Tuesday, April 29, 2008

What I Know NOW About Motherhood...

...that I didn't know before.

Ah, there are so many things. But to sum it up, I learned the true definition of selflessness.

  1. having little or no concern for oneself, esp. with regard to fame, position, money, etc.; unselfish. (from dictionary.com)
  2. holding one's urine, especially with bladder about to bust open, in order to let your potty-training daughter use the only bathroom first.
  3. losing some or all of a night's sleep holding one sick child in order to keep second and third healthy children from waking up and from being tired the next day at school.
  4. foregoing all outings at "nice" restaurants and eating out at local diners and pizza places where the menu has little more to offer than chicken fingers and hotdogs.
  5. going days without a decent shower due to hectic mornings schedule of make breakfast, clean up after breakfast, get kids dressed, brush kids teeth and hair, find missing glove, load into car, drive to school, go grocery shopping, etc. - all before 9am.
  6. never going to the bathroom without an audience.
  7. never sleeping in.
  8. never getting sick.
  9. never eating without rushing.
  10. never having to go a day without hearing a sweet voice saying, "I love you, Mommy."
Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers out there who on one great day learned that they could give up anything and everything they once thought was important to take care of their real reason for living.

This post was inspired by the notes from my nest Mother's Day Blog Bash. Visit notes from my nest to find out how you can win lots of great prizes for your Mother's Day!

Today's Kitchen Disasters (yes, there were multiple)

There were a few things I wanted to get done today. A friend of mine is going through a tough time and I thought it would be nice to drop some muffins off at her place (she's got three young kids). That trip never happened, and well, the muffins were to blame.

I've made muffins from scratch before, and they've turned out great. Recently I've been trying out recipes (not just muffins, but pancakes, breads, etc) using whole wheat flour instead of or in addition to white flour. So, I find this great recipe on a blog (that shall remain unnamed) for muffins using ww flour, no sugar and fresh fruit. I though, hey, you can't go wrong - especially since she posted such wonderful "after" pictures of her muffins.

I followed her recipe exactly - and well, the muffins were inedible. The tops were done, but the bottoms never got there. And if I had let them go any longer in the oven (because they were already in for the recommended time) the tops would have burnt and that is just not fabulous food!

So, instead of preparing a lovely basket of homemade goodies for my friend, I cut off the tops (the only parts of the muffin that were actually edible) and gave them to my kids who then turned their noses up at it. Except for my one year old, who basically shoves in his mouth anything I put on his plate. They tasted good (the tops), but I couldn't bring myself to give them as a gift. If you have any recipes for whole wheat muffins or bread please link to it in your comments - I would appreciate it! I'm still searching for a recipe for my friend's gift basket.

On to kitchen disaster number 2. Had to run out with the kids for the whole afternoon and I knew we wouldn't be back until right before dinner. So at 2:30 I busted out the crockpot and threw ground turkey, a bunch of spices, and 2 cans of tomato sauce and 1 can of chopped tomatoes. I gave it a stir to break up the turkey, turned the cooker onto high heat (4 hours) and left. My plan was to come home to tasty, slow cooked meat sauce and quickly cook up some pasta when we got home.

Got home around 5, and the house smelled great! I took a peak, and the sauce looked excellent, and I was just about to put a pot of water onto boil when plan B jumped in my head. Ah, plan B. Anyway, the sauce was a bit thin, since crockpots tend to add moisture to whatever you're cooking. My first thought was to add a can of tomato paste to thicken it up while the pasta cooked. Then I thought - hey, why not add the pasta to the sauce to cook and absorb some of the moisture? I have read about others cooking pasta or rice in the last few minutes of a crockpot cycle, so I didn't think anything bad would happen. Well, it did.

After 20 minutes it was apparent that the beautiful meat sauce had turned into a thick paste of tomato sauce and pasta. The pasta wasn't even done yet, so I added about a cup and a half of stock to thin it out and give the pasta some much needed liquid to finish cooking. Fast forward 10 more minutes and the pasta was done. But, it was a bit mushy. The kids ate it reluctantly (probably thinking the whole time, "man! mom is off her game today!") and left about half of it uneaten. All except my one year old, who as I revealed earlier will eat anything since apparently I starve him the rest of the day. Anyway, what was barely edible at 6pm became a big pile of extremely inedible MUSH as the pasta continued to cook even after I removed it from the heat source.

I told my husband we were eating it because I wasn't about to let 1.5 pounds of organic turkey meat and almost 1 pound of pasta go to waste. In defense of myself, outside of the texture, it really wasn't all too bad. My husband even had seconds. Although he asked that I never attempt to cook pasta in the crockpot again. Lesson learned!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Garlic Soy Marinade

I made this marinade for a piece of steak we planned on grilling. I left it to marinade for over a day, but you can get away with a few hours if necessary.

For this marinade you will need: 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1/2 cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons sesame oil, 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 5-6 garlic cloves (minced, grated or finely chopped), salt and pepper to taste.

Combine all ingredients in a ziploc bag with meat and seal without air. Refrigerate until needed and cook as you would like. We used a 2 pound piece of beef top round and grilled for about ten minutes a side. It was great that night, and even better as leftovers the next day. For lunch I sliced some up to top a salad and for dinner I reheated the slices with crushed garlic cloves slowly cooked in butter. I splashed some soy sauce on it to finish. Mmmmm!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Strawberry Layer Cake

I had the honor of making my sister-in-law's birthday cake this year. I'm good at coming up with ideas for kids cakes - it's pretty simple to take the theme of the birthday and run with an idea. But Batman and trains weren't going to cut it for this party. I had to go grown-up this time - and that meant coming up with an idea for a cake that was pretty and simple, but still fun!

Ask me any day what my favorite cake flavor is and you'll get a loud "CHOCOLATE!" My SIL is not a chocoholic like myself, so I went with a nice strawberry layer cake with strawberry and banana filling. I have to say, it turned out pretty good considering there wasn't a speck of chocolate in it.

I took a white cake mix from the box and replaced the oil recommended with 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce and mixed in just over a cup of fresh strawberries that I had pulsed a bit with my hand blender. I baked them in two 9" rounds until they were done (test with a knife or toothpick in center, should come out clean).

While they cooled I got to work on the strawberry and banana filling. I sliced about a cup of fresh strawberries and sliced one whole banana. I added about 1/4 cup of strawberry jelly to the mix and used a fork to mash slightly, just so it would be easier to spread.

Once the cakes cooled, I plated the first round and leveled the top with a serrated knife. Then, I put some white icing into a ziploc bag and cut a tiny hole (about 1/8" long) at the corner. I piped a dam of icing around the top edge of the bottom layer, so that when I added the filling it stayed in the middle. (Don't worry about appearances here, just pipe the dam and you can smooth it out later. Make sure your dam is thick enough to hold the strawberry/banana filling.) I then carefully poured and spread the strawberry/banana filling on top of the bottom layer.

Once that was in, I put the top round on and pressed gently to secure. I frosted the entire cake with a layer of white frosting and then put it in the refrigerator to firm before decorating.

While the cake was in the fridge, I prepared the colors for decorating, using the rest of the white icing and gel food coloring. I made pink, purple and light green and added each color to it's own small ziploc bag, and cut a tiny (smaller than 1/8") hole in the corners.

I piped a picture of balloons on the top and then decorated the sides with alternating dots and lines. I had leftover icing, so I piped a green border around the top and bottom of the cake for a finished look.

I'm not sure the pictures do it justice, but you get the idea. The cake tasted great and the party was a blast!

Homemade Chicken Fingers

You'll swear off store-bought frozen chicken nuggets after you taste these. They're quicker to make and taste a lot better! These aren't just a treat for the kids - my husband and I love them too, and they are wonderful dipped in Cholula hot sauce.

For this recipe you will need: 1 pound boneless chicken breasts, 1/2 cup flour, 1 tablespoon paprika, 2 eggs, 1/4 cup water, 3 cups bread crumbs, 3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley, 2 teaspoons garlic powder, salt and to taste and about 1/2 cup vegetable oil.

Cut the chicken breasts into strips, about 4-5 inches long and 2 inches across. Set up an assembly line to bread the chicken. On the first plate, put flour and paprika and combine gently with your fingers. In a bowl, scramble the eggs and water. On the next plate, put bread crumbs, parsley, garlic powder, salt and pepper and combine gently with your fingers. The final plate should be empty so you have a place to put the breaded chicken.

Dip each chicken piece into flour and shake off excess. Next, dip into egg mixture and then place on bread crumb plate. Using your fingers, push into the bread crumbs on each side so they coat the chicken piece well. Put breaded chicken on extra plate.

In a large frying pan, heat about 1/2 inch vegetable oil until swirling. You can also test the heat by dropping a small piece of the breading and see if it fries quickly. Once the oil is at the proper heat, add chicken (be sure not to overcrowd the pan, you can always do another batch). Cook the chicken about 4-5 minutes on each side and be sure to lower the heat if it is browning too quickly.

Put cooked chicken on paper towel to absorb excess oil and sprinkle with additional salt to taste.

This chicken is great on it's own, but is equally wonderful on sandwiches and salads and makes the perfect appetizer. You can really get creative with the dipping sauces. Try my avocado vinaigrette as a nice alternative to dipping in ketchup or ranch dressing.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

There's Nothing Better Than...

...sweet Italian sausage cooked on the grill. Go ahead, I dare you to challenge it.
Skin...crispy. Inside...tender. There's nothing better than sweet Italian sausage cooked on the grill.

Think you've got a better method for cooking Italian sausage? Please let me know in the comments!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Barefoot In My Home

I am starting a new weekly feature called Wine of the Week where, you guessed it, I review a wine that we enjoyed at our home during the past weekend.

I'll try to get the WOTW post out by Monday night, because usually by then, we've polished off a bottle over the weekend and it's still early enough for me to remember what it tasted like. This past week, however, my husband took off Thursday and Friday because the kids had off from school. Therefore, our weekend was four days, hence the downing of the 1.5L bottle of Barefoot Cabernet Sauvignon, this week's feature wine.

Oh, did I mention that in this extra long weekend of ours, my husband graciously watched the three lovelies while I got a much-needed pedicure and break from the crew? I thought it would only be appropriate to showcase this week's wine, Barefoot, along with my newly polished tootsies. Thanks, Honey.

Did you notice the price tag on the bottle? That's right - $10.99 for a 1.5L bottle of a wonderfully smooth, rich and fruity wine. I'm no wine connoisseur, but I know a good wine when I taste one. According to Barefoot, this wine is paired nicely with beef, lamb, red pasta sauces and sharp cheeses. We drank it with leftover turkey and noodles and it was still outstanding. Hey, for less than $11 a bottle, you can't always plan to do the recommended food/wine pairing. And for my family, wine tastes as good with popcorn as it does with a medium rare filet mignon.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Sesame Orange Chicken Marinade

Yesterday I suggested to my husband that we grill something for dinner (a.k.a. I'm too tired to cook and would love for you to BBQ) and he came up with this excellent marinade for boneless, skinless chicken thighs using stuff we had on hand in the refrigerator and pantry. The chicken turned out juicy and well flavored, which is sometimes difficult on the grill. I've been known to turn out some pretty dry chicken after over cooking it on the grill.

For this recipe you will need: 2 pounds chicken pieces (anything will do here, we used boneless, skinless chicken thighs), 2 gloves diced garlic, salt, pepper, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1/2 cup orange juice, 1 tablespoon lime juice, 2 tablespoons sesame oil, 1/4 cup olive oil, and lots of parsley.

He only marinated the chicken for less than an hour and it still turned out full of flavor and moist. You can marinade the chicken for up to 24 hours if you have the time. Mix all of the ingredients in a plastic storage bag and refrigerate until you are ready to grill.

Set your grill to medium/medium-high heat and once warm, put the chicken pieces on and don't move them. Turn the chicken when ready and remove when the internal temp is 170 or you can cut a piece in half to make sure it's no longer pink.

Optional: Heat the remaining marinade in a pan over medium heat until boiling, reduce heat and simmer until slightly thickened. Pour over finished chicken pieces or have on the side for dipping.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Good Morning, Coffee!

I'm not sure what it is about coffee. Yes, it tastes great, but that can't be it alone. There's the caffeine - addictive and nice to have in the morning. Is it the combination of the two, or is there something deeper here?

For me, it's the way I can get that right color of mocha by pouring in the perfect amount of milk. The long (sometimes endless) waiting until I can pick it up and drink without burning off a few taste buds. That first warm sip while reading the paper and ignoring the sounds of fighting from the playroom. Ah, I'm in another world.

Some think good coffee comes from good beans. While there is some truth to this, I find that preparation makes more of a difference in flavor. I make my coffee in a french press, a manual, non-electric method using a carafe and plunger with strainer. It's dishwasher safe, completely portable and does not require a paper filter. I'm not trying to sell anything here, but it's beyond me why more people don't prepare their coffee this way. All you need are coffee grinds and hot water. The rest is delicious history!

For step-by-step instructions on how to use a french press, please read here.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

6 Foods You Should Always Have On Hand

You don't need to go shopping every day to make healthy, delicious foods at home. If you make sure you have these items in your freezer or pantry, you won't find yourself picking up the phone or visiting the drive through to get dinner on the table on those nights when you think you don't have anything to make.

This list is inspired by the Network Blogging Tips list contest!

  1. Frozen Shrimp: Tail on or off, these beauties cook super quick and add a nice bit of healthy and lean protein to salads, stirfries, pasta...well, now I'm creating a list within a list. You get the idea!
  2. Pasta: Does this one need an explanation? Cook it up and make a simple sauce of olive oil, crushed garlic, red pepper flakes and Parmesan cheese. My mouth is watering just thinking of it!
  3. Canned Beans: Keep a few in stock and you can whip up a healthy three bean salad with sliced red onion and your favorite vinaigrette. This is a great one to make when you've been invited for a last minute BBQ or need a quick side dish for your own family's dinner.
  4. Frozen Ground Meat: When you bring home ground turkey or beef from the grocery store, take the opportunity to stock your freezer. Add about a pound to a large plastic storage bag, flatten and seal without air before adding to the freezer. Not only will it save room in the freezer, but it will defrost many times faster than if you added it as a big brick to your freezer. Ground meat lends itself to so many recipes, that would be a whole new list!
  5. Frozen Vegetables: This is a no-brainer, especially if you have kids. Frozen vegetables are usually ready to pop into any recipe at the last minute and require a simple heat-through. I like to have corn (quick Mexican rice), peas (simple pasta salad) and spinach (wonderful in scrambled eggs) always on hand.
  6. Chicken Stock: This is a pantry staple because it's useful in so many ways. I splash a bit on when reheating chicken or turkey in the microwave to add moisture. I make rice with stock instead of water for extra flavor. I cook vegetables in it to cut down on oil or butter. And let's not forget the mother of all stock uses - soup! When nothing is left in the refrigerator except some celery that you can bend in half without snapping and some eggs about to hit their expiration date, you can always make an egg drop soup that is as close to homemade as you can get without making your own stock from scratch.

Chorizo, Spinach and Goat Cheese Stuffed Pork

I made this up as I went along, and wasn't quite sure it would work. But after tasting it, my husband said he would pay for it in a restaurant. Thanks, Babe! ;)

What I liked about it was that I used a small number of ingredients (6-9 including seasonings) and the cooking time was short (under 30 minutes). And the finished product looks fabulous, although I'm not sure my picture does it justice.

For this recipe you will need:
One pork tenderloin, one box frozen chopped spinach, one cup chicken stock, two Chorizo sausage links, one small onion, 3/4 cup goat cheese and seasonings (salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika).

To prepare:
  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees
  • Chop sausage links and onion.
  • Defrost spinach in microwave.
  • Add sausage and onion to fry pan over medium heat to brown sausage and cook onions. You can add some olive oil if you want here, but I found the sausage released enough oil while browning.
  • While that is cooking, take defrosted spinach and drain as much water out as possible (I used a clean kitchen towel to wring it dry) and add to fry pan, breaking it up with a wooden spoon to combine with sausage.
  • Add chicken stock and goat cheese to fry pan, and remove from heat once combined.
  • Butterfly the pork tenderloin.
Here's where I went a bit off of my original plan to stuff and roll the tenderloin. I realized I made too much stuffing, and instead of adding only half and reserving the remaining, I dumped the entire spinach/sausage/cheese mixture on top of the butterflied tenderloin. Read on for how I finished it...
  • Place the tenderloin into a baking dish with sides (like Pyrex) and make sure half of the tenderloin fits on the bottom of the dish (it's OK if the other half hangs out, we'll fix that in a minute).
  • Pour the stuffing mixture on top of the tenderloin, using the back of your spoon to spread it all over the bottom half.
  • Bring the top half of the pork tenderloin over the top, making a taco-like fold. Some of the stuffing will spill out, and that's OK.
  • Season the top of the tenderloin with salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprika to taste.
  • Bake at 425 for 25-30 minutes, or until internal temp reaches 165 (be sure to take temp of pork and not the stuffing).
  • Allow to rest for 10 minutes before cutting.
I decided to cut it into about 3 inch across slices, and plated by spooning some of the extra stuffing that spilled out into the pan on top of each slice. It was delicious and I will definitely make this one again.

I just love it when a plan goes wrong but turns out so right! ;)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Recipes for Ground Turkey or Ground Chicken - Healthy!

I recently posted on HubPages a few of my recipes for ground turkey. You can certainly use ground chicken in it's place if you prefer. Just remember to use extra vegetables to compensate for the leaner (and therefore potentially drier) meat. They will add much needed moisture to make your dish delectable! Enjoy...

Healthy Recipes Using Ground Turkey