Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Just Peachy

Fresh Peaches - I simply can't get enough of them. They are by far my favorite fruit. I'm convinced I could exist on nothing but Peaches, and my family is not far off either. If I could have a grove of this amazing sweet deliciousness in my backyard, it would be pure bliss. In fact, I'm attempting a hillbilly grove by letting my son launch the pits off our back deck into our wilderness of a backyard. Maybe something will grow out of them, who knows? In the mean time, I'll let the folks at the farmer's market and local produce stands get to know me by name as I frequent them so often for tomatoes and peaches. Living in the South, we have the benefit of South Carolina and Georgia Peaches and they are so sweet and delicious - you just want to eat your weight in them.

I recently fixed a grilled peach dessert that was a smashing success. It was a twist I took from a recipe they ran in the Sunday paper. Here's my version:

Grilled Peaches a la Mode (serves 6)

6 ripe Peaches, pits removed (thrown into my backyard), fruit cut into 8ths
1/2 stick of Butter, cut into small pieces
8 T. Brown Sugar
1 t. ground Cinnamon
Vanilla Ice Cream
Caramel Sauce

Heat your grill to Medium.
Cut six 12 inch squares of aluminum foil. Divide the peaches onto the foil squares - I allow one peach per square.
Combine butter, brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl and then sprinkle it over each peach.
Fold the foil to seal into individual packets.
Place the packets on the grill and cover. Cook until the peaches are soft and the butter/sugar mixture has melted - about 15 minutes.
Remove from the heat and allow to sit while you prepare the icecream.
Place one large scoop of ice cream in each of 6 ramekins. (If you don't have ramekins, you're missing out. Go to Sur la Table right now and buy them - don't worry, I'll wait. Did you get them? Ok good.)
Top each icecrem filled ramekin with one peach packet and drizzle with the caramel sauce.
You'll be licking your ramekin clean enough to put back in the cabinet - it's that good.

The great thing is, this pairs perfectly with a night you've chosen to grill burgers or hotdogs or chicken. The dessert can cook while you're eating your main dish. I hope you enjoy it as much as my family did!

Have a delicious day!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Sandwich Hours

I've often recalled a bit of wisdom my middle-school principal bestowed on my class many years ago. She taught us the importance of Sandwich Hours. We all looked puzzled when she first asked us what we were doing with our Sandwich Hours. I immediately thought of my peanut butter and jelly, but she went on to explain it's not about food - but time. The parallels she used were more honed in on a middle-schooler - but I've come to pattern her wisdom in my life as an adult today.

Sandwich hours are those minutes that fall inbetween what we have scheduled. All added up - they surprisingly turn into hours and she told us we could waste them frivolously, or spend them wisely. In between classes, for example - the bell gives you 3 minutes and it only takes you 1 to get to class. Those other two minutes could be used jotting down your homework to-do list or bookmarking where you need to start reading or working on a math assignment. The time spent on bus rides and in carpooling all added up to valuable study time as well. We could virtually knock out our homework or get a major chunk of study time completed before setting foot in the door at home.

Now that I'm a wife, mother of two and work full time, I can use every spare minute I can get my hands on. I have tried my best to use my Sandwich Hours in ways that will allow me plenty of quality time with my family. Some examples of "grown up Sandwich Hours" for me are: When a conference call at work ends early, I glance at my to-do list and work ahead on other projects where I am able. Before work or during lunch I'll try to do several loads of laundry. If I'm waiting to pick up my kids from school, there is time to file a few coupons, read a chapter in a book thats been neglected or catch up with a friend I've been meaning to reach out to. I try to manage all of my errands during a specific block of time so we can then go to the pool or playground and I'm not scattered with 20 places to drag everyone to on a weekend. In a doctor's office I can catch up on emails on my blackberry or work on a menu for the lunches and dinners for the week.

The key is maximizing the time you have, to make the most out of what you are trying to accomplish. I will also double up on meals and freeze half of whatever I'm making to have it at a later date. There are so many opportunities to capture during these 'in-between' times. I'm sure my middle-school principal would be amazed that I've remembered and still put her words into use after all these years. Now, I'm certainly not perfect and will be the first to admit my mistake in using commute time to put my make-up on that lead to me rear-ending someone in traffic - but we're all human, right?

What are you doing with YOUR Sandwich Hours?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Chocolate Ricotta Tiramisu from an almost Hoader

Man the battlestations! Disaster has hit. I discovered that we had a major crisis last night - we're officially out of olive oil, mayonnaise and ketchup. I recently watched a few back to back episodes of the show "Hoarders." It had me panicked that I had hoarding tendancies. I started madly cleaning storage closets, in hopes that a therapist wouldn't show up at my house and want to talk me through my collection of shirt boxes for gifts (not to worry - I threw away about 20). Clearly my hoarding tendancies don't fall in the pantry with us running out of key staples like ketchup.

We're also out of mayonnaise and that brings me to a funny story about my crazy next door neighbor lady. Remember - the one who picks weeds without putting in her false teeth while wearing her long flowing purple robe? I was fixing one of those amazing Tomato Basil Tarts again and a key ingredient in the topping is mayo. I had already been to the store twice for other things and wasn't heading back for half a cup of mayo - so I called my neighbor. Her husband answered and told me she couldn't come to the phone, then he handed the phone to her (huh?) and she quickly replied that she had cases and cases of mayonnaise and would be happy to give me the rest of the jar she had open. I ran over, grabbed the jar and completed my tart topping. Within 20 minutes the phone rang and it was my neighbor lady wondering if I was done with what I needed the mayo for, as she wanted it back. Thoroughly confused, we returned the jar and I'm not sure that I'll be calling over there if I'm in a bind again.

I'll leave you with this fun recipe for the weekend:

Whipped-up Chocolate Ricotta Tiramisu (thanks Aaron McCargo Jr.!)

20 lady finger cookies
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup mascarpone cheese
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
1 cup of strong coffee, cooled
cocoa powder for dusting

Cut the lady finger cookies in half and set them aside.
In your mixer, combine the ricotta, mascarpone, cream and sugar until light and creamy.
Fold in the chocolate chips by hand.

Pour the coffee into a shallow dish. Dip 2 ladyfingers halves into the coffee and arrange them on the bottom of a shallow glass casserole dish (8" square is good - stay smaller than a 9x13). Liberally top with some of the cheese mixture and repeat with another layer of the ladyfingers and cheese. Dust with cocoa powder.

It's like a combination of a Cannoli and Tiramisu and is so quick and easy to make.

Have a delicious weekend!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

No to Sushi - yes to Chicken Casserole!

I had my mouth set for some delicious sushi today and went to a favorite old haunt - Cosmos. I used to love their Tuesday special. Being that today is Wednesday might be part of the problem. I found today's sushi more like yesterday's leftovers - which for sushi is not exactly what you're going for. The tuna looked and tasted more like Spam (trust me - my grandmother used to try and hide it in something called "Ham Salad" - I shiver at the thought). My four rolls were lukewarm and lacked freshness and flavor. Not even my chocolate lava cake could redeem this meal, as it tasted like it had been pre-packed and defrosted. Thumbs down on Cosmos. I most likely will not be back.

All is not lost though. It's a beautiful summer day and I believe the count is day 12 of our heat wave. With temperatures in the mid to upper 90's and humidity soaring, I'm grateful for my airconditioning. Since we're officially in the 3rd day of Summer, we've been living it up and taking advantage of time at the pool, turning on the sprinkler in the front yard to run through it, staying up late to eat ice cream or fresh sliced peaches and read children's books we've gotten at the library. My 3 year old is having a blast attending Vacation Bible School (VBS) at our church - life is blessed. Our family is enjoying the 'moments' in life - I hope you will be able to do some of the same. Those 'moments' make some of the best memories.

Yesterday I was asked to make a chicken casserole for a funeral at my church. I looked at a bunch of recipes, then decided to 'wing-it' and fix my own version. It tasted so delicious and was so easy, I'll be making one for our dinner tonight. Here's one to add to your Quick Meal List.

Easy Chicken and Rice Casserole

3-4 chicken breasts, boiled and shredded (shredding to me is better than cubing - try it, you'll be hooked too)
3/4 cup sour cream
1 regular sized can cream of chicken soup
1 box of Zatarin's chicken flavored rice (follow directions on box)
Garlic salt and pepper to taste

Boil your chicken the same time you're cooking the rice (separate saucepans of course). It takes about 25 minutes for each and is a great multi-task. Combine the cooked, shredded chicken with the sour cream and soup, stir in the rice. I add a bit of the chicken broth that I boiled the chicken in to make it a bit more 'saucey'. Add your rice and salt and pepper and plop it all into a medium sized casserole dish. Place in oven to heat through - 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.

To fancy it up a bit, I sprinkled some dried stuffing mix I had with a few tablespoons of butter on the top. It's not necessary, but was a fun little add. It's simple and delicious - a good home cooked meal. You could pair this with a side salad and some green beans. Enjoy!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Fruit Madness...and some Spinach Dip

I read of a woman who, in an effort to get her family to eat more healthy, placed a large bowl of fruit on her countertop. She said magically, they didn't want sweets and other junk foods - they were transformed into health nuts that began to be contagious to friends who came over as well.

I thought the woman mad. In my mind I was imagining children being given the choice between a piece of cantaloupe and a gummy worm and them begging and pleading for the cantaloupe. Surely she must have a crazed family that has mixed up taste buds. I didn't believe her...but rather than knock it, I tried it. I bought a bunch of bananas and sat back to watch the magic begin.

Four days passed. Four. Nothing - not one taker on the bananas, which were rapidly approaching bread making rotteness - you know, the black splotchy peel and mushy extra sweet insides. Suddenly, in a fit of necessity and my infant not agreeing to eat anything else, we cut into a banana and placed it on the high chair tray. He loved it. Shoving them in by the handful, sweet almost banana bread chunks disappeared. Wanting more, we scrambled into the frig where I'd bought some blueberries for cereal. The same amazing disappearing act took place before my very eyes. My 3 year old wanted in on the action and asked for some too.

I added to my list for the next grocery run and bought peaches and strawberries. Amazingly, the kids are beside themselves with delight over these sweet treats! It was music to my ears when my son asked "Mommy, may I please have a peach!?" Gracious. That woman - whoever she was, is right. Now, here's the catch: Just giving the option of the fruit is key - don't offer up the junky stuff in addition and you'll be amazed at what they forget. The bag of last year's Halloween candy continues to grow stale (though we did have a few starbust last night).

My family is the furthest thing from a poster family of healthy eating - but we're on the right track with buying delicious fruit and getting the kids onboard with them. Grapes and strawberries are an easy first try if you're considering adopting my madness. Will I be forever eradicating ice cream, desserts and sweets from our lives? Not a snowball's chance in the heat of a North Carolina Summer day, but a healthy balance is important.

Now, let me share with you this delicious hot spinach dip I recently had. It's fixed in a bread bowl and I could hug my friend Becky for sharing it with me. I hope you enjoy it and have a delicious weekend!

Baked Spinach Dip Loaf

A 10 ounce box of frozen spinach; thawed and drained and squeezed until it's almost dry
2 packages (8 ounces each), softened cream cheese
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
1 can (8 ounces) water chestnuts, drained and chopped.
5 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled
1 green onion, chopped
2 teaspoons dill weed
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 unsliced round loaf (1 lb.)

1) In a large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and mayonnaise. Stir in the spinach, cheese, water chestnuts, bacon, onion and seasonings.
2) Cut a “lid” out of the top of the bread loaf. Hollow out the remaining loaf, leaving a 1/2 inch shell.
3) Fill the shell with spinach dip; replace “lid”. Wrap in heavy duty foil; place on a baking sheet. Back at 375 degrees for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours, or until dip is heated through. Open foil carefully. Remove foil and lid. Serve warm with chips or vegetables

Spend time honoring your father - they rock! I know mine sure does - and my husband is the absolute best father in the world to our two sons. Treat them to something delicious (We're fixing brownies and ice cream cake!)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Tomato Basil Tart

Foodie friends, I'm letting out a sigh of relief. The electricity finally came back on at my home and I've just retrieved the last of my refrigerator and freezer contents from my in laws. I've never been happier to put away groceries.

I've received so many requests for the tomato basil tart that I took to that potluck last Friday that I'm going to share it with all of you. Once again, if only I'd taken a picture! This is a savory dish best served as a side to a main dish. It's not hard to make and best when you are in the height of tomato season. Special thanks to Doris Parker for this recipe.

This will wow your friends and family and give you instant foodie status:

Tomato Basil Tart

9 inch regular pie crust, unbaked
1.5 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese
4 medium sized ripe red tomatoes
1 cup of loosely packed fresh basil leaves
4 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup of mayonnaise
1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
1/8 teaspoon pepper (the original recipe calls for white pepper - but no one has that - so use black)

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees
Bake the pie crust for 8 minutes (I decided to use my pie weights so the crust wouldn't bubble up. I won't be doing this again - how monotonous to pick up 100 hot little ceramic balls out of a half baked crust!)
Remove crust from the oven and sprinkle about half of the mozzarella cheese on the bottom of the crust.
Cut your tomatoes into wedges and drain them on paper towels for a few minutes (this helps keep your tart from being a mushy mess)
Sprinkle salt and pepper over the tomatoes and arrange them on top of the mozzarella in the baked crust
In a food processor, combine the basil and garlic until they are coarsely chopped (we're not making pesto here - so don't go nuts)
Sprinkle the basil and garlic over the tomatoes
In a medium bowl, combine the remaining mozzarella, mayonnaise, Parmesan cheese and pepper.
Spoon cheese mixture over basil mixture (I do this by spooning it in glops - it's not the easiest to spread over the entire tart - so glops are fine).
I sprinkle a bit more Parmesan cheese over the top for fun.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the top is golden and bubbly.


Monday, June 14, 2010

No Pioneer Life for Me

I’m stressed beyond belief and found myself eating Cheetos for breakfast as a result. Last night we had the storm of all storms and while I was thankful to forgo watering my 4 zuchinni plants, I was less than enthused to come home from church to discover we were without electricity. Initially it wasn’t so bad – neighbors said they’d called in the issue and the power would be back on by midnight. No biggie – everything in the frig and freezer could survive until midnight.

We decided to attempt life as a makeshift pioneer family by grilling hotdogs and eating chips by flashlight and a camping light we’d gotten for Christmas a few years back. It was fun while it lasted but the 95 degree humid weather began to hit us as the air conditioning slowly ebbed away. I clearly am not set up for life as a pioneer past grilling a hotdog. Clearly I am a wimp and not ashamed to admit it.

Midnight came and went and the electricity never did come back on. I am unable to sleep as I keep thinking about the shrimp, roast beef and flank steak in the refrigerator and freezer. The alarm on our cell phone finally went off this morning and I told my husband we had to rush our food to my in-laws immediately or else all would be lost – I was beside myself thinking about my efforts of hitting great sales, using my coupons to the fullest and planning ahead with casseroles and lasagna and the myriad of other food items that would surely be ruined and need to be thrown out. Two carloads later the food was safely at my in-laws with the exception of the milk that met its maker when I poured it out ‘just in case’.

So, now that I’m moving on to some fudge covered cookies, we’re totally eating out tonight. I am NOT a pioneer.

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Cannoli and an Alligator

I’ve just returned from a fabulous and relaxing family vacation at the beach and am primed and ready to make up for my absence on the blog with a snazzy recount of this perfect week of culinary delight. We stayed in Pawley’s Island/Litchfield Beach, South Carolina. Steps away from the seafood capitol of the state, the food did not disappoint. It was a combination of cooking in at the house where we stayed (after all, there’s nothing quite like people going nuts over food that you’ve slaved over making yourself) and also jaunts out to favorite and new foodie hotspots.

There are certain places that I could go to for the rest of my life, order the exact same thing and die a happy woman. The Ultimate California Pizza Kitchen (mind you, not all California pizza is created equal) is one such place ( I’ve been going there for about 15 years and refuse to deviate from the Big Kahuna. It’s divine and has all but the kitchen sink and Banana Peppers (as I’m not a massive fan of those on pizza). The Smoked Gouda makes the difference. Why don’t I do this at home!? I mean, don’t we ALL have a wheel of Smoked Gouda on the second shelf of the frig? In between munching on Pizza and gazing at the array of surfboards mounted about the restaurant, I began dreaming of a bakery we’d passed on the way. My husband asked me what I wanted to do next and my immediate answer was “Landolfi’s!” So we drove to explore this tiny little bakery where the sign out front was what hooked me – Italian Pastries.

It was almost 5pm and we sauntered in just before they locked the doors. Much to my surprise and dismay – there was NOTHING left on the shelves or in the refrigerated display case. How can this be? The hog-like couple ahead of us literally bought the rest of the Fruit Covered Cheesecake and 4 Cannoli’s and a man rushed in begging for the order of Chocolate Eclairs he’d called in earlier. I was standing there dispairingly looking at Biscotti crumbs and two lonely empty Cannoli shells. The guy behind the counter explained they open every morning at 10 and there is a line waiting outside when they unlock the doors. “You’ve got to get here early for the best selection.” I felt helpless. My dreams of this bakery had left me salivating on the floor with nothing left but crumbs?! He told me they fill Cannoli’s on the spot and so thankfully I could have one of those. Mind you, a Cannoli is my all time favorite Italian dessert and I am hard pressed to ever pass one up. He pulled out a pastry bag of Cannoli filling the size of my head from a secret separate refrigerator and made me a Cannoli on the spot – asking if I wanted Chocolate Chips and Powdered Sugar. Obviously we’d never met and he didn’t know me. OF COURSE I wanted both in abundance.

As my husband ushered me to the car, I had the Cannoli out of the box and into my mouth where I let out the biggest contented sigh and accidentally blew the Powered Sugar across the entire dashboard. It was bliss. Creamy and sweet delicious Ricotta filling wrapped around a homemade fried shell. Divine. Pure and simple. I had to go back for more. Unfortunately I had to wait until 10am the next morning when they reopened.

My husband loves to fish – salt water or fresh, he’s marvelous at it and I wish he’d have his own show on some outdoorsy network. He’d be an Emmy winner for sure. He brought the fishing poles along and hopped around the various country clubs, fishing in their lakes with our 3 year old. They caught multiple gigantic bass and well, a 5 foot alligator to boot. We had scoped out a spot that looked ideal and I had the video camera running as he baited the “Lightning McQueen” 2.5 foot red fishing pole and cast the line before handing it to our son. A zillion turtles came up and started eating the bait. Lovely. My son is excited and then horrified as a 5 foot alligator swims up and bites the bobber like it’s a piece of candy. Thank goodness we’re safely on a bridge, as I’m about scared out of my mind and ready to put on a pair of Depends. The alligator eats the bobber and while it would’ve made an amazing pair of high heels with matching clutch, we cut our losses when my husband set him free. This is all slightly unnerving to the faint of heart (me). There are signs everywhere advising us to not feed the alligators – but my son decided the alligator needed a Cinnamon Raisin Bagel. How we lived through this is a miracle. You’re welcome to come over and relive this experience that I caught on tape. I told you my husband should have his own fishing show.

The dawn of a new day has me anticipating the opening of Landolfi’s once again. I’m determined to be the early bird that catches the Pastry. As my husband and one son set off for yet another fishing adventure, I whisk my parents and infant back to the bakery. We got there at 10:30 and most of the Biscotti was gone, but thankfully the other 20 desserts had enough still intact for me to have a mouth watering selection. There was Chocolate Covered key lime pie, Profiteroles, Eclairs, Crème Puffs, Cannoli, Napoleon Rum Cake, Cheesecake with Fruit, fresh Breads and an array of Pastries with pine nuts and other fun stuff labeled in Italian that I cannot pronounce. One simply cannot decide on just one, so I had three. I started off with what they call a Lobster Tail – a crunchy flaky crust with a Cannoli and Whipped Cream filling. Amazing! Then I moved on to a Profiterole – much like a cream puff, covered in Chocolate and filled with a mixture of Whipped Cream and Custard. Could life get better? The third (am I in a sugar coma yet?) involved a rich Flourless Chocolate Torte, covered in Raspberries and then completely enrobed in Chocolate. Eat your heart out. I’ve died and gone to heaven. It’s marvelous. Quite possibly the best things I’ve ever eaten in my entire life. We won’t mention calories as it was after all, a vacation and I splurged. If you’re ever in Pawley’s Island and drive past Landolfi’s, bring the car to a literal screeching halt and immediately go in – you won’t regret it.

There were more food adventures, but alas, I’ve got a potluck dinner to attend tonight and I’ve got a savory Tomato Basil Tart and a Peppermint Ice Cream dessert to make. Much to do!

Have a delicious weekend!