Thursday, May 14, 2009


My apologies for such a long break between posts. We have been upending everything in the apartment in preparation for a move. Then, of course, there was the pre-coffee Saturday morning where we realized termites were swarming through the wall of the apartment. We were NOT happy campers, let me tell you! After the initial cleaning frenzy in which we vacuumed the termites into an old vacuum cleaner, we unhooked all of the electronics in the nook from which the termites emerged. We only reconnected a few pieces—we weren't planning on packing all of that up, but a nice adrenaline rush helps you accomplish quite a lot!

So, we have been sorting, purging, and packing like crazy. Our indoor kitty will have a whole sunroom to bask in, rather than just a few windows, so he will love it. He's just not very happy with all the chaos that is making laps rather scarce these days.

We will have a sunny kitchen, just next to the sunroom. Great for pictures in future entries! (I actually have some pics and recipes saved to post when I stop packing long enough to take a breath.) And after years of apartment life, my sweet husband gets to have a grill again! What do you think of some posts on grilling? Anyway, we are in the final stretch of the home stuff now. Hopefully I will have some pics of the new place to share soon!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Simple Things in Life

Sometimes, I just crave something simple. And on the occasional Friday, my sweet husband brings home some farm-fresh eggs—straight from a coworker’s farm that morning. The next morning, he fixes me a strong cup of coffee, and we snuggle on the couch as I slowly awaken. (He knows that I don’t like to eat when I first get up!) So we wait awhile, together.

He eventually starts our late breakfast: eggs, sometimes beaten with a dash of milk or cream, then scrambled. These fresh eggs are unbelievably yellow! Meanwhile, I toast the bread. When the eggs are just cooked through, he smothers them in grated cheese, usually extra sharp cheddar or pepper jack, and pops them under the broiler. Besides melting the cheese, this makes the eggs puff up.

He always tells me to fix my sandwich first, because he knows I am pickier about how I construct it. Of course, this means he gets all the eggs that are left over, so he has a bigger sandwich! A little salt and pepper, and we are set. Okay, one quirk here concerning eggs—I have to use the pepper that you buy very finely ground rather than grinding it fresh. If I ever get the slightest hint of crunch from the pepper, it makes me think of eggshells.

It would be easy to add other things to the sandwich. I think tossing in diced onions and bell pepper while you are scrambling the eggs would be nice. Very rarely, we add a couple of thin crispy slices of bacon. You could also include a bit of sausage, diced ham, pulled beef/pork/chicken, or pancetta. Some spinach would be tasty, and mushrooms, if you like them. Herbs such as chives or dill, or perhaps a hollandaise instead of the mayo and cheese, would be a nice twist...but sometimes simple is the best option!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Free Cake for a Year!


Gourmet Mom on the Go is hosting a giveaway on her blog sponsored by Naturally Nora All-Natural baking mixes! Everyone uses shortcuts sometimes, and it's always nice to find a shortcut that isn't full of unpronounceable ingredients. Naturally Nora all-natural baking mixes (five flavors of cakes and four frostings) have all natural ingredients: no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives and no hydrogenated oils or trans fats. They don't contain any dairy or soy, either, and they are even kosher. You can even compare the ingredients of Nora's mixes and name brand mixes for yourself.

Mandy at Gourmet Mom pounced on this great idea, and now Nora is offering a year's worth of free cakes—that's twelve cake mixes and twelve frosting mixes! Here are the rules to enter:

For one entry: Go to Nora's site and leave a comment on Gourmet Mom's post with your favorite flavor—tell her you heard about it on my blog!
For two extra entries: blog about this giveaway, then leave a comment on Gourmet Mom's post to let her know, and remember where you heard about it!
For FIVE extra entries: purchase any of Nora's products, then (again) leave a comment on Gourmet Mom's post, and don't forget to mention me!
The giveaway ends April 6th, so enter today!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Decaf, Sharing, and True Love

So I was given one of those giant Hershey's Kisses.

I was thinking about chopping it to make chocolate chunk cookies, but let's be wasn't going to happen. Therefore, like all giant Hershey's Kisses, it sat on the kitchen counter.

Until I was on the phone while my husband was fixing some after-dinner decaffeinated coffee. For some reason, he doesn't really grasp the concept of sipping decaf by itself. No, he seems to need something—anything—sweet to accompany his decaf. (This does not seem to affect him when he drinks the regular stuff.) Anyway, I noticed he was replacing the foil wrap around my chocolate. MY CHOCOLATE! I wasn't eating it, and I really had no plans for it, but it was mine, nonetheless! The other shoe had yet to drop, though. After I got off the phone, I summoned up my snarkiest tone and said, "Of course, you can have some of my chocolate. You know I don't mind sharing with you, sweetie."

He breezily replied, "You didn't even notice that I had eaten some last night!" The other shoe. This was not his first pilfering of the chocolate. He then realized the great peril in which he found himself, and the apologies began. I actually didn't mind, especially since he shared. He didn't just share the chocolate, though. He shared that classic combination of chocolate...and peanut butter! (Crunchy peanut butter, even. My favorite.)

He loves me.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Family That Bakes Together...

We recently visited with some of my family to celebrate the birthday of my beautiful niece, newly in double digits. Her mom made one of the BEST birthday cakes I've ever tasted! She told my budding foodie of a niece to pick out a recipe for any cake out of her cookbook collection, and she definitely picked a winner for her mom to prepare!

The cake was yummy—a lemon-flavored cake mix that she doctored. The REAL star was the filling she put between the layers. It was very tangy and lemony, thanks to the very generous amount of lemon zest it contained. The frosting was a nice light sweetened whipped cream frosting, and she topped it guessed it, more lemon zest! It was as pretty to look at as it was tasty.

It reminded me of another homemade birthday cake. Years ago, when I was even younger than my niece is now, I received a much-anticipated present. My very own Easy-Bake oven! My grandmother (Mom's mom) visited, and she made up recipes for cake and frosting mixes. She also pulled out the food coloring and various extracts and taught me how to use them (just a tiny bit at a time). We made a three-layer birthday cake, each layer a different color and flavor; the frosting on each layer was also a different color and flavor. I had a little tiered cake stand that I used, instead of making a layer cake. I really thought I was little miss super gourmet!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Cream Cheese and Broccoli Chicken

First of all, you'll notice that I am not posting any pictures of this recipe. You see, the broccoli was not so much bright green florets as muddy green mush. It all started with late night internet surfing for too many recipes, followed by grocery shopping after late-afternoon dental work...

I'm getting ahead of myself.

Okay, I admit that I spend FAR TOO MUCH TIME looking at food websites like Tastespotting and various food blogs. And yes, there are a GAZILLION food blogs. It all starts innocently enough, when you find out a friend has a food-themed blog and you browse through their posts. Of course, I'm one of those thorough types—I have to methodically check out new stores, aisle by aisle, shelf by shelf. My husband is normally the meticulous one, but even he doesn't understand this. So how does this affect how I look at blogs? I devour them. I read the profiles, I look at their archives, and I look at the blogs that they link to. Lather, rinse, repeat.

So, I stumbled across A Year of Crockpotting's Cream Cheese Chicken post and Southern Plate's Chicken Divan post during a weekend bleary-eyed late-night blog-visiting spree. I wanted to find a new recipe—something creamy and comforting that I could cook in the crockpot, something to use the boneless skinless chicken breasts I found on sale. I bought several pounds of chicken, and I wanted to fix something other than the usual suspects. Anyway, after stumbling out of the dentist's chair the next day, my husband and I went to the grocery store. As I walked the aisles, my mouth was so numb I couldn't keep from biting my cheeks and tongue; however, I had just enough feeling returning that I could TELL I was biting them. My jaw muscles were throbbing, I was tired from the aforementioned late nights, and the list only existed in my head (mistake!). The recipes above swirled together in my memory, so I grabbed a mixture of ingredients from them, as well as a few other items to round out the week's menu.

When I got home and pulled out the crockpot recipe, I quickly realized my mistake. It did not call for broccoli, but I did want to include it since I already had it. It also did not call for the ranch salad dressing mix that I mistakenly thought I had in my pantry. It called for Italian salad dressing mix. What I actually had was a packet of onion soup mix. I added some Italian seasonings to try to bring it back toward the intended flavor, along with some lime juice just to brighten it up a little. I don't like mushrooms, especially the odd black cubes that lurk in cans of cream soup; instead, I used cream of chicken. Oh, and I didn't have any chicken stock left, so I had to reconstitute some bouillon. So what I made was kinda like the original recipe. Just completely different.

The flavor was really good, but the color and texture obviously suffered from the broccoli fiasco. Next time I make it, I will add it near the end. I'll definitely use homemade chicken stock. I may also try the Italian salad dressing mix, or the homemade version of the seasonings. Who knows, I might even make homemade cream of chicken soup! So here's the recipe as I made it. (To refer back to the crockpot recipe for the seasoning changes, click here.) I realized I wanted something crunchy on top, so I checked to see what I had in the pantry. I ended up topping the individual portions with a strange multicultural mix—a sprinkle each of French-fried onions, chow mein noodles, and sliced almonds.

Cream Cheese and Broccoli Chicken

1–2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 pkg onion soup mix
1/8 tsp parsley
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1–2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 cup hot chicken stock or reconstituted bouillon
app 2 Tbsp lime juice
app 8–10 oz frozen broccoli
8 oz neufchatel or cream cheese

  • Add chicken, soup, soup or dressing mix, seasonings, and garlic to crockpot. Pour hot stock over mixture.
  • Cook on low for 6 hours, or until chicken is cooked through and tender. Remove chicken and chop or shred.
  • Add lime juice, broccoli, and cream cheese. Stir to combine and replace lid.
  • Turn crockpot up to high for another 30 minutes, or until broccoli is tender and the cream cheese is melted.
  • Serve over rice or pasta (I used medium grain brown rice, and I also replaced 1/4 cup of the water with the sauce—before the cream cheese was added—to add a bit of flavor.)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Playing Mad Scientist in the Kitchen

This is a lovely one-dish meal, creamy and tangy and full of vegetables! It is also a “cook once, serve twice” recipe. I serve half of this sauce recipe over the pasta and freeze or refrigerate the other half to serve later, but for a larger group, just double the amount of pasta. It will thicken slightly after cooking. If you serve half of this over pasta, it serves 3-4 people.

As I said in the title, this is one of my “mad scientist” kitchen creations. It all started when my husband had a business lunch at an Italian restaurant, and he called to gloat about having Chicken Saltimbocca. He was talking about all the vegetables it contained and how nice and tangy the sauce was, and I remembered the new bottle of really strong red wine vinegar I had just bought. Later, I talked with my younger brother, and he mentioned one of his favorite Italian dishes. It’s a very old-school Italian-American dish called Chicken Francese, and he loves the bite of the lemony sauce, particularly when it includes briny capers.

That did it. I decided to make a pasta sauce with lots of veggies in a tangy tomato-cream sauce. I went to my pantry and my refrigerator to peruse the possibilities. Red wine vinegar was a must—and to me, the stronger it is, the better. I had some heavy cream and sour cream, as well as some capers and Italian-seasoned diced tomatoes. Three beautiful zucchini were in my crisper, and I had an onion, too. Of course, I had garlic. A whole chicken was in the fridge, so I put it on to boil with some veggies to flavor the broth. (I still prefer to boil my chicken ahead of time so I have homemade chicken broth for my sauce and pasta. I also add a few tablespoons of broth from the pasta into the sauce, since the starches released by the pasta help the sauce adhere to it.)

When my husband walked in the door from work, the smells hit him at the door and a smile spread across his face. After he finished his pasta, he turned up the bowl and drank the sauce! I have refined the recipe a bit since then, but the essence remains the same. It is pretty awesome, if I do say so myself! The only thing it is lacking is a name, so feel free to offer suggestions.

Okay, so let’s gather all the ingredients together. Here are the major players from the pantry and fridge:

Slice the zucchini and salt it. Set it aside for at least 30 minutes to allow the salt to “sweat”.

Pat the salt and moisture off, then dice the zucchini into bite-size pieces. (I love how bright green and summery it looks!)

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan on medium heat. Cook just until the onion begins to soften and become transparent. The zucchini should still be bright green and pretty firm.

Here’s a really fun part to me! Tilt the skillet, and pull the onion and zucchini to the top of the skillet away from the heat. When the oil runs to the lower end, and pour the Italian seasonings into the oil, with the minced garlic on top of them. The oil heats the spices and the fragrance is wonderful! When you smell them, they are done. Lay the pan flat again.

Add the tomatoes, juice and all! This quickly lowers the temp, so I add the dairy while it is cooler, as well as the capers and fresh-ground black pepper. (If you are like me and like this really tangy, you can add a bit of the brine from the capers.)

Reduce the heat and let it simmer, stirring occasionally.

Undercook the pasta, about 1-2 minutes less than the package says. This is especially true if you use Dreamfields pasta (as I do), since it almost falls apart if you overcook it at all. Just after adding the pasta to the water, add red wine vinegar, broth or wine, and cooked chicken (or other protein source) to the sauce. In a few minutes, you should smell the vinegar!

Drain the pasta, but do not rinse it! It will continue to cook after draining, but I still like it to stand up to the veggies and rich sauce, which is why I like to undercook the pasta. Take the sauce off of the heat and add your lemon or lime juice for just a bit more tartness and a fresh flavor. Serve the sauce over or combined with pasta. Garnish as desired with feta, goat cheese, fresh herbs, pine nuts, etc.

Reserve half of the sauce to serve at another time. Here are a few tips:
  • Instead of chicken, you can try Italian sausage, shrimp (add just before serving to avoid overcooking), eggplant, tofu, etc.
  • If you are watching your carbohydrate intake, I suggest Dreamfields pasta because it has very few net carbs per serving.  You can also serve this over cooked spaghetti squash.
  • If you want to lower the fat content, decrease the amount of fat-free half and half and increase the low-fat or fat-free sour cream to maintain a thicker consistency.

So here's the actual recipe:

My As-Yet-Unnamed "Mad Scientist" Pasta Sauce

1–2 small zucchini, diced
app. 1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 c. onion, diced
1 tsp. Italian seasonings (I use the McCormick Italian Seasoning Herb Grinder)
app. 1 Tbsp. minced garlic
2 cans Italian-seasoned diced tomatoes
1/2–1 Tbsp. capers (optional)
1/2 tsp. fresh-ground black pepper (or to taste)
3/4–1 c. heavy whipping cream or fat-free half and half
1/4–1/2 c. sour cream
app. 1/2–1 lb. cooked chicken
app. 1 c. chicken broth (can substitute vegetable broth or white wine)
12–16 oz. shaped pasta
app. 1/8–1/4 c. red wine vinegar
app. 1 Tbsp. lemon or lime juice

  • Slice zucchini in half lengthwise, then salt it liberally (preferably with kosher or sea salt). Set it aside for at least 30 minutes to allow the salt to draw out excess moisture. Pat the salt and moisture off; dice zucchini.
  • Put olive oil in a large sauté pan on medium heat. Add the zucchini and the diced onion to the hot oil. Cook until the onion begins to soften and become transparent.
  • Tilt the skillet slightly, and pull onion and zucchini to the top of the skillet; let the oil run to the lower end and pour the Italian seasonings and minced garlic into the oil. Allow the oil to heat the spices until they become fragrant, then place the skillet flat again.
  • Add tomatoes (including juice), capers, fresh-ground black pepper, heavy whipping cream and sour cream; stir.
  • Reduce heat to medium-low and let it simmer slowly, stirring occasionally.
  • Cook pasta very al dente, about 1-2 minutes less than indicated by the package directions.
  • Just after adding pasta to the boiling water, add red wine vinegar, broth, and cooked chicken to the sauce.
  • Drain pasta; remove sauce from heat and add lemon or lime juice; serve half of sauce over or combined with pasta.  Garnish as desired with fresh herbs, pine nuts, goat cheese, etc.
  • Reserve half of the sauce to serve at another time.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Most Wonderful Man in the World!

Today is my husband's birthday. Most of our celebration will take place over the weekend, but I want to pause for a minute and focus on him TODAY.

When I was younger, I wanted to marry a man with green eyes. I really hoped that his hair would be just a little bit reddish--not red--but just enough to show up when the sunlight hit. And if he could have just a bit of curly tendency to his hair, that would be wonderful! (Not the so-curly-you-have-to-keep-it-cropped-super-short kind of curly.) When I say younger, I mean since elementary school, these have been my secret hopes.

And tall. Very tall. I had a dream a few months before I met my wonderful husband. In that vague way that you "know" the back-story of the events of a dream, I knew that my husband and I were hosting some kind of party at our house. I never saw his face. As everyone finally trickled out the door, we walked onto the back porch to see the last rays of the setting sun, where I put my arms around his neck and we kissed. Something struck me about this moment in the dream, so when I woke up, I had to check it out. I enlisted the help of my long-suffering teenaged brother to discover how tall this man was. Once I got a baseline of how tall he was, I made him stand on a precarious perch of phone books and dictionaries until he was close to the height of the mysterious Man of My Dreams. I was only an inch or two off of my husband's actual height. The dream faded from my memory within a couple of days. Years later, however, we were at a party at someone else's house. We slipped out onto the back porch alone, catching the last rays of the setting sun, and as I leaned against him, I experienced the strangest feeling of deja vu...

Now, before I sound like some shallow, silly woman, of course I wanted all the substantive things. He is kind and generous. He prays for me. He is a good, godly man who is a hard worker and provides for us. He is intelligent and witty and has good manners. He can carry on conversation with brilliant Mensa members with multiple degrees, prominent business leaders, blue-collar quarry workers, or an elderly woman from a rural area who never went beyond elementary school. Because he listens--truly listens--they respond. He learns from their stories, but not in a cautionary, "how can I avoid having their life" kind of way. He loves my parents, my grandparents, and my brothers and their families. He enjoys spending time with them. Perhaps most amazingly (being a dog person when we met), he accepted my cat. And they have grown quite fond of each other!

It goes beyond finishing each other's sentences. Random things pop into both of our heads at the same times! We love to read and discuss books, articles, and poetry. We take music and podcasts when we travel, but we rarely get to listen to any of it because we are too busy talking. Or just enjoying the sound of the road while we hold hands. He doesn't mind watching "chick flicks" with me, although he does need to intersperse them with football or action movies. He likes my cooking, and he likes to cook and bake, too. He can even shop for groceries UNSUPERVISED. (I heard the collective gasp of all married women, but it is true. My mother has even attested to this fact!)

And, completely unprompted, he brings me chocolate.