A Rather Hectic Spring Done. Now, onto Summer …

DSC_0867I can’t believe how long it has been since I’ve sat down to write.  I missed one week, and then the weeks just started piling up.  Then I’m out of practice, and feel pressure to write something REALLY GOOD when I commence writing again.  Well, this promises to not be REALLY GOOD, but just a state of affairs to get everyone caught up. A step back into the world of writing if you will.

Well like everyone, sometimes life just gets a bit busy and over the top, and we have to peel back the onion in some logical fashion, and discard some of those layers if we’re going to survive, at least mentally.  As time passes, there seems to be less and less of it available.  This week marks the last week of school for all the kids, the conclusion to five sports teams, the start of REALLY launching into the college planning cycle for my rising senior and getting him ready for his first job, getting my daughter off to camp in Maine, the start of summer sports, and welcoming our new puppy to the family.

Did I say puppy?  Yikes!  Yes, I finally gave into the puppy pleas early in the year when our neighbor showed up with an adorable puppy similar to the type that I had been researching for the past few years.  While in the past wisdom and managing logistics had always won out and squashed the puppy discussion, this time I looked at my husband and he said – “it’s never going to be a good time.  We might as well just go for it.”  So that I did, and set the wheels in motion. Now I’m looking for homes for two life size “Doug and Melissa” dogs I bought the boys for Christmas, thinking they might just satisfy the puppy craving.  Well, it didn’t work.  If there’s any interest in a Golden Retriever or a Portuguese Water Dog that don’t require food, walking, cleaning up after, or vet visits just let me know.  Pick out which stuffed animal you would like in the above picture.

So this new addition to our family is really quite adorable, bouncy and happy.  I’m adjusting to rolling out of bed at 2AM to take a little walk in the backyard.  Other than that, he’s really been quite easy.  (Although 6 year old Sam commented:  ”Our lives are sure a lot more difficult now.” hmmmm, who’s wiser?)  We even went 2.5 days with no accidents in the house, and I felt truly blessed.  But the stellar record was broken yesterday.   I guess I just have a “normal” puppy!  I’m overwhelmed by the puppy gifts I’ve received.  It’s almost like having a baby.  One of my colleagues has fallen in love with our puppy so much that she has a framed picture of him on her desk!  She is definitely the puppy rep, and people at work are asking me for the breeder’s name.  I’ve also discovered that I can squelch the nasty grumbles of my eight year old when I wake him up if I put the puppy in bed with him to awaken him.  The day starts on a much higher note when a puppy wakes you up versus your mom.

Do I harbor any guilty feelings about not getting a pound puppy?  Oh, yes.  And one of my college friends loves to make me feel guilty about this.  But I decided if I was going to walk down the path of dog ownership, I needed to control the variables as much as possible.  So meet Ozzy, our Australian Labradoodle.  And while I initially wanted to add a girl puppy to the family (Eliza and I certainly feel out numbered in a family of four boys (including Dad), Ozzy’s a boy.  Sam had a different perspective.  “It’s a good thing we got a boy,” he said.  “Otherwise we would have way too many girls in this family – you know, including the eight chickens.”  “Ah yes, the chickens” I said.  I guess in his mind, the girls really do rule the roost.

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Portobello Mushroom Lasagna – Yum!

lasagna-ck-604775-lWW Stacy recommended this Ina Garten recipe to me this winter, and it is a winner.  The mushrooms make it hearty enough to stand up as a nice winter meal, on its own or perhaps as a side to a nice steak, with a glass of red wine, and of course enjoyed  in front of the fire. (Even though it is spring, it is snowing right now and I’m going skiing this weekend, so I’m still fully rooted in the winter frame of mind!)  BUT, as we are all anxious to get into spring, this recipe is also light enough, and would be perfect with a nice green salad and a glass of white wine.

Don’t let the lengthy looking directions discourage you – it’s very simple and easy to prepare.

Portobello Mushroom Lasagna

kosher salt

good olive oil

3/4 pound dried lasagna noodles (Stacy recommends DeCecco brand)

4 cups whole milk (you can substitute something lighter; I used 2%)

12 tablespoons of unsalted butter, divided

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp ground nutmeg (this flavor really comes through, so if you’re not a nutmeg fan, put in a sprinkle or eliminate – but also delivers a nice complimentary flavor to the mushrooms)

1.5 pounds  mushrooms (I followed Stacy’s recommendation, and used 1 pound of portobello and 1 pound of button (Paris) mushrooms – probably any combination would work – but I do like the idea of using 2 pounds vs. 1.5)

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (Stacy recommends fresh grated Locatelli Romano)

Preheat oven to 375.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil with 1 T salt and a splash of oil.  Add the lasagna noodles and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Drain and set aside.

For the white sauce, bring the milk to a simmer in a saucepan.  Set aside.  Melt 8 tablespoons (1 stick) of the butter in a large saucepan.  Add the flour and cook for 1 minute over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.  Pour the hot milk into the butter flour mixture all at once.  Add 1 tablespoon salt, the pepper, and nutmeg, and cook over medium low heat, stirring first with the wooden spoon and then with a whisk, for 3 – 5 minutes, until thick.  Set aside off the heat.

Separate the mushroom stems from the caps and discard the stems.  Slice the caps 1/4 inch thick.  Heat 2 tablespoons of oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large (12-inch) saute pan. When the butter melts, add half the mushrooms, sprinkle with salt, and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until the mushrooms are tender and they release some of their juices. If they become too dry, add a little more oil.  Toss occasionally to make sure the mushrooms cook evenly.  Repeat with the remaining mushrooms and set all the mushrooms aside.

To assemble the lasagna, spread some of the sauce in the bottom of an 8x12x2 inch baking dish.  Arrange a layer of noodles on top, then more sauce, then one third of the mushrooms and 1/4 cups grated Parm or Romano.  Repeat two more t imes, layering noodles, sauce, mushrooms, and cheese.  Top with a final layer of noodles and sauce, and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Bake the lasagna for 45 minutes, or until the top is browned and the sauce is bubbly and hot. Allow to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes and serve hot.

If you like truffle flavor, I drizzled a little truffle oil on top as I was serving.  Really delicious!

It’s Still Soup Season

cauliflower-soupI have been remiss in writing for the past couple of weeks. We spent a fun, relaxing week in Vermont skiing, with no access to the internet, which of course contributed greatly to my ability to relax!  And the week back after vacation has just been a crazy race to catch up and get things done.

I had mentioned that I had made a Roasted Cauliflower soup in a previous blog, and a few people requested the recipe.  So I thought I would throw it in here so we all have a permanent record.  It was very easy and delicious.

Roasted Cauliflower Soup

1 head cauliflower (about 2 pounds), trimmed, cored, and cut into 1/2 inch florets, about 6 cups

1 onion, halved and sliced 1/2 inchs thick

4 teaspoons canola oil

salt and pepper

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 bay leaf

3 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth

1/2 cup half and half (I used light cream, and I think milk would work fine too, if you want to lighten it up, especially since cauliflower on its own delivers such a creamy texture once blended)

1 tablespoon of fresh chives

1.  Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 450 degrees.

2.  Toss the cauliflower, onion, 1 tablespoon of the oil, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper together in a large bowl, then spread the mixture in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet.  Roast until the cauliflower is softened and lightly browned, 30-40 minutes, stirring halfway though.

3. Combine the roasted vegetables and remaining 1 teaspoon oil in a large Dutch oven.  Cover and cook over medium low heat, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is very soft, 3 to 5 minutes.  Uncover, stir in the garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

4.  Stir in the wine and bay leaf and cook until the wine has reduced by half, about 1 minute.  Stir in the broth and bring to a simmer over medicum high heat.  Cover, reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove and discard the bay leaf.

5.  Working in two batches, process the cauliflower mixture in a blender until smooth, about 1 minute.  Transfer the cauliflower mixture to a clean Dutch oven, stir in the half and half and cook over low heat until hot.

6.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, ladle into bowls, and sprinkle each portion with some of the chives before serving.  (The soup can be cooled and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 1 month.

Variation:  Follow the same recipe, but add 1.5 teaspoons of curry powder to the pot with the roasted vegetables in step 3.  Substitute 2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro for the chives.

Source:  Cook’s Illustrated

A Winning Dessert – Strawberry Stack Cake

stack_cake200Last weekend I found myself practically alone – except for the company of my 16 year old.  My husband took the other three kids to Vermont for the weekend.  What a blessing to find yourself alone with the ability to do what you want to do.  Usually I dive into the tasks that always pile up in several places around the house.  But instead, I became a cooking maniac.  I made roasted cauliflower soup, vegetable soup, a jalapeno lime butter for salmon and a six layer Strawberry Stack Cake.  I must say I was inspired to find the salmon and Strawberry Stack Cake recipes to round out my Valentine’s Day menu (no I usually don’t go to such lengths, but given I had the time – I decided to take advanage).

The Strawberry Stack Cake was a hit – essentially 6 cookie like layers separated by a homemade strawberry jam.  It was quite easy to make as well and looked beautiful.  It’s almost a different take on strawberry short cake.  Here’s the recipe in case any of you are just dying to bake this weekend:

Strawberry Stack Cake

Filling

2.5 pounds fresh strawberries, hulled and halved (you can also use frozen)

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 T fresh lemon juice

pinch of salt

Bring the strawberries, sugar, lemon juice, and salt to a simmer in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Mash the strawberries with a potato masher and cook until thick and jam-like, about 30 minutes (the mixture should measure 2 – 3/4 cups).  Transfer to a shallow dish and refrigerate until cool, about 30 minutes. (I left mine in the fridge for a few hours).

Cake

5 cups of unbleached flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp of salt

1/4 tsp buttermilk

2 tsp vanilla

8 T unsalted butter, softened

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

2 large eggs

2 T confectioner’s sugar

1.  Adjust the oven racks to the upper middle and lower middle positions and heat the oven to 350.  Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a bowl.  Combine the buttermilk and vanilla in a measuring cup.  With the electric mixer on medium high speed, beat the butter, cream cheese, and granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 mintues.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until combined, then the buttermilk mixture.  Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture gradually until combined.

2.  Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces.  Pat each piece into a 5 inch disk, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm about 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, cut six 9 inch parchment rounds.   (note:  I did cut out six rounds, but I think using just one is sufficient).  Line an 8 inch round cake pan with the parchment paper, and press a chilled dough disk into the bottom of the lined pan.  I just pounded the dough, and pushed is to the edges of the pan as best I could.  Transfer the round to a baking sheet (you can just grab the parchment paper and flip the dough onto the cookie sheet).  I could fit two dough rounds on each cookie sheet, and then into the oven they went, essentially looking like 4 big cookies.  Bake until just golden around the edges, 6 to 20 minutes, switching and rotating the sheets halfway through.  Cool for 10 minutes on the sheets, then transfer to the counter to cool completely.  Repeat with the remaining dough.

3.  To assemble:  Place 1 cooled cake round on a serving platter.  Spread 1/2 cup of the cooled berry mixture over the cake, leaving a 1/2 inch border uncovered, then top with another cake round.  Repeat with the remaining berry mixture and cake rounds, finishing with the cake.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the cake has softened, at least 8 hours or up to 3 days.  Dust with  confectioners’ sugar and serve.  I also had extra strawberry jam, so I put it on the top of the cake in the shape of a heart.  Very delicious!

Source:  Cook’s Illustrated

Another Slow Cooker Friday

chicken-jambalayaWW Stacy passed along this recipe a few weeks ago.  As it was 2 degrees this morning as I sat at the bus stop, the only recipes that will suffice are those that can provide the warmth we all crave. (I’m definitely ready to write about the fresh fish on the grill with green salad with summer peaches!)  And if you have the opportunity to actually experience Jambalaya LIVE in New Orleans, go for it and get the heck out of this Arctic weather!

So if you’re in the mood for a little cajun, give this a try (with a full bodied beer I must add).  I’m still on a mission to build my slow cooker repertoire, so if you have any recipes, pass them along!

Slow Cooker Jambalaya

1 pound boneless chicken breast halves, cut into 1 inch cubes

1 pound andouille sausage, sliced

1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes with juice

1 large onion, chopped

1 large green bell pepper, chopped

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup chicken broth

2 teaspoons dried oregano

2 teaspoons dried parsley

2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning (or a blend of S & P, nutmeg, garlic powder)

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1 pound frozen cooked shrimp without tails (Stacy recommended fresh uncooked shrimp, steamed separately for 2 minutes; I used frozen raw shrimp, which I quickly steamed separately and dropped in to the slow cooker towards the end of cooking).

Directions:

1.  In a slow cooker, mix the chicken, sausage, tomatoes with juice, onion, green bell pepper, celery, and broth.  Season with oregano, parsley, Cajun seasoning, cayenne pepper, and thyme.

2.  Cover and cook 7 to 8 hours on Low, or 3 to 4 hours on High.  Stir in the shrimp during the last 30 minutes of cook time.

If you want to add some spice, sprinkle on Frank’s Red Hot Sauce.

Source:  allrecipes.com

The Snow Lounge is Open

DSC_0838Another 18 inches of snow, another day at home, and another day for snow creations and expansion of the terrain park. Yesterday the snow lounge opened, complete with couch, club chair and ottoman.  Lunch special was barbequed pork, fried onions, pepperjack cheese and banana pepper paninis (what else are you going to feed a bunch of teen-aged boys?).  I was happy to see that Jack was able to get a little reading in as well.  By the end of the day, two large igloos had been constructed, and the snowboard riding off the deck onto the rail was ongoing.

Ahhhh, not a bad life at all for these kids….

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What’s in Your Christmas Stocking?

DSC_0834Before Christmas becomes a distant memory, at the prompting of my friend Stacy, I thought I would share with you just what Santa brought me in my Christmas stocking just a few short weeks ago.  My living room is still “littered” with the remnants of six stockings, well seven, including the stocking for our canary which six year old Sam insisted we hang by the fireplace.  One day these kids will understand the parental chaos they create when they pull out one more stocking for Santa to fill on Christmas Eve.

This year, Santa brought me a few of my favorite things.  To start, I pulled a mini bottle of Bombay Sapphire Gin and Maker’s Mark out of my stocking.  That was followed by a mini ice cube tray and then loads of peppermint patties and altoids.  I guess Santa thinks if I’m going to take a nip, I better wash it down with breath freshening mints.

This made me think of what Santa left in my stocking as a child.  Not your standard fare of candy, although I did receive my fair share of that as well.  Every year, Santa dropped a can of smoked oysters and a wheel of Camembert into my stocking (“Santa left you a can of beer” Sam exclaimed with surprise as I told him this story). I cherished both of those items, and would save them for a special occasion.  How did Santa ever figure out that I might even like those delicacies, I still wonder today. Another Christmas tradition was started by my next door neighbor, who would give both my sister and I a large jar (half gallon sized) of Penrose spicy sausage.  I have not seen them since, which is probably a good thing, as independently demolishing a whole jar of these sausages on an annual basis is sure to decrease life expectancy. They were essentially a bunch of full sized hot dogs pickled in a jar. I would keep them in my closet, and when my parents sat down for their nightly cocktails, I would grab a paper towel, go into my closet and pull out one of those sausages, and then sit on the couch next to my mom and eat it.  If you don’t think that’s weird enough, I also loved anchovies.  While anchovies weren’t connected to Christmas, it was a late night snack that my mother and I would sometimes have – a saltine cracker, a bit of butter, and a nice fat anchovy on top. She learned to eat anchovies when she journeyed from Norfolk, VA to Europe on an Italian Coal Freighter to visit my Dad who was in the Navy on a Med Cruise.  She was the only woman on board this ship, and dined with the Captain every night. Reportedly she could speak Italian AND loved anchovies by the time Europe was on the horizon.

The other funny food that I loved as a child was blue cheese.  When visiting my grandmother in Syracuse, we would go to the Valle Steak House, where I always ordered a salad with blue cheese dressing AND extra blue cheese.  This salad arrived with about an extra 2 inches of blue cheese on top, and I relished every bite. (While my eyes popped open wide in anticipation of eating that salad back then, my stomach turns over when I picture this sight today – albeit I’m still a blue cheese fan). I can’t imagine my kids eating any of these aforementioned items (except the spicy sausage probably would be a hit).  And to close out, I was also a caviar fan.

Now tell me, what 8 or 10 year old kid loves anchovies, caviar, blue cheese, Camembert, smoked oysters and spicy sausage?  Well, other than my sister, we might be hard pressed to identify another.  I still am personally amazed that my taste buds were so willing at that age.  Of course I did sit at the dining table for two hours one evening stubbornly refusing to eat the asparagus.

So what about you?  Any surprises in your Christmas stocking?  Any unusual food fetishes as a child?

Slow Cooker Friday

beef_stewA snowy morning on the East Coast begs for a warm simmering stew.  Earlier this week I set out to find a beef stew recipe that I could make in the slow cooker before work.  There is nothing better than a GOOD slow cooker recipe, but I do think they are hard to find.  I have a handful of slow cooker recipe books, and I feel that most of the recipes I have prepared have been just so so.

I decided to turn to the internet, and the first Beef Stew recipe that turned up had literally over 1,000 very positive (many times raving) comments, and it looked easy.  So I gave it a try.  It wasn’t too much effort to assemble before work this past Wednesday morning, and when I got home just before 7:00, the kitchen smelled wonderful, and I was able to eek out one serving of beef stew from the bottom of the pot.  Obviously, this dinner had been a success with my kids.

So I thought I would share it.  I have included modifications from one reader (which she took from a compilation of other readers), which I did follow for the most part.  However, I believe the reviewers overall conclusion was that following the beef stew recipe as originally written yielded very good results, and it’s a tad easier since you don’t go through the process of browning the meat first.

Anyhow, following is the recipe as is, followed by suggested modifications.  Either way, I’m sure you’ll enjoy.  Serving over egg noodles or with warm crusty bread is highly recommended!

Slow Cooker Beef Stew

2 pounds beef stew meat, cut into 1 inch cubes

1/4 cup all purpose flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1 clove garlic, minced

1 bay leaf

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 onion chopped

1.5 cups beef broth

3 potatoes, diced

4 carrots, sliced

1 stalk celery, chopped

1.  Place meat in slow cooker.  In a small bowl mix together the flour, salt, and pepper.  Pour over meat, and stir to coat meat with flour mixture.  Stir in the garlic, bay leaf, paprika, Worcestershire sauce, onion, beef broth, potatoes, carrots and celery.

2.  Cover, and cook on Low setting for 10-12 hours or on High setting for 4 to 6 hours.

THAT’S IT!  How simple is that?  Now for the modifications if you so choose:

Modifications:

1.  Increase flour to 1/3 cup and substitute seasoned salt for regular salt. Put flour mixture into gallon sized, zippered bag.  Shake beef in bag to coat.  Saute coated beef in 1-2 tablespoons olive oil until browned.  Add chopped onion to beef to saute and soften.  Transfer to slow cooker.

2.  Mix beef broth with 1 tablespoon Worcestershire and 1/2 cup red wine.  Pour into hot skillet to deglaze, then pour over beef and onions in cooker.

3.  Add remaining ingredients with these additions:  Increase garlic to 2 cloves minced, 2 bay leaves; add 1 packet McCormick’s Beef Stew Seasoning (the Beef Stew Seasoning was the only thing I didn’t do, since I didn’t have it on hand.  It probably would have added nice flavor, but also a lot of salt).

Anyone who has a slow cooker recipe that you would like to share, it would be most welcome!  There’s nothing better than walking in the door at the end of the day knowing that dinner is already.

Enjoy the weekend!

Source:  allrecipes.com

Whoopie! Another Dessert Discovered…

Pumpkin_Whoopie_Pies1For Thanksgiving this year, I asked each of my kids to make one recipe to contribute to the Thanksgiving table.  Sam made jello, Jack made cranberry bread, and David made deviled eggs.  Eliza discovered a new use for pumpkin, and this recipe is definitely a keeper – Pumpkin Whoopie Pies.

In case any of you are still in a pumpkin mood heading into the holidays, here’s the recipe:

1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, 1 stick melted, 1/2 stick softened

1 cup packed light brown sugar

2 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten

1 cup canned pure pumpkin puree

1 T pumpkin pie spice

1-1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

3/4 tsp plus 2 pinches salt

1-2/3 cups flour

4 ounces cream cheese, chilled

1 cup confcctioner’s sugar

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2.  In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter and brown sugar until smooth.  Whisk in the eggs, pumpkin puree, and pumpkin pie spice, one tsp vanilla, the baking powder, the baking soda and 3/4 tsp salt.  Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour.

3.  Using an ice cream scoop or tablespoon, drop 12 generous mounds of batter, spaced evenly, onto each baking sheets.  Bake until springy to the touch about 10 minutes.  Transfer to a rack to cool completely

4.  Meanwhile, using an electric mixer, cream the softened butter with the cream cheese.  Add the confectioner’s sugar and the remaining 2 pinches salt and 1/2 tsp vanilla.  Mix on low speed until blended, then beat on medium high speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes.

5.  Spread the flat side of 12 cakes with the cream cheese frosting.  Top each with another cake.

Source:  Rachel Ray

When Life Gets in the Way

DSC_0916No, this light fixture doesn’t hang in some obscure corner of my house – it’s front and center in my entrance way.  Before I go any further, I must let you know since Day 1 of moving into this house, I have not liked that light fixture – it has been on my to do list for replacement.  Since I haven’t gotten around to replacing it yet after seven years, you can see it is dying a slow death on the vine.

A few months ago we looked up and noticed that all the glass panels were precariously leaning in all sorts of different directions – creating quite a hazard for anyone standing below.  We quickly removed them all, and there they still all sit on my dining room buffet.  At this point, there is only one light burning, two missing bulbs which were transferred to the outdoor lamp post, and three burned out light bulbs.  Yes, our front hallway does seem a bit on the dark side these days, but if I even happen to notice as I’m quickly passing through, I make a mental note which is quickly forgotten.  There’s an intricate display of cobwebs encircling the top.

Well, as ugly as it is, doing anything about it hasn’t take high priority (obviously).   And maybe that’s a good thing.  Life at this point is moving too fast to worry about this relic, the nicks of missing paint around the door frames, the yet to be painted door frame around a remodeled room (hmmm going on about 3 years), the dust that sinks down in the crevices of moldings.  Mind you, these things do take up a small fraction of brain space, but nothing that compels me to action…

Maybe I’ll get to it in my sixties….in the meantime, anyone need a light fixture?

[Successful people see] through that adage, repeated to me so often in childhood, that anything worth doing is worth doing well. The truth is, many things are worth doing only in the most slovenly, halfhearted fashion possible, and many other things are not worth doing at all.
Barbara Ehrenreich

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