nominated, let alone be a finalist!  It affirms for me why I like keeping up this little corner of the web.

Good luck to all and happy voting!

Where’s Merri?


Canning stuff.

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