Thursday, March 31, 2011

It's Gettin' Hot in Here

So I realized I never told you about where we went last weekend. And here it is Thursday already! Shame on me. Thatmom enjoyed our winter retreat to Palm Springs so much last year, that we made a return trip last weekend.

As I noted, we weren't expecting much. The weather was supposed to be awful - raining and cold all weekend. And of course, since it's California, you never can predict the weather. So instead of rain and cold, it was sunny and beautiful. Well, it was windy, but at least warm enough to lie by the pool for a bit. And do a ton of shopping. And eat at all of our favorite restaurants.

The weather has continued to heat up all week. Today I think it reached it's peak. It was in the 80s. Let me remind everyone, that although tomorrow may be April 1, today is still March. 85 degrees in MARCH?

It was far too hot for cooking. Even Thatdog looked at me like I might be crazy when I entered the kitchen. So this is my easy instant, almost no cook dinner. It's more no cook if you have a rice steamer like I do, or some rice already made. But even if you have to make rice on the stovetop, it won't heat up the whole house, or even the whole kitchen.

Now, if you'll excuse me, there's a popsicle in the freezer calling my name.

Almost No Cook Chicken Burritos
1 cup cooked brown rice
1/4 cup salsa
1/2 cup cooked chicken breast, diced
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 whole wheat tortillas

  1. Combine salsa and chicken and microwave for 2 minutes. (The microwave, like an oven only faster, hotter, and with far more radiation - yay!)
  2. Stir in the cheese and rice.
  3. Divide mixture between the two tortillas and roll up.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fightin' Words

The other day at work I was speaking with a coworker about a theory she had. "Your first fight in a relationship is the fight you will continue to have the entire relationship." As usual, I didn't fit the mold. Our first fight was about me planning to end our relationship when he went off to law school, while he wanted to stay together. We had that fight exactly once.

The fight we have throughout our relationship involves his desire to move back up to the Bay Area. We have this fight multiple times a year, always precipitated by a visit to his family. For some reason, Thatboy believes that if we lived up there, all our problems will magically be solved. Not only that, but somehow all his family's problems will also magically be solved. I've never been convinced.

I know most people rave about San Francisco, but I just don't have the same draw. The number 1 reason would obviously be the proximity to the inlaws. The number 2 reasons is the insane cost of living up there. California has a HCOL to begin with, but San Francisco pushes those limits much higher than our own little city by the bay down here.

Luckily this fight only lasts a week or so, until he remembers he likes the warmer weather, the ability to surf year round, and the cheaper cost of just about everything. (Thatboy was incensed during our last visit that Starbucks is more expensive up there.)

My compromise? Frequent visits to his family every year. And of course, when I saw a recipe for a "very popular San Francisco dish," I just had to give it a try. Of course I don't know what makes it a popular San Francisco dish. There is nary a rice-a-roni in sight. If any of you have a clue, PLEASE fill me in!

Little Joe's (from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook)
3 Tbsp oil
1 onion, chopped
1 lb lean ground beef
1 lb spinach, blanched, well drained, chopped
4 eggs
4 Tbsp freshly grated Parmesean cheese

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until soft.
  2. Add the beef, mixing with the onion and breaking it up into small bits with a fork; cook until the redness is gone.
  3. Add the spinach and mix well. Stir and cook for 3-4 minutes, then salt to taste.
  4. Mix a dash or so of Tabasco with the eggs, then pour them over the beef mixture and stir until the eggs are set.
  5. Remove from heat and put on a warm platter. Sprinkle parmesean cheese over.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Lunch Lady

Before Thatboy lived with me, I'm not sure how he survived. I have a vague idea that involved eating very little or frozen meals. Once we were married I took over making sure he had "three hots and a cot." (Who says marriage isn't like prison.)

When we were first married, my typical day involved arising so early that the roosters were shooting me dirty looks. I was out of the house by 5:15 am and heading down to San Diego for either work or school. I would work or educate all day, arriving home around 8:30 or 9pm, make dinner and lunch for the next day, and head to bed. Most nights I would bring my dinner with me, so it had to be made a day ahead of time. And likewise, lunches were made the night before.

During that time period, I usually brought leftovers for lunch and Thatboy had a very basic meals - peanut butter and jelly, a piece of fruit, and some little snack like pretzels or crackers.

Then we moved down to San Diego and suddenly I was home by 7ish many nights (and some nights I was home even later, but that's a story for another day). Which meant I had time to make us both some more creative lunches. And lunches just happens to be the theme for this week's Eat.Live.Be.

I love the bento-style lunch boxes that have separate compartments that make packing lunches so much easier. I use the "Fit and Fresh" box because I love the way that the icepack sits in the middle, and the bottom is microwaveable which makes it even more versatile.

Here are a couple of examples. Today's lunch:

Some cubes of skim mozzarella cheese (protein), half a cara cara orange (fruit), and some homemade crepes filled with lemon curd (carbs/dessert). Thatboy LOVED this lunch and sent me a thank you text. It's light on veggies, but we'll make that up with tomorrow's lunch.

And tomorrow's lunch:

Whole wheat pasta tossed with broccoli, edamame, walnuts, and olive oil. (Carbs, protein and veggies), Carrots with dressing (veggies), and roasted beets with cara cara orange (fruit and veggies).

But it's hard to be creative with lunches day after day. Which is why I turn to my favorite lunch bloggers for ideas and inspiration. And I'm more than happy to share them with you.

The one that started it all for me was Lunch Nugget. This introduced me to the whole idea of bento lunches and creative treats. Geared for children, they work equally as well for adults.

And some others:
Cooking Cute
Lunch In a Box
Bento Madness
Vegetarian Lunchboxes
Another Bento Blog

Next week's topic is creative ideas for fruits and veggies. Where I'll address some of the concerns voiced in response to yesterday's post. Or "Is that how your parents behaved?"

And here are a list of the other bloggers participating:

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Colors and Vegetables

This week on my cooking board we were discussing some of our "soap boxes." I mentioned that one of my food related ones is anti-veggie hiding.

I just don't get it. I don't like lying about ingredients to "trick" someone into liking it so you can say "AHA! Got you to eat (broccoli/onions/asparagus/carrots). What does that teach our kids? Veggies are only good when covered in chocolate? It's okay to lie about things?

Why not, instead, teach kids to love veggies in a different way. Find a preparation they love. Have them help make it. Use loads of bright colors. Toss some bacon on top. It's easy to say you don't like something when you've only had it prepared in one way that you don't like. But there are so many ways to make veggies, that I definitely think that if at first you don't succeed - try another way!

Ranch dressing is usually a kid pleaser. So make a cold veggie salad and toss it with some ranch. Add in more colorful pasta and veggies. And obviously you should sprinkle bacon on top of it. You know what? Even if it's messy - let them eat with their hands. It's always more fun to eat food with your hands, and soap and water exist for a reason.

Veggie Salad
8 oz spiral pasta
1/2 cup ranch dressing
1 Tbsp Italian Seasoning
1/4 tsp dill weed
3/4 cup broccoli
1/4 cup sliced red bell pepper
1/4 cup cucumber slices, chopped
2 green onions, sliced
2 slices of bacon, cooked.

1. Cook pasta, drain, and cool.
2. Add dressing, seasonings, and veggies.
3. Sprinkle with crumbled bacon.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A different sort of meatball

I usually associate meatballs with spaghetti. I know - you do too. It's a classic dish. There's a song about it! No one sings "On top of a pile of rice."

But I know there are some of you who are more apt to think "grape jelly" when it comes to meatballs. And of course there are the Swedish variety, and the kind that come on foot long subs. In short - meatballs are far more dynamic than we give them credit for.

It's easy to see why so many dishes make good use of meatballs - little balls of meat cook quickly and can take on a variety of flavors depending on what you cook them with. Similar to hamburgers, you can add all sorts of your favorite toppings.

I love my meatballs cooked with onions. No matter what I'm going to do with them. Cooked and caramelized. They add a sweetness to the meat. This Hungarian style meatball uses my favorite Bohemian spice - paprika. Add in some sour cream and you get a nice thick sauce to coat those babies in. I was going to serve it over some regular brown rice, but a special request from Thatboy had me using his favorite wild rice mix instead.

Hungarian Meatballs
2 slices bread
1/4 cup milk
2 Tbsp onion, sliced
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 Tbsp parsley, minced
1/2 Tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 cup sour cream

  1. Soak the bread in the milk. While soaking, saute the onions in the butter until they're translucent.
  2. Break the bread and pour off the excess milk. Mix with the beef, salt, pepper, parsley, and mustard.
  3. Form the meat into little balls. Put the balls in with the onions, cover, and cook gently, turning after 10 minutes. Cook on the other side another 5 minutes.
  4. Add the sour cream and heat, stirring it around the meatballs. Dust with paprika and serve.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Chip n' Dip

We're heading on a mini vacay this weekend. Details to come next week. I'm both looking forward to it, and not looking forward to it. I know - I'm crazycakes. Tonight, as you read this, Thatboy and I are probably stuck in AWFUL traffic, and starving, and cranky. And with luck, it's probably raining. Because nice weather only lasts here for a couple days before we start getting hail and monsoons.

Over our years and years of car trips, I have learned a very important lesson. Pack snacks for the car. We vary what we bring. I'm a big fan of bite size fruits - clementines, berries, grapes. Thatboy like Doritos. We both love gummy sharks. For this trip, we've got chips and dip! Easy to pack, easy to eat in a car, and obviously fun. There are few things in life more fun than dip.

If you're not new here, you won't be surprised by my use of yogurt as the dip base. Creamy, tangy, and fat free!!!!! Which means you can snack on this VIRTUALLY guilt free. I also am trying to encourage Thatboy to eat more yogurt. It's good for your stomach, filled with loads of the good kind of bacteria. Since the yogurt base is so "healthy" I feel justified in adding some cheese to the dip. I'm a big fan of cheese in dips. Aren't you? Add in some veggies and you're good to go. As a side thought - this also makes a great base to toss in more veggies, like broccoli and tomatoes, or even pasta for a nice summer salad.

Italian Dip
16 oz Greek Yogurt
1/2 cup mozzarella, shredded
1/4 cup red onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp basil, chiffonade

1. Combine yogurt, cheese, onion, garlic, and salt. Refrigerate overnight.
2. Stir in basil.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Around the World in 80 Chilis

Most of you know that chili is one of my favorite foods. I didn't realize the regional differences in chili until just a few years ago. I assumed everyone ate chili the way I ate chili - beans and ground meat, served with toppings like cheese and onions, and of course, cornbread.

And then I learned about Cincinnati chili - served over spaghetti, or chili and fritos, or chili topped with jalapenos, or chili over rice. It seems that chili can vary from location to location. And frankly, one of my missions in life is to try them all. Why not? I mean, is there anything more noble than opening your mind to new and exciting chili?

I cheated on this one. The quintessential Texas chili is "Chili Con Carne" - Chili with Beef. It's a beanless chili. I know, chili without beans? I had to add some in. Baby steps, people, baby steps. Instead of cooking the beans with the chili, I cooked them separate and served the beans overtop. Chili over rice and beans. It had a very tex-mex flavor to it, so I'm going to go ahead and call it authentic.

Chili Con Carne
1 lb beef chuck, cubed
1 Tbsp flour
2 Tbsp butter
1 clove garlic, mixed
1 Tbsp chili powder
  1. Roll the beef in flour.
  2. Heat the butter in a heavy pot and brown the meat.
  3. Lower the heat and add the garlic. Cook for 1 minutes.
  4. Add 1 cup water and the chili powder, stirring to blend. Cover and simmer for 2 hours. Salt to taste.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Been a While Since Bruschetta

When we went out for Thatmom's birthday, we were all starving by the time we sat down at the table. We decided to get some bruschetta to begin, but had to decide between something classic - tomato and basil, or something a little different - white bean. We stuck with the classic. Why mess with something you like?

Well, I'm here to tell you, that messing with bruschetta can give you some glorious outcomes. I have a bad habit of forgetting things I have in the pantry. Things like olives. Which I seem to buy every time I go to the store, despite the fact that I always have a jar on the shelf. Which means olives get put into a lot of my dishes. Mostly things like pasta and salads, but as I sit here waiting for roast chicken that feels like it will never be done, I decided it would be excellent in an bruschetta type appetizer.

Kalamata olives scream "Greek" to me, so I added some feta to my mixture of tomatoes, basil, and olives. And as easy as that "Greek Bruschetta" was born. Similar enough to the original that you're bound to love it, but different enough to spice it up every now and again.

Greek Bruschetta
1 tomato, chopped
1/2 cup feta, crumbled
1/4 cup kalamata olives, chopped
1/4 cup balsamic vinaigrette
1 Tbsp basil, chiffonade

1. Combine all ingredients!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Deep in the Heart of Texas

I've only been to Texas once. It was an eye opening experience. As with most places I traveled, I fell in love with certain things. Houston didn't thrill me, but Austin was full of life, music, and bats. San Antonio was charming, with the river winding through town, and of course, The Alamo.

Growing up on the East Coast, we didn't learn much about the history of the West Coast. Pretty much California was introduced only through the Gold Rush. Anything between the Mississippi and the Pacific Ocean was pretty much a blip. So I knew NOTHING about The Alamo. I guzzle up history with glee, so I could have spent days wandering the site and trying to read everything.

Texas food is known to be big and bold on flavors. Barbecue, Mexican, even their very own Tex-Mex style. So when I spotted a recipe for "Texas Hash" in my Fannie Farmer Bible, I knew it would be brimming with taste. It's almost like my favorite beanless chili, with rice and cheese. Are you sold yet? If you want to get technical, it's definitely a stovetop casserole. Meat, veggies, rice, and cheese baked together in a sauce made from tomatoes. It's a one pot wonder that will have you leaving your heart in Texas.

Texas Hash (From the Fannie Farmer Cookbook)
1 onion, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 Tbsp canola oil
1 1/2 lbs ground beef
1 tsp chili powder
16 oz can of tomatoes
1 1/2 cups cooked rice
3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

  1. Heat the oil in a skillet and saute the onion, celery, pepper until tender.
  2. Add the meat and brown.
  3. Add the chili powder and tomatoes. Cook for 10 minutes.
  4. Stir in the rice and heat until the rice is warmed through.
  5. Pour into a shallow baking dish, top with cheese and run under the broiler for a minute or two until it bubbles.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Day in the Life

This week on Eat.Live.Be. we're asked to share a typical day, so you can see how we fit our goals in. Brace yourself kiddies, this is going to be one heck of a ride!

6:30 am - Wake up and head out for a run with Thatdog. (Glass of water 1)
7:00 am - Get home and shower, dress, eat breakfast (Glass of water 2)
8:15ish am - Head in to work.
8:30ish am - ?????? Work. During this time I have Glass of water 3-7. I have a nice snack of some fruit mid morning, lunch, and a combo protein/carb snack mid afternoon. I love cheese and crackers, or turkey and cheese. Here's a really quick snack you can make in YOUR office on an afternoon:

Ritz crackers topped with ham, mustard, cheddar, and olive.

If I can leave work around 5:30pm, at 6pm - head to the gym with Thatboy.
- 7pm - make and eat dinner (glass of water 8)

If I leave work between 6 and 8pm - make and eat dinner (glass of water 8)

Sometime between 8pm and 10pm - make and pack lunch, blog, catch up on email.
10pm - bedtime (Glass of water 9)

Well I told you it was exciting. I do have to say, having a regular schedule helps me to make sure I get my water fix in. At work, I get up every hour to stretch a little, use the restroom, and refill my water glass.

Next week's topic is lunch ideas. I'll share with you some of my tips, tricks, and favorite resources for lunches.

And here are a list of the other bloggers participating:

Sunday, March 20, 2011

How far we've come

When we were out with The Engineers, we got into a discussion about technology. How obsolete some things are. How it's hard for us to imagine a life without televisions when our parents were forced to listen to the radio paint images. Wondering what our children will think of the technology we hold near and dear.

I heard a television show talking about recording something on a VCR and it reminded me of this conversation. Even the VCR itself seems so outdated, and yet just a few short years ago, it was groundbreaking innovation.

And yet, with all this innovation and technology, there are some areas where we are falling back on past tradition. When I think of the resurgence of farmer's markets, it hearkens back to the days before massive grocery stores. Butcher and cheese shops are popping up with a surprising vengeance. Eating local has become "trendy" when it used to be the only alternative.

Most of this falling back involves food. And it's not terribly surprising. All the shortcuts are taking their toll on both the health of the population and the world around us. Let's take something we're all familiar with - the microwaveable dinner. Microwave meals have become a staple in many households. Controlling portion size, offering something "homecooked" in just a matter of minutes, and fairly inexpensive. It's not hard to see why they have made their way into freezers across America. But most are loaded with more "nonfood ingredients" than food ingredients. And so many people are turning from them and back to their own kitchens. After all, it doesn't take that much longer to boil a pot of pasta instead of heating up some spaghetti in the microwave.

One of Thatdad's favorite instant dinners was Salisbury's Steak. Before there were microwaves, these "instant dinners" were made in the stove. Still quicker for working moms than slaving over a stove all night when they would come home from work. When microwave meals came out, this was one of his favorite to get. Wanna hear something funny? I've never had it before. Wanna hear something else? If I was going to have it, I'd much prefer to make it myself than zap a freezer version of it - to really give it a fighting shot. I turned to Fannie Farmer for this one. I don't know how authentic it is, or if this is what real Salisbury Steak tastes like, but it's fun to make something old, new again.

Salisbury Steak (From the Fannie Farmer Cookbook)
2 slices white bread
1/4 cup milk
1 3/4 lb ground beef
1 tsp salt
1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
4 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled
1/3 cup breadcrumbs

  1. Preheat the broiler. Remove the crusts from the bread and soak in milk until soft. Squeeze out excess milk, then lightly mix with the ground beef until absorbed.
  2. Add the seasonings and shape into a large round.
  3. Broil meat round for 5 minutes. Flip the meat and sprinkle the bacon and breadcrumbs on top. Broil for another 5 minutes.
  4. Slice and serve

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Salad Style

Today was a day of eating out. Usually, that would mean that we're on vacation somewhere fabulous, but in this case, it was just a case of trying to catch up.

JackieO is fabulous about asking me for coffee whenever I'm in town visiting Thatmom, and I'm usually awful at being able to make it. But this time, we set the plan into motion almost a month in advance, which means it just had to happen. As JackieO herself said, whenever we get together, it's as though we had seen each other the day before, we just have more to gossip about. JackieO's boyfriend's mother (did you catch all that) is friends with Thatmom. So we're able to keep track of each other fairly easily even when we don't get together, but it's always nicer to see someone in person.

Breakfast lasted hours, and almost ran into Thatboy and my lunch date. At Harvard's birthday party in January, we were reunited with The Engineers, who are finally back in California. Mrs. E and I have been friends since high school and were in each others' weddings. We made plans at Harvard's party to meet up when we were both in town at the same time. It was supposed to be last month, but Chinese New Year got in the way, so we rescheduled for today.

Which was perfect, because it gave us a whole month to catch up on. Since we only had 3 years to add on to that (the time that Mrs. E was NOT in California). Thatboy and Mr. E have had a fabulous relationship since college, back when they used to have competitions as to who could pile more into their Mongolian BBQ bowl. I'm pleased to say that they no longer feel the need to eat themselves sick to impress each other. At last, they are finally growing up.

Because two meals out just isn't enough, we met up with Thatbrother and UDubb for dinner at Thatmom's favorite restaurant. And, I learned tonight, that it is ALSO Thatboy's favorite restaurant in Orange County. Isn't it amazing how you can learn something new about a person you've known for nearly ever?

While all that eating out could mean rich, fatty foods, I tend to use the opportunity to up my salad intake. Today I had a Cobb salad, a beet and strawberry salad, and an arugula and blood orange salad. I love salads, and love ordering them out, because restaurant kitchens have access to so many more ingredients, and they do all the chopping and tearing work.

At home, I usually have much more limited ingredients. But, salads can still be delightful even with very few ingredients. Especially when you add a great protein source to them. Grilled chicken, shrimp, and steak are some of my favorite salad toppings. With a great meat, you don't need much else but lettuce!

But my favorite part of a homemade salad is making my own dressing. It's so easy to make, with very basic ingredients you already have. And it's addictive. Once you start making your own, you'll be tempted never to buy store bought again.

Steak Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

4 Tbsp olive oil
4 Tbsp white wine vinegar
5 tsp dijon mustard
4 tsp lemon juice
4 tsp Worcestershire sauce

12 oz Sirloin Steak
lemon pepper
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup green onions, sliced
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 head bibb lettuce

1. Make the dressing: whisk together olive oil, vinegar, dijon mustard, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce, set aside.
2. Season both sides of steak with salt and lemon pepper. Grill, or cook on grill pan about 5 minutes per side. Slice.
3. Place mushrooms, onions, parsley and steak in a bowl and toss with the dressing.
4. Divide lettuce between four plates. Divide steak mixture over the lettuce and garnish with the cherry tomatoes.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Hamburger Helper

It has definitely been hamburger week here in Thathouse. It's almost as though we're in sync.

I started it, running out at lunch to grab a half pounder with a big green salad. I guess Thatboy got jealous, because the next day he regaled me with the story of the "the two pound burger." Apparently there's a place in town with an eating competition a la "Man v. Food." The challenge consists of a 2 pound burger, cheese fries, and a milkshake. All must be consumed in 45 minutes without bringing it back up. One of Thatboy's coworkers is interested in trying it, so they all went to lunch there this week to check it out, before said coworker signed up for it. Thatboy reported that he couldn't even finish his regular sized burger at this restaurant, let alone finishing a 2 pound one, AND cheese fries, AND a milkshake (though we decided the milkshake wouldn't really be the biggest issue.)

And because we haven't had enough of burgers this week, we're meeting some friends for lunch tomorrow at - you guest it, a burger joint. I'm going to have beef coming out of my ears by Sunday. (Although, between you and me, there's a 90% chance I'm going to indulge in one of my all time favorite Cobb Salads at this place instead of a burger.)

Just in case all this talk of hamburgers has you thinking..."hmmmm Thatgirl has sold me. I need me a burger." Here's a really basic and easy hamburger recipe. Don't tell anyone, but the secret is in the meat. In general, I buy the absolute leanest meat I can find. Cooked into chili, enchiladas, lasagnas, you don't really need the extra fat. But with a hamburger, you NEED a little extra fat. It keeps the meat moist. So don't go any lower than that medium lean. Know what else keeps the burger from drying out? Don't mess with it too much. Handle the patties as little as possible. And of course, the secret secret is to pour the pan juices over the burger before putting it on the bun. Those juices are the best part!

salt and pepper
1 1/2 lbs ground chuck
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp canola oil
4 hamburger buns

1. Salt and pepper the meat and mix lightly. Shape into four patties.
2. Melt the butter and oil in a skillet until bubbling, then add the hamburgers.
3. Cook 5 minutes per side for medium. Pour pan juices over and place on buns.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Jig Is Up

Thatboy saw me typing up the post yesterday and remarked that I was posting our corned beef and cabbage from last year. I gave him a funny look - "Well I can't exactly post our corned beef from this year! It hasn't been made yet!"

And in truth, it's not getting made till this weekend.

Before Thatdad died, we would celebrate Thatmom's St. Patrick's Day birthday the weekend before or after the exact date. But since Thatdad's death, we all get together on the actual day itself. And years and years of a St. Patrick's Day birthday have taken their toll on Thatmom. We avoid all green and Irish foods on that day, opting instead for her favorite cuisine - Italian.

So, torn between a mother and a husband, I do what any good wife would do. We celebrate my mom's birthday with her, and St. Patrick's Day the weekend after.

Tonight we dine on Italian food. And in honor of that, and the beautiful spring weather we're having, I present to you an Italian twist on a sunny day classic. This is one of my favorite beach day snacks, and we've been hitting up the beach lately, even though it's really still a little cold for that nonsense.

It's a combination of antipasto and pasta salad - filled with cheese, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and olives. Since I don't love mayo in a pasta salad, I subbed in some ranch dressing instead. It works even better!

Italian Pasta Salad
3/4 cup ranch dressing
8 oz pasta
1 cup broccoli florets
1 cup artichoke hearts, quartered
1 zucchini, diced
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup peas, shelled
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup pitted and halved kalamata olives

1. Cook pasta. Before straining, place broccoli in the strainer and pour the pasta and water over the broccoli.
2. Place all ingredients in a bowl and add the ranch dressing.
3. Toss to coat and refrigerate for a couple of hours before serving.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Erin Go Bragh!

I know I astounded you with my knowledge of French during Mardi Gras. I cannot claim the same aptitude with Gaelic. Reading a lot of Irish authors, I have picked up some pronunciations, but not actual words.

So I have no idea what Erin Go Bragh means. I know Erin refers to Ireland, and even if you didn't know that you could assume it had some Irish connotation because I guarantee you'll be hearing a lot of it on St. Patrick's Day.

Some other phrase you might hear on St. Patrick's Day include:
Would you like another beer?
Kiss me I'm Irish
Where's your green?
and of course -
Are you having corned beef and cabbage?

I think I read somewhere that corned beef and cabbage isn't a traditionally Irish dish, that it's actually an Irish-American concoction. Which makes sense. When the Irish came over to America they had nothing. And they weren't looked upon as the favored children. It was rough times.

Know who else had rough times coming over to America? The Jews. Yup, poor, disliked, turned away from everywhere. The Jews and the Irish were siblings from another mother. So it should be no surprise that they developed similar recipes using cheap cuts of meat. The Jews have their brisket, and the Irish had the corned beef and cabbage.

Growing up, we had neither. Well, of course there were corned beef sandwiches, but you got those from the deli, you didn't make your own corned beef! When Thatboy and I married and moved in together, he mentioned how much he missed corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day. And so a new tradition was born. Since most of our married years have been spent with me getting home much later than Thatboy, we cook the corned beef together - I sit on the phone with him giving him directions as he does the physical labor. So far it's turned out alright.

One corned beef feeds far more than the two of us, but that's okay because leftovers can always be turned into corned beef hash! We add some beets to our corned beef and cabbage, and then use the leftover beets, leftover potatoes and the leftover corned beef to create a "Red Flannel Hash."

Corned Beef and Cabbage
4-5 lbs corned beef
4 onions, peeled
6 potatoes, peeled
8 beets
6 carrots, peeled
6 turnips
1 green cabbage, quartered and cored

  1. Rinse the corned beef under running water to remove the brine. Place in a large pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 2 hours.
  2. Add the onions and potatoes, cook for 15 more minutes.
  3. While they're cooking, in another saucepan, boil the beets in water for 35 minutes, drain.
  4. Add the carrots and turnips to the corned beef pot, and cook for another 30 minutes.
  5. Take out the beef and veggies and bring the remaining broth to a boil. Add the cabbage and boil for 3 minutes.
  6. Serve the corned beef with the onions, potatoes, carrots, turnips, beets and cabbage.

Red Flannel Hash(From the Fannie Farmer Cookbook)
2 cups cooked corned beef
2 cups chopped boiled potatoes
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 cup diced cooked beets
salt and pepper
4 Tbsp butter
5 Tbsp heavy cream

  1. Mix the beef, potatoes, onions, beets, pepper and salt to taste.
  2. Melt the butter in a skillet. Spread the beef mixture on the bottom of the skillet and press down with spatula.
  3. Fry over medium low heat for 15-20 minutes. Once it is nicely browned, turn the hash over (slide it onto a dinner plate and invert the dinner plate over the skillet)
  4. Pour the cream evenly over the meat and cook another 15-20 minutes, until the second side is nicely browned.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lunch Lessons

There are times when I'm such a mom it kills me. Take, for example, lunch. Every night I pack a lunch for Thatboy and I. I don't have to, I could make him fend for himself, but I pack myself a lunch, so it just makes sense for me to pack lunch for him too.

Rarely, I use leftovers. Most of the time I actually make a whole new meal for the two of us. I vary between the most basic of easy - sandwiches and fruit, and some form of Asian cuisine. Because it's also easy and reheats beautifully. There are curries and stirfries, classic dishes like beef and broccoli or sesame chicken, and of course, one of my favorite easy meals - fried rice.

I said I rarely use leftovers, however, upon reflection, I make use of some dinner components. I hate leftover rice. Refrigerated and reheated it never tastes quite the same. So if we have rice for dinner, I always use whatever is left to create fried rice for our lunches. Adding the egg, soy sauce and veggie somehow solves that whole reheating problem. And it contains almost all the basic food groups, which makes it a well rounded meal. (You can always add chicken, pork, beef, or even shrimp if you so desire) Toss in an orange, apple, or even a pear and you're completely covered!

Lunch Fried Rice
2 Tbsp oil
2 cups cooked rice
2 Tbsp green onions, sliced
3/4 Tbsp soy sauce
1 egg, slightly beaten

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet and add the rice, scallions, soy sauce and some ground pepper.
  2. Cook for 5-6 minutes. Press to side of pan and add egg to the open space.
  3. Scramble the egg, and once cooked, stir it into the rest of the rice so it breaks into smaller pieces. Remove from heat and serve.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Accentuate the Positive

Motivation can come in many shapes and forms. There's the need to succeed, the drive that pushes you onward. There's the sense of accomplishment and pride. There's that sweet voice whispering in your ear, telling you that you can do anything.

And of course, every coin has it's flip side. There's a darker side to motivation also. And that's what I want to talk about in this week's Eat.Live.Be.

It's been a long hard road to change my motivation style from something negative to something positive. A long way from "you'll never do it" to "you can do anything." For years, the thing that kept me going was an unhealthy voice in my head that goaded me into working out. Thoughts like "You'll always be fat and ugly." "If you weren't such a slob you wouldn't need to go to the gym." "You're such a quitter." I told myself that skipping one gym class, one run, would make me the failure I knew in my heart of hearts I was. Sure it kept me going and running, but the cost wasn't pretty. There were days when I'd head to the gym with a fever so high, I'd throw up in the bushes after. Days when I'd forgo sleeping to get in an extra workout.

I don't know exactly what the turning point was. When it dawned on me that this form of motivation was detrimental and not healthy. I can remember the first day I struggled with this new knowledge. It was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. A day where we fast all day, and that includes drinking water. I got up early to get a run in before synagogue, like I do every year. And I awoke with a migraine. And I sat for a good 10 minutes debating with myself whether I should head out for a run or not. I was in a great deal of pain, wouldn't be able to eat or drink anything all day, and I seriously considered still heading out. But I didn't. And that was a huge accomplishment for me. I recognized it, even then. I still look back on that moment as the moment I learned to motivate myself in positive ways. To take the rest I needed. To exercise for the right reasons - reasons like feeling good about myself, and not making myself feel bad.

It's important to have self motivation. It's important to have a little voice in your head. But it's also important you're getting the right motivation, the right little voice. A little voice that cheers you on and tells you how strong and fabulous you are. A little voice that doesn't beat you up for skipping a workout, but says "hey friend, it's okay, you're going to make up for it tomorrow - there's always another workout!"

Next week's topic is a breakdown of "a day in the life."

And here are a list of the other bloggers participating:

In honor of my motivational turnaround, I present you something completely different. Something I've never made before that turned out pretty well! It's always nice when you take a risk that turns out, it builds your confidence to take more risks. This risk was with oxtail. Since I didn't know how tough or tender it was, I went with braising. If you remember from my short ribs, braising makes any cut of meat fall off the bone. I did a little bit of research before braising these puppies and found out that they tend to be a little fatty. So I read a tip to cool them down, remove the fat, and then reheat. Makes for a nice tender, nonfatty meal!

Braised Oxtail
1 1/2 Tbsp butter
1 1/2 Tbsp flour
1/4 tsp salt and pepper
2 lbs oxtail
1 onion, sliced thin
3/4 cup beef broth
1 cup diced tomatoes
1 bay leaf

1. Preheat oven to 300. Mix the flour, salt, and pepper and roll the oxtail in this mixture.
2. Melt the butter in a skillet and brown the meat.
3. Transfer to a covered casserole. Cook the onions in the remaining fat/butter in the skillet.
4. Once the onions are browned, place them on top of the meat. Pour the broth and tomatoes over and add 1 cup water.
5. Add the bay leaf, cover, and cook for 3 hours.
6. Cool, remove the fat, reheat and serve.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cleaning House

Yesterday Myrtle, her husband, and all three kids came over for dinner. As soon as we made plans earlier this week, I told Thatboy to cancel all his plans for Saturday, because our place was NOT presentable.

I did leave the house once, to drop off some bags of clothing at Goodwill. But otherwise, we spent the entire day vacuuming, putting things away, and finding creative homes for things so they weren't on every counter/table top.

It was exhausting. Luckily I had placed dinner in the crockpot that morning so I didn't have to worry about anything in the oven. Unluckily, it was not my favorite meal ever, so I'll delight you with something far better tonight.

It was however great to catch up with Myrtle and see how gigantic her little ones are getting. They grow so quickly in the first 2 years. And this was Thatboy's first time to meet Uno. Tres is running around like Evil Kneeval. Hard to believe she was once the tiniest baby I had ever seen. Always one to know what kids like, the chocolate cupcakes I made went over like gangbusters. And Thatboy spent a good amount of time playing cards with Uno while Dos and I read fairy tale books.

When they left, we realized it was a little sad we had so many kid friendly toys and activities. Only because we have no kids, so usually it's Thatboy and I playing cards, or reading fairy tale books. It is convenient for entertaining though!

The crockpot chicken caccitore as I noted before was just meh. Not a standout at all. It didn't thicken the way I would have liked, and I completely forgot to buy enough papperdelle. I know, I suck. I might have redeemed myself with the new beer I found - Firestone's Velvet Stout, which was a HUGE hit.

I wanted to go for a different type of cuisine than the Mexican style pork we had the last time we dined with Myrtle's family. But I should have been safe and stayed with these tried and true enchiladas. Usually a hit with Thatboys and children everywhere. And I love making meals with enough leftovers for weekend lunches.

Chicken Enchiladas
16 oz of your favorite salsa
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tsp chili powder
2 cups cooked chicken, cubed
1/2 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
6 flour tortillas
1 green onion, sliced

1. Preheat oven to 350. Combine 3/4 cup of the salsa with the sour cream and chili powder.
2. Add in the chicken and cheese.
3. Using a 1/3 cup measuring cup, place the chicken mixture in the center of each of the tortillas. Roll up the tortillas and place seam side up in a glass baking dish.
4. Pour remaining salsa on top, cover and bake for 40 minutes. Top with the sliced green onion.

Friday, March 11, 2011

I got a very important phone call this afternoon. Well, it wasn't a phone call. It was a text. A text with almost no information. Thatboy told me he was at Borders, they were having their closing sale and did I want anything. DID I WANT ANYTHING?

I quickly sent him a series of texts asking for more information. Was he there right now? Should I head down and meet him? How long was this sale going on? When are they closing? Was there a large selection? He didn't respond to any of theses text and THAT'S what led to the important phone call where I asked why he didn't drop everything to respond. Apparently, he just couldn't text me back fast enough before I shot another one at him.

So I headed down to Borders to scoop up some deals. I was able to get some new fiction and non fiction books, a workout DVD, and the highlight of my trip:

A Punky Brewster DVD. Everyone grew up on this right? I know I did. I'm so excited to force Thatboy to watch episode after episode with me.

Here's another favorite of mine. Short ribs. I love short ribs, but I never make them at home. Which is a shame, because they're so easy to make. Tender and fall of the bone meat definitely calls for braising. Braising short ribs makes them a cross between a stew and a pot roast, but personally I find them more flavorful.

Braised Shortribs
1 1/2 Tbsp flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 lbs beef shortribs
2 Tbsp butter
4 carrots, peeled
1 large onion, quartered
1/2 cup celery, sliced
2 sprigs of parsley
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp marjoram
1/2 cup red wine

1. Preheat oven to 350. Combine the flour, salt, pepper and coat the shortribs in this mixture.
2. Melt the butter in a dutch oven, and brown the meat.
3. Reduce the heat and add 1/2 cup of water and all the remaining ingredients. Cover and cook in the oven for 1 1/2 hours.

Those ham croquettes worked so well, we decided to try our hand with a rice version. Similar to risotto balls this works as a fabulous way to use up leftover rice.

Rice Croquettes
1/2 cup cooked rice
1 egg, separated
3 Tbsp butter
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 Tbsp oil

1. Combine rice, egg yolk and 1 Tbsp butter.
2. Place egg whites in a shallow dish and breadcrumbs in another dish.
3. Shape the rice into logs/balls/patties, whatever you like. Dip in egg white and then roll in crumbs.
4. Melt remaining butter and oil in skillet. Fry the croquettes until golden brown.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Spring MUST be here

Saturday mornings when we're in town I get up early so I can head down to the Little Italy Farmer's Market before the day gets started. It's not in the neighborhood, but it's so good that I make the drive.

Except, now the downtown Farmer's Market has returned for the season. This is ever so convenient since it's on a Thursday and I work downtown. Which means I can hit up the farmer's market on my lunch break and save myself an extra trip on the weekends.

The downtown Farmer's Market isn't nearly as extensive as the Little Italy market (which is by far the best of the county - I've hit them all up), but it does make my weekends a little more free. And I can still score some beautiful produce.

Today I picked up some spinach, tomatoes, mandarin oranges, and avocado. I shared the mandarins with my coworkers and they all think they may be the sweetest of the season.

For me, the return of the Farmer's Market heralds the return of spring. I'm hoping the warmer weather sticks around, and maybe we can go for a week without rain! I'm celebrating with what I think of as a quintessential spring dish - baked chicken with thyme. Being able to use fresh herbs is a welcome treat after the winter. Of course, you know what they say about spring chickens!

Baked Chicken with Thyme
1/4 onion, minced
1/4 tsp salt
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp paprika
1 tsp thyme leaves, chopped fine
1/2Tbsp oil
2 chicken breasts

1. Preheat oven to 375. Combine oil, garlic, salt, paprika, onion, and thyme to create a paste.
2. Spread paste over chicken and bake 40 minutes.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011


Ready kids? It’s story time!

Thatdog is not a lover. He’s not into PDAs (or PrivateDAs either if we want to be entirely truthful.) He doesn’t want to cuddle or sit in your lap. If he’s on the couch and you sit on the opposite end, he will get off the couch and go sit somewhere else. This is very important background information.

On Monday night, Thatboy got home from work and Thatdog tried to bolt out the door like he was being chased by a debt collector. It was very suspicious behavior he had never exhibited before. Thatboy did a thorough check all over and came to the conclusion there was something wrong with Thatdog’s tail. As soon as he touched the tail, Thatdog would cry out in pain. Now, if a friend of mine asked me what to do in this situation, I would tell them to wait it out and see how the dog was doing the next morning. Except, Thatdog continued to exhibit odd behavior. He glued himself to Thatboy’s side, following on his heels, pressing his body into Thatboy’s leg. If Thatboy sat down, Thatdog jumped up beside him, leaning his body into Thatboy’s and resting his head on Thatboy’s shoulder. (See how his lack of clinginess is important?) So Monday night, we got to take a quick run over to our vet. (Whom I love. Especially since most times when I call it’s something like “can we please come in rightthisverysecond?”)

Dr. Awesome diagnosed Thatdog with a soft tissue injury and gave him some anti-inflammatory medication to help bring down the swelling. He claims this is a fairly common, though unexplained phenomena, in labs. We brought Thatdog home and started him on the meds, but they obviously weren’t kicking in right away. Unable to sit or lay down, because of the pain in his tail, he spent the evening resting his whole body weight on whoever of us was sitting on the couch. And getting up to get off the couch would send him squealing and running as he had to readjust.

When we went to bed, Thatdog, who usually likes to sleep in the living room on his bed or the couch, snugged himself right up between Thatboy and I, once again, leaning onto me, so he didn’t have to try to lay down. He would remain there as long as I continued to pet him, but if I stopped, he would climb on top of me, pushing his face into the wall behind our bed. Thatboy said it was as though he was trying to run away or distance himself from the pain behind him. Eventually he would fall asleep for brief moments, and slide down my body. Sometimes this would cause him to jump up crying in pain if there was pressure on his tail. Sometimes he would manage to fall asleep in just the right position to avoid it. And we would both sleep for a few minutes, until my body or his shifted and he would jump up crying again. It was a very long night, as I’m sure you can imagine.

By last night, he was feeling well enough to sit, lay, and even sleep in his own bed. His tail is still swollen, but much less so than Monday. Since, unlike Thatdog, I don’t get to spend all day at home, curled up on the couch, the lack of sleep is still hitting me. So I’m going to enthrall you with another post pulled from the archives. This one, all about stews.

There is something I just love about stews. And really, everyone should love them because they are the perfect way to use up pretty much anything in your fridge and freezer. Theoretically, you don’t even need a recipe for a stew, since it’s just a mashup of whatever ingredients you have on hand. The technique is easy enough – coat some cubed meat in flour, brown, and then add veggies and liquid. You can make it as thick or as soupy as you like. Serve it alone, over rice, or even noodles. And every culture has their own take on it. In general, I’m partial to Indian curries. But if I’m looking at the European style stews, I tend to favor those from Eastern Europe. Maybe it’s because it was my safety fallback when I was traveling through that area. My Slavic languages are limited to German, which I thought would be helpful in Bratislava and Prague. It wasn’t. English, German, French – tried them all and definitely resorted to pointing and signing during the majority of my visit to these two cities. But mealtime was easy – I just had to find goulash somewhere on the menu and I knew I would be okay. What’s interesting is that goulash varies from country to country. In places like Bratislava and Prague, it was a thick, brown stew, often served with a spaetzle type noodle. Goulash in Vienna had more of a tomato base.

Keeping that in mind, here are three different “stew” recipes, beginning with the classic stew you’re probably most familiar with. Get the technique down and you can easily change or adapt to suit your tastes or whatever you have on hand.

Beef Stew
1/3 cup flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
2 lbs stewing beef plus bones
4 Tbsp shortening
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 large onion, sliced
2 bay leaves
1/4 tsp allspice
12 small carrots, trimmed and scraped
12 small white onions, trimmed
8 small new potatoes, peeled

1. Mix the flour, salt, and pepper and roll the beef cubes in the mixture. Shake off excess.
2. Melt the shortening over high heat in a Dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot with a cover. When the fat is very hot, add the beef, brown on all sides.
3. Pour in four cups of boiling water. Stir and add the lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, onion, bay leaves, and allspice.
4. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
5. Add the carrots, onions, and potatoes and cook another 20-25 minutes.

"Czech" Goulash
1 1/2 Tbsp butter
1/2 onion, chopped
2 Tbsp paprika
1 lb beef round, cut into cubes
1 Tbsp flour
1/4 tsp marjoram
2 cups beef broth
3/4 cup potatoes, cubed
juice of 1/2 lemon

1. Melt the butter in a covered casserole. Add the onion, stir and cook until soft.
2. Stir in the paprika and cook 1-2 minutes.
3. Roll the meat in the flour and add to the onion, brown the meat.
4. Sprinkle with a little salt and add marjoram. Pour in broth and bring to a boil.
5. Cover and simmer for about an hour.
6. Add the potato and cook 15-20 minutes.
7. Remove from heat, stir in the lemon juice and salt as necessary.

"Viennese" Goulash
1 1/2 Tbsp butter
1 onion, sliced thin
1 Tbsp paprika
1/4 tsp salt
1 clove garlic, minced
1 lb beef round
1 cup canned tomatoes
2 Tbsp sour cream

1. Melt the butter in a covered casserole. Add the onion and cook gently for 10 minutes.
2. Stir in the paprika, salt, and garlic and cook 2 minutes more.
3. Remove the onions and set aside. Turn up the heat and brown the beef.
4. Return the onions to the pot with all the meat and the tomatoes.
5. Cover and simmer for 2 1/2 hours.
6. Remove from heat and stir in the sour cream.