Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Attack of the tooth eating squirrel

We came home to find our pumpkin looking a little different than before. We have a lot of brave squirrels roaming around and our pumpkin must have looked like a formidable snack. We've since brought in our gummy friend and will let him back out Halloween evening. Then again, he may look more ghoulish if we go ahead and let the squirrels rip him to shreds. What do you think?

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Also a great post by The Wednesday Chef from the other day called "Leap and the net will appear." Truly inspiring to me and the timing was perfect.

Monday, October 26, 2009

What to do with all those leftovers?

It's a Friday night and we are all home from a busy day. We rarely go out and still have all these leftovers in the frig but don't really want the re-heat and eat dinner. It's time for a frittata!
This frittata had 1 bell pepper chopped, 4 scallions chopped, 2 leftover cooked chicken breasts cubed, leftover spaghetti carbonara, pepper jack cheese grated, a little half & half and about 8 eggs.

Placed the eggs in a bowl with about 1/2 cup of shredded cheese and a dollop of half & half and beat well. In my pan I cooked the pepper, scallions and chicken until peppers were a bit wilted. Added the pasta and tossed until warmed and well limp (you know cold pasta is like a brick). Added the egg mixture (do not stir!!) and cooked on the stove for just a couple of minutes. Put more shredded cheese on top and put in 375 oven for about 15 minutes or done in center.

Voila! A totally new thing from the old and now new leftovers for the next morning.

Spiced pork tenderloin

Spiced pork tenderloin with champagne sauce

  • 1 pork tenderloin (about 1 pound)
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 cup champagne (white wine would work too)
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 1 tablespoon butter
Mix paprika, cayenne, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Place loin in bowl and coat well. In a hot pan with a little oil, sear loin on all sides then bake in oven for about 20 minutes at 375 degrees.

Remove pork from pan and allow it to rest. Using same pan, deglaze pan with champagne and let reduce to about half. Add in the half and half and simmer about a minute. Add the butter, then combine. Slice pork and serve with sauce on top.

Planning ahead

I spent most of the day Sunday cleaning, goofing off with the kids and cooking. That means I was in my own little heaven. I decided to make a couple of soups for later in the week to help free up some time after work. I find soups fun and easy and I was able to make both at the same time. Even better, I had enough of each to even freeze some.
Split pea soup. Recipe is from a Maltese recipe book I borrowed from mom. I used yellow split peas because I had them in my pantry already and wanted to use them up. I suppose yellow and green split peas taste about the same. A big batch of Minestrone. This soup is great for cleaning out your frig of vegetables. I also made a couple of loaves of bread for dipping.
I couldn't have gotten all of this done without my little helper. While I was busy on the stove with the soups, Bella was nice enough to feed Kristjan his lunch for me.
After some cool off time outside I made a family favorite with a little twist. Martha's tomato, sausage and spinach risotto. After finding I didn't have enough aborio rice, I used barley instead. Turned out great and this time there is more fiber!

Fun and play

Great pop-up book we got from Grandma and Grandpa. Both kids love looking at it over and over again. Bella has been also practicing her reading with it. I sometimes find her at the table working on her math books. She has some workbooks that we received as gifts and purchased for her to practice. She actually loves to do math for fun. I can't say that I share the same sentiment. I loved history and literature, not really math. Good for her!
He's having fun, really. Probably tired of seeing the camera in his face all the time.
Getting in some exercise before dinner.
This year's pumpkin Chris did it by hand instead of using a stencil. I think he did a good job. It's the classic look, don't you think?

Friday, October 23, 2009

A little visit to Hungary

I decided it was time to do some travelling in the kitchen and try something new. I made this delightful Hungarian dish called Pork Paprikash last night. As you can see from the color and in the name, it has a good amount of paprika in it.

Usually when I buy pork tenderloin, there are two loins in the package. Only one of those will be needed for this dish (about a pound). So just wrap up the other loin and save for later. Cut up the pork loin in about 1 inch cubes and toss in 1 tablespoon of paprika.

In a large pot boil a package of wide egg noodles, drain toss with 1 tablespoon butter, cover and set aside. While the noodles are boiling cook pork tossed in paprika in a large skillet with a little olive oil until just browned about 5 minutes. Remove pork and transfer to plate. In the same skillet cook 1 medium chopped onion until translucent.

Add back the pork, another tablespoon of paprika, 1 can of diced tomatoes, salt, pepper and 1/2 cup of water. Reduce to simmer and cook until the sauce has thickened. Stir in 1/2 cup sour cream and combine. Serve over buttered noodles, topped with chopped parsley.

My Bella has someone special that truly adores her. Even though she picks on him at times and causes him to cry, he still shows much love for her. If he can't see her, he always asks for her. If she cries, he tries to calm her. It is so very sweet. I love these times. I have to take it all in and pray I never forget.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Testing the water with both feet

There's that old wise saying to never test the depth of the water with both feet. That's completely true in most cases, but when you are like me and tend to stay on the edge contemplating whether or not to take a risk, I've found it's better to just jump in and see where it takes me. I've done that a couple of times lately with some dishes that I have been afraid to make thinking it would be too difficult or would fail miserably.

To my delight, they opened my eyes to great new experiences and gave me a little more confidence in the kitchen. The same epiphany happened last night with my first attempt at spaghetti carbonara. I was convinced that the eggs couldn't possibly be cooked enough and there was no way I was using any store bought eggs to make this dish.

I had some fresh eggs from my friend Kimberly's well cared for chickens. I trust those eggs and have even enjoyed having some eggs "over easy" again. It was the perfect time to hold my nose and just dive in with both feet and make this dish the real way.

Before I even started warming the water for the pasta, I first wanted to get the half and half, cheese and eggs as close to room temperature as possible to help aid in them cooking. In a large bowl, I whisked together the three eggs, 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese and 1/2 cup of half and half, set aside. I started up the water for the pasta. While that was heating up I grabbed 1/2 of a package of bacon and sliced them crosswise into about 1 inch pieces and cooked until crispy. Set aside on paper towel to drain.

After you have drained the cooked pasta, immediately place the pasta (even with a little pasta water still dripping) into the bowl with the egg mixture, add the bacon, season with a little salt and pepper and toss to combine. The heat of the pasta cooks the egg. I added some chopped parsley to mine and some shaved Romano cheese on top. **Very important! Make sure to serve and eat immediately! If you wait too long it turns into a clumpy dried up mass.

It was incredibly easy to make and very delish. To think, I used to make "carbonara sauce" from a Knorr powder mix (long ago, mind you)! Though, I do believe it took more preparation and effort to use the mix on this dish than making it from scratch. Imagine that.

Now, to apply this same thinking to other areas in life. Hold my nose and jump in with both feet.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Even good plain

Usually when I roast beets I toss them with salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar and a little extra virgin olive oil. Sometimes I won't use the balsamic and just stick with the oil.
This time I just roasted them, peeled them, diced them up and ate them. They are still very delicious, so nice they didn't need any accentuating in my book. I'm partial to this opinion because I adore beets and have found I prefer them fresh and roasted to the canned or pickled version.

I grew up finding beets in their familiar form pickled and served in most restaurant salad bars. I would always spoon up a nice portion on my salad plate and remembered to be extra careful eating them so not to stain my clothes. That was the only place I ever saw them unless we purchased a jar or can from the store.

Their versatility and health benefits has brought them more into the culinary limelight and now I can find endless recipes using fresh beets. I found a delicious looking Roasted Beet and Blood Orange Salad with Spicy Greens Recipe on 101 Cookbooks that I want to try. I'm also going to try a Beet-Feta tart (Orangette) and a Five Spice Beet Soup (Epicurious). I will also definitely make a point to try Jamie Oliver's Smoked beets with grilled steak and a cottage cheese. That looks and sounds like a flavor packed dish.

Right now I can only find the dark purple or red beets in the market but I hope all of the other beautiful colors will be available in my area one day. Soon I'll be experimenting with those recipes; but for now, I'll enjoy a little bowl full of my plain roasted gems.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

That was very nice

I have the perfect week night meal that looks and tastes delicious and takes very little time to cook. Last night I made Chicken with olives, raisins and Spanish rice. This recipe is in a series of quick chicken recipes on the Martha Stewart site and actually includes a video demonstration.

My version was a bit different from the actual recipe because I didn't have all of the exact ingredients that it called for. It called for golden raisins and I used regular raisins, used brown rice instead of white, seasoned the chicken with some Herbs De Provence and used champagne instead of white wine. I didn't have any white wine on hand but did have an old forgotten bottle of champagne (no, it wasn't a Dom Perignon or Pernod-Ricard Perrier-Jouet) in the bottom of the wine frig so I popped it open and used that. I also made a Mimosa for good measure.

Since I used brown rice, the procedure was a bit different. I normally cook up a large batch of brown rice in the oven for an hour and divide it up and freeze. I get a medium lasagna dish and put in three cups brown rice to 5 cups boiling water. Cover with foil and bake on hour at 375. For a faster process, by all means use long grain white rice as the recipe recommends and cook until water is absorbed.

For this recipe I started up the rice as soon as I got home (I didn't have any premade in the freezer). When the rice was done I put some in a large bowl, mixed in some salt, pepper, a little Earth Balance (or butter) and the fresh spinach and covered with foil. The heat of the cooked rice wilted the spinach.

For the chicken I cut chicken breasts lengthwise seasoned on both sides with salt, pepper and some Herbs De Provence and browned on each side. Covered with foil. In the same pan I added the wine, raisins and kalamata olives and cooked until the wine was reduced by half and then added the water. Cooked on high until reduced by half. Put Spanish rice on the plate with Chicken and topped with olive and raisin mixture.

My husband was very impressed with this dish and loved it. The saltiness of the kalamata olives are balanced out when you bite into some plump sweet raisins and I loved the buttered rice with spinach. Better yet, I was able to eat dinner before 8:00pm for a change. That was very nice.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Address the barriers

I sit here feeling completely lost in myself. Change is a part of life, so why do I immediately react with such cautious pessimism? When did I become so afraid of change or taking risks? I can't remember the exact date, but I wasn't always this way. Was I? Surely at least during my later teen years I held some kind of confidence in my decisions and capabilities. Where the hell did that mental mindset go?

I've been working for Gary for fifteen years now. There was a gap of a couple of years when he sold his first company and left. During that time I had a wonderful boss named Larry but for a larger company that never compensated, never acknowledged and he had no power to help me. I was barely getting by at that time and when Gary started up yet another business venture with promises of more pay and benefits I left Larry (sobbing) to follow Gary again.

Here we are again, he has sold the business to a larger company and now; with little notice, is leaving again. This time we are very short staffed, no replacement for him in sight, he's not giving any advice....nothing. What will happen to us? I struggle to keep those worse case scenario thoughts out of my mind.

I remember being a little concerned in the past when all these acquisitions and departures were occurring, but back then I rented, had no children and the economy wasn't in the crapper. Now things are different on all three of those levels.

So back to the top. That inquiry to how my brain works and why I must fight to think on a positive level. I am thankful for all I have. The love I have, the love I receive and the beauty of my children. My life could totally change right here and right now if I could only change my perspective. That's the battle I face within myself - why the hell can't I just break away from the darkness? This isn't my dream job by far and desperately want to find my purpose and live out my dream. Question is: What is that dream? I don't really know. I love to cook, love to write and love being home to create. How do I build a career from that? Where do I begin? How can I pay the bills during this thought process?

Change can be good, even if I do get let go. It will force me to take action and hopefully go in a completely different direction. They say the first step in obtaining your ideal career or purpose in life is to address the barriers that are holding you back. So far, the first barrier that is obvious to me is myself.

One of my all time favorites

Sunday was a beautiful day. It was in the high 60's, no humidity and not a cloud in the sky. I was able to still open some windows a bit to bring some of that crisp air in. It was time for a childhood favorite meal of mine. First, I had some saved frozen chicken bits to make into broth.
In my large stock pot I added the game hen bones and skin, some chicken necks, a whole onion, some carrots, celery salt, pepper and water. This simmered from 10:00am to about 6:00pm. This stock is ready to enjoy as is. I do happen to enjoy a heated cup of broth every now and then.
Here it is. Chicken noodle soup served over mashed potatoes. A great example of warming comfort food. In my stock pot I sauteed 1 chopped onion, 2 celery stalks chopped, 2 carrots chopped and 4 cloves garlic chopped. Since I was using my broth which has more flavor than canned (in my humble opinion) I didn't pressure cook a chicken for the broth and meat. I instead chopped up 2 chicken breasts in cubes and added it to the vegetables when the onions were translucent.

Once the chicken looked cooked I added broth, dried parsley, oregano, basil, thyme, salt and pepper. While this was simmering about 25-30 minutes, I pressure cooked my potatoes. I added some whole wheat egg noodles to the soup and simmered until noodles where done. Poured soup right on top of a dollop of mashed potatoes.


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I really had a lot of chores Sunday. I still have left over duties, I always do. Some times I can get them done during the week or they just carry over to the next weekend. I guess that's why it seems so endless....it never ends!
After Kristjan's nap I made a point to stop production, crack open a brew and head outside while the weather was still so lovely. I am thankful that we have a play set. We had it built because our local park is not as nice and clean as the one we went the day before. Kristjan got to go sliding again.
Kris likes to do things on his own and wanted to climb up every time himself. I give him a few months and he will be like a monkey on that thing.

Who needs toys when you have mixing bowls and loads of wine corks? Chris and I have an extensive collection of corks. We've saved every one for about fifteen years now. I'm still thinking of making those trivets with some of them and a couple of cork boards. That is, if Bella will let me.

Fall has arrived!

Finally a taste of Fall for us. This weekend was breezy and cool. I think just about everyone found an excuse to get outside this weekend. We headed to a local organic farm to pick up a pumpkin. This farm had a corn maze, hay rides and hay maze along with their produce and pumpkins. In order to enjoy those extra perks it was $8.50 a head. We didn't want to spend that kind of money so we opted to just select a pumpkin and pick some green beans.

Their pumpkins this year did not yield, so they had them brought in from a neighboring farm. It still had more charm than that roadside stand next to the highway.
Bella and Chris selecting that special pumpkin.
Kristjan is selling us on this one. He went around patting them all.
After we found that perfect pumpkin it was time to pick some green beans. It's not everyday I can enjoy fresh picked organic green beans. They will be added to Monday's dinner menu. Bella and the girls had fun helping me pick them.

It was such a nice day we all decided to head to a nearby park where we had a picnic and let the children enjoy the weather. For just $10 we all ate a great lunch outdoors and the kids had a blast. My friend Janet, her husband and their girls brought us to one of their favorite parks.
Hannah and Kali enjoying the jungle gym.
Kris's protective big sister helping him on the slide.
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Someone found out that he really loves to slide! I can't count how many times Kristjan would go down the slide and climb his way up again for another turn. He was doing this all on his own while Bella made sure he stayed away from any gaps above (with Chris and I watching of course).

They really had a great time. Both of them fell asleep on the way home. Chris and I took some back roads where I got to see some places I had not seen before that were actually really nice. Rolling green hills, grand daddy live oaks, cattle grazing and beautiful horse ranches. Funny how we tend to take the same path everywhere we go. Makes you realize how much you miss out on when you always take the path of least resistance.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Needs a little more

Last night I made Tomato pepper soup with ham and arugula wraps which to my delight, took no time at all. My broiler element still works on my oven so I've been using that feature carefully while I wait for my new regular heating element to arrive.

I broiled 3/4 of the tomatoes and opted for two red bell peppers instead of one as the recipe called for. I found that roasting bell peppers, placing them in a bowl covered with plastic wrap and peeling them was no trouble at all. So why have I been buying jars of roasted red peppers? I'll use fear of failure and a bit a laziness as an excuse. I should know better. Another "you can make it yourself" awakening.

While the tomatoes and peppers were broiling I pull out a large bowl and added the tomato juice , salt, pepper and pureed the remaining tomatoes and added them (I used my food processor on the tomatoes first). After the tomatoes in the oven where broiled, I processed them and then added them to the bowl. While the peppers were resting under the plastic wrap, I assembled the wraps. First the blended mixture of goat cheese, olive oil and lemon zest is spread on the wrap. Then a layer of ham, and then the arugula. Rolled them up in parchment paper and stuck them in the frig.

Lastly, I peeled the roasted red peppers, diced and processed them before adding to the bowl of the tomato mixture. I then used my immersion blender to puree the soup to a smoother texture.

Honestly, I preferred the gazpacho recipe I made prior to this soup. This was too acidic and could have used some sugar or garlic. Also perhaps more of a roasted flavor, I may not have roasted the tomatoes long enough or the addition of some caramelized onion could have given it the sweetness and smokiness it was lacking. I regret I didn't have a good amount of ham available, could have used more of that. In the end, I did enjoy dipping the wrap in the soup and found that to be a good combination. To our surprise, it was quite filling. It's amazing how these vegetable soups can fill you up.

It's time to work on the menu for next week. I have a Maltese split pea soup recipe I would like to try called Soppa tal-Pizelli. Seems easy enough for a week night meal. I think pizza may be in order again for Sunday and of course a pasta dish or two.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Soup time!

I am desperately trying to get into the spirit of fall and the holiday season even though it's still a blistery 98 degrees outside. I love the colors, food and mood of the fall and winter. Too bad it's so damn hot! It's seems silly to have decor of maple leaves and winter squash down here, but we do it anyway! I look forward to the time when I can experience the change of seasons and maybe even have a real snowman at Christmas one day.

I've been eating and making winter vegetables and am in the mood for warm and hearty soups. Saturday's pumpkin soup was so delicious, I must get the recipe, make it and share it. Last night I went over to my parents to heat up my sweet potatoes (due to my dead oven) so I could make this soup. It was truly delish and I loved those sweetened apples with it. It really was quick and easy and filled us up nicely. No guilt included. That's always nice.

Sweet Potato Soup

  • 4 sweet potatoes
  • olive oil
  • 1 small onion chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 red bell chopped
  • Greek vanilla yogurt
  • 2 jalapeno peppers chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves chopped
  • 1/2 cup dark rum
  • 4 cups vegetable broth

In a 400 degree oven bake potatoes until soft in center, remove insides and and discard skin.

In a large pot, add onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and caramelized. Add bell pepper, jalapenos, and garlic; cook for 5 minutes. Add rum, sweet potato, and broth. Bring to a boil and then reduce to simmer and cook about 20 minutes.

If you have an immersion blender, place in pot and puree soup until smooth, otherwise, you can work in batches and use blender. Taste again and see if more salt or pepper needs to be added.

Sweet Curried Apples for topping:

  • 2 teaspoons white-wine vinegar
  • 4 teaspoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon curry powder
  • 2 small apples peeled and diced

While the soup is finishing simmering, use a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the vinegar, curry powder and honey to a boil. Add the apples and saute until golden, just a few minutes.

Put soup in bowl, add some apples on top and then a dollop of Greek vanilla yogurt. You can use sour cream if you like.

For the love of school pictures

I'm not a big fan of the school picture. I think people look much more alive and bright through candid shots. I really didn't like any of mine and from what I can recall, most people loathe their school pictures. They become pretty comical once you've grown up and look back at them, especially during those awkward puberty years. Though, do kids even have that anymore? I mean, most females go from looking like a girl at 10 to looking like a woman at 11. All those hormones in the dairy and chemicals in the boxed foods... That's another topic all together for another time.

School pictures are an institution though. They show the gradual changes in a person through the years. Probably because the pose never changes, but the features and hairstyles do. I have a picture frame next to my bed where I display the large 8x10 school photo of Bella. Every single year or school photo from daycare ever since her first one at 10 months old is in that frame, with the most recent one on the top. I have the same for Kristjan. He's on picture number one so far. Every year when I put the new photo on top, I look through all of the photos from oldest to new again and am amazed. Sometimes I get teary eyed, sometimes I laugh. It's all good.
Here is Bella's 1st grade school picture. She's looking so lady like. Originals to go out in the mail.
Crash and burn. When you play this hard, you can fall asleep anywhere. I think the ottoman was at the right place and the right time.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Twenty pounds of tomatoes

Last night while getting ready to prepare dinner, I had the oven warming up to heat up some chicken for Bella. I noticed through the oven window these flashes of light. At first I thought perhaps some bits of food from a previous cooking had landed on the element and was burning so I didn't really pay much attention to it. When the bursts kept illuminating through the oven window, I opened it back up, lifted the foil I keep on the bottom and noticed that the element was sparking.

It was starting at the right hand side and this bright red sparking light was moving left towards the other side of the element where it meets the back of the oven. The element had broken and this ball of fire was moving towards the other side. I turned off the oven but it didn't stop the movement. Chris shut off the breaker, removed the element and had to order another one.

Of course; this week, I have almost twenty pounds of tomatoes to roast and no oven to roast them. My sweet potato soup also requires the oven along with the roasted beets. I'll either have to improvise or use the grill instead of the oven. Please....if it's going to rain, do it early this week.

Spaghetti Puttanesca

  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 6 rinsed anchovies,
  • 1 can (28 ounces) whole tomatoes, and their juice
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 1/2 cup chopped pitted kalamata olives

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water according to package instructions; drain; return to pot.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, crushed red pepper, and anchovies, if desired, mashing them with a wooden spoon. Cook, stirring, until garlic is fragrant, 2 minutes.

Add whole tomatoes and their juice, breaking up tomatoes with hands. Stir in capers and olives. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Simmer until thickened, 5 to 10 minutes. Toss with pasta; season with salt and pepper. (Martha Stewart)

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Since I was surprised with steak the night before, I didn't grill up any meat for Sunday like I had planned on my menu and went with the pasta for a lighter meal after Saturday's feast. I like to give my system a beef break and don't like to eat it two days in a row if I can help it. For us, beef is usually a once a month thing, so this week is a little change from that.

I didn't have any spaghetti around so I used linguine. I assume just about any pasta would do. I did add the 1/2 teaspoon of the crushed red pepper and it gave a nice heat. This was a super fast dish, great for the week night rush and very delish! I'll be keeping this one in my recipe box.

Getting back on track

Last week was a mini whirlwind for us. Bella was out for three days due to strep and then on the day she returns to school, daycare calls needing Kris to be picked up. Back to the doctor I went to get him tested. Luckily, he didn't have strep, but did have a sinus infection. My mom helped us out greatly and watched him on Friday for us.

Here we are in the exam room waiting for test results. Despite the mild fever and runny nose, he was in great spirits. We are now all back to work and school all the while keeping our fingers crossed to stay happy and well.

Saturday Chris and I enjoyed a foodie inspired night out together at our friend's place. We brought a case of assorted home brew with us to sample and give as well as some appetizers. Mom made a delicious platter of Kapunata for us to bring, I made some hummus along with a platter layered with roasted red peppers, grilled portabellos, basil and fresh mozzarella drizzled with balsamic vinegar.

My friend Kimberly had prepared a beautiful display of Horsd'oeuvres herself. Some sweet potato and yucca chips sprinkled with blue cheese and balsamic vinegar, some imported olives and fresh baked bread. Before dinner we enjoyed some dreamy pumpkin soup served with toasted pumpkin seeds and chives. The home brews were being tasted and enjoyed and we took a stroll out to see the barn and the chickens. I also got some more of her wonderful eggs! I'm so excited. I covet them.

Kimberly's husband brought out the cast iron skillet and seared up some fillets. Dinner was Filet Mignon topped with a blue cheese cream crust, served with sauteed leeks. On the side was a small dish of mashed roasted garlic and balsamic and a glass of well aged port wine. To my surprise she had a dessert in mind. Whipped marscapone cheese with fresh berries and some chilled Frangelico.

It was wonderful. I can't say that any restaurants that I have been so far where we live could compete with any of that. The combination of the wonderful food, drink, company and their beautiful home made it just perfect. Too bad we can't eat this way all the time. Though, I believe my waistline and ticker would disagree. We had such a good time, we didn't get home until after 1 am. I remember gasping: "Chris! It's midnight, we have to go home!"

When we got to their front gate, we noticed one of their cows were out and next to the road. We then had to persuade her to go back into the pasture which made us even later. I still chuckle when I remember seeing Chris corralling a cow that evening.

I will have to remember to again thank mom and dad for watching the kids for us. We really enjoyed our evening!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Week ending Oct 16th

It's been a while since I've had the time to plan out a menu for the week. Whether this technique saves me any money at the grocery store is yet to be concluded. Seems the theme for this week is the tomato. I'll be needing at least 7 pints of the little cherry tomatoes this week.

Sat - A night out with some Horsd'oeuvres and home brew
Sun - Grilled steaks or pork chops (depends on $$) with grilled tomatoes & scallions
Mon - Roasted sweet potato soup with curried apples
Tues - Spaghetti puttanesca
Wed - Tomato-pepper soup with ham & arugula wraps
Thur - Seared salmon with polenta and roasted tomatoes
Fri - Leftovers/raid pantry or perhaps I'll be surprised. There's always hope.

For this Saturday mom is going to make me some wondrous Kapunata for us to take to our date out. I'll be accompanying that with that some homemade hummus. I will make two loaves of bread and then also take a platter with basil, roasted red pepper, mozzarella and grilled portabellos drizzled with some balsamic vinegar. We have to make sure we fill the belly while we sip on those high octane home brews!

A complete transformation

I have found out that my favorite way of cooking vegetables is to roast them. Cooking them this way completely transforms them into rich, sweet and robust little entities. I was blown away with the cauliflower, broccoli even tastes great roasted, you can't beat a roasted beet and roasting tomatoes and garlic is like heaven on Earth. Peppers and onions also create some amazing flavors. So why not roast some of my favorite things and instead of just eating them as is; which would still be wonderful, but puree them into a nice sauce. Perhaps tossed with some pasta.
Some roasted whole cherry tomatoes, 1 onion, several garlic cloves and some red bell pepper. Chopped them all up, tossed with salt, pepper and olive oil to lightly coat and thrown into a 375 degree oven.
I still wanted some chunky texture to my pasta dish so I browned some cubbed potatoes. I put them aside and in the same pot added sliced mushrooms and 2 zucchini largely chopped. Cooked them until some where browned and mushrooms reduced then added back the potatoes with the addition of some pitted kalamata olives.
Puree from the roasted vegetables.
For some added crunch I toasted up some pine nuts and cooked a couple chopped slices of bacon.
Cooked the pasta until al dente (saved at least a cup of pasta water). In the pan with the potato mixture I added the puree and the pasta and tossed under med-low heat adding the pasta water as needed to cream up the consistency. Kind of like when you add it to pesto to easily spread the ingredients throughout the pasta. I sprinkled the pines nuts and crispy bacon bites on the top.

I think this same roasted vegetable puree would be wonderful if just used as a sauce over chicken or even a grilled steak. It could be used for so many dishes. Add some crushed red pepper, eggplant, cilantro... It has me so very excited with all of the endless possibilities. I know this isn't new to the culinary world, but it's a great eye opening experience to a want-to-be foodie like me. Every new discovery in the kitchen brings me crazy childlike happiness. I truly know what I love to do. I wish I could do it more often.

Here is a recipe for a rich roasted sauce that can be accompany most meat and vegetable dishes and can also be frozen for later use.

Rich roasted chicken jus
  • 6 chicken wings
  • 1 large onion, quartered
  • 3 medium carrots, roughly chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
  • 5 sprigs thyme
  • 1 head garlic, cut in 1/2
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a roasting pan add chicken wings, vegetables, thyme and garlic. Season well with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Roast for 30 minutes until the wings are nice and brown.

Remove from the oven and set over medium-high heat on the stove top. Add white wine to deglaze and scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan using a wooden spoon. Add the chicken stock and continue to simmer for 5 minutes to reduce the liquid until about 1 cup remains. Remove from heat and strain through a china cap, pushing some of the vegetable pulp through the strainer with the back of a ladle - this will help thicken the jus slightly. Add the cold butter cubes to the jus and swirl until it melts. Season again with salt and pepper. (recipe - Tyler Florence)
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I plan on making Tyler's ultimate version of Chicken Cordon Bleu filled with prosciutto di Parma and Gruyere cheese which includes a side of brussel sprout and potato hash, some of the above sauce and a dollop of homemade cranberry chutney this weekend. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Incubation period - only time will tell

I am sitting here feeling pretty healthy all in all and wondering if perhaps I have some virus or other offensive bug incubating inside and in a day or so it will show it's fury and reek havoc on my body. Meanwhile I am oblivious to think that I may be contagious to others. How would I know? I'm feeling fine. Only time will tell.

Too bad we don't have a flap of skin or section of the body that changes color to alert us that we are contagious to others. I wonder how many people would try and hide that feature. I am thinking a possible sci-fi movie here. There absolutely would be chaos if we could see infectious people walking around. Perhaps that wasn't a good thought after all.

The reason for my query is that Bella was diagnosed with strep throat yesterday. She's been showing symptoms since Saturday. Saturday night being the most extreme because of the pain. The doctor informed me that this bacterial throat infection can lie in incubation for up to eight days before symptoms arise. This means, she caught this bug towards the end of last month. There has been a lot of hugging and kissing of children since then. I fear for her brother now. Only time will tell.

I also found out that if left untreated, strep throat can sometimes cause complications such as kidney inflammation and rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever can lead to damage to the heart valves. Not a nice bacteria to play with.

The children received their flu vaccinations Friday. At first I thought it was possible side affects from that causing her issues. When on Monday her symptoms did not cease, we took action. Ahh...the wonders of the school year and the passing of germs. She's on antibiotics and at home resting. She seems to be feeling better.

When Bella was Kritjan's age she used to love playing with balls. She called them "b-balls". Kristjan simply says "ball". There is another object that Kristjan did follow in the "b" tradition after his sister though. It's the "b-bus". He loves school buses or any large yellow vehicle and calls them "b-bus". He even sleeps with one from time to time.

Brewing treasures

A beautifully chilled glass of Chris's Rye IPA that he brewed about two months ago. This is a single batch of 5 gallons and going fast. This beer so far is one of my favorites from him. It actually tells a story in your mouth. From the initial hoppy smell, the rich flavor and then the intense finish, this beer is wonderful. It also packs a nice punch. Chris uses 20 oz bottles. One bottle can usually accommodate 2 glasses like above. Just one bottle will get you feeling pretty damn good.
Currently in the fermenting cooler we have some chocolate stout bubbling. It will stay in this carboy churning for perhaps another week before he adds some cocoa nibs to enhance more of that chocolate flavor. From that point he may transfer it into a secondary fermenter for a time before bottling.

He likes to make the darker brews for the holiday and our "we wish were colder" winter months and the lighter beers for our hot summer months. Chocolate stout can be just as satisfying to the tummy and sweet tooth as hot chocolate. So to me, I can picture myself all curled up in a blanket with a good book and a good chocolate stout. Now that does sound nice.