Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bead-a-thon

I haven’t had much to post this week, but this weekend I have a lot going on, so you may see some new posts on Monday. Ginny (another MEF of mine) is coming to visit from the-land-of-my-former-life this weekend. Actually, she’ll be on her way here in just a few short hours. The game plan this weekend is two-fold.

1. BEADS. Lots and lots of beads. Last time she was out for a visit, Gin ordered some beads from a nearby bead store that had a process they use to make beads out of dried flower petals (eg. From funerals, weddings, etc.) and I have since accumulated the supplies to put together something like 5 bracelets, 4 bookmarks, a necklace, and a number of other things, including silver bails that need to be put on about 15 stone pendants she has picked up recently. We’re going to be busy beaders this weekend. The picture above is just SOME of what we will be working with!

2. FOOD!!! Naturally, that is always a must when we have a visit, foodies that we are. However, this time it is going to be something special. As a treat for both of us, we are attending a steak and wine pairing demo in St Louis. This is courtesy of my sister, who is sending me to the event as a birthday gift that I haven’t had a chance to redeem for about three years. (Thanks, sister!)
Check out the description of this class…..

STEER ME TO THE BEST STEAK ENCORE It is always an honor to have the incredible talents of chef Lou Rook and wine aficionado Glenn Bardgett of the acclaimed Annie Gunn's grace our kitchen. The amazing duo steers this class in the right direction on premium beef and interesting wine pairings. Enjoy exquisite beef including Japanese A5 Kobe, Akaushi pure breed American Kobe, USDA prime aged strip loin, and USDA prime dry aged strip loin, all with delicious side dishes.

Now, doesn’t THAT sounds fabulous???? I will be sure to (try and) take pictures so you can all see what we get to eat!

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Mommy, PLEASE?

If I've ever seen the "Mommy, PLEASE?" look, this is it....
Mommy, pleeeeasseeeeeee can I have a puppy?

Asian Sesame Chicken Bites

My BA (Beadaholics Anonymous) group at work got together this weekend for a few hours of beading and girl-time. If there is one thing we know how to do well where I work, it is eating. So, naturally, we all brought a little something to snack on for the event. I am still pushing myself hard with the Biggest Loser challenge we are doing at work, so I tried to come up with something at least remotely healthy to contribute. I chose my Asian Sesame Chicken Bites (sometimes done on skewers). This recipe is adapted from one I found on Kraftfoods.com, and I am posting it with one disclaimer. It calls for a package of Good Seasons Asian Sesame Dressing mix. However, this mix is hard to find. I don’t know if its that they stopped making it or it can only be found in certain markets, but I get so many requests for this that the last time I found it, I bought a case of 24 packets. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I run out. Still trying to adapt the recipe so I can make it without the packet.

3 boneless, skinless chicken breast, trimmed of all fat and cut into bite size chunks
1 packet Good Seasons Asian Sesame Dressing mix
½ cup honey
2 TB soy sauce
¼ orange juice concentrate
¼ cup water
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
1 TB creamy peanut butter
1 tsp sesame oil

Mix all the above ingredients together to form the marinade. If you really want to be lazy, buy the pre-cut skinny chicken tenders at the grocery. Save ½ cup of the marinade for dipping. Put all the raw chicken in the remaining marinade and toss to coat. Leave in refrigerator at least a half hour, but up to several hours.
At this point, if you are using the tenders, you can skewer them lengthwise to serve as an appetizer, or leave them as tenders for a main dish. Heat a little vegetable oil in a large skillet and add the chicken a piece at a time, shaking off any excess marinade. Saute on all sides until nice an golden, then add a little of the leftover marinade and heat through so that it glazes all the chicken bites. Serve hot with the reserved marinade on the side.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Fit for a King (size)

I had planned to pace myself, doing one border a night and getting my quilt done by Friday, Sunday at the latest. But no, if you know me, once I get close to the finish line, its just a sprint from there and there is no stopping me. So, in true form, I was hunched over the sewing machine last night and again this morning, putting the remaining strips of material on it. I nearly tore a few of them back off in frustration. Something about this particular size quilt, it was just the right length and width that almost every border I put on ended up with the seam in a bad place, usually right in the corner. If I had planned better (or bought more fabric to begin with – except that I bought all there was) I could have cut along the length and avoided seams altogether. But, since there wasn’t enough fabric on the bolts to do that, I had no choice. I know you can’t tell in the picture, but contrary to my husband’s beliefs, this quilt will win no honors at the County Fair this summer. Too many technical imperfections. Oh well! It will still keep us warm this fall!

I still need to take it to the quilter, so you’ll see this bad boy make an appearance again, but not for awhile. I need to save up some money first. This being a king size, and since I’m going to have custom work done on it, its going to cost me a pretty penny to have finished. But, at least I can cross it off MY project list!

Now my new problem is…..these colors don’t really go with my bedroom walls. Guess I’m going to have to re-paint this summer, too.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Texican Stuffed Peppers

Texican Stuffed Peppers
I have a pretty consistent library of main dishes that we rotate through our menu, but there are a few items on there that we don’t make as often as the rest, for various reasons; either because they are too labor-intensive to do on an average weeknight, or because we just don’t like them as well. Stuffed Peppers is one of those dishes, for the latter of the two reasons. Its ok, just not very exciting, and neither of us are big fans of green peppers. I use red or yellow bells when I can get them, but those have just been too pricey the last couple of years to get them often. So last night, when I rattled off the menu for this week, it was no shock to see the look of complete disinterest on M’s face as the words “Stuffed Peppers” crossed my lips.
Sitting in my office, I was thinking about how I could switch it up a bit and make it more interesting. Then my mind wandered to the obscene amount of chorizo that I continually returned to at the store when I was doing my weekly shopping last night. I ended up leaving without any, as I didn’t have any plans for it in the menu this week, and since we’re getting a half a beef soon, I can’t justify putting anything in the freezer right now, even when it is on sale for a really good price.
Then, the two thoughts ran together! Stuffed Peppers…..Chorizo…..Stuffed Peppers…..Chorizo…..STUFFED PEPPERS WITH CHORIZO! I try to save new recipes for nights when I know I have plenty of leftovers in the fridge, just in case the hubs hates it or it just downright BOMBS, and tonight just happens to be one of those nights. SO I am off to the grocery at lunch today to grab a few more ingredients, and I am hoping that this is successful enough that maybe I can put stuffed peppers back in the rotation more often.

Out of respect for my MEF, I won’t call this “Mexican” stuffed peppers, because this is nothing like their version of stuffed peppers.

Flash forward a day - here is how I made the peppers!

Texican Stuffed Peppers
4-6 bell peppers
1 pound chorizo
1 can chopped green chiles
1 package Spanish Rice or about 3 cups, if you make your own (see recipe below)
2 cups pepperjack cheese, shredded (or enough thick slices to cover the peppers)

In a large sauté pan, brown the chorizo and drain off all the grease. While the meat is browning, cut the peppers in half (top to bottom) and clean the seeds and spines from the insides. In another pan, prepare the Spanish rice as directed on the package (or, if you are making your own, start the rice before you even brown the meat). When the meat is cooked and drained, add the rice to the pan and stir to combine. Mix in the can of green chiles.
Fill each of the peppers with the mixture. If there is any extra filling, just put it around the peppers in the same pan, or make a separate pan of just the filling. My hubs likes it that way and he’ll take a fork and just eat right out of that dish! Top with cheese.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes or until the cheese melts. I should note that I prefer my peppers to still have some crispness to them, but if you like yours softer, just let yours cook longer in the oven.
Spanish Rice (props to my MEF for the directions for her Spanish rice!)
1 cup medium grain rice
2 cups chicken stock
½ tsp Cumin
½ tsp Garlic
1 small Onion, finely diced
¼ tsp Black pepper
8 ounce can Tomato sauce
Brown the rice in a little butter and then add the cumin, garlic, onion, black pepper, and tomato sauce. Once the rice is thoroughly coated, add the chicken stock. Once you put the liquid and spices in (be careful, the water will flash boil when you put it in) stir it up really well, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes.

NOTES: In retrospect, shredded cheese would have melted better, but I was in a hurry at the store and took the easy way out by having the deli lady slice me some thick slices. I intended to add a can of Ro-tel to the meat mixture, but after adding the rice, it really didn’t need the extra moisture, so I left it out and opted for the can of green chiles instead. This was a very flavorful dish, but we are spicy food lovers, so next time I make it I will probably add some hot peppers to the mix as well. Give it a shot and let me know what you think!

Just a Side-Note

If you haven't been seeing my Twitter updates, I got all the blocks for my quilt sewn together last night and this morning, and now all I need to do is put the three borders on sometime this week and get it to the quilter! YAY!
In other news, I was sitting there sewing last night and I sent a Tweet out about my progress. Shortly after that, I got an email notification that KonaBayFabrics is now following me on Twitter (must've done a search on fabric, or quilting, or something). Having worked in fabric stores in the past, I am familiar with the company. Then a thought occurred to me, and I looked down at the pile of fabric on my lap. Yeah, at least two of the materials in my quilt are Kona Bay fabrics.
Ironic, no?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Artichoke Pesto with Ciabatta loaf

This is adapted from Giada di Laurentiis’ recipe for Artichoke Pesto on Ciabatta, which I adore. I made this once for a shower I was asked to bring a dish to, and I have not stopped getting requests for it since then. Even people who proclaim not to like artichokes just love this dish. It’s a no-fail appetizer!

Artichoke Pesto on Ciabatta
1 can artichoke hearts, drained
1 bunch fresh flat leaf parsley parsley (heavy stems discarded)
1 bunch cilantro leaves
1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts (be careful not to burn them like I did this time! I ended up using pecans because I didn’t have any more walnuts)
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic (if you are using fresh, stick to just 2 cloves. Even if you LOVE garlic, like I do. Trust me, if its fresh, 2 cloves is plenty)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2/3 cup grated Parmesan
1 (12 to 16-inch) ciabatta loaf, cut in half, lengthwise, and slice each half in half again to make four long pieces
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (or more, as needed)

In a food processor combine the artichokes, parsley, cilantro, walnuts, lemon zest and juice, garlic, salt, and pepper. Run the machine to finely chop all the ingredients, stopping the machine a few times to scrape down the sides. Then, with the machine running, drizzle in 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil.
Mix in the Parmesan. Add more olive oil, as necessary to achieve the right consistency. Place the pieces of the ciabatta loaf (yes, my grocery store actually HAS ciabatta loaf!) on a baking sheet and brush with olive oil. Bake at 450 degrees until the edges just start to brown, about 5 minutes. I use my kitchen sheers to snip the loaves into slices after toasting them. Serve alongside the pesto.

Crock Pot Sauerbraten - PRESTO PASTA NIGHT!

Hi again, all! I know I already posted this, but I am submitting it for Presto Pasta Night #101, so you all get to see it again! Check out the Roundup on Friday over at Noob Cook.
When I lived in Iowa, I really enjoyed going to the Amana Colonies and eating at their wonderful restaurants, mainly the Ronneburg, who has the most wonderful Sauerbraten. Traditional Sauerbraten is marinated for days in a mixture of dozens of different ingredients, for which I have absolutely no time. I ran across a recipe similar to this one years ago and have adjusted it to my tastes. Its not the real thing, but it does pretty well at satisfying the craving for hearty, German, comfort food. It is more or less the German equivalent of Barbeque. Except over noodles. Or Spaetzle. And oh-so-good. Tangy and just a little sweet. Tender roast and thick gravy, and the thick egg noodles to soak it all up with.
Crock Pot Sauerbraten

3# beef sirloin tip roast
2 cups (or 1 can) beef broth or stock
1 onion, thinly sliced
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup brown sugar
Salt and pepper
12 gingersnap cookies, pulverized (this is the thickener for your gravy)

Layer the onions on the bottom of the crock pot.
Salt and pepper the roast thoroughly and place on top of the onions.
Add the beef stock, cider vinegar, and sprinkle brown sugar over the top.
Cook on low for 8-10 hours.

Remove the beef and onions from the crock pot and pour the cooking liquids into a saucepan. Bring to a boil and mix in the crushed gingersnap cookies. Bring back to a boil until nicely thickened. Serve chunks of the roast over cooked egg noodles and pour gravy over the top, or serve on the side.


Now.....drool.

Back in the Saddle (again)

Some time ago, I started a new quilt for my bedroom. I have made lots of quilts in my time, but they are rarely for me. I finally decided on a pattern for my own quilt, and spent quite a bit of time hunting down fabrics in just the shades I wanted. Finally, I started the quilt early last fall, with the intention of having it done and on my bed this winter.

Well, then there was a baby shower quilt to make, and then the holidays happened, and…..well….shit. Time just got away from me.

Now I am starting to feel the pressure as I have some sewing I really want to do for my sister, who is expecting in June, and I was putting off working on my quilt any more until I got her projects done. However, I have no fabric. I have not been able to pick out fabric for my niece’s quilt, and I’m going to need my sister’s help to do so. I want the quilt to be perfect. So, since I had some time this weekend, and I discovered how wonderful my new sewing machine is LAST weekend, I bit the bullet and dug into the quilt pile again.

Last night I completed all 36 blocks for the top of the quilt and trimmed them. Now I just need to spend some time on it (hopefully this Sunday, if all goes according to plan. HA!) joining the blocks in the pattern I have planned and putting the borders on. Then all that will be left is to take it to the quilter and put the binding on when I get it back. But, realistically, the plan is to get the top done and then go back to baby projects. There’s no way I’d get it back before the cold weather passes at this point anyway, so I might as well wait until I have the cash saved up for the quilting service anyway. But at least it will be done and off my list so I can work on other things.

Here are the finished blocks:

Citrus and Basil Rib Roast

Living in the isolation of this rural hell that I call home, I don’t often have the opportunity to try different cuts of meat or unusual food items unless I pack up the car and go shopping in another city. However, no occasion, I run across something in my local store that surprises me. I even bugged them enough that they are carrying fresh mozzarella on a (fairly) regular basis now.
So, to what should my wondering eyes should appear on my recent visit? A lovely pork rib roast. I know, to probably 99% of you, that is nothing out of the ordinary, but trust me when I say, around here, it is. I know, when all is said and done, its just pork chops, but still, in my kitchen, anything different is welcome.

Here is what I did with it last night.

It took a lot longer in the oven that I anticipated, but thanks to my electric probe cooking thermometer (courtesy of the MIL last year at Christmas), I didn’t have to worry about it. It turned out fragrant, juicy, and just all around delicious. Even the hubs thought so, even though he is generally wary of anything out of his comfort zone (which is typically ANYTHING he’s never tried).

Citrus and Basil Rib Roast
1 - 5 pound rib roast
Zest of 2 lemon, and 1 orange, and their juices
5 hole cloves of garlic and three minced cloves
1 tsp basil
½ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper

In a deep pan, mix the zests, juices, minced garlic, basil and olive oil together to make a marinade.
Cut a 1 inch deep slit in between each rib, close to the bone and insert one whole clove of garlic.
Put the roast in the marinade, turning to coat, and let marinate in the fridge overnight (or several hours) turning occasionally.
Scrape off any excess marinade and heat ¼ olive oil in a large, oven-safe skillet or roasting pan, and brown the roast on all sides.
Roast at 350 until internal temperature reaches 140 degrees. Remove from the oven and allow the roast to sit for 20 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute before cutting into individual chops.
If I had had company over, I’d have made a pan sauce with what was left in the pan, it was absolutely gorgeous. I was practically licking the cutting board after I got done separating the ribs.
I was too busy licking my fingers and didn't get a shot of the luscious thing after I cut it apart, but trust me, it was beautiful.

Happy Valentines Day, Daddy!

Here is Little Man with his Valentine’s Day gift for his Daddy. (my mother will get a kick out of this picture)
There is kind of an inside joke about the frog. We have no idea where the little booger came up with this, but he has a game he plays with Daddy every night when he gets home from work.
See, there are frogs in the bathroom (apparently), and he hollers and begs until Daddy will go “frog hunting” and get the big frog. So, Daddy goes in the bathroom and shuts the door, and WHAM! A frog gets him!!! Oh, Save me, Ty! HEEEEEELP! The frog is getting me!!!!! And VOILA! Ty comes to the rescue and pulls Daddy out of the evil frog’s clutches (aka, the bathroom), and all is well in the world once more.

Ok, my son is THREE. There is no frog in the bathroom, but it sure is a fun game for him to play with Daddy after a long day (although Daddy might tell a different version of this story). Well, when my family was out for a visit and Mom and I were at Walmart picking up a few things, we came across this enormous stuffed frog in the Valentines Day section for $10. Mom said I should get it (cuz if you’ve ever witnessed this game in action, you’d think so, too), but I said no.

I went back a couple of weeks ago and there was that frog, staring me in the face, saying “take me hoooooome”. So, I did. And we hid him and saved the surprise. Then, for Valentine’s Day, I secreted the froggy away in the bathroom, until the game commenced….and boy was it hysterical when Daddy went in the bathroom and found a REAL froggy waiting for him! The game went on forever that night.

So here you go Grandma. A picture of your happy little froggy.

One more off the list….check CHECK!


Ever since my dad made a gorgeous toy chest for Ty for Christmas, I’ve been meaning to make a seat cushion for it. I dug some upholstery material out of my stash…..bought a piece of foam padding……cut the foam to the right size…..then finally last weekend I tried my new sewing machine out for the first time and put the cushion together. It was an easy project, and I knew it would be, but I just hadn’t been able to work up the motivation to get it done until then. In the process, I found out that my new machine is AWESOME! Stitching through those layers of Jacquard was just like running a hot knife through butter…..wonderful….. It was so nice, it motivated me to do some more sewing this weekend, as you’ll see in another post.

Friday, February 13, 2009

I'm feeling neglected!

Ok folks, I know I was kind of a slacker with my blog over the holidays, but I'm back and I'm missing the attention and the comments. As my friend Tom likes to say, I'm a big "attention whore".
So, check it out!
I added a linky to my sidebar so you can all start following me! I'd love to know who all is out there and what you think of my blog - so go ahead, you know you want to.....click it! And follow me!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Another equally easy chicken dish

Many, many moons ago, I introduced my husband to Chicken Cordon Bleu. Keep in mind that the hubs is about as picky an eater as they come, so the fact that he really enjoyed the dish surprised the heck out of me. Liked it so well, in fact, that I ended up making it pretty regularly over the next few years. I should mention that I don’t particularly enjoy making Chicken Cordon Bleu. First, there’s the pounding the chicken out flat enough to roll without tearing it up. Then there’s getting ham and swiss cheese sliced thinly enough to roll up inside the chicken. And, of course, cooking the whole she-bang without all the swiss drooling out the poorly sealed opening…yeah, its not exactly a picnic. But, I’ve learned that when I actually find a new dish that my husband and I BOTH like, to be grateful and just shut up and make it.
Naturally, I was ecstatic later on to come across a recipe for Chicken Cordon Bleu CASSEROLE. Hmmmmm….I was intrigued. It looked easy enough, so I gave it a try. My husband’s response? “Just so you know, you never need to make chicken cordon bleu the other way again. EVER.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a winner! Ding! Ding! Ding!
Now let’s pause for a moment while I insert a small caveat. *ahem* this is not my favorite dish in the world. The amount of gooey-ness makes the dish almost unctuous. On top of that, it was not really a lot easier than the original, as it called for chunking up, breading, and frying chunks of chicken breast prior to even assembling the casserole. Kind of like cooking twice. Like I have time for that. However, I found a shortcut (which I tried out for the first time this week and the hubs didn’t even notice! YAY!), and on a cold winter day, when you need something quick to make and filling for the man in your life, this should do the trick.

Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole
½ bag of frozen white meat chicken chunks (not the evil little processed chicken “nuggets”. Suck it up and at least buy real white meat chicken.)
2 ham steaks, about ½” thick (I just ask the lady at the deli counter to slice me a couple so I only have to get as much as I need. I also recently discovered a vacuum sealed package of the same in my refrigerated section by the bacon!)
2 equally thick slices of swiss cheese (ditto for the deli lady)
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 cup of milk

Layer the chicken chunks on the bottom of an 8x8 baking dish. Cube the ham and the cheese into bite sized pieces and toss them on top of the chicken.
Mix the soup and the milk until smooth and pour over the top.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until the soup and cheese all kinda melt together and get all nice and bubbly.

Now, I have to apologize. I was taking pictures while making this and my camera battery just up and died out of the blue before I could snap a shot of the finished product. Guess you’ll just have to try it for yourself! Enjoy!

Chicken Parmesan for Dummies

Ok, maybe not exactly “for Dummies”. After all, this is not the noxious little piece of rolled up chicken you find in the freezer section at the local Walmart. But still, it is a recipe that anyone can make; hearty, and satisfying, too.
I’ve posted pictures of my Chicken Parm before, but was informed yesterday that I never posted the recipe. SO, here goes!

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, pounded thin
1 cup all purpose flour
2 eggs
½ cup milk
2 cups Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
Oil for frying
½ jar of your favorite pasta sauce
1 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

First, trim all fat or questionable bits from the chicken. One at a time, put them in a Ziploc bag (zipped almost all the way closed, leaving some room for pressure and air to escape) and pound them with a meat mallet or heavy skillet until about 1/2 inch thin.
When all four are pounded out, put them all back in the Ziploc bag and add the flour. Toss them around in the bag until they have a nice light coating of flour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Crack the two eggs into a pie plate (or other shallow dish) and whisk in the milk until it is all worked in. Put the breadcrumbs into another pie plate. Pour enough oil into a large skillet to cover the bottom of the pan, but don’t overdo it, you don’t want the chicken swimming in oil, you can always add more if you need to. Make sure you either have a pan big enough to hold all the chicken without crowding the pan, or work in batches, 2 breasts at a time. Heat the pan over a medium high heat.
Once the oil is hot, pull one chicken breast out of the bag, shaking off an excess flour, dip it in the egg wash, then coat thoroughly in the breadcrumbs. Place the breaded chicken carefully in the hot oil. Repeat with remaining pieces of chicken. Fry until golden on the bottom and then turn. Fry on second side until equally gorgeous. You want to chicken cooked through, but if you are paranoid about that kind of thing, like I am sometimes, go ahead and stick a knife in it to check for pinkness. A tiny bit of pink in the middle is okay at this point, because it is going to cook more in the oven.
Once the chicken is nice and lovely golden brown, remove from the heat. Mop up any excess oil left in the pan with a paper towel. Pour ½ jar of your favorite pasta sauce over the chicken, then top with the shredded mozzarella.
Put a lid on the pan (if you have one that fits, if not, you can use foil, or just leave it open, but watch so the cheese doesn’t crisp up on you) and put it in the over for about 5 minutes, or until it looks like this:
Traditionally, this would be served over some kind of long pasta, like fettuccine, but my hubs likes it just like this with a big chunk of garlic bread.

**Disclaimer: if I had my way, this would actually involve a light sauce from scratch and more robust cheeses, but as you all know by now, cooking for the hubs does limit my creativity somewhat.
Enjoy, everyone!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Hearts Galore

I have been collecting little goodies to put in 'treat bags' for the Ty's classmates for Valentine's Day. Mini bottles of bubbles, crayons, snacks and other items. Browsing around on the Current Catalog website, I came across a package of heart shaped erasers on clearance for $1.06, so I added them to my order. What didn't click right away is that it was a package of 144.

Even after putting THREE in each of the treat bags, I still have 117 left. So, here's my dilemma. what exactly does one DO with 117 leftover mini heart shaped erasers? Hmmm?