Friday, December 31, 2010

Ending the Year with....Meatloaf??

Last year the final post of 2009 was a gorgeous cake that we were bringing to a New Year's Party.  And let me tell you, it was just as good-tasting as it was gorgeous!

This year=no cake.  :(  We're having a quiet New Year's celebration at home, with some snacks, TV and a hockey game.  Plus, as I have learned in the past couple of months, if the sweets are in the house, I will pick at them until they are gone.  That's why you didn't see a lot of posts about Christmas Cookies this year.  Yes, there were some cookies (baked on Christmas Eve and then the leftovers sent home with my mom for another family party on Christmas day)  because it just is not Christmas without some cookies.  I weighed in last night at my weight loss group and I have lost (ta-da) EIGHT pounds since 11/12/10!  That's a miracle!!  Honestly, I haven't had a tough time thus far.  I think it's because I have been eating things that I really want, just less of them.  I still eat ice cream.  I still put sugar in my coffee.  And I still enjoy carbs.  I just eat ice cream one or two nights a week instead of every night.  I no longer take my coffee light and sweet.  And I'm (still) learning that portion sizes don't have to be an entire plate.  I'm starting to appreciate the simple flavors of things, like sliced cucumber with just a hint of salt instead of heaped with dressing.  It's a whole new world out there.

So, I had mentioned in my previous post about a new cookbook for busy families.  Brian perused it while making the menu for the week and came across a recipe for Mini Barbecue Meatloaves.  We're always looking for something different to do with a pound of ground beef besides spaghetti sauce or tacos.  The night it was scheduled to debut on our dinner table, he read the recipe as he was pulling out ingredients and discovered something displeasing:  the reason why it was a quick recipe is because you cook the meatloaves in the microwave!  (Ga-ross.)

I love the microwave.  It's great for leftovers, melting butter for a recipe, warming up some formula for the baby and the like.  But a main course started and finished there?  Hmmmm....that sounds like a disaster.  Meat tends to get rubbery in there.  But still.....we forged on to give it a fair chance.

You know what it came out tasting like?  Barbecue meatloaf.  It was just fine!  The meatloaf patties were moist and not at all rubbery.  So we've made an agreement to utilize this oft-overlooked appliance and try more recipes with it.  Because really, dinner ready in fifteen minutes is pretty cool.

Happy New Year, everyone!  (or to the four people that read this)  I hope it brings good food, good times and great memories.  :)

Post-Christmas Cooking

Santa was very good to us this year.  Brian got a full-size food processor!  This is going to make a big difference in our kitchen, as a mini-processor is great but can't do all jobs.  He also got many different spice blends and a bottle of real vanilla extract.  But the coolest gift of all?

A cast-iron enameled dutch oven!!

Dude, this thing weighs a ton!  When "Santa" bought it at Kohl's, (s)he had a four year old boy with him/her and the boy wanted to run off in the parking lot.  Imagine running after that kid with a cast-iron dutch oven in one hand, AND your car is parked at the far end of the lot.  Yep....good times.

The first meal in the Dutch oven:  Mark Bittman's "Chicken and Garlic Stew" from "How to Cook Everything."  One of our favorites, as there's a saying in this house, "there is no such thing as too much garlic!"

It was a very Mark Bittman year in our house.  I got a copy of his "Food Matters:  A Guide to Conscious Eating" for my birthday on December 19th and his "Kitchen Express" book for Christmas.  What can I say, I love the guy's work.  Not quite as much as Brian loves Alton Brown (whose Good Eats:  The Middle Years" was also under the Christmas tree)  but I do love his fresh ingredients and easy preparations.  Brian also got a cookbook from Taste of Home for busy families, that one should be interesting.  

Merry Christmas to All!  A little late, but always welcome.  :)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

How to make a Philadelphian Happy!

It's not just takes some wins against New York.   Philly has humiliated New York on three fronts in the past week so there's been some jubilation in this transplanted Philadelphian's house this week.  But nothing beat what came in the mail today

A Flyers Limited Edition Tin....

......Filled with a variety of Tastycakes!

Brian said that he would share them with me if I could name two of the four players on the lid.  I totally bombed the challenge.  Luckily, I'm not a woman scorned, because he goes to bed earlier than I do and I seriously considered a third photo of me raiding the tin.

Love you, honey!  :)

Monday, December 20, 2010

My Husband, the Butcher

Our family hosts Christmas dinner, which is traditionally a roast beef.  I can still remember how the kitchen used to smell in my grandparent's house, with a roast beef in the oven!  Mmmmmmm....

This year, Brian thought about what we wanted to do, roast-wise.  (this really is more his area of expertise.)  He decided that we should buy a really big roast, figure out how many people we were having and then cut it up into the Christmas roast and some steaks.  Ten NY strip steaks later, we had our Christmas Roast!  And it is a beautiful sight:

We had some of the steak for dinner tonight and it was out-of-this-world!  Can't wait for Saturday!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Snacks Should Taste Good

At last week's weight center meeting, we talked in depth about snacks. Why snacks are important in the weight loss calculation. (i.e. how they keep you from getting so hungry you'd gnaw off your own arm)  What consists as a snack, and what is just a meal masquerading as a snack.  How much protein/carb/fiber/calories should be in a snack.  Hmmmm....a lot to ponder.

They passed out free samples of these chips that I've seen in the grocery store, "Food Should Taste Good."  They come in several different flavors and have wholesome ingredients like quinoa and whole grains.  I took home two little bags.

The first one was cheddar.  It boasts itself as a chip AND a cracker.  It is certified gluten-free and consists of corn, quinoa, sunflower seeds and cheddar.  Nothing crazy.  I loved them!!!  Will enjoyed them.  And Brian thought they were pretty good too.  All right, something that makes all of us happy!  (and is still better for you than a greasy bag of potato chips.)

The second bag, I ate them while I was impatiently waiting for dinner.  And then immediately poured a glass of water.  No, two sips of milk.  Folks, they're Jalapeno and crushed pepper.  All the same wholesome ingredients, and a whole lotta spice!  I love spicy foods!  This one wasn't blaringly obvious as the chip makes contact with your taste buds.  Rather, the burn builds up so you go from being totally fine to "Holy Hell, what did I just eat!"

Can't wait to try some more different kinds.  This is a snack I could live with.

The Annual Gingerbread Donut

It's that time of year....Dunkin Donuts has their gingerbread line!

I allow myself ONE gingerbread donut a year.  I stop at one because seriously, it could easily become a habit.

I bought my donut last night and I've got big plans:  I am going to sit down with it, and eat it slowly.  Savor every morsel, 'cause there won't be another Gingerbread Donut Break until 2011!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Budding Chef

Not only does our little Buddy love to eat, he's showing an interest in fending for himself in our kitchen!  Nothing makes Baby happier than an open fridge door.   Here, observe him banging on a container of leftover mashed potatoes to test for freshness.  :)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Making Changes: The Good and the Bad

As I probably have mentioned before (and am too busy to check) I started a weight loss program with the local hospital.  It's a fifteen week program, with five weeks each dedicated to the subjects of Nutrition, Exercise and Psychology.  (what you're eating, what you're doing fitness-wise and why you want a candy bar when you are so stressed out you could choke someone)

I was supposed to start this program back in September, but I got waitlisted.  'Cause really, does anyone "want" tostart a weight loss program three weeks before Christmas?  I don't think so!  I did meet with the hospital's nutritionist in November, so I got a three week start before everyone else in my group.  I'm proud to say that I've lost six pounds (through Thanksgiving, thankyouverymuch, though I had some unwelcome help from a stomach bug last week, too)  My jeans are looser and I'm already feeling pretty good.  I think one reason why I have been successful so far is because I'm not treating this like a diet.  This is a lifestyle change, people!  And I have the full support of my husband and family, and my friends too.  It turns out that if you're vocal about what you're doing, people want to help!  We've broken our nightly ice cream habit, relegating it to weekends-only.  And we've lightened up our cooking, which has made a big difference.  However, not all "light" cooking turns out to be good food.  This weekend was a prime example for this.

First, the good:  I have no idea where on the Food Network this recipe came from, but Brian made this roasted salmon recipe on Saturday night that was divine!  It was salmon roasted on top of a bed of green, red and yellow peppers, red onion and fennel.  The "fronds" of the fennel were chopped up and mixed with some pecans on top of the fish.  I never thought I'd like fennel, because I'd heard it was licorice-flavored.  Black licorice is one of those things that people either love or hate, and I'm firmly a licorice-hater.  But you know what?  Fennel is delicious!  The salmon, adorned with fennel fronds and pecans, was light and delectable.  I'm continually surprised when stuff doesn't have a buttery sauce or cheese comes out tasting so good, it turns out that unadorned foods save for maybe a little sprinkle of salt can be really, really good.

Now for the bad....which I have no pictures of.  Sloppy Joes.  Brian loves these, especially with that Manwich sauce.  I for one do not like Manwich, it's so salty!  So when he found a "healthy" version made with beef, tomatoes, mushrooms and onions, we agreed to give it a try.  It may be healthy, but it tastes like mush.  I like all of the ingredients, but the sandwich was just a big miss.  Needless to say, our garbage disposal ate very well Friday night!!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

First Family Dinner

Tonight marks a special event:  it is the first time that the four of us ate dinner together!  Yes, I know, we have all eaten together.  But not the same meal!  Grilled cheese sandwiches for everyone.

Sean loved his first grilled cheese sandwich.  In fact, he loved it so much he had to have a bath right after because he combed melted cheese through his hair from the excitement.  I'm still calling it a success.  :)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Ricotta Pancakes

I made a pan of lasagna a couple of weeks ago because we were having a busy week, and the leftovers helped with that.  However, as I always seem to do when making lasagna, I bought waaaay too much ricotta cheese.  So I had a small tub left over in the fridge and no plans for using it.

So I posted out to my Facebook friends:  any ideas?  I got a slew of responses, from ricotta pie to baked ziti to just eating it with a spoon.  :)  The winner was my friend Amy in Washington State, with Raspberry-Ricotta Pancakes.

Alas, Crafty Mama's kitchen didn't have any raspberries.  However, we always have fresh blueberries on-hand because the big kid loves to devour them for breakfast.  So, armed with the Food Network website, I found a recipe for blueberry-ricotta pancakes.

The biggest roadblock in the process was Hubby.  You see, Brian has an aversion to "mishy" foods.  On his list of things that he won't eat:  beans (kidney, black, white) hummus, sweet potato and (horrors!)  cheesecake.  Yes, ricotta is on that list.   I'm shocked that he'll eat lasagna, but he makes an exception for whatever reason.  As soon as he saw that I was gearing up to put ricotta in the pancakes this morning he was aghast.  I assured him that they would be delicious, and they wouldn't have a "mishy" texture.  After all, I have had pancakes made with cottage cheese before and the texture was fine.  (And man, do I abhor cottage cheese, it is the Devil!!!)  He warily agreed to try the finished product.

I gave him the first two pancakes, hot off the grill.  And you know what?  He liked them!  I did too, the ricotta is a nice addition, yielding in a moist pancake.  And lucky for us, there are some in the freezer.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

When in Doubt, Throw it Out

I've been dieting the past few weeks and I've been doing pretty well.  Snacks of whatever fattening thing I can find have been replaced with ones containing fruit, vegetable and/or protein.  It's been a lot of changes along the way, but I seem to be doing OK.

A common snack for me now is hummus, vegetables and some crackers or my ultimate fave, Stacey's Pita Chips.  I take a paper dessert plate at work, divide it in half and put cucumbers and baby carrots on one side and some pita chips or Triscuits on the other side.  (the days of bringing the bag of pita chips back to my desk are over.  I might as well just strap on a feeding bag like a horse.) 

Know what makes a grumpy day even grumpier?  Covering a cracker with garlic hummus and taking a big bite, then looking at the container and discovering that it's furry.  Mmmmm....mold on my hummus.  that wasn't quite the vegetables I had in mind!  Guess who's turned off from hummus for a while?  This girl. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thinking Outside of the Can

Pie time!! We'll be bringing two pies to Thanksgiving dinner at my Mom and Dad's house, a pumpkin pie and a coconut custard pie.  I've been making pumpkin pie for years, and I've always relied on a can of Libby's pumpkin puree.  However, I really despise that said can of pumpkin puree shoots up to $5 per can at Thanksgiving time.  (Highway robbery, outrage!)  So when Brian watched an episode of (what else?) Good Eats and AB processed his own sugar pumpkins for puree, we figured why not?  Plus I've heard pumpkin pie with fresh pumpkin is out of this world flavor-wise.

BTW, you can't just pick up any pumpkin and make puree for pie and expect it to taste good.  Sugar pumpkins are smaller and more round, and yield a superior puree.  I expected sugar pumpkins to be more difficult to find but there they were, sitting at the front of our new grocery store.  I was also pleasantly surprised by their price tag of 2 for $3.00.  Yes, it's going to take a little bit of elbow grease, more than it takes to wield a can opener.

The first step is cutting off the tops and scooping out the flesh and seeds.  (We're reserving the seeds for toasting. I've never had toasted pumpkin seeds but Brian assures me that they're delicious.)  Next, each pumpkin gets cut in half and baked in a 400-degree oven for 35 minutes.  After they cool for an hour, it's time to scoop out all the flesh, and use a food processor to turn it into puree.

Yield:  enough pumpkin for approximately four pies.  Or, for one Thanksgiving pie, some for the freezer, some for the baby (who loved it with a little cinnamon) and for these:

Pumpkin Pie Creme Brulee!

As expected, out of this world.  I don't think we'll ever used canned pumpkin again!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Quick Pan Sauces

Dinner tonight was supposed to be baked Shrimp with Tomato and Feta....but alas shrimp doesn't just show up in your fridge because you want it to.  And I was too lazy to go out again after shopping with my older son this afternoon.  So after a quick freezer check, we settled on a simple supper of chicken breasts, oven red-bliss and garlic fries and canned green beans.  (hint:  it's the one veggie the three of us can agree upon without a fuss.)  

Naked chicken breasts aren't much fun, and I remembered that one of our cookbooks had a section on quick sauces for "the cooks' canvas."  I had all the ingredients for an apple and cider sauce so I got to work, thinly slicing apples and sauteeing them.  They made a great topping, and the book boasted that it didn't add a lot of calories.  Best of all...there's four more sauces in that chapter!  I can't wait to try the Spiced Pineapple one with some rice and chicken for a semi-Indian flavor.  Dinner was saved from blandness!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Admission is the Key to Everything

Hmmm, maybe if you admit there's a problem, creativity in the kitchen strikes.  Since posting that we're experiencing a rut, we've had some pretty good food.  Stuffed peppers, sweet and sour chicken in the crockpot, and tonight, braised pork medallions in cider.  Sounds like that rut has passed!

Thanks to everyone that sent me suggestions, I look forward to trying them.  :)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

In a Rut

Lately our house has been in a rut.  Nothing sounds good for dinner, we've tried it all.  Ugh.  There's only so much inspiration and creativity that one can have with a pound of ground beef.  Three nights per week, one of the adult members of the household either isn't home or has twenty minutes to eat before rushing off to class.  And starting in January, that number is going to jump to FOUR nights per week.

So, dear reader(s), I am going to put it out there to you:  Any suggestions on quick dinners?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Nothing Like Roasted Chicken

BJ's had whole chickens on special a couple of weeks ago, so I brought home two for the freezer.  Nothing starts off a weekend nicer than a roasted chicken on Friday night!

People often tell me that they're mystified by roasting a whole chicken.  Oh, it's so easy!  Just take out the giblets (that plastic bag in the cavity filled with innards) and toss it in the trash.  Rinse the chicken and pat dry with paper towels.  Put it in a roasting pan, and then spread it with some butter.  Saute an onion and a celery stalk on the stove until slightly tender, and then stuff it in the empty cavity.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper. 

I usually roast a chicken at 425 degrees for 30 minutes, then turn it down to 375 degrees for an additional 45 minutes. The higher temp browns the chicken a little more, and makes the skin crunchy.  (yes, the skin is super-bad for you.  But just a little taste now and then won't kill you.)   However, to be safe, I also use a digital thermometer probe that beeps when the chicken itself is 160 degrees.  Then it comes out of the oven and is tented in foil, and the temp coasts up to 165 degrees, which is a safe eating temp. 

Mashed potatoes and canned green beans rounded out the meal nicely, along with my husband's homemade gravy.  Have I mentioned lately that he totally rocks with gravy and sauces!!!!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Baby Steps: Veggies

I am willing to admit it now:  mistakes were made in trying to get Will to eat healthfully.  For example, we did not offer a big variety of different fruits and veggies from the beginning.  Instead, we kind of allowed him to get stuck on one or two.  Also, we got into a nasty habit of making him separate meals from whatever we were eating every night.  That's been broken in the past year, and I'm happy to say that he will usually try just about anything once and doesn't give us a fuss.  Though every once in a while he will get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich if we're having something super-spicy. 

Now that Sean is going to be ten months old in a couple of weeks, we've started a little bit of table food.  He had peas and a little bit of rice this afternoon, and once I mashed the peas slightly he loved them.  Tonight, I sliced up a steamed green bean really fine and he enjoyed picking it up and stuffing them in his mouth.  He's at that stage where he'll eat anything we put in front of him.  Boy, I miss that!  The trick is to continue offering different things, and I'm determined to be more successful this time. 

Peanut Butter Banana Bread

I'm a little behind on food posts, so let me catch up....

There was a special feature on banana breads in the October Cooking Light, and the Peanut Butter Banana Bread sounded fantastic!  I love a peanut butter banana sandwich, so obviously this would be the best version of that.  Finding myself with a little extra time last Sunday, I started to put it together.  Much to my chagrin, it called for some ingredients I didn't have on-hand.  Whole wheat flour....flaxseed....nope, not in my kitchen.  I'm hoping to change some of that in the near future as I have an appointment with a nutritionist next week.  But---the idea of peanut butter banana bread was already imprinted on my brain, so to my friend Google I go. 

The recipe I ended up going with called for walnuts, but I substituted shelled peanuts to give it extra peanutty flavor.  It was so good, I brought some to work to share.  Will loved it for breakfast, too.  Definitely something I want to make again.

Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Last Night's Dinner:  Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Goat Cheese.

I love goat cheese, I really do.  It pairs well with nuts like pistachios, and I really enjoy it on crackers and accompanied with grapes.  It makes a roasted veggie roll-up special and it melts nicely into a sauce as well.  So when I had some goat cheese left over from another recipe, I was happy to find something to use it up.

I get a lot of magazines, and I found this recipe in this month's Family Circle. , in an article about quick weeknight dinners.  I'm always game for new weeknight dinner recipes!  They suggested serving it with angel hair pasta and steamed green beans, but I wasn't in the mood for pasta and opted for rice instead.   I really should learn to read ahead, because there was a sauce to sop the pasta in.  Oh well, it went well over the rice too!

  The end result  It also called for sun-dried tomatoes, and I guess I'm just not too crazy about those.  They're very sweet and not at all what I think of when having tomatoes.  Brian had trouble with the goat cheese because of the texture.  (He is a texture guy....hating things like cheesecake and beans because they're "mishy."  Sometimes this makes our kitchen adventures challenging.)

Better luck next time, I think!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Tooting my Own Horn

I made a batch of chili on Saturday night and I have got to say, it's one of the best batches ever.  :)  The difference this time is that instead of just ground beef, I also put chunked-up pork tenderloin.   The rest is just crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, spices, onion and peppers.  In order to have dinner on the table faster, the only accompaniment this time was corn bread fresh from the oven and a blend of cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses.  Brian and I put it in bowls and then crumbled the corn bread over the top, then sprinkled the cheese.  Yum!!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Savory Turnovers

When you think of a turnover, what do you picture?  I see sugary, buttery dough, with either raspberry or apple filling.  After seeing a recipe in Cooking Light this month for Squash and Apple Turnovers, I knew that I had to try it.

They were pretty labor-intensive, taking several days to make.  Well, I suppose that's not entirely truthful.  It took ME several days to make them.  I bought the goat cheese at lunch one day and left it in the fridge at work, so that's one day lost.  Then yesterday while I was sauteeing the apple and squash, I discovered that the "can of dinner rolls" was actually biscuit dough.  Score for biscuits, but dinner rolls is what the recipe called for.  So I got crescent rolls and rolled them out....well I attempted and then assigned Hubby with that task since he is so much more patient with it!  I put a few tablespoons of butternut squash, braeburn apple, onion and goat cheese mixture on the dough circle, folded 'em up and sealed them with the tines of a fork. 

The end result?  Savory fall goodness that will make a fantastic lunch this week.  Perhaps with a bowl of steamy-hot soup.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Anniversary Dinner

For our tenth wedding anniversary, Brian and I took a trip to New York City to have dinner, catch a show and stay in a fancy hotel.  It was fantastic!  I've already summed up the rest of the trip on my other blog so now it's time for all who've been waiting to hear about it, the food!

We stayed at "The London" on W 54th.  Very impressive, simple and beautiful hotel.  It is also the home of not one but two of Gordon Ramsay's Restaurants.  Yes....Gordon Ramsay, as in "Hell's Kitchen."  I don't watch the show but I have heard plenty about it and have several friends that do.  I have heard enough about the show to know that he yells a lot and one friend of mine asked me (after proclaiming her intense jealousy) if I had any urges to call anyone a "stupid donkey" while I was there.  No, I did not!  :)

There are two restaurants on-site.  One is fancier (albeit more expensive) and the other one is smaller and more intimate. We chose the smaller one, which is called Maze.  After perusing the menu we opted for the "Tasting Menu" which consisted of five courses including dessert.

First Course:  Sweet Corn Soup with Shrimp and Nectarine.  These are flavors I would never think of putting together, but they paired very well!  The sweetness was perfect and not over-the-top.  I actually found myself wanting another bowl.

Second Course:  Watermelon Salad with Tomato and Feta.  Again, three things I'd never put together but this was soooo refreshing.  I'd make this for a summer party for sure. 

Third Course:  Roasted Sea Scallop with English Peas and Tomatoes.  Clearly the biggest roast scallop I have ever seen!!  It was cooked perfectly with no rubber-like texture.  There was just enough butter to moisten it, and the peas and baby tomatoes were a lovely accompaniment.

Fourth Course:  Split Menu.  Brian chose the steak and I opted for the salmon.  The steak came with pommes anna, and "spiced eggplant."  It was more like an eggplant puree, which Brian politely declined.  My salmon came with butternut squash and gnocchi.  The salmon was perfect!  I guess I'm not a gnocchi fan though, I've tried it a couple of times and I'm just not into it. 

Final Course:   The Dessert.  Brian chose a chocolate pudding-like concoction infused with cardamom, with almond ice cream on the side.  Mmmmm.......just like the center of a molten chocolate cake!  And the almond ice cream was obviously fresh, and definitely something I'd like to taste again.  My dessert was a custard cream with fresh berries and strawberry sorbet.  Again, very fresh sorbet, I'm usually not a fan of strawberry liquids or desserts but this was incredible. 

So, in conclusion I'd say that dinner was excellent.  Not the best meal of my life (which was a discussion had at dinner, we challenged each other to name the best dinner we'd ever had in the past ten years!) but certainly delicious.  The tasting menu made me feel like a celebrity judge! 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Applause for Applesauce

I put together a pot of applesauce on Sunday night....just on the stove and not in the crockpot as planned.  One good thing about the recipe I used out of "The Joy of Cooking" is that it only takes about thirty minutes to make, and a good part of that is unattended while the apples soften and cook.  It's also a wonderful thing that you don't necessarily have to peel the apples, and the apple skin gives the sauce a bit of color.  I borrowed my mother's food mill and the apples dreamily turned into sauce, leaving the peels behind.

And now to introduce my new favorite thing for breakfast....instant oatmeal topped with hot applesauce!  mmmmmmm.

Next up:  perhaps the butternut squash and apple turnovers that I've been eyeing all week in this month's Cooking Light.  Even if the only person that will eat them is me!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Bad, Pumpkin-Lovin' Dog

Brian made Pumpkin-Molasses Muffins to take to a party yesterday.  It was a fantastic Autumn/Halloween party at our friend Chris and Jenny's house.  Jenny is an avid photographer, and she was taking pictures of all the kids in their Halloween costumes in her beautifully themed yard. 

Anyway, isn't it funny how most pumpkin recipes do not require the use of an entire can of pumpkin?  You always have some left over and what the heck do you use it for?  Brian did a little Google research, and, with the addition of two overripe bananas, decided to make Pumpkin Banana Bread.  I came home from a night out with the Girls on Saturday night and there was a fresh, hot loaf of Pumpkin Banana Bread in the kitchen.  And let me tell you, it was awesome!  I only regret that you can't taste or smell it's rich deliciousness through your modem, Readers.  At breakfast we all had a slice and Will loved it as well.  Brian then wrapped it up with visions of slices every day this week at breakfast.

Alas, it was not meant to be.  For when we returned from said Autumn Party, the loaf was unwrapped and SOMEONE had eaten the entire top!  At first I blamed the preschooler....but after closer inspection I knew who the blame was assigned.  Joey must've climbed up on the kitchen chair and wolfed the goodie.  I'm actually shocked that he left ANY of it, obviously he hasn't been paying attention to the lessons my parent's Labs, Ben and Jerry, have taught him.  Brian and I were so disappointed, Joey was sent to "bed" for the rest of the night. 

So, another time, I'll share the recipe.  For now I'm still bummed and only a slice of this decadence will cheer me up.  :)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Poached Eggs

For every cook, there's something that is a challenge.  Mine is sauces.  I'm terrible at making from-scratch sauces.  I've tried to make my own cheese sauce for homemade mac n cheese but alas, it's not meant to be.  Pan sauce, gravy, spaghetti sauce, pesto.....they all meet the same fate on my stove.  Not that I won't keep trying.  I wish that I could find a class on sauce-making tips.  (Not that I'd have the time for it, anyway!)

Brian's "Mount Everest" is poached eggs.  Poached eggs are in another favorite in our house...Eggs Benedict.  That's that wonderful dish of English muffins topped with Canadian bacon, poached egg and Hollandaise sauce.  However, a poached egg can be made by itself, served with toast for sopping up all that yolk.  (mmmm)    They're absolutely delicious, but require quite a bit of set-up, delicate handling and precise timing.  If the poaching water isn't hot enough, they get to be a mess.  And if you cook them too long the yolks turn hard. 

So after reviewing a tutorial in a magazine, Brian went for the "climb" this morning.  I'll let the results speak for themselves in pictures:

Cooking in a pan of water and cider vinegar.  The one on the bottom left isn't quite going to make it!

Two poached eggs and a side of sausage
Now THAT'S what a poached egg is supposed to look like!

Now Brian's "Everest" is nothing more than a little sledding hill.  Hmm....maybe I should get working on some Hollandaise sauce and together we can make that Eggs Benedict happen!

Autumn Harvest

I'm a little behind in posting, and behind in cooking as well!

Last week we went apple picking with the boys.  It was a hot-as-hell, humid day that felt like we should be at the beach or something instead of an apple orchard.  It was a FANTASTIC place, with a playround for the kiddos, wagon rides and store and kitchen that you could purchase treats.  After spending an hour picking apples (Cortlands, Galas, Mutsus and Golden Delicious) we decided to call it a day and headed to the kitchen area.  I got caramel apples and cider donuts for us (and two bottles of water due to the heat!)  Despite the warmth, it was the perfect fall (Summer??) day. 

So far, I've only baked an apple pie, but I've got big plans for the rest of the apples.  First up-applesauce!  I'm going to be a bit smarter this year and borrowed my mother's food mill so that not only do I not have to peel the apples, the peels won't be in the finished sauce!  I also got this month's Cooking Light and there's some fantastic apple recipes in there, as well as one for peanut butter banana bread.  Not to mention two dinners featuring apples, which I've put on the menu. 

I LOVE Autumn!!!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Festive Fall Supper

Tonight's Dinner was (ta-da!) Pork Roast with Apples and Sage. 

There's really not much to say other than "wow!"  This may be our Holiday dinner this year, in fact.  Bacon, sage, apples, pork.....all of that together equals awesome!  A very nice fall supper, indeed.  The only thing missing is apple pie for dessert.

Next week we're going apple picking.  I'm already pulling recipes together and trying to be a girl with a plan!  Stay tuned for our Second Annual Applefest. :)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Hamburger "Invention"

In a quest to hurry up and "get things done" tonight, we scratched the meatloaf idea on the menu and opted for the ho-hum choice of spaghetti with meat sauce.  Hamburger may be versatile, but all we seem to be able to do with it is burgers, meat sauce and tacos.  Or some variation of these three things.

Then it was discovered that (gasp!) we were out of spaghetti sauce!  How did we let this happen!!  Since we had the ingredients for meatloaf, we mixed up a batch of meat-mix.  A pound of ground beef, 1 egg, some oregano and parsley, onion powder and a cup of bread crumbs.  Brian formed patties, and cooked them on the stovetop.  Then he took my suggestion of a "sauce" of some kind, and made this gravy...thickened with a little Wondra.  The end result was the perfect chilly-weather comfort food, when served with mashed potato and canned green beans.  Not very chilly today, but there was one heck of a rainstorm, so it fit nicely.  The meat was soft and required no knife to cut into, and the spice blend was perfect.  And Brian is the King of Sauces, he can whip up a sauce to go with anything.    The best part?  There's leftovers for tomorrow's lunch!

Just goes to show you, necessity IS the mother of invention.   And that being short of ingredients can indeed lead you someplace wonderful.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Just Plain Wrong

 Brian had an interesting story to share from work today.  Apparently there is a "Weight Watchers at Work" group at his place of employment.  Since his desk is thisclose to the lobby, he often hears them getting out of their meeting, and is treated to these people sharing stories about points, recipes and weight loss.  Today, some of the participants brought their versions of slimmed-down treats.  Well, Brian didn't know that these were "slimmed down," so when one woman offered him a brownie, he took it.  It wasn't exactly a good brownie...and the woman asked him what he thought.  Not wanting to be impolite, he said "'s....a little dry."  And then she tells him the reason why:  one of the main ingredients?  Is BLACK BEAN PUREE.  I'm serious.  And another person had chocolate chip cookies.  With CHICK PEAS IN THEM.  Seriously, if you are looking for a brownie you can eat without feeling guilty?  Stop at one brownie.  Both of us agree that we'd rather have no brownies or chocolate chip cookies at all than ones made with black beans and chick peas.  Man, I barely like hummus. 

I asked Brian if she had made this recipe up herself.  He said he wasn't sure, so out of my morbid curiosity, I googled it.  (God Bless Google!)  Oh no......there are actually a lot of recipes out there for black bean brownies and chocolate chip-chickpea cookies.   C'mon...really??  One website actually went as far as to call their brownies "amazing!"   To quote Susan Powter...."Stop the Insanity!!"

(p.s.  I have nothing against Weight Watchers, or handy tricks to lose weight.  Or good recipes that are lower in fat and calories.)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Summer's Last Hurrah

Labor Day has come and gone, which means summer has unofficially ended.  The temps have even started to drop at night, making for excellent sleeping weather.  :)  I've always said that September and October are the best months of the year.  :)

We spent the first part of the holiday weekend visiting family, and Monday was just the four of us hanging out at home.  We planned on a simple menu for dinner:  barbecued chicken, pasta salad and fresh corn on the cob.

Brian bought a whole chicken and cut it up to individual pieces.  And I have to admit, it really is fresher that way.  And it creates plenty of leftovers.

Now, imagine the chagrin when I realize that (GAH) we're out of barbecue sauce!  You always notice these kinds of things when the cook is elbow-deep in raw chicken and there's no quick options.   So I flew by the seat of my pants.  What sounds good....I know!  Citrus and Basil Marinade.  I threw it together in my blender, all ingredients in the kitchen and on-hand.  The end result was tangy deliciousness....very taste-of-summer.  Crisis averted!

Crafty Mama's Citrus-Basil Marinade

I call this a marinade, but really, the chicken pieces only soaked in it for about fifteen minutes.  Believe me, it was plenty of time. 

In a blender, toss in:

1 cup orange juice
1 tbsp minced garlic
1/3 cup orange marmalade
6 fresh basil leaves
2 tbsp lemon juice
a little ground black pepper

Set blender to "chop" for about 20 seconds, then "mix" for 20 more.  Place chicken pieces in a big plastic bag, then pour in the marinade.  Seal bag, squeezing out excess air.   Refrigerate for desired resting time/optimal flavor. 


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Summer Nights

I got a new (to me) cookbook out of the library called "Kitchen Express" by Mark Bittman.  I loved his book "How to Cook Everything" and I will definitely be adding this cookbook to my wishlist.  Everything in the book requires only a few ingredients and tastes really fresh. This book is divided by season, with about 100 (?) recipes per section.  This week we tried Lemon-Parmesan Chicken and Spicy Grilled Pork with Peaches.

The Lemon-Parmesan chicken was really a new variation of an old favorite of mine:  breaded chicken.  This version had grated lemon zest and parmesan cheese mixed directly in the breadcrumb mixture.  I'm not a fan of breading the chicken, but I love the finished product so I got in and got my hands dirty!  (I hate rolling my own meatballs for the same reason.)  Also, pounding the chicken into a thin cutlet is a great stress-reliever!   I did change one thing; instead of cooking the breaded chicken cutlet on the stove in butter until it was cooked through, I browned it in butter on both sides and then finished it in the toaster oven.  Anytime I've e ever attempted to cook a breaded chicken cutlet on the stove alone, I've burned the coating into a black mess.  This resulted in a golden, crunchy crust with just the right amount of butter.  Paired with boiled fingerling potatoes and fresh green beans, and this was lovely!

Spicy Grilled Pork with Peaches was a little different from how we usually have pork around here.  The recipe calls for peach butter, which, thanks to my friend Mrs. I, we had an unopened jar in the house!  You mix some fresh garlic and some spices with the peach butter, and coat the pork chops before putting them on the grill.  I had gotten some peaches, but unfortunately, they weren't quite ripe.  Brian grilled 'em anyway, and they just didn't taste how I expected.  Then I got a couple of bites from the other peach half on the plate and it was just like peach pie filling, hot and sweet.  (minus crust, of course.)   I'd try grilled peaches again sometime, only making sure they're ripe first.  The pork was fantastic!  This one is definitely something I want to make again and again.

So there you have it, two dinners worth their salt on these waning summer nights.  Pretty soon September will be here, the nights will be cooler, and these two delicious dishes will be a distant, sweet memory.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Tradition is Made

 Over a year ago, while perusing Alton Brown's book "I'm Just Here for the Food," Brian discovered a curious recipe.  It's a little thing called "Chip Chop" and as soon as he saw the recipe, he thought that it would be a fun thing to try.

Calories aren't listed in AB's books, and AB Himself often states "I said it was delicious,  I didn't say it was good for you."  So, in this house, "Chip Chop" is now an annual tradition. 

This thing is awesome!  Essentially it's just a pork chop, dredged in crushed salt and vinegar potato chips.  Flavor-wise, it's SO. MUCH. MORE.  It's crunchy, junky and perfect.

In the book, AB suggests side dishes such as fried green tomatoes or macaroni and cheese. We had none of these things in the house, and frankly, those things paired with Chip Chop make me want to check to see if our health insurance covers bypass surgery.  :)  So we paired it with a green salad with light honey mustard dressing and it was good!

p.s.  Will did not partake of the Chip Chop.  Rather, he settled on a leftover burger, green beans and applesauce.  First time in a few weeks he didn't have the same dinner that we did.  Progress is being made in that direction as well!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Fresh AND Cheap!

I can't believe it, but as a family we're getting better at this penny-pinching thing.  At first it was tough, but now it's almost like a game, seeing what we can do to save a few bucks. 

One thing that can always use cutting is the grocery bill.  I mean, it's SO EASY to pile all sorts of items in the ol' grocery chariot, and then nearly pass out from the sticker shock.  But do you put anything back once it's reached the conveyor belt?  Probably not.  Lately I've gone heavy on fresh produce, because we could all use some more of it, nutritionally and waistline speaking.  This is the most expensive part of the trip, by far!  It just doesn't seem fair that cookies and ice cream are often cheaper than apples, salad greens and watermelon. 

So, for fun, I checked out a little store called "Banana Joes."  I walked in, expecting more of a vegetable stall and found much more!  Instead of just ears of corn and maybe some apples, I was pleasantly surprised by peppers of all kinds, peaches, nectarines, lettuces, bananas, apples, you name it!  Also, they had a deli, milk, homemade chicken salad, hummus, and a slew of other things.  Most of it is local, but some things (bananas, milk) weren't local.  I filled up a cart with fruit, veggies and two gallons of milk.....for $27!  Peaches and blueberries for breakfast, salad greens, a rainbow variety of peppers for salad and chili....Now this is a place I can live with!  :)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Asian-Marinated Flank Steak

I know, I know.  I'm trying really hard not to make separate meals for our three-year old, getting him used to eating the same things that we eat.  But sometimes, you just want something with a little more complex flavor.

This Asian-Marinated Flank Steak is from June's Cooking Light Magazine.   It marinates for 24 hours in the fridge, and then you grill it.  We chose to serve it with white rice and use up the rest  of the veggies from the kabobs we had the other night.  The flavors were excellent paired together!  The only thing missing was a little bit of broth or pan sauce over the rice.  However, since this is a Cooking Light recipe, I totally get why there wasn't one!  And now I have some fabulous leftovers for work. 

The Big One, enjoying his waffles, fruit and Gogurt!

The Little One, enjoying the cool breeze and his Exersaucer while we eat!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Marriage of Coconut and Chocolate

I love it when Brian bakes.  Even though it's hot, and turning on the oven is almost UNTHINKABLE, I can sit on the other side of the house with a cool breeze blowing in the window, smelling whatever's in the oven.  I love benefitting from his baked treats.  And last night was no exception.

He's been tinkering with two of his favorite cookie recipes:  chocolate chip and coconut macaroons.  Both of them are awesome in their own right.  But what about putting them together?  Sounds fabulous.  Probably not going to be quite fabulous until a few tries though, so let the first batch commence!

The trick was to figure out how long they needed to bake in order for neither cookie to be raw OR burned.  So what ended up happening was to drop the dough in spoonfuls like normal, and then  pipe chocolate chip cookie batter out of a plastic bag with one corner cut out.  The chips kept clogging the hole, so they blew out several Target-brand storage bags.  Perhaps there's a pastry bag in Brian's birthday future!)  The first batch came out slightly underdone, but still tasty. 

Add just a little more baking time and VOILA!  Perfectly browned cookies.  However, they were slightly tough.  He tinkered with the butter amount in the chocolate chip cookies, substituting shortening for part of the butter so that they wouldn't spread out so much.  Next time he'll add back in some butter.  And then....the best cookie of the night was drizzled with some additional melted chocolate!
Same cookies, after dinner tonight.  Tonight's cookie was a little softer, perhaps from sitting in a container in a humid house all day.  Or perhaps these cookies are the kind of thing that's better the second day?  Only time (and a lot more baking and taste-testing) will tell!

Currently, this cookie doesn't have a name.  Any ideas?

Thursday, July 22, 2010


In a further quest for good health, I bought a spaghetti squash.  I actually really like spaghetti squash, but don't buy it often 'cause I'm the only one that does!  I usually serve it with tomato sauce and half the amount of spaghetti than I usually have.  (Less carbs that way) It's also really good with just some butter, salt and pepper. 

So anyway, I did what I usually do:  poke a bunch of holes in it with a sharp knife and then microwave it whole.  I've heard of people cutting it in half, putting it face-down in a pan with a little water and baking it, but uncooked spaghetti squash can be VERY difficult to cut in half.  Out of the microwave, you can cut it in half easily, remove the seeds with a spoon and then scrape the flesh into "spaghetti strands."  Apparently, I didn't cut enough holes in it, because Brian was feeding the baby and heard it explode in the microwave!  Three seconds later, the timer went off, indicating that it was finished cooking.  What a mess!   Salvageable though, and delicious.  :)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Hooray! Grill's fixed.

The title of this blog says it all!  It turns out that we could purchase new burners for our grill, which has been out of commission for a couple of months.  (It's bad when the flames come outside the grill!)  I will gladly take a $40 fix over buying an expensive new gas grill ANY day!

So far, we've had grilled hot dogs, steak, kielbasa, and some potatoes and corn in foil packets.  Welcome back!  :) 

Friday, July 16, 2010

All-American Steak Fajita

As with many, many other things in our house, our Fajita Night has now been AltonBrown-ized!

He recently had an entire show dedicated to tacos.  I didn't watch it, but you know Brian did.  And if I had to guess, I'm sure that AB is totally against the little packet of seasoning that comes in a taco kit.  Or against taco kits at all.  That's ok, because I'm not crazy about them either.  That packet....not so much flavor and way too much sodium.  Recently I had just been adding diced onion and a little cumin to the meat.  However, this taco concoction rocks!  I know it's for tacos, but it really jazzes up steak fajitas. 

We used Taco Potion #19 (AB's recipe), skirt steak, onions and green/orange bell peppers.  Then for topping time:  Brian likes 'em crunchy so what's crunchy?  Leftover broccoli slaw!  It really added something.  I also put sliced avocado on mine.  Finish with some colby-jack cheese and voila!  A masterpiece!

I am so looking forward to my leftovers lunch at work today!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Almighty Egg

Today's breakfast is brought to you by the incredible egg. My favorite-- A spinach and colby jack omelet. add some leftover chili potatoes from last night pork chop dinner and today is officially started out right!

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Midwest Eats

Vacation food is always a good blog topic, and this trip to Wisconsin is no exception.

First let me say, that Wisconsin exceeded my expectations in many ways.  I now have a great appreciation for "America's Dairyland." * Wisconsin cheese is awesome!  We went on vacation with another family (the fabulous Ratties)  and there were nine of us total.  Well, eight of us were eating regular food, Sean wasn't up for it yet.  :)  So we did a little grocery shopping and the first thing to take me by surprise is the cheese selection at the deli counter.  Wow!!  And my friend said that their selection was limited! 

Two more "Wisconsin and Midwest" things that I experienced was Cheese Curds, and Culver's.  Cheese curds....I don't know what I was thinking that they were but essentially they taste like mozzarella sticks.  Sometimes they surprise you and instead of mozzarella it's cheddar.  Culver's is a burger and frozen custard joint native to the Midwest.  Their burgers are fantastic, and I really enjoyed my frozen custard.  Brian however, did not enjoy his as much since I brought him home some and it was more of a milkshake, it had melted so much. 

But the best things that I tried were in Lake Geneva.  We went to "The Newport of the Midwest" for a day and grabbed a quick bite to eat before getting on a ferry to see the sights that Lake Geneva had to offer.  I got a "Chicago Style" hot dog:  dog and bun, mustard, relish, onion, spicy peppers, pickle, tomatoes and celery salt.  I thought that it seemed like a lot of stuff to pile onto a dog, so I got mine without tomato.  WOW!!!!  The relish is this atomic-green color, and the peppers certainly are spicy!  The only thing I would change about it is to chop up the pickle and peppers so that it was easier to eat.  And next time, I'll be sure to eat it with tomatoes.  So good!  Our friend Scott said that in the Midwest, it's all about the Chicago Dog.  All the convenience stores and restuarants have the fixings to make an official Chicago Dog!

The other thing was an ice cream shop voted "Wisconsin's Best" for 33 years at the Wisconsin State Fair.  They had so many unique flavors of ice cream.  I settled on the "Fat Elvis" which is banana ice cream with a peanut butter ripple and chocolate chips.  Ahhhhh......a delicious way to end the day.

All in all, I loved Wisconsin.  But if I lived there, I'd have a serious issue:  too much good food!!!!!

*and for it being America's Dairyland, for all the farmland that I saw in Wisconsin, I didn't see even one cow.  Where are they hiding them??  :)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Summer Salad

In a quest to eat more fruits and veggies and having an empty fridge post-vacation (minus the rotten chinese food and spaghetti in the back) , I started fresh at the grocery store yesterday.  Came home with peaches, plums and nectarines.  And that thing that always tastes better in a restaurant than in your own home....salad. 

I love salad.  The Asian Chicken Salad I had from the Ninety-Nine on Saturday night was excellent.  However, when it comes to making salad at home, I'm not so good about it.  I thought about it carefully at the grocery store and I think I've figured it out:  I just get bag-o-salad or iceberg lettuce and then just chop whatever I have on hand and call it salad.  And a salad it is, albeit a mediocre one.  But if you put some thought into it...maybe it could be so much better?  I also got to thinking about dressing.  I mean c'mon, it's just not right that salad dressing has more calories than a cheeseburger! 

I came home with ingredients and an idea.  I ended up with a dreamy salad:  Romaine, hardboiled egg (which I usually am not crazy about but this was good) tomato, cucumber, REAL bacon pieces that I cooked up special, sliced red onion and light honey mustard dressing.  (Newman's Own, has a little kick and it doesn't taste "light" at all)  Now THAT'S a salad!  So good in fact, I tossed some chicken strips on it this morning and brought it to work for lunch.  Happiness is....a plan that comes together.  Can't wait for another new creation.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Use it Up!!

One of the weirdest parts of getting ready for a trip...using up the perishables in your fridge!  In anticipation of this, we didn't do any grocery shopping this weekend.  Nope, no more bagels, orange juice, etc etc.  Working on finishing up what may go bad while we're on vacation in Wisconsin.  Right now....looks like it will be spaghetti and cupcakes for breakfast tomorrow.  :)  I mean, can't let these precious cupcake beauties go to waste!  Also, we have four eggs, a little coffee creamer and I've defrosted pork chops for dinner tonight.  A side dish ought to be interesting. 

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Agenda of a Cupcake

It's been a blah day.  It's been a crappy week.  With nowhere to go today, Brian and I had taken to lounging on the couch, watching World Cup and knitting.  (Guess who was doing what??)

So when Will said he was hungry and suggested cupcakes, I was very open to suggestion.  I too am hungry, and well, a cupcake sounds really good.  I tend to eat when I'm sad so it wasn't strange to desire baking.  Plus it gives us something to do instead of sitting and thinking.    I rifled through our cake mixes and had two choices:  spice cake or devils food.  Easy choice, no?  :)  The delectable goodies are baking in the oven, prepared as indicated on the back of the box.   However, to make them extra-special, I am going to make a chocolate-marshmallow frosting from scratch. 

Will's VERY excited about the cupcakes, although he doesn't realize that they're not for dinner.  I mean really, cupcakes for dinner?  I'll bet in his three-year-old mind, that would be wickedly awesome.  He's full of questions, starting with the ever-present "Are the cupcakes done yet?"  Repeated every five minues.  The really interesting one was asking what cupcakes do when they're not baking or being eaten.  Hmmm.  I don't think cupcakes really have an agenda.  No calendar to fill, no appointments to run to, maybe a birthday party to attend, but pretty much all they do is sit.  Bake, sit, get eaten.  The life cycle of a cupcake.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Single-Mom Dinners

Hubby's in Cleveland this week, so dinners have to be really easy.  After all, it's tough to make dinner for me and the Big One, while the Little One is usually clamoring for food too.  The Little One recently discovered that he likes fruit.  Not baby food-fruit, he likes that, but he really likes "real" fruit.  He was lusting SOOOOO hard this weekend after my watermelon slice at a birthday party that I gave in and let him lick it.  He loved it!  I tried the same thing with a strawberry slice this morning at breakfast and he was all over that thing, too.  It's funny what you'll try with a second kid, I never would have held up a piece of fruit to Will when he was a baby to let him "lick a taste."    :)

Anyway, with being a "single mom" and not having the neat-o ability to grow a third arm (why not!!!!)  dinners for me and Will have been super-simplified.  Like quesadillas for him last night and me eating a soft taco, standing up over the sink.  Tonight I said I'd make pancakes.  When I asked if he wanted blueberry or chocolate chip, DUH he said chocolate!  I didn't even bother shredding zucchini in them.  Then, to my horror, I realized that we were almost out of Bisquick.  Nope, not even enough to eke out a batch of pancakes.  Sean was screaming like crazy, the house was hot, and  I had just had a miserable time of changing Sean's crib sheet for the third time this week.  (Seriously...somebody needs to figure out a way to make that easier!)  I very nearly caved and tossed the whole fam damily in the car to have an impromptu dinner at Friendly's.  What stopped me was our quest to save $$$, and Will really was excited by the idea of pancakes for dinner.  And the rain shower had already spoiled my plans of eating the pancakes al fresco.  So I pulled out "The Bible."  And I made pancakes from scratch.  It was surprisingly easy, and the cooked up nice on the electric griddle.  And wow, they were delicious!  I mean, breakfast and chocolate for dinner?  What's not to like?  The pancakes were slightly thin, but so delicious.  I'm telling you, I'm never buying Bisquick again! 

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Spice and Sass

I think that there's something out there that I haven't tried and that I should....Vietnamese food.

We had "Vietnamese Spiced Pork Chops" the other night from a Cooking Light recipe.  Usually if I'm having seconds it's of the starch, like rice, pasta or potatoes.  But this meat was so good, I had a second piece!  I realize that it's not really "authentic" Vietnamese cooking if it's in Cooking Light.  But I found the spices intriguing enough to want more. 

Then on Friday night, as we were driving home from our friends' wedding, I spied a big new Vietnamese restaurant on the way home.  It's definitely a sign.  :)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Surprise! Taste Changes

I've been saying it for years:  I like seafood.  But I despise seafood salad.  Lobster, it.  But when you mix it with mayo and put it on a roll, well, YUCK! 

Then I found myself at work the other day, putting out food for their food program.  Lunch was seafood salad on whole wheat, three-bean salad and fruit.  Having had a very quick bowl of cereal for breakfast, I was starving!  Like black-hole-FEED ME kind of starving!  I eyed the seafood salad cautiously, and said "What the hell." 

I was surprised!  While I didn't love it, I didn't hate it either.  I think the difference is that this seafood salad was chopped very fine and wasn't saturated with mayo.  And the wheat bread made a difference, too.  It's not something I'd order on my own, but good to know that if it's the only thing available I won't go home hungry.  :)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Giving it Another Go

I've said this before:  I used to be a big fan of Cooking Light magazine.  I used to bring my copy to work and on my lunch break, I'd circle and star recipes that I was interested in making.  And I'd actually make some of them.  Then, as time went on, the love affair went stale.  Ingredient lists got really long, with expensive things that I would never use again.  I became disenchanted, and declined when it came time to renew.  However, I've held on to my Annual compilations from 2001, 2002 and 2004, and I've cooked the hell out of 'em! 

I got a wake-up call at the doctor this year after my second pregnancy.  I started blood pressure meds and upon getting the prescription filled, I promised myself that I'd start taking better care of myself.  One of those ways is to eat better.  Two things I'm doing to achieve that:  not eat from stress or boredom, and cook healthier meals.  The not-eating-unless-I'm-hungry thing is a bit tricky sometimes but it seems to be getting replaced by a new habit:  knitting!  Nothing soothes a stressful mind than banging out a few rows on your latest creation.  (and I've got the pictures on my Ravelry account to prove it!) Then, I was flipping through a Cooking Light mag at a checkout and discovered something:  the food in the magazine is looking good!  So I took a chance and resubscribed.  I got my first issue a few weeks ago and I've only made one recipe so far.  But the pen is back, with circles and stars intact.  :)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Cooking up a Storm....In a Storm!

Lots of thunderstorms this weekend.  It's been a very busy one, with something going on for pretty much all of it!  And most of it was food-related.  We went to a wedding on Saturday, and it was a very simple affair, including a potluck reception.  I kind of like this idea!  However, with work, two kids and going out the night before, I just didn't have time to make something for it.  So we picked up some chips and pineapple salsa on the way.  Luckily, no one else thought of this and it went nicely with the other things on the table.  One of my knitty friends baked a cake that was out of this world!  It was a spongy roll cake, with a sweet cream and fresh berry filling.  Awesome!  Congrats and Best Wishes to Danielle and Dave!  :)

Tonight's dinner is grilled chicken breast with melon salsa.  Brian made the salsa this morning from honeydew melon, canteloupe, red onion, cilantro, jalapeno and simple syrup.  The recipe called for agave nectar but I'll be honest, I don't know what that is.  And since I was short on time, we made a substitution.  We hit a snafu when Brian went out to light the grill.  I think I forgot to mention this....our grill caught fire a few weeks ago.  Yes, a grill is "supposed" to catch fire, however this was on the outside.  We'd lost one burner but could still cook.  Today we lost a second one so the chicken's grilling on our George Forman grill.  It's not looking good for the season as far as grilling is concerned.  And gas grills are so damn expensive.  I'm hoping that we can hold off until the big summer clearance, when they start bringing in the grills at the hardware store and putting out the snowblowers!!

I'm also bringing a meal to my friend Shelly tomorrow.  Shelly had her baby boy "Tadpole" (not his real name) two weeks ago and I'm bringing her family a vegetarian meal tomorrow night after work.  I'll stay long enough to visit and meet the baby, and also help her out with some cleaning or whatever.  Naturally, I left the cookbook that I picked a recipe from at work, because that's just how I roll.  :)

I am sorry to report that Crafty Mama is seriously lacking in the gardening department.  Every time that I have time to work on it, it's raining!  This afternoon has been simply ridiculous.  I'm afraid all I'll get to this year is maybe a couple of tomato plants.  Oh well, there's always next year.

Lastly, my pup Joey is not feeling well.  He was sick this morning and I pulled his food.  After making sure he wasn't throwing up for the rest of the day, Mama made him a big bowl of white rice and boiled hamburger.  He was really appreciative, let me tell you!  This is a great thing to make when your dog's not feeling good.  If you don't have any hamburger on hand, chicken's a good substitute. 

So that's it for now.  Whew!  What a whirlwind weekend!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Latest and Greatest

Sometimes a blog post needs to be about more than one food.  Though these two are worthwhile for their own post, it would be rather short!

Know how some foods just go together like a perfect marriage?  Like, chocolate and peanut butter for example.  Or chocolate and marshmallow.  Or chocolate and banana.  Mmmm....oops I got distracted for a minute.  Two things that were just meant for each other:  spinach and feta.  For Mother's Day Brian said that he would make anything I wanted, so I chose Spinach and Feta Stuffed Chicken Breasts.  On Mother's Day we were at my parent's house for dinner so we grilled and had the chicken breasts the next night.  These things rocked!  Not only were the chicken breasts stuffed with just the right amount of spinach, feta and garlic, they were coated in bread crumbs, browned on the stovetop and then baked.  Heaven....I think that the Greeks were onto something when they put those two together.

At least one night a week, we have an "easy night."  Usually this is something like Spaghetti and Meatballs, which I'm kind of sick of having.  Same thing with tacos.  So this week for something different, I put turkey club sandwiches on the menu.  Turkey, cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayo and three pieces of bread.  Oh!  And three pieces of the thickest, prettiest bacon I have seen outside of  a Cracker Barrel.  Different, and delicious!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

In the Garden

Hooray, it's May!  That can only mean that it's almost time to plant our vegetable garden.

My first year planting, I had a great year with a bumper crop of tomatoes and zucchinis.  Last year, high of the previous year's successes, I got cocky and tried to expand way too quickly.  It was a ridiculously wet summer, and it took out most of my plants.  I got like six zucchini (which Brian says is more than plenty for him!)   and the plant just shriveled and died, turning to mush in the rain.  Zucchini likes wet summer weather, but this was just too much.  The peppers I had planted never came to fruition, the cucumbers and carrots were too small to be edible, and the sugarmelon?  Sprouted then withered. 

So, as they say in sports, this is a rebuilding year.  After the soil is turned over, I am only planting zucchini, tomatoes and green beans.  I plan on a  lot of green beans, as they are the only veggie that Will eats willlingly.   One plant for regular tomatoes, and one for cherry tomatoes.  I don't care if I ever see a grape tomato again!  That's the only thing that grew really well last year, and we had bushels of them.  And there's only so much you can do with them, after you put them in salads and saute them in pasta a couple of times, you're sick of them.

I am also hoping that now that Will is three, he'll take a bit of an interest in helping take care of the plants.  Maybe if he gets to help water them he'll be more apt to eat them?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

How can you Hate S'Mores??

I was home alone with the kiddos last night while Hubby was at his last class of the semester.  Will was watching "Max and Ruby" while I was feeding the baby.  The episode featured the bunnies going on a "campout" and making s'mores.  Will adores campouts (which consist of setting up the sofa bed and having a breakfast "campout" in our house)  and someday would probably love to sleep in a tent.  Tonight, he asked if we could make s'mores.  So, being a s'mores lover myself, I decided to indulge him.  Normally he has a rainbow cookie before bed, tonight I would make him a special little treat of a s'more. 

Since I've mentioned that I'm alone with the boys, there obviously won't be a fire involved.  Roasted marshmallows for s'mores are infinitely better than microwaved ones, but it's just not gonna work tonight.  I've perfected the microwaved s'more over the year, the trick is to walk that fine line between squishy melted marshmallow and tire rubber.  S'mores made, I poured us each some milk and we had a seat at the kitchen table, anticipating divine goodness. 

Will chooses one, picks it up and squishes the two graham crackers together.  Marshmallow oozes between the layers, and he gives the concoction a look of disdain.  "Ugh....that's sticky.  Ewwww."  I encourage him to take a bite, and hegives the cracker the tiniest nibble I've ever seen.  Then he drops the entire s'more onto the paper plate and declares that he'd rather have a rainbow cookie instead.  Huh???

Sometimes, if I hadn't been there to witness his birth, I'd wonder if he was my kid.  :)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Grill Woes


Saturday night was the opening of Grill Season in our house.  It was to be just a simple meal of grilled kielbasa and potato packets.  Brian lit the grill and went inside to get the food. 

When he came back, flames were licking the OUTSIDE of the grill, near the control panel.  He quickly turned off the fuel supply and the flames died down.  Luckily there was no need for an emergency pizza, as the food was still inside the house.  So the kielbasa was grilled on the George Forman Grill, and the potatoes were adapted to a skillet. 

After some examination, Brian determined that there was an issue with the fuel line and fixed it for the time being.  However, one of the burners got taken out in the fracas, leaving us with two.  Last night was WAY TOO HOT in the house to cook, so he grilled hamburgers.  But it appears that our grill is on its last legs of it's  short, eight-year life. 

How come this kind of thing doesn't happen at the END of grilling season, when the gas grills are deeply discounted??  :(

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Cocktail Hour

Friday night, and friends over for dinner.  A nice way to relax with friends, a cocktail.  Just one...and I think I've found my new favorite. 

A Tequila Sunrise

This is a very simple drink, just orange juice, tequila and grenadine.  The grenadine is heavier than the juice, so it sinks to the bottom and makes for a very pretty drink.  Brian saw a Good Eats on pomegranates, and I was surprised to find out that grenadine is pomegranate, not cherry.   AB featured this drink as a use for grenadine syrup, and as soon as I saw it I knew I wanted to try one.  I'm not much of a drinker, but I do enjoy an occasional tequila drink.  Like frozen margaritas, those are the best!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Lemon-Soy Chicken

This is a really quick meal to prepare, it's a lot of "set it and forget it!"  Chicken thighs with a sauce of lemon and soy, served with rice to sop up the sauce.  So simple, so delicious!  I'm taking the rest of the leftovers for lunch today.  Chicken thighs are great....they're cheap, they cook easily, and they make great leftovers. 

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Best Sandwich in the World

IMHO, the best sandwich ever created is the #9 Pocket at D'Angelo's.  Lean steak, american cheese, peppers, onions and mushrooms.  Mmmm....I'm in heaven!  Happiest.  Lunch.  in a Long TIME!!  :)

I've tried to duplicate this simple, out-of-this-world goodness, but it never turns out the same.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Perfect Party

I'm very proud of myself.  Sean was baptized over the weekend, and we had the reception at the house afterwards for about 25 people.  Usually I stress to the gills over parties, rushing around cooking like a madwoman and cleaning my house.  (Yeah, because my party guests are going to critique our cleaning skills.)  I didn't freak out, and I didn't cook.  That's right, I didn't cook.  I ordered deli platters, a cookie tray, a small sheet cake and enough soda, beer and wine to fill two coolers in my kitchen.  I didn't agonize over what to make, and I didn't end up with tons of leftovers, just a small bag of leftover sandwiches and a little cake.  It was perfect, and I had as good a time as everyone else without obsession.  Hooray!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Double Duty

One of the problems with writing a menu is that if you punk out and order pizza because you didn't feel like cooking, you have something defrosted for a meal you didn't plan on having the next day.  I had bought swordfish at the grocery store on Saturday  for that night's dinner.  But when it came time to make them how I had planned (roasted in foil packets with red onion and lemon slices)  I had zero drive to actually prepare it.  So Hawaiian pizza indeed.  However, then last night we were supposed to have chili with leftovers for tonight.  (Brian goes to school for his master's on Monday nights)  So there I am on a Sunday afternoon, throwing together a batch of chili while hurriedly preparing the swordfish packets, along with potato packets for that night's dinner. 

It all came together though, and the fish came out well.....slightly overcooked.  A bit annoying, but what can you do.  However, I discovered a new way to prepare broccoli that's different from the usual "steam and butter" method.  I stir-fried it on the stove, and just as it was getting tender I mixed in a little Three Cheese Italian dressing.  Wow, was that good!!  So now tonight all that has to be done is microwave the chili and rice, and butter the cornbread.  I do love the easy nights!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Mmm Bacon

Besides my vegetarian friends, who doesn't love bacon?  Seems like there's a lot of new bacon ideas out there lately.  Some I'm more excited over than others.  Like the praline bacon that was featured on "Good eats,"....bacon with brown sugar sounds intriguing.  And I already know that an Elvis Burger (burger with just bacon and chunky peanut butter) is out-of-this-world good!  I know, I knocked it and then I tried it and figured out why the husband had been raving about it.  Then I get my Taste of Home magazine the other day.  They have a whole section on bacon recipes.  Cheese and bacon waffles...absolutely!  They sound fantastic, as does bacon scones.  However, I think I draw the line at candy-coated bacon.  I love chocolate, I love bacon.  I'm just not sure the two can go together.  However, I'd be willing to try it just once as an experiment.  :)

Friday, April 2, 2010

Try Thai

Here's something exciting--there's a new Thai restaurant in town!  The local Qdoba big surprise since it was about a block away from Moe's Tacos and Burritos (excellent!), Taco Bell and Chipotle Grill.  For my last day of freedom on maternity leave, as I was doing errands and running around, I found myself in their parking lot.  I decided to treat myself, thinking that the meal that I would order would probably be about the same price as the Panera sandwich that I was considering.

It's a small place, but classy-looking.  The menu is typical Thai, with curries, appetizers, Thai Iced Tea and a whole page of vegetarian options.  (Something to keep in mind the next time one of my handful of vegetarian friends is in town!)   I ordered the Masaman Chicken Curry....chicken, potato, carrot, zucchini in curry sauce with ground peanuts.  Awesome!  I savored every bite.  And when the bill came I was indeed correct, the same price as that sandwich and I got something so delicious and satisfying.  I did however, forget to get a take-out menu.  I have a feeling that this is somewhere that we'll order from again and again!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Adventures with Curry Powder

In a quest for "something different" I picked a Curried Chicken Recipe.  Having watched the "Good Eats" on Curry last night, I'm sorry to know that Alton Brown is really down on the use of curry powder.  Sure, it's not authentic to Indian cooking, but if you think I'm making my own garam masala like he did, you're crazy!  (Brian also pointed out last night during the episode that if we kept half the things in our kitchen that he suggests we'd need a warehouse.  And what's up with the ginger peeler that he had on the show?  Do I hear Unitasker???)

Anyway, this is Curried Chicken.  Curry powder, chicken breast, onion, celery, apple, chicken broth, rice, cornstarch.  I added a little cumin and some crushed red pepper for kicks.  There were suggestions for "optional" garnishes, so we went with golden raisins and peanuts.  No coconut or chutney in the house to add.  It actually was pretty good, and definitely "something different!"

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Finishing Touches

Little touches make all the difference.  A little garnish can turn a good meal into a great one.  Like a little bit of diced onion and cheese on top of a bowl of chili.  Hershey's syrup on a bowl of plain ice cream.  A little honey drizzled on a biscuit.

Or, in this case, chopped chives and sesame seeds sprinkled on top of an ordinary pork stir-fry.   The chives add some color to an already vibrant dish, and a mild onion flavor.  The sesame adds a little crunch.  Perfect! 

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Smothered Chicken over Biscuits

Lately, I'm lovin' the crockpot.  Since I am home during the day, it's not hard to pull something off, and I really, REALLY love the way you can assemble a meal in the morning and have it ready at dinnertime, and smell it cooking all day so you look forward to it!

This is Smothered Buttermilk Chicken over Biscuits....kind of like a chicken pot pie filling with biscuits instead of piecrust.  It was awesome!  And the leftovers were even better the next day.  Some things are just better the day after you make them!

I got this out of a slow cooker cookbook by Pillsbury, the same place the Pork Loin and Sweet Potato recipe came from.  I'm floored by the cookbook selection at my local library!  And after three or four tries to find it, I found a copy of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" by Julia Child when I was last there.  I've wanted to pore through this since seeing "Julie and Julia" last fall.  I brought it home and have been enthralled with it ever since.  But that's another blog post.  :)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Cooking for Everyone

The short order cook, she doesn't live here anymore!

In the past couple of weeks, I've worked really hard on getting Will to try new things. Some are met with success (pork) and others are not. (Peaches, salmon) We had gotten into the habit of asking Will all the time what he wanted for dinner, and being surprised (gasp!) when he'd say the same things over and over. Grilled cheese. Cereal bar. (The answer is no.....that's for breakfast!) Chicken. And lately, hot dogs. So several times a week, I introduce him to something new. He has to give it a bite, and if he doesn't like it, he doesn't have to eat any more. (We call it the "No Thank You" bite.) At first it wasn't successful, but he's coming around.

Then, I decided that I'm tired of cooking separate things for the picky toddler. So, after a hard look at our weekly menu choices for ourselves, I thought that it might be nice to make it a little more kid-friendly. No, I'm not making all of us grilled cheese sandwiches, hamburgers and french fries. Tonight's dinner was pork loin in the crockpot. It was a really easy recipe: season the pork loin and dump it in, followed by thinly sliced sweet potatoes and onion, and then dump apple juice over the whole thing and cook on low for 8 hours. Who can't love a recipe like that? Just Set it and Forget it!

To Will's credit, he tried the sweet potato without too much cajoling.  And true to my word, when he spit it out I didn't make him try another piece.  He did, however, eat the pork, the green beans, the applesauce and of course, the biscuit.  Further proof that he's our kid:  "Oh, I love biscuits!"  :)  Slowly but surely, making progress.