Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Beautiful

That was the first thought that came to my mind when I saw my cousin Rachelle on her wedding day. Absolutely stunning. Congratulations to newly married Mr. and Mrs. Bianchi and their families.

xoxo Nessa

Man's best friend, the dust buster

Forget the dog. Anyone that knows Chris knows that his best pal at home is his trusty dust buster. We hear that thing buzzing along all the time. Especially after meal time. Does Chris have a little OCD (obsessive–compulsive disorder)? I believe so, and he'll admit to it and not really care. He's not one to like a mess or cleaning it up. It's funny though, because kids love to make a mess. Especially during meal time.

It's actually funny to see him walking around with this thing all the time. I don't mind at all. I suffer from a bit of OCD myself. Just in other areas that's all. I believe we all have areas in our lives where things have to be a certain way.
See, the kids don't mind it either. Kristjan just sits there while those blueberry muffin crumbs get sucked away.
There's still some food lingering on the face however. I guess the dust buster can't pick up everything.

Leftovers and a new rotation

I'm bad about prejudging how much rice to make for us. Packaged pasta is easy for me, I always cook the whole box. If by chance there is any leftover I save and toss in salads. If I cook a cup of rice, there isn't enough and if I do two I always have leftovers. I would rather have too much than to run out so I usually go with two cups. Then there's those occasions when we order Chinese food. They always throw in too many containers of rice.

I hate to toss out food. I'm sure I have mentioned that before. Money in the trash. I printed a recipe out that called for making a side dish with orzo pasta. Then I thought...hell, I have a tub full of leftover rice from the red bean dinner the other day and I have a container of leftover grilled veg from Saturday's dinner. I think I'll make a rice salad instead. I'll try that orzo side dish some other time.
In a large bowl I threw in my cooked rice, chopped up my leftover grilled eggplant, zucchini and onions then added some chopped kalamata olives and capers.
For some crunch I toasted and chopped some pecans and tossed them in too.
Then I added the zest and juice of two lemons, salt, black pepper, chopped parsley and extra virgin olive oil. I left it out to come to room temperature and be ready for dinner time.

I still wanted to make the chicken portion of the recipe I printed though. It's from Martha's site under "Spinach and Brie Chicken with Tomato Orzo". I did have to make a little change however. The brie at my market was very expensive and they had fontina cheese on sale, so I used that cheese instead. I laid out the chicken cutlets and first put down a good layer of Dijon mustard, then some previously frozen spinach that was thawed and drained. On top of that I placed the fontina cheese. I thought to cut the cheese a bit to make it easier to roll up the chicken. Topped with some salt and pepper.
Rolled them up, rubbed on some olive oil and topped with gray salt and black pepper. I put the oven rack to 4 inches below the top and then broiled these babies for about 10 minutes.
Since I didn't make the orzo side, I really didn't have a sauce for the chicken. I wanted a sauce of some kind. In a separate pan I cooked up a small diced onion and 2 gloves of chopped garlic.

Once translucent I added a cup of white wine and a few rosemary sprigs and let reduce. Once reduced, I added some butter to finish. I know! It's so not me! I added a lump of butter to something! I figured - while I'm eating lots of cheese why not go all the way and make a rich savoury sauce!

Next time I'll puree the sauce. It would look much more clean and fancy I think.
All done! It was awesome. Chris loved those little chicken rolls so much he ate his dinner portion plus half of his lunch portion for the next day! He told me this recipe must go on our regular dish "rotation". They were very tasty indeed. The combination of the tartness of the Dijon with the creaminess of the cheese and chicken. Yummo!

I will make this recipe again this way and the original way with the brie and tomato orzo side. I'm sure it's just as lovely that way. Martha's recipes have always been a hit with us. Even the modified ones! :o)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Channeling a little Jamie

Technology is good. I have to say I love my DVR cable box. I can't sit and watch the television whenever it fits my fancy and most of the shows I love aren't on when I am home. I can record them and save them to watch them later. I have the ability to record a series so that I'll never miss recording an episode. I'm referring to the "Jamie at Home" series on the cooking channel. I love watching him create easy and fresh recipes from his garden. Can I be your neighbor?

One of his favorite tools in the kitchen are his hands. They do many different things and happen to be free! I needed a light meal and thought Caprese would be just the ticket. I also wanted to make it the Jamie way. By using my hands to help this time.

I had two pints of grape tomatoes that I washed and cut in half, then half again. In a large bowl I put in all my chopped tomatoes, salt, pepper, pinch of cayenne and some olive oil. With my hands I dug in there and squished the tomatoes between my fingers to loosen the juices up and to tenderize them will mixing in those flavors I added. I gave it a taste and was ready to eat it right then! Where's the bread?

I cooked up some pasta and drained , saved some pasta water and set aside.
In the tomato mixture I added a large bunch of chopped basil and some chopped buffalo mozzarella.
I added the pasta then tossed well while adding more extra virgin olive oil, good balsamic vinegar and pasta water until I got the flavor and texture I was looking for. Man it was good! One of my favorites and so easy to pull off.

If make this and have leftovers, make sure to take it from the frig and let it warm and loosen up some before eating it.

Explosive flavor

A few weeks ago we attended our foodie dinner and the theme was soul food. Our friend Joe brought in red beans and rice. It was fantastic, my favorite entry. I had to have the recipe from him. Sunday I made it happen. With just a little difference. He used andouille sausage, I used Portuguese Chorizo. I couldn't find any fresh andouille.
First I browned the chorizo in a pan. I cut them in large enough pieces so that upon eating the dish, one could remove them if they didn't want to eat them.
The trilogy all chopped.
In the mortal and pestle a whole garlic bulb with some gray salt.
Worked until almost a paste.
Once the trilogy had cooked in some olive oil until the onions were translucent, I made a well in the center and added the garlic paste. Cooked quickly in the oil, then deglazed with some good dark beer.
I then added the red beans that had soaked overnight, the sausage, cumin, pepper and some stock. Put in a preheated 325 degree oven and cooked slowly all day. **Make sure to put in plenty of stock. Double the amount than what you have in bean mixture. I checked mine after a couple of hours and had to add more liquid as it had reduced more than half!
Look at that! This is after about 5 hours in the oven. I added a large amount of chopped parsley before I served. Believe it or not, my Dutch oven cleaned up lickety split. I used my beloved Le Creuset Dutch oven. I have three in my collection so far, all given as gifts. They are well made, can handle the heat and clean up so easily. They are worth their weight in pure gold and should last me a life time.
The flavors in this dish were amazing. I served over Basmati rice. I'll make it again with the andouille next time to see how that goes and remember to add more stock in the beginning.

Dream house

Before I get going here, let me take a moment to correct myself on a previous post. I feel I should do it and it will make me feel better.

On a previous post I mentioned that I listen to a show once a week on the Martha Stewart channel. I described her as having a small show on the Martha channel. Well, she's much more than that. She's also "One of the nation's best known career coaches" – CNN. So to you Maggie Mistal, I'm sorry to describe you as small. You are a great success! :o) Here is her site for more info.

Now for the dream house. It was constructed with sheets, pillows, chairs, books and the mini princess house. There were 2 bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. Bella kept sending Kris into his room for time out. The kids spent hours playing in it during a long rainy Sunday.

I see you down there Bella!

What if you take a risk, and it goes fantastically right?

That is what one of my dear friends Janet said in response to my post "Three steps, maybe four" when in my post I asked myself; "What if I take a risk and it ends up going horribly wrong?"

I asked if perhaps I should display my soul search list so far and see if I'm missing anything that perhaps others see in me, that I don't see. She thought it was a great idea. So here is what I have so far. Sorry if it seems a bit corny or long. If you just want to check out my next food dishes, just skip this post!

Interests and Why:

Taking care of my family - I love to take care of my children's and husband's needs and loving them with all my heart.

Cooking - I can be creative, express myself, please others, I love food, brings people together, nourishes the body, it makes me happy and relieves stress. What I am going to make for the next meal is always on my mind. Cooking is always in my thoughts.

My blog and writing - I can be creative, express myself, inform others and learn along the way. I have become fond of expressing myself through my writing. I love to research my topics, search for recipes, learn about food, health issues, chefs, etc. I would live in my blog if I could. I would love to be a free lance writer or be employed and write articles on topics for others.

Jamie Oliver - He's a chef, he's real and cooks food as I like to cook and as I like to learn to cook. Simple, no frills, real food. I am inspired by his free will and spirit, is craft, his generosity and his passion for food.

Foods and traditions - I love to learn about other cultures and their foods. I love to try out recipes from all over the globe and broaden my pallet.

All things Martha Stewart and her shows - I love to listen to topics about food, gardening, whole living and other topics. I am always listening and learning.

Nutrition and health - I like to know what I am putting in my body. Learning about the chemicals being manufactured and labeled as food has really started a fire in me. I am always on the hunt for new information on what hides behind the labels, how food affects the body, good and bad. How to make food that does not come from a box, bag or can. Teaching my children about food

Giving when I can - I love to give by cooking for others. If they love my food, it makes me very happy. I like to donate healthy food to the school for the children every week, helping others when they need help. It feels good.

Home keeping - keeping the house in order and organized (when I can!) calms me and makes me feel safe that I can find what I need and know what I have.

Home decor - I am always in search of ways to make our house more of a home. I am constantly inspired by magazines and other homes with their ideas and uses of art and decor for the home. Anything to make it feel warm and cozy.

Good wine and good beer - along with good food, I love to taste good red wine with food and enjoy the many flavors of good brewed beer. When the children are older, I would love to help Chris brew and learn the craft.

Art - I love all forms of art and love to create. To me it's a monumental form of expression that can't be said to be wrong. It's from the heart and soul and available for others to enjoy or even hate.

Photography - I fell in love with photography when I gave Chris his nice digital camera. I use it most of the time and I love being able to catch life forever in moments. Sometimes even getting it so right that it's beautiful.

Food origins and animal welfare - I love to dig and learn more about the horrors of factory farming, it's toll on the planet, it's toll on our health and the animals' welfare as well as knowing where our food comes from, how it's processed and what to avoid.

Fashion - I love fashion. Can't afford it really, but I love to appreciate it as art. If I had movie star money, I would have a ball dressing it up! I admire and love to see what others have created from their minds and sewing machines. The clothes, the bags, and other crafts. It's a beautiful form of expression capable of making people smile.

So there you have it. That is what I have so far. The purpose behind all of this is to help me find the right path to take on my adventure. What do you think?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Thank you Jamie, Janet, Joe and Chris

This post is dedicated to all of the wonderful people that helped me create a lovely Sunday dinner.

It's great when everything comes together so well. I spent most of the day slowly preparing things throughout the day in between cleaning, playing and resting. I had no idea in the beginning that all these little additions would create a great combo by the end. To start things off, I woke up a little miffed because I forgot to soak the chick peas overnight. Not a problem though, there was an easy solution!

If you ever forget to soak your chick peas (or any dried bean) overnight and you have a little time to spare that day, do this:

Get a cup of dried chick peas and look through for any foreign objects. Put them in a pot and cover with water. About 4 cups of water. I usually make sure they have enough room to double in size. On the stove, heat up those beans in the water until boiling. Let boil 2 minutes, then remove from the heat, cover and let sit for 2 hours.
I have to thank our chef friend Joe for this fantabulous hummus recipe. He turned me on to using dried beans from canned for hummus. He also recommended cooking them in broth instead of water for more flavor. This hummus rocks! Thank you Joe!

Hummus by Joe:
  • 1 cup dried chick peas
  • 3 tablespoons tahini
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed black pepper
  • juice of 1 large lemon
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 4 cups stock
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • water
Rinse your soaked beans in cold water. In the same pot add back your beans, the stock and cook about 2 hours or until the chick peas are soft when you crush them between your fingers. Once they are done, rinse them again in cold water then transfer to food processor along with the garlic, cumin, pepper, salt, tahini, lemon juice and olive oil. While processing slowly add water until it reaches a firm but creamy consistency. Serve with a little cumin sprinkled on top.
Finally got back to baking some bread. This loaf is from some dough I had resting in the frig for a week. I make enough dough to bake a couple of loaves. The loaf from the aged dough is always the best. I have to thank my dear friend Janet for this recipe and for teaching me to bake bread. Thank you Janet!
Salted some eggplant prior to grilling to get some of that water out. Don't forget to rinse before you grill!
Grilled eggplant and zucchini tossed with chopped fresh herbs (rosemary, oregano and sage), salt, pepper and olive oil. The rosemary goes beautifully with the eggplant. This idea of tossing the veg with herbs and oil comes from my culinary hero Jamie Oliver. I love his way of cooking, very fresh and simple. Thank you Jamie!
Our favorite way to enjoy onions these days. They are sweet with a smoky taste. Yummo!
Grilled shrimp marinated with sesame, soy and ginger with the leftover herbs from the veg. Chris loves his charcoal grill. He uses the chimney with newspaper to get the coals ready instead of lighter fluid and cooking with it seems to relax him. He grilled all the veg and shrimp for us Sunday and it all turned out delicious. Thank you Chris!

It turned out to be a great day and a great meal at the end. Now, to remind myself to soak my dried red beans tonight as I will be trying another yummy recipe of Joe's. Red beans and rice with Chorizo. Can't wait to see if it's close to being as yummy as his was.

Back to school

I'm trying to remember. Was I excited about the new school year when it came around? I think that's a yes and no answer. I remember being excited about going into middle school because I was going to be hanging with the older kids. Then when it was the first year of Junior high, I remember getting sick the first day because I was so nervous.

I was a different little girl in comparison to my Bella. I was shy and nervous. Bella; while a little shy when put on the spot, has never met a stranger. When I am with her at school, kids and teachers from all directions are saying "Hi Bella!". It also happens at the grocery store and mall. I'm always amazed at all the people she knows.

She was very exited about school this year and loves her new teacher. This was the first year she wanted to pick out her own clothes. It was all about the peace sign and Paris this year. I was happy that Old Navy and other stores had great sales on such items.
She got her clothes ready for her first day.
She also picked out her back pack this year. All packed and ready to go.
And he's out again. Kris helped us gather all the school supplies for the big day. He did a little swimming and played all day with the train set. At least we know he got enough sleep before the big day!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Three steps, maybe four

While I'm at work, I tend to listen to the Martha Stewart channel on Sirius radio online. Yes, I'm a nerd. I do listen to music every now and then, just depends on the mood. Usually though, I would rather listen to topics on food, gardening and home keeping while I work. Keeps my spirits up.

There's also this cheerful little career coach that has a small show on Martha's channel. Her name is Maggie Mistal and she's very upbeat and positive about how the importance in your career is not the financial destination, but achievement of inner happiness. She says that continuing to work somewhere just to make ends meet without feeling that sense of personal fulfillment is a waste of precious time in life. She claims that even in this rough economy, change can happen if you really want it.

She's so right. I know she is. I've known that all along. Yet, what am doing?

I am thankful to have a job. I really am. But I'm stuck in a square office without windows under bright fluorescent lights for 9 hours a day plugging away on subject matter that means absolutely nothing to me personally. Don't get me wrong, I do my best to do good work - always, but I'm only here for the money to survive. Period. I shutter at the thought of doing this forever until retirement. I have co-workers much older than me, unhappy and trapped. I can't let this be my fate.

Why am I stuck here? Because I'm scared. What if I take a risk and it ends up going horribly wrong?

Maggie says in order for the plan to work you must: "Soul search, research, then job search." In that order. I'm in the infant stages of soul search right now and I'm not finding it very easy. I can't just pin any of my dreams, passions and inspirations down to one thing yet. I'm all over the place. That honestly scares me too. Why can't I just find "it" and say "Yes, I love making or doing __________!" I love a lot of things, one in particular hasn't hit me like a Mack truck yet and said to me "This is your calling girl!"

I have been waiting for a sign, or a nudge or something. Perhaps I'm not seeing them and they are all right in front of me. Maybe instead of me telling America to take their blinders off, I should give it a try myself.

I'm working on my soul search list where I'm writing down the things that I enjoy, people I admire and feelings I get with them. Hopefully I can find my answer and be able to move on to the research stage.

For all of this to work I'm guessing somewhere in between soul search, research and job search I'll have to do a fear search and give it a swift kick in the ass.

Use it up!

I can't stand tossing food in the trash. It's money being thrown away. I constantly have to remind myself to explore my frig every night to make sure there's nothing hidden that I can't see. There have been too many times food has expired or gone bad because we didn't see it or remember it was there.

This meal was an example of saving some potentially lost food souls. It was time to use it up! I had two tins of sliced button mushrooms needing attention, my arugula was getting limp and starting to yellow and my cherry tomatoes were giving me dirty looks on the counter. Oh, and the summer squash was threatening to get violent.

My aunt Vivian and mom used to make this wonderful creamy parsley and mushroom dish for me. I decided to go that route with my mushrooms with a little twist.

I sauteed my mushrooms with a little olive oil until most of the liquid was out, then added some chopped garlic. After about 5 minutes I added some fresh chopped parsley, salt, pepper and some almond milk and simmered until reduced a bit. Once the sauce had thickened I added my arugula and tossed until wilted. It turned out very yummy indeed.

For my rebellious tomatoes and squash I had something else in mind. I turned my oven to 450 and in a large bowl, I added my whole cherry tomatoes, one red onion sliced in quarters, salt, pepper and olive oil and tossed. I threw those in a large baking dish and roasted until the tomatoes had a little brown on top. Then I tossed in the summer squash and cooked about 10 minutes more.

Served the roasted veg with a little sauce over some jasmine rice. It was a light and great meal and I didn't have to throw any money away.

Chicken Nuggets

Last night I was in a bit of a rush but wanted something different out of chicken breasts. I get tired of chicken sometimes. I mean, skinless and boneless chicken breasts are pretty nasty on their own. Ever tried a poached chicken breast? Not much going on there. That's why we always each chicken breasts with a sauce, stuffed or well seasoned.

I had some sliced chicken breasts to use so I decided to make my version of nuggets with them.
It was a quick process. While they baked away I had the kids bathed, school lunches prepped and the side dish chopped and ready to prepare. Chris was out battling our lawn while the sun was out.

I preheated the oven to 350. In the middle of each breast slice I placed one 1/4 inch slice of feta cheese and a small slice of thin prosciutto, then folded the chicken around and placed seam side down in an oiled baking dish.

I had saved tomato juice from the night before when I roasted a bunch of tomatoes. In that juice I added some chopped kalamata olives, 3 cloves chopped garlic and 1/4 cup chopped sun dried tomatoes, a little olive oil, salt and black pepper. Mixed that all together and poured over the chicken. Baked for about 45 minutes. ** Mine were a bit over done as we didn't get to just sit down and eat right when they were ready. Just make sure to check and make sure they are done. Serve with broth poured on top.

For the side I chopped up a fennel bulb in thin slices, sliced up about 8 radishes, drained and rinsed a can of cannellini beans and washed up two bags of baby spinach.

In my saute pan with a little olive I cooked the fennel and radishes until tender, added the beans, salt and pepper. About 10 minutes later I added the spinach, some veg broth and juice from a lime.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

My new favorite sandwich

Time has not been my best friend so I haven't been baking bread as often as I would like. I still love bread and in my little world, it's the bread that makes the sandwich. Those loaves of sliced bread in the "bread aisle" aren't in my mind good at all. The kids love it, I think they stink.

I like bread with hearty crusts and prefer a sourdough flavor. I really love breads that have large holes and light on the inside. My favorite place to get great bread in my neck of the woods (which really is actually about 30 minutes away as most in my neck of the woods prefer "Wonder Bread") is Target. Yes, I said Target.

Their French baguettes totally rock. Long with a hard crust and soft airy interior and I love their large Ciabatta loaves. There's nothing like them anywhere near us.
My new obsession on saving time and money is my giant ciabatta sandwich. It changes each time. This one had pesto smeared on each side, goat cheese, tomatoes, sliced onion, lots of arugula and grilled chicken. This one sandwich makes enough for dinner and lunch the next day.

This past week Ninnie and Emily came to visit for a few days. Mama Ruby turned 103 this year. The kids also had fun playing in the pool in between rain storms.
Kris playing with his whales in the pool.
Bella and Emily. They both love being with each other. Someday I hope they can be closer so they can grow up together.

It's already after 5pm on Sunday now and I'm dreading my day of work tomorrow. I guess I'll get up now and begin preparing dinner. That will bring my spirits up for a while.

Facebook food club

I believe I may have mentioned before that we are in a small, yet growing facebook foodie club. It all started about 6 months ago when a friend of mine decided to form this club after she noticed the same individuals responding to her daily "What's for dinner?" posts. The replies range from extravagant foodie delights to fast food fatties. Those of us who have been replying with great meals throughout the months decided to band together for dinner every couple of months and all bring in a dish to share. There have already been three meetings. Each with a different theme.

The first meeting was themed around the main course of fillet roast. The second was Spanish tapas or other favorite appetizer foods. The third and most recent theme was soul food. I have to tell you, Chris and I left early on this one. There was so much "rich" food there containing butter, lard, bacon, cream, cheese, etc. We were really miserable. The first thing we did when we got home was take our cholesterol medicine!

I went as authentic soul as I could get while others threw their own into it. I made skillet cornbread served in a cast iron skillet, collard greens cooked with ham hocks and okra with butter beans.
My beautiful collards before cooking. I love greens.
There were some yummy fried meats. Pictured is catfish. There was also fried chicken and fried gator tail.
Sauce for the catfish.
A creamy squash casserole. There were other savory dishes not pictured. Macaroni and cheese that was recreated with farfalle, Gruyere and lobster meat and there was also cheesy grits served with shrimp cooked in a bacon broth.
Can't forget those southern desserts. This was the fruit cobbler.
Upside down pineapple cake. Not pictured we also had pecan pie and bread pudding with whiskey gravy.
We have an actual chef that has joined our group. His foods have so far been my favorites as they all have been packed with flavor and you can tell he knows what he's doing. This was is delicious red beans and rice with andouille sausage. Not pictured we also had black eyed peas and smoked barbecue ribs.
Pimento cheese dip. It was my first ever experience with this dip and it was very delish!
Pickled okra pin wheels. Surprisingly good.
My cooked collards. It turned out just they way I wanted. Tasted just like those I've had at some of my favorite country restaurants. My okra and butter beans was not a hit. I didn't realize how slimy okra is. Grossed me out.

We have not decided on the next location or theme for our next meeting yet. Chris and I will be hosting a meeting when the weather cools so we can open up our small home to make more room. The theme when we host will be English pub style food. Fish and chips, bangers and mash, Cornish pasties, Scotch eggs, corn beef and cabbage, Shepherd's pie etc. Chris will make sure to have some stout or other pub brews ready as well.

Grilling and brewing

It's been a whirlwind of a time for me. Just really busy at work and even with taking a day off here and there, it's hard to feel "rested". Thursday of this week I had the day off and spent the day alone with my Bella. We did some mall hopping, school clothes shopping and window wishing. We had a great time and Bella loved picking out her clothes. She's all into the peace sign this year. Too bad I got rid of all my old peace and grunge apparel.

We first had a nice breakfast at her favorite restaurant called "Cafe Fresco". It's a small family owned restaurant. Very clean with simple, yet consistently lovely meals. She truly digs their French toast made on large slices of Italian bread with a couple of strips of bacon on the side.

Kristjan always enjoys and requests right away if not already on the table, their feature home made sweat bread for breakfast. Usually there is something yummy like pumpkin spice, banana nut, zucchini bread or apple spice bread in a basket. Kristjan loves it.

Friday I also had the day off. I spent most of the morning at therapy. I have patellofemoral syndrome in my right knee. Lots of pain at times. It's a bring down right now as I have had to stop walking with mom for a while until my therapy is completed.

After therapy I ran errands, got groceries, cleaned house and battled the laundry. Even with all that, it was still ten times better than being stuffed in my windowless office all day at work.

Saturday we decided to break out the grill in between rain showers after Chris brewed is latest batch of beer.
It was a beautiful spread! Nanna and Nannu came over. We played in the pool, visited, cooked and ate a great grilled meal. Bella enjoyed some new flavors as well.
Grilled plank salmon with pesto on top.
Dad's delicious garlic and parsley potatoes.
An assortment of grilled yummies. Some eggplant, zucchini, onions and apple maple chicken sausage. I love grilled veg. I think I'm just going to start grilling all my veg on Sunday so I can use it in different dishes throughout the week. There wasn't much left at all for leftovers of this meal.
Chris pouring in his brew into the carboys after a day of cooking.
Ten gallons of yummy IPA. They are currently fermenting well. It will be over a month before drinkable.