Friday, April 30, 2010

Peach Tea and Orange Rolls

Happy Friday! I'm currently sitting on my deck, enjoying this warm sunny Spring weather while battling a cold and a serious bout of writers block. I'm supposed to be writing a newsletter, but I hit a big blank pause and felt a muse about food might help things along.

My 3 year old told me drinking iced tea would help me feel better, and golly - he's right! We just mixed up a pitcher of my favorite Crystal Light Peach Iced Tea. I'm enjoying a tall glass of it while he's munching on a blue popsicle. Life is good. The cold is still there, but the writers block might be waning.

I have no weekend plans - nothing. It's an empty slate. Might we go Strawberry picking? Possibly. Might we sleep in tomorrow morning and eat Pillsbury Orange Rolls for breakfast? Likely. I otherwise have no clue what this evening and tomorrow hold. It's rather nice to not have a plan. It doesn't happen often and I'm embracing the freedom.

I'm shocked that tomorrow is May already. Next week is Cinco de Mayo - something fabulous and inspirational will be cooked in my kitchen, and next weekend is Mother's Day - for which I'm still debating cooking versus eating out.

I hope you have a delicious weekend - and I hope my cold goes away so I can actually taste something deliciousl. Back to my Peach Iced Tea, I'll talk to you on Monday. Ciao!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Clepto overlooks Rev. Jesse Jackson for Pastry

Yesterday I worked at the annual Shareholder’s Meeting held by my company. I had the oh-so-important-and-glamorous responsibility of distributing agenda packets. It takes a Rocket Scientist, mind you – not everyone can do this. So, there I am, distributing away, when I’m blindsided by a photographer. With 3 cameras around her neck, she thinks I’m photo worthy and I strike a model pose in my black power suit, while sporting the white agenda packets. Hilarious that of the CEOs and celebs that attend this meeting, I am the one that is photographed.

Then in walks the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Let me back up one quick moment to let you know there are approximately 5 stations of fresh Pastries surrounding me in my distribution endeavor. Scones, Danish in every flavor…and Chocolate Filled Croissants. Say no more. I can barely concentrate on the task at hand due to the delicious appearance of these mouthwatering delights. I hope I get to try one.

Mr. Jackson is standing two feet away from me, the photographer is now photographing the two of us and I just want to eat a Pastry. Finally, the meeting kicks off and I am all but left alone in the large expansive lobby with 5 unmanned stations of Pastries. I grab a Chocolate Filled Croissant and go hide in a corner to enjoy. It’s amazing – the rich, flakey, buttery croissant is enrobed in chocolate drizzle…with more chocolate decadence in the center. I’m licking my fingers, thinking that due to it being on the small side, I could get away with eating just one more – so I do. I’m polishing off the second Chocolate Croissant when I set eyes on the Apple Filled Danish. If there’s one thing I simply cannot turn down, it’s an Apple Danish. Keep the Cherry, Blueberry, Lemon and Cream Cheese – just save me an Apple Danish and no one gets hurt. I enjoy every bite and gazing quickly around, pop another Chocolate Filled Croissant in my purse for good measure. You never know when you’re going to be stranded on a desert island with nothing to eat. I was merely taking precautionary measures.

After a few minutes, all of the Pastries are whisked away and replaced with jumbo sized Cookies of every variety. White Chocolate Macadamia Nut, Oatmeal Raisin, Lemon Poppy Seed…and the tried and true favorite: Chocolate Chunk. I grab one of those and am hopelessly disappointed. It was just a mediocre Cookie - not even worthy of popping an extra into my purse for when I’m on that desert island. Sigh….well, thankfully there are also piles and mounds of full size Candy Bars, Power bars, Clif Bars, Oreos and Hershey Kisses.

I know what you’re thinking. Yes, I grabbed a small sampling, and called it a day. And just to save face from all of you thinking I’m a wild cleptomaniac (which I am), I gave the Croissant to my son for breakfast this morning. The chocolate smeared face and fingers were worth the clepto efforts on my behalf. I know I gave the undercover security something to laugh about yesterday.

Have a delicious day!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Crockpot Madness turns into efficiency.

Brownies for breakfast. I just can't help myself. There were two brownies left in the dish and one can't let them dry out or go stale, now can they? Certainly not! Brownies should never go to waste. So I was simply involved in a rescue mission. There you have it.

Last night, I had the noblest of intentions to make my infamous minestrone - I cook a roast beef and add that to it and it's amazing. However, disaster struck when I disovered (after over an HOUR, mind you) that the outlet I plugged the crockpot into mysteriously wasn't working. Losing an hour of crockpot cooking time basically throws the entire meal into a tailspin. No minestrone on Monday.

Thankfully, I had ground chuck that I DID have a plan for. Usually I stare at it for a few hours before an epiphany hits. This time, I merely shifted the week's menu a bit and found myself engrossed in a cook-a-thon. I made Stroganoff over Rice with Roasted Carrots (roasting is key and my new favorite way to cook carrots). I also whipped up a Layered Mexican Dip for another night. The roast finished up cooking later that evening and now my minestrone is just a few steps away from completion.

Why stress? I got 2.5 meals made in a short time and this will hopefully help the rest of the week out so I can go do important things like catching bugs with my son (he got a bug cage for Easter). We caught a hornet last night - it was rather exciting.

Have a delicious day!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Lemony Snicket

It's a gorgeous sunny day outside, the perfect temperature and to put a cherry on the cake: it's FRIDAY. Probably my most ancipated day of the week. I have a weekend of retail therapy and family time all planned out and I can't wait.

I'm thinking about Jerk Chicken Kabobs for dinner and trying to come up with a valid excuse to make Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Cheescake Bites. But, does one really need a VALID excuse to make Cheesecake - ever? I think any excuse will do.

I'm also considering Lemon Bars. It's the quintessential southern dessert that pairs well with any food item at any gathering at any time of the year. Lemon bars are quite possibly the most wonderful citrus dessert I've ever put in my mouth. I might be ranking them above Key Lime Pie, if you can imagine. I blink and 5 of them are gone. It's almost embarrassing.

I have a dear friend who loves them as much as I do and whenever she makes them - I always get my own plateful to take home and enjoy. They don't last long and I refuse to share them. I love lemon bars that much. This dear friend has selflessly been taking care of her aging parents and her father went to Heaven this week. So dear Lynne, this post is dedicated to you - the next Lemon Bar is on me...


Lemon Bars Deluxe (Mountain Measures - Charleston, WV)
2 1/4 c. all purpose flour
1/2 c. confectioners' sugar, plus more for sprinkling
2 sticks of butter
4 beaten eggs
2 c. granulated sugar
1/3 c. fresh lemon juice
1/2 t. baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 and whisk 2 cups of the flour with the confectioners sugar. Cut in the butter until the mixture clings together. Press the dough into a 9x13 baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.
Beat together the eggs, granulated sugar and lemon juice. Mix the remaining 1/4 cup of flour with the baking powder, stir into egg mixture and pour over the hot baked crust. Bake for 25 minutes and remove from the oven. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar once they are cooled a bit. If you cut them into 1.5 inch squares, you'll have 30. If you cut them into slabs like I do, you'll need to make one batch for you and one for the real occasion your making them for.

I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. Have a delicious weekend.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Frumpy and Butterless

Some days I feel frumpy, helplessly disorganized and one key ingredient short of a full recipe. On particular occassions like these, I resort to Carnival Foods. My friends laugh and know that means chili dogs or burgers on the grill. Something quick - it's better than heating up a ghastly frozen dinner, yet not the extreme gourmet 5 course meal that I often attempt. It's nice because I get to employ my husbands expert grilling skills. Last night was chili dogs, tonight is burgers. Throw some tortilla chips with gourmet salsa on the side and you have a meal that's not too shabby.

I have loads of coupons to clip and organize, the clean laundry to fold is clearly competing with Mt. Everest, we're almost out of dish detergent and I have no butter - which, seriously - can a household survive without butter?! When I begin to look around me, I need to remind myself that everything is relative.

I did have tremendous success with my BBQ Chicken Nachos and Monte Cristos earlier in the week! I hope to have more to share when I can dig out of my frumpy state. Talk to you later. : )

Monday, April 19, 2010

Brussels Sprouts?!

You'll pass out cold when you hear what I'm enjoying as a mid-morning snack. Brussels Spouts. Yes, you read correctly. I branched out in the vegetable world and have uncovered a hidden gem that has incorrectly been labeled for generations as inedible and disgusting. I've never eaten them before - not ever. Perhaps in part due to the persona that has shrouded them. I realized I couldn't base my like or dislike of a dish based on someone else's opinion - I had to try them for myself.

I received a Southern Living Cookbook for Christmas and was paging through it the other day. I thrive on pictures to help me with recipes. Nice full page colorful pictures enhance the recipes brilliantly. I should adopt that method for my blog. Noted. Anyway, a beautiful picture of brussels sprouts adorned a glossy page, paired with an equally impressive caption on how all of the Southern Living Staff felt this dish was better than green beans and how they enjoyed them immensley. I was sold. I roasted them in olive oil and then poured an almond garlic butter over them and I have to say, I'm hooked. The sprouts will be a recurrence for certain.

This week I'm fixing some fun dishes - BBQ Chicken Nachos, Monte Cristo Sandwiches and the rest escapes me as I can't stop thinking about these amazing Hot Italian Sandwiches I made over the weekend that were such a hit, we ate them two nights in a row for dinner. Layers of provolone, pepperoni, salami and mozzarella all melted on a toasted sesame seed loaf and then dipped in marinara. I'm trying to figure out who to invite over next to fix these for. Too good!

Have a great week ahead and may your culinary adventures be successful ones.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Microwave & A Tomato Plant

Do you ever get that sinking feeling when you’ve put something in the microwave uncovered and you hear a loud explosion? I remember to cover my food about half the time, the other half – well, let’s just say that the inside of my microwave could double as a piece of art at the new Bechtler Museum. I have a nifty trick for cleaning your microwave – stick a bowl of water in there and microwave it for about 3-4 minutes. Then let it sit in there another 2. Take it out and then wipe down the inside walls – it cleans in a jiffy! (Such a fun word from the 1950s). Seriously – no scrubbing, no chemicals, just wipe it down and remember to cover your food next time – or don’t, if you enjoy cleaning your microwave with this new technique.

I know you’ve been sitting at the edge of your seat, just WAITING for the results of my Chocolate Truffle Marquis. I too have been at the edge of my seat and unfortunately have not had time to fix it yet. Life sometimes gets in the way of even the loftiest culinary aspiration. I’ve had to put my dream dessert on the back burner as I’ve traveled for business this week, spent time with a close friend, attended choir rehearsal, spearheaded a Leukemia Fundraiser for a co-worker, and made sure that my family is fed and ready for school and work each day. In comparison, the dessert just didn’t make the list.

Tomorrow we’re having our annual family outing to Renfro Hardware to purchase our tomato plants with my father in law. Friends – you haven’t had a good tomato until you’ve eaten one grown in my father in law’s garden. I didn’t even LIKE tomatoes – I picked them off salads and refused them on burgers, until I married a man whose father is the Godfather of tomato plant growing. He follows the method outlined by Renfro Hardware in Historic Downtown Matthews NC. (www.renfrowhardware.com)

We’ll make our trek to Renfro’s – walk on the wooden plank floor and go back in time to the way a hardware store used to be – where they know your name, don’t compromise on quality and you come away from it with an experience, not just a flat of tomato plants. My children enjoy the live chickens out back, the cage of crickets and other novelties you just won’t find in a modern chain hardware store.

I’m going to enjoy quality family time this weekend, and I hope you’ll do the same. Whether you clean your microwave or plant a tomato – make sure you take time for the important things in life. The chocolate dessert will come in time.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Fudge Cake and Salad?

I noticed I've been on a bit of a chocolate theme lately - it probably doesn't help that this morning I ate a piece of chocolate carmel fudge cake for breakfast. I succumbed to the temptation that was yelling at me from my freezer. I froze two pieces of it awhile back and this morning I just couldn't stand it any longer. I swung open that freezer door and popped that fudge cake into the microwave before I could talk myself out of it. I'm now sitting here, content as can be and visiting with all of you.

I never made it to the Crepe Cellar last night - too far of a drive and so I opted for Cheesecake Factory instead. I feel as though one of two things have happened with this food chain. One - either my appetite has grown to that of a behemoth, or Two - the portion sizes (once behemoth themselves) have grown a bit smaller. I'm afraid it's the latter, as I was able to finish the salad and that is virtually unheard of at this establishment. It was a good salad though - the Chopped Salad there includes fun treats like Granny Smith Apples and Avocado. Paint me green and call me Gumby - it was good!

Several of you have asked how I can eat the way I do and still remain slim and trim. Here is my answer: I don't know. It amazes even me. I wonder if it has to do with me running after two small children all the time. I hope my metabolism doesn't play a mean trick on me one day and decide to stop working so well. I'll otherwise be compared to Violet Beauregard and have Oompa Loompas come and roll me out of the house.

I'm finding myself staring at 2 lbs of ground chuck and wondering what it will become for dinner tonight.

Have a great day!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Chocolate Truffle Marquis

Happy Monday! I was positively slammed on Friday and didn't have a chance to log a post. I trust you had a wonderful weekend - mine was filled with sushi, pizza and pork tenderloin. I also had a chance to go to a restaurant I hadn't been to in awhile - Brio, where I enjoyed a mouthwatering Chop Salad and a Parmesan Chicken Panini. The Salad far outshined the Sandwich and I enjoyed every bite. Tomorrow I'm hoping to try a new restaurant that has me thoroughly intrigued - the Crepe Cellar. I do love a good crepe - particularly if it's filled with Nutella or Strawberries and Whipped Creme.

I'm excited to reveal the winning entry for the $35 Dessert Challenge. I received fun entries - on my blog, in person and via email. After reviewing them all, I've decided to fix the entry that Marie submitted - "Chocolate Truffle Marquis". This not only sounded amazing, it took me back to my days in hospitality where I would literally sit at my desk and come up with excuses to eat a very similar dessert. I would entertain potential clients and steer them towards dessert, I would host tastings and ensure that it was on the dessert menu, I would do quality tests to make sure it tasted good. Any and every excuse to make this dessert - I used it. With layers of chocolate sponge cake, chocolate ganache and chocolate mousse - you simply can't go wrong. It definately falls within the $35 Dessert Criteria - so I'm going to fix it, report back to you this week with a picture and award Marie a prize pack from Godiva!

Congrats Marie - expect a ballotin of truffles to be sent your way this week and thanks to all of you who participated!

Cheers to $35 Desserts!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I belong to a Chocolate Club

Godiva currently has this marvelous program where if you sign up for their Chocolate Club, you get this nifty membership card and a free piece of chocolate each month. The freebie lures you into the door and you walk out with half your wallet in their cash register because lets face it - who can eat just one piece of Godiva? Certainly not me! I went in with the noblest of intentions of just claiming my freebie, but then I spied the chocolate covered dried apricots...and then I saw the hazelnut chocolate filled clamshells. Oh - let's not forget all of the truffles on the bottom shelf - and the chocolate covered Oreos looked divine as well. Sigh. So much for the freebie. Brilliant marketing on Godiva's part. Brilliant. And how fabulous to say I belong to a Chocolate Club?!

Why didn't they have Chocolate Clubs in school? Rememember all those mindless clubs you had to sign up for so your college applications looked like you were an amazing overachiever? I just polished off some Godiva chocolate for breakfast and it reminded me of an almost bad date experience in high school. Of course I'll share (the story - not the chocolate).

I was new to a school in the 11th grade and it was time for homecoming. I knew no one, was a bit of a fashion emergency and any chance for a homecoming date was just a distant dream. And then it happened.

I was sitting in study hall one afternoon (probably wearing a hawaiian printed pantsuit and oversized gold earrings) when a football player that I barely knew sheepishly stuttered out an invitation for me to accompany him to homecoming. I hardly knew the guy and didn't want my entire evening to be ruined by someone who I wasn't compatible with, so I simply told him he needed to meet my parents. Turning from beet red at asking me to a pale white from fear of meeting the rents, he agreed. In the mean time, this bought me few days to see if I would enjoy a date with him or not. Granted, it's just one date - but I refused to go out with just anyone.

Our entire Senior High had to go on a 2 day retreat shortly thereafter, so THIS was the golden opportunity for me to see what he was all about and I quickly figured out that he was a strange, dull, boring individual with an odd personality. He trapped me into a 3 hour bus ride on the way home and I was like a fish out of water....flailing and flopping helplessly, just waiting for the bus ride to be over so I could escape back to the sea of datelessness. Without meeting my parents, there was no date and he was bound and determined now to all but camp out on my front lawn to go out with me.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and as that bus pulled into the school parking lot, I flew out of my seat, grabbed my suitcase and dove into my mothers car. I layed down on the front floor board of the car so the Odd Potential Date couldn't see me and told mom to drive like a maniac. I couldn't risk him running to the car to ask her if he could go out with me. As always, she came to my rescue and we sped away.

I successfully wriggled out of a homecoming date with him, finding out later that rejection turned into violence and he bashed in some lockers out of frustration. Gracious. Further confirmation that my choice was a wise one. Poor thing - later in life he dropped out of college to sell chocolates at Godiva - shaved his head into a strange mohawk and we lost touch.

Let me remind you of my $35 Dessert Challenge! You have until Friday to submit something delicious.

Ciao Foodies!

Monday, April 5, 2010

$35 Dessert Challenge

I’m sitting here eating some strawberry cobbler and a sugar cookie, reflecting on a wonderful Easter weekend. My Lettuce Wraps turned out good, I opted for homemade Eggrolls over the Asian Slaw Salad (marvelous choice) and for Sunday, my ratatouille-ish feeling transformed into an appetizer instead. I made Baked Salami with a Basil Sour Cream to accompany the salad for Easter lunch with all the family. Everything was delicious.

I so enjoy food and the feeling it invokes, for around a dinner table full of dishes and platters - families connect. Every meal may not be award winning and worthy of a cover shot for Southern Living Magazine, but that’s not what matters. If the casserole was made with love and the best effort was put forth on the brownies made from a mix – it’s the thought and effort behind it that counts. Taken a step further – it’s the time spent with the family while eating the food that REALLY matters.

Last week my husband was in New York on business. Being that the Big Apple is a virtual Mecca of culinary delight, I couldn’t wait to hear about each and everything he ate. The highlight for me was a Banana Dessert he ordered one night. It was $35. Clearly, he was in New York. Consisting of a sampler of ultra gourmet banana amazing-ness - foam, custard, 12” chocolate curls coming out of a brulee…it sounded sensational and way out of my league. I’ve ascertained that my culinary strengths do not lie in desserts. My apple pie is made with store bought crusts, and I do use a brownie mix vs. making them from scratch. I know, pick yourselves off the floor, that box of Dunan Hines and I are tight – especially when you sprinkle Butterfinger candybars on top before baking.

I’m implementing a self imposed challenge to better my dessert making skills – and I could use your help. Come up with your favorite dessert – a good $35 dessert and I’ll choose the most challenging delicious sounding one out of what you submit this week. Not only will I make it, I’ll include a photo of the finished product and mail you a sweet surprise. All entries must be submitted by Friday at 12 noon eastern. I’ll announce the chosen recipe next Monday. Please don’t let your recipe involve marshmallow peeps – I find those repulsive. The rest is game!

Have a great week my fellow foodie friends!

Friday, April 2, 2010

PF Changs Lettuce Wraps

Happy Good Friday! I just polished of a two-portioned size piece of peanutbutter pie and am looking forward to the weekend. I have my best friend's birthday party tonight, am having family over for dinner tomorrow night and a massive lunch at my in-laws on Sunday after church. Lots of fun things to look forward to and of course I have my culinary hand in each event.


I unfortunately cannot divulge my foodie involvement for tonight's festivies, as the birthday girl is still in the dark about her milestone birthday party, so I'll jump into tomorrow night's menu. My sister in law is flying in and bringing her newest boyfriend to meet the fam. I'm making lettuce wraps. If you've ever graced a PF Changs, you've surely ordered this hit appetizer. We enjoy it so much, I'm serving it as an entree with an Asian Slaw Salad on the side. Should our guest not like it - well, it will be a sign and we can just fly him back home so my sister can find another fish in the sea. :)

Here is the recipe and let me also highlight that this is great for those who suffer from Celiac and have to adhere to a gluten free diet. My friend and coworker gave me a special request, and I promised her a blog post on something delicious and gluten free - so here you go!

Ingredients
3 tablespoons oil
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts (Ha! Do you think I have enough chicken in my freezer? :) )
1 cup water chestnuts
2/3 cup mushroom
3 tablespoons chopped onions
1 teaspoon minced garlic
4-5 leaves boston bibb or iceberg lettuce (I prefer boston bibb, as iceberg doesn't agree w/me)

Special Sauce
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon hot mustard (dijon)
2 teaspoons water
1-2 teaspoon garlic and red chile paste

Stir Fry Sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce (watch the label on gluten for this ingredient!!!)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon rice wine vinegar

Directions
1. Make the special sauce by dissolving the sugar in water in a small bowl.
2. Add soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, ketchup, lemon juice and sesame oil.
3. Mix well and refrigerate this sauce until you're ready to serve.
4. Combine the hot water with the hot mustard and set this aside as well.
5. Eventually add your desired measurement of mustard and garlic chili sauce to the special sauce mixture to pour over the wraps.
6. Bring oil to high heat in a wok or large frying pan.
7. Saute chicken breasts for 4 to 5 minutes per side or done.
8. Remove chicken 8Remove chicken from the pan and cool.
9. Keep oil in the pan, keep hot.
10. As chicken cools mince water chestnuts and mushrooms to about the size of small peas.
11. Prepare the stir fry sauce by mixing the soy sauce, brown sugar, and rice vinegar together in a small bowl.
12. When chicken is cool, mince it as the mushrooms and water chestnuts are.
13. With the pan still on high heat, add another Tbsp of vegetable oil.
14. Add chicken, garlic, onions, water chestnuts and mushrooms to the pan.
15. Add the stir fry sauce to the pan and saute the mixture for a couple minutes then serve it in the lettuce"cups".
16. Top with"Special Sauce". (Thank you www.recipezaar.com!)

For Sunday, I'm bringing a side item and a salad. The later will be easy, the former is still undecided - I'm feeling rather Ratatouille-ish right now, so we'll see.

I hope you have a wonderful Easter, and remember: it's more than lots of candy and egg hunts in your backyard - it's about a CROSS.