May 26, 2013

Ladies Night In (and Orange Sorbet)...

Some army wife friends and I have started a wonderful new tradition, which hasn't been officially named, but I privately refer to it as Ladies Night In. The title basically gives away the whole concept. We're all ladies (in the sense that we're females, haha!) and instead of going out, we relax together inside.

With food. And wine. And excellent conversation. 

Throw in the occassional dirty joke, and we've got a party! 

To add to the fun, we rotate houses each week, so we all have a chance to host. This means we each enjoy a great meal every week, but only have to cook once a month. Totally win - win. Of course, I agonize for weeks before it's my turn, wondering what I should make for my friends. You recently got a sneak peek at our dinners with Michele's guest post: Roasted Vegetable Couscous

This is what I compete with, people! It ain't easy, I gotta measure up, right? 

So far, I've made a lot of soup (like my Creamy Onion, and a new roasted zuchinni soup that I'll tell you about sometime). Oh, and finger foods. I love finger foods. Sadly, dessert has always been my issue. I like eating dessert, but the cooking of it? Not so much. I don't know why, but the whole idea ties me up in knots. What if it's not good? What if it's too sweet? Dear God, what if it's not sweet enough?!

Yeah, it's a real problem. 

On Ladies' Night though, I'm stuck. So, I've been forced to expeiment with my dessert skills. This last time, I was so pleased with the results, I decided they were good enough to share with you!

Nom nom nom nom.... Homemade Orange Sorbet! Served in a fancy, biodegradable orange cup, ha. The serving style definitely elevates this simple dish into something more unique, don't you think? 

I decided to play around with sorbet because: a) It seemed simple enough, and b) My mum bought me an ice cream maker for Christmas, and I really needed to use it before she asked me for the thousandth time, 'Honey did you try the ice cream maker yet?!' 

Yes, yes I did. 

Turn out, sorbet is easy to make and totally delicious. To get started, you need:

1 cup of water. 1/2 cup of sugar. The peel of 1 orange (I used my veggie peeler for this, super easy! Try not to have any of the white pith on the skin as you peel, because it's bitter and yucky. 'Yucky' is the technical term, ha). You also need 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice and 2 cups of fresh squeezed orange juice, about 8-15 oranges, depending on size. 

Before you ask, the answer is YES, you MUST use fresh orange juice. 

Ok, so maybe not. I guess you could use the stuff in the carton, but I take no responsibility for your final product if you do so. The beauty of this sorbet is its delicate flavor, and I worry that concentated juice will upset the balance. 


To make your sorbet base, start by adding the water and sugar to a pot on the stove over medium-high heat. At first, the mixture will be cloudy. However, as you bring it to a boil, the sugar will dissolve and once again appear clear (see photos below). When the sugar/water reaches a boil, add your orange peel to the pot and reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Simmer for five minutes. 

Remove from heat, strain the orange peel out of your mixture, and let the syrup cool.

Once cooled (this doesn't take very long, maybe 15 minutes), stir the orange and lemon juice into the syrup. Combine well, then place in the refrigerator to chill completely. I've left mine to cool anywhere from 3 hours to 3 days. This sorbet base will keep in the fridge for several days, so it's easy to make in advance then toss into your ice cream maker when you're ready.

From here, simply follow the instructions on your ice cream maker. I allow mine to churn between 15 and 20 minutes. Eat right away or scoop into containers for freezer storage (Note: If you freeze the sorbet after churning, allow the sorbet to soften on your counter for a few minutes before serving. Sorbet freezes hard, and those few minutes will make scooping much easier).

OR, scoop into a fancy orange cup and serve with a sprig of mint leaf! Obviously, I think this is cool. And because I appreciate y'all so much, I'll let you in on my secrets...

To make an orange serving dish:

Slice a thin piece off the top of the orange, run a sharp paring knife around the inner rim, then scoop out the insides with a spoon (Hint: you can juice the pulp for your sorbet, or just eat the yummy wedges of orange). Be careful not to poke a hole in your "cup". If your orange doesn't sit flat, shave a bit off the bottom to level it out, also being careful not to poke a hole in it. Nobody wants melty sorbet leaking onto their fingers, right? 

Then, pop your orange cup into the freezer before adding any sorbet. The hulled out oranges freeze quickly, in about 20 - 30 minutes. If you place them in the freezer just before churning your sorbet, they will be ready for filling when your ice cream maker is done. 

Why do I love these orange cups? Well, they're obviously adorable and snazzy. BUT, they also help keep the sorbet frozen, especially on hot summer days. Cool, huh? 

I knew you'd think so too. 

And that's it... simple, yet delicious. Plus, with the orange cups (and mint leaf), you look fancy and will impress your friends.  

Happy cooking, my friends. If you try out this recipe, feel free to send in your photos and I will post them for everyone. I love hearing from you! 

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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The Standard Form:

Orange Sorbet


1 cup water
½ cup sugar
Rind of one orange
2 cups fresh squeezed orange juice (about 8-15 oranges, depending on size)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Orange cups, for serving
Mint sprigs, for garnish


Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then add the orange rind. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes.

Strain the syrup to remove the rind. Allow to cool.

Once cool, stir the orange and lemon juice into the syrup. Chill in refrigerator at least three hours and up to three days.

Follow directions on your ice cream maker for churning (mine churns 15-20 minutes). Serve immediately in orange cups (directions below), or place in freezer for future use. If freezing, allow sorbet to soften on the counter a few minutes prior to serving. This will make scooping easier.

To make orange cups:

Slice a thin piece off the top of the orange, run a sharp paring knife around the inner rim, then scoop out the insides with a spoon (Hint: you can juice the pulp for your sorbet, or just eat the yummy wedges of orange). Be careful not to poke a hole in your "cup". If your orange doesn't sit flat, shave a bit off the bottom to level it out, also being careful not to poke a hole in it.

Then, pop your orange cup into the freezer before adding any sorbet. The hulled out oranges freeze quickly, in about 20 - 30 minutes. If you place them in the freezer just before churning your sorbet, they will be ready for filling when your ice cream maker is done. 

Garnish sorbet with a mint leaf if desired. 

May 20, 2013

The Bounty in the Basket

Recently, the Hubs and I find ourselves on a non-processed food kick. Meaning, we're doing our best to slowly eliminate all the processed foods in our pantry and fridge, one item at a time.

Yeah, so this was basically my idea and I've dragged the Hubs into it. But for the most part, he's not complaining. He's such a good hubs. 

This idea began slowly. I started by adding more fresh fruits and vegetables to our diet. Eating salad more often was about as creative as we got for several weeks. Then, I discovered this great co-op called Bountiful Baskets

Ever heard of it?

The basic idea is this: Either every week or every two weeks (depending on your location), you purchase "baskets" full of fresh produce at a discounted rate. This is a co-op, and all volunteer, so don't expect awesome customer service. Instead, you arrive for pick-up (with your own bags or boxes handy), load up, and move out. 

Did I mention they also sell bread, and granola, and juicing packs, and fresh herbs, and all kinds of other enticing items?? 

Well, they do! These add-on items can change weekly, but I've noticed others are fairly consistent in our area. 

The produce each week is a complete surprise, and I love it! This forces me to think outside the box with my meal planning. Items I may not have purchased at the store are suddenly at my disposal. I mean, I can't very well throw it away, you know? So I find ways to use whatever comes my way. 

This was what I received in my last 'basket': 

Here is what you're looking at:

1 large bunch of bananas
1 bag of apples (plus 3 individual apples)
1 watermelon (woot!)
1 cantaloupe
3  heads of broccoli
4 green peppers
2 heads of iceberg lettuce (previous weeks have contained romaine, which I personally prefer)
1 head of cabbage
2 cucumbers
4 ears of corn
2 artichokes 

My, oh my! Though I've eaten artichokes in restaurants, I've never made them at home. Totally new experience for me. Also, I don't ever cook with cabbage, so sometime this week I'll be testing out a recipe for Bubble and Squeak

Next week, my basket could be entirely different. For some, this might be an annoyance, but I really enjoy it. 

This past basket day, I also purchased the additional bread pack: 

This included 2 loaves of whole grain bread, 2 loaves of English muffin bread, and a baguette. I adore English muffin bread, and it's almost all gone already.

This co-op isn't for everybody, but check it out if you're looking to save some money on your produce and you don't mind a little adventure. Also note, you can purchase fully organic baskets as well! 

As for me and the Hubs, we're working hard to eliminate all those processed foods. If it's something we really love (like ice cream!!), I'm finding ways to make those items myself. This way, I know exactly what goes into each treat. 

And you will receive the benefit of all my new recipes! Keep an eye out later this week for my Orange Sorbet recipe. It's easy, and delicious, I promise. 

Let me know if you try Bountiful Baskets, and feel free to send in pics of your bounty. Happy shopping!

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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May 17, 2013

Cooking for One: Salmon Foil Packets

When you're a military spouse with no kids, you do a lot of 'cooking for one'. Field time, schools, deployment, staff duty... there are dozens of reasons your spouse won't be home for dinner every night. The simple task of making a meal becomes daunting when you consider how many leftovers a single dish will create. I'd be eating lasagna for a month if there was no one here to share it with!

Well, there IS a solution.

The answer? Basic recipes with only one or two servings each. These aren't always easy to find or create, but it can be done, and I want to help! Hence, this new series (which I hope to have guest contributors for, like you!), Cooking for One.

In general, one of the easiest 'Cooking for One' categories is seafood. You can purchase exactly the amount you want (1 or 2 servings) at the seafood counter. For me, the Hubs is very particular about anything from the ocean, so I use his time away as an opportunity to cook things he may not eat. Gotta find those positives where you can, right?!

So today, we're going to start with a basic cooking method and one of my favorite finned friends: Salmon Foil Packets!

Salmon Foil Packet, just before entering the oven 

Including your prep time, this recipe takes about 30 minutes (but that includes 20 - 25 minutes of baking in the oven). This is easy to toss together, is good for you, and my favorite part... it often uses up all the odds and ends of produce hiding in my fridge.

To get started, preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Cut one or two pieces of foil into a 12-18 inch long piece (this depends on the size of your salmon and the amount of veggies you plan to use. I always cut mine the bigger size. Better to have extra space than not enough, yes?).

Then you just layer all your ingredients!

I start with lemon slices on the bottom. I can't have seafood like this without that tangy lemon flavor.

* Note: If you choose not to use any lemon slices, I suggest using a thin coat of non-stick spray on the bottom, or use non-stick foil.  

Next comes the salmon itself, followed by my favorite seasonings (usually garlic, a little lemon zest, salt, pepper. Nothing too fancy).

Then, a big old glob of butter. For my health nut friends, you can substitute this if you like. However, you want to use something in place of it which will provide a little moisture.

And finally your veggies. I clean out my pantry and crisping drawer on this step. On this particular night, I had a zucchini, a tomato, a small amount of red pepper, and a bit of leek to use up. So that's what went into the packet! You can use whatever veggies you have on hand, about 1/2 cup - 1 cup worth for each portion. Before scattering them around your fish, season well (I normally use a little salt and pepper, maybe even some lemon pepper if I'm feeling really wild).

Finally, add a little sprinkle of parsley on top of everything. You can easily skip this step if you want. But I love the little bit of color the parsley adds to the top of the salmon.

Then, twist and pinch, and close up that packet! It doesn't need to be pretty, it just needs to seal well so not too much steam will escape. Like so:

Yeah, it looks silly. But that salmon will taste oh so good, I promise!

Place your foil packet on a cookie sheet, throw in the oven, and walk away for 20 - 25 minutes. Paint your nails, watch some TV, kick back with a glass of wine. Whatever makes you happy.

When your kitchen timer beeps, remove the cookie sheet from the oven and prepare to enjoy.

You can eat these right out of the foil packet, but be careful of the steam when opening.

I was too impatient, and ate this right out of the oven! You can place your final product on a plate too (and I usually do).

Simple, fast, and good for you... without those pesky leftovers!

I hope you enjoyed the first post in my new Cooking For One category. I'd love to hear about any recipes you make when your spouse is away... feel free to email me with your ideas, and become a guest blogger!  As always, the standard recipe is below.

Happy cooking!

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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The Standard Form: 

Salmon Foil Packets


4 - 6 lemon slices
1 salmon filet (6-8 ounces)
Seasonings, to taste (ex: Salt, pepper, garlic, lemon zest, lemon pepper)
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon parsley
1 cup raw vegetables of your choosing, chopped


Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Cut a large piece of foil (approximately 12-18 inches long).

Layer your ingredients in the center of the foil: lemon slices, then salmon, seasonings, butter, and parsley.

Season your raw vegetables if desired, then scatter them around the salmon filet.

Twist the foil closed to form a packet with no holes for steam to escape. Place on a cookie sheet and into the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the salmon is done.

Remove from oven, open foil carefully as steam will escape, then enjoy!  

May 10, 2013

Guide to Fort Bliss: Best (and Worst) Restaurants, Part 1

Whenever we PCS (which basically means moving, for my civilian readers) to a new post, there are certain things we must find out all over again. Like, where is the best place to buy groceries? Or get your car washed? Who has the cheapest gas? What roads are traffic prone?

You get my point, yes?

The little things we often take for granted must be relearned for our new location. So I thought to myself... why not work on a post guide? I wish I had one for everywhere we've been and the places we've yet to go, so it might prove useful for someone else.

In light of that revelation, here's the first installment of my Guide to Fort Bliss. I've compiled your opinions (that's right!), along with personal experience and some fact-checking online. Please, please feel free to help me add on to those guides. Times change, and tomorrow this information could all be wrong. Comment, send me an email, message me on the Army Life Facebook page... but add your own insight and experience. Help take the mystery out of this post for the next family coming in.

The picture to the left was taken inside one of many restaurants here in El Paso, TX. As with any other city, restaurants can be hit or miss. Some are really very good, and others... well, not so much.

El Paso has been swiftly growing with the addition of so many troops at Fort Bliss. I know the Hubs and I noticed many changes in the time we've been there. Four years ago, there weren't nearly as many places to eat out as there are now. And new places are being built everyday!

So, I asked, and you all answered... What are your favorite restaurants in the El Paso area, and which ones would you avoid?

Because there were so many good responses, the list is taking quite some time to compile. I'm kicking off Part 1 of this series with two staples in the area, Mexican/Tex-Mex and Steakhouses!

Best and Worst Restaurants (Fort Bliss and surrounding areas), Part 1 

Mexican and Tex-Mex:

Being so close to the Mexican border, you would naturally assume that El Paso is home to some excellent Mexican restaurants... and it is! Lots of them, actually. But there are also a few who, let's just say, aren't as good. We'll start with the ones we'd go back to again and again, what do you think? I think yes.

(Take note: These are in no particular order!) 

1. Carlos and Mickey's - (this restaurant is currently working on their website, but in the meantime you can check them out at Urbanspoon)

I've heard mixed reviews about this place, but the larger part leans toward the positive. The atmosphere is festive, usually with live mariachi on weekends and some outdoor seating. I've personally been once, and the margaritas are on point! The biggest complaint seems to be about wait times. Consistently, there is a crowd at the door waiting for a table. And while this might deter some, it also vouches for the restaurant's popularity, right?!

2. Kiki's - This tiny restaurant is actually recommended by Aaron Sanchez of Food Network, specifically their Beef Machaca dish. Check out this YouTube video to get your taste buds watering!

I don't know why I haven't tried this restaurant yet, but you can bet it's now on my El Paso bucket list!    

3. Burritos Crisostomas - Picked as one of the top 4 restaurants in Mexico by GQ Magazine (Mexico edition), I think their El Paso locations are worth trying out! I haven't yet been here myself, but several of you made recommendations. Urbanspoon reviews are very mixed, some loving it and others absolutely hating it. If you've eaten there, please comment and let us know whether you enjoyed it or not.

4. Julio's - There are several of these around El Paso, with the newest location at 3630 Joe Battle Blvd, in the Far East. The Hubs and I have eaten here only once so far, but we enjoyed it. The atmosphere was amazing, the new building is beautiful. Our service was prompt (not always the case in El Paso), and the food was good. I wouldn't say it was the best I ever had, but I would go back. The latest reviews on Urbanspoon have been positive. Plus, several of you have also mentioned this as a favorite. Win all around!

5. L & J Cafe - affectionately dubbed "the old place by the graveyard", this tiny hole-in-the-wall touts some excellent food. Their list of awards are numerous, and their popularity hits a whopping 92% on Urbanspoon (as of today). Based on reviews, I'd say this is the best Mexican you'll find around these parts. I'm so impressed, the Hubs and I will be checking it out ourselves within the next few weeks.

Now, I'd like to talk about those restaurants which have some mixed reviews, and some of which are just terrible. I apologize in advance if your favorite restaurant is on this list, but feel free to defend it in the comments section. I'm placing these here based on personal experience (of myself and others), reader comments, and online reviews. 

1. Leo's - I'd like to start by saying: the Hubs and I have eaten here, and we enjoyed it. Was it the best I've ever had? Sadly, no. I would rate the atmosphere as good, the service ok, and the food about average. Several readers commented how Leo's is a particular favorite of theirs.  However, other readers commented how much they dislike the food here. The online reviews seem to vary by location (there are 6 in the area), so this is a difficult one to call. I suggest trying it out for yourself and see what you think!

2. Avila's - This is yet another restaurant I've heard mixed reviews about. However, it has often been featured in Hispanic Magazine's "Top 50 Hispanic Restaurants" (in the United States). Most of the poor reviews center around the atmosphere (old) and the service (slow). For now, I will assume the food makes the rest of it worthwhile, as many people claim this to be one of their favorite Mexican restaurants in town. If you've eaten there and can provide a better perspective, please comment

3. Andale -  This restaurant has more bad reviews than good. Although the margaritas have been praised, the food, service, and atmosphere have all been harshly critiqued. Personally, I have eaten here once and would not go back. I took my mother and sister for a late lunch during the week. Our service was so slow, it was 3 hours before our meal was complete. And the food was not all that appetizing. It was edible, but definitely not good. Many have complained of noise levels, and the Urbanspoon rating hovers only around 50%. I'd say, try at your own risk.

4. Chico's Tacos - One person will tell you these are the best, and another will tell you how sick they got from eating them. I haven't tried it myself, for fear of the whole getting sick thing. Many reviews mention the grease factor (too much of it), so that probably explains the stomach issues. I think the major draw here is the low-priced menu. Another try at your own risk (and let us know how it goes)!

5. This last one is a difficult one to judge. The Hubs and I ate here upon our arrival in El Paso, and had a very negative experience. Therefore, we have never returned.

HOWEVER, the online reviews of this restaurant seem to be good. I haven't yet met anyone else who has eaten there, so I have no way to compare. If you've eaten at La Malinche (any of the locations), email me or comment below, so my biased view isn't the only one here.

Steak Houses:

This is the great state of Texas, so you can rest assured there are plenty of places to eat steak! Between the chain restaurants and the locally-owned, everyone should be able to find what they're looking for.

Peacock at Cattleman's 

1. Cattleman's Steakhouse - When I ask about steak in El Paso, Cattleman's is always everyone's first response. Not only has it been voted America's Manliest Steakhouse, it's won countless other awards.


While I adore the atmosphere, I personally have not been in love with the food. To be perfectly honest, I've had better steaks elsewhere. And I am always surprised the restaurant doesn't offer any real vegetable selections. I mean, seriously?? I like a little salad or something with my meat.

Despite that, the Hubs and I have enjoyed dinner here several times. We usually take family when they visit because there is so much to see. Peacocks, rabbits, horses, and rattlesnakes, not to mention the movie sets. The whole adventure becomes an afternoon outing.

So, my conclusion is this:

While I wouldn't drive out there for the food alone, I do occasionally enjoy an afternoon at Cattleman's with family and friends. Atmosphere is the huge draw here.

2. Edge of Texas - The reviews of this restaurant have been pretty great all across the board, from reader comments to Urbanspoon. The Hubs and I have eaten here once, and we both enjoyed it, so add in personal experience too. The largest complaint I hear are about business hours. Keep in mind this restaurant is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays! Many a patron has discovered this the hard way. While there may be a few naysayers in the bunch, overall the Edge of Texas rates with the best of the bunch here!

3. Corralitos Steakhouse - This is a new find for me, thanks to my pal Becky (you might remember her from our NY or Ireland trip)! We ate lunch there earlier this week, and it was excellent. I've seen a few bad reviews, but our food was perfect and the service impeccable. It's my understanding that this restaurant is doing some restructuring. The new philosophies must be working, because our meal was the best I've had in a while. Also, the atmosphere was cozy, always a bonus. If you've tried them in the past, I suggest going back again. if you've never been, then what are you waiting for?? I'll be curious to hear your responses, I hope you all enjoy it as much as Becky and I did.

4. Texas Roadhouse - I don't really like the idea of including a chain restaurant here; however, I'm adding this one as there will soon be one right on post at Freedom Crossing. As of now, the restaurant isn't open, but it will be fairly soon. In general, Texas Roadhouse tends to be a popular favorite everywhere, so I hope this new one lives up to the hype!

Now for the not so good ones. This was actually harder to come up with than you think. It is Texas, after all!

1. Great American Land and Cattle - I'm including this restaurant in the 'not so good' category for one major reason: Reviews vary greatly based on location. I've heard the Westside location is great, but the Zaragoza location is awful. Others fall in the middle. My only experience here was at Zaragoza, and it was indeed awful. We've never returned, though I've considered trying other locations.   I'd love your input, please feel free to add your two cents in!

2. Cattle Baron - Though this restaurant receives many good reviews, they consistently lose points for the quality of their steaks. The atmosphere is good, salad bar is good, service is good... but the steaks fail to measure up. The most common adjective is "tasteless". I've eaten here several times and in various locations, as it's a chain. BUT, I've never ordered a steak. Love the salad bar though, and my food has always been tasty. Have you eaten a steak here? If so, what did you think?

So, that concludes Part 1 of our best (and worst) restaurants in good old EP. More posts are coming soon, with genres varying from Asian all the way to the best bakeries in town.

Happy eating!

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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May 2, 2013

Pinterest Tested: "Days Down" Deployment Jars (Guest Post!)

Mwahahahahahahaha... I've convinced another army spouse to guest blog for us! My power of persuasion must be growing.

And I love that she chose a Pinterest Tested post. I actually considered making this myself at one point, but the project was pushed to the back burner during my travels earlier this year. This is a great idea, especially for those with young children.

This is the original pin:

And here is how it worked out for my pal, Jenny (read on below the picture for her take on this project):

... Super Easy project (and inexpensive)!  My kids and I had a blast making the labels, which we crafted out of some heavy stock paper and tied on with elastic ribbon.  Most of the Army men we already owned (I told my son he could have them all back when Daddy gets home).

We made a game of counting out the right number of men.  We used extra vases I had just sitting unused in a cabinet for our “jars”.  So far we are on Day 123, and they haven’t lost interest!  Every night before bed, the kids take turns moving a guy from the “Days Left” jar to the “Days Down” jar.  Sometimes they even let me have a turn!

I hope you enjoyed this guest post from Jenny... and perhaps it will inspire you to create your own countdown (or even guest blog of your own).

Happy pinning, everyone!

(If you've tested a great pin, and want to share it, please email me with your ideas. I'd love to see more guest bloggers here)

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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