Ambition. Some Days it Finds Me.

I was in the kitchen at 9AM this morning.  By 10:30, I had two dinners ready to go for the rest of the week.  Not because I was hungry- I can’t stand to eat much of anything before 1PM- but because it’s cold outside.  Cold, of course, means soup weather.  And comfort food in the crock pot.  Ambitious as I am, I decided to embark on both.  Soup is a staple in this house from September through May, and our most popular choice is Cheeseburger Soup, as I’ve mentioned here before.  However, I’ve never shared the recipe.  Until today.  Just a little something to keep you warm, friends.  You’re welcome.

Cheeseburger Soup
1/2 pound ground beef
3/4 cup onion, chopped
3/4 cup carrot, shredded
3/4 cup celery, diced
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried parsley
4 Tbsp butter or margarine, div.
3 cups chicken broth
4 cups peeled & diced potatoes
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups processed American cheese, cubed
1 -1/2 cups milk
3/4 tsp salt
1/3 tsp pepper
1/4 cup sour cream
In a 3-quart saucepan, brown beef; set aside.  In the same saucepan, saute onion, carrots, celery, basil, and parsley in 1 Tbsp butter until vegetables are tender (about 10 minutes).  Add broth, potatoes, and beef; bring to a boil.
Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 10-12 minutes or until potatoes are tender.  Meanwhile, melt remaining butter in a small skillet.  Add flour; cook and stir 3-5 minutes or until bubbly.  Add to soup; bring to a boil.  Cook and stir for 2 minutes.  Add cheese, milk, salt, and pepper.  Cook and stir until cheese melts.  Remove from heat and blend in sour cream.  

Meanwhile, in the crock pot, I decided to assemble this next recipe for the coming weekend.  Because it requires a couple of different steps and I have a date with my sister-in-law on Saturday that will have me out of the house most of the day, I decided to start today.  Tomorrow I’ll cook the beef, and by Saturday I’ll be able to set it on “Keep Warm” so Ryan and I can eat as we both come and go with no fuss.  We’ve never had this before, but I need a little Mexican in my life now and again.  A little Mexican food, that is… ahem.

Mexican-Style Shredded Beef (from this cookbook)
1 Boneless Beef Shoulder Roast
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp ground coriander
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground red pepper
1 cup salsa or picante sauce
2 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp cornstarch
Taco shells
Cut roast in half.  Combine cumin, coriander, chili powder, salt, and red pepper in a small bowl.  Rub over beef.  Place 1/4 cup salsa in slow cooker; top with one piece beef.  Layer 1/4 cup salsa, remaining beef, and 1/2 cup salsa in slow cooker.  Cover; cook on LOW 8-10 hours or until meat is tender.  

How about you?  What are your favorite fall recipes?  I haven’t been inspired by any new fall desserts this year; what are your favorites?





Remove beef from cooking liquid; cool slightly.  Trim and discard excess fat from beef.  Shred meat with two forks.
Let cooking liquid stand 5 minutes to allow fat to rise.  Skim off fat.  Blend water and cornstarch until smooth.  Whisk into liquid in slow cooker.  Cook, uncovered, 15 minutes on HIGH until thickened.  Return beef to slow cooker.  Cover; cook 15-30 minutes or until hot.  Adjust seasonings.  Serve meat as filling for tacos, fajitas, or burritos.  Leftover beef may be refrigerated up to 3 days or frozen up to 3 months.  (*ED NOTE: Remember these homemade tortillas?  I think that’s what we’ll be eating this beef with!  Yum!)

I Don’t Want Your Leftovers!

Last week, I was on a pretty good roll, dinner-wise.  It’s sort of a no-brainer some weeks: just cook Hubby’s favorites for 5 or 6 or 7 days in a row and he’s a happy guy: meatloaf, crispy ranch chicken, pork tenderloin on the grill, scrambled steak over mashed potatoes.  Now that I’ve run through all his best dinners though, I’m out of new ideas.  And I have a fridge-full of leftovers.  Hubby is not a leftovers guy.  Now what?

For the most part, my time off is affording me the ability to devour last night’s leftovers while I lounge in front of the TV all day, so I have been able to control things a bit that way.  And strategically planning the meals that will afford the most leftovers for the weekends has helped a bit also.  For instance, Saturday Nicole and I hit the outlets all day, and Andrea was hosting a party at her house in the evening.  Since I knew dinnertime would be a really big rush, I had put a roast together on Friday afternoon for the crock pot.  When we got our first crock pot several years ago, my mom bought me Betty Crocker’s Slow Cooker Cookbook as a gift, and I found this recipe inside that’s now my go-to for a quick and easy roast dinner:

1 pound medium red potatoes, cut into fouths
1 cup baby-cut carrots
3- pound beef boneless chuck roast
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons chopped fresh or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried rosemary leaves, crumbled
1 teaspoon chopped fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 small onion, finely chopped (1/4 cup)
1 1/2 cup beef broth
Arrange potatoes and carrots in a 3-1/2-to 6 quart slow cooker.  Trim excess fat from beef.  Mix mustard, rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper; spread evenly over beef.  Place beef in slow cooker.  Sprinkle onion over beef.  Pour broth evenly over beef and vegetables.  Cover and cook on low hear setting 8-10 hours or until beef and vegetables are tender.  
Remove beef and vegetables from cooker; using slotted spoon.  Place 0n serving platter.  Skim fat from beef juices in cooker if desired.  Serve beef with juices.

For just the two of us, a roast is way too much for one meal.  This is where planning it for the weekend was, well, kinda genius.  See, what we did then on Sunday was to make that leftover roast into hot beef sandwiches.  When we ate Saturday night we were in a real rush so we just kind of fished around in the pot for what we wanted.  Then when I put it away, I separated everything into different containers: one for the meat, one for the ‘taters and carrots, and one for the juices.  Sunday at lunchtime, I just emptied the juice into a pan and heated it, then whisked in a smooth paste of water and flour to make fresh, homemade gravy and shredded some beef on bread and spread the gravy over it.  My husband says it’s restaurant-worthy.

This evening, Janelle and her daughter came over for dinner.  The fare was spaghetti and meatballs, which leaves opportunity for meatball subs later in the week.  That sounds like an awful lot of sandwiches for one household, and I guess it kind of is.  But for weeks when we have lots going on, it works out pretty well to be able to create brand-new meals- even if they’re just quick’n’easy- from what I’ve already cooked.  Tomorrow night, Ryan starts back into Tuesday night RC racing, so he’ll be out late.  Also, his work schedule is getting kind of crazy right now, so being able to have something on hand that’ll be easy to throw together makes both our lives much easier.  Once some of the stuff in the fridge gets cleared out, I’ll be able to start over again with some fresh meals and a clean slate.


Till then,




Getting Brave

We spent the Labor Day weekend with Ryan’s family.  Since Ryan’s birthday fell on Monday, his parents and his brother and sister-in-law drove up for the weekend.  I love when people come to visit, because it gives me an excuse to try new recipes.  And try new recipes I did!  In fact, this week I’ve gotten pretty brave with inventing some of my own new meals.  For a by-the-rules girl like me, this inventing my own recipes thing is scary.  Really, really scary.  But, baby steps, friends.  Baby steps.

Sunday evening for dinner, I made my first attempt at cooking my all-time favorite dinner: linguine with clam sauce.  That sounds really funny, but in reality, it’s not so much.  See, just because it’s my favorite meal, doesn’t mean it’s my husband’s favorite.  His family, however, is always more than willing to try just about anything I put in front of them.  In fact, I’ve made a sort of game out of never serving them the same recipe twice.  (Sometimes this even includes dessert.)  So when I mentioned to them that my all-time favorite meal is linguine with clam sauce, everyone but Ryan agreed that it sounded like a good idea to try it.  However!  Spoiled brat that I am, I had never actually cooked my own favorite meal before.  Hey, I have a mom and two aunts who have always been eager to prepare it for me; there was no reason to learn to make it for myself, especially since I’m the only person in this house who eats it…right?  Right.  So anyway, with some help from my Sous chef/sister-in-law and Ryan’s mom, we whipped up a batch of pasta with a light sauce, a big salad, and a loaf of garlic bread.  Here’s the recipe (also from my Country Cooking cookbook):

Linguine with Clam Sauce
(*Ed. note: the real step one, omitted by the cookbook but not by the cook- Pour yourself a glass of red wine!  Enjoy while cooking!)
2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1 can (6- 1/2 ounces) minced clams
4 ounces linguine or spaghetti
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch pepper
In a skillet, saute garlic in oil over medium heat for one minute.  Stir in parsley; saute 2 minutes.  Drain clams, reserving juice; set clams aside.  Add juice to skillet.  Cook, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes until liquid is reduced by half.  (*Ed. note: Remember my favorite saying?  “I like to cook with wine; sometimes I even put it in the food”?  Here, I added 1/4 cup white sherry cooking wine, and let it reduce as well, until the alcohol cooked out).  Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions.  Add clams, salt, and pepper to skillet; heat through.  

The recipe also says to toss the sauce with the pasta; I’m a rebel, and skipped that step as well, opting instead to just serve the sauce over the top.  And I doubled the whole recipe (including the wine) to serve five people, rather than the two these proportions yield.  Oh, and don’t worry: Hubby didn’t go hungry.  I made him some regular, boring ol’ spaghetti sauce to go over his pasta.  He was happy, we were happy, and it worked out all-around.

Since it was Ryan’s (ahem)-tieth birthday, I made sure to cook what he liked on Monday (not what he requested, since he didn’t make his request until the day of his birthday, three days after I had done the grocery shopping for the event).  He likes chicken, so I figured we couldn’t go wrong with the beer-in-the-rear chicken that goes on the grill as a regular ol’ chicken, and comes off a crispy and golden on the outside, moist and fall-off-the-bone on the inside, absolute masterpiece.   Here’s where I began to deviate from my normal recipe rules.

We had visited a local microbrewery on Saturday where Ryan found a pumpkin dark beer that he really loved.  He asked if we could use the new beer as opposed to the lighter cans we had in the fridge at home.  Team player I am, I drained a can of Miller Light into my pilsner glass and therefore down my throat, and poured the pumpkin beer back into the can.  Running with the pumpkin theme, I mixed a dry rub of nutmeg, thyme, seasoned salt, cinnamon, and a dash of sage.  After rubbing olive oil all over the bird, I followed with the dry rub and took it to the grill.  A 4- 1/2 pound bird took about two hours, and I also grilled some savory grilled potatoes for about the last hour.  With some fresh corn on the cob, and some fresh green beans from Momma’s garden, we had a pretty tasty birthday dinner.  Topped off with some homemade-from-scratch vanilla birthday cupcakes (thanks for the 500 Cupcakes cookbook, Tas!) and some trick candles (bwahahaha!), I think this ahem-tieth birthday party was a pretty successful one.

Apparently, my kitchen experimenting over the weekend didn’t scare my husband off completely.  He still trusts me enough in the kitchen that he made a request this morning before he left to have chili for dinner tonight.  Since it’s downright “chilly” here this week, chili sounded like a really good option for dinner.  Of course, since he requested traditional red chili with beef and kidney beans, I couldn’t very well change the game on him without his knowledge.  But here’s the thing: I’ve been wanting to try white bean chicken chili for several years now.  Since I had leftover chicken in the fridge from Monday, I decided to go for it.  Without a recipe, per se.  I Googled a couple of recipes for a basic idea, and ran with that.

To the best of my knowledge, I used about 1/2 tablespoon olive oil and put it in a Dutch oven over medium heat.  When it got hot, I added 1/2 an onion and a couple of cloves of garlic and let them get tender but not caramelized.  Once they got soft, I added two cups of water and a tablespoon of chicken base (you could also use two cups of lower-sodium chicken stock to cut back on the salt) and let it get hot.  Then I added a can of white kidney beans and about a cup and a half of cubed cooked chicken.  To season, I added about 1/2 teaspoon of salt, some freshly cracked black pepper, about a teaspoon of cumin, and some oregano.  I think it could have used some fresh cilantro too, but I was out and forgot to pick it up at the store.  It cooked over medium heat for about 45 minutes (though I don’t think it really needed to go quite that long) and I spooned it into my soup mug and topped it with a handful of Mexican-blend cheese, a dallop of sour cream, and a sprinkle of parsley for some color.  I think you could probably serve two people from this recipe, so to make it for more people, just double the proportions.






Newlyweds: Week One

One week ago today, Ryan’s brother and his new bride pledged their lives and their love to one another in front of an intimate group of family and close friends on the beach.  Tears were shed, laughs ensued, and it was all followed by one heck of a party afterward at the beach house we rented:

While the ladies took the morning off to visit the spa, the men were left to enjoy a morning on the beach before the festivities of the evening began.  Peanut enjoyed her first ever manicure.  I think she’s hooked, and my mom might just never forgive me for that.  (Sorry, Mom.)

The porches were decorated with hundreds of clear lights and beautifully decorated tables, adorned with the bride and groom’s engagement photos and a scrumptious spread of tropical food and drink.  The catered dinner consisted of coconut shrimp, barbecued chicken kebabs, and crab cakes.  Ryan’s cousin Shanna provided pitchers of “TropiShannas,” a sangria recipe I hear she spent weeks perfecting.  Alas, I did not get to sample… but perhaps she’ll make them again!  In addition, the cookie table was extensive and varied, with zucchini chocolate chip cookies, ladyfingers, pecan tassies, truffles, and coconut macaroons.  There was also a chocolate fountain with fruit to dip, which was all but devoured (in fact, a story has been making rounds that my own sister was found with a chocolate beard.  Fortunately, “RyRy” found her first and got her cleaned up before I discovered the mess.  She enjoyed it, though, and I’m certain she wasn’t the only one- kid or grownup alike- who had chocolate all over her face.)

My contribution was a couple of appetizers: a watermelon salsa served with tortilla chips (which I think was a pretty big hit!) in a watermelon bowl; a spinach dip and a crab dip, both served in bread bowls; and a 3-in-1 cheese ball, the crab dip and cheese balls from a Country Cooking: Bridal Edition cookbook I received as a gift for our wedding a few years ago.  Everything but the watermelon salsa I was able to make ahead and freeze so that on the actual wedding day, the spinach dip and the crab dip just had to go into the oven for a short time before going to the table.  Here are the recipes I used for the crab dip and cheese balls:

Three-in-One Cheese Ball
1 package cream cheese, softened
4 cups (16 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
Coarsely cracked black pepper
     1/2 cup crumbled bleu cheese (I substituted Feta)
Minced fresh parsley
     1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Finely chopped pecans
Assorted crackers
In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, cheddar cheese, onion, and Worcestershire sauce until fluffy.  If a smoother spread is desired, process in a food processor until creamy.  Divide into thirds (about one cup each).  Shape first portion into a ball; roll in cracked pepper.  Add the bleu cheese to the second portion; mix well.  Shape into a ball; roll in parsley.  Add garlic powder to the remaining portion; mix well.  Shape into a ball; roll in nuts.  Cover and refrigerate.  Remove from refrigerator and let stand 15 minutes before serving.  
Hot Crab Dip
2 cans (6 ounces each) crabmeat, drained and cartilage removed
2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/3 cup slivered almonds
Assorted crackers
In a mixing bowl, combine the first seven ingredients.  Spread in a 1-quart baking dish.  Sprinkle with almonds.  Bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes or until mixture bubbles.   
Lindsay and Kevin rounded out their wedding day by spending their wedding night in a quaint little B&B nearby, but like the rest of us cut their vacation short with the threat of Irene.  However, we were blessed that their day went off as perfectly as we could have hoped for.  
To my “big brother” and new sister-in-law, I send warm wishes for a long, loving, happy marriage.  One week in, ten million more to go (that’s somewhere in the neighborhood of like 192,307 years, if I did my math right)!  I am so proud to have been part of your day- to have been a witness to such a deeply touching and beautiful ceremony.  In his best man speech, Ryan offered the following advice: “Kevin, memorize the following two words- ‘yes, dear.’  And Lindsay, remember to let Kevin think he’s the boss.”  Have fun together.  If you can’t laugh with one another, what do you have?  And to that I would add, remember to always put one another first.  When it comes down to it, having each other is what really matters.  Make it count.  Each and every day. 

Much love-



Stretching My Imagination

I’m getting a bit adventurous in the kitchen these days.  This may or may not be such a good thing.

After the produce contributions we received a few weeks ago, and my subsequent attempt to cook everything before it spoiled, I’ve begun inventing recipes of my own.  Totally not my style, but I’m far more likely to experiment when Ryan’s not here.  That made last weekend a great opportunity to try something different while he was away for his brother’s bachelor party.  Friday night was Ladies’ Night.  A gastronome and fellow wine enthusiast friend of mine, Tas, joined me here at the house for some grilled salmon and asparagus, some decent Cabernet, and a chick flick.  The company was fantastic, the movie was good, and the food was ok too.

Saturday, following a bridal shower for my friend Sarah from college, I came home and decided to improvise some version of a pasta primavera.  I had no idea what it was supposed to taste like or what I needed to put in it to begin.  That was just a minor problem.  I’m learning this much, though: when in doubt, do it like they do on Food Network and put some extra virgin olive oil into a pan.  While that was heating, I sliced some zucchini and yellow summer squash.  Tossed it into the oil with some fresh minced garlic.  Snapped a piece of asparagus like Rachael and Giada, to use as a guide to slice off the tough part, then chopped that into bite-sized pieces.  After waiting until the squashes were tender, I added the asparagus and some green beans.  While that cooked, I sprinkled in some (dried) basil, oregano, and thyme.  The taste was still a bit bland, so I added the juice and zest from half a lemon, and stirred.  A bit of salt and it was at least edible.  I think it could use a bit more tweaking, but my compulsion to create a vegetable pasta dish passed quickly once my project was complete.  (True confessions: I crave foods.  Once I cook or bake whatever it is I’m hungry for, I have little interest in tasting.  Right now, there’s a coffee-ice cream pie in my freezer that I’m not really hungry for.)

My next culinary experiment happened this past weekend.  My friend Nicole and I held a joint jewelry party at my house on Saturday.  Since the party was in the middle of the afternoon, we didn’t want to go overboard on food, so we searched for ideas of light and fun appetizers.  The idea came, as usual, from my Taste of Home cookbooks: a Pizza Party!  The difference this time, though, was that I didn’t actually use any of the recipes from the cookbook.  The entire party was a culinary experiment.  And I had 12 female guinea pigs in my house.  Judging from the leftovers (or lack thereof), I’d say the experiment was a success.

I’d like to take full credit as a culinary genius, but alas, I cannot.  The basic idea for the pizza party actually came from my dear friend Tas, who invited me last fall to co-host her wine-tasting party with her.  She had used Indian Naan breads as the crust for the pizza appetizer she made, and topped them with bruschetta and mozzarella cheese and fresh basil to make the most adorable, elegant little pieces of pizza.  Using that as my inspiration, I decided we would make three different varieties of pizzas for the party: one traditional, using pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese; one with a homemade Alfredo sauce, fresh spinach and Portobello mushrooms (on one); and a buffalo chicken pizza.

I took care of the traditional pizza, and the white pizza, even improvising my Alfredo sauce (melted butter and heavy cream, some fresh grated Parmesan cheese, and a pinch of salt).  Then I sautéed some fresh spinach in some EVOO a’la Rachael Ray, spread it over the breads,and topped it with Italian blend cheese.  I also sliced and sautéed some fresh Portobello mushrooms for one pizza.  The traditional pizza was a no-brainer.  And I left Nicole with the Buffalo-wing pizza, since I’m not a fan of spicy.  She grilled some tender-style-cut chicken, basting with a BBQ-Buffalo wing sauce.  Then she spread some Ranch dressing on the breads, mixed with a bit more of the wing sauce, and shredded the chicken to spread on top.  Finally, she topped with some mozzarella and a few crumbles of Feta cheese.  We managed to get six Naan breads in the oven at the same time, baked at 350 for about a half hour before I swapped the pans and put the top-rack pan on the bottom, and vice-versa.  They baked for a bit longer, before we took them out and cut them into pieces, about 9-12 servings per “pizza”.  (*Ed. Note: we baked everything on my two baking stones, rather than regular baking sheets.  Not sure what difference it made, if any, but nobody complained!)

Nicole also made an amazing s’mores pizza for dessert, with melted chocolate, marshmallows and graham cracker crumbs, and topped with slivered almonds.

After consuming six Naan-bread pizzas and nearly two s’mores pizzas, the party wound down, and the fun of playing hostess (not being sarcastic here; my ultimate dream is to own a B&B when I retire from “real” work…when I find a job again!) continued while my brother Brandon and his girlfriend Emily stayed with us.  This was Brandon’s first time driving here on his own, and Emily’s first time to our house.  It was fun to have them, though the time went entirely too quickly as it tends to do when you’re having fun.

So today, it’s back to reality.  The library program is winding down, but we have one last vacation planned before the end of the summer so I have some details to nail down before it’s time to go.  Also, Kevin and Lindsay’s wedding is getting close!  And they trust me enough to have asked me to help with some appetizers, so you can count on hearing from me with more culinary experiments in the next couple of weeks!

Much love friends.




Perfecting My Skills as a Desperate Housewife

Summertime.  It’s no secret this is my absolute favorite time of the year.  And, maybe the temperature lately has been flirting with the triple-digits, but so what?

Those are signs from above to take a day off and enjoy the oh-so-rare occasion to kick back in the sand and listen to the waves, the seagulls, and the giggling children.  That, my friends, is how my Auntie and I have spent quality time for as long as I can remember.

Ah, life's a beach...

Of course, one can’t spend all one’s time basking in the heat and the sun.  For one thing, one must maintain the illusion of productivity.  For another, beach days are best enjoyed on rare occasions, so as not to destroy the magic.  But two weeks ago, that’s exactly what we did: said to hell with productivity, and to hell with destroying beach magic.  It had been years since we had a beach day.  Like, since the summer I graduated from high school.  So we spent the afternoon on the beach.  And it was pure heaven.

However, for the days I haven’t spent lounging on the beach, I’ve managed to perfect my housewife-ing skills with all the fresh produce we’ve accumulated lately.  Last time we were home, my Momma sent me home with one of her large, home-grown zucchinis, from which I created two loaves of zucchini bread and a zucchini quiche:

This past weekend, we received a phone call from our neighbors, who were desperate to find loving homes for their wealth of garden-fresh produce.  We came home with a yellow summer squash, two more zucchini, a couple of cucumbers, and some garden fresh lettuce.  On Monday, my Auntie presented me with more veggies from my Momma: another zucchini, a couple of peaches, and a bagful of fresh green beans.

Yesterday, I set to work again to get our stash under control.  First, to energize myself, I prepared a roast beef sandwich with Dijon mustard and Swiss cheese and topped it with some of that delicious home-grown lettuce.  While I was munching on that, I sliced up the peaches from Mom and made a pan of peach crisp, adapting from an apple crisp recipe I found (pretty simple: just some butter, flour, brown sugar and cinnamon, and a bit of oats, sprinkled over the fruit and baked.)

While that was in the oven, I sliced up some zucchini to make another quiche.  This time, rather than using pepperoni, I topped it with turkey bacon.  I’ve done this recipe numerous times, and while it doesn’t call for any kind of meat, I always add something: sausage or ground beef.  This will be the first test for the turkey bacon.  I have faith that it will be devoured.

When the crisp came out and the quiche went in, I figured I’d whip up some more zucchini bread.  I love zucchini bread, and when frozen, it will keep for awhile.  I got two loaves out of the ingredients I had.  But that took care of both my flour and brown sugar, so I called it quits on the recreational creations and moved on to dinner.  Boring.  We had Delmonico steaks and some hibachi-style mixed vegetables: mushrooms and onions, zucchini and broccoli, with some sesame seed oil and teriyaki sauce in the cast iron skillet on the grill, and some white rice.  Few dishes.  Score.

Today was an errand-running day, as well as a long-overdue lunch with my friend Kayla and her two little munchkins.  After indulging in some retail therapy and lunching with my former partner-in-crime, I headed home and back to the kitchen.  It was time to tackle those beans.

Since we received a whole shopping bag-full, there was no way we would ever eat them all.  One of my favorite family traditions that I’m happy to apply to my adult life is the process of bean-freezing.  There’s something about opening that bag of frozen beans in the dead of winter that pulls me out of the doldrums and reminds me that there’s hope.  Green beans will come again.  Since I was little, helping Mom with the beans has been an activity of comfort to me.  I can snap those suckers in nothin’ flat, with quick, sure movements I don’t think my hands are capable of for anything else.  It’s sort of therapeutic to let my hands do the work while my mind wanders.  And today, before I knew it, the kitchen sink was full of bean pieces that were ready to be blanched, bagged, and frozen.

Currently, my produce inventory is down to a manageable level.  We have enough veggies for dinner for the next couple of days, enough fruit for some smoothies, and maybe a little leftover for some experiments.  If I find anything good, I promise I’ll share.

What about you?  What are your favorite summer veggie recipes?  Do you store things for winter?  Do you grow your own?  Inquiring minds want to know!




Livin’ the Dream

Wow.  June has somehow completely disappeared right out from under me.  Ask me what I’ve accomplished.

Just don’t expect an answer.

I’ve been off work for over a month now.  I’ve used my time off judiciously: cleaning, volunteering at the library with Clohe, and having a full-course cooked meal on the table every single night.  Ok, well, all of that except the cooking, I guess.  Otherwise, though, I haven’t really done much.  I’ve slept in.  I’ve spent days on the sofa reading.  I’ve walked load after load of laundry to our back yard to be line-dried in the summer sun. I’ve pulled weeds from the garden, scooped the dog poop from the grass, and had an adventure or two with the lawnmower. But seriously, that does not account for where the rest of my time has gone.  Obviously, I haven’t used my free time to brush up on my writing skills.  Nor have I used it to get my, shall we say lumpy, physique into a more toned version for our upcoming beach vacation.  And, seriously, with all this free time on my hands somehow my creative juices seem to be completely frozen.

I have, however, noticed that I’ve been having some very strange dreams lately.  Perhaps the product of such a dull existence?  (Well, dull for me anyway, when I’m used to always being on the go.  I’m one of those freaks of nature who works to her maximum potential under only the most impossibly stressful conditions.)  Take, for instance, the dream I had that my friend Katy and I went skydiving together.  Now, this has always been an item on my bucket list and something I vow to accomplish before my time on this earth is done.  And if anyone will do it with me, it’s definitely Katy.  In fact, when I mentioned this dream to her, her prompt response was “when are we going???”   I love her.

Then there was the dream that my friend Janelle and I decided to have a party at my house while Ryan was at work.  Janelle is definitely my Party Friend, and one of Ryan’s favorites among all my girls.  The strange part of this dream was that when Ryan found out Janelle and I were having a party, he stayed at work and refused to come home.  This is the exact opposite of what his real reaction would be.  He would leave work early to come home and drink with Janelle and me, if he could.  But he would never, ever stay away.  ‘

The third, and strangest, of all these dreams was of my last boss.  Ryan and I have known her and her husband for several years, and though we never really spent much time together until we worked in the same office (and even then, we saw little of one another), we’ve always gotten along very well.  The strange part of this dream is that we went shopping together.  She does not shop.  At least, not like I do, as a “lady’s day out” treat.

All these strange dreams had me curious, and since I’ve always been a believer in dream-decoding and horoscopes and all that stuff others may see as silliness, I looked them up.  (My source is this website, and I always find it to be very accurate.)

It seems that dreaming of my friends, in the context I can apply to where I am right now, “is signify[ing] aspects of your personality that you have rejected, but are ready to incorporate and acknowledge. The relationships you have with those around you are important in learning about yourself. Alternatively, dreaming of a friend, indicates positive news.”  Positive news?  Bring it on.  I could definitely use some of that.

The dream of my boss apparently indicates “the bossy or authoritative side of your own personality. Your boss may reveal  self-confidence and the assertive aspect of yourself. It is telling of your issues of control and authority.”  Bossy side?  Moi?  Oldest of five and self-proclaimed pants-wearer?  Um, ok.  But issues of control and authority?  That makes me kind of think of Meryl Streep’s character Miranda in The Devil Wears Prada.

Image courtesy

I’d give you a photo of me for comparison, but apparently (and my husband is adamantly supporting this claim) I’m a photo-phobe.  Put me behind the camera, please, but never ever in front of it.  Ever.  I hate having my photograph taken.  I shudder to think of it.   Regardless, I don’t think there’s much resemblance between myself and the amazing Ms. Streep.

Perhaps there’s some part of my subconscious mind encouraging me to follow my dream- to live my dream- through my dreams.  Huh.  My subconscious has a sense of humor.  That makes me feel a little better.

Seriously, though, these three women (who have only once ever been in the same place at the same time, on our wedding day) may not know one another, but they all have very similar strong, independent personalities.  All three are the kind of women who don’t take “no” for an answer, and don’t let the standing of “being of the fairer sex” stand in their way.  If my dreams are revealing that I, too, fall within those ranks, then perhaps it’s time I get up off the sofa and do something to earn it.

Not just in my dreams.

Till next time, I’ll be livin’ the dream…



A Little Like the Weather

There’s a saying in these parts that goes, “if you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes.  It’ll probably change.”  That’s the first thing I remember learning during my first week of college.  That’s the only thing I remember learning from that particular professor.  (This was a design “teacher” whose major contribution to my career was trying to pass off her hatred for Frank Lloyd Wright.  This obviously qualifies her as non-credible.)

Anyway, in the past few days, we’ve witnessed several of Mother Nature’s temper tantrums, which finally reached a crescendo this afternoon.  Last night, while trying to take in the season finale of American Idol, we saw one such display.  Of course, this interfered with the satellite signal, only after the ticker at the bottom of the screen informed us of severe thunderstorms and tornado warnings.  Of course.  While I pouted in front of the TV, begging it to restore Haley’s performance with Tony Bennett, Ryan (being the practical and level-headed one in this relationship) gathered flashlights and candles, and secured our access to the basement.  Just in case.  Meanwhile, Clohe cowered at our feet crying and whimpering and panting and generally freaking out.  Fortunately, after a good forty-five minutes of clapping thunder and a brilliant show of lightning flashes, the storm passed and satellite reception was restored for the announcement that Scotty McCreery is our new American Idol.  What a cutie.

I digress.

This afternoon, I decided I was hungry for chicken enchiladas.  I had found this recipe a couple of months ago and we really liked it, so I decided to make one minor modification and make it again.  One modification led to another, which led to the omission of the modification I made the last time.  This led to my poor husband very effectively needing a fire extinguisher for his poor oral cavity after the first bite.

Oops.  Guess my cooking’s a little like the weather.

Anyway, my modifications to the recipe ended up being: 1) Last time, I had bought a ready-cooked rotisserie chicken at the grocery store.  This time, I bought a raw whole chicken, and on Monday, I put it in the crockpot covered with olive oil and a little waster to shred for this week’s meals.  It worked pretty efficiently, and I plan to do this again (Hint: it’s less expensive to buy a whole chicken than it is to buy a package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts- plus, you can freeze the broth for soup!  BONUS!)  Modification 2) Since chilis are hard to come by here, I substituted with a couple of jalapeños.  I sprayed my little cast-iron skilled with non-stick cooking spray, and moved those suckers outdoors to the grill on high heat for a few minutes so my smoke detectors would stay quiet during this experiment.  Modification 3) I forgot to remove the seeds from the peppers this time.  Last time, I scooped all the seeds out of the one pepper I used.  The end result was a bit mild, even for my wussy tastebuds, so I doubled the pepper-age this time to give it a bit more kick.  Mission accomplished.  We got more kick.  Finally, modification 4) was making my own flour tortillas.  This step, at least, was without incident.

Since Ryan had requested a cheesecake for dessert, so I chose an Emeril Lagassi recipe for New York Style cheesecake, and set to work, and it baked while I assembled the enchiladas.  It was a gorgeous afternoon, and I felt guilty spending my day in the kitchen when I should have been enjoying a good book on the front porch.  Just as I was finishing the enchiladas, I noticed that the sky had darkened and it looked as though a storm was on the way.  I grabbed my Kindle and headed for the living room to wait for Ryan while the Reggae channel played in the background.  I hadn’t read two pages before Ryan called, and urgently said, “Take Clohe and go to the basement.  Now.”  Without asking questions, I did what he said, taking only the dog and my cell phone with me.

A few minutes later, I started to worry when he wasn’t home yet.  If Clohe and I were going to play Dorothy and Toto and be launched into the Land of Oz and sing with the munchkins, I didn’t want to go without one last kiss.  Besides, I still have this irrational fear of the Wicked Witch; I wouldn’t want to face her without my husband by my side.  So I called to see where he was, and where the storm was.  Fortunately, he wasn’t in danger, and when he got home we came up to see what was going on; the tornado that had been sighted about 15 miles from our house didn’t get to us, thank goodness.  The clouds were still dark and heavy, but they were obviously moving around us.

As I surfaced to finish what I had started (AKA, dinner), I watched the most amusing of weather transitions.  The sky changed from dark, to slightly less dark.  Then, as I looked out the kitchen window above the sink, I watched rain approach my house, starting in the field across the street.  The drops started out light, then increased in size until I began to wonder if it was hail.  As it got closer (if you have never watched a storm come directly toward you, it’s something to behold!) I realized that it was just very large drops of rain.  Which lasted for a total of about two minutes.  Seriously, my oven had not even preheated from the time it started until the time it quit.  And by the time we sat down to our dinner, the sun was shining again.

It was beautiful when I finished cleaning up the dishes, so we decided to take  Clohe for a walk.  We got our loop in, observed some wildlife including ducks, several rabbits, and one very unruly little dog that nearly attacked my 65-pound ball of love’n’fuzz.  By the time we arrived home, we were under yet another severe weather warning, this time for a very destructive thunderstorm.  As I blog, the leaves on the trees are blowing in all different directions and the thunder is rumbling overhead.  Clohe, of course, is cowered at our feet crying and whimpering and panting and generally freaking out.

But fear not friends, because I assure you that by the time you read this, it will all have passed and we’ll be prepared for the next one.

At least we have some leftover enchiladas and a cheesecake, so we won’t starve!  And in the meantime, maybe I’ll be able to make my next meal a successful one…




Where have I been?

Hello friends!  I’m back again, and recovering from…well, let’s just say the past week has been rather exhausting.

First of all, there’s the weather.  Last week, we had THE most perfect weather.  Temperatures in the 80’s, sunshine- perfect weather for drying laundry outside on the clothesline, walks at the lake, and grilling…

Like airing dirty laundry in public. Except it's clean. And it's not REALLY public when you live in the country. Is it?

I tried this awesome new recipe for sweet potatoes on the grill last week, too, to serve with our BBQ chicken.  First, just boil a sweet potato until fork-tender (I made one potato, because Ryan doesn’t like them.  So I made potato salad for him.  Ironically, he didn’t like that either.  Apparently, some things are just better store-bought.)  Anyway, obviously, you can double this recipe or more,depending on how many people you’re serving.  Once the sweet potato comes out of the water and cools to the point where it can be handled without burning your fingers, slice it in half, then cut each half into wedges- each potato should yield 8 wedges.  Drizzle with olive oil and season with a bit of salt and pepper.

Grill over medium heat until cooked through.  Meanwhile, combine about a teaspoon of Kosher salt, a pinch of Cayenne pepper (more or less to taste.  I’m a wuss when it comes to spicy food, so I don’t use much), and some lime zest.  (Then use the lime to make margaritas.  Because while my favorite saying is, “I like to cook with wine; sometimes I even put it in the food,” my next favorite is “I take life with a grain of salt…a wedge of lime… and a shot of tequila.”  Waste not, want not, right, friends?)

Once the potatoes are cooked through- and have those pretty grill marks on both sides- remove them from the grill and sprinkle the salt/Cayenne/lime zest mixture over the top.  Garnish with some fresh Cilantro.  Yum!  I’ll be making these again.  I also grilled some asparagus (drizzled with olive oil, salt, and pepper) and some eggplant (with Italian dressing), just for me.

Clohe was loving the warm weather too, of course:

And last but certainly not least, we rounded out the end of the week with… Nicole and Joe’s wedding!  Friday was the perfect day for rehearsal and rehearsal dinner- until I got a text message from Ryan at 4PM that he had a server crash at work, and would be late.  He ended up missing the entire evening, and not getting home until 10:30PM.  Saturday morning was a little gray and dreary, but we got through everything ok, despite one minor issue with a bridesmaid dress.  Fortunately, everyone “held it together” for the entire evening.  And while it was drizzly, it was still quite warm.  And by the time the ceremony was over, we were able to get some outdoor photos.

My friend, the beautiful blushing bride.

After months and months of planning, everything came together beautifully for these two, and I am honored to be a part of their life, and also to have been a part of their wedding day.  Of course, we’re wishing them all the best of everything life has to offer.  And while the two of them are enjoying a honeymoon on a beautiful island in the Caribbean, we in the north are suffering through temperatures that have plunged back to the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s.




Recipes! Part II

Ha!  Did I fool you, with a Saturday post?  It’s been awhile since I posted on a Saturday.

But I can’t help it; I’m just so excited, I had to show the results of last night’s baking extravaganza.  Our appetizer menu was a huge hit, and I’m excited to share the recipes.  Yesterday I shared the stuffed potatoes recipe, the wine cake recipe, and the spread for Roasted Vegetable Turkey Pinwheels.  Today, I’ll share the other three recipes.

First, though, we need to finish the Turkey Pinwheels.  Remember the spread?  Well during the 2-3 hour “chilling” period, I fell asleep.  And the wraps?  (Sorry; we’re going to have to do this one un-illustrated.  I somehow forgot to take the photos).  So place a wrap (remember, I used the spinach ones, but sun-dried tomato would be awesome too?  Or whole-wheat, or whatever your preference may be…) on a flat surface, and spread that yummy oven-roasted veggie/cream cheese mixture on it.  Put it on there pretty thick; the recipe says about a half cup.  Really slather it on.   Then layer on some deli-sliced turkey.  Use your judgment.  For the half-recipe I prepared, a half pound will do (total!  Not per wrap!)  Then, put some lettuce on top of the turkey and roll it up tight.  Refrigerate for about an hour, and slice into small “pinwheels.”  Since I was transporting them, I placed a stoneware casserole dish in the freezer to get it good and cold.  This kept them chilled during the drive, and also well into the party- a huge concern when I wasn’t sure what the refrigeration situation would be.

Next on my list was Sour Cream Cheese Puffs.  These are super-duper easy.  The first ingredient is refrigerated buttermilk biscuits.  You know, the ones that come in a tube?

You’ll need two tubes of 10 for this recipe.  First step is to slice each biscuit in half and place each half in a greased mini-muffin tin.

Then, combine one 8-ounce package of cream cheese, a cup of sour cream, some sweet pepper (any color will do; recipe says red, but I used orange.  The finished product didn’t explode or kill anyone- yet- so I’m assuming it’s ok), two teaspoons lemon juice, a teaspoon of dill weed, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 1/4 cup chopped onion.  Mix it all up (use a mixer to get all the lumps out).

Then scoop all this yumminess into the biscuit halves you put in the muffin tins.  And I garnished mine with a little extra pepper.  You could use fresh cilantro, though, if you want.  I just like to be different.

Bake at 375 for 14-16 minutes.  You won’t be sorry.

Next up, keeping with the common ingredient of buttermilk biscuits from a tube, are these little beauties: Parmesan Knots.  Easy, and fabulous.  They were all gone; that’s how I know.

Start with another tube of buttermilk biscuits.  Slice each biscuit into thirds.

Roll each third into a “rope” of about three inches long.

Tie each “rope” into a knot, tucking the ends underneath.  Place on a greased baking sheet.

Bake at 400, 8-10 minutes or until golden brown.  In the meantime, combine 1/4 cup oil (recipe says Canola; I realized as an afterthought that olive would have worked as well); 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (recipe says grated, and the photos look like the dehydrated stuff in the can.  I used fresh shredded Parmesan.  Because I like to be different); and one teaspoon each oregano, garlic powder, and parsley flakes.

As the knots come out of the oven, dump them in here and swish ’em around real good.  Eat.  Fall in love.

Finally, I found this recipe that sounded like a strange combination, but also like the perfect, light side for a spring spa party.  Also, since our bride loves tortellini, it seemed like a great way to prepare it: Tortellini-Shrimp Caesar Salad.  That is, to all you naysayers who believe that you can’t have everything, a total contradiction to that very statement.

Start by preparing a 9-ounce package of cheese tortellini:

And cook up 2 cups of popcorn shrimp.  Yeah, the breaded kind that’s been hanging out in your freezer.  The one your husband’s been all excited about you plopping on the table with some French fries.  I baked mine, but if you’re not all that concerned about the whole concept of “salad,” go ahead and deep fry it.  I’m not convinced the breaded shrimp is the best way to go with this recipe, and may actually try it with fresh shrimp next time.  Anyway, while those are cooking and cooling, prepare a bunch of Romaine lettuce; says about 8 cups or so.  Add a half cup of prepared original Caesar dressing.

Once the shrimp and pasta have cooled, toss it all together.

Then, when it’s all put together, pour yourself a glass of wine and gather your friends (or wedding party) together, and have a great big party.

Missing from this photo: the Bride.

Till next time!  Cheers!