Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The road to El Dorado and the next karate kid

What a week last week! I was home for two weeks after Ike, and then boom, off I went to El Dorado, Arkansas, to handle a fire and then as soon as I got home, I flew to Charlotte, North Carolina, to see my friend S get married.

This week I am home, thank goodness...Thursday P and I will have been married for nine years, Friday is Halloween (McKenna is dressing up as Buzz Lightyear) and Saturday we have McKenna's karate class.

Yes, you read that right, my daughter is starting KARA-TE! HIIIIIII YAAAAAA! This local place comes to her school and does classes. When they offered a freebie, of course I said yes, and they said that she had a lot of fun, so I figured why not? So every Thursday morning and Saturday morning she has class.

Things are good! It's cooling down here in big D and fall's a-coming. It's fantastic.

I haven't cooked much the last couple of weeks, but I am going to help a friend make her boyfriend a fancy dinner Friday night since she is babysitting for McKenna while P and I go out to dinner Thursday night. She is going to make meatloaf, skin-on mashed potatoes, green beans, garlic cheese rolls, and dark chocolate cream pie. All of which I have made before, so I am more than happy to help her out with making. But when she asked me for my best meatloaf recipe, this is the one that came to mind. It's really, really good...and not too spicy.

Milagro Meat Loaf

1 Tbsp butter
1/2 c minced onion
1/2 green or red bell pepper, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground

1 1/4 lb lean ground beef
3/4 lb ground pork
1 1/2 c dry bread crumbs
1/4 c tomato-based barbecue sauce
3 Tbsp sour cream
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1 egg
milk as needed
additional bbq sauce for topping

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in a heavy skillet and add the onion, bell pepper and garlic. Saute until softened. Add the black pepper, cayenne, salt and cumin, and saute for an additional two minutes. Transfer mixture to a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients except milk to the bowl and mix with your hands. If it is too dry, add milk by the tablespoon until the consistency is right. Shape meat into a 9x5 loaf pan and bake uncovered for 40 minutes at 350 degrees and then turn up oven to 400 degrees and bake for 20-30 minutes. Brush meat with a little barbecue sauce during the last ten minutes of cooking.

Until next time...have a great last week of October!!!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

I'm finally home...and remind me never to move near a body of water?

Ok, so I've now been home from my little adventure in Houston for two weeks. I've been just relaxing and recovering since then, catching up on home cooking and sleep and of course, bonding with my little one and my husband and my furry members of the family.

What I learned in H-town:

1) NEVER ever live in a house by a body of water without flood insurance.
2) After a while, piles of trees, carpet and furniture in the front yard of every house do start to appear normal. It's strange. It was the first thing I noticed as different (not the only thing) when I came home.
3) FEMA sucks.
4) If you didn't think traffic in the greater Houston metro area could get worse, take away the traffic lights and see what happens.
5) There are not enough flood adjusters to go around.
6) Contractors, hotels and owners of gas stations who price-gouge and think they are entitled to it just because there has been a hurricane should be shot.
7) Houston is better at recovering from a hurricane than New Orleans.
8) The only thing dirtier than a house that has had a fire is a house that has had a flood and THEN a fire.

Good times. But I have never felt more in my life like I was helping people than I did the month of September. This is what my job is all about.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Gustav and Ike

I started my new job last week and on day 3, I was deployed to Hurricane Gustav to work two huge tree-on-houses claims. It's very unusual for a new adjuster to get two claims like that off the bat, but I think I did pretty well if I do say so myself. I stayed in New Orleans and drove to Baton Rouge for both claims.

And Monday, I am heading down to Hurricane Ike. I am not sure yet where I am going, but I think they are putting us all up in San Antonio and we'll be driving back and forth to the Houston area. Not really sure yet on that one but we'll see.

To all of my readers in the Gulf Coast areas of Texas and Louisiana, I will keep you in my prayers. I know that this is a hard time for you, especially those that suffered severe property damage to their homes and those that are without power. Just hang in there.

A little hurricane humor to share from my travels...I recently picked up a souvenir t-shirt on Bourbon Street. It reads:


I don't know...I found it funny in a sick way because FEMA just disgusts me. One of my insureds actually approached the FEMA truck asking for a tarp to put on their house that had a tree on it and the driver said, "Oh, I'm sorry, these tarps are for the next parish over." My OTHER policyholder actually was told by FEMA that in order to even 'consider' their request to have the generator paid for that they bought so they could stay in their home (since there was no power and no hotels in the area with vacancies that were open), they would have to see the original receipt. Not a copy, not a fax, but the original. Since I agreed to pay for it anyway, the insured gave it to me when I was out there, and I had to turn around and overnight it to her the day after so she could give it to him. And then the jerk never even showed up the next morning to collect it.

WHATEVER. And they wonder why they are ridiculed. I get that they are overwhelmed and wading through layers of red tape, but do they have to act like jackasses in the process?

I'm home today doing laundry, packing and cooking. I made spaghetti and salads for P and I and I have brownies in the oven right now. I need a little normalcy before I hit the road Monday!

See y'all on the flip side. Be safe.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Has it really been over four months?

Wow. I can't believe my last post was April 22.

So much has happened over the last four months...but the biggest thing to report is that effective yesterday, I am now a regular field adjuster again. No more supervision. I would be lying if I said that I wasn't hugely relieved. The last two years have been extremely stressful and I am looking forward to resuming life again as a field adjuster.

This time will be different though...I am joining our large loss department which handles losses in the lower 48 states that are at least $75,000 in size. I will be receiving a new claim every tenth day. In other words, I will be traveling a lot; however, it is 100% virtual and I will never have to go into an office. My boss lives in Little Rock. I am so excited and this is SO great!

And...we just got back from a week in Destin, Florida...Faye was kind to us and we got home just ahead of Gustav, and the weather was beautiful. I was stung twice by jellyfish and got sunburned on the second to last day, but otherwise the trip's weather was gorgeous every day.

And...Moira just brought a mouse in the house and dumped it in the middle of the kitchen. Very nice.

That's all for now!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Some things should just not be changed

I love a good cheeseburger. Always have, probably always will. Fuddrucker's is one of my favorite places to get burgers...they have great flavor. Chili's also has great burgers.

I don't usually make them at home. However, I have certain cookbooks on my shelf that I like to try a new recipe out of from time to time and this is the first one out of this book...it is a low-carb book which probably should have been my first tip. Nothing against low-carb...it's just generally not my style of eating since it's usually higher in fat and heavy duty on the veggies.

Mini-Cheeseburger Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

2 lbs ground sirloin
1/2 c chopped yellow onion
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp grill seasoning **I used McCormick's Montreal Steak seasoning
extra virgin olive oil
8 oz chipotle cheddar cheese or any flavored cheddar in a brick
3 Romaine lettuce hearts or a prepackaged bag of Romaine
1 c sliced dill pickles
1 c grape tomatoes
3 Tbsp yellow mustard
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 c extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp chopped fresh chives
1/4 red bell pepper, chopped

Combine meat with the onion, Worcestershire and steak seasoning. Form 12 large meatballs and flatten them into small patties. Drizzle patties with a little oil. Slice cheese into 1/4" pieces. Grill burgers until desired doneness and place cheese slices on at the end of the cooking cycle so that cheese will melt. Chop lettuce and combine with pickles and tomatoes. Whisk together the mustard and vinegar. Stream in olive oil and whisk to combine. Add chives and peppers and stir. Place cheeseburgers on top of salad and top with dressing.

What I liked about this recipe: Extremely colorful. It was a gorgeous presentation.
What I disliked about this recipe: WAY too many flavors. It was just overwhelming.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: I bought one of those living herb plants at Target for the chives and after I chopped off what I needed, I actually planted the herb in my boxes to see if it would survive and believe it or not, it DID!
Tastiness factor: P thought this was great and took the leftovers for lunch the next day. Me, I hated it and will never make it again. However, I think it's more my taste preferences than a bad recipe. I just didn't care for it. But it did have everything that a cheeseburger would have except for the bun, so lo-carbers craving a burger should love it. I did add ketchup to the salad to make it a little more palatable and to cut the acidity.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Let's go to Outback tonight

Little known fact: I actually worked at Outback for about three months when I first moved to Texas. Unfortunately, I started working at the one in Addison which didn't have as much traffic as the others and they wouldn't let me switch, so...I finally ended up quitting because I wasn't making much in tips with only 2-3 tables a night.

But one of the best things that I did get out of working there was the best way to make awesome baked potatoes. One of the cooks told me that the reason why baked potatoes are often rolled in salt is because it draws out the moisture from the potato and makes them very fluffy on the inside.

Outback-Style Bakers

Russett baking potatoes
salted butter, melted (use about one Tbsp for every potato you are making)
kosher salt

Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Scrub the potatoes well to get all of the dirt off the skins. Prick potatoes several times with a fork. Use a pastry brush to brush butter all over potatoes until well-coated. Sprinkle kosher salt on all surfaces of the potato. If you want to eat the potato skins, do not roll the potato in salt as they will be too salty. Bake at 425 degrees for one hour. Serve with your choice of toppings. (My favorite toppings are butter, sour cream and shredded Cheddar.)

What I like best about these potatoes: They take almost no time to prepare and get in the oven and they are great if you are grilling out. Just put them in the oven before you get ready to start preheating the grill and if they are ready early, just turn the oven down to 250 degrees to keep them warm. You don't have to use foil if you don't want to, but it will save your cookie sheet if you do and make clean up a snap.
What I dislike about these potatoes: The fantastic taste can NOT be duplicated in the microwave, so these aren't a quick dish to make. But the length of time is completely worth the effort.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: I have a silicone pastry brush which is fantastic to make these.
Tastiness factor: Incredible and SO delicious. I have never served to them to anyone who didn't like them.

Herb-Marinated Steak

2 lb sirloin steak
1 tsp onion salt
1/2 c white vinegar
1/4 c vegetable oil
1 tsp fresh thyme, minced
1 tsp fresh tarragon, minced
1 tsp fresh dill weed, minced
1 tsp fresh sage, minced

Rub both sides of the steak with onion salt and place in a shallow dish. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over steak. Cover and marinate at least one hour or overnight. Grill or broil steak until desired temperature is reached, brushing steak frequently with marinade.

What I liked about this recipe: Very easy to make the marinade. You can also use 1/4 tsp of dried herbs instead of the fresh.
What I disliked about this recipe: A little too much vinegar in my opinion.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: I have an 11x7 glass baking dish that was perfect for marinating the steak.
Tastiness factor: I can not believe I scalped my tarragon plant for this dish. Very, very tasteless. I got more flavor out of the charcoal than from the herbs. I don't know if it was because I opted to use fresh herbs or not. I did not enjoy this as I have other marinades, but it wasn't offensive. Just not as flavorful as I would have preferred. The steak was tender though, probably from the vinegar.

Garlic Ranch Chicken

1 c Ranch dressing
2 Tbsp garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp fresh basil, minced
4-6 boneless skinless chicken breasts

Combine dressing, garlic and basil. Place chicken in a Ziploc. Add marinade and turn to coat. Squeeze out air, seal bag and refrigerate up to 24 hours until ready to grill. Grill chicken for 15 minutes on each side.

What I liked about this recipe: Pretty easy to make, really, and you can either use bottled Ranch dressing or make your own with buttermilk and mayo. I opted to make my own fresh and I think it made a big difference since I don't care for bottled Ranch dressing.
What I disliked about this recipe: It makes a wee mess on your grill, so make sure you have a brush or something to clean up with afterwards.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: I used my mezzaluna to mince the basil. First time harvesting basil!
Tastiness factor: Very, very good. Not sure what the creaminess of the marinade did for the chicken, but it sure made it tender and flavorful. Great dish...definitely one that I would make again. The recipe said that it recommends you serve Ranch on the side for dipping, but we didn't even need that.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Soup Nazi....er, maybe not

Okay, sorry...that was a bad joke. But again, I'm trying to think of a clever title for this blog entry and all I keep thinking of is that Seinfeld episode!

A few weeks ago, I defrosted leftovers of this soup that I made back in December, so I thought I would share the recipe.

German-style Potato Soup

4 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, sliced
1/2 c chopped onions
8 oz cooked smoked sausage, sliced
4 c beef broth
2 Tbsp vinegar
1 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp celery seed
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp pepper
2 c packaged shredded cabbage (coleslaw mix)
snipped fresh parsley

Combine potatoes, celery, onions and sausage in a slow cooker. Whisk together broth, vinegar, sugar, celery seed, dry mustard and pepper in a separate bowl and pour over potato mixture. Cover and cook on low for 8-9 hours or on high for 4-4 1/2 hours. Stir in cabbage mixture. Cover and cook for 15-30 minutes more. Top each serving with fresh parsley.

What I liked about this recipe: It was very spicy and the leftovers freeze well.
What I disliked about this recipe: The spiciness of the sausage leeches out into the broth, which is great for the soup, not so great for the sausage.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: At the time I made this, I didn't have my mezzaluna so I used my herb snipper instead. It was fine.
Tastiness factor: Very tasty and very satisfying.