Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Dinner 2010

I'm so excited to be having Christmas breakfast here in our new house with cousins and my aunt!  Then I'll be fixing dinner and we'll eat over at Cousin Kim's (she has the good Christmas china! hehehe)

Breakfast tomorrow: Mimosas with fresh squeezed Florida orange juice ... bacon, crispy and yummy, and the famous buttermilk pancakes that my Uncle Chris has made for over 50 years and the recipe is a family favorite!  And of course, Vermont maple syrup from one of my sugaring friends!

Dinner ... Prime rib roast --- just give me the bones and I'll be happy! lol!! with fresh horseradish sauce and freshly grated horseradish.  Then baked potatoes with sour cream and chives for those who want it -- for me, load that puppy with butter!!  Green beans with carmelized onions (introduced at Thanksgiving and appearing by request).

Green Beans with Carmelized Onions and Bacon

8 slices bacon chopped and cooked until crisp

2 large onions sliced thin and cooked in 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter, a bit of sale and coarse-ground pepper, covered for about 10 minutes until nice and tender, then remove the cover and continue cooking until the onions are golden in color -- like light caramel

1 1/2 - 2 lbs fresh green beans cooked in lightly salted water for about 8 minutes, until crisp tender

Drain the beans, add in the onions, 2 tablespoons water and a few tablespoons cider vinegar then stir in the crisp bacon.  Serve!!

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

This is the most awesome carrot cake ever!  A friend made it for my 30th birthday, so it's been around the block a few times for me lol!!  It is NOT for anyone worrying about cholesterol, that's for sure!  And the cake did win a blue ribbon at the State Fair!

2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3 beaten eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla estract
2 cups freshly grated carrots
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1 8 oz can crushed pineapple drained

Combine flour, soda, salt and cinnamon.  Combine eggs, oil, milk, sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth.  Stir in flour mixture, pineapple, carrots and nuts (I add golden raisins instead of nuts).  Pour into 2 greased and floured 9" round pans and bake at 350 degrees 35-40 minutes.  Remove from oven and immediately spread with buttermilk glaze.  Cool in pans 15 minutes then remove to racks to cool completely.

Buttermilk Glaze

1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon soda
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup butter
1 tablespoon light Karo syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine all except vanilla in pan and bring to boil for 4 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Pour HOT over HOT cake.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1/2 cup soft butter
1 8 oz pkg cream cheese softened
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups sifted powdered sugar
2 teaspoons cream

Combine butter and cream cheese, beating until light and fluffy.  Add vanilla and powdered sugar and crean.  Beat until smooth and spreadable.

I hope your dinner is as wonderful as ours -- and full of friends and family and good spirits!

Monday, November 15, 2010

What to do for Thanksgiving?

Do you do what your grandmother did? and then what your mother did?  What was it?  Do you have traditions passed down through generations?  And then you got married and did you incorporate your mother-in-law's traditions?  What makes Thanksgiving really special to you?  The cooking? the get-togethers? the sheer joy of eating good food?

We'll be spending this Thanksgiving in Sarasota, Florida, with family members and after a couple of years of just the two of us, we're really looking forward to it!  While down there last week, my cousins and I sort of planned the mean and divided some chores and I think it will be great!!

Besides the golden brown, crispy-breasted turkey in the 15-18 pound range, we have stuffing that is from my family from 1964 out of TV Guide no less!  Let me tell you this stuffing is so good you'll be spooning it into your mouth faster than you get it into the turkey!!  Here's the first recipe:

Turkey Stuffing that Might Not Make it Into the Bird ... this recipe is over 40 years old and for each of its 40 years since we have had it, it has been awesome!  So I wish you well if you try it :)  They call it an Apple Sausage Stuffing, Pennsylvania Dutch Style and here we go ...
1 pound sausage
1 cup diced bacon
1 large onion chopped
1 cup chopped celery
1/2 pound mushrooms sliced
2 apples cored and diced
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon each sage and thyme (I usually up the sage as I love it(
1 pound loaf firm white bread cubes
2 cups chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook sausage and bacon togeher, mushing sausage as it cooks.  When both are brown, add veggies (onions, celery, mushcooms, and apples) along with herbs (parsley, sage and thyme).  Cook for about 5 minutes until vegetables begin to wilt.  Season with salt and pepper and add bread cubes and chicken broth to moisten all.  Don't make it mushy, but don't make it too dry either!  Pour into a bowl to let cool before stuffing the bird.

This will fill about  a 10-12 bird, but we're going for a 15-18 lb bird so I might add some more stuff to his .... yummmmmmm.
Onward and upward ... let' s see what else we traditionally had at our Thanksgiving table -- mashed potatoes (like duh!!!), squash -- yummmm! In my adult years I have migrated toward a mixture of Butternut and Hubbard squashes, boiled and mashed.  Now, I admit that Butternut isn't that forbidding to deal with -- cute little gourd-like squash -- not to difficult to chop in slices and peal and get in the pot to boil.  But then we have the Hubbard squash -- wow! is that a challenge!  First time I faced that was up in Vermont and I was totally intimidated by this veggie!
... and rightfully so!  It really needs a "manly" hand and an axe to cut through the touch hide, but then it's all yours!  I generally leave the tough skin on and roast it in a pan with a lot of water until I can peel the flesh away easily.  Then it goes into the mixer with the butternut squash, a bit of butter, a bit of brown sugar, and a good couple of shakes of salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Ta Da ... ready for the table!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

To move ... or not to move

That was the question when I headed south to Florida last week.  If I was able to find a wonderful place in a week, then we'd take it as an omen that the move would be a good thing ... if I didn't find a place, then "oh well", we'd stay where we are!  That took some of the pressure off the quest for a new home.  Would you believe that on day one we found the greatest house??!!!  Now, with my cousins vetting properties for me (and keeping me in some kind of control), we still spent another full day viewing apartments, townhouses and single family homes -- all in the pouring rain I might add!! -- and by the evening we were done and went back to house number !.

It's a 3 bedroom/2bath house with a huge Florida room (fits my longarm beautifully!!), a screened in lanai, split floor plan, great fenced in yard for the little Midge, and all around great!  Less than half a mile to one cousin and about two miles to another -- close to the Interstates and the quilt guild meetings -- and believe it or not, I can actually walk less than a mile to the closest quilt store!!

So who wants to come and pack my house with me? lol!!!  You can fondle all the fabric you want!!

One month away!

Regarding "Stress"

I do love Oprah's perspective on stress and how to handle it, or rather, how the body handles it ... I'm just so not there in terms of being coordinated with mind and body.  Right now all I feel is stress -- overwhelming at times, and then during other hours I believe that it can all be fixed!

It's now entering my favorite time of the year -- family holidays :)  That's the really good part and I'm having a great time shopping for family and friends.  The Internet has been the greatest invention for those of us who might not like to move with the crowds at the malls -- but you have to do it at least once during the season!  And if you live in a city that does the "tree lighting" and the streets of light, how could you pass them up??!!

We're heading south for Thanksgiving where we'll eat ourselves silly with family in Florida.  Fortunately, we like to cook and we love to eat, so we've already planned our menu.  The other side of this fun is that we're also planning to move to Florida two weeks after Thanksgiving ... so our plates are full of more than just the wonderful turkey and gravy!  But it's a good thing and I can't wait to be in a new house in Sarasota!

So, the first stressor on our list is a move ... a large one to Sarasota that we currently have planned for December 15.  The most wonderful part of the move is that we will be living within a half mile of family -- that's a good thing!  The hard part is packing up a four bedroom house and getting ready for the movers.  We've got about 30 boxes packed, and I have a weekly packing plan, so I hope you all will help me keep on track!!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

National Guacamole Day!!

Yummmmm!!  I just made a batch the other day and ate a half bowl of it all by myself!!  It's good on everything!!  Maybe I'll make some shrimp nachos today!

One avocado ... two cloves of garlic ... half a red onion ... lemon and lime juice, salt and pepper, tobasco and mayonnaise.  Toss it all in a blender or food processor and you're ready to dive in!  Some folks add chunky tomatoes to it ... others like some avocado chunks ... blend to please yourself!!

Perfect Warm Weather Dinner

I've never been a big fan of shrimp salad, but when I watched a recent Cook's video on cooking the shrimp properly, I thought I'd give it a try with some fresh North Carolina shrimp -- and I'm so glad I did!!  These little morsels came out so tender and full of flavor that it's my newest addiction!!  I've been cooking up a batch every few days and munching on them whenever I feel the urge!

Everything started in cold water with some lemon juice, parsley and tarragon, salt and pepper.  Then I heat the pan on medium high for about 8 or 9 minutes.  Remove from the heat and cover for a couple of minutes.  When you peek in the shrimp should be pink and plump.  Toss them right away into ice water to stop the cooking!

The salad is made with mayonnaise, lemon juice, minced shallot, minced celery (I don't like biting into big chunks of veggies in my salads ), chopped parsley and tarragon, a bit of hot sauce for a kick and salt and pepper.  I do throw in my favorite "Salad Supreme" all purpose seasoning because I love the taste.  So my dinner was with fruit and salad and Howard made a sandwich.  Yummmmmmm ...

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ow Ow Ow

I had some surgery yesterday to repair an abdominal hernia at the incision site from my gastric bypass earlier this year. This is what I learned. 

When the doc says "uncomplicated" and "routine" he's talking from his perspective. There really isn't anything "routine" about having a scalpel inserted in your abdomen. 

"OUTpatient" really means out -- they sent me home less than 3 hours after surgery. Now, they did give me pain meds "to go", but it still seemed pretty quick to me.  Of course, I did feel pretty good at the time -- I didn't realize that I was already drugged!

And if you're going to spend the night in the ER (which I did!), make sure it's a hospital that believes in pain management (mine did!). 

And thank every healthcare professional you meet!!

Our little fur babies are offering kisses and snuggles and cuddles to me -- they sure know when something isn't right in their world!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Stroganoff ... It's What's for Dinner

I know, one little trip to Russia and I go nuts in the kitchen! One of our tours in St. Petersburg included a luncheon of traditional Russian food, and lo and behold it was stroganoff -- one of my favorite dishes!!

A dish often attributed to the chef of Count Stroganov in St. Petersburg, Russia,  is generally served over rice or noodles.  A dish similar in ingredients and cooking instruction also appears in A Gift to Young Housewives, a Russian cookbook written by Elena Ivanovna Molokhovets in 1861 and updated regularly until 1917 when the book went out of favor in the Soviet regime as it favored the bourgeoisie .  However, it got its name or origins, it's a relatively easy dish to make with just a few ingredients.

About a pound of meat -- round steak is a good choice.  Freeze it for a little while and it makes it a bit easier to cut into thin strips about 1 1/2" long.  
1/3 cup chopped onions
1/2 lb more or less of chopped/sliced mushrooms
2 cups Beef stock or consomme
Butter and olive oil for sauteeing
Dash of nutmeg
1 teaspoon dry tarragon
salt and pepper
1/2 - 1 cup sour cream

Melt a couple of tablespoons of butter and olive oil in a large skillet and saute the onions until soft and translucent.  Add the sliced mushrooms and maybe another 1 or 2 tablespoons of butter and saute for about 2-3 minutes.  Add nutmeg, tarragon, salt and pepper and cook another minute.  Remove onions and mushrooms to bowl and set aside.

Put your meat slices in a bag with some flour and shake to coat the meat.  Melt another 2 tablespoons of butter and olive oil over medium-high heat in the same skillet used for the onion/mushroom mix and drop in the meat in to brown.  Once all the red has disappeared, lower the heat and add your consomme (I use Campbell's canned -- 1 can -- and add enough water) to cover the meat.  Give the mix a good stir and be sure to stir up any bits on the bottom.  The flour from the meat should thicken your gravy while the meat cooks. Put the lid on the skillet and simmer for about a half hour to an hour until the meat is tender.

Add back the mushrooms and onions and heat them up.  Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the sour cream.  I tend to lean towards the higher amount of sour cream as I really like it ... you can also substitute plain yogurt for the sour cream.  Heat on low ... be careful not to boil with the cream in it!!

Serve immediately over noodles or rice.

Note:  Yesterday I made this dish with chicken.  Here are the substitutions I made:  a bit more nutmeg went into the mushrooms and a dash of sage instead of tarragon.  After browning the chicken, I added a few tablespoons of white wine to sort of deglaze the pan and then I used chicken stock instead of the beef stock.  Other than that it was the same.  We both cleaned our plates!

Second note:  I'm so excited that I've been able to locate a copy of the 1935 translated version of A Gift to Young Housewives!  Who knows what goodies you might see next!!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Happy Birthday Cousin Daryl!

And here we all are in Copenhagen, Denmark!  It's a cloudy and rainy day, but I don't think that will dampen our spirits or our visit to this magnificent city!  We are booked on a tour this afternoon for a visit to the highlights and then a few hours spent at Tivoli Gardens.  One funny thing is that the famous Little Mermaid statue is on tour in China until the end of the year, so the creative Danes have set up a live video feed of the statue precisely where the mermaid generally resides.  I must admit that this made me laugh -- and as our tour guide said, he can't make up these things!

Yesterday was spent at sea after a visit to Helsinki.  I spent part of last evening emptying off my camera which had gotten filled up in Saint Petersburg ... but that trip deserves its own page here.  Last evening was the final formal dress evening and Cousin Kim joined me and Howard in the Rembrandt dining room for a wonderful meal!  I must admit that the dessert finale left me with a tiny tear in my eye as it was soooo wonderful!!  Created by the cruise line's Executive Chef Rudi, dessert was a white chocolate toque filled with milk chocolate mousse residing on a dark chocolate flourless cake, nestled on a bed of delectable berries, and if that wasn't grand enough, a bit of whipped cream on the side.  There, now I've got you crying for it, too!!

Time to get ready ... hope you have a great day!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Do You Speak Muppet?

Who knew that some 20 or more years after we watched the beloved Swedish Chef on the Muppet Show do his bork bork bork while tossing utensils over his shoulder, that his "Swedish" gibberish would be useful on our visit to Stockholm?  Laughing ourselves silly this morning as we headed in to Stockholm while Cousin Kim refreshed us on the Muppet Swedish language!  In the end we thought we would be safe if anyone asked if we spoke "Muppet" because Kim could take over with her stunning mastery .. "bork bork bork jaaaaa"

Howard had never been exposed to the Muppets so I spent some time tonight on the computer searching out Swedish Chef videos for him and we had more giggles!

Today was a trip through the Swedish Archipelago (a collection of 24,000 +/- islands around Sweden) in the early pre-dawn hours, followed by a trip into the Old Town of Stockholm where we watched the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Palace, were entertained by the military marching band, and enjoyed a wonderful luncheon in the main plaza in Old Town!  We did a bit of shopping in the tiny streets and got our requisite postcards and a magnet for Howard and me to add to our collection.

We also had time to visit the Vasa Museum here,  home to the 17th century (@1630) sailing ship which, during the 30 years war, King Gustaf had commissioned this largest, most powerful ship in the world.  However, due to its heavy cannon contingent on the top decks the ship became top heavy and 20 minutes after being launched the ship actually rolled over and sank!  Quickly settling in the silt at the bottom of the harbor.  I sure wouldn't have wanted to answer to the king on this one!!  Now over 300 years go by and through some miracle of nature the ship was preserved with layers of silt, so in essence had become petrified and preserved rather than deteriorating.  Thus we were viewing the oldest 17th century vessel in the world.  And it was truly magnificent.  They even had paint samples for some of the carvings and have been able to recreate the colors on the many brilliant carvings decorating the hull of the ship.

Tomorrow is a walking tour if Tallinn, Estonia ... but tonight is for resting :)  Pleasant dreams!!

Monday, August 9, 2010

At Sea

Our wonderful ship sailed out Sunday afternoon, a bit later than scheduled, but beautiful to see, nonetheless!!  As first time cruisers, Howard and I are fascinated by so much!!  One of the highlights of getting out to sea was actually having to pass through a lock ... waiting for it to raise and lower so that we could enter and leave ... very cool!!  We had a late lunch/early dinner and did some exploring on the ship.  It's very fun to run into my cousins here and there!!  Early evening Cousin Daryl and New Friend Jean and I went to the spa for a free drawing ... and I won!!  My prize is a 75 minute lime and ginger massage -- WOW!  I've scheduled it for Saturday morning, so I should be feeling fantastic for our second day in St. Petersburg!

Today has been a full day at sea -- it's really amazing to feel so small in the middle of the North Sea!  My day began with a visit to the spa to have my face washed ... this facial was a version of microdermabrasion so you know my skin feels like a baby's little butt this evening!

Unfortunately luncheon didn't sit well with my stomach, so we've spent much of the afternoon in the cabin.  We did head out for afternoon tea, however, and made a visit to the ship's library.  Just waiting for the day's schedule to make plans for tomorrow!  YES, we are having fun!!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

This must be Brussels!

We started the day with an English breakfast in London and ended it with Mussels in white wine -- one of Belgium's national dishes -- in Brussels!!  I love travel these days!!  We were able to take the Eurostar through the "chunnel" -- under the English Channel -- and thus we were in Brussels in time for lunch today!!

Arrived at our lovely little hotel -- The Welcome Hotel -- with its 16 lovely rooms each with the theme of a different country.  So for tonight we're staying in "Morocco" in the heart of Brussels.

A quick wash and a cup of coffee and we were ready to head out for some sights and tastes!  Our hostess, Anna, at the hotel was kind enough to draw some directions on the map for us and off we went.  First stop Cathedral of St. Catherine with it's 17th century towers ... then on to the Grand Place, the town center.  Along the way I found shop after shop of chocolates and vowed to return within the hour!!  After a tour around the Square, and a fascinating visit to a lacemaker, a tour of the Chocolate Museum really got me in the mood for some chocolate.

You know why Belgium is famous for it's chocolate?  Because it doesn't compromise on the cocoa butter.  Although international chocolate standards allow percentages of vegetable fats to be used in the making of chocolates, the Belgiques stick to the 100% cocoa butter rule.  That is why these pieces of heaven are sought throughout the world!  I have so much more to tell you about chocolate, but not today!

Following the Museum we stopped off at a stand for a Belgian Waffle -- another treat very specific to Belgium! -- and Howard happily munched on that as I began sampling my way through the chocolate shops!  One store brought me in because they had this magnificent display of tins, and I thought they were going to be full of candy ,... but I quickly realized that I was in a cookie store, not a candy store -- UNTIL ... the lovely young sales clerk asked if I would like a taste and pulled out a tin with these pink cookies -- OMG, they were filled with raspberry!!  No ordinary cookies these!!  So I had to fill a tin with a variety of fillings -- chocolate (of course), orange, fig, more chocolate, almond and I forget all the other flavors!

After popping in and out of another half dozen shops, I finally hit the "mother lode" of chocolate heaven in Leonides Chocolates!!  I now have a kilo of these magnificent pralines (as the bite-sized filled chocolates are called -- and not to be confused with my favorite southern confection!) and I'll probably share, but maybe with a bit of a grudge! lol!!

Tomorrow Amsterdam!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Travel Day

Had a great breakfast in the hotel this morning ... now just to shower and dress and off to the airport!  Howard got up and decided to practice his Irish brogue -- we're going to ENGLAND lol!!  So he switched to his "southern" accent, as if the Boston accent wasn't already difficult on the ear sometimes!! hehehe

I think I'll try slipping him the sleeping pills early :)

We miss our furry-faced babies!!

See you tomorrow on the other side of the ocean!!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

It's the Shoes ...

Today I packed and weighed and unpacked my suitcase three times ... How the airlines expects me to travel for over 3 weeks, with three formal occasions, not to mention the shoes required for that length of time, and keep it under 50 pounds is beyond me.  Size specifications were no problem -- both the bags easily met the measurements.  And Howard's suitcase comes in under 50 pounds (of course, some of his things are in my bigger bag), but no matter what I tried the bag was overweight.  What to remove?  Not that outfit, or those pants, or the three pink tops ... I finally gave up trying.  I'll pay the overweight charges.  But I think the airlines should take into consideration that I am almost 100 pounds lighter this year, so I'm really saving them money on fuel!  Maybe they will do a trade-off with me!!

But probably not :)
we are driving to Baltimore now where we catch our flight to London. Just wanted to see if I could blog! wooohooo

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Travel Excitement

We are just three days away from the start of our summer vacation in Europe!  While it is always a challenge for me to pack for a trip, packing for two WITH travel weight restrictions is truly stretching my brain to make sure that we have what we need and want and still have room to bring home "stuff"!!

First stop Baltimore, MD, where we catch our flight to London ... a few days in London then we take the Eurostar under the English Channel to Brussels for a day (and night) of eating chocolate and buying beautiful lace!!  And that is just the beginning of our adventure.

But before any of that can happen, we've got a house to ready for the sitter, and the furry-faced kids to get all set up ... and a million other things (like getting my fingers and toes ready for travel!) that need to get done.  So, it's early morning yet, but I'm already on the move!  Wishing you all a great day!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Celebrating Cheesecake Day

July 30 is National Cheesecake Day, and the good folks at The Cheesecake Factory released their newest bit of yumm -- The Reese's Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake Cheesecake!!  Just the name had me salivating so I came up with an excuse to travel to Virginia Beach for a sampling of this goodness!!  Oh my!!  Chocolate (really, really wonderful chocolate) cake layered with peanut butter cheesecake and a layer of caramel ... the top has a layer of caramel, a sprinkling of peanuts, a layer of chocolate ganache and finally a bit of peanut butter mousse!!  Oh my!!  Since I can only eat about two bites of it at a time, this slice is destined to carry me through the weekend.

It's worth a trip to your closest Cheesecake Factory!!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cheese Varieties

Who knew that there was a day of the year devoted just to varieties of cheese??  With this new stomach of mine, cheese is one of my best friends -- and it's a good thing I love cheese!

Do you have a favorite?  Are you a died in the wool cheese-aholic or more pedestrian with cheddar, American and cream cheese being your favorites?

Ever tried goat cheese? yummmmm !!!  Saute chicken breasts in butter and olive oil ... add a little chicken broth, some sundried tomatoes and a little package if goat cheese and serve this up to your next company!!

With the exceptionally hot weather this summer I'm practically living on garden tomatoes, kalamata olives, red onion, feta cheese and olive oil salads -- don't forget to sprinkle Mediterranean oregano and kosher salt on top! And there is always the French favorite: slices of rich warm beefsteak tomatoes layered on a platter with slices of fresh buffalo mozzarella and sprinkled with basil leaves fresh from the garden.  Does anything say summer better than that??!!

Love Fontina?  Know the difference in Dutch Fontina and Italian Fontina?

For your next occasion, try using the cheese selector to find something different! n Today, head for your local cheese market and go on an international cheese tour!

P.S.  I found a new salad favorite while lunching with my Aunt today -- fresh peaches, fresh strawberries, baby greens (love the organic Italian baby greens from the grocer's!), toasted walnuts and Gorgonzola cheese with a raspberry vinaigrette  dressing!  I had to stop to get some Gorgonzola at the market on my way home!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Penuche Fudge Day!!

When it's 100 degrees plus, I rarely think about making or even eating FUDGE!  For me, fudge seems to be a cooler weather goodie, but when I saw the food holiday for today my sweet tooth went into overdrive!!  Now I NEED some penuche!!  Never had it you say?  Somewhere in my childhood memories I can hear my grandmother talking about this sweet buttery, butterscotchy, maply goodness and when I had my first taste I was hooked!  I even made penuche frosting for a maple cake one year for competition in the Champlain Valley Exposition and came away with a big blue ribbon!!

So here's a couple of recipes to start you on your penuche discovery tour!


2 cups firmly packed brown sugar (I use dark brown but light brown works)
3/4 cup whole milk
1/8 tsp. salt
2 1/2 Tablespoons. butter
3/4 c. chopped nut meats (optional, but both pecans and walnuts work well)
1 tsp. vanilla
In heavy saucepan, combine sugar, milk, and salt; stir well. Over medium heat, bring to boil.  Continue to boil until mixture reaches 244 degrees on a candy thermometer (firm ball stage), stirring frequently.

Remove from heat and place pan immediately into sink with cold water in bottom, just enough for pan to sit in 2-3 inches. This will stop the cooking. Without stirring, add butter and vanilla. When you can comfortably put finger into mixture, stir mixture until it starts to thicken and add nut meats. Spread in 8 inch buttered pan and let set until firm. (If you line your pan with parchment paper hanging over the edge, then butter the parchment, you can lift the whole pan of fudge out for cutting -- and a pizza wheel works great for that!!)


1/2 cup butter (use butter if you can)
1 cup brown sugar, packed (I like dark brown, but light brown works too)
1/4 cup milk
2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar, more or less

In a saucepan, melt butter. Add the brown sugar. Bring to a boil and then lower heat to medium  and continue to boil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the milk and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Cool to lukewarm. Gradually add sifted confectioners' sugar. Beat until thick enough to spread. If too thick, add a little hot water.Enough frosting for a two layer cake :)

Friday, July 16, 2010

What a Whirlwind!

Jenny and Sophie have been here for about a week and a half now and it's been sooooo much fun and almost non-stop!!  Beginning with our finger and toe decorating, to shopping for clothes, and then a craft store blitz (we love supporting our local shops!) ... then of course we have to have beach time and sewing time (we are making the CUTEST wallhanging!!)

We spent hours wandering around Busch Gardens in Williamsburg and getting on scary rides (I rode one of the roller coasters and it was the first time in 46 YEARS that I got on one of those durn things!)  Now I can go another 46 years without riding one!!  I'll scan the photo later but you can see the progression from the abandon and fearlessness of youth to the stark terror of age lol!!!  But it was great with the kids!

Today we're off to a water park -- another first for me!!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Blueberry Turnovers

July is Culinary Arts Month and also a month saluting the noble blueberry so I'm going to combine the two and bring you some blueberry dishes all month long!  Today is also National Apple Turnover Day (in the middle of blueberry month??) so I give you Blueberry Turnovers. 

You will need a package of frozen puff pastry dough which contains two sheets.  Now, you can use canned blueberry pie filling or you can make your own easy peasy -- actually why not run down to your local "pick-your-own" place and fill a bucket or two.  yuuuummmmm  'Tis the season for fresh blueberries.

To make your own turnover filling you need two cups of fresh blueberries.  Take 1/2 cup and in a small pan mix it with 2 tablespoons of sugar, 1 tablespoon of cornstarch to thicken it, and 2 teaspoons of grated lemon peel.  Mash up the berries really well to get as much juice out of them as you can. Over low heat bring the mixture to a boil for about two minutes until it thickens.  Remove from the heat and stir in 2 tablespoons unsalted butter and the remaining 1 1/2 cups of blueberries.  Cool to room temp.

Unfold your pastry sheets and roll them into 12" x 12" squares and divide into 4 pieces each.  I'm going to cut mine into smaller squares because I'm making these for some little people with smaller hands .  Place 1 - 3 tablespoons berry mixture in the center of each square (depending on the size you are making) and fold in half diagonally to make triangles.  Press the edges closed -- using a fork makes a nice decorated edge.  Place on ungreased baking sheet.

Mix one egg with 2 tablespoons milk and brush the tops of the pastry ... this will give them a nice golden color!  If desired, sprinkle decorating sugar on the top or you can glaze them with confectioner's sugar and milk after they bake.

Pop them in a 450 degree oven for about 15 minutes until puffed and golden.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

It's hot!

Well, as the weatherman promised, it's really really hot today -- it went over 100 here in the shade of our patio, so wonder what it was elsewhere.  I believe I'm more of a cold weather person because I get so de-energized when it is this warm!!  Of course, I could mitigate it somewhat by not sitting outside, but then I love my gardens and the birds, so I have to check on them sometimes.  There should be a cool front tomorrow -- high 80s I think -- so I'm sure I'll get something important accomplished.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Beach Day

There are two pink bodies in this house tonight ... and they both walk on two legs .  We buzzed down to Virginia Beach for a quick sunbathe and dip today -- not too hot, nice breeze -- perfect beach day.  Forgot how early it was in the season for my lily-white self, and also how strong the sun is even this early in the summer.  So we came home with sand and salt and a bit of pink.  But there isn't anything better to me than a day hanging out at the ocean :)

I think I got so pink cuz I didn't go in the water to wash the sun and sand off me ... Howard says I resemble a lobster??!!  Fortunately, it doesn't hurt!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Garden Fresh

Speaking if fresh fruits and vegetables ... that's the June theme! ... we made a trip out to Pungo today to visit the fruit and veggie stands.  Oh yummmm!!!  Came home with a cooler full of blackberries, tomatoes from North Carolina, local white corn, peaches from South Carolina and smiles on our faces!!  I think I'm going to make some blackberry muffins in the morning!

Home from Florida

Spent a week going down to Florida for my dear aunt's 82nd birthday -- woohooo you go girl!!  We just love being with her and my cousins -- lifelong friends are the best!!  We decided Midge needed a bikini for her first Florida visit since my cousin has a pool.  After a brief swim she decided the ruffled bottom was just too much!!  We had a great time!

Next week we are off for DC and Massachusetts for two baby birthdays -- can't wait to play with the littlies!!

Plans are moving along for our cruise in August and visits with friends in the UK and along the way in Scandinavia.  This might just be the very best birthday present EVER!!  It's wonderful to turn 60!!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Daring Cook Challenge - Brunswick Stew!

April is my first challenge month with the cooks at the Daring Kitchen, and I loved it!!  While the techniques weren't new or extensive, making stew certainly was when it was 80 degrees outside!  But today was my cooking day, and goodie for me it turned out to be chilly, so stew sounded good ... and the more it cooked, the better it smelled and the more I looked forward to our evening meal.

The 2010 April Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Wolf of Wolf’s Den. She chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make Brunswick Stew. Wolf chose recipes for her challenge from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook by Matt Lee and Ted Lee, the longer and more-detailed recipe, and a shorter, quicker version from the Callaway, Virginia Ruritan Club.

Whether this hearty Brunswick Stew originated in Brunswick, Georgia in 1898, or Brunswick County, Virginia,in 1828 has kept cooks arguing and challenging each other for years!!  No matter where it originally comes from, it's a dish full of flavors and designed to feed the multitudes! Stews that combine meat and grain probably originated with ancient agriculturalists, in both the Old and New Worlds. According to the anthropologist Charles Hudson, Southeastern Indians made a stew from hominy and groundhog or squirrel, and also boiled bear and deer meat with fresh corn kernels and squash. Thus we conclude that Brunswick stew belongs to a family of southern stews.

Since I had lots of time to cook today, and I lined up some hearty appetites to finish it off, I chose the longer version to prepare.

1/4 lb / 113.88 grams / 4 oz slab bacon, rough diced
2 Serrano, Thai or other dried red chiles, stems trimmed, sliced, seeded, flattened
1lb / 455.52 grams / 16oz rabbit, quartered, skinned
1 4-5lb / 1822.08- 2277.6 grams / 64-80oz chicken, quartered, skinned, and most of the fat removed (I also cut the breasts into three pieces because they were so big ... I wanted all the meat to cook at the same pace)
1 Tablespoon / 14.235 grams / ½ oz sea salt for seasoning, plus extra to taste
2-3 quarts / 8-12 cups / 64.607-96.9oz  Chicken Broth homemade recipe or packaged is fine
2 Bay leaves
2 large celery stalks
2lbs / 911.04 grams / 32oz Yukon Gold potatoes, or other waxy type potatoes, peeled, rough diced
1 ½ cups / 344.88 grams / 12.114oz carrots (about 5 small carrots), chopped
3 ½ / 804.72 grams / 28.266oz cups onion (about 4 medium onions) chopped
2 cups / 459.84 grams / 16.152oz fresh corn kernels, cut from the cob (about 4 ears)
3 cups / 689.76 grams / 24.228oz butterbeans, preferably fresh (1 ¼ lbs) or defrosted frozen
1 35oz can / 996.45 grams / 4 cups whole, peeled tomatoes, drained
¼ cup / 57.48 grams / 2.019 oz red wine vinegar
Juice of 2 lemons
Tabasco sauce to taste

My notes:
1.  I used fresh 2 Serrano peppers.  When I make this again I will probably use 4 peppers because we loved the smokey flavor of these peppers with just a great bite BUT NOT TOO HOT (I don't like hot stuff).

2.  Though I hunted the grocery stores in the area, rabbit just wasn't to be found, either fresh or frozen.  Didn't think to have my brother call in a favor with one of his hunting friends.  So instead I used some boneless pork country spareribs that I cut in small pieces and then shredded.

3.  My confession is that I added two cloves of garlic to the fat/oil when I was browning the chicken.  Why?  Because for the past 35 years I have been unable to cook chicken without using garlic-flavored oil.  A wonderful old southern lady who was a cook in my friend's house used to put some garlic in the fat when she was frying up chicken for the dinner.  We always knew what was coming when we smelled that fat and garlic and it still makes my mouth water when I smell it.  So, I had to put a couple of cloves of garlic in the fat (don't let it get burned as it will then turn the oil bitter).

Other than my garlic transgression, I followed the recipe exactly ...

1-In the largest stockpot you have, which is hopefully larger than the 5 qt ones I have, preferably a 10-12 qt or even a Dutch Oven if you’re lucky enough to have one, fry the bacon over medium-high heat until it just starts to crisp. Transfer to a large bowl, and set aside. Reserve most of the bacon fat in your pan, and with the pan on the burner, add in the chiles. Toast the chiles until they just start to smell good, or make your nose tingle, about a minute tops. Remove to bowl with the bacon.

2- Season liberally both sides of the rabbit and chicken pieces with sea salt and pepper. Place the rabbit pieces in the pot and sear off all sides possible. You just want to brown them, not cook them completely. Remove to bowl with bacon and chiles, add more bacon fat if needed, or olive oil, or other oil of your choice, then add in chicken pieces, again, browning all sides nicely. Remember not to crowd your pieces, especially if you have a narrow bottomed pot. Put the chicken in the bowl with the bacon, chiles and rabbit. Set it aside.

My little puppy Midge kept me company in the kitchen while I cooked.  Here she is taking time out from her supervisor duties :)

3- Add 2 cups of your chicken broth or stock, if you prefer, to the pan and basically deglaze the4 pan, making sure to get all the goodness cooked onto the bottom. The stock will become a nice rich dark color and start smelling good. Bring it up to a boil and let it boil away until reduced by at least half. Add your remaining stock, the bay leaves, celery, potatoes, chicken, rabbit, bacon, chiles and any liquid that may have gathered at the bottom of the bowl they were resting in. Bring the pot back up to a low boil/high simmer, over medium/high heat. Reduce heat to low and cover, remember to stir every 15 minutes, give or take, to thoroughly meld the flavors. Simmer, on low, for approximately 1 ½ hours. Supposedly, the stock may become a yellow tinge with pieces of chicken or rabbit floating up, the celery will be very limp, as will the chiles. Taste the stock, according to the recipe, it “should taste like the best chicken soup you’ve ever had”.

4- With a pair of tongs, remove the chicken and rabbit pieces to a colander over the bowl you used earlier. Be careful, as by this time, the meats will be very tender and may start falling apart. Remove the bay leaf, celery, chiles, bacon and discard.5 After you’ve allowed the meat to cool enough to handle, carefully remove all the meat from the bones, shredding it as you go. Return the meat to the pot, throwing away the bones. Add in your carrots, and stir gently, allowing it to come back to a slow simmer. Simmer gently, uncovered, for at least 25 minutes, or until the carrots have started to soften.

5- Add in your onion, butterbeans, corn and tomatoes. As you add the tomatoes, crush them up, be careful not to pull a me, and squirt juice straight up into the air, requiring cleaning of the entire stove. Simmer for another 30 minutes, stirring every so often until the stew has reduced slightly, and onions, corn and butterbeans are tender. Remove from heat and add in vinegar, lemon juice, stir to blend in well. Season to taste with sea salt, pepper, and Tabasco sauce if desired.

I did get "thumbs up" from my brother Jimmy and his lovely lady, Karen!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Chocolate Mousse

Just the thought of chocolate anything makes me smile, but the ultimate dessert to me is chocolate mousse!  Back in the 1960s when I first started learning to cook (I'm still learning, by the way), chocolate mousse was something I made often and served to many.  Then I moved on to other things, but always loved this dessert best!

In the "old" days, this mousse was made with stiff egg whites, but since we now know not to eat uncooked eggs, I used Knox Gelatin as the stiffener for the chocolate and cream mixture.

In the top of a double boiler, place 3 oz. espresso roast coffee or other strong brew, 1 T of rum, grand marnier, or Kahlua, 4 T unsalted butter, a pinch of salt, and 1 1/2 c semi-sweet chocolate chips.  I really love dark chocolate so I used 1 c of semi-sweet pieces and 1/2 c of bittersweet chocolate pieces.  Doesn't take long to melt all these.  Set aside to cool to room temperature.

When the chocolate mixture is cool, put 1 t of Knox unflavored gelatin into 1/4 c heavy whipping cream and let it "bloom" which means it forms a bit of solid.  Takes about 10 minutes.  Then over a low burner or low flame, heat the cream/gelatin mixture just until the gelatin is melted.  Then stir it into the chocolate mixture.

Whip 1 1/2c heavy whipping cream until medium stiff peaks form.  Take a quarter of the whipped cream and stir it into the chocolate mixture.  Now, fold in half of what is left until it's incorporated, then fold in the rest.  What is folding?  Softer than stirring, use an over/under turn with your spatula.  Start going from one side of the bowl or pan to the other, then go halfway to from the side to the center.  At the end you still might have a few white streaks, but don't worry about them -- they'll disappear during the setting.

Put your mousse in serving dishes.  Makes good servings for 8 people.  Or you can put it all in one lovely serving dish.  Chill for at least a few hours.  Topped with real whipped cream -- I don't wanna hear no whooshing from the can!!

Roast Leg of Lamb

Another favorite of mine is lamb -- I've never met a piece of lamb that I didn't like!  When I lived in Greece, my friends learned early on that a dinner out for me meant lamb, lamb, lamb!  Heavy on the garlic and fragrant Greek oregano, the smells make me think of sunshine and warmth and friends.

It's not tricky to cook this to perfection ... you need a leg of lamb (you can get a great semi-boneless one at this time of year relatively inexpensively).  Rinse it off and bring it to room temperature.  For this 6 lb. roast I used 6 cloves of peeled, sliced garlic.  Make small slits under the fat of the piece and slip in the garlic cloves.  Drizzle some olive oil over the whole leg.  Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper and oregano (do try to use Greek oregano if you have it -- the taste is so different!).  Put it in a 425 degree oven for 15 minutes and then lower the temperature to 325 degrees and cook for about 12 minutes per pound.  Be sure to check with a meat thermometer that your meat is over 140 degrees.  But be careful that you don't overcook this beautiful piece of meat -- lamb should be served medium rare at most -- well done lamb is a NO NO!  I prefer it on the rarer side, so I often cut off a few slabs and pop them back in the oven to the medium side for hubby.

Asparagus and Gruyere Tart

Nothing hollers SPRING to me like fresh asparagus!!  And the grocery store agrees with me because it's such a great price right now!!  To make the tart you need a package of frozen puff pastry sheets (thaw one and rewrap the other one for another time), about 1 3/4 cups of grated gruyere cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Begin with your thawed pastry sheet.  Open it out on a lightly greased cookie sheet (or your wonderfully seasoned Pampered Chef stoneware .  I made a little lip around it cuz the cheese might melt over the edge.  Prick it all over so it doesn't puff this round and pop it in the oven for about 10 minutes.  I'm prebaking the pastry so it won't take so long at the end.

Next I blanched the asparagus -- again to give it a head start on cooking.  This way the asparagus and the pastry will both be cooked at the same time.  Arrange about 1 1/2 cups of the cheese across the pastry.  Layout the asparagus across the pastry -- I actually used a whole pound on this one!  Sprinkle the remaining cheese across the top and drizzle with some really good olive oil.

Bake your tart for about 30 more minutes until puffed and browned and the cheese is bubble and browning.

Serve to your guests!!

Happy Easter!

It's the end of a lovely Easter Sunday.  I hope all of you had a pleasant day!  Ours was especially wonderful as my brother, Jimmy, and his lovely lady, Karen, joined us for dinner,

Haven't cooked a holiday meal in a while, so it was great fun for me.  And of course, I have the most wonderful husband in the world who pitched in to do whatever needed to be done.

The weather was wonderful -- warm and sunny, and even Midge took advantage of the sunshine for a little sunbath. 

Some of my recipes follow if you'd like to try them. Asparagus and gruyere tart, roasted leg of lamb and chocolate mousse for dessert.  My tummy was happy!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A Mediterranean Inspired Chicken Dish

The packages of chicken breasts that we buy usually contain two breasts, which is too many for a single meal for the two of us.  So the first one was used for the Chicken Paprikash I posted the other day,  Last night I used the second one, making a stuffed chicken breast, cherry tomatoes roasted with a little salt and olive oil, and pan roasted potatoes.

I started by cutting the chicken breast crossways, but not all the way through, so I could open it up and then flattened it between waxed paper sheets to about 1/4" maybe even a bit less.  Try to flatten it evenly as it makes rolling up easier.

First I spread a layer of goat cheese over the breast. I fried a couple of slices of Pancetta (Italian bacon) until crispy and crumbled that on top,  Added a couple of sundried tomatoes chopped and wonderful Kalamata olives.

Rolled up the chicken breast and let it sit in the refrigerator for about a half hour to get it to sort of hold it's shape.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  In one bowl, put a little flour; in a second bowl beat one egg and in a third bowl put a layer of Panko for the coatings.

Haven't used PANKO before?  Run, don't walk, to your local specialty store and try them.  You will never go back to breadcrumbs again!! (except homemade, of course!)  Anyway, Panko is Japanese bread crumbs and very light and airy and crisps up soooo great!!  Love this product!

Back to our chicken breast.  First roll the breast in the flour, then in the egg (flour first gives the egg something to hold onto!), and finally in the Panko,.  Place in  a small baking dish and cook aout 1/2 hour until chicken measures around 160 degrees.

I made a  buerre blanc sauce and added the last bit of goat cheese to it as a topping.  It was really good!  All we needed was to be sitting on the Mediterranean seaside.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Plan for Easter Dinner!

We are so excited that my brother and his lady, Karen, are coming to dinner for Easter!  I finalized the menu this morning:

Asparagus and gruyere tart to begin
Roast leg of lamb with garlic and fresh rosemary.  Mint jelly or aoli sauce to accompany.
Mashed yukon gold potatoes (did you ever boil them in cream?  DO IT!!)
Some green vegetable that looks good to me when I shop
Chocolate mousse and chocolate-dipped strawberries for dessert

Yummm ... now I'm hungry.

Some years ago when my brother and I lived together in Virginia Beach, I had cooked a leg of lamb for dinner and it was sitting on the counter while I went off to the store.  When I returned, I thought the animals had attacked the roast!!  Turns out that Jimmy and his friend Eric had come in and thought they needed a snack.  Well, it was one slice followed by another and then it looked like they just gnawed the bone lol!!!  Every time I cook a leg of lamb I can see that pan again!!

What's on your menu?

Planning for Flowers

We live on a very wooded lot here in Hampton, which means there is a LOT of shade!  Last year I put in a couple of shady "woodland" gardens, but I really miss seeing bright spots of color.  This year I've marked a few areas that really are full sun and some partial sun spots, and even dedicated part of my raised beds to flowers!

Today I'm going through catalogs and online places to decide on some cutting flowers that will work in my small spaces.  I've already planted some Gebera Daisies (love those!!) and a couple of rose bushes are ready to be planted today.  Now to decide on some others. My list of possibles includes Ageratum, Snapdragons, Zinnias, Salvia, Ammi Mojus (the "tamed" version of wildflower Queen Anne's Lace), Dahlias, Cosmos, and maybe even a Peony (though it may be too hot down here for those).

Love flowers?  What do you have growing in your garden?

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cupcakes

April 2 is National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day!!  wooohoooo!!  What red-blooded American  doesn't instantly smile at peanut butter and jelly?  (I confess, it's still one of my favorite "run to" sandwiches when I'm hungry and in a hurry!)  Here's an updated, "sophisticated" treat using these staple foods!

Make cupcakes using white, yellow or chocolate cupcakes.  When they are cool, cut out the middle of the cakes sort of like an inverted cone.  Fill the insert with your favorite jam or jelly, then replace the cone.

For the wonderful topping, here comes the peanut butter frosting:

1 c confectioner's sugar
1 c creamy peanut butter
6 T unsalted butter at room temperature
pinch of salt
1 t pure vanilla extract

On medium speed in an electric mixer, beat these ingredients until smooth and creamy. Be sure to incorporate everything from the sides of the bowl.  Gradually add about 1/3 c heavy cream until the frosting is your desired consistency for spreading or piping onto your cupcakes.

What a great dessert or after-school treat!!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Looks like spring to me!

Several colorful robins have been hanging out in the backyard this week ... good pickins I do believe!  Just another sign of spring -- woohooooo!!  We are supposed to hit 80 by the weekend.  These old bones are ready for a little warmth!

Today is gardening day ... well, gardening hours I think!  Spring clean-up has started, inside and out :)

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Chicken Paprikash

Thirty Minute Meals has nothing on me and my chicken!!  So easy and so good -- and quick!

I used a boneless, skinless chicken breast, but you can use bone-in chicken in any variety (just takes longer to cook).  Chopped the chicken into bite-sized pieces for quick cooking.

Here's out it goes:
Melt a tablespoon or two of butter in a skillet.  Saute a chopped shallot until soft and translucent.  Add the chicken and brown just a little (these small pieces are going to cook quickly so you don't want to overcook them!).  Add about a cup of chicken broth (I keep those ready-made cartons available in case I don't have time to make it from scratch), a splash of white wine and simmer for 10 minutes.  Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of good Hungarian Paprika -- I love to use half sweet/half hot with that nice smokey taste!  Simmer another five minutes until the sauce thickens a little bit.  Remove the chicken from the pot and whisk in a heaping teaspoon of flour (you can take the flour and whisk it with a bit of the liquid before putting it back into the pot to make sure it's smooth).  Cook until the sauce is thick and just barely bubbling.  Stir in 1/3-1/2 cup of sour cream, return the chicken to the pot, cook your noodles, and serve!!

An Up and Down Week

We are just about recovered from our trip north to Massachusetts last week -- what a trip!!  Once again the I-95 route was bumper to bumper and most unpleasant travel.  We left on Sunday and planned to be back home on Wednesday.  Nope.  Didn't happen!  On Monday we started working on the apartment we were cleaning out.  About all we managed to do was hug the grandbabies, empty the car of boxes and totes and do a little bit of sorting.  Then we were exhausted so headed back to the hotel.

Tuesday morning we headed to Wells River, Vermont, to pick up our puppy!! Meet "Midge" ... all two pounds of badness!!  Definitely stole our hearts from the minute we saw her!  While visiting with Mary, I got to see a demo of Intelliquilter which was installed on her longarm.  Oh my!!!  If I'm really good and make a lot of money quilting, this is my next toy!!  Awesome!  We then drove to Barre, Vermont, and had lunch with our good friend Cathy and her lovely Mom.  Then back to Massachusetts to the hotel.

Wednesday we spent the entire day packing and sorting and tossing and at the end of the long day, we were finished!!  Woohoooo!!  Car packed and back for some well deserved rest.  Midge was totally great during all this!!

Thursday morning we left early to drive to Boston to see our attorney and to look at the house that we want to sell.  One of the apartments was vacated last fall and we also needed to see what repairs needed to be made before we could get it ready to sell or rent.  None of this was fun, that's for sure!  We headed south late in the day, and were grateful that crossing the GW Bridge in New York was, for a change, a  piece of cake!  After another day of terrible traffic, we made it home late Friday evening,  WHEW!!

The good part was arriving home!  The better part was that Midge is a FANTASTIC passenger.  And the BEST part was that I had a weekend sewathon waiting for me!  I needed the laughs that only quilters can provide!  Midge made her debut and was cuddled and petted to her little heart's content!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Is it Spring?

If the daffodils are blooming, then it must be Spring!  I love their bright sunny faces!  Now I'm itching to plant a flat of pansies and get the spinach seeds in the garden!  Love gardening season!

Still working on what to grow in the garden this year.  Definitely want cutting flowers as I love having vases full in the house.  And an herb garden as I have found that I am gravitating more and more to fresh herbs.  What are you growing in your garden this year?

Fun with Glass

Yesterday I went off with friends to a local stained glass shop for a jewelry making class,  Well, not really the jewelry, but the jewels!  It was so interesting!  We worked with dichroic glass (couldn't even say it until about 5 hours of practice!!) putting bits and pieces together into some envisioned work of art then waiting for four hours while it baked into these beauties.  They are so much prettier than when I put them together!

Wikpedia explained how this glass is made in a way that I understood (vaguely) -- Multiple ultra-thin layers of different metals (gold, silver), metal oxides (titanium, chromium, aluminium, zirconium, magnesium) and silica are vaporised by an electron beam in a vacuum chamber. The vapour then condenses on the surface of the glass in the form of a crystal structure. This is sometimes followed by a protective layer of quartz crystal The finished glass can have as many as 30 to 50 layers of these materials yet the thickness of the total coating is approximately 30 to 35 millionths of an inch (about 760 to 890 nm). The coating that is created is very similar to a gemstone and, by careful control of thickness, different colours are obtained. 

However it is made, it was interesting to work with.  Start with a base piece of glass.  Add some bits and pieces of colors and shapes that you like, sprinkle on some fairy dust, and top with another piece of clear glass.  Bake at intense heat (kiln required) and watch it morph into something really beautiful!  I'm going to add bails to these -- or maybe pin backs -- and turn them into gifts!  I'd love to try making some teeny ones for earrings sometime!

The Power of a Book ... or The Vagaries if the Mind

I started reading a book the other night and was surprised by the "icky" feelings that began whirling around in my head.  Put the book down and thought I'd go back to it the next day.  But when I started reading it again, even though I was enjoying the story, I had those same negative feelings rising up.  Eventually I put the book down and decided not to finish it.

In itself, it was a good story ... a woman commits suicide, but her friends are convinced that it wasn't any voluntary suicide -- something had to have happened in a very short space of time to drive the victim to her own demise.  What bothered me really about this story was that the focus was on overweight women -- the victim, the friends, even the perpetrator!  This group of women had come together to find support for one another as plus-sized women who seemed to be encouraging each other in their plus-sized lifestyle. For example, meeting up in the grocery store, one friend had a "bad" date the night before, and the friend added a cheesecake to the already high fat/carb basket, essentially saying "more food will cure this".

As a current overweight woman, working hard and taking drastic measures (my recent surgery) to get out of the plus range, this idea of encouraging friends to fatness just really sat wrong with me.  But then the lil negative imp that sits on my shoulder started asking me why I was so intent to stop being fat and eating better and having a healthier lifestyle.  I spent a few days dwelling on these thoughts, thinking about how my own prejudice  might affect others.  Or even why I couldn't accept myself as a fat woman.  This thought really sent me into a tailspin as I reflected on my lifetime hearing my father's voice warning me that I'd get fat, or hearing aunts worrying about their children and focused on their weight.  All in all it was a depressing week of fretting about my weight.

But today I'm sitting in the sunshine on a lovely spring day and I know that whatever has driven me to work towards returning to my former thinner self, it is right thing to do.  I feel better, physically and mentally.  I know that I have a long way to go, but I'm also confident that I will get there.  If my reasons include not wanting to be fat, that's ok, too!  I want to feel good about myself, not join a support group for people who want to stay fat ... they can make that choice, too.  I don't think about or care about other's weight -- I only know what makes me feel better about me ... and losing weight is making me feel GREAT.  It's a personal journey, not a judgment or reflection on others.

But I don't think I'll ever read that book again!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

American Idol Fan?

I was happy to see that tonight these top 12 stepped up their game and presented some decent performances!  Compared to last season I've been downright disappointed, but then there is only one Adam Lambert, isn't there?

My faves this season are Big Mike, Crystal Bowersox (although she didn't really wow me tonight), Siobhan with the GREAT voice, and Lee always makes me smile.  Can't wait for the votes to come in tomorrow, but I sure enjoyed the show tonight.

Getting lots if applique done, too!!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Two Months Post Surgery

Yesterday was my two month anniversary of my internal rearrangement and babeeeee! I'm feeling good!  I'll post a picture soon as I get the laptop ready to work with my camera (see my previous post about incompetent individuals), but I gotta tell ya -- my ankles are looking pretty slim these days!! lol!!

The scale tells me that I'm 39.5 pounds lighter than when I started this ... and medical signs are good!  Had one food "incident" that made me get checked out at the hospital, but it turned out to be nothing but a bad choice on my part.  WHEW!!

In celebration, here's my snack this week -- but be careful!  If your family finds out how wonderful this is, you'll never be able to hide it!

Nuts to Live For!

2-3 cups mixed unsalted nuts -- I use 2 cups mixed and add a full cup of almonds cuz they are so good for me!
Toast the nuts for about 10-12 minutes at 350 degrees until lightly browned and smelling real nutty.

In the meantime, mix together 2 T fresh chopped rosemary, 1/2 t cayenne pepper (more or less to taste), 1 T brown sugar, 1 T coarse salt.

When the nuts come out of the oven, toss them with a couple of tablespoons melted unsalted butter.  Then, while tossing, add the spice mixture and toss to cover the nuts.

Hide bowl from hubby and kids.


If you didn't know, I spent 30 years as a technogeekette in my other world.  Ten days ago we took one of our computers to the doc cuz it was running really slow.  Despite paying for "priority service" it was 5 days before I got the computer back, only to discover that they had completely wiped out all my data and all my programs.  There was NOTHING left on my computer!!  They tried to give me some malarky about how these things could happen -- didn't buy their game.  They agreed to restore from their server.

Got a call last night -- another week has passed -- that they couldn't restore because the inexperienced tech that handled my system failed to store my date.  HE JUST DELETED IT!!  Am I livid??!!  You betcha!!  Now I've contacted our lawyer AND a data recovery company in Arizona.

I'm totally bent out of shape -- so much so that I couldn't even go in there today and get my system.  Have to calm down, first!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Joy in the Morning

Following my usual routine this morning, I logged on to Facebook and staring me in the face was the cutest puppy EVER ... and she's mine!  Can't wait to pick her up in about 10 days!  Still haven't named her, but right now she is joy to me!!

Monday, March 8, 2010

My Challenge This Week

Realizing that I'm not having a lot of success with food these days, I picked up my "how to" books for some tips on managing meals.  While keeping track of what I eat isn't a problem, I'm so easily bored with cooking the same things -- and I really hate leftovers!  So, my challenge for the week is to do some menu planning for the week,   trying to plan meals that are small enough to feed the two of us, but offer some variety and use some of the same ingredients so I don't end up with a ton of veggies and meat hanging around waiting for my next inspiration!

Trying to get in 90 grams of protein, while sticking to three meals and two snacks is really hard!!  Not to mention that I have this enormous sweet tooth that needs a fix!!  There are some great ice creams over on the world according to eggface, my favorite small-stomach resource, but I haven't invested in an ice cream maker yet.  In the meantime, I do really well with sugar free Popsicles and sugar free puddings.  But back to my meals.

Yesterday one of my quilter friends was talking about a new soup recipe that sounded fantastic.  Now, I'm not really a soup eater, but I thought I could turn the soup into a meal, so that's what's for dinner tonight.

Here's my Mexican Soup ... Hold the Soup Recipe
Can of Black Beans
Can of corn (I am using some frozen that I put up ... you need about a cup)
Can of Rotele spicy tomatoes
1 cup cooked shredded chicken
red onion chopped
garlic chopped
salt and pepper and cilantro if desired
sour cream to top it
shredded Mexican style cheese for topping

Saute the onion and garlic until soft.  Add spices.  Add the chicken and heat through, Stir in beans, corn and tomatoes and heat through.  Serve with or without flour tortilla.  Top with shredded cheese and sour cream.

Well, that's one meal planned ... leftovers for lunch tomorrow!  Now off to plan the rest of the week!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

At the end of the day ... Cheese Souffle!

Today was the first day of the Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival here in Hampton, Virginia, and I was there with friends as the doors opened this morning. Nothing gets the creative juices flowing than aisles and aisles of fabulous vendors and row after row of beautiful quilts!! And when my little feet just couldn't take another step -- after more than five hours -- I came home and fixed this light and lovely cheese souffle. And there's no better way to get my kitchen creativity going than to have my souffle actually puff the way it should!!

I haven't made a cheese souffle in probably 20 years. They first came into my recipe repertoire back in the early 1970s when I fell in love with Julia Child, but they haven't been "in fashion" for many years. Maybe I'll just start my own souffle trend again!

Here's a recipe that's not difficult and is really awesome!

Begin by making a thick white sauce: Melt 3 Tablespoons butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Stir in 4 Tablespoons flour until smooth. Slowly pour in 1 cup of milk, stirring all the time. Add a bit of salt and pepper and continue stirring as sauce thickens.

To your white sauce, add about a 1/4 pound of grated cheddar cheese. I generally use a bit more than a 1/4 pound because I like it cheesy, and because I love Gruyere, I add that when I have it. Continue stirring as cheese melts.

Separate four large eggs. In one bowl with the yolks, beat them with a fork or whisk. Add a bit of the cheese/white sauce, whisking the whole time. Now pour the eggs into the sauce and keep stirring. The reason you do this is to give the egg yolks a "heads up" that something hot is coming .. it raises the temperature of the eggs so that they won't curdle when you put them into hot sauce.

Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold them into the cheese mixture. Pour into greased 2 qt souffle bowl (round casserole works fine). Bake at 300 degrees F for an hour and 15 minutes. Serve immediately to raves from your family and friends :)


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Six Weeks and ...

Six weeks have passed since my internal rearranging and I've lost 36 pounds!! woohoooo!! I flipped through my closet and saw a strange pair of pants that I pulled out. Lo and behold, wonder when I bought these little lovelies! Looked at the size tag and said to Howard, "Ohhh no way for these" ... but ever the optimist I tried to slip them on. WHOA! When I was fastening the last button I realized I actually had them on!! I LOVE THIS!!!

Puppy Names

While I was in my favorite Asian market the other day, I asked the owner how to say "Black Jade" in Chinese ... why? because I thought that might be a cute name for my new little black pug. My Western tongue just couldn't get around it well enough so it kept coming out "Hey You" which isn't really a CUTE name for the ...little girl.

I've also thought about flower names like "Pansy" and "Violet" but they aren't grabbing me. My very first idea was "Dolly" cuz she's such a teeny little thing. I like "Panda" but she doesn't have any white on her so it wouldn't really make sense.

Pugs are an ancient breed from China, hence I'm seeking an oriental-type name for her. Howard suggested General Tsao, but I pointed out it was a girl ... and Moo Shiu is too porky ... Maybe "Ming"?

Help me out here!! I'm looking for suggestions!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

It's not all about the food ...

Tomorrow is my chosen weigh-in day and also the six-week mark since my stomach was reduced (yeah, another photo opportunity lol!!!). I've gone from liquids to mushy "heaven" and the past couple of weeks have been enjoying "real" food. I've won most of the challenges, and found a few things that my stomach rejected straight away, but overall it's interesting to say the least.

I've also really learned that it isn't just about the food. I'm working hard to keep my head around the idea that it's about getting healthier! and that includes body, mind and spirit. How fun it was on Friday to go visit health clubs in the area and hear my husband say we could join together ... something to do as a couple, but something so good for both of us! (Besides our dancing lessons which aren't doing so well hehehe.) It's about feeling so fortunate that I was able to have this surgery, and the immediate benefits to my health ... and the nights that I can sleep all the way through without those "gentle nocturnal sounds" that my husband had to get used to. Now he keeps checking on me cuz he doesn't hear my breathing lol!! All in all I'd say my spirit is really good!

But back to food. It's sometimes hard to come to terms that the lovely piece of chicken in front of me needs to be eaten in tiny bites, slowly, and only a small portion of it is going to be consumed. No more of that "clean your plate" syndrome! It's also about not feeling deprived (which I don't and haven't!) because I'm doing so well and have so much positive reinforcement around me, from friends and family, to the wardrobe that has been packed up for these past few years.

There's a wonderful blog on the web, The World According to Egg Face that has been a true gift to me while I'm learning to live a different life. Shelly has tips and hints, she tells her story with great humor, and her recipes are incredible! This month she's also giving away some great gifts -- just because she wants to! I love this blog! She's even got recipes that take care of my sweet tooth, which I thought would be the biggest hurdle in my eating journey. I guarantee that whether you're eating more or eating less, you'll find somethings that you will put in your recipe files!

Last night we went out to eat for the first time since my surgery. I was so excited to see how I would do! Had my favorite steak -- well, 3 ounces of it -- and a bit of sweet potato, and a couple of grilled veggies ... and a "take home" container ... Even managed to have a bite of their warm brownie!! It was so fun to be out with my husband like a "normal" person lol!!

What's on your menu today? I'm thinking Italian ...

Pound Cake -- Not Just for Southern Belles!

Last night my friend Kay in Nebraska had a failed pound cake :( How sad is that after all those delicious aromas from the oven!! She asked for some good recipes, and I flew to my recipe box to pull out my "perfect" pound cake. I've been using this recipe since 1973!! and it hasn't failed me yet. Hope y'all have good luck, too!

9 large egg whites at room temperature
3 cups sifted all purpose flour (sift before measuring)
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
2 cups sugar
9 egg yolks
2 cups butter at room temperature (be kind to your taste buds and use real butter)
2 t vanilla extract (you can also add lemon or almond extract with the vanilla)
Confectioner's sugar for dusting the top

Grease and flour a 10" tube pan or bundt pan and heat oven to 350 degrees F.

1. Sift flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.

2. On high speed, beat egg whites until foamy. Gradually add 1 cup of sugar, 1/4 cup at a time, until soft peak form. Turn into separate bowl.

3. Using the same bowl, at high speed, beat egg yolks with remaining sugar, butter, and extracts, and continue beating for about 5 minutes. Your batter should be thick and yellowy.

4. On low speed, gradually beat in egg white mixture just until blended. You can also fold in the egg white mixture by hand. Using either method, be sure to scrape the batter from the sides of the bowl so that all of it is incorporated.

5. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for about an hour, until toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

6. Cool slightly then turn onto wire rack to finish cooling. Dust with confectioner's sugar. Slice thinly with sharp knife.

yummmmmm :)
testing ... oh wow, this is cool! I connected my cell phone with my blog so I can post from anywhere! woohooo!!!! lol!! It's the simple things for me!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Valentine sweets for my quilter friends!

How cute are these??!! Not your everyday lollipops -- these are "cake pops". Chocolate cake balls covered in chocolate. I made a batch of them for our quilty sewathon this weekend. Don't know who had more fun with them -- me making them, my friends eating them, or Karen who won the nostalgic Singer tin that I used for the container.

I found these a while back on Bakerella's website and knew that they were in my future! Now that I've made them, I am sure they will be making many more appearances. I used red velvet cake and cream cheese frosting for the inside. The trick for me was making sure the cake was chilled enough that the chocolate coating set fast enough to keep the little balls from rolling down the stick. I think they should be a little bit smaller, too, to help with the balance. But I sure did love making them!

Check her beautiful website for a little tutorial and some more fantastic ideas!!


Tilapia can have flavor!

This mild flavored fish lent itself beautifully to my experimenting last night! I took four lovely fillets and laid them in a lightly oiled baking pan (I only use first press extra virgin olive oil!), basted them with a stroke of Dijon mustard and sprinkled a bit more olive oil on top. Finished off with a clove of pressed garlic and baked for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Never one to leave well enough alone, I decided to put a topping on it. I took some lovely asiago cheese, a tablespoon of butter, 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise, a few tablespoons of fresh bread crumbs. Mix all that with some oregano, basil, salt and pepper and finally a splash of fresh lemon juice. Spread that all over the fish then broiled it until brown and a little crunch.

Believe me, it was number one on the Valentine's Day menu!!


Friday, February 12, 2010

Oh baby ... it's cold outside!

My husband is tired of listening to me, so I'm turning to you ... I'm really tired of being cold! And I can't believe I'm cold to begin with! This is the winter chick! Fearless in the face of sub-freezing weather, never one to don a coat! Now I have to go buy heavy socks because I'm afraid my toes are going to have frost-bite before it gets warm again!

This week I said "enough" ... started looking at real estate in warmer places. New Orleans has some good houses, and I've found a few places I love in the Sarasota, Florida area. Other places we'll consider: Savannah, Georgia; Charleston, South Carolina; any place on the gulf side of Florida; Gulfport, Mississippi ... These are places we've visited and enjoyed and could see ourselves living.

If you've got suggestions, please send them this way. But hurry! I'm freezing!!

Food on my mind!

Yesterday was one month since my surgery and I'm feeling good! Down 29 pounds since I started this journey and have dropped into some clothes I haven't seen in a couple of years. Got the "green light" to move from "mushy" foods to "real" foods, with the caution to take small bites and go slowly. I'm working on coming up with dishes that work well for me (i.e., high protein!) and are tasty and healthy and things that Howard likes, too. Fortunately he's easy to please in the dietary arena!

Wednesday I roasted an eggplant and layered it with chicken and ricotta cheese topped with marinara sauce and sprinkled with mozzarella cheese. Yummmm!!

Partially peel one medium eggplant (I usually take off 1/2" strips of the skin). Slice thin. Toss with olive oil and kosher salt and roast for about a half hour.

Layer the eggplant in the bottom of a baking dish. Pound out boneless, skinless chicken breasts to about 1/4" and saute in olive oil that has some garlic in it (this is the best tasting and smelling way to cook chicken EVER!). Layer the chicken over the eggplant.

Mix a cup of ricotta cheese with an egg, fresh parsley, oregano, fresh ground pepper and 1/2 cup fresh parmesan or romano cheese. Spoon this on top of the chicken. Pour marinara sauce over the whole dish. Top with grated, part-skim mozzarella cheese and bake at 350 degrees about 45 minutes until cheese has melted and browned.

While my portion was less than 1/2 cup, I enjoyed every single bite!!

Ricotta cheese is rapidly becoming my new best friend!

Yesterday I bought a filet mignon as my special treat for the weekend. I'm laughing because it will probably be enough for 4 meals these days, but I can't wait!!


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Cheesecake - then and now

As an end to my family/friend dinner yesterday, Nonja asked if I'd make cheesecake and again I was thrilled to agree! The cheesecake I make has been a hit for over 20 years with family and friends and even strangers and it is the most versatile recipe EVER!! Because I'm trying to learn to cook "leaner", I adapted my recipe to reduce some of the carbs and fat and it still came out just great!

Basic recipe

5 pkgs cream cheese - 8 oz each at room temperature (I used three reduced fat and two regular packages)
2 large containers sour cream (I used 16 oz 0% fat Greek Fage yogurt as replacement for half the sour cream)
2 cups sugar (I used 1 cup sugar and Splenda equivalent to 1 cup)
6 eggs
Tablespoon of pure vanilla extract
Tablespoon of lemon juice (or teaspoon of lemon extract)

Graham cracker crust

Crush 2 packets of graham crackers. Add 6 Tablespoons unsalted melted butter and 1/4 cup sugar and blend. Should be able to press into pan and it will hold its shape but not leak butter. This recipe will make a 9" spring-form pan cheesecake and probably a 6" spring-form also. I generally make individual cheesecakes using 3" spring-form pans and it fills 8 of them.

First, make your crust. Press into pan and refrigerate until ready to use.
Second, mix basic recipe ingredients all together. It's ok if there are some bits of cream cheese that don't smoosh up :)

Fill your pans about 3/4 full. Bake at 300 degrees about 1 hour 15 minutes. Cakes should be set but not browned. Don't worry if they puff a little bit as they'll settle back when removed from the oven. If they are too jiggly, keep them in the oven another 15 minutes. Remove from oven and pour topping over cake (topping: large container sour cream, teaspoon vanilla, 1/2 cup sugar). Return to oven for 15 minutes. Cool cakes completely before removing from pans.

Now, here are some variations that I've made to this recipe.

Caramel pecan: Boil brown sugar, butter and cream to hard stage and stir in some pecans. Pour onto waxed paper and cool. Chop into pieces and put in the bottom of the pans before adding cheesecake batter. Pour in half the batter. Twirl in caramel sauce (make your own or use ice cream topping). Top with remainder of batter. Bake as usual.

Chocolate raspberry: Instead of using graham crackers for the crust, use some chocolate cookies. Pour in half the cheesecake batter (omit lemon flavor and use raspberry flavor or chocolate extract). Twirl in raspberry syrup (I love Melba Sauce). Grate really fine chocolate and sprinkle that over the top. Add remaining batter and grate more chocolate over the top.

Pumpkin: Use gingersnaps for the crust. Add a small can of pumpkin to the basic recipe as well as some ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon (omit lemon). This is probably my very favorite variation.

Chocolate chocolate chocolate: Use chocolate cookies crushed up as the crust (mix with butter as usual). Melt 6-8 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate and add to basic recipe. Omit lemon flavor.