Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Turnip Rose

I know you're probably surprised to see something other than tomatoes here.  But during the winter I really do have an affinity for root veggies.  They just seem so perfect for cold winter nights.  And tonight?  Definitely cold and wintery.  It didn't rain today - although to forecast is calling for it tomorrow.

I remember growing up in Pennsylvania a lot of our big blizzards would hit in February, right as you felt that you might be done and over with the winter.  It appears the same Nature-trickery occurs here in California.  Warm weather, mild weather, then WHA-POW!  Rain and cold.

Part of me wants to rebel against the winter weather and serve something bright and summery.  But the other wants something more starchy.  Maybe it's catharsis - food that matches the weather with its wintery whiteness. (Say that 10 times fast).

I treat turnips like my other favorite root vegetable - potatoes.  Which means that before I use them, they get a good boiling.  After that, the skies the limit.  You can mash them, whip them, hash them, or even just toss them with some salt and butter.

1 lb turnips
3 Tbsp melted butter
1 Tbsp chopped parsley
salt and pepper 
  1. Peel turnips and quarter them.
  2. Drop turnip quarters into a large pot of boiling water  Boil until tender (about 10 minutes)
  3. Drain and toss with butter, parsley, salt and pepper.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Day in the Life

I was reading through a new mom's blog the other day and she had detailed what a day in her life with a 3.5 month old looked like.  I thought it was kind of a fun idea, and gives a little glimpse of what life looks like over in Thathouse until I start back at work again.

24 hours with a 4.5 month old.

3:30am - Thatbaby wakes up for a bite to eat.  I use this time to read blogs on google reader (which is why many of you probably see my comments dated at odd hours), and snack on some cherry tomatoes.

6:45am - Thatbaby wakes up for the day.  He eats his breakfast and we do our first diaper change.  While he eats, Thatboy gets ready for work and brings his breakfast into the nursery to join us.

Someone has bed-head

 During the day, feedings take forever because Thatbaby likes to chatter.  He takes frequent breaks to tell me all about how his night went.  The first meal he is also distracted by Thatboy.  Subsequent meals he is distracted by the dog, his reflection, a lamp, a computer, the dresser, his bed, a shadow.......

7:35am - My turn for breakfast!  During meal times Thatbaby sits at the table with me in his highchair.  I want him to get used to the idea of what meal times are since we'll potentially be starting solids in a little over a month.  This morning he plays with his feet while I munch on a Luna bar, a blood orange, and fill him in on what we're doing for the day.

7:45am - Thatbaby does some tummy time on his playmat while I put up the laundry.

Thatbaby eating one of his friends.  Probably a reason why he doesn't have very many human friends.

8:30am - Thatbaby takes a nap.  Usually this is his long nap for the day, so I get in a quick On Demand workout, shower, do my hair, get dressed, and so on.  However, yesterday I had just stepped into the shower after my workout when Thatdog started barking like a madman.  Sure enough, moments later I heard Thatbaby through the monitor.

9:09am - Rock Thatbaby back to sleep.  (This entails sitting in the glider and singing him a lullaby.  This time it was James Taylor's Sweet Baby James)

9:15am - Thatbaby is back to sleep.  I get dressed and do my hair and makeup.  I backup my ipod Nano so I can send it in for the recall.

10:04am - Thatbaby's second meal of the day.  Then we do another diaper change and he gets dressed for the day.

Ready to hit the road!
10:49am - Errand time!  I have a bunch of stores I have to hit up - Staples, Ulta, Trader Joes, the UPS store, the Supermarket.  Luckily for me, Thatbaby does some really good sleeping in his carrier while I run errands.

Nap #2 is a "fieldtrip nap"
12:49pm - We're back home and Thatbaby is ready to eat again.  And another diaper change.

1:28pm - Lunch for me.  Thatbaby plays in his high chair while I have some paneer tikka masala I picked up at Trader Joes.

1:51pm - More tummy time for Thatbaby while I throw the laundry in the dryer.  He's still not anxious to roll over, but I try to coax him with the promise of my plastic straw in my water cup.  He loooooves that plastic straw.  And yet, he stays firmly planted on his stomach.

2:10pm - Thatbaby's afternoon nap.  While he naps I make Thatboy's lunch for the next day and our dinner.  I wash all the dishes and catch up on last week's Private Practice.  (We are woefully behind on our DVR).

Thatboy's lunch is a ham and cheese sandwich, carrots and bell peppers, grapes, biscotti, and gummy bears

Our dinner simmering away on the stove

4:00pm - Thatbaby wakes up from his nap and eats again.  I change his diaper and bundle him up in his warm clothes.  I wrap him in his moby and then I bundle me up in my warm clothes because the rain?  She is a comin' down.

5:00pm - Time to walk Thatdog!

5:15pm - Tummy time for Thatbaby while I fold the laundry.  Because he does such a great job with his tummy time, this last activity period of the day is where I throw in his favorite activities.  Which is his new favorite game.  It's modeled after those crane games in arcades.  Basically Thatbaby stands up while I help support him.  Then he squats down, picks up one of his toys, stands up, and drops it.  Then the whole thing begins again.  And again.  And again.  Sometimes the toys make it into his mouth.  Sometimes he can't quite get the toy up - which is the case with his large, heavy toys.  These variations add to the fun of the game.

What?  Your games are more exciting?
5:45pm - Thatboy arrives home from work.  Just in time to play the crane game with Thatbaby's stacking cups.

6:00pm - The boys head to the bath and I head to the gym!

Rub a dub dub - Thatbaby in a tub
6:40pm - Home from the gym, dinner is ready to go, Thatboy is putting the baby to bed.  Looks like it's just me, the computer, and a nice glass of wine. 

It's Me Time!
 7:00pm - Dinner with Thatboy. We start trying to make a dent in our DVR list.


Lentils and Potatoes with Curry (from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Tenth Anniversary Edition)
1 cup red lentils, washed and picked over
3 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 red potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 Tbsp butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Combine the lentils, water, and curry powder in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat to a simmer, cover partially, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the lentils start to absorb the water a bit, about 15 minutes.
  2. Add the potatoes and cover the pan completely.  Cook undisturbed for 10 minutes.  
  3. Stir, and add butter. Cover and continue cooking until the lentils are soft and beginning to turn to mush and the potatoes are tender at the center, another 5 to 10 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.
8:30pm - Pump and wash bottles/pump parts.

10:00pm - Bedtime!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Shower the People You Love with Love

We headed out of town this weekend for a very very important reason.  K1's baby shower!!!! When we met with them to tell them about my pregnancy last year the Ks confided that they had just started trying for a baby themselves.  After months with no success, the Ks planned an anniversary trip to Spain.  "You know what this means, don't you?"  I told them.  "Now that you've planned this trip, you're going to end up pregnant."  I love being right.

The Ks are expecting their little boy at the end of  April, so we all gathered this weekend to shower this beautiful mother-to-be with love and presents!

K1 is another one of those gorgeous pregnant women.  I mean, look at this picture.  With the present on her lap you can't even tell she's pregnant.  Which shows all her pregnancy weight is in her chest and stomach - the best places for pregnancy weight to be!

And in just a few short months, Thatbaby will have a new friend to play with!  We just can't wait.  I know they're probably equally as anxious although K1 thinks they're not ready.   I assured her that in just a couple more weeks she'll be more than ready to have that baby on the outside!

Sunday we spent the day catching up with friends and family.  I met up with a mutual friend who couldn't make it to the shower and filled her in on all that she'd missed.  Good thing I took a lot of pictures!  And then it was lunch with Thatbrother and UDubb.  All that running around town meant we got in a little later Sunday night than we were anticipating, but that's okay because I had dinner preparations all ready to go.

I love meal planning because when we get home late I can easily throw it together.  This was a weekend meal, but Sunday nights never feel like a weekend when you're trying to get ready for the upcoming week.  It comes together really quickly when you have cooked chicken all ready to go.

 Chicken Marsala Casserole

3 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
1 cup hot milk
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/4 cup onion, diced
1 sprig of thyme
1 sprig of parsley
1/4 cup Marsala wine
3 Tbsp Parmesan cheese
2 cups cooked chicken, diced
2 Tbsp breadcrumbs
  1. Melt 2 Tbsp butter in a small saucepan.  Slowly stir in the flour and heat until a paste forms.  Slowly stir in the hot milk.  Continue to stir and cook until bubbling.  Cook 2-3 minutes more.  Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 350.  Heat olive oil and remaining butter in a new saucepan.  Add the mushrooms, onion, thyme, and parsley.   Cook until the onions are translucent.
  3. Stir in the Marsala and remove from heat. 
  4. Add the sauce from the first pan,  2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese, and the chicken. Pour all of this into a casserole dish.  Sprinkle Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs over the mixture. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and cook for 5-10 minutes, until breadcrumbs are golden brown.

Friday, February 24, 2012

How You Like Them Tomatoes

There are certain dishes I seek out when I travel - usually specialties of the location that are hard to find elsewhere. Or hard to find authentic elsewhere (I may or may not be speaking specifically about bagels).

One thing that's hard to find outside of the south are true honest to goodness southern specialties.  Things like fried okra and fried green tomatoes (are you noticing a trend here - no one does fried food like the south.)

For some reason the south has a way of dealing with vegetables that the rest of the country finds...undesirable.  Okra doesn't seem to have a large fan base, and green tomatoes?  Well just google and you'll find a million sites on how to ripen them.  As though they serve no real good use on their own.

But their firm tartness holds up perfectly for cooking - especially for frying where they won't turn to mush at high heat.  As much as I love fried green tomatoes, I opted for something a little healthier with this batch.  It's not too far off from the tomato rice we had earlier in the week, but without the rice (or apples).  Something about curry really works well with tomato.  It might be my new favorite pairing. 

Curried Green Tomatoes
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp finely chopped onion
3/4 tsp curry powder
cayenne pepper
2 green tomatoes, chopped
salt and pepper
  1. Melt the butter in a skillet and add the onion.  Cook until onion is translucent.
  2. Stir in the curry powder.
  3. Stir in the tomatoes and add cayenne pepper to taste.  Cook for 3-4 minutes.
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

This is becoming a habit

It seems like just yesterday I was writing about Thatbaby's 2 month shots.  Hard to believe it was over 2 months ago.  Time flies very quickly when your main mode of entertainment is Pandora's Muppets station and your main exercise routine involves doing chest presses with a 13lber.  (Apparently WAY more entertaining than playing airplane)

The passage of 2 months means we recently made another trip to the doctor for Thatbaby's 4 month vaccinations.

I consider us to be lucky in many respects when it comes to babies.  I joke that we paid extra for the deluxe model that doesn't drool, spit up, and manages to keep his bodily waste neatly tucked away in his diaper.  He's also fantastic when it comes to shots.   Well...fantastic in a relative way.  He does cry when he's getting the shots, but within minutes after he's perfectly fine - just doing that dry sobbing thing that I do after I get shots too.  Needles are traumatizing.

The only issue with all this is that because he's such a healthy baby, we've only had his regular well-baby doctor's visits.  Which means every time we go to the doctors, he ends up getting these shots.  And I'm sure eventually he's going to put 2 and 2 together and realize that.   

I decided to do chicken soup for dinner after the appointment.  It's kind of the opposite of "an apple a day keeps the doctor away"   - chicken soup after the doctor cures whatever ails you from the appointment itself.  Things like PTSD from vaccinations.  In general, Thatbaby doesn't get the soup till several hours after I do, but I like to think that I'm still providing him with something warm and healing by eating it.

If you recall, I wasn't thrilled with the dumplings in the Cooking Light chicken and dumpling recipe.  I wanted something with a little bit more substance - a little more matzah bally.  So I decided to work on those dumplings.  I took the easy way out by using a baking mix - I love Trader Joe's multigrain, and just added milk until it was nice and thick and dense.   I figure I can play with the actual flour/baking powder/salt ratio another time.  This gave me some amazing dense dumplings.

I also added some mustard seed to the broth to give it that golden color I prefer in chicken noodle soup (a little bit of curry powder could also work and I'm thinking delicious).  Not only is it more photogenic this way, but I swear golden soups taste better!  I tossed in some frozen peas only because they were taking up valuable freezer room.  As with any good soup, you can feel free to add or subtract your own favorite vegetables.  Zucchini would be fantastic in this, if I had any on hand.

This soup, with the golden color and dense dumplings is far superior to the last one I posted.  It was amazingly delicious.  As you've seen over the past few months we do a lot of soups round here in the winter - and I have some more to share with you over the next few weeks.  But this definitely ranks up there as one of my new favorites.

Make it now before the weather gets warmer!  Even if you're not sick.  I'm not a doctor (and I don't even play one on tv) but I'd be willing to bet that eating this soup is a surefire way to stave off any illness that may be lurking around the corner.

Chicken and Dumplings (adapted from Cooking Light Chicken's Chicken and Rosemary Dumplings)
7 cups chicken broth
1 boneless skinless chicken breast
2 thyme sprigs
2 tsp olive oil
1 cup diced carrot
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup diced onion
1 cup frozen peas
2 Tbsp flour
1/2 tsp ground mustard
1 cup baking mix (I used Trader Joe's Multigrain mix)
1/3 cup milk
1/2 tsp garlic powder
  1. Combine chicken broth, water, chicken and thyme in a dutch oven over medium high heat.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes.
  2. Remove chicken from broth and cool.  Shred chicken with two forks.  Remove thyme and discard.
  3. Heat oil in pan over medium high heat.  Add the carrot, celery, onion, and peas.  Saute until onion is translucent.
  4. Sprinkle the vegetables with flour, stirring until the mixture thickens. 
  5. Add the vegetables and 1/2 tsp salt to the broth and stir until well blended. 
  6. Stir in the ground mustard. Simmer 10 minutes.
  7. In a small bowl combine the baking mix milk and garlic powder. Stir until just combined.
  8. Add the chicken to the soup, stirring well. Taste and add more salt and pepper as needed.
  9. Drop the dumpling dough into the soup.  Cover and cook 8 minutes.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Shopping Saturday

Do you remember when the weekends were all about relaxing?  Sleeping in, rolling out of bed around noon, eating a leisurely brunch while kicking back?  Yeah.  Me neither.  Weekends are full of errands and runarounds.  This one was no different.

Except it kind of was.

It started out like normal - we headed to the mall to take care of about a million things that needed to be done.  We were there for hours but were incredibly successful.

I have a baby shower this weekend so first stop was a new outfit!  I ended up with a dress and shoes, and Macys paid ME $2.80.  Thatboy picked up some new workshirts.  Macys did not pay him.

Next came an exchange of baby clothes.  I forgot to check an outfit Thatboy had picked out.  It's a size Thatbaby fits in rightnow, but probably won't for too much longer.  So we got it in a bigger size with the hopes he'll be able to wear it more than once.

And then it was shopping for presents!  We took advantage of the Presidents' Day sales to get some really great deals on gifts for upcoming events we have.  I'll keep them under wraps for now since the recipients might stumble upon them.  Let's just say I ended up saving more than I spent!

And then we headed to the supermarket for the week's shopping.  By the time we got home it was time to tuck Thatbaby into bed.  And that's where our real weekend relaxing began.

For Valentine's Day Thatboy got me a "now and later" gift.  He gave me my favorite movie - The Big Sleep, with the promise that we would open a bottle of wine and watch it later.  And so Saturday night, that's what we did.  We opened a bottle of Malbec and sat and watched a movie.  We stayed up way too late.  I think something like 11pm.

Every now and then you need a break from the ordinary.  Like dressing up rice.  Thatboy grew up with rice as a side dish for almost every meal.  Plain white rice, topped with butter.  We usually only had white rice with Chinese food (or saffron rice with shrimp.)  So I don't have a lot of experience making rice side dishes and Thatboy doesn't have a lot of experience eating them.  But I love fancy rice dishes - great ingredients mixed in with a basic.  A little different from your typical boring rice.  This one is warm in both temperature and spice.  So very cozy and comforting.  Perfect for curling up on the couch beside someone you love.

Tomato Rice
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 apple, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp rice wine vinegar
salt and pepper
1 cup cooked rice
  1. Melt the butter in a skillet.  Add the onion and cook until the onion is translucent.
  2. Add the apple and cook for 5 minutes more. 
  3. Stir in the tomatoes, curry powder, vinegar, salt, and pepper.  Cook, stirring for 5 more minutes.
  4. Add the rice and heat through before serving.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Romantic Night In

As I mentioned last week, we decided to spend Valentine's Day at home.  But spending the night at home doesn't necessarily mean pajamas and top ramen.  (Although who am I kidding -  how good does that sound?)

I spent the entire day preparing an elaborate feast.  And by preparing an elaborate feast, I mean making a cake.  Dinner itself was thrown together in about 15 minutes when I got home from the gym.

Notice the baby monitor - kind of a third wheel on our date night.
Steamed crab is ready in minutes and requires no prep.  The potatoes were thrown in the oven before I headed to the gym so all I had to do was pull them out split them open.  And you don't even need a knife for a caesar salad. 

Dessert was a little intensive though, and a definite crapshoot.  So Thatboy brought home some backup.  We have very different tastes in desserts - I'm more fruit based, he's more chocolate based.  So he picked this apple blackberry crumble out with me in mind.  Of course, you can't really go wrong with anything from Extraordinary Desserts.

I had to run to the liquor store for some airplane bottle of kahlua and asked Thatboy if I should pick up something special to drink for our meal.  He asked for some sort of festive cocktail.  I had picked up a ton of blood oranges (happy winter everyone!) and thought they would make the perfect Valentine's Day drink.  While at the liquor store I looked around to see what would work and found some ruby red grapefruit vodka.  I thought that would be perfect for a martini - citrus plus citrus?  Add a little triple sec for sweetness and a star is born!

Blood Orange Martinis
4 oz ruby red grapefruit vodka
1 oz triple sec
juice of 3 blood oranges
  1. Shake all ingredients in a shaker with ice.  Pour into chilled martini glass.

We've done Caesar salads before - usually this means just tearing up romaine and throwing some Caesar dressing on top.  Since this was a special night, I thought I would go all out and do a table-side Caesar salad - like in fancy schmancy restaurants.  I even made my own croutons!  The only problem with making a tableside Caesar is your guests become acutely aware of the ingredients involved - like those anchovies.  Or the raw egg.  Proceed with caution on this one and you will be rewarded.  It's definitely a case of "know your audience."  This was so good and easy, however, that it's already on the menu for this week too. 

 Classic Caesar Salad
stale bread
1 clove garlic
2 Tbsp butter
1 head of romaine lettuce
1/2 can anchovy fillets, drained
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
juice of half a lemon
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 egg
salt and pepper
1/4 cup parmesean cheese
  1.  Make the croutons -Cut bread into cubes, removing any crust.  Melt butter in a skillet and add the garlic.  Cook until garlic is fragrant and then add the bread cubes.  Saute the cubes until they are brown on all sides and then drain on paper towels.
  2. Separate the romaine leaves, wash, dry, and tear into bite-sized pieces.
  3. In a bowl, mash the anchovies.
  4. Whisk the olive oil and lemon juice into the mashed anchovies.
  5. Add the mustard to the anchovy mixture.
  6. Pour the dressing over the romaine in a large salad bowl.  Crack the egg into the bowl and toss the salad until the egg has disappeared.
  7. Add the croutons, salt and pepper to taste, and parmesean.  Toss and serve.

And the piece de resistance  - the cake!  I've been having such success with Fannie Farmer cakes lately I wanted to try another one.  But after looking at the ingredients, I worried it might not be a hit - I shouldn't have worried.  This was delicious!  The perfect yellow cake, the fruit and nuts in the center add sweetness and moistness.  The frosting was light and unassuming.  Not too sweet, which I prefer, but sweet enough where even Thatboy was okay with the addition of nuts.

Lord Baltimore Cake (From the Fannie Farmer Cookbook)
1/4 cup butter
2 1/2 cup sugar
5 egg yolks
1 whole egg
4 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup milk
2 cups cake flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
2 egg whites
1/2 cup dry macaroon crumbs
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup chopped blanched almonds
12 dried cherries, chopped
juice of half a lemon
1/2 tsp orange extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350.  Spray two 8-inch round cake pans with baking spray.  Cream the butter and slowly add 1 1/2 cups sugar, beating until light.
  2. Add the egg yolks and beat well.
  3. Add the whole egg, 2 tsp vanilla, and milk and beat well.
  4. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt, and add to the first mixture, beating until smooth.  
  5. Spread in the pans and bake for 25 minutes.  Cool in the pans for 5 minutes before turning out onto racks.
  6. Make the frosting - Mix the remaining sugar, cream of tartar, a pinch of salt, egg whites and 1/4 cup of water in a pot or bowl over simmering water.  Beat steadily over low heat with a hand mixer until the frosting stands in peaks - 7 minutes.  Remove from heat and continue to beat until thick enough to spread.  Add the vanilla.
  7. Take half of the frosting and fold the remaining ingredients into it.  Use this as filling between the cake layers.  
  8. Use the remaining half of the frosting to frost the cake.

Monday, February 20, 2012

3 years

It's always hard to believe it's been 3 years since Thatdad died.  Sometimes it seems like just yesterday we were speaking on the phone.  Other times it seems like we've been living this life with a missing piece forever. 

This past year has been an especially big year for us, and although it has been filled with a great many joys, each comes with it's own painful reminder.

Thatdad missed so much this year that he would have loved to see.  His son getting engaged to a beautiful woman, who Thatdad adored.  The birth of his first grandchild.

I don't know if Thatbrother feels the same way, but part of me does feel like Thatdad is a part of these events, even though he obviously isn't.  The night before we took a home pregnancy test, I had a dream.  I was in the bathroom taking the test while Thatdad waited outside for the results.  It was positive.  I woke up feeling like I knew what the test would say, and that Thatdad also knew.

Following the brit milah, we took Thatbaby to the cemetery to "meet" his grandfather.  I wonder how that's going to play out when he gets older.  I don't looking forward to explaining, or trying to explain to Thatbaby why we visit and why grandpa lives there.

Even now, I sing Billy Joel's Lullaby to Thatbaby during naptime.  The lyrics are on Thatdad's grave, and as I sing, it never fails to bring tears to my eyes.  Thatbaby laughs at me when I cry.  I'm hoping that's a phase he grows out of and I'm not raising a serial killer.   I imagine how my dad would interact with him, how he would spoil him, how he'd react to the smiles, the talking, the outfits.

At the same time, as I said before, not having Thatdad around seems less of a foreign concept.  What they must mean by "the new normal."  We've all moved on in our own way.  There are less moments when I reach for the phone to call him, or expect him to answer the phone when I call Thatmom.  It's become natural to refer to "my mom" instead of "my parents."  And for the most part, we've all returned to our regularly scheduled programming. 

Part of me feels like my dad would be happy we're all moving on with our lives, healing.  Part of me feels like he'd be sad that he was "forgotten" so easily - he was like that.  Hurt when you chose not to go to the supermarket with him. 

But whether he'd like it or not, we've all made it through another year.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Hoo-Whee Macaroni

I should probably have just called this "winter tomato week."  Although you did get fair warning yesterday when I mentioned I'd be sharing ways to use my favorite ruby summer treat.

Yesterday I talked about the using the shells, which are nice and firm in the winter.  But cooking the tomatoes with loads of yummy spices also is chock full of benefits. 

Cajun and Creole flavors are some of my favorite.  Both rely heavily on the tomato and neither take a break in the winter - especially not in February, when Mardi Gras overflows the streets of New Orleans.  The heat and spice make even the blandest tomato the star of your entree.

This macaroni is definitely not an authentic creole recipe.  It is a bastardization at best - don't expect to see it on any bayou menus.  It's really only a step above hamburger helper.  But I promise you won't mind.  Not with a creamy, spicy, pasta.  Emeril's Essence has been my go to spice blend for most of my "what should I put in here" needs, and in my eyes that makes any recipe "Creole." 

Creole Macaroni
1/2 box of elbow macaroni
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1/2 pound ground turkey
3 tomatoes, quartered
1 sprig thyme
2 tablespoon Emeril's Essence
1 cup tomato sauce
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup cream cheese

  1. Cook macaroni according to package directions and drain.  Set aside.
  2. Melt the butter in a large skillet.  Add the green pepper and onion and cook slowly over medium-low heat, stirring for about 10 minutes.  
  3. Add turkey and cook until brown.  
  4. Add the tomatoes, Essence, and thyme.  Cook for 5 minutes.  
  5. Add tomato sauce, salt and pepper to taste.    Simmer for 3 minutes.
  6. Add macaroni and cream cheese, and stir to combine.  Simmer for another few minutes before serving.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

What you should do with winter tomatoes

I know.  Eventually I'll get over this tomato obsession.  I always do.  Just don't expect it to happen anytime soon.  Instead I'll find ways to make them work and make me happy.

Joanne suggested roasting the tomatoes - I haven't tried that, but it's only February.  So what do you do with firm tomatoes with no flavor?  You stuff them!  That unripe exterior perfectly holds the filling, which is so full of flavor you won't even notice that the tomato is missing it.  It becomes a blank, flavorless canvas on which to paint.

And like any good artist, I paint with lots of colors.  Which is also another excuse to use spinach - you know I love that stuff, and unlike tomatoes, spinach is delicious in the winter.

Stuffed Tomatoes
2 large tomatoes
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 tsp chopped basil
1 Tbsp chopped onion
1/8 cup sliced water chestnuts
3/4 Tbsp olive oil
  1. Preheat the oven to 400.  Coat a baking pan with just enough oil so the tomatoes won't stick.  Cut a slice from the top of each tomato and scoop out the pulp- making sure to leave enough of shell so the tomatoes don't fall apart.
  2. Sprinkle the insides of the tomatoes with salt, invert them and let them drain for 15 minutes.
  3. Squeeze the juice out of the pulp and chop it finely. 
  4. Combine the pulp with breadcrumbs, basil, onion, spinach,and water chestnuts.
  5. Add the oil and salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Fill the tomatoes, place in baking pan and bake for 20 minutes.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Dressed up dinner

Bow tie pasta always struck me as a very confused pasta.  One the one hand, it's fun shape is a far cry from penne and spaghetti.  Which makes it an easy choice for children.  On the other hand, bow-ties usually signify a fancy event, like a wedding or ball.

Since we're grown-ups (most of the time) I'm going to lean more towards the "bow-ties" for black-tie.  This is definitely a grown-up dinner.  If you have kids - don't share it with them.  As my mom always said "There has to be some advantage to getting older"  and meals like this fall under "advantages."

Of course you could share this with your children.  There's nothing in it that isn't kid-friendly.  But really, is this something you want to share?  Like Dove ice cream bars.  When I was little, my parents would have these in the freezer sometimes.  And they were "grown up" ice cream.  There was no question that Thatbrother and I weren't going to be indulging.  And there was always something magical about those ice cream bars.  Because they were off limits.

And this pasta dish?  Totally magical.  The center fold of the bow ties holds the bits of tomato, sausage, and cream.  The sausage, left over from last week's chili, adds the perfect amount of spice.  And for those of us mourning summer tomatoes, canned plum tomatoes are possibly the next best thing.  

A small word of caution.  This recipe feeds more than 2.  Or to rephrase, it feeds 2, for several days.  Which was nice because on the last day there were forks drawn over who would have the last serving for lunch.

Bow Ties with Sausage, Tomatoes and Cream
Modified from as seen on A Taste of Home Cooking

1-lb package bow tie pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound spicy Italian sausage, casings removed and crumbled
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional if you want more heat)
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28 ounce) can Italian-style plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, reserving some of the pasta water.
  2. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Brown sausage. 
  3. Add red pepper flakes, onion and garlic, and cook until onion is translucent.
  4. Stir in tomatoes, cream, and salt. Simmer until mixture thickens, 8 to 10 minutes.
  5. Stir cooked pasta into sauce, and heat through. Add in pasta water until it reaches the consistency you desire.   Sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

Every year I get up on my Valentine's Day soapbox to remind everyone that love doesn't just mean love between you and your significant other.  It encompasses everyone who is special in your life.  The people who make your day, and yet go unsung 364 days of the year.

Like sending in treats to Thatboy's coworkers.

And that includes each and every one of you, dear readers!  Thanks for hanging in there this past year with my sporadic updates and general nonsense.  Which is really what this blog is all about.  General nonsense.

Thatbaby echos my sentiments.

This year we are spending Valentine's Day at home - our first time in years.  It just doesn't make sense to pack up the baby to struggle with crowds.  We go out to dinner other times (like this past Saturday night.)  And there will be plenty more dinners out in our future.

Instead we're staying in and I'm making a nice dinner:
Blood Orange Cocktails
Steamed Crab
Baked Potatoes
Caesar Salad
Lord Baltimore Cake

There will be recipes to follow in the coming weeks, but instead I'll share a different crab recipe with you.  Crab is cheap and sweet right now, one of the reasons we're having it for Valentine's Day dinner.  (And it always seems like a special occasion type food to me anyway.)  While perfect for salads (especially those winter salads I wrote about yesterday), crab is a fabulous way to use up any wontons you might have leftover from, I dunno, pumpkin ravioli you made last week?

Crab rangoons couldn't be easier to make, since the ingredients are really just crab and cream cheese.  Stuffed in a won ton, and then deep fried.  Sounds good, right?  Well I mean, anything that's deep fried is probably going to bed delicious by default.  It's also probably not going to fit into that New Year's Diet Resolution you've been trying to keep.  So I did what I usually do with typically fried foods - I baked it! 

Same basic idea - but you want the heat in the oven to be nice and high so those suckers get crispy.  Thatboy was highly enamored with these, so I see them making their way onto our menu as a regular way to use up won ton wrappers.

Baked Crab Rangoon
2 clusters of snow crab legs
4 tbsp cream cheese, softened
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper
Won ton wrappers

  1. Preheat oven to 400. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Remove meat from the snow crab clusters and combine with cream cheese and garlic. Salt and pepper to taste
  2. Spoon a scant tablespoon of the mixture into center of each won ton wrapper. Moisten edges of skin with water. Fold in half, pinching edges together to seal. 
  3. Place won tons  on baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Let's Talk Salads

Let's talk about salads in winter.  Around January and February I start craving salads like nobody's business.  After a couple months without summer's bounty anybody would be dying for fresh, beautiful, juicy vegetables.  Crisp and mouthwatering.  A girl can only live so long on root veggies

The problem is, those vegetables are not at their best in January or February.  Salads can be a little lackluster in the winter.

So my new solution is to fill salads with winter appropriate ingredients - lots of protein.  Luckily lettuce doesn't really suffer when not in season, so it's a great accompaniment for meats and cheeses.  I picked up some heirloom tomatoes at the store because they were insanely cheap.  There was a reason for it.  Will I ever learn my lesson with buying out of season tomatoes?  It must be the eternal optimist in me.  I really miss summer tomatoes and I always think maybe, just maybe, this tomato will be different.  The mystical winter tomato that will somehow be delicious.  And it just never is.

However - the reds and oranges really do add to the beauty of the salad.  And a beautiful salad might just be enough to get us through these next few months.

Chef Salad
2 Tbsp vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
3 Tbsp heavy cream
1 head of romaine lettuce
1 bunch of radishes, sliced thinly
2 stalks of celery, cut into matchstick size pieces
2 tomatoes cut into wedges
3/4 cup sliced swiss cheese
1 cup sliced ham
1 cup sliced cooked chicken
2 hardboiled eggs, quartered
  1. Mix the vinegar and salt in a small bowl and let sit for a couple minutes.  Add the pepper and whisk in the oil.  Whisk in the cream.  Refrigerate until ready to use and then re-whisk to combine.
  2.  Tear the romaine lettuce into bite-sized pieces. Toss with radishes, celery, and half of the dressing.
  3.  Arrange the tomato wedges and eggs around the edge of the bowl.
  4. Spread the chicken, ham, and cheese over the lettuce and vegetables.
  5. Salt and pepper the salad.  Spoon the remaining dressing over the salad before serving.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Chili Nouveau?

Wow - it's been over a week since I've shared a chili recipe with you.  Luckily for both of us Punxatawny Phil predicted another 6 weeks of winter, which means there will not be a shortage of chili around Thathouse any time soon.

When you're as highly invested in chili as I am, you're willing to try almost every variation.  There is one exception.

"Have you ever heard of Frito Pie?"  I asked Thatboy not too long ago.  He looked at me like I might have fallen on my head.  He hadn't.

"It's serving chili on fritos."  I proudly informed him.  He then informed me that of course he'd done that.  That was pretty much a given.  Apparently I'm the only one completely out of the loop who has never thought to serve chili on top of chips.  This had to be remedied.

When I looked to see if there were directions on how to create this dish (is it baked?  It must be more complicated than just putting chili on fritos...what's the pie part?) I found that most recipes called for placing the chili directly into a frito bag.  The thought is like nails on a chalkboard to me.  I don't eat out of bags. 

But other than that, it seems silly to have recipes for Frito Pie because literally the directions are: Place chili on top of fritos.  That's it.  Hardly a recipe.  Instead I will share with you one of my all time favorite chili recipes.  It's my go-to recipe I've been making for about 5 years now.  I've taken the original, which is from the Bride and Groom First and Forever Cookbook and added my own spin.  Modified it over the years.  I think the secret is the sausage and chipotle in adobo which were in the original recipe.  It's just about the perfect chili - whether or not you eat it from a bag or a bowl.

Texas Chili (Adapted from the Bride and Groom First and Forever Cookbook)
3/4 lb lean ground beef
3/4 lb Italian sausage links, removed from casings
1  onion, chopped
3 large gloves garlic, minced
1 can Muir Glen fire roasted tomatoes with chiles
1/2 c beef broth
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce
3 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp cumin
2 tsp oregano
2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cocoa powder
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 can cannelini beans
Salt & pepper to taste

  1. Combine ground beef and Italian sausage.  Season with salt and pepper and brown meat in a pot or dutch oven.
  2. Add onions & garlic and saute until onions are translucent. 
  3. Add the tomatoes, beef broth, chipotle chile, chili powder, cumin, oregano, paprika, cocoa powder,  and tomato paste. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cover.  Cook for 1 hour.
  4. Add beans and allow to simmer another 10-15 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Not potatoes

Perhaps you've seen the latest trend to mash cauliflowers instead of potatoes.

"Sooo much healthier" (They say)
"Tastes just like potatoes!" (They say)
"You won't even notice!" (They say)

They lie.

I'm not a cauliflower fan to begin with.  I'll tolerate it roasted with garlic and parmesean, but I don't actively seek it out.  And I certainly don't use it as a substitute for creamy and comforting mashed potatoes. 

But I understand the basic philosophy behind it.  Potatoes are high in calories and carbohydrates - the white kind that goes straight to your thighs.  Cauliflower is lower in both  Unfortunately, it's also far lower on the taste spectrum.  So when I want a healthier mashed potato substitute, I turn to squash.  Lower in both calories and carbohydrates than potato it's also higher in fiber and contains beta carotene, vitamins B, C, and potassium.

I'm not going to try to pull a fast one on you - mashed squash does not taste like mashed potatoes.  But that's not necessarily a bad thing.  Squash has more complex flavor than potatoes which can - truth be told - be a little bland.  The texture of this however is perfect for cold winter nights.  It's just as creamy as mashed potatoes, and just as rich too. 

Mashed Squash
1 acorn or butternut squash
2 Tbsp butter
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 350.  Cut the squash in half and remove seeds.  Sprinkle with salt and place cut side down on a baking sheet.  Bake for 45 minutes.
  2. Scoop out the flesh of the squash and put in a bowl with butter, nutmeg, and cream. 
  3. Mash with 2 forks until smooth and well blended.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

My Sweeter Side

To hear me tell the story of my childhood you would think I was sorely abused.  We had no candy drawer.  For years my mother convinced me Ritz crackers were "cookies."  My brother and I clamored for Grape Nuts cereal because we were allowed to sprinkle a little sugar on top.  And squash was one of our favorite side dishes with dinner.

Baked squash.  Which my dad would sprinkle with cinnamon and brown sugar.  It was as close to candy as you could get on a non-holiday.  (Because on a holiday we would cover yams with marshmallows - another favorite.  Yipes...I'm beginning to understand myself so much better as I type this.)

The sweetness of the squash, the sweetness of the sugar - anyone still wondering how to get their kids to eat vegetables?  While this is surely not the healthiest way to eat squash, seconds of this isn't going to be nearly as detrimental to your waistline as a couple scoops of ice cream.

Most of you are already familiar with sweet winter squashes.  We eat pumpkin pie without ever once thinking about the fact that the pumpkin is a vegetable.  Squash pairs well with almost every kind of sweetener - molasses, brown sugar, even maple syrup.  Here I used maple syrup on hot baked squash.  If you're going to go this route, I heartily recommend using real maple syrup - not that stuff that is maple-syrup colored sugar.  The complexity of real maple syrup better complements the squash and makes it more interesting. Served alongside a nice cinnamon roasted pork and you won't even want dessert.

Acorn Squash
1 acorn squash
1 Tbsp butter
maple syrup
  1. Preheat oven to 400.  Cut squash in half and remove the seeds.  Sprinkle the cut sides with salt and place cut side down in baking dish.  Bake 45 minutes.
  2. Place 1/2 Tbsp of butter on each half and drizzle with maple syrup. 

Tuesday, February 07, 2012


Mascarpone is kind of an interesting cheese.  Cheese aren't typically thought of as "sweets" although the traditional cheese plate is served as a dessert. 

And yet, it is ridiculously difficult to find a savory recipe using mascarpone.  I originally bought it to make the Shells with Sausage, Beans and Mascarpone.  And in my new quest to make use of those ingredients I buy, (which is going really well by the way.  It's nice not having a refrigerator crammed to the gills with different things) I tried to find something to make with the remainder.

I could have taken the easy way out and used it to make tiramisu, frosting, or some other sweet dessert.  But now that I'm not in training for a half marathon, there are far less desserts going on in Thathouse. 

I was able to stumble upon an Ina Garten recipe that seemed like the perfect use for my cheese - mushroom caps stuffed with sausage, mascarpone, and panko.  These would be an excellent appetizer if you're entertaining.  The panko makes the stuffing nice and crispy and the spice of the sausage perfectly complements the sweetness of the cheese.

But instead of serving these as an appetizer, Thatboy and I made a whole meal out of them.  We've been known to do that sometimes.  With a nice glass of wine, a plateful of stuffed mushrooms is a delightful way to spend the evening.
Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms (From Ina Garten)
16 extra-large white mushrooms
5 tablespoons good olive oil, divided
2 1/2 tablespoons Marsala wine or medium sherry
3/4 pound sweet Italian sausage, removed from the casings
6 scallions, white and green parts, minced
2 garlic cloves minced
2/3 cup panko crumbs
5 ounces mascarpone cheese, preferably from Italy
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
2 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper 
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degree. Remove the stems from the mushrooms and chop them finely. Set aside. Place the mushroom caps in a shallow bowl and toss with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and Marsala. Set aside.
  2.  Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the sausage, crumbling it with the back of a wooden spoon. Cook the sausage for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until it's completely browned. 
  3. Add the chopped mushroom stems and cook for 3 more minutes. 
  4. Stir in the scallions and garlic and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  5. Add the panko crumbs, stirring to combine evenly with all the other ingredients. 
  6. Finally, swirl in the mascarpone and continue cooking until the mascarpone has melted and made the sausage mixture creamy. 
  7. Off the heat, stir in the Parmesan, parsley, and season with salt and pepper, to taste, Cool slightly.
  8. Fill each mushroom generously with the sausage mixture. Arrange the mushrooms in a baking dish large enough to hold all the mushrooms in a snug single layer. Bake until the stuffing for 50 minutes, until the stuffing is browned and crusty.

Monday, February 06, 2012

A Healthy Eating Break

It's funny.  Starting in October it's all downhill.  First comes Halloween with the bags of candy left over from trick-or-treaters.  Which you swear you'll bring in to your coworkers, and yet somehow that bowl never leaves your counter.

November follows quickly on it's heels.  It's hard not to end up as stuffed as the Thanksgiving turkey.  Because of course you don't want to offend your Great Aunt Mildred by refusing that second piece of pumpkin pie.

December brings with it a whole extra slew of holiday desserts.  I mean, they're not called "Christmas Cookies" for nothing.  But that's okay, because at the end of the month it's New Year's Eve.  Where everyone vows to eat in a more healthy light now that the holidays are over.

And this vow lasts allllllllllllll the way to the first weekend in February, Superbowl weekend.

All of a sudden all that healthy eating gets thrown out the window for nachos, chili, wings, dip, beer and other delicious treats.  We're no better in Thathouse.  The Superbowl is one of the two days a year we order pizza in - a tradition that is so valuable to Thatboy he turns down every invitation to Superbowl parties. 

But after the Superbowl it's back on the wagon for most of us.  At least until next week when Valentine's Day chocolates show that the true meaning of "love" can be found in butter and sugar.  (Like there was ever any doubt.)

For the interim, let's focus on some lighter, healthier options.  I'll ease you into it slowly.  We'll begin with a vegetable dish that's so creamy you'll swear it must be loaded with fat.  Between you and I?  It's not.  I mean, sure there's an egg in there, but no butter, no cream, and you won't even miss it.

Although technically a summer squash, zucchini can be found year-round and I haven't noticed it to be lacking in the winter the way many summer vegetables are.  It's a versatile vegetable that works well sauteed, roasted, and in this case, even mashed.  It works well with a number of seasonings and other vegetables.  Zucchini certainly plays well with others.  Here I pair it's bright green with the vibrant orange of cooked carrots. 

Zucchini Casserole
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 zucchini, cooked and mashed
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp marjoram
1 Tbsp grated onion
1 egg
  1. Preheat oven to 350.  Butter a casserole dish and sprinkle the breadcrumbs on the inside.
  2. Combine the zucchini, salt, marjoram, onion, and eggs.  Spoon the zucchini mixture into the casserole dish.  Bake for 40 minutes.