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Monday, February 28, 2011

Meatless Monday: Black Bean Soup and Pita Chips

So tonight was my last crazy Monday for awhile. My darling girl has dance rehearsal from 5-6 and then basketball from 6-7. My husband helps coach the basketball team so we all go to the park together. Before I left the house I put a one pound bag (sorted and rinsed) of black beans into the pressure cooker. I added a half an onion (chopped) several baby carrots, and some chopped celery, 1 bay leaf and teaspoon of cumin and a 1 teaspoon of chili powder. I put it on high pressure for 30 minutes. My pressure cooker is a self contained unit which turns off after the allotted time and allows the pressure to come down naturally (best for beans) and then switches to a "keep warm" setting. So when we walked in the soup was almost ready to go.

I added about 1/4 C of tomato salsa to the soup, about 1 1/2 C of frozen corn niblets, and a few dashes of worcestershire sauce. I stirred and tasted and realized I had forgotten to add salt. I never cook beans with salt because they can make the beans tough and not cook properly. Once salted this soup can be served with a garnish of sour cream, cheese or scallions or any mixture of those three things. We also had some pita chips. Light and yummy, it was a good dinner for a busy night!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sunday fun day!

Today we had church, then we were off to the Pig Races and then we took the kids to lunch and then basketball. I am invited to go to an Oscar viewing party at a friend's tonight, but before I go I am going to make homemade pizza.

There are a lot of homemade pizza dough recipes out there, I particularly like the ones from the A Year in Bread blog but today I just picked up a big blob of ready to go dough from the bakery department of my local grocery store. Even if you don't see pizza dough out in the cooler case at the bakery, go ahead and ask for it, they may have some in the freezer just waiting for you.

If you let the pre-made dough rest for an hour on the counter it is very easy to work with, just stretch it out in your hands on all sides and then roll it out with a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface. No complicated flipping or twirling necessary. I make a lot of pizza so I have a "pizza stone" (actually a ceramic tile from the hardware store) and a short handled pizza peel that I sprinkle liberally with corn meal to keep the dough from sticking. Some of the corn meal bakes right into the bottom of the pizza dough making it taste just like a real restaurant crust. YUM! So tonight's pizza will be topped with the leftover spaghetti sauce from last night, some turkey sausage and some sauteed mushrooms.

I am making some more homemade hummus for the Oscar party, some homemade vanilla pudding in chocolate cups and topped with whipped cream and strawberries, and a baked artichoke dip. I will be bringing some baked parmesan crackers and some pita chips and carrot sticks. You know this is going to be fun and all but if I don't get a 20 minute cat nap I will sleep right through the Best Picture award! Good night, hope your weekend was fun!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Computer Issues

My computer was in the shop all day, then it needed to be charged, have a new OS installed and then backed up, so I am only getting to blog now! Also I cleaned, all alone in the house for 5 hours today so I am happy (clean house!) but wiped out!

I made spaghetti and meatballs tonight, but these were special "end of the week" spaghetti and meatballs. The sauce was a can of tomato sauce, 1 can of chopped tomatoes and all of the vegetables leftover from the week. So, some spinach, some carrots, some celery, some garlic, some onion, all sauteed together in olive oil and spiced up with some oregano. BTW despite the popularity of EVOO I never cook with extra virgin olive oil, I cook with plain olive oil. Extra virgin is so delicate I merely use it to top things like hummus, to dress a salad, or to make a bread dipping sauce with herbs and salt. Good EVOO will come in a dark bottle to protect it from the light and must be stored well away from the heat of the stove lest it go bad and taste "off". You only buy the good stuff in small quantities because it is prone to rancidity and it should be a bright spring green color, not gold or yellow. It is also more expensive than standard olive oil. My favorite dressing in the world is REAL balsamic vinegar mixed with a bit of really good extra virgin olive oil.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Fish Friday: Yellowtail Snapper

So my husband met our favorite fisherman at the docks today to pick up our fish. This would basically be the only time in my life where I feel a bit like Ina Garten. But don't worry, that feeling will pass. We got some glorious yellowtail snapper, so fresh it was practically insulting. I decided to pan fry it and make a lemon butter pan sauce.

First I dredged the fish in flour seasoned with Paula Deen's house blend, then I added it to a pan sizzling with Smart Butter. (I usually work with real butter, so this was a risk.) The fish cooked perfectly on 3 minutes per side. The trick is to put the thicker fillets in the middle of the pan and the skinnier ones on the sides. Then I removed the fish and added a bit of flour, some more smart butter and the juice of half a lemon. I whisked all this together and then added some white wine. I stirred and stirred and then tasted. EW!!! Not good, I wonder if my lemons were just bigger than the ones called for in the recipe I was trying but ALL I could taste was lemon. I tried adding more wine and even some water, but I couldn't get the taste right. I poured it out, sauteed some spinach and made an Uncle Ben's 90 second rice bag of basmati rice and hoped for the best. The fish was delicious topped with a little fresh chopped parsley (the heat from the fish wilted it nicely), the rice needed a bit of butter and salt, the spinach was fine. I am danged disappointed in the pan sauce. Oh well, you live you learn, I just need another recipe.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Choose Your Own Adventure

I forgot I had a PTO meeting tonight, plus darling girl had basketball practice. Tonight was a choose your own adventure (dinner) night! Some of us had sliced pot roast over romaine lettuce and broccoli slaw, some of us had peanut butter crackers and apples, some of us had leftover hummus and carrot sticks. It was a free for all!

However the refrigerator is very, very clean, so BONUS!

Tomorrow is Fish Friday, I have to call my fisherman and put in an order. Oh yeah, my commercial fisherman delivers... to my house, super fresh fish that had been swimming only hours before. It's pretty sweet! Of course I am now spoiled for anything else!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The House That Jack Built

I am trying to clean and re-organize my kitchen. I can do the surface stuff pretty well, wash dishes, wipe down counters, pick up the floor, but it gets beyond me any time I have to do serious cooking, any big dinners or parties it seems to take me weeks to recover. The reason is simply I have too much stuff in too small of a kitchen. But here's the thing, I have moved 3 times in the last 3 years and I have pared my kitchen gadgets and pots and pans down to the bare minimum. I know that most people could do without 4 individual tart pans, but I can't. Heaven help me, baking is the only hobby I have left. I went from 3 spring form pans down to one, I have 3 nesting cake pans for layer cakes. I have 2 loaf pans and a pizza stone and a rolling pin. I use my blender like most people would use a food processor. No food processor for me, no stand mixer, no garlic press, no bread machine. I have it down to the essentials, but still, I moved into a house with 2 drawers in the kitchen. I have maybe 2 1/2 feet across at the widest piece of counter space, my side by side refrigerator was designed by someone who eats out a lot, I think. Of course it was a foolish idea for someone who enjoys cooking the way I do to move into a kitchen so tiny and ill-equipped, but once you start looking at homes where I live you realize there isn't anything better out there, I live in a place people go to vacation. Houses are built to be vacation homes, the bare minimum to get you by for a month or two. There are no usable attics, no garages, no extra cupboards, no pantries, and very little storage. I mean, I'm complaining about a lack of closet space in paradise, I get that, but I keep thinking I am spending the kids' college money on rent and it makes my dinky kitchen an even more bitter pill.

Last weekend I saw a free-standing corner hutch at the church garage sale. I didn't have a tape measure handy nor even an idea of the dimensions of the corner of my dining room, but I had a feeling it would fit. I just knew! At the end of the sale it was still available so I went and picked it up for a song and placed it in the corner. It is perfect. I have gained 3 shelves, 1 drawer and 1 cabinet by using this piece. All of my serving plates went into it, all of my decorative knick-knacks, I am slowly but surely making space in and on the cupboards. So I decide to change the hallway linen closet into a pantry and appliance storage. This means taking all of the towels and storing them in the bathroom, and storing the sheets in the bedroom and the blankets in a blanket chest, and the sleeping bags... well, where am I going to put the sleeping bags? So, as you can see I have spent the day furiously moving things from place to place and nothing is done and I am at that place where it feels like this little project will never be done and I am worn out and tired, but I still have to make dinner.

Tomato soup and chopped salad sandwiches.


To make chopped salad sandwiches simply chop up romaine lettuce with your choice of lunch meat and cheeses, dress with your favorite dressing and place filling in a pita pocket. Fin. Tomato soup is simply canned soup, with 1 bag of french onion soup mix, and one can of chopped tomatoes with the juice, heat up and add one can of milk, serve. A perfect "pantry meal" because you will more than likely always have the ingredients on hand. Tomato soup and sandwiches, a frazzled Mommy meal, you can take my word for it.

We have a winner!

Using the Random.Org number generator I selected comment #4, Lisa! She is the winner of "The Cleaner Plate Club" by Beth Bader and THAT'S NOT ALL, Ms. Bader herself stopped by the blog a few days ago to offer the winner a book herself! How incredibly kind!

I am so excited and I can't wait to get my own copy, which of course I intended to do this month before being derailed by various illnesses (mine and others) and being a generally flighty flibbertigibbet.

Here is a recipe that would be PERFECT for Meatless Mondays from Beth's blog Expatriate's Kitchen

No-Meat Loaf
2/3 cup brown rice
1-1/3 cups vegetable stock
8 oz. "beef" style tofu (tube)
1 tbs. olive oil
5 oz. spinach
6 oz. mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
2 oz. sundried tomatoes packed in oil
1 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 tbs. chopped basil
1/2 cup grated parmesan
salt and pepper to taste

1 28 oz can of roasted tomatoes (I use Muir Glen)
1 small shallot, diced
1 tbs. olive oil
2 tsp. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. red chili flakes
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the rice in the vegetable stock. Cool rice to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet. Saute the onion for a few minutes until just turning golden. Add the mushrooms and cook until mushrooms are soft. Add the garlic and saute for another minute. Add the spinach leaves, turning down the heat. Fold in the spinach, just until it wilts a bit. Remove from heat and place in bowl.

Add the "beef" soy, rice, bread crumbs, herbs, cheese, sundried tomatoes and salt and pepper. Mix with hands (hey, it's not raw beef). Press into a loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Heat oil for topping in sauce pan. Add shallot and saute for about three minutes. Add the tomatoes with juice and brown sugar. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes. Adjust with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the fresh basil just before serving.

Serve each slice of no-meat loaf topped with chunky tomato topping.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Roasted Garlic Redux

Last night I roasted some garlic to make my hummus and to just eat it by itself, because roasted garlic = YUM in my world. Since I so rarely make it I decided to go ahead and roast 5 heads worth of the stuff just to use in other recipes. Tonight when I warmed up my leftover pot roast I made a side of creamy cheese grits to go with it. I made the grits according to package directions and added some salt, butter, cheese and 3 cloves worth of the roasted garlic, stirring to combine. Cheesy, garlicky grits = HEAVEN ON A PLATE.

Roasted garlic is something that can add an unexpected flavor to so many dishes, you can put it in a vinaigrette or add it to rice, it works well in most pan sauces and gravies, you can even stir it into a side dish as simple as sauteed green beans for a special kick of flavor. I love it in mashed potatoes, rubbed on roasts, or seasoning some steamed asparagus. I'm like the guy at the end of "Green Eggs and Ham" I would eat roasted garlic in a box, I would eat with a fox, I would eat it here or there, I would eat it everywhere!

The other side dish I made was lightly steamed brussels sprouts. I just steamed them with a little bit of water and a pat of butter, when they were done I added a bit of kosher salt. My kids aren't crazy about brussels but my husband and I love them, so the kids got 2 tiny sprouts a piece on their plates and whether they eat them or not is immaterial to me. I know someday they will and I am fairly sure when they do they will love them.

The secret to good sprouts is NOT to overcook them. They should still be bright green when you are done with them. If they are small sprouts I simply trim the stems, peel off any tough outer leaves (if necessary) and steam them. If I have larger sprouts I will cut them in half first and either steam or oven roast them. Brussels sprouts can also be "dressed" at the end of cooking time with a bit of bacon grease, which gives them a smoky flavor, or you can pair them beautifully with caramelized onions.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Meatless Monday: Homemade Hummus

I have been wanting to make homemade hummus ever since I realized how much my addiction to Sabra brand hummus was costing me! Today I read a whole bunch of recipes (as is my wont) and gathered the info together and made my own hummus recipe.

I cooked a 1 pound bag of garbanzo beans in my pressure cooker (35 minutes on high pressure, then allowed to come to natural pressure release). I put the beans in the pot with 6 C of water, 1 large carrot (cut into chunks) and 2 large pieces of celery. I also added several very small cloves of garlic. Once the lid was on the cooker and gathering steam I put 5 heads of garlic inside some heavy duty foil and drizzled them with olive oil (regular, not extra virgin or anything) and put the foil packet on a heavy duty baking tray. Then I roasted the heads at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, as I walked out the door for basketball practice tonight I turned the heat down to 200 degrees. When we returned from basketball practice I pulled the garlic out and took the lid off the pressure cooker. My beans looked beeeeeee-yoo-ti-full! I could practically have made soup right then and there. I took 2 C of garbanzos from the pot and put them in my blender. I added 2/3 C of the water they were cooking in to the blender and turned it on. The beans got pretty mushy and then I added about 3 TBs of the tahini (sesame paste). A word on tahini, this was my first time working with it, it is sort of like all natural peanut butter, the oil separates from nut paste. It was very hard to mix the oil back into the ground sesame, so my measurement is not exact by any means. I also added about 2 teaspoons of kosher salt, the juice of half a lemon, 2 cloves of the roasted garlic and 1/4 teaspoon of ground cumin. I started the blender again (after scraping down the sides) and while it was running I added about 2-3 TB of olive oil (regular not extra virgin). I added it slowly, as one would add it to a vinaigrette or for mayonnaise. When the hummus was lovely and fluffy and light I tasted it, you could adjust seasonings at that point. I liked it, and so did my kids.

I served the hummus with warm pita bread, red globe grapes, olives, pickled okra, alouette herbed cheese (for the kids), carrot sticks, brie cheese (for the hubby), goat cheese (for me!) and roasted garlic. The kids dipped their carrot sticks in their herbed cheese. I ate my pita spread with goat cheese and then topped with roasted garlic and alternated it with bites of hummus. It was all delicious. I didn't serve the kids the roasted garlic at first, I kept it on my plate and my husband's plate. Sure enough the oldest child wandered over and inquired, "What's that?" and by the end of dinner was squeezing out her own roasted garlic from individual cloves. *SO PROUD* Of course now we are all going to fight over the roasted garlic, but small price to pay for having another good eater in the family. :)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Lazy Sunday

Tonight I put a beef roast in the pressure cooker covered with french onion soup mix, I added water and red wine to the container plus celery and carrots. I put the timer on for 25 minutes on high pressure and I let it go! The easiest dinner, really. Sunday is a strangely busy day for us, church, Sunday school, grocery shopping, lunch and a basketball game, it goes by in a blur so I try and take it easy on Sundays.

Tomorrow for meatless monday I will be preparing a fabulous feast, roasted garlic, 3 kinds of cheese and homemade hummus and a great big salad! I hope you will be back for that!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Pressure Cooker Beef Stew and Individual Cheesecakes

Dear readers, I have a confession to make. My husband helps with dinner.


I know, I know, I am not in fact a superwoman capable of bringing home the bacon AND frying it up in the pan, my husband is in fact a huge help to me. The only real downside so far to the Dinner 365 challenge is that I haven't been letting him make dinner on the weekends as he has been accustomed to doing. He still helps me, jokingly calling himself my sous chef; he chops vegetables, starts water boiling, helps me get ingredients off the high shelves, that sort of thing. He's a very good cook himself so I count on him for bouncing ideas around and getting his opinion on any ingredient substitutions. We make a pretty good team that way.

I have been pretty ill off and on for a week, the baby has been sick and getting in bed with us at night. No one around here has slept much lately. Today we took the kids swimming with our good friends and soaked up some Keys sunshine (yay Florida winters) and when we got back I was beat. I accidentally fell asleep around 4 and woke up at 6 just befuddled. I scuttled into the kitchen to find my awesome husband had gotten dinner started already. Pressure cooker beef stew. And he had even remembered to look for the oldest stew meat in the freezer (by date on the bag) and to chop up our oldest vegetables first. I was so impressed. Then I happened to glance into the oven and there were 4 miniature cheesecakes cooking on a tray! Seriously, the man is a saint.

I think I told you that I had made my first sweet cheesecake yesterday, right? I forgot to mention that I had made a mistake with the cheesecake. After I pressed in the chocolate graham cracker crust I poured in the filling, and I got concerned because after only half the filling had gone in it was already up to the top of the crust! The crust mind you had only come halfway up the pan. Apparently forgetting ALL the cheesecakes I had ever eaten before that had only half a crust I panicked and quit pouring and baked it that way. I put the rest of the filling into a tupperware container and put it in the fridge. DH took the initiative and put the filling into well buttered tart pans and baked them, just to see if it would work. They are cooling in the fridge now and we may not get to eat them until tomorrow, but I will let you know if they come out. They look wonderful! The stew was great, I am almost sure I have written about it before, but if not here is the recipe again.

Take stew meat and roll it in seasoned (salt and pepper or even House Blend) flour and brown it in the bottom of your pressure cooker. Chop an onion and add that. Add a quart sized container of beef broth and a teaspoon of marjoram (or oregano) and a teaspoon of worcestershire sauce and place on the lid and cook at high pressure for 15 minutes, then release the pressure. Meanwhile chop up your favorite stew vegetables. We used carrots, potatoes, celery, garlic, and one can of chopped tomatoes (with the juice). We added the vegetables to the pressure cooker and cooked for another 5 minutes at high pressure. When the stew is done stir and taste and adjust seasoning. It will taste like it cooked all day, very, very good! Oh, DH added a few dashes of "Liquid smoke" seasoning as well and I thought it was a great addition. If you do not have a pressure cooker you can make the same stew in a crockpot on high for 4-6 hours or on the stove top in maybe an hour or two on medium heat.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Red Velvet Cheesecake

Tonight the fam and I were invited over to a friend's house for dinner. Fish Friday at an actual fisherman's house? Oh heck yeah! Our gracious host and hostess made the best fried mutton snapper. For those of you who do not like fish I have to recommend the mutton snapper as a very unfishy fish with firm white flesh. Tastes great, cooks easily and fish is after all brain food.

No sooner had the adults sat down to eat than we heard a dreadful wailing. Turns out that our darling girl had accidentally slammed her finger in the bedroom door of her friend. Our very nice hosts told us to go take the girl to the hospital. Not only did they keep our younger daughter for us while we went, when we got back they had kept our plates warm and covered. Then we were all able to relax with my contribution to the dinner. I made my very first sweet cheesecake. Once I made a savory crab cheesecake with a wild mushroom and cream reduction, but my husband has made a tradition of making me a new kind of cheesecake every year on Valentine's day. This year was scheduled to be the decadent and Valentine's day appropriate Red Velvet Cheesecake, but time and circumstances precluded that. So I took it upon myself to make it today. You can get the recipe here. It was a very good recipe, but I didn't use sour cream in it, I had some Greek yogurt and used that instead. I would tweak it slightly too by making a sweetened sour cream top instead of the thicker cream cheese and sugar top they used.

Red velvet is such a luxe tasting cake or cheesecake you'll hardly believe you are adding 2 bottles of food coloring to it! It just seems to odd to color a chocolate cake that way, but the result is undeniably striking. A true red velvet is a chocolate flavored dessert that also contains buttermilk which gives it a slight tang and keeps it from being too sweet. This recipe called for buttermilk as well as a teaspoon of white vinegar! The taste of that vinegar is not present in the finished product, but my research leads me to believe that the additional acidity may be to keep the color bright, since red is an anthocyanin? I am thinking of the reason we add a slug of white vinegar to red cabbage to keep it from turning grey when cooked. Anyhow, this was a terrific dessert and I am glad I tried it!

Happy Weekend everyone!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

My husband has been home sick from work, tonight he was scheduled to be the assistant coach for our daughter's basketball team. I have to tell you my first thought was "Cancel it, we're all skipping practice!" but then I thought better of it. We made a commitment as a family to get our kid to practice and to help coach the team. It was time for me to step out of my comfort zone. I decided to fill in as assistant coach.

A little background; I was a nerd in school. An uncoordinated, clutzy, asthmatic mess. I took a sort of perverse pride in always being the last picked for any team. I went to high school football games to hang out with my friends in the brass section and never watched a single play. Unathletic might be too mild a word for it, perhaps "sports-phobic" might come closer to the mark. However in junior high school I did notice I had a weird sort of gift. On PE days where we had blessed opportunities for "free play" I could join a game of "horse" the only basketball game I liked. One simply had to make baskets and avoid spelling out "H-O-R-S-E" by missing shots. I was brilliant at this. Unlike a real basketball game there was no running, there was no one playing defense on the basket to distract me, there was no confusing a person for being on your team and embarrassingly passing to the opposition. You dribbled in place and took your shot. I was sinking them from all over the key, dribble dribble dribble, shoot, swish. The PE coach noticed me doing this and watched me for a few moments and said, just as I was taking my shot, "You should come out for the girl's JV team." Flustered, my hands slipped, air-ball. The other girl playing with me gleefully hooted "H!" and rebounded the ball. The coach sort of looked pityingly at me and said, "Well, maybe not." So ended my basketball career, I stuck to twirling the jump rope for endless lines of double-dutchers after that.

So tonight I went out in my sneakers and my high performance work out shirt and I coached my little heart out. I know basically nothing about basketball, and I haven;t even held a ball in maybe 15 years. It was very strange. We had the kids running a drill where one would shoot a basket, the other kid would rebound, and the rebound kid would pass to the next kid and that id would take a shot. These kids are only ages 6-8 so as you can imagine there were many, many missed shots, and bad passes that caused the balls to go careering out of bound and towards people on other courts. It was very strange to chase the ball down and bounce pass to the next kid, or to stretch out my hand almost effortlessly and stop the ball from going out of bounds in the first place. I felt all those little incidental muscles getting used and my hand-eye coordination (which had always been pretty good) coming back. It was sort of... fun. And while I may not know much about the game, I do know about kids. We have one little showboat on the team, he is amazingly talented for such a little guy, but he knows he's good. He tries to take his own rebounds and ball-hog and take two shots when you are to take one. I shut him down. I made him pass politely. I made him apologize for calling other players names. Because even to a sports-phobic like me I do know it doesn't really matter how many points you score it is how you play the game.

Dinner tonight? Spaghetti with sausage and vegetable red sauce. Green pepper, onion, celery, garlic, mushrooms and a slug of red wine and we were good to go. Have a good night and sweet hoop dreams!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Italian Wedding Soup

Maybe inspired by my friend's brilliant testimony about her marriage, tonight I made Italian Wedding Soup. The recipe is mostly Ina Garten's and you can find it here. I used pre-made and frozen meatballs, and I used ABC pasta instead of stars. Also my broth was a combination of mushroom water, plain water and beef stock to suit the beef meatballs. I was also out of spinach so I used chopped, slender French green beans instead.

The soup was a good choice for tonight because after bravely shepherding me and my younger daughter through our various illnesses over the last week and a half, my poor husband came down with a cold today. He came home from work early which he never does, so some nice fragrant hot soup is always a good choice to cut through the funk in your head.

I hope your family, all families, stay well and happy tonight. Thanks for coming by!

Testify by Katie Collins

The following essay is reprinted with permission by Katie Collins, a dear friend and a fellow writer. You can visit her website My Imperfect Truth by clicking the title of this piece or the link here.

I’m not brave. Let’s make this clear. I’ve never been brave. From my childhood friend Laurie who trudged home in silent disgust with me one winter’s day when I refused to slide head first down a huge snowbank into a concrete parking lot, to the eighth grade science teacher who shouted “wussy wussy wussy” at me when I admitted to my fear of hornets during an entomology class, to a former boss who used to watch me looking out my office window at snow covered roads and say ‘oooh scary scary snow for your ride home!,” I’ve always been pretty easy game for people who loved to point out my fears and weaknesses. Time and age have helped me get over some of them. I don’t run away from bees anymore, and I can almost sleep through a thunderstorm, and a good solid four-wheel drive jeep has helped with the snow driving issue. But I’m far from considering myself brave.

This week I’ll have to dig deeper and harder than ever to find an ounce of bravery to do something that terrifies me- testifying before a legislative committee about my marriage. Yes, a mere four months after Kelly and I said our I-dos, ate cake, danced to “My Girl,” and opened gifts at our wedding, a series of bills is threatening our marriage. Our marriage. Our hum drum normal, tacos-on-Tuesday, Glee on the DVR, homework over the kitchen table, did you feed the cats yet, family life is apparently so deeply offensive to certain members of our state legislature that they not only want to repeal the law that allows for marriage equality but also to pass another law defining marriage as being only between a man and a woman. In short not only would no other same sex couples be able to marry but my marriage would be…. null. And that makes me angry. And when I get angry… I… cry. Ok that’s sort of embarrassing and undermines any ounce of credibility I can hope to have. But anger can also make me brave and I’m counting on the bravery part to over ride the crying part on Thursday morning when I will join with others to testify that marriage equality should remain legal in New Hampshire. And I’m terrified. I’m terrified of what the opposition will say. I’m terrified of crying and making a fool out of myself when I try to explain what it means to me to be married to the woman I love more than life itself. What it means to sit with my wife and daughter over Sunday night chicken dinners and know that this family is whole and healthy and legally recognized the same way as everyone else’s family. I’m afraid that somehow by testifying I’m opening my family up to hate and bigotry that we’ve never had to face before. I’m so angry that it has come to this at a time when our state and our country have so many real problems, and yet have the time and energy to create a problem out of people loving each other. There is a not-small part of me that wants to ignore these hearings, stay home or at my desk and pretend it’s not happening, leave the rallying and gathering and testifying to others better suited to it than I, people used to the political arena, people who are brave.

But I know that this is something I have to do. I have to do it for my family, for my friends who celebrated their own marriages and the births of babies this year, for my daughter’s young teenage friends who excitedly told me about “straight ally’ week at their high school and complimented me on the HRC sticker on my jeep. For the friends and family who danced at our wedding wearing ‘I like girls who like girls t-shirts.’ For the maitre’d at the restaurant Monday night who congratulated us on our first married Valentine’s Day. For the pride I hear in Kelly’s voice when she refers to Liza as her stepdaughter. I won’t lie. I’m still scared. But I’m hoping if I carry these memories and these voices with me that maybe I’ll find a way to be brave. And I’ll do what I have to do.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Chicken in White Wine

I love wine. I don't drink enough of it at any one time to justify buying a bottle unless I am also going to cook with it, so you know I am ALL about cooking with it. Tonight I sauteed some seasoned chicken breasts in bacon fat (yes I did) and then removed them from the pan and sauteed some chopped onion. I deglazed the pan in white wine and let it reduce. Then I added a pat of butter and some mushrooms and mixed those together into a sort of duxelle. When they were cooked I reduced the heat to low and allowed the chicken breasts to continue to cook until done. Then I covered them to keep warm.

Meanwhile I added a handful of celery and baby carrots to my pressure cooker. I added some salt, 1 TB of butter, 1 C of brown rice and 3/4 C of "mushroom water". When you reconstitute dried mushrooms, the water they are left sitting in can be saved and frozen for future us, it adds delicious flavor. I added another 1 1/4 C of plain water to the rice as well and started it on high pressure for 25 minutes.

I then cut the stems off some brussels sprouts and a few of the tough outer leaves and microwaved them in a little butter and water and sea salt for about 5 minutes.

Right before I serve the plates I will remove the chicken from the pan and briefly wilt the last of my baby spinach, and serve the chicken on top of that.

My husband stopped at the store for milk and saw some gorgeous cream puffs in the bakery on his way to the dairy case. So... guess what we are having for dessert?

Oh yeah baby! I AM BACK!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day Everyday

I have been sick the last week and still feel not quite up to snuff. I'd probably feel better if I just slowed down for a couple of days and took the time to get better, but I am always DOING STUFF. Anyhow, my sweetheart and my Valentine basically told me to sit down and rest. So I am. And we are having leftovers for dinner and the kids are having a pizza. And we can celebrate another night when I feel better and I have had more than 3 hours of sleep.

I hope you all have a very happy Valentine's Day!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Crab Corn Chowder and Beer Bread

We are having some friends over for dinner and I am so excited! Today's recipe was adapted from a book called "Salsa Cooking" by Marjie Lambert. My husband has had this cookbook since before we met and this is our favorite recipe from it, but this is how we have made it over the years, not as it appears in the book.

1 onion, chopped
butter or olive oil
1 qt. of chicken broth
3 C of salsa (favorite fresh variety)
1-2 C of frozen kernel corn
1/2 red bell pepper
1 C half and half
1/2 tsp salt
white pepper to taste
1 C sour cream (or plain greek yogurt)
1 lb fresh cooked crab meat
cilantro and green onions for garnish

Melt some butter or heat some olive oil in a stock pot, sautee the chopped onion. While onion is sweating put a rimmed baking sheet under the broiler and roast the corn and the half of a red bell pepper. Check vegetables often and when red bell pepper becomes blistered and blackened remove from under broiler, place in a container with a lid and close it up for 5-10 minutes, then remove most of skin, chop and add to onions in the pan. Continue cooking corn until brown spots begin to appear. Add salsa to onions, add corn and stir, add chicken broth and bring all to a boil for 1 minute. Then let soup simmer for 20 minutes with a lid on, slightly ajar. Add half and half, sour cream, crabmeat and stir together to heat, but do not boil as you can curdle the dairy. Serve in bowls garnished with cilantro (or parsley of cilantro is unavailable) and chopped green onions. Serve with beer bread, cornbread, tortillas, or chips.

I use the Farmgirl Fare beer bread recipe and it is a good one! I had to modify it today because I was down to my last 2 1/2 C of whole wheat flour and I had no all purpose to speak of, so I subbed in some bread flour. I also added 1 C of 4 cheese Mexican blend shredded cheese to the mix. It smells WONDERFUL in here.

And last but not least my husband prepared Alton Brown's Frozen Blueberry Pie for our guests today and that is baking up right now. I hope you all have a nice Sunday with your friends and family.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Saturday Night

Busy day today, dance class, husband baked a blueberry pie for tomorrow and cleaning the kitchen. We went and visited some friends for lunch. Dinner was super cheesy mac and cheese, salad and apples. I love Saturdays!

Tomorrow we are having some friends over for lunch after our oldest kid's basketball game. Keep an eye out for "Corn Crab Salsa Chowder", so YUMMY!

Hope you all have a great relaxing weekend.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Fish Friday: Snapper and Scallop Paella

I got a paella pan for Christmas. A paella pan that you could easily bathe a small child in, a paella pan that is easily bigger than any cabinet I have in my teeny weensy kitchen. A paella pan that is just BEGGING to be filled with rice and saffron and scallops and snapper and sausage. A paella pan that will be used tonight. Because darn it I need to justify it as a cooking pan (and taking up a lot of space on top of my cabinets) or I need to just start bathing the two year old in it.

I have read a lot of paella recipes and here is how I am approaching the situation. I have some brown rice and saffron I could use but I think the length of cooking time it will take to make the rice will over cook the fish. I have snapper and scallops in my freezer that I need to use up. I also have mushrooms, lemons, white wine, and asparagus that need cooking. So I think what I will do is cook the sausage in the paella pan, then add some green peppers, onions and garlic to the pan and fry it up. Then I will add some yellow rice to the pan with some chicken stock and white wine and let that partially cook, then I will add my snapper and right before serving I will add my pre-seared scallops and some green peas. It should be a pretty nice dish.

I will serve with a salad garnished with baby tomatoes, pine nuts, and carrot curls. AND if it all comes out really well I will take a picture. Wish me luck!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dinner Decisions: Cheese tortellini in an Improvised Sauce

Yeah, it was sort of unofficially Italian week here at Chez Lost. Spaghetti, pizza, and now tortelloni. This past weekend I went to Costco, or as my kids call it, the Snack Store. We loaded up on necessities as well as a few splurges. For me getting a huge bag of asparagus, bright green stalks of asparagus, counts as a splurge. Normally I am very good about getting everything unpacked and parceled out and planned for, but I due to illness I really dropped the ball this week. I have been very good about using up the lettuce and spinach, since they are the most prone to spoilage, but I only managed to use the asparagus once (and there is plenty more where that came from) and the brussels sprouts remain untouched.

Tonight I used up one package of fresh cheese tortelloni and still have one package left over, I used up just under a pound of ground beef and managed to pack up the rest of it into one pound chunks. I have plans in place for the brussels sprouts for dinner tomorrow and over the weekend and the last of the spinach and lovely fresh mushrooms are going into some fabulous omelets tomorrow.

One of the reasons it was so hard for me to get everything squared away is that my freezer is really tiny. I have a small side by side refrigerator and just ran out of space. Fortunately, a good friend of mine has a spare freezer in her garage and let me bring over the extra package of tortelloni, some bread, and 6 pounds of ground beef over to her house to freeze.

My sauce tonight consisted of onions, mushrooms, chopped spinach, garlic and ground beef with a can of plain tomato sauce. I added Italian Spices to it and let it simmer while I cooked the packaged pasta for 6 minutes. I drained the pasta and added them into the pan with the sauce. Everyone loved it of course and since I chopped the spinach up really finely the kids got a whopping good amount of fiber and Vitamin A plus some iron and calcium. My kids are hit or miss about spinach, sometimes they love it and other times it's like I offered them a plate of raw worms. But anyhow they ate it up without complaint. Other veggies I "hide" in a red sauce include grated zucchini, carrots, summer squash, pureed pumpkin or sweet potato, leeks, or broccoli. Not all at the same time mind you! Just what I have on hand that needs using up quickly. I wouldn't say I'm a "sneaky chef" but I do know that a robust sauce can make a whole bunch of veggies more palatable to kids.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Great Green Soup

Tonight is the Blood Drive and Parent to Kid book reading event at my daughter's school. I usually give blood and I am due to give it today, but I am on antibiotics so I think that counts me out tonight. Oh well, I will hit them up at the next event. As a reminder though, if you are healthy and able to give blood, please do! Blood levels in my community are in critically short supply and I know periodically they get low in other places. You can even make an appointment at your local blood bank. Find out where to give here as well as find out if you are eligible to donate!

Okay, so they serve pizza at Parent to Kid night and I know even though we had homemade pizza last night my little munchkins will want some when they get there, but first they are going to have a bowl of Great Green Soup, inspired by some soup I once had at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Massachusetts. The cafeteria there was wonderful, really locavore and organic and everything was so tasty! It was the coldest May I can ever remember and they had a bright green soup that tasted wonderful and was bright as green grass. I asked the lady behind the counter what was in it and she said, "Basically, any green vegetable we have in stock and in season. Frozen veggies work well in it too!" So today my great green soup is a simple affair, I sauteed chopped onions and celery in butter and salt, then I added chopped baby spinach and 6 large stalks of lightly steamed and chopped up asparagus. To this I added 2 1/2 C of organic chicken broth (could just as easily be veggie broth) and then I mixed it all up with my immersion blender. Taste and adjust seasonings; if need be add a bit of fresh ground black pepper. I serve it with a dollop of plain greek yogurt, but you can of course use sour cream or creme fraiche if you have it. I think a bit of shaved parmesan cheese in it or on it might be good too.

So there you go, bright green tasty antioxidants in a cup! This might be fun to serve for St. Patrick's day too!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Pizza Night

So, I have a clogged salivary duct! I guess that means my food has been insufficiently mouth-watering lately. It is making me feel pretty cruddy so I am taking it easy on myself and having a "Make Your Own Pizza" night. I will use the leftover red sauce from last night's spaghetti dinner and some thin round sandwich breads (whole grain!) for the crusts. The kids can spoon on their own sauce and top it with pieces of mozzarella string cheese.

I used to have a pizza stone but after a few years it snapped into two jagged pieces when I accidentally spilled some water on it while it was very hot (I was making a creme brulee.) Anyhow when I went to replace it I saw that they cost like $20 and up so I decided to use an unfinished, unglazed 12 x 12 ceramic tile in my oven instead. It cost about $2 and is much larger than a standard pizza stone. I used it for all of my baking now, gives great crust to pizza and bread and keeps the oven temperature consistent.

Hope you all have good health and good dinners tonight!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Meatless Monday Menu: Spaghetti and veggie red sauce

I think everyone makes this meal when you invite someone over for the first time and say, "By the way, i'm a vegetarian." I have more vegetarian dishes under my belt now, but none that go together as quickly. I chopped some onion in the pan and let sauté in olive oil. I added kosher salt, chopped garlic and sliced mushrooms. When the onions were soft and brown I added a few TB of red wine. Then I added Italian spices, canned tomatoes, and a small can of tomato sauce. I had some spaghetti leftover and dinner was ready. Sorry for the brief post but I am updating the blog via iPhone.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Superbowl Sunday: Appetizers for Dinner

We are going to a friend's house for the Superbowl tonight. I am bringing meatballs, crudité tray with spinach dip, rice crispy treats and red velvet cupcakes. We also made some Mango Vodka slushy drinks. (Thank you for the mix Deb!)

The meatballs are pretty darn easy, pre-cooked and frozen, you re-heat them in the microwave and then put them in your favorite sauce. My favorite meatball sauce is, I swear I am not making this up, a mixture of grape jelly and ketchup. I think my grandmother taught me to make it. If you are reheating your meatballs in the crockpot you simply add enough jelly and ketchup to the pot so that when it melts you have sauce. I got home late today from shopping so no crockpot for me. I melted them together on the stove top in a pan. The funny thing is my ketchup and grape jelly are ORGANIC. Love it! Betty Crocker meets Alice Waters!

The spinach dip is also kind of funny. I didn't have any sour cream to make the dip so I subbed in 16 oz. of Stonyfield Organic plain yogurt, 1 C of Hellman's Olive Oil mayo, and a package of Knorr vegetable soup/dip mix. I had the 3 scallions the recipe called for but I didn't have any frozen chopped spinach. I subbed in some gorgeous organic baby spinach, steamed and chopped and well-drained. So since we are eating the dip with carrots, bell pepper strips, celery and cherry tomatoes... I think I made something healthy for the Superbowl feast!

Today at church was the annual Souper Bowl of Caring food drive led by our local Boy Scouts troop. It is a nationwide effort to "tackle hunger" in America. You can get involved in a local chapter by following the instructions in the link. Superbowl Sunday is the 2nd biggest feast day in America right behind Thanksgiving. If you can please share some of your food and good fortune with the less fortunate.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Sorry Saturday!

I didn't make any food at all today and it was awesome. My husband made breakfast for everyone, and I shuttled the girls to dance class and then to the park to play. On his way back from a morning meeting at church my husband stopped and picked up subs for everyone, and then my in-laws came into town (they live 6 hours away) and we went to dinner.


We even went out for ice cream afterward.

I have now used up 2 of my 14 days, 12 more skip days to go this year! But I am back on the dinner train tomorrow as I make some YUMMY food for Super Bowl Sunday. I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Fish Friday: Scallops and Pasta

I had a meeting on another island south of us tonight, and I was supposed to be there at 6 and bring my cookie cutters. I made about 4 dozen chocolate cookies shaped like footballs while we discussed upcoming events at our church and how to get more involvement. On the upside I really liked all the women I was talking to and on the REALLY, REALLY upside, I am Roman Catholic so wine was served and enjoyed.

Before I left home however I made scallops and warmed up my leftover Long Life Noodles.

Scallops are awesome, so easy to cook, so easy to thaw, they take about 3 minutes to prepare. Run some frozen scallops under running water for maybe a minute. Pat dry, season with sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Melt some butter in a pan and add some olive oil, turn the heat up to medium high and place the scallops one by one, not touching, in the pan in a clockwise pattern. Set the time for 90 seconds and then flip the scallops one by one starting with the same clockwise pattern and let them cook another 90 seconds. They should get a really good sear on both sides and be somewhat translucent in the middle. Do not over cook as they will taste like seafood flavored bubble-gum.

My husband turned the heat up too high using my fabulous 100 year old wrought iron skillet, this thing will conduct and retain some damn heat. The scallops nearly burst into flame, and streams of smoke from the oil and butter drove us from our home. The scallops did not burn but the smoke was so intense from the oil that we had to open all of the door and windows and fans to air the place out. That was how he learned that not all pans are created equal. If you are cooking in a iron skillet or a copper clad heavy duty pan you should not turn the heat up all the way. If you have an anodized aluminum or inexpensive stainless steel pan you may need to get the heat higher on the burner. Your mileage may vary.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Happy Chinese New Year

So, I bought some wonton wrappers at the store today, plus some scallions and ginger and 1.85 pounds of ground pork. When I got home I realized the recipe only called for a pound of pork, whoops! I just cut the package in half, added a good handful of sliced purple cabbage, (that's what I had on hand). I also minced 2 scallions, added a half teaspoon of ground ginger, 1 TB of white wine and 1 tsp of corn starch. When you are making cabbage I find it always works better if you lightly salt it and put it in a colander to drain for awhile. At least 20 minutes or so will help it discharge some of the water and keep things crisp. I even wrung the cabbage out in some paper towels to really get it dry. I mixed all of the ingredients together and then took a tiny portion scoop and put about a teaspoon of filling in the middle of a wonton wrapper; to seal it simply wet your finger with water and push two sides together and really pinch them to seal. I made a little rectangle shape and then folded down the top two corner and sealed them. There are approximately a million videos on Youtube and Google that will show you a lot of ways to seal your wrappers, but the main thing is to make sure the edges are really sealed tightly. I steamed 2 dozen of them in a steamer basket over boiling water on the stove for about 6 minutes and then I fried them lightly in oil for about another 2 minutes.

The main discovery here was that I have found a way to get the kids to eat cabbage! They tore into these dumplings as soon as they were cool enough to eat.

As the dumplings were being eaten I boiled some spaghetti noodles to be my "long life noodles" and set them aside. The long unbroken noodles are meant to symbolize a long healthy life! So I took my cue from that and sliced a bunch of vegetables into long thin strips. I cut up bell pepper, carrots, purple cabbage, scallions, and some cauliflower. I sauteed them in oil and seasoned them with salt and pepper and a about a half teaspoon of ground ginger. I made a slurry of corn starch and soy sauce and sizzled it all together, When the veggies were done I added half the noodles to the to the pan and tossed the veggies and noodles together. A few more dashes of soy sauce and my long life noodles were done!

Happy Chinese New Year to you all!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

For Pete's Steak!

Today was a busy day, I have what seems to be an infinite amount of laundry to do. I think we need to go through all of our clothes and get rid of some, because for serious, there are like 15 loads of laundry that need doing and I am NOT out of underwear. I think, clearly, I have too many clothes. Also I got into researching some authentic dishes for Chinese New Year tomorrow and my mind was not on planning for tonight.

I made some Salisbury Steak, mix 1 pound of ground beef with minced onion, garlic, parsley, a wee bit of oatmeal, and 1 egg. Mix together well and separate into 4-5 patties. I put mine in a pan and browned them, then put them in another pan in the oven to finish cooking. Meanwhile I deglazed the frying pan with a bit of red wine and scraped up all of the nice brown flavorful bits on the bottom. Then I whisked in some flour and got sort of a roux going, after that I added a few shakes of worcestershire sauce and then thinned the roux out with some vegetable broth. I cooked it until it started to thicken, then I poured the sauce over the steaks in the oven and let them cook at 300 while I mashed the potatoes and steamed the broccoli.

This is only the second time that I have ever made salisbury steak and my Mom only made it once in a great while. I really have fond memories of salisbury steak from my elementary school cafeteria of all places! It was always served with instant mashed potatoes, mixed veggies and a big fluffy white roll. I adored it. No idea why.

Last night I made a "fondue" called Double Berry Riesling. It involved pureeing and then straining through a sieve 1 pt. of blueberries, 12 oz. of strawberries. I mixed the strained puree with 1/2 C of Riesling and 1/2 C of sugar. Then after that was heated and mixed up you add 1 1/2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice mixed with a teaspoon of cornstarch. I am not sure it is a true fondue but it is the BEST ice cream topping I've ever had! Lovely, sweet and fruity!

Tomorrow is Chinese New Year!

The Year of the Rabbit! I am busy today looking up recipes for chinese food. I am thinking of making some chinese dumplings by hand if I can find the wonton wrappers in the stores. Do you ever cook Chinese food? What are your favorite recipes or ingredients?

My tentative menu is:

fried rice with vegetables
chinese steamed dumplings
egg drop soup
fortune cookies

I realize this is heavily influenced by my love of take-out Chinese food, but if I can find some simple recipes for more authentic dishes, I will definitely change the menu. There was a restaurant in Orlando where I used to go with some friends and get genuine Dim Sum from the little steam carts, I would love to know how to make some steamed buns. Maybe I can find a recipe today. I think I will avoid the chicken feet though. I tried them once and they aren't my favorite part of the chicken, though I would use them in a soup stock for sure.

Anyhow, Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Chicken and Dumplings

Do you ever have a day where you need some comfort food? I have days where I could use a comfort drink and then some comfort chocolate and then maybe a nap... wait, where was I? Ah yes. Comfort food, specifically chicken and dumplings.

My great-grandmother made wonderful chicken and dumplings, I remember them fondly. She made the flat thin noodles with a lovely herby chicken broth and pieces of nearly shredded chicken. She was a terrific southern cook, and had learned the skill as a child. She learned to cook on a wood-stove with no dials or temperature markers. The downside of her years of long practie and skill was she didn't really follow a recipe. With some of her best recipes not written down or written down many many years later there are gaps in my knowledge of her techniques. Much to my chagrin I have never been able to replicate her banana bread and I have her recipe! I am sure that there must have been something she forgot to write down or tell me, or maybe I just lack her innate skill. That at least gives me the comfort that maybe in 60 years or so I can make as wonderful a banana bread as she could.

I beg of you if there is something your family loves to eat, please write it down, show your kids, show your friends. Recipes are a tangible piece of history, a way of preserving culture and memories. When I miss my gramma sometimes I make food that I know she would have liked, even if she made it differently.

My chicken and dumplings today were a cross between recipes from Paula Deen and Alton Brown. I chopped some carrots, onion, celery and garlic and seasoned them with 1 tsp. of house blend. I sauteed them in olive oil in a heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium heat. I chopped 1 pound of chicken tenderloins into chunks and started to brown them with the veggies. After the chicken and veggies had gotten nice and fragrant I added some more house blend, a bay leaf and 5 cups of water. I let that simmer on low while I made the dumpling dough. These make puffy dumplings. I basically just used Alton's dumpling technique. I scooped a half C of broth from the pot and used it to make the dumpling dough.

You put the dough into a ziploc bag with a corner snipped and squeezed them out over the simmering broth (brought back up to medium) and you cut them off in one inch chunks. Then you just put the lid back on the pot and let it all steam and simmer for about 10 minutes.

I must not have been the only one who needed comfort today. There was literally not a drop left after dinner.