• 2010 Reading List

    What I've read this year:

    "The Other Queen" by Phillipa Gregory (Rating: C)

    "The Welsh Girl" by Peter Ho Davies (Rating: A)

    "Mistress of the Sun" by Sandra Gulland (Rating: A)

Vegetables for breakfast & dinner

Last Wednesday I found myself off of work on a weekday, with the Peanut in school, and the house to myself. I had every intention of sitting back, reading, doing some light cleaning, and then making dinner, but that didn’t happen. Instead, I spent the entire day cooking – it was wonderful!

I had been asked told to make more pancakes for breakfast, so those were first on my list. I always make sweet potato pancakes.  They are incredibly tasty, much more flavorful than the standard pancake, and I get to feel good about sneaking in a veggie for breakfast. About once a month I make a batch, freeze them, and – voila! – a quick and satisfying weekday breakfast option.  These happen to be one of the Peanut’s favorites. First of all, they are orange, and he loves anything orange. Add a schmear of Nutella, and then folded in half like a taco, and he is a happy kid!

My second task was making some vegetable broth to be used for that evening’s dinner, and some extra for freezing.I tried out a new combo, and it came out really rich and hearty. Here is what I used…

1 red bell pepper

1 green pepper

1 onion

1 lb carrots

1lb celery

1lb tomatoes

1 lb turnips

I roughly chopped them (large chunks work well and save time) and put them in a roasting pan with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, 3 bay leaves, 6 cloves of  smashed garlic and some black pepper. I let them roast at 450 for about 2 hours (maybe a little less), until everything was nicely browned. After quickly running a knife over some of the larger pieces, I added the veggies to a stock pot with water, and let them simmer for about another 2 hours. I scooped out about a third of the veggies to freeze for a future soup, removed about a third of the broth to freeze, added some pre-soaked beans for dinner that evening. The flavor of this broth was really flavorful, and much deeper than your standard vegetable broth. I could have eaten a bowl of this with a piece of bread by itself – it was really that good.

I also made a batch of cream biscuits, sugar cookies, and chocolate chip cookies as well. It was a day of cooking, freezing, and eating cookie dough…what can I say – I can’t resist licking the spatula!

Make ahead (yummy) meals

Today Stefani, from Blue Yonder Ranch, was sharing her recipe for Chicken Noodle soup, using a rotisserie chicken. This made me think of one of my favorite recipes, which happens to use a rotisserie chicken, and creates multiple meals for my family with easy prep on my end. I’m sure some of you are always on the prowl for a simple (and inexpensive) meal for your family, and this one certainly meets those requirement.

I make this recipe every month, and we get at least 4 meals out of it, if not 5. The original recipe is from America’s Test Kitchen. As usual, I followed their directions to the letter the first time I made the dish, and then have adapted and simplified it afterwards. I love this recipe for many reasons. 1 – It is YUMMY! 2-It is easy 3-It can be made ahead 4-All three of us love the dish, making it a crowd pleaser (If everyone is happy, then mama is happy!)

Here is my modified version of ATK’s Make Ahead enchilada’s

Ingredients:

olive oil (1-2 T)

1 onion, diced

1-2 T chili powder

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 t ground coriander

2 t ground cumin

1  rotisserie chicken, meat off of the bones, skin discarded

10 oz shredded cheese (we use a combo of mozzarella & cheddar)

1 can black beans, strained

corn tortillas

2 8 oz cans tomato sauce

1/3 c water

Sautee onions in olive oil until soft and lightly brown. Stir in chili powder, garlic, coriander, cumin, and cook 30 seconds – 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in the chicken until thoroughly coated. Add tomato sauce and water, and bring to a simmer for 8-10 minutes.  Strain out excess liquid into a bowl, and allow chicken mixture to cool. Add black beans and mix.

Spritz tortillas with olive oil and place in 300 degree oven spread out on a cookie sheet, 2-4 minutes until pliable. Fill tortillas with chicken and black beans mixture, roll, and place seam side down on a cookie sheet. Once you’ve assembled all of the enchiladas, place the cookie sheet in the freezer for 30 minutes until slightly frozen. Store one meal worth of enchiladas in a freezer-safe container. Save the liquid that you strained from the chicken, and keep as your enchilada sauce, or you can use store bought in place of this.

To Serve: Move enchiladas to a casserole dish, place in oven set at 350 degrees (no need to preheat). Bake uncovered 25 minutes. Remove, cover with sauce (1 cup +/-), and sprinkle tops with cheese. Bake 10 more minutes until cheese is melted. Serve with rice.

No country for clean floors

I spent Saturday outside walking (first with a friend, and then on a family hike), and yesterday in the kitchen. All in all – a good weekend! I am coming out of my summer work schedule (off on Mondays, but late hours every night), and trying to take advantage of my last two weeks to help myself feel ahead of the game and slightly organized.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it, but Seth is starting school tomorrow (excuse me while I go grab a tissue). And, yes, that was said with sarcasm. I am well aware that this is boardering on a “Back to School Blog,” but, while its on your mind, any little prayers that could be said on my behalf at about 8:00 am, EST tomorrow would be greatly appreciated!  Anyway, I am nervous about what this new phase is going to do to our schedule. We already have a precarious schedule that shifts daily depending upon what work events I have, whether or not I’m working late, and if I have pre-planned dinner.

Identifying a bug in the field guide (it was a cicada)

Identifying a bug in the field guide (it was a cicada)

Over the past few months, I have gotten significantly better with that last one. I keep a dry erase board on the door of our pantry. After each grocery shopping trip, I list out what our options are for dinner, which helps tremendously. All I have to do is look at the list in the morning, and take out the specific item to defrost.

Having the options listed out greatly increases the likelihood that we will have a nutritious and balanced dinner, rather than me just rooting around and throwing together some concoction.

I’ve also become a collector of quick & easy meals for weeknights, and make ahead options. Yesterday I made make-ahead quesadillas from America’s Test Kitchen. It is my favorite freezer-friendly meal, and it is incredibly easy to prep. The other bonus is that I get three meals out of it, so it is definitely worth the prep time. After they’ve been made, they take 20 minutes in the oven, which give me time to get the rice cooked, and make a salad. Twenty minutes of prep work is my goal during the week. (It is not always achieved, but I’m getting better.)

Rescuing a worm from the middle of the trail

Rescuing a worm from the middle of the trail

Other than the quesadillas, I also made two recipes with boneless pork ribs that can stay in the freezer, be taken out to defrost overnight, and then left in the crock-pot all day. (We love crock-pot recipes in my house, and I cannot wait until the weather cools off and I can start making soups again!)

I also went ahead and prepped a big batch of eggplant Parmesan (thank you farmer’s market for the lovely and interestingly shaped eggplants). That is going to be dinner tonight, and I’m interested to see how it comes out. The eggplant is battered and then baked rather than sauteed, which should cut down on the greasiness, and also the cholesterol for my dear hubbie and his heart. We will see how it turns out.

 

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Eggplants in egg white wash

Apparently Shalet & I are thinking similar thoughts this week. On Friday she posted this about domesticity, and balancing work and motherhood. It is a precariously balance – at least in my house. But, it is always nice to see what other people love, loathe, and struggle with. It makes me feel better to know that maybe I’m not the only one who has been known to scrub the toilet with one hand, while brushing my teeth with the other, and trying to get a child dressed so that we can get out of the door and not be late. Ahhh…the joys of working outside of the home.

 

And, for the record, if you ever want to hear how dirty your floors are, just buy a bug scope for your child. Last week, while I was making breakfast for Seth, he crawled around on the floor of the kitchen, looking at all of the crumbs through his scope, and pointing out the things that he discovered.

Seth, “Oh, did you make rice?”

My mental response, “Uhhh…yeah, maybe last week…or was it two weeks ago? I am absolutely sure that it was this month…”

Seth, “Wow – what is this from?!”

Me, “Well, that would appear to be a small piece of a blueberry peel that got smashed, and has affixed itself to the floor with an insanely tight seal…yummy. Here – use this butter knife and see if you can get it up.”

Seth, “Look over here!”

Me, “Oh, no…he’s in the baking corner…this isn’t going to be pretty…” (My rule of thumb: egg spills absolutely get cleaned up. Flour and other powdery substances get a once over with the whisk broom. Anything else should get eaten by the dog.)

So, before we left the house, like a good wife and mother, I took the time to dutifully take care of my floors…

“Alan – please mop the floor when you get home – PLEASE!”

Birthday blues & Jane Austen

Whew – I am exhausted. This weekend was busy and tiring, and I am enjoying a day of recovery. Yesterday was the Peanut’s 5th birthday party, and we had it at our house. We kept it small, family only, but the day was still stressful.

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It was a good party, but for some reason I’m feeling physically, mentally and emotionally drained today. As most of you know, we are a blended family. Seth is my step-son (oh, how I abhor that word), but I have been actively involved in his life since he was born. There is no “step” to me – he just is my son; I just happen to share mothering duties with his birth mother.

The annual birthday party is always an interesting event, surrounded by anxiety and nerves for me. This is the one time per year that we gather all members of our extended families. Seth loves it, and I know that this is the best thing for him, but it is very difficult for me to deal with, and this year was tougher than years past. I feel very much under a microscope, and that scrutiny is difficult to deal with.  There are just many different personalities, with extremely varying styles of parenting, and it can make for an interesting couple of hours. But, we all know that this is all about Seth, put our best face forward, and just focus on him. Luckily, two of our closest friends were there as well, and they were great about offering me support and reassurance throughout the party, and helping de-stress afterwards. I am still having a hard time grasping that he is turning 5, though…I’m not sure I’m ready for him to grow up!

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I know that he had a blast yesterday, and I love watching that and experiencing it with him. But, I just can’t shake this funk today. It is tough being his mom, but not being his mom. Most days, it isn’t even on my radar. We are just living life, and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to know him, and hopefully mold him into the incredible man that he promises to become some day. Yesterday just wasn’t one of those days. Instead, I found myself feeling a big spotlight shining on the fact that I am the “step mother,” and it is hard to shake it off and move on.

So, I’m stopping my emotional babbling  here, heading downstairs, popping in “Pride & Prejudice” (the A&E version, not the 2005 version with Keira Knightly – I can’t stand that one – it is a very important distinction) and eating leftover cake…Jane Austen & dark chocolate have a magical way of making everything seem okay, don’t they?

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One step closer to 64

Today was a special day…

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Someone around here turned one year older, and we had a great time celebrating. S made a great card for Daddy, and I’m just amazed at how far his writing has come over the past two months. He is finally showing an interest in doing more than just creating “rollar coasters,” and has developed into quite the little artist, which makes me happy!

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We worked on the card together after Daddy left for work, and he was eager to show off his masterpiece. The three of us had a tasty and simple dinner (with easy clean-up; just one more thing that makes me happy!), and then the birthday cake!

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Now, let me just say that this cake was his one special request of the day – a Carvel ice cream cake. I don’t get it, and I don’t think I ever will, but if that is what Daddy wants for his special day, that is what Daddy gets! Apparently I am the only family member who is baffled by the allurethe ice cream cake, but I’m sure I can live through the ordeal…they are good, but it’s just ice cream!?

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And now I am moving on to another birthday countdown. S turns 5 in 12 days – 5! How did this happen?! We are having a small party with family & close friends, and I’ve got fun plans for the cake. I’m sure I’ll be sharing more soon…

But, for now, let me just wish my hubbie a happy birthday! He is truly, one of a kind. I love his sense of humor, his flexibility, his logic, his incredible ability to balance me out, the way he does the laundry every single Saturday, and the heat he puts off at night to keep me from freezing to death. Happy 29th, babe! I love you! (And, yes, I will still love you!)

Hot bread and Melted Butter

I spent almost the entire weekend in the kitchen, baking. One of our closest friends was celebrating a birthday on Friday, and Seth & I made him a super moist and sprinkle-covered yellow cake with chocolate icing. I used this recipe from Smitten Kitchen for the cake, with this frosting recipe from Martha Stewart. It was yummy, moist, and tasty, with a nice surprise from a raspberry filling between the layers. Seth was Master of the Sprinkles, and happily covered the entire cake in a bright, colorful layer. Is it really a birthday cake without sprinkles? Not in this family! The cake turned out really well, and even survived the car ride in a food tent (you know, those things that you use to keep flies off of food when outside), because I don’t have a cake carrier!

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In addition to the cake, we also had sweet potato pancakes for breakfast Saturday morning, which are just so tasty. And, with Seth still being a slightly picky eater, it is a good way to sneak some extra veggies into him without any persuading. Orange is his favorite color, so it was something extra special for him. You just feel like you are having pie for breakfast, and that is a great way to start the day!

I had also started a batch of no knead dinner rolls on Friday, and finished those up on Sunday. This is the second time that I’ve made this particular recipe, and overall, I find the bread really balanced. They have a great, crunchy crust, and a light, airy center. This time, I did make one adaptation, which I will definitely do again. The recipe calls to put the dough into muffin tins for the second rise and baking. It works well, but the visual plays tricks with my mind!

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When I see a muffin shaped piece of bread, it is just wrong that it be crunchy. The first batch I made was muffin shaped, and they tasted delicious, but I just can’t get over the mental block. So, this time, I formed the dough into three log-shaped  portions, about 10 inches long, and put them in a rectangular baking dish. I sliced them, and then let them rise. (I did save a portion of the dough to make in the muffin tins, just to show you how they turn out – wasn’t that thoughtful of me!)

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These rolls freeze really well, which makes life for me much easier. I love warm bread more than anything, and having fresh, homemade bread with dinner is something I just adore. However, because I work outside of the home, it would be impossible without some weeknd preparation. This recipe is simple, and is not time sensitive. I can start it on Thursday or Friday, and finish it up whenever I have the time, be it Saturday or Sunday.

Here are the directions, if you’d like to give it a shot!

Simple Enriched White Rolls (adapted from Kneaedlessly Simple by Nancy Baggett)

Ingredients:

2.5 cups flour, plus more as needed (she calls for unbleached white, but I do a mixture of white & wheat)

5T sugar

1 1/8t salt

1/2 t yeast

1.5 c ice water

1/4 c unsalted butter, melted & cooled slightly

1/3 c instant nonfat dry milk powder

First Rise: Stir together flour, 3T sugar, salt & yeast in large bowl. Stir in water until thoroughly blended. (Consistancy should be like thick pancake batter. Adjust water or flour as needed to acheive this consistency.) Cover the bowl with plastic wrap (I use a linen towel). Dough can be refrigerated 3-10 hours. Let rise at cool room temperature for 15-20 hours.

Second Rise: Stir butter, milk powder, and remaining sugar into dough. Gradually add 1/2 c of flour (more or less as needed), until dough is slightly thick. Spray muffin tins, and fill with scant 1/4 c of dough. (Or you can form the logs and slice in a casserole dish as I did above.) Drizzle 1 1/2 T of butter over the rolls, and spread until evenly covering the rolls. (I actually don’t add the butter to the tops, and they are still very flavorful.)

Let Rise: For a 1.5-2.5 hour regular rise, let stand at warm room temperature. Or, refrigerate fro 4-48 hours, then set out at room temperature until the dough doubles in size. Sift flour over the top.

Bake in lower rack of 375 degree oven, 18-23 minutes, until the tops are brown. Cover with foil, and bake an additional 5-10 minutes. (I only let mine cook 16-18 minutes total in the muffin tins, or a total of 20-22 minutes in the casserole dish. I freeze them, and baking them slightly less than recommended helps keep them from getting too dark upon being reheated.)

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The roll in the bottom left corner mysteriously disappeared shortly after being removed from the oven. That seems to happen a lot around here…hmmm…If you use the casserole dish, be sure to grease thoroughly. I didn’t get the corners very well, and there was some sticking, but a good covering of olive oil will prevent that from happening to you.

Family time

Yesterday was a long day of fun with cousins! Here is our recap in pictures…

We started out with french toast from the Raisin-Cinnamon Pinwheel Bread. It was delicious, despite my horrible bread slicing skills. I really need to work on that…almost every slice comes out slightly/very crooked.

Raisin-Cinnamon Pinwheel

Raisin-Cinnamon Pinwheel

Next time I will definitely add more raisins. Also, I would like to roll out the dough a bit more for better distribution of the cinnamon before rolling into the pinwheel. You can see in the picture that the bottom of the loaf just didn’t get as much as the rest, but the texture was great. I will absolutely make this one again!

After breakfast, we head to uptown Charlotte for some fun at the children’s museum (Discovery Place). They had a great time exploring and interacting with the exhibits.

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Scooping & using pulleys

Dinosaur foot print

Dinosaur foot print

Finding ladybugs

Finding ladybugs

Practicing our balancing skills

Practicing our balancing skills

Lunch at the soda shop

Lunch at the soda shop

Followed by dessert!

Followed by dessert!

One last picture before going home

One last picture before going home

The kids had a blast, and the moms enjoyed some much-needed sister talk. When we got home, everyone took a really good nap (especially the adults), and then spent the rest of the afternoon playing outside.

We hiked down to the pond near our neighborhood with hopes of seeing the beaver or family of otters, but no one was out and about. We did, however, find some really cool cow bones. S., of course, wanted to take all of them home. I talked him into one, which is now waiting to be sanitized before being added to his collection.

Focaccia in the oven

Foccacia in the oven

I also baked up the foccacia last night. The baking process was a little more involved, requiring to be rolled out (despite its fairly sticky nature), and then needing to be steamed/baked. It looks and smells tasty, but the jury is still out. I’m sure that I will make this one again, but I would guess that this will probably be a loaf that I make infrequently. The recipe was a little more time-sensitive, and the bread a little more particular. I will have to evaluate the taste to work ratio, and see how we come out! 🙂

We are off to the woods for the weekend. I hope your plans include some relaxing & exploring outside, as well! See you on Monday!