Sunday, September 23, 2012

Say Cheese! Inspiration from Wisconsin's dairy country...

"It's gonna be a long, hot summer, we should be together with your feet up on the dashboard now..."  On the one hand it seems like just yesterday when Keith Urban crooned those very words, to me and me alone of course, as I sat in the balmy Wisconsin night, a frosty adult beverage in one hand and, naturally, cheese curds in the other (when in Rome, they say). But when I really think about it, we are officially into autumn and that perfect June night was a solid three months ago.  A long, hot three months ago - the man delivered on his promise. Never one to lament the end of summer, I'm not complaining about the impending change in seasons.  In fact, I'm quite pleased with the already cooler days and downright chilly evenings, but it does have me wondering where my summer went and what, at least culinarily, do I have to show for it?!

I may have neglected my blog this summer, and my kitchen in general for that matter.  May have neglected my grill. May have neglected feeding my boy homemade yumminess on the regular and maybe, just maybe, may have neglected eating as healthily as I would have liked. But I did make homemade cheese.  Call it inspiration from my trip to Wisconsin. Call it dairy addiction. Call it fan-freakin-tastic! Because, I will tell you, if I did one thing right this summer it was this cheese.   If you've been following along on my culinary journey, you already know that I have a bit of a cheese problem.  I mean, I'm the girl who waxed poetic about the virtues of baked ricotta with chocolate chips for a full paragraph.  I'm the girl who has never met a cheese she didn't like.  And just to prove it, I'm also the girl who has spent no less than an hour sampling an abundance of cheese at the Fairway cheese counter (yes, they'll let you taste the cheeses and seem happy to do so, even if you want to taste ALL of them!!!).  So for this love story to progress organically, the next logical step is for me to remove the middle man from me and my cheese.  Which is exactly what I did.

It began innocently enough when I returned from my Wisconsin trip with six pounds of cheese curds in tow (cheese problem).  Granted, a pound or two were to be gifted, but the remaining cheese was for us.  To say that it didn't last long would be a grave understatement.  I can say with relative conviction that our cheese was gone within the week (cheese problem).  Which led Doug and I to perform an Internet search to purchase cheese curds and have them shipped to us (cheese problem).  Exorbitant shipping costs, however, prevented us from completing our purchase but left us fiending for some cheese to Fairway we went. In search of squeaky, delicious cheese curds.  Which they did not have.  What they did have was fresh mozzarella curd and inspiration struck.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Ramp It Up!

Everyone knows the old proverb "April showers bring May flowers" but I have to say, this year, I'm preferring May showers to May flowers.  If you recall from my last post, Doug and I recently dug up our front patch of grass and threw down grass seed.  I hesitate to call what we did "planting" because, quite frankly, neither one of us have a particularly green thumb so it was more like wishful scattering.  We've been watering religiously intermittently so I've been very thankful to Mother Nature for her recent contributions to our new grass movement.  Because...look what started sprouting up the other grass!!!

I shouldn't be so surprised.  The seeds gave me a personal guarantee.  See?

But, you don't know me.  Some days I am fully convinced that the only reason I remember to feed and water the dogs is because they remind me.  Loudly.  Calm down, I'm kidding.  I take very good care of the dogs.  Grass, and other botanical endeavors? Not so much. So yes, despite the guarantee, I was skeptical.  Yet there it is a week later - tiny little blades of fresh baby grass poking through the (partially dry) soil.

Ok, so maybe it's sparse and maybe it'll require another scattering, but it is most definitely there and growing! The epitome of spring and renewal.  I am...elated!

The freshness and downright "springy-ness" of our new grass led my thoughts to the fresh flavors of spring.  What could be springy-er than asparagus, peas and ramps? Three different shades of springtime green dancing against a backdrop of creamy white rice? Yep - I'm making a spring risotto!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Broccoli Rabe(d) For Time?

After a brief hiatus (while getting settled in my new job), I am happy to be back and blogging again! When I last posted, it was Thanksgiving and I was reflecting on the hard and happy times alike during the preceding year. Since my last post, the happy times have far outnumbered the hard times!  In January I took a quick (and bittersweet) vacation to Florida to visit my family for a few days (and say a tearful goodbye to my uncle who had passed away in September).  In February I left a job that was making me miserable, accepted a job that is making me happier than I've been in years and had a lovely impromptu Valentine's Day getaway with Doug.  The arrival of March brought foot surgery for Doug and several weeks of recovery at home; the silver lining being the opportunity for us to spend some fantastic quality time together while he was recovering. All in all, the past few months have been good to me - busy, but good.  All that busy, however, has led to less home-cooked meals and more take-out on the way home; something I have vowed to change time and again.  So while I make a concerted effort to spend more time in the kitchen, I need my life to get on board and quit positioning itself between me and the stove! 

But seriously, have you ever had one of those days when life gets in the way?  Where no matter what your intentions you can't seem to accomplish what you set out to...and for no real reason?  I had several of those days last week, but none more so than Wednesday.  Typically, Wednesdays at work are pretty standard - halfway through the work week, not terribly taxing or stressful and this particular Wednesday was par for the course.  I had a fairly productive day at work - however replete with last minute meetings and ad hoc tasks that led me somewhat off my intended track - still I left feeling moderately accomplished.  Upon arriving home, life's intervention kicked it into high gear when I opened the door and the doorknob fell off in my hand. After temporarily reattaching the doorknob and making a mental note to permanently fix it later, Doug arrived home and was motivated to clean so we began a cleaning spree (which mostly consisted of dusting and organizing the wine collection - no small task - and some light vacuuming).  We got distracted by a cute puppy outside who needed our love and attention as well as our two cute puppies inside who needed our love and attention.  And while outside, we noticed that the small patch of front lawn needed "mowing" (there's so little of it that we use a weed whacker to "mow") so Doug started weed whacking the lawn, I began raking the grassy bits and before you knew it we were pulling dead grass out by the roots, tilling the soil over the entire grass patch and spreading new grass seed; our fingers crossed for a plush new lawn.  By the time we returned inside it was after 8pm and I'd lost all motivation to do the only thing I'd wanted to do since leaving work - cook dinner! See?  Totally life's fault!  Doug's brother was going to be joining us for dinner (his arrival was imminent) and seeing as I'd promised a home-cooked meal, last minute take out wasn't an option.  I needed something fast - and hearty enough for two hungry guys!  So I uncorked a bottle of wine, poured Doug and I each a glass and had dinner on the table in less time than it would have taken to have a pizza delivered - and well before Steve arrived! Life, if you're listening, I'm requesting more nights like this (i.e., wine and quick dinners) please!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Giving Thanks

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone which means we're nearing the end of yet another year.  The older we get, the more swiftly the years pass and I long for the days when a school day seemed a week long.  This past year, like many recent ones, has been wrought with hard times: emotional, financial and medical - the all too sudden death of my grandmother (which I am still learning to cope with daily), the untimely passing of an uncle (my mother's younger brother), unexpected (and costly) car repairs, six plus months of fighting a stubborn illness.  I could go on, but when I really think about it, this year has been replete with happiness, rebirth and celebrations as well - incredible vacations, a  fairy tale wedding (I still can't believe my "baby" brother is married), a new job and one more important thing to be thankful for...a new oven!

If you recall from my second post, when Doug bought the house, we had a hole in the island where the oven should be. A hole that was too small for a conventional oven to fit without many renovations.  A hole that even with renovations would not accommodate a conventional oven due to the inconvenient placement of the gas line.  A hole in which we were told said ill placed gas line could not be moved or capped.  A hole in which we were told it was nearly impossible to run the right kind of electric line to support an oven.  A hole in which it seemed only an Easy Bake oven would ever reside.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Stuffed Cabbage and Rain Storms

I know I've said it before, but what is with the rain this year?! I can't help but think of the nursery rhyme I grew up singing.  Rain rain go away, come again another day? Maybe not. Rain rain go to Spain, never show your face again? That's more like it!  

I spent a good part of the summer looking for the silver lining to all the rain.  All I came up with was that it must have made home gardeners quite happy.  I can't be sure, though, because I have a green black thumb.  It's all I can do to keep my potted basil plant alive but my father fancies himself quite the gardener and I'm inclined to agree.  So maybe all the rain this year was good for dad's garden because he procured quite a bounty: a plethora of peppers, 2 types of eggplant, green, yellow and butternut squashes, never ending tomatoes, broccoli, herbs, cabbage and I think I saw the beginnings of a few small pumpkins! On a trip home in late August, I made sure to plunder the family farmer's market of some precious booty! In all honesty, it wasn't so much a plundering as a Hurricane Irene induced hand-out.  Fear of the impending hurricane had left dad scrambling to harvest as much of his garden as humanly possible and I (along with the rest of his neighborhood) reaped the benefits! 

Thursday, August 25, 2011


You've gotta love technology.  We've come so far, yet sometimes it seems like all this progress does nothing more than hamper interpersonal communications.  I admit it; I'm guilty of falling prey to the instant gratification communication needs of the cellular technology age.  I am an avid texter.  I'd rather shoot off a quick text message than have a lengthy chit chat.  No small talk, no pleasantries - why should I pick up a phone and actually talk to someone when I can get my message across in 160 characters or less? And, with the advent of smartphones with Swype and Slide-It keyboard technology it's become that much easier to send messages.  I can swipe out a text message in seconds flat (she says with pride)! There's only one problem.  My smartphone isn't as smart as it claims. 

For years, I had cell phones with T9 technology to predict and auto-correct my typing errors.  But could it be?  Was there something better?  A phone that would seemingly know what I wanted to say almost before I did? I had to have it! Welcome 2011 and enter my very first smartphone with Swype.  Simply slide your finger across the touch pad keyboard, drawing the pattern of the word you want to spell, and the phone will correctly predict what you are attempting to say.  A lot of the time, it's surprisingly accurate.  But then there are those times, the times that there's been an entire website (which can be lewd) devoted to, when auto-correct seems to take on a mind of its own and your intended sentiment becomes one big fail. Which is exactly how we ended up having nurgers for dinner one night.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Easy Way Out

I'm still feeling pretty crummy.  Saw the doctor yesterday and he said I'm about 60% recovered and wants me on continued rest throughout the week- not exactly the prognosis I was looking for especially when I'm sure things are piling up at work. Reactions from friends and family have run the gamut from "60%! That's great!" from the Little Mary Sunshines to "60%??? That's all???" which is more in line with how I'm feeling about this illness.  I understand it's going to be a long road to being 100% myself again but when even doing nothing is exhausting, it's hard to be excited about slightly better than half.

All these percentages got me thinking about the proportions of me.  How, exactly, does one embody 60% of themselves? And currently what 40% am I missing?  It didn't take much introspection to realize what 40% of my personality has gone missing lately.  Sense of humor, optimism, carefree and fun-loving have been replaced with stress about being sick and the ramifications on other aspects of my life, worries about how to ensure I don't relapse into this illness again, sadness about being stuck in the house and missing events like my future sister-in-law's bachelorette party and sheer exhaustion from, well, all of it.  Oh yeah, and patience.  I'm definitely lacking some of that these days.  I want to be well.  I want to have the energy to walk the dogs. I want to laugh without coughing.  And it's not happening fast enough.

After a half hour conversation with a girlfriend this afternoon I hung up the phone, my voice fading and in need of a nap. I awoke a little refreshed and in the mood to make dinner.  I whipped up an old favorite, Spicy Asian Glazed Chicken and a simple fried rice side dish. This quick and easy side is great to make when you have leftover rice in the fridge, which we just so happened to have this evening.  What I didn't have was a variety of fresh veggies on hand, so I just tossed in the basics but included some yummy alternate options below. My perfect variation of this dish would include all of the veggies listed but feel free to use whatever combination you have on hand!  You can also make it a full meal by adding a cup or two of chopped grilled chicken, cubed steak or cubed tofu!

Disclaimer: In keeping with the theme of the day, between the recycled main course and the day old rice, I have determined this post to be roughly 60% new.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Veggie Tales

I am, without a doubt, a meat eater. A full fledged, card carrying carnivore.  I once approached a guy in a bar and told him to take me to the meat (which I learned, ladies, is not an altogether horrid pick up line depending on your intentions).  I was not, however, trying to pick anyone up and in my defense, I was at a bbq festival and he appeared to be wearing some sort of V.I.P. all access pass. I thought I had just met my new best friend! Turns out he wasn't a V.I.P and had no more access to the meat than did I (or any other paying customer) but you can't blame a gal for trying!

I tried vegetarianism for a full 9 months when I was younger before falling shamelessly off the chuck wagon and crawling wantonly towards a chuck steak.  It became quite clear - I need meat in my life.  That said, I do love me some veggies and there are many times I enjoy eating vegetarian (even vegan).  It just will never be a way of life for me.  Nor will it be for Doug.  He may be an even more devout meat eater than I which is why I relish the nights he's away, like tonight, to make a hearty vegetarian meal for one.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A River Runs Through It

I have finally discovered the poached egg.  Don't ask me how I'd gone 35 years without eating one - I can barely fathom it myself, but up until recently nothing was more disgusting (and terrifying) than eating runny yolk.  Eggs were to be scrambled (dry), deviled (my now second favorite way to eat them), made into an omelet (the more cheese the better) or as an addition to a recipe but never ever ever were they to be wet and runny.  The mere thought gave me chills.

But, how can one profess to be a foodie (foodista?) and food blogger whilst being scared of a little egg? Preposterous! I admit, over the past year or so, I've been tempted.  I mean, the Crab Cake Eggs Benedict my girlfriend ordered for brunch in DC last summer almost swayed me and if we hadn't drank so much fun the night before, I may have caved. It was coming, it was...inevitable; and my world was changed forever on Sunday July 10, 2011 at roughly 11am at Shea's Cafe in Absecon, NJ.  Their Eggs Benedict shamelessly took my poached egg virginity with reckless abandon (or maybe that was just the way I devoured my brunch) and left me wanting more! Since then, I can't get enough of that drippy, velvety, buttery yolk. I want everything I eat to be slathered in nature's gravy. Poached eggs on buttered toast has become my new weekend go-to breakfast - and for those of you who've never poached an egg before; don't believe the hype it is NOT difficult! I've been poaching eggs like a fiend over the past month and putting them on everything from toast to salads to creamed spinach; which has to be, hands down, the most comforting dish there is! Maybe it's because it's so new to me but this dish is more comforting than mashed potatoes, more comforting than macaroni and cheese, more comforting than dessert - ok maybe not, I've got to draw the line somewhere! But you get my point - this is divine!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Something From Nothing

To say that my not-so-new job has been draining me is a bit of an understatement, but it's not just the new job that has had me so run down lately.  The little summer cold I came down with in early May has taken up residence, simply refusing to leave, landing me at the doctor's office more times than I care to admit in the last three months and culminating in a chronic sinus infection and nasty bronchitis that has me unable to walk more than a few feet without becoming short of breath (damn asthma!).  Add to it Zumba classes, nights and weekends spent visiting friends, late evenings with the boy, a mild stomach flu that plagued me for most of June and it's amazing I haven't collapsed by now.  Being this sick for this long, I welcomed the doctor telling me to stay out of work for the week and do nothing.  But how does one so used to doing everything do nothing?  Recumbent in bed, with the laptop, updating her oh-so-neglected blog - that's how!

So, for those of you who've missed me - I'm sorry, I will try not to stay away so long again.  For those of you who may not have known I existed before this post - welcome, you've missed a bit!  Go back, read through some recipes and try your hand at some yummy dishes!  And, for those of you who didn't even notice I was gone - I'll just assume it was because you were too busy cooking your way through my past posts to realize I hadn't posted anything new!  ;)