Monday, November 30, 2009

Pie in the Sky (week)!

Week of Thanksgiving...can you say CRAZYNESS in the extreme? Each of the Four Chicks made a pie but all forgot to take pics till the very end. So, we say take a look at your own dern pies and pretend we baked them for you. Okay?

Up next week: Ummm..check the schedule on the right.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Oh Meatloaf How I Love/Hate You So....

Meatloaf is a sore subject for me. When I very first got married to my wonderful husband I had such high hopes. I grew up with a Grandmother & Aunt were were fantastic cooks, great at down home style from scratch cooking who never seemed to need a recipe to create beautiful & delicious meals, a mom who, while extrodinarily culinarily challenged (adding extra cheese to her kraft mac was about as adventerous in cooking as she got) dabbled in vegitarianism and introduced me (via wonderful local restaurants) to such delights as: tofu & bean sprouts, and a wonderfully endulgant dad who was willing to try whatever concoction I dreamed up, and praised each dish as a culinary masterpiece... looking back I'm sure he exagerated... but only a bit! So when I got married I was just sure that while my husband was accustomed to white bread, meat & potatos I would quite soon open his eyes to the wonderful world of creative cooking. I mean with my background & the obvious hereditary cooking skills where could I go wrong?

Well for starters I could go wrong with meatloaf. Shortly after my dear husband and I moved in together I announced that I was going to make him a delicious meatloaf dinner. Being a meat & potatos man, he was understandably excited as meatloaf is a far cry from the fish, veggie burgers & chicken dishes that he was beginning to fear were the only things I could (or would) make. Now I have never made meatloaf before but it can't be that challenging, everyone has a family specialty and I had never tasted one that was actually awful... maybe dry & bland but certainly they were always edible. I called around for tips and finally settled on my sister's Meatloaf Florantine. I subbed out a few things to make it easier & uber healthy and ended up with a turkey meatloaf with spinach mixed in and topped with a mix of italian cheeses. I was pretty proud of it, it was healthy, fairly tasty and while not traditional, it was technically a loaf of meat... I did not consider for a second that my husband might take offense to me messing with one of his favorite meals. He was not impressed and 2/3 of the EXTRA large loaf (I made lots because I just KNEW he was going to love it) went in the trash.

Since that fateful day I have learned just which dishes are strictly off limits to my creative tweaking (meatloaf, chili, pasta & tuna salad to name a few) and how to sneak in healthier choices into even the most sacred of dishes without getting caught. Meatloaf has still been a bit of a challenge, after a few more tries I came up with a version of a friend's recipe that involves a traditional meatloaf cooked potroast style surrounded in carrots & potatoes in a tomato based sauce. I've been making that one for the last year and a half thinking it was acceptable until I told hubby that our next post was meatloaf and he requested (several times over the course of several days and even after I agreed reminded me several more times) to make a "normal" meatloaf without the "extra stuff" with just the "normal" stuff. He also just about begged me not to add spinach (seriously that was over two YEARS ago!). SO this was another experimental recipe and I'm happy to say that I rocked it :)


meatloaf base:
1lb lean ground beef (90/10 or leaner)
3 hot italian turkey sausage links, squeezed out of the casing
1/2 cup coursly chopped portobella mushrooms
1 medium onion diced small
1 heaping tablespoon minced garlic
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup bread crumbs

Put all ingrediants into a bowl and smoosh well to mix. I HIGHLY recomend smooshing by hand, but if you're squeemish you can use a mixer... but seriously now what red-blooded woman doesnt like to get her hands in there and smoosh some meat?? Now I made my meatloaf base with plans to top with ketchup to make my darling husband happy BUT after hearing Lacey raving about her salt crusted meatloaf I wanted to attempt something similar. I was loathe to have another meatloaf florentine incident so I split the base in half and made two smaller loafs on my baking sheet. Here are your topping options:

Parmesian & Sea Salt crust:
Mix the following in a small bowl
1/4 cup parmasan cheese
1/4 cup course sea salt
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1 tsp garlic salt
1 tsp basil

Generously coat the outside of the meatloaf in the mixture, pressing it into the loaf so it sticks. Dump the extra on top and spread around evenly.

Traditional (ish) ketchup topping
Coat the loaf in brown sugar, you'll probably use about 1/3 of a cup
Top this evenly with about 3 tsp Hickory Bacon Salt (If you've never heard of Bacon salt you have been sorely deprived, J & D's bacon salt had changed my life, and it can change yours too! they have come up with a Kosher Certified way to make everything-even your envelopes-taste like bacon)
Spread 1/2 cup of ketchup over the top and sprinkle with a little more bacon salt (seriously, you NEED to try this!)

Whichever option you choose, or if you decide to be like me and split the loaf and use both (in which case use half of everything!) pop that bad boy in the oven at 375 for 50 minutes (if spitting the loaf cut cooking time to 40 minutes) allow the loaf to cool for about 10 minutes before cutting into the beefy goodness and enjoy. I personally thought both loafs were phenominal, the hubby preferred the ketchup topped loaf and polished off the leftovers within 3 days. That my dears is what I would call culinary success!!!!!!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Lacey's Smokey Cumin Chicken Couscous Soup

Couscous week. Huh. Filler food. Hmmm. Tried it once a while back, didn't like it. Bland. Boring. Blah. Not into this. At all. But in the effort to be a blogging fourchick team player I find a recipe that looks promising. (Sorry, I'm feeling a bit snarky bitch on this fine Wednesday night).

I come home cranky and ready to break open that expensive chocolate bar I've been hoarding in the top of the spice cabinet (yes, I really do have a whole three shelves dedicated to spice), and some wine, but try my damnedest to evade, evade, evade. So I get out my ingredients are start cookin'. Is damnedest a word?!?
1 chicken breast (mine was already cooked)
2/3 cups couscous
1 sweet potato
1/2 onion
1 shallot
2 green onions
2 zucchini
1 can tomatoe puree (I have organic)
4-6 cups broth. I used veggie and chicken stock. If you like your soup more dense, add less.
3 teaspoons of cumin or more
1 teaspoon of curry powder
fresh thyme and italian parsley
juice of two mini limes (apparently they are key limes)
1 heaping teaspoon of really good smoked paprika (don't skimp on the crappy stuff, trust me)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
sea salt to taste
pepper to taste

I chop the onion and shallot and cook in some olive oil. Doesn't shallot sounds like a french version of shat? Good thing they don't taste like shat or this soup would be a total waste, get it? ha ha.
Onions done, add in rest of veggies, chicken, spices, etc. etc. etc. And the couscous.

Let it all simmer together for about 1/2 hour and dish it up. It's goOod. It's healthy and whole grained nutritious. It's smokey. It's cuminy and curry-y. And spicy and sweet. The couscous...was even good for texture in relationship to the crunchy zucchini and sweet potato.
So when you come home in a snarky bitch mood like I did and all you want is some freakin' chocolate, but you can't because you're trying to lose weight, cook this instead. Just taste testing the broth while it was simmering was enough to pull me out of most of my SBM. Not enough to forgo the glass of white wine tonight, but enough to forget about the chocolate. (That was because I ate too damn much soup and am stuffed, but we won't tell anyone that!)

Oh yeah..I found this recipe at and then changed it to my tastes at the time. Lime for my sour mood. Paprika for my devilled egg craving. Curry powder because I made pineapple fried rice the other night with it and am still on a big curry kick. Thyme and italian parsley because they were in my get the idea.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Couscous Can be Creative!


It’s a funny word for a funny little food product. What is couscous you ask? It is a dish consisting of spherical granules made by rolling and shaping moistened semolina wheat (sweet corn) and then coating them with finely ground wheat flour. The finished granules are about one millimetre in diameter before cooking. It’s probably not your common, everyday food product served in American homes, but it’s a very tasty dish, very popular in Morocco and in the Middle East. It can be eaten alone, flavored, or plain, warm or cold (e.g., mixed with tabouli), or as a side dish. So, who wants to place bets on how each of the four chicks will cook theirs? Gourmet? Organic whole grain? Boxed mix? Sweet or savory? Tune in this week to find out! Whatever method it is prepared, it promises to be completely MARTHALICIOUS!!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lacey's Salt Crusted BBQ Chili Verde Sauce Meatloaf

There really isn't a good way to make a loaf of meat smothered in some sort of sauce look great on a photo. In my opinion at least. So there it is...
When making meatloaf I always look in the depths of the fridge and bottom most shelf in the door to see what bottled sauces have been lurking around a little too long so I can use them up. This time I found bag of shredded carrots, thai chili sauce and some gluten free Chile Verde BBQ Sauce I had picked up on my last trek to Whole Foods Market in the search of wheat and dairy free items my daughter could eat. And let me be honest here, I HEART Whole Foods. I wish it wasn't so far away (100 miles) because the store inspires me every time to try new foods and cooking methods. And their cheese section? O - M - G!
Grabbing the carrots, Chile Verde sauce and the rest of the ingredients on my meatloaf recipe roster, I tossed them all in a bowl:
Two packages of 7% all natural hamburger
2 eggs
small squirt of ketchup
about 3/4 cup of oats
1/2 cupish of bread crumbs
salt and pepper
around 1 cup of the Chile Verde BBQ Sauce
Pre shredded carrots I chopped up even finer - 3/4 cup
I put on some rubber gloves and got to work mushing and mixing it all up, saw it was too runny and added another dump of oats in. Perfect.

Get out the cookie sheet, place some parchment paper on top and dump out the meat mix. Form into a loaf with your hands (hence the "meatloaf" name). This time I got creative and got out my smoked Hawaiian Sea Salt and patted a good helping into the top of the loaf and it was definitely worth the use of the expensive salt.
Pop the meatloaf in the oven on 375 for about an hour. Mine took over an hour because the loaf was bigger.
I prefer this method over placing the loaf in a bread pan because all the juices and fat and stuff can run off the meatloaf rather than it baking in its own grease. And I've never had an issue with it turning out anything other than perfectly moist.

This version was much sweeter than my standard issue loaf, but that is to be expected with the Chile Verde sauce and the carrots. The salt crust on top made each bite a savory treat, I won't be forgetting to add that little marvel in again any time soon! We always have left overs, our favorite part. We enjoyed meatloaf sandwiches on roasted garlic sourdough bread all week for lunch. YUM.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Melissa's Magic Turkey Loaf

So this week the gals have decided to loaf around…with some meat huh?! This surely DOES mean trouble! When I decided to lose weight the first thing that was banned from my home was meatloaf and mashed potatoes because I simply cannot control myself with the combination. It makes my mouth water just to THINK of mama’s meatloaf and I have been known to clear an entire pan in a mere 24 hours…or less!

Although mama made one hell of a meatloaf, I think I can improve just a bit on her perfection and create it a little more healthy at the same time. ...At least we’re gonna try! So what CAN we possibly add to make a meatloaf MORE delectable, MORE tasty, MORE gourmet”ish”, MORE comforting AND keep it from causing a major artery clog? How about layer it with bacon and fill the center with 4 kinds of ooey, gooey cheese! Turkey bacon and reduced fat cheese that is...TOTALLY works for me! The magic of this meatloaf is how quickly it will disappear! Bon apetit’!
Magic Turkey Loaf

2 rolls 97/3 turkey sausage
1 package Onion Soup Mix
1/4 cup diced bell peppers
1/4 cup diced red onion
1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
2 eggs
8 slices turkey bacon
1/2 cup reduced fat mozarella cheese
1 cup ketchup
1 tbsp. Worchestershire sauce
1 tsp. brown sugar
Whisk until well blended.
Saute veggies in about 1 tbsp. evoo. Let cool , then combine all ingredients in large mixing bowl except bacon and cheese. Really get your hands in your meat and knead well. Place 1/2 of the meat mixture in a baking pan. Layer with half the bacon and half the cheese. Top with remaining turkey mixture, remaining bacon and remaining cheese. Bake at 375 for about 45 minutes. Top with sauce and bake another 15 minutes until glaze is thickly coating the loaf and meat is done throughout. This is excellent served with curried sweet potatoes as shown above.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Four Chicks Just Loafin' Around

This week the gals have decided to loaf around…with some meat! Ahem…the kind that goes well with mashed potatoes. Dang ya’ll.

Meatloaf is an all time, absolute, favorite, universal comfort food that makes taste buds tingle and dance with delight. Add a side of creamy mashed potatoes with bites of tangy tomato sauced meat and a little onion; how can you go wrong with that?! Not to mention you can use anything in the kitchen to make one, except maybe the sink.

So let's see what spin these four crazy chicks from across the country can put on mama's classic. Anytime the Hooker Cooker, Alternative ala Carte, Wild Card and the Gifted Gourmet get in the kitchen and play with...ahem...meat..., there's BOUND to be trouble!!!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Winter Squash Week!

Squash is a racquet sport played in an enclosed space. There are apparently five different kinds of balls used in the game, can you even imagine?? The court is encased in an effort to ensure onlookers don't get their own nads knocked off by the fast flying.....Okay, OKAY! WRONG SQUASH.
While The Four Chicks do sometimes like to envision balls flying (especially this week), we are not about sports on this blog. We are about food.

Hence: Winter Squash Week.

Whatever will we cook or bake? What kind of squash will we choose? Do we even like winter squash? Read on and find out!

Nikki's Belated Apple Squash Bake

I love squash and finding reasons to sneak it into any recipe I make is a guilty pleasure of mine (any way I can possibley trick the hubby into eating uber healthy food is exciting to me!). While squash on its own is tasty, a light, slightly sweet flavour, it readily absorbs other flavours from sweet to spicey.

This weeks surreptitiously healthy recipe is a spin on my grandma's baked apple recipe. Aside from tasting great, this stuff smells orgasmic... must be the cinnamon in it- did you know that the Queen of Sheba used cinnamon to lure King Soloman? Powerful stuff :)

Ok, first things first, I must include a disclaimer: you will be working with a sharp object, there will be cutting & peeling... The Four Chicks will take no responsibility for missing and/or maimed appendages. Any of you (and you know who you are!) who should not be trusted with a sharp object, please obtain assistance from a loved one for the cutting portions of this weeks recipe!!

Step One: Assemble your Ingrediants:
1) one small or 1/2 of a large butternut squash
2) 3 apples (you want equal parts squash & apple slices)
3) 2 tbs flour
4) 2-3 tsp cinnamon (I use 4 but I REALLY love cinnamon!)
5) 1/4 cup agave nectar (you can use honey or maple syrup, just make sure you don't use an artificially flavored Mrs Butterworth's-style syrup, use the real thing!)
6) 1/4 cup brown sugar
7) 3 tbs lemon juice
8) 1/4 cup apple cider (you can use apple, grape or cranberry juice instead, just stick with the 100% juice varieties)
9) 3 tbs cold butter

Step Two: Slice & Dice!

Cut the squash in half (please see disclaimer above) and scoop out the seeds. Cut the squash into large chunks and then slice off the skin (I tried using a veggie peeler but it really doesn't work well, using a knife is the easiest way but for the butterfingers out there, its also slightly dangerous... please dont lose a finger!). Next slice the big chunks into thin slices (you'll want them to be no more than 1/2 inch thick). Slice 3 tart apples (I used macintosh apples, granny smith would be good too) and slice them to the same size & thickness as your squash. I left the skins on mine, if you're not a fan of apple skins you can peel it off.

Step Three: Assemble!

Spray a thin layer of Pam in the bottom of your baking dish and spread the apple & squash in the dish, mixing it up evenly. Sprinkle about 2 tbs flour over the apples & squash. Over the top of that sprinkle 2-3 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 cup agave nectar & 1/4 cup brown sugar, next sprinkle 3 tbs of lemon juice then 1/4 cup apple cider. Next slice 3 tbs cold butter into thin slices, and cut each one of those in half and place them in the squash & apple (slide them down into the crevaces... wait that sounds dirty...).

Step Four: Bake!

Cover the dish with foil and bake at 325 for 25-30 minutes (until the squash is soft). Pull the dish out and let it cool for 5-10 minutes, as it cools the sauce will thicken a bit, now enjoy!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Melissa's Chicken and Squash Dumplings

If you were limited on the potential of squash, you won't be after this week's posts! Squash isn't just for casseroles anymore! There are so many varieties and it is such a versatile vegetable. Don't get me wrong, I love a good squash casserole that just screams Southern Comfort Food. This week however, we are taking squash in a very different comfort food direction...and we have selected the amazing butternut variety to accompany us!

Melissa's Chicken and Butternut Squash Dumplings

1 large hen
water to cover
1 tbsp. thyme
1 tbsp. basil
1 tbsp. sage
1 tbsp. pepper
1 tbsp. paprika
1 tbsp. seasoned salt
1 tbsp. parsley
1 tbsp. bay leaves
1 tbsp. turmeric

Place hen in pot, cover with water then add all of the spices. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer about an hour or until meat is thoroughly cooked and falling off the bone. Remove the chicken and set it aside. When cool enough to handle, skin and bone the chicken and shred or cut it into bite sized pieces.

2 cups flour
1 cup cooked butternut squash, mashed
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup water

In a large bowl, thoroughly mix the flour baking powder and salt. Add your squash.
Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until it's well combined. Add water and knead 8 to 10 times. You can add small amounts of flour if the dough becomes sticky. Roll the dough out to and cut into 1-inch x 5 inch strips. Bring the broth back to a rolling boil, drop in your dumplings, cover the pot and reduce the heat to simmer. Cook for 10 minutes or until the dumplings are cooked. Add your chicken and remove from heat. Cover for 30 minutes to allow your broth to thicken.

A great accompaniment for these chicken and dumplings are another squash favorite...Squash Pickles! This recipe calls for your simple yellow crook neck squash:

Southern Squash Pickles

6 medium crook neck squash - sliced
1 small jar mustard seed
3 cups sugar
3 cups white distilled vinegar

Bring sugar, vinegar and mustard seed to a boil stirring constantly so sugar will dissolve and not burn. Add your squash, and let cook for approximatley 5 minutes. You do not want to over cook the squash and you will end up with mushy pickles. Prepare your canning jars by washing and placing in hot water, One at time, add pickles and firmly pack your jar. Fill with your juice. Remove all air bubbles, then wipe rim and seal with lid and band. Process the canned pickles in a boiling water bath for about 15 minutes. Allow to cool overnight, the check for solid seals by gently pressing the centers of the lids. If they do not press in at all, you have a good seal. If they have not sealed you can either attempt to reprocess or refrigerate. You can also add pimentos to this recipe for color and Viadlia rings for contrast if desired.