You Are My Sunshine

Natures Botanical Gardens, Spring Hill, Florida. Photo courtesy of Jen Carter Photography.

My Only Sunshine

Natures Botanical Gardens, Spring Hill, Florida. Photo courtesy of Jen Carter Photography.

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17 March, 2013

Cuban Ropa Vieja... Another Winner!

"Ropa Vieja".... if you don't speak Spanish, don't forget to roll your "r's" like those old "Rrrruffles have Rrrridges" commercials......

Ropa Vieja when translated means "old clothes". I wondered how they got flank steak out of that, and so I went to something far more knowledgeable than me... Wiki. Here's what Wiki had to say about the origination of the name of this meal:

There are many theories as to how the dish was named. One of the more popular ones is a story about a man whose family was coming to his home for dinner. Being very poor, the man could not buy them enough food when they came. To remedy his situation, he went to his closet, gathered some old clothes (ropa vieja) and imbued them with his love. When he cooked the clothes, his love for his family turned the clothes into a wonderful beef stew.

So, that being the case.... I made this with all the love in my heart yesterday. I read through the recipe and this has a TWO TO THREE HOUR cooking time. Um, not in my house on a worknight...... SO, it had to be made ahead of time. Needless to say, I couldn't wait to eat it though, so after Hubby and I went out for the evening, I was sitting at my kitchen table at midnight in the most amazingly horrible pajamas eating a huge bowl of this. I also had it for breakfast if that tells you anything!

Here's you're ingredients:



6 oz. bacon, roughly chopped
2 lb. flank steak, cut into 1 ½″ strips
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 Cubanelle or green pepper, thinly sliced
6 oz. tomato paste
1 tbsp. cumin
1 tbsp. dried thyme
1 tbsp. dried oregano
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
½ cup dry white wine
2 cups beef stock
1 (16-oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed
½ cup halved, pitted green olives
⅓ cup sliced jarred pimiento peppers
3 tbsp. capers, rinsed and drained
1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
¼ cup roughly chopped cilantro

Cook your bacon and remove, leave the fat in pot. 

Season your steak with salt and pepper, then cook in batches until it's browned on all sides. The recipe says this takes about 6 minutes. Once browned, remove and set aside for right now. 

Throw the onions and peppers in until they are soft, then add the tomato paste, cumin, thyme, oregano, garlic, and bay leaf until caramelized. 

Add the wine and cook, scrape the bottom of your pot for one full minute.

Add the bacon and steal back to the pot, along with the stock and tomatoes, and bring to a boil. Once boiling reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer for 2-3 hours until the steak pulls apart with a fork. (Mine went just over two hours)

Pull your steak pieces out, shred with a fork.

Add the steak back in, along with the olives, capers, pimentos, and vinegar. Cook until your sauce thickens - roughly another 30 minutes. 

Add cilantro before serving.

I'm told this is traditionally serviced as an entree with rice and bread. Mine had this almost bbq smell to it. I had to resist the urge to make a sandwich out of it. Seriously. 

I thought it was delicious. My Husband hasn't had any of it yet, but I'm hoping he'll try it, despite the fact it has about a thousand things in it he doesn't care for. :) 

Thank you to Saveur Magazine for this awesome recipe!!!

Until Next Time,


Gumbo-Laya.... O.M.G. DELICIOUS!!!!

So, I'm sitting here on this wonderful cloudy Sunday afternoon curled up in bed with my daughter blogging and watching Breaking Dawn Part 2 for the second time for her, and like the 4th for me... I can't help myself. I loved every one of these books, and I loved every one of the movies. My daughter has not read the books, but she has seen every one of the movies. Our only issue is I'm Team Edward, and she's Team Jacob. If a nine year old can have serious crushes, Jacob Black is her first one.....
Grace + Jacob = TL 4 EVER!!!
Moving on... I spent yesterday menu planning, shopping, and finally cooking. I blew my grocery budget by $40.00 (GRR!!), but then I remembered I shopped with my kid - and no husband to occupy her. Usually either we all go, or I go alone.

I tried some more complicated meals this time, and they turned out FANTASTIC!!! :) I made this meal called Gumbo-laya. My Husband has been wanting to make this for a while now. So I finally got the ingredients and got to it on Saturday. See below for the play by play!

For starters, here's your ingredients!

“Gumbo-laya” Stew with Spicy Sausage, Chicken and Shrimp with Okra over Fragrant Garlic Rice
Print this recipe
(Serves about 6-8)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound spicy andouille (or smoked) sausage, sliced
8 chicken tenderloins (or 2 skinless/boneless chicken breasts), cut into bite-size pieces
• Salt
• Pepper
3 celery stalks, finely diced
1 large onion, finely diced
1 large bell pepper, finely diced
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon Creole seasoning
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon, heaping, tomato paste
½ pound okra, sliced into ¼ – ½” thick slices
1 (28 oz) can organic diced tomatoes with juice
2 cups chicken stock, hot
½ pound peeled and cleaned, medium size shrimp (raw)
1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped

You'll want to start by browing some andouille sausage in olive oil, remove and put aside. Then brown two chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces in the grease from the Sausage and a little salt and pepper, remove and set aside with the sausage. (SORRY! No pictures here!)

You'll then want to add in the celery, onion and bell pepper, and cook it for about 2-3 minutes in the oil until it carmelizes.

Then add in the bay leaves, the Creole seasoning, the cayenne pepper, ½ teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of black pepper, and give it all a stir. (I did not measure these out. I have someone who is sensitive to spice, so I just added a little sprinkle of the cayenne and the Creole seasoning - you can always add that to individual bowls. Don't forget that spicy andouille sausage is just that, SPICY!) 

Then you'll add in the garlic, and give it another stir. Once it starts to smell yummy and becomes "aromatic", add in your tomato paste and cook just a minute to get rid of such a tomatoe-y taste. 

 Now it gets good! Add in that yummy sliced okra, your diced tomatoes and the juice, that hot chicken stock and that browned chicken and sausage. Stir it to mix all that goodness together, then let it simmer gently on  low/medium low, UNCOVERED for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, put that yummy shrimp in and let it simmer with everything else for two minutes - NO MORE! You do NOT want to overcook the shrimp. 

** Note: I did not buy frozen shrimp this time. I went to the Publix seafood counter and got just shy of a pound of shrimp to go in this. I also got to use my $2.00 off/$2.00 seafood coupon! They were already deveined, which is awesome because I absolutely STINK at deveining on my own!

Once you've made it this far, stir in some cilantro and parsley, and serve it over rice. The recipe calls for some "fragrant garlic rice" and has a recipe for it, but we just put ours over plain Jasmine rice. TOTALLY DELISH!

If you didn't already add some heat in the beginning, or want to leave that for your fellow partakers to do on their own, you can add hot sauce, red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, or srirracha, if you'd like some options. 

It looks FAB doesn't it? By far this is THE prettiest meal I've ever taken pictures of. Everyone loved it. Mom loved the shrimp and okra, I liked the shrimp and okra, and the Hubby liked the sausage and shrimp. It just has a little something for everyone.There are lots of ways to spice it up to your liking. If you are looking for some good Louisiana food, I'd definitely give this one a try. You will not be disappointed.

On a scale of one to five spoons, with five being the best, I'd give it a five for sure!

Thank you to The Cozy Apron for this awesome meal!

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Until Next Time!


14 March, 2013

Epic Fail: Bistec Encebollado

You can't win them all. Clearly. Case in point: Tonight's meal.

I've been on a REALLY good run here with picking some OUTSTANDING dinners - and I've been doing a darn good job of holding it together and getting them to the table. I don't know what happened tonight.

I go back to this really cute Marine I knew when I was a teenager, the Puerto Rican one (And no, it's not the jarhead I'm married to, just so we're all clear). And I've mentioned how awesome his Grandmother cooked, and I have no idea what it was but it was good. Obviously I'm not her. LOL. No hablo espanol - and I don't cook it either apparently.

Okay, so here's the skinny.... I read through the recipe and then scrolled the comments. I ALWAYS scroll the comments because you can see what people changed, or whether or not it totally sucked. Note: Nobody said it sucked. I did see a comment that said the following:

You are missing two very important ingridients!!  The bistec trade mark flavor, at least here in PR, is the tangy vinegar and oregano. You need to marinate the meat with salt and pepper, much oregano, maybe a powder sazon if you like, some beef boulion and 2 to 1 ratio of olive oil + vinegarand of course lots of white onion rings. If you let all this ingredients marinating overnight  the flavor will be heavenly. When cooking just throw all in the potm let it boil ten lower to simmer for 40 mins aprox.  

So, I threw all the ingredients she mentions here, chopped the onions, and put it in a freezer bag, even wrote the directions on the bag - and into the freezer it went, like so:

Seems idiot proof, right?
Then I forgot about it for about a week. Everyone in the darn house is whooped - especially my Hubby. So, I pulled it out last night and stuck it in the fridge. This morning I put it on the counter to thaw the last little bit and marinate in all that vinegar, olive oil, sazon, oregano, and whatever the heck else I put in there.

Now, all I had to do was pour everything in the bag in the pan and let it simmer for 40 minutes... It looked fabulous and smelled AMAZING!

It simmered, and simmered. Hubby is the rice guru, so he got that going. Once it cooked I snagged a piece off the corner and it tasted fine. Then I took everything out and plated it....

Kinda looks like Liver and Onions doesn't it?
We learned lots of important things tonight - like we were out of Krystal. HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN? We also learned we will never fix this again. Not even some well placed Srirracha could save it. It was tough, WAY too vinegary, it just was not good.....

Um, no. Just no.
So, out of failure comes learning. Like, next time, if there ever IS a next time, I'll do these like I cook my collard greens - I find the oldest African American woman I can find in the produce section and ask her how she fixes hers. Apparently I need to find some sweet Puerto Rican lady to show me the error of my ways.

My dear sweet hubby though, he kept a brave face while the munchkin was at the table. It was the best thing ever until she cleaned her plate and headed back outside. That's probably the most ironic part of it all - my picky child ate it with no problems and never complained. She didn't ask for seconds, but I didn't have to figure how close I could get to DCF showing up at my house to get her to eat either.... (For the record, we haven't had a food showdown in forever, I'm a little nervous about that one....)

Once the munchkin was out the door, it was instant gag reflex. We have secretly decided we will be going to McDonald's later. I don't care if I'm over my fast food budget for the week, and I don't care that it's unhealthy and probably the last thing we should be eating so late at night....

I immediately got up and cleaned my kitchen spotless so I could erase the disaster that was this meal. I looked over at my Husband who was helping for a few minutes and said "I'm really sorry that I fed you that tonight". He immediately said "SEE, I know shouldn't have said a #$%$#@#$ word". (The explicative is something that was tattooed into his vocabulary the minute he graduated bootcamp). Poor guy felt so bad he had said something negative about my cooking. So I said "It's okay. I just wish I had made something good!" To which he replied "Well, they can't all be good. We'll just try again - and not with this one please". :P Silly Jarhead!

I was also advised by a friend to try something Cuban.... so if anyone needs me, I'll be putting my kid to bed in a minute and sneaking out to McDonald's while the Hubby feeds the furbabies. Then I'll be planning my menu and looking for something Cuban on Pinterest.... If at first you don't succeed, try another country........

So, if you have tried this and had more success than me, please let me know. I'd be slightly willing to try it again, if someone will come hold my hand.

*** Updates: I forgot to unclude the website the recipe came from: Modern Mami
                      I've also had some reviews that this recipe REALLY is delicious. So, take my experience with it as more of a what-not-to-do, and try it for yourself before you make a final decision!

Until next time!


12 March, 2013

Sunday At Hellas With The Hubby! NO COOKING TODAY!

So today I was really going to try to work on some more menu and etc, but decided we (I) needed a little break - especially when my Husband looked over at me this morning and said "Ooooh, you're making your list....." Okay, honey, point made. None the less, I made my list and out the door we went.

I've spent the last SEVERAL weekends doing cooking, blogging, and any number of other things, and it's so important to take a few minutes and go do something together. That means DUMP THE KIDS, JUST THE TWO OF YOU, and GO! Now, there's certainly nothing wrong with taking the kids, but you shouldn't feel bad if you don't. I just felt it was important to throw that in there....

As we got on that glorious stretch of highway, I threw out the idea of going to our local landmark known as the Spongedocks down in Tarpon Springs. It's a neat little place where the commercial boats go out and bring in sponges, and it's got some AWESOME Greek food, Greek grocery stores, and some tourist trap stores thrown in for good measure where you can by flip flops, sea shells, and anything else Florida related you could think of.

I've been down here several times, but now that our cold snaps are (hopefully) over, it's time to break out the shorts and flip flops (or at least not look crazy because you never STOPPED wearing them), and get some sun - which if you've seen my legs lately, you'd know that they could TOTALLY use some sun!

There are SEVERAL Greek restaurants on the Spongedocks, Hellas, Plaka's, Mama's, and a couple more who's names are escaping me at the moment. I've eaten at the aforementioned restaurants a couple of times, with the exception of Hellas. Today, even though I was dying and reaching "I'm so crabby I'm going verbally attack everyone in arm's length" hungry stage and Hellas had a 20 minute wait for seating, the smells coming out of that place were fantastic. They also had outdoor covered seating at the front door, and a patio that the doors were open on so you could get a great view of the docks, and plenty of fresh Spring air! Done! I'll wait - I'll just try not to speak until we eat and hopefully what comes out of my mouth at that point will be pleasant and charming.... ::Fingers Crossed::

My Husband and I came down to the Spongedocks for a stroll not too long after we started dating. We ate a Plaka's that afternoon - which is a restaurant very special to his family. He introduced me to Saganaki. A glorious  combination of cheese, lemon, brandy, and FIRE. Essentially they bring this cheese to your table, set it on fire, everyone yells "OPA!", and then they put the flame out with lemon juice. We put ours on bread and dear Lord, I think I'd wrestle my own mother for the last piece. (Note: I have found a Pinterest recipe for Saganaki, and I WILL be trying it out - as soon as I learn to pronounce the cheese you make it with, and figure out where to get it.....)
Saganaki , I <3 You!
We opted to keep lunch light and split and Greek Salad.In case you didn't know, which I didn't until I moved up to where I live now and learned of it's heavy Greek influence in certain parts of the county, Greek Salads come with a scoop of potato salad in the middle of them, buried under the lettuce and other goodies. Thank God in the last three years I have learned to eat AND enjoy me some yummy potato salad. Hubby does not like mayo. If he knows it's got mayo, he won't touch it. SO, I got all the tater salad - which was delicious. The salad was fantastic, and they have the BEST pepperoncini. They are a little spicy, and bone sucking salty - just like I like them. The blocks of feta are fantastic - and salty tasting too - and they crumble with one swipe of a fork.... So much yummy stuff in one plate.... Greek Food, where have you been all my life!?

And this is HALF of a Greek Salad for one..... How do you possibly eat the whole thing by yourself?
The main reason we kept lunch to Saganaki and Greek Salad is because Hellas features a HUGE bakery. I mean flipping HUGE. They have such a variety of beautiful desserts, pastries, and breads, that I pretty much think I need to schedule a dentist appointment after walking through the doors.
Yes, the bathrooms are here too....
I've included a video of the bakery.... Note that some of the people weren't so cooperative with getting out of my way....

My Husband has a weakness. If he were Superman, this would be his krpyonite....  Canollis. He will fight tooth and nail for a Canolli from Hellas... See photo below...

We grabbed our desserts:
Italian Canollis and Chocolate Cheesecake
 and went out to the water to eat...

Hubby was SUPER happy.... I would tell you his thoughts on the Canollis, but this is what it looked like once he started to eat, and all I got was satisfied Jarhead grunts and lots of chewing:

My Chocolate Cheesecake was DELICIOUS. Let me tell you. It was SOOO rich I could eat about three bites and had to quite. Luckily that meant there was plenty of leftovers for my favorite little redhead and so she got to have dessert when she got home that night.

On our way to the car, we ran into a SWEET looking Hummer....
Clearly it belongs to someone who owns a restaurant on the Docks.... WHY would I think THAT you ask??
It was really nice to get out of the kitchen and break my routine. My Hubby is pretty awesome at this kind of stuff. He can find something interesting in just about anything. We enjoy food, art, different cultures, the water, just about anything, and the Docks are DEFINITELY full of all that good stuff.

Feeling somewhat refreshed, I HAD to get something accomplished... my last stop before going to pick up the munchkin....

Don't hate... Hellas was GREAT, but we DO have to eat the REST of the week too!!!

Hope you guys had as interesting and refreshing weekend as I did! If you're looking for something neat in the Tampa Area, the Spongedocks is definitely a GREAT place to try out! COME HUNGRY!!!

Until Next Time!


02 March, 2013

Menu Planning - That Time Of The Week....

Menu Planning.... I love it and I hate it all at the same time however, I've learned it is a true time/money/life saver for my family. Like most families, a week or two of the month it seems we have plenty of money left over for groceries, and I can scour Pinterest for recipes all day long without fear of breaking my budget. THIS week, is not THAT week in my family. Like lots of families, it seems we have that week where ALL the bills are due at once. This IS that week in my household. In my 20's I really wouldn't have cared.... Here in my 30's, I plan the bills out, mark them on a calendar, plan the income, figure out what's left, and plan accordingly with meals, trips in the car to conserve gas, and plan to have a little socked back by the end of the week - and pray everything goes according to plan.... Read all this as - we're just a typical family!

Ordinarily, I pick the recipes first, see what I already have in the cabinet, and then plan my grocery list according to what's NOT already in the cabinet/refrigerator/freezer. This week I'll be taking stock of what I ALREADY have, and pick recipes second. As luck would have it - I've got pork chops and ground beef in there. I know I'll need to conserve at the grocery store, but honestly, am I the only homemaker out there who thinks spaghetti and goulash sound GREAT - until you HAVE to make them because that's what's in the freezer?

I'll also be trying to throw in some meals that I can cook ahead of time. I'm REALLY loving that. Primarily because it saves time during the week. I'm not stuck in the kitchen when I need to be helping the kiddo with homework, or I'd really rather be sitting on my couch after a long day at work. I actually enjoy cooking on the weekends because I get to take my time. I get to really read the recipes in detail and take in the whole process of combining ingredients and coming up with some batch of yummy goodness that my family will love!

I think it's also a matter of knowing how to work with what's cheap at the grocery store.... Cube steak, pork chops, ground beef. This is NOT the week to have steak, chicken, shrimp, or lobster. You'll also want to work in things that you can make in bulk and have leftovers.... Goulash works GREAT in this case, so does spaghetti, potato soup, anything in that realm...

Okay.... After looking through the freezer.... I've got chicken for two nights, some of my freezer twice baked potatoes, and as luck would have it, I've got the meat all made up for Beef and Mushroom Stirfry that I never made, I've also got cube steak, pork chops, and ground beef for two nights. There's a thing of Pizza Dough in the fridge, and I've still got two things of dough to make pierogis, and the filling to go in them. This is totally doable. We won't starve (not that we ever do, I  just tend to me one of those people who gets frustrated when we can't eat what we want)! YAY!

By far this was the MOST difficult week to plan. Ordinarily it does not take me as long, nor do I stress over the ingredients as much as I did this week, but it looks like it's going to be a pretty good week. We'll be having a LOT of cube steak - but we'll still get to try a couple of new recipes. I'll also be cooking a Puerto Rican meal next week which has me excited. I once dated a Puerto Rican guy and had the pleasure of going to his grandmother's house for REAL Puerto Rican food - I can only HOPE that my Irish self can create the magic that dear sweet woman created that evening!

This being said, here's our menu for the poor week, using what I've got here, and making limited purchases at the grocery store....

Saturday - Pork Chops
Sunday - Spaghetti
Monday - Chicken Carbonara
Tuesday - Left Over Night
Wednesday - Beef and Mushroom Stir Fry with Rice and Sauteed Sugar Snap Peas
Thursday - Salisbury Steak with Carmelized Onions
Friday - Left Overs
Saturday - Potato Soup
Sunday - Crockpot Steak and Gravy with Mashed Potatoes
Monday - Goulash
Tuesday - Crockpot Cilantro Lime Chicken
Wednesday - Bistec Encbollado (Puerto Rican Cubed Steak)
Thursday - Left Over Clean Out Night
Friday - New Pay Week - I see a drive thru in my future for this evening until the menu planning starts ALL OVER again!

What are your go to meals when cooking on a budget?

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