A personal kitchen diary. I try new recipes and make notes on what works and what doesn't. Sometimes I can things, and sometimes I dry herbs. This is the story of my kitchen.

A Very Merri Kitchen

A Very Merri Kitchen

A personal kitchen diary. I try new recipes and make notes on what works and what doesn't. Sometimes I can things, and sometimes I dry herbs. This is the story of my kitchen.


Crockpot Hot Wings via @fitslowcookerqueen

Crockpot Hot Wings via @fitslowcookerqueen

Mine really is a Crockpot from Rival so I can call it a Crockpot, not just a slow cooker.  Wedding present over 30 years ago, still going strong.  And, I’m still learning new ways to use it. Two bloggers I like to follow are FitSlowCookerQueen […]

Bruschetta and Two Types of Topping

Bruschetta and Two Types of Topping

I like bruschetta but had never made it myself.  I’m having friends over for lasagne next weekend, so I decided to do a trial run of some bruschetta and if it worked out, I would make it as an appetizer next weekend. Spoiler alert: they […]

Black Bean Dip, or Topping or Soup – Your Choice

Black Bean Dip, or Topping or Soup – Your Choice

I made this first as a black bean dip, but, it tasted so good that I also used it on a baked sweet potato, and later thinned it with some broth and ate it as soup!

I cooked chopped red onion, seeded and diced jalapeños, and smashed cloves of garlic until all the vegetables were softened and fragrant.

Then added drained and rinsed black beans, and cumin.

And eventually finished it off with a big handful of cilantro.

The recipe I was loosely following said to put this in a food processor to mix.  I didn’t want to drag it out, so I tried with the immersion blender.

I should have listened.  The immersion blender just didn’t work with this. If I had wanted to make this a soup from the start, it probably would have been fine with some broth added.

I ended up spending a bit of time going from the immersion blender, to trying to mash with a potato masher, and a small blender in batches.

You guessed it, I should have gone straight to the food processor.

Lesson learned for the next time.

This was really versatile, as I mentioned in the beginning.  It was great with tortilla chips, and as a topping for a baked sweet potato.  I had so much of it, though, that I also did eventually add some broth, and used the immersion blender to turn it into a soup.

With my modifications:

Black Bean Mix

1 Tablespoon grapeseed oil

1 red onion, minced

4 garlic cloves, smashed

2 jalapeños, seeded and with the ribs removed, finely diced (remember to wear gloves when handling the jalapeños!)

1 to two cans black beans, drained and rinsed

Juice of one lime

1 tsp ground cumin

Large handful of cilantro

Warm the oil in a large pan over low to medium heat.  Once warm, add the red onion, jalapeños and garlic to the pan and cook and stir until softened but not browned, 4-5 minutes.

Add the first can of black beans and the cumin, and stir together, then mix in the cilantro and the lime juice.

Add the entire mixture to a food processor and blend to the consistency that you prefer.  Taste the mixture, and add more beans if you feel more are needed, and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, more cumin if you like, and lime juice.

Playing with Plantains

Playing with Plantains

A friend ordered some fruits from Melissa’s Produce and gave me some plantains, something that sort of looks like a plantain, and a red banana.  Then I needed to think of different things to make. Originally I was going to try making patacones, but I […]

Salmon Cakes

Salmon Cakes

This is another recipe the health coach I have been working with gave me—and another recipe that I think is good, but could be better.  A bonus with this recipe is that it makes quite a few salmon cakes, so I froze the remainder for […]

Crockpot Butternut Squash Soup

Crockpot Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut squash soup is always easy, and using the Crockpot made it even easier.  I got this recipe from Tasty here, but I’ll be making a few tweaks the next time.  It is good as is, but I think it can be better.

I had a butternut squash from a local farm so now was the time to try out the recipe.  The recipe called for some coconut milk as well as thyme, and I think both are not necessary and in fact take away from the flavor of the soup, so I won’t use either next time.  I also used veggie broth, making it vegetarian, but I’m going to use chicken broth next time.  (I’m not vegetarian, but if you are, go ahead and keep it in)

As I said, this is pretty darned easy, and started with simply peeling and seeding the squash, chopping the onion, and peeling four cloves of garlic.

I like the spicy flavor of this soup, with ginger,cumin, coriander, paprika, and cayenne pepper (and salt and pepper of course).

Everything went into the Crockpot, with a little olive oil.

Followed by the veggie broth, covered, and cooked on high for four hours.  It then calls for adding the coconut milk and thyme and then blending.

I personally thought it was creamy enough before the coconut milk, and that the coconut milk actually muddied the flavor.  I didn’t think the thyme worked at all with the other spices flavoring the soup.

I used my immersion blender to purée right in the Crockpot.

I garnished with fresh thyme and parsley, but don’t think those work that well either.  Later I added some pumpkin seeds, and those worked great with the soup.

I portioned out the remaining soup into single serving containers and froze them for later lunches.

After talking to other cooking friends I’m going to make these changes:

Use chicken broth instead of veggies

Omit the coconut milk and thyme

Add a squeeze of lemon juice before serving

Garnish with roasted pumpkin seeds, perhaps a little sambal oelek

Here’s my version:

Crockpot Butternut Squash Soup

1 butternut squash (appx 2 lbs) peeled and seeded, halved and quartered.  Very big pieces are fine.

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced

4 cloves garlic, peeled

3 cups chicken broth

1/2 teaspoon each: ground ginger, cumin, coriander, paprika (I used s semi-sweet smoked paprika)

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Olive oil to taste

To serve:

Fresh lemon juice

roasted pumpkin seeds (or clean and roast the squash seeds)

Sambal Oelek

Add the squash, onion, garlic, and spices to the slowe cooker.  Drizzle olive oil over, and turn veggies and spices to cover.  Pour over the chicken broth and cover.  Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8.

Use an immersion blender and blend right in the slow cooker.

Right before serving, squeeze in some lemon juice and stir, and garnish as you like.

Shirley’s Clam Chowder

Shirley’s Clam Chowder

My mother-in-law used to make this chowder.  It’s a creamy, hearty bowl of chowder.  It’s an unusual chowder in that you add cheese at the end, but that makes it even creamier.  It also uses a can of cream of celery soup instead of actual […]

Pollo Alla Romana

Pollo Alla Romana

I was staying with friends last week and they were working on perfecting Pollo Alla Romana.  They were trying to recreate the flavors of the one they had at a restaurant in Rome.  I was the lucky recipient of one of their versions, and decided […]

Spicy Baked Chicken Thighs

Spicy Baked Chicken Thighs

This week I made an easy baked chicken thigh recipe from Let The Baking Begin

In short, it was delicious!  And, it was fast and easy, so now it’s being added to the weeknight rotation.  Take a look at her recipe on the link above (where she also gives a LOT of helpful hints and answers questions).

Here are the specifics on what I did.

Regarding the spice mixture:

First, I always use Hidden Valley Ranch Dip and Dressing mix.  I can’t tell you whether or not it will come out well with another ranch mix; we like the taste of Hidden Valley.  I did not add any of the salt listed in the original recipe.

Finally, I have been very spoiled by my friend David who has brought me a variety of fantastic paprikas from Spain.  My choice for this recipe was a semi-sweet smoked paprika.

Let The Baking Begin offers three suggestions for mixing with the spices—oil, mayo, or buttermilk.  I went with olive oil.

I pulled most of the skin off the chicken thighs, but I did leave them bone-in as I think the chicken remains moister.  Or more moist.  Suddenly I’m unsure of the proper grammar there.

I also tried the method of coating the chicken thighs with the mixture in a Ziploc bag, but didn’t feel like I was really coating the chicken as well as I wanted.  So I ended up just reaching in and thoroughly massaging the mixture into the chicken thighs with my hands.  Next time, I’m just going with using a bowl!

Another suggestion I will continue to follow, though, was to line my baking dish with foil.  There was nothing to cleaning that dish later.  I lined up all the chicken, and into the oven it went at 500 Fahrenheit for 10 minutes, then down to 375 Fahrenheit for 45 minutes more.

And here it is!

While it baked, I had plenty of time to make a salad to go with it, and do a little kitchen cleanup.  My husband really liked the chicken too, and the next day it heated up really well for lunch.

It is full of flavor.  Lots of spices, but not spicy hot.  None of the spices overwhelms the others—that is, it’s not like you only taste Hidden Valley Ranch or smoked paprika.  They add to the total flavor without taking over.

Hidden Valley Ranch/Garlic/Paprika Baked Chicken

4 lb Bone-in, Skinless Chicken Thighs

3 Tbsp Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing and Dip powdered mix

1 1/2 Tbsp garlic powder

1 Tbsp semi-sweet smoked paprika

1 tsp ground black pepper

4 Tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 500 Fahrenheit.  Line a 9×12 baking dish with foil.

If the chicken thighs have skin, pull it off.

Mix together the dressing mix, garlic powder, paprika and black pepper in a large bowl, then whisk in the olive oil.

Pat dry the chicken, using paper towels, and then add the thighs to the mixture in the large bowl.  Turn and coat the chicken thoroughly with the spice mixture.

Place the thighs in a single layer in the baking dish.  Roast at 500 for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 375 Fahrenheit.  Bake another 45 minutes and check with a thermometer—you are looking for 165 Fahrenheit.  You might start checking a little earlier than 45 minutes.

Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes before serving.

A Different Kind of Chili

A Different Kind of Chili

Yes, I realize that there have been a lot of soups and chilis lately.  It’s that kind of weather out, plus, I love soups. I’ve been working with a health coach the past two months, and he gave me this recipe.  It comes from a […]