Monday, September 29, 2008

Fret Free Frittata!

Hmmm ... I seem to be on a breakfast kick these days. I've never met anyone who didn't like breakfast. Oh, there are plenty of folks who don't eat breakfast, but I've yet to meet someone who would turn one down.

I seem to be appreciating the little things like breakfast time more and more. Stuff that I used to take for granted has a much deeper meaning now. Making an extra effort with breakfast has forced me to slow down my usual warp speed pace, and really enjoy the process of preparing and dining on the meal vs. inhaling it all the while thinking about washing the dishes and getting the day started. Of course, sitting down and eating breakfast with my kidlin's has always been a priority, yet more and more I really value spending time with those little beasts of mine. And while they don't always like the food placed on the table, they do at least try a bite and don't complain about what's in front of them. I've found that they like to hang around the kitchen island and just chat while I cook, often sneaking a nibble of cheese or what-have-you that's in prep bowls. We've had some wonderful, spontaneous heart to heart talks in the kitchen, and I make sure that they know that I'm really listening, that their thoughts and opinions are safe with me, and that I care about what they have to say. I look forward to those breakfast chats.

Here's a breakfast that I particularly look forward to. Frittata! Making frittata is a straightforward process. The trick is to have all your supplies and ingredients prepped and ready to go before you start cooking. Frittata di zucchine is Italian for Zucchini Frittata and it's one of my favorites. Serve this with sliced tomatoes, salsa, peperonata, or even your favorite spaghetti sauce. It's divine!

Fret Free Frittata

6 large eggs
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
A quick shake of red pepper
Seasoned Salt
3 T butter
2 T olive oil
1 thinly sliced medium onion
3 baby zucchini - finely sliced
1 heaping Tablespoons chopped parsley
2 garlic cloves minced and mixed with a couple grinds of sea salt
Plate slightly larger that fry pan

Beat eggs in a medium bowl and whisk in season salt,parsley, and parmesan cheese. Melt the butter with oil in heavy 10 inch skillet (I use a heavy non-stick pan). When butter foams, add the onion and saute about a minute. Add the zucchini and garlic and continue to saute briskly until lightly browned. All at once, add the egg mixture. Cook over med heat until sides are set and bottom starts to brown.
Cover the pan and let the egg steam for about 2-3 minutes.
Remove the lid and with a spatula, gently loosen the frittata. Here's the tricky part, but once you get the hang of it, it's easy. Get your large plate, and slide the frittata onto it. Now, with a single quick movement, invert the frittata (so that the uncooked top is now on the bottom) back into the pan to brown the new underside. Cook about 5 minutes. Slide the frittata onto a serving plate and cut into pie wedges. This can be served hot or at room temperature.

Frittatas are so versatile. You can spice them up or serve them plain. Any combo of veggies including spinach, asparagus, tomatoes, or roasted peppers works beautifully. You could even go the cheese route and incorporate ricotta or goat cheese. I suppose you could add meat to this, although I've never done so. I usually serve it on the side. In the top photo, we're having turkey sausage and sliced tomatoes with our frittata. What ever way you choose, it's a fret free way to start your day! YUM! Oh, and this is gluten free, all the way, baby!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Eggstrodinary B-Day Breakfast

This time tomorrow, I'll be celebrating my birthday! (Insert cheering here!) Celebrating might be too big of a word, though, as it's a weekday with weekday stuff on the schedule. Even so, as long as I can sleep in an extra 15 minutes, I'll be a happy birthday girl.

Another thing that will make me be a happy girl on my birthday is a great breakfast. An Eggstrodinary breakfast to be exact! I'd rather enjoy a great breakfast than eat a slice of cake. I can see your raised eyebrows. It's bizzare, I know. I like cake, but I LOVE breakfast. A couple weeks ago, I made the most amazing Crab Cake Eggs Benedict. This is seriously good. This is yummy noise worthy good. This is lick the plate clean good. You will be praising the good Lord for eggs after the first bite.

This past summer, my girls and I enjoyed a girls weekend at the coast with my girlfriends and their children. We had such a terrific time, and the girls particularly liked the special treat of "room service" for breakfast on the last morning we were there. I ordered an amazing crab cake breakfast for myself and just had to recreate it at home. This was my attempt at that, and not only did I nail it, but I think it was better than what we had at the beach.

I've got to warn you, though, that this is a labor intensive breakfast. It's all very easy to make, but it takes a lot of time and planning. It's also loaded with calories, so it really should be reserved for special occasions like birthdays or anniversaries or holidays.

I made the crab cakes the day before. These are a gluten free version coated with gluten free breadcrumbs, but you could use what ever you like. I think panko would add great crunch! For these patties, I really wanted the crab to be the dominant flavor, so you won't see chopped pepper or other veggie chunks in them. Also, the crab meat I had was flaked, so the patty held together expertly. I see no reason why you couldn't use the big chunks of claw meat, though, if you have them. In that case, I'd probably just skip making the patty, and just layer the chunks of crab on the plate. For this version, I used a basic crab cake recipe, bound with eggs, and seasoned delicately with green onion and chives. The outside was coated with the breadcrumbs that were seasoned liberally with seasoned salt, pepper.

Simply mix your ingredients in a bowl, and place it back in the fridge for about a 1/2 hour to firm up a bit. Then remove the bowl, and form the crab mixture into palm sized patties of medium thickness. Using your hands, pat the seasoned breadcrumbs firmly onto the patty. In a heavy skillet, heat some canola oil until hot. Carefully place the patties into the pan without crowding them. Fry until golden brown, and carefully flip over. Fry the second side until also golden. Remove and drain on papertowels. Don't these look crispy delicious? I'm telling you,it was hard to resist not just picking one up and crunch away on it! Do you ever nibble as you cook?

The hollandaise sauce, again, was a basic recipe. I won't post it here as instructions for hollandaise can be explained on the web in much better detail than I can do! I did punch it up a little by adding just a tad of red pepper for some background heat.

I opted to make a soft scrambled egg instead of a poached egg. I like eggs prepared ALL ways ... fried, over easy, scrambled, poached, hardboiled ... it doesn't matter to me. In this case, I thought the colors of the scrambled eggs would look pretty, so that's what I did.

Assembly is a snap. Starting with the bottom layer, place one crabby patty, top with a spoonful of egg, and top with a healthy dollop of hollandaise sauce. Crumble some crisp bacon on top! I sprinkled mine with just a tad of snipped dill. Serve immediately. Take a bite. Make yummy noises.
As a side note, I think different variations of seafood would work beautifully in this application. Shrimp, for certain, would be excellent, as would smoked salmon or smoked trout. A spicy calamari would make for an exotic dish as well. The thing that is so wonderful about this dish is that no flavor overpowers the other. You can taste the eggs, sauce, and seafood independent of each other as well as savor the creamy texture of the sauce and eggs combined with the toasty crunch of the patty. And, since I used gluten free bread crumbs and since there is no english muffin in this version, it's gluten free all the way baby. It's eggstrodinary for sure!

Monday, September 22, 2008

That'll Cure What Ails You ... Oven Cure That Is!

Aaaah, oven cured tomatoes. Close your eyes for a moment and take one deep, lung filling breath, and slowly let it out. Now imagine your senses filled with the wonderful aroma of seasoned tomatoes tossed with olive oil slowing curing in a warm, toasty oven. As the tomatoes cure ever so slowly, the scent of roasting garlic tickles your nose, and yes there's the tiniest whiff of sweet onion, basil, and oregano, too. Your kitchen transforms into that of one found in an Italian villa, and you can just imagine looking out your window and seeing the Mediterranean Sea. Or, as in my case, the backyard that needs weeding. Oh well, nothing like a little reality to bump aside a little daydream!

Actually, the first half was reality! My garden roma tomatoes have come into their bounty, and I was faced with figuring out what to do with mounds of the red beauties. I could make a sauce (yawn), I could slice them up into a nice tom salad (ehh), or I could slice and season them, and cure them in my oven (ding, ding, ding!!!). It would only take about 4 hours or so, and I was going to be home anyway. Oh, the wonderful things I could make with them! Risotto with oven cured tomatoes, chicken with cured tomato cream sauce, cured tomato laced frittata, savory tomato and artichoke tapenade, and loads more recipes, too!

Curing roma tomatoes is the easiest thing ever, and they taste loads better than the store bought sun dried tomatoes. I don't even bother to peel them. I simply wash and dry them, slice in half, scoop out the seeds (I'm not meticulous about it), season with olive oil, garlic salt, onion powder, a tiny bit of basil and oregano, and place cut side UP (do not crowd them) on a foil lined baking sheet, and pop into a 250 degree oven. Bake SLOW for 4 hours (cooking times vary, could take 3 hours or 5 hours). Here they are at the half way mark! Let cool on the baking sheet, and store drizzled with olive oil in a glass container in the fridge.
See how rich and chewy and gorgeous they are? They are irresistible!

Um. Well. Uh. Here's the thing. Here's where things went off plan. I sliced, seasoned, and oven cured them to perfection. Two large trays, in fact. But, um, then I did something that changed the course of all of my plans. I TASTED one. Big mistake.Oh the flavor was supreme ... sweet, savory, and 100% delicious. I proceeded to snag one here, one there. I couldn't help myself. It would seem that I have a THING for these, too! *sigh* Then hubbyman came home and he ate some off the tray, and then one of my kids discovered them, and well, let's just say that I managed to capture the last *6* halves and put them in the fridge. There would be no risotto, polenta, frittata, tapenade, or other culinary goodies. My head is hung in shame. *heavy sigh*

To distract you from my folly, I do have a question on a totally unrelated subject. I rarely watch TV. Not because I'm against it, but more because I don't have time to. The other night, I decided to rest my tootsies and collapse in my recliner for a night of my favorite English comedies and mysteries. It wasn't meant to be ... it's pledge week. So, I switched to other channels, those with commercials, and kind of coasted in and out of watching it. Here's where the weird thing happened, I kept seeing variations of "high fructose corn syrup" commercials. At first, I thought it was a Saturday Night Live episode or something. But nope, these were real commercials. There were two people, one who's commenting on not eating a popsicle or drinking juice because it contains high fructose corn syrup, and then the other person talking about how it's from CORN so it's ok, blah, blah. Yeah, that's right. Their message is that it's okay to ingest high fructose corn syrup ... in moderation.

Has anyone else seen these commericials? Does anyone else find this kind of, well, creepy? Am I over sensitive to avoiding foods that are, you know, chemically changed or altered or over processed? Of course, seeing these commercials did come on the heels of hearing another mom I know praise the glories of those pre-packaged lunchable meals. Blech. And, yes, I could eat better than I do, after all, remember all the tomatoes I ate, but I really do try to create a healthy grazing field for my family, and insinuating it's okay to feed kids juice with high fructose corn syrup instead of, you know, 100% juice, kind of crosses a line with me. And, fyi, I grew up in corn growing country with corn growing relatives and still find this icky. Anyone else kind of feel icky about these commercials?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

New Tricks Beef Stew

Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks? How about an old cook? While I don't exactly qualify as old (not yet anyway), I do qualify as a cook who learned something new today! By now, most of you know that my littlest sous chef can't eat anything prepared with wheat. This dietary adjustment has actually been okey dokey for us. With open minds, we've tried all sorts of new and different cuisines, and have approached it as an adventure. We've also taken a good look at our tried and true favorites, and have adapted the recipes to accommodate the absence of Mr. Gluten. It's gone swimmingly well. Have you ever adapted one of your tried and true recipes?

Take today's culinary delight ... good ol' beef stew. I've made beef stew year after year for as long as I can remember. It's one of those old time favorites that families all across America like to dip a spoon into once the weather starts to turn cold. With all the veggies and meat, it's a hearty meal that warms you from the inside out. We've always liked ours served with hot buttermilk biscuits, and maybe a basic salad. How do you eat your beef stew?

Today the dawn arrived with clouds and cool air, so it was the perfect venue for beefy stew. In the past, I've made this traditional cool weather staple by first opening up the flour bin, and spooning out the powdery stuff for both dusting the meat and then whipping up a batch of buttermilk biscuits. That plan no longer works, but this new plan fit the bill splendidly. While I still like the traditional method, I found this method to be just superb ... full flavored, great texture, and in no way a "substitute" for the real thing. This was the "real" thing and it was devoured in no time flat. Now that this cook has learned a new trick, we'll be eating this again and often.

New Tricks Beef Stew

2 lbs cubed stew meat
2 Tablespoons canola oil
1 onion diced large
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 carrots, sliced in large bite sized chunks
4 potatoes, 3-1/2 cubed large, remaining 1/2 cubed small.
4 oz red wine
1 15 oz can reduced sodium chicken broth (Yep, that's chicken. I like Swanson's.)
1 26 oz carton beef stock (New from Swanson)
1 15 oz can reduced sodium beef broth (Again, I like Swanson's.)
2 Tablespoons parsley
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon Lawrey's Montreal Steak Seasoning
1 small shake red pepper
couple grinds sea salt and black pepper

In a large dutch oven, heat the oil on medium high. Add the stew meat and brown on all sides. Add the onion and stir. Cook for a couple minutes until the onions start to wilt. Add the garlic and carrots. Stir around and cook for just a couple minutes. Add the chix broth, beef stock, and red wine. Mixture should boil rapidly immediately. Turn down the heat, and simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes. Cover and cook for about 1 hour. Uncover, and add the beef broth. Cover and cook for about 45 more minutes. Uncover, add the potatoes, recover and cook for 15-20 minutes. Uncover and add all the seasonings. Recover and cook for another 10-15 minutes. Meat should be extremely tender. The small cubed potatoes should have melted away and thickened the stew quite nicely. I was thinking about adding a corn starch slurry, but it wasn't needed at all. The potatoes did a great job as a thickener. See how thick this is?

Note: I didn't add any peas or celery because I didn't have them. Adjust the veggies as you see fit. Next time, I want to borrow Marjie's idea and use sweet potatoes, too. Hey, that'd be another new trick for this cook!

We served ours with gluten free creme biscuits from Whole Foods. For you gluten eaters, serve with your favorite hearty bread or biscuit, or even better, beer bread biscuits!


Have you tried making an old recipe in a new way? How'd it turn out? Would love to hear about it!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Change of Plan Simmered Chicken

Have you ever changed your cooking plan mid-stream? You know what I mean ... you have every intention of making one dish, you've planned for it, but life gets in the way and before you know it you are side tracked into making something else? Please tell me that you are all nodding in agreement. Please. Nod with me. There. I feel better now.

When I started my day early this morning, I had every intention of dragging out the ol' crock pot and preparing a lovely Indian Butter Chicken Recipe. I envisioned it simmering away all day long filling my house with the most delectable aromas. I could just imagine not rushing around at the dinner hour, dicing this and sauteeing that, but instead just spooning the creamy goodness onto the plates and enjoying a calm, tasty, bone warming meal. *sigh* It was such a good plan.

Just as I was opening the cupboard to pull out the crock pot, I heard it. 'cough, cough, cough.' It's the sound every mom knows and dreads ... 'cough, cough, cough'. This was followed by the familiar, thud, pause, thud, pause, thud of dragging little feet reluctantly coming down the stairs. I round the corner out of the kitchen, pass through the dining room, and stop at the base of the stairs to be greeted with more 'cough, cough, cough' (it's that awful barking cough, too) and the most pathetic little face. With a sigh, I pick up my littlest sickie, who's very hot to the touch, and carry her into the family room where I deposit her in her dad's recliner. This recliner is a BIG manly chair. I feel like Edith Ann in it, and it absolutely swallows my wee babe. She lays down sideways in the chair, using the arm rest for the pillow and announces to me that she doesn't feel good, her throat is sore, she has a headache, and her stomach feels "blah". A quick look down her throat with the flashlight confirms it. It's gross. Alrighty then. Long story short, she stayed home from school, got tested for strep throat (negative), is informed she has the latest virus going around school (woo-who ... we made it for 2.5 weeks before catching it), and that she needs rest, soup, and sleep.

Soooo ... remember the chicken plans? There would be no crock pot Butter Chicken tonight. However, never let it be said that I don't know how to punt. (Oh my gosh, you won't believe this, but said sickie who went to bed 2 hours ago, just came downstairs and asked for some pain relief meds for her throat. And now back to our regular programming ... )

I really wanted to have something full flavored for dinner and my germy/virus girl loves full flavored food, so I figured I'd just chop and saute and simmer whatever came to mind. It's a hodge podge recipe, but lordy, lordy it was GOOD! Oh, and it's gluten free all the way, baby!

Change of Plan Simmered Chicken

4 Large Chicken Thighs
2 Tablespoons oil
1/2 stick butter
1 onion cut into large chunks
4 potatoes cut into chunks (from the garden!)
4 carrots sliced thick (from the garden!)

1 cup water
1 cup cream
1 can tomato puree
1/2 onion
1 garlic clove
1/2 cup ground almonds
1 Teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 shake cayenne
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 shake turmeric

Raita: Combine the following
1/2 cup chopped cucumber
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 Tablespoons parsley
1 teaspoon cilantro
1 cup plain yogurt

In a dutch oven, combine the oil and butter and heat until sizzling. Add the chicken thighs, skin side down, and cook over med high heat until golden brown. Carefully flip the chicken over and cook for another 4-5 minutes. While the chicken is browning, combine the sauce ingredients in a food processor or blender, and puree the mixture. When the chicken is browned on both sides, add the onion, potatoes, and carrots. Immediately pour the sauce over. Cover pot with lid, turn the heat down to low, and simmer for 1-1/2 hours. (It's probably done in an hour, but I like the meat to literally fall off of the bone.)

Before serving, remove skin (it slides right off) and using two forks, pull the chicken off the bones (it should just fall right off in big pieces), and discard the bones. I prefer to cook thighs with skin and bones intact, and remove them afterward. The flavor is just so much better that way. It took me maybe 2 minutes to skin and bone the chicken afterward.

Serve with rice and raita. Make yummy sounds.

My sickie-poo LOVED this and gobbled down every bite on her plate. My older two, you know who they are ... the ones who have Picky Eater Syndrome ... turned their noses up at it. Keep in mind that when I made up their plates, I put the rice in one quadrant, the chicken in another, the carrots in their own space, and the potatoes in the remaining space. Still no go. The food had, after all, been cooked together which meant that although it was separated now, it was at one point touching. My son eventually ate his, but didn't wolf down his meal with anything resembling gusto. My oldest daughter managed to "not feel well" and nibbled at it with zero enthusiasm. Hubbyman came through in spades and devoured two helpings, so this was a hit with 3 out of 5 family members.
I'm planning on making Italian sausage tomorrow, but I'm not going to finalize the recipe in my mind until I start cooking. That way, I'm not tempting fate to bestow another plan breaker my way. Hmmm ... should I make sausage hoagies? Sausage and peppers? Sausage and pasta? Any suggestions?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Trifles Make Perfection ... Breakfasts!

Um, actually the quote is from the famous Michelangelo and is supposed to read, "Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle." I guess I'm just trifling with him. 'Tis no small trifle, though, to mess around with the mighty Michelangelo. Ok, Ok, I'll stop now.

This breakfast was no teasing matter! I've had a long week with a schedule chock full of kids and school related activities. My girls are back at their school in grades 4 and 7, and my son is homeschooling with me for grade 7. It's BUSY around here ... not insane, just constantly full. Coupled with that is that I literally drop into bed each night, and welcome the coma state I can enjoy until the alarm goes off, and the cycle begins anew.

So, when my eyes greeted the dawn this morning, I thought that I was due a little pampering, even though it meant providing it for myself. So, before I started the infinite pile of laundry, cleaning up the garden, and straightening up all the household clutter, I thought I'd treat myself to a fun breakfast.

Not too long ago, while doing some inane chore, I was half listening to a cooking show (I think it was called "Down Home with the Neely's), and they prepared a savory breakfast trifle. What caught my attention about this trifle was that it contained regular breakfast ingredients, but presented them in a pretty dish. I remember thinking to myself how clever that was, and that it would be a fun thing to serve at a brunch or special breakfast. Well, today I wanted a special breakfast, so a "trifling" I went.

I didn't have the instructions or ingredient list from the show, but I remembered enough that I was able to put this together really quickly. The layers, starting at the bottom are: 1) cheesy grits, 2) crumbled crisp bacon, 3) creamed eggs, 4) finely shredded cheddar cheese, 5) chopped seasoned fresh tomatoes, and 6) chopped green onions and chives. My hubbyman, who won't eat grits due to the NAME (eye roll), saw this and immediately asked where his was. I felt a moments guilt telling him there wasn't one for him, but my guilt soon passed when I remembered he had a cinnamon roll waiting for him.

Here's what you need:
1 serving of cheesy grits (I make mine in the microwave according to the package directions. Be sure NOT to put a lid on it ... trust me, cement does not have as firm a grip as boiled over grits.) Do you like grits? I LOVE grits. My dad was a southern boy, plus grits are cousins to polenta, so there you have it.

2 slices of bacon cooked crispy. You could substitute your favorite breakfast meat here ... sausage, ham, etc.

2 eggs - scrambled creamy style. I added 3/4 teaspoon cream cheese to my eggs and scrambled them on low heat. YUM.

1/4 cup finely shredded cheddar cheese. You could use your favorite cheese here.

1 roma tomato - any chopped fresh tomato will work. I seasoned mine with some Lawrey's garlic salt and pepper. Hmmm ... salsa would probably work, too.

1 green onion sliced, including both white and green parts
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh chives

In a trifle dish, or other glass serving dish, layer the ingredients as outlined above. The glass will be hot, so the cheese will melt just perfectly. Serve with some fruit and fresh orange juice. Just look at those layers. What do you think? I think YUM!

Do you eat breakfast? I try to everyday; however, my breakfasts typically are not huge. I know that eating a good breakfast is no trifle thing. This breakfast trifle was a BIG breakfast, and I really enjoyed all the flavors. Having the ingredients layered provided bursts of flavor in every bite, as compared with just eating them on a plate. I'm already contemplating my next savory trifle ... perhaps with hashbrowns as the base. YUM! Oh, one more thing, this is gluten-free, all the way baby!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Garlic Groove Goin' On

My doorbell rings multiple times during the day, and usually immediately afterward, I hear the familiar thud of boxes being dropped at my door. If the doorbell rings twice, that's my cue that I need to stop what I'm doing and sign for said packages. Packages that aren't to me. For you see, my hubbyman receives almost daily deliveries to our home, and it's an inside joke between myself, the mailman, UPS man, DHL man, and FedEx guy that once again no one has sent ME anything in the mail.

Of course, I do occasionally receive something via Amazon, but certainly not on a daily basis. So yesterday, as I was teaching my brilliant son the thrills of mastering the distributive property in math, I stopped what I was doing to go sign for yet more packages. (Um, I'm not being sarcastic regarding the math ... I do find algebraic formulas enjoyable. My son, though, would most likely perform an exaggerated eye roll right about now. Anyway ... back to the package delivery ...) It wasn't the usual delivery guy, so there was no jovial banter. I signed, juggled the packages inside, and with an eye roll of my own, placed them in the "stuff for hubbyman spot". After brushing off my arms, I returned to my teacher chair and continued on without any more thought regarding packages that are never to me!

Fast forward to last evening, hubbyman was cheerfully going through his packages, when he comes into the other room where I was and tosses a package on the counter stating, "This one isn't for me." Wha??? Is it something for the kids? Nope. Is it, could it be, perhaps, do I dare hope ... Is is something for moi???

Oh happy day! It is something for me, something that I ordered weeks ago, and although I knew it would be arriving soon, it's pending delivery had slipped my overtaxed brain. It was ... are you ready ... a package full of garlic that I ordered.

I hope you don't feel let down! I was thrilled! The garlic in the stores this summer have been woefully awful. I grew some garlic in my garden, but it's been long gone. Even the farmers market this year has not had its usual plethora of garlic, plus the lone garlic vendor hasn't had a booth for a couple years now.

Do you like garlic? I fear I'm a garlic snob. It's just that garlic is a well-loved part of my cuisine, and I appreciate good garlic much like I appreciate good quality cheese. Good garlic can make a dish; whereas bad garlic can make waste of your culinary efforts. In my quest to find at least decent garlic, I contacted local farmers and vendors who could supply me with my favorite bulb. I heard the same thing over and over as I hopefully begged, "Please kind sir or madam, (*sniffle*) won't you sell an Italian girl some of your delicious garden grown garlic?" But alas, all my inquiries were met with, "Sorry, we're sold out already." "Sorry, we don't grow it anymore." "Sorry it's been a bad year for garlic." UGH! SOB! I turned to the internet and found more local sources, but alas I heard "We're completely sold out." over and over. DOUBLE UGH! By now I've dug my heels in and have quite stubbornly decided that I'm going to get my garlic if I have to drive all the way to Gilroy, California to get it! (Insert deep heaving breaths and envision me emphasizing that last statement with waving arms!)

There is an end to this long saga. I found some sources in Arizona and Texas who although they didn't have any in stock at the time of my order, they could commit to mailing me some at their next harvest and not charge me an arm and a leg. The harvest occurred last week, and I rec'd my garlic yesterday.

Just look at my beauties! I ordered a variety pack consisting of mild through very spicy. Here's a synopsis:

Mild: Georgia Crystal: a lovely, mellow garlic that would be great in salsa.

Medium: Chesnok Red: This guy often wins "best of taste" garlic competitions. It's considered a rich flavored mild to medium heat garlic.

Hot: German White: This guy can pack a punch. It has loads of flavor, and is considered rather hot when raw. (I don't eat it raw; it's awesome cooked.)

Very Hot: Villarney Red. These cloves are very strong and spicy flavored, and is very hot raw. (I don't eat this raw either. It's terrific cooked.)

What better way to test my new lovelies than to make a quick pasta dish with a garlic butter sauce for lunch? Check this out:

Paula's Got Her Garlic Groove Goin' On Pasta

Angel Hair Pasta - enough for two servings
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small zucchini sliced in half rounds (you know I love my half-rounds)
2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, minced (I used the German White)
1 small jalapeno pepper, sliced thin (or other hot pepper - my jalapenos are sadly VERY MILD. Great flavor, but no zip in the heat department this year.)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly ground salt
Freshly grated pecorino romano cheese
Fresh basil, chiffonade sliced.

Cook pasta according to package directions. While pasta is cooking, in a small nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil. As soon as it is very hot, add the zucchini and "grill" until nicely seared yet still crunchy. Remove from pan, leaving as much olive oil as possible. Add 2 tablespoons of butter to the pan. As soon as it melts and starts to sizzle, remove from heat and stir in the garlic and jalapeno. They should sizzle nicely off the heat. Let the mixture sit and sizzle off heat for about 3 minutes. Drain the pasta, and immediately add the zucchini and olive oil/butter/garlic/pepper mixture. Toss. Season liberally with red chili flakes, black pepper, and salt. Top with fresh basil and pecorino romano. Serve. Sigh. Smile.

This was soooo good. The garlic flavor held up to the pasta, but didn't overpower it. Surprisingly, it was not too spicy. The pasta really mutes heat, and pairs beautifully with all the flavors. I was tempted to add some capers or sliced olives to the mixture, but my goal was to taste/test the garlic, so I left it out.

I'm looking forward to testing out the other garlic bulbs. I'm sitting here with a dreamy smile just thinking about it. Guess the ghouls and vampires will have to look elsewhere for their fix now that I've got my garlic groove goin' on!

PS: Favor to ask: Please send me an email if you have any problems accessing this post. Just click on my profile; it will take you to my email. Of course, that assumes that you can access my profile. Thanks!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

13 Big Ones .... Times Two!

At 8:21 pm and then again at 8:22 pm, I became a mother for the first time thirteen years ago today! Yep, that's right! My babies are now officially teenagers! As the old saying goes, it seems like yesterday they were born. I remember when we bought this house (before we started our family), my first thought when I looked at the gorgeous staircase was that I hoped one day little toes encased in feeted-pajamas would race down the stairs Christmas morning. We lived here for six years before having the twins, and every Christmas I thought that maybe next year would be the year. The kids were only 4 months old when their first Christmas rolled around, and so obviously they weren't racing down the stairs just yet, but I remember thinking how lucky and blessed I was to have such amazing, little people to call my own.

Those stairs hold many memories ... teaching the kids how to climb them, how to hold the railing, how to navigate going down the stairs, sledding down the stairs feet first, sledding down the stairs head first, falling down the stairs (yep, be thinking "ouch"), racing up the stairs, and of course, my initial wish of racing down them. There are sixteen steps and I know each of them quite well ... I would count out loud in a very exaggerated voice each step and the kids would laugh and laugh! It's how they learned to count. I love those stairs.

And ... I love those teenagers of mine, too! Teenagers!!! For their birthday, the kidlin's wanted a chocolate cake. They didn't care what decorations were involved, just as long as it was chocolate. Over the years, I've made some pretty darn impressive cakes for their birthdays. They were impressive for several reasons, the first being that I'm not a baker at all, so the fact that the cake turned out was cause for celebration. My personal favorites include the "Treasure Chest" cake that involved decorating the cake to look like a, well you know, Treasure Chest! It came equipped with a propped up lid as well as gold foil covered chocolate coins, candy necklaces, and other edible jewels! Another favorite cake was their "Sleepover Cake" when the kids had two of their friends spend the night. It was a sheet cake and I placed Twinkies (yeah, you read that correctly ... the Twink-miesters were used) on top, and then frosted the whole thing. I decorated the Twinkie portions to look like kids in bed (bedspread, pillow, etc.) and made each one resemble each of the kids here (hair, face, pj's). It was a lot of work, but I approached it like a craft project, and if I do say so myself, it turned out pretty darn good! Oh, and it tasted good, too!

This year, I purchased the cake and it was "wow" good! It was a Cookies and Cream cake that consisted of chocolate cake with whipped cream for the icing as well as in between the layers, and a chocolate ganach over the top. Then there were Oreo cookies on top of that. The kids went nuts over it, and that includes my hubbyman. For my gluten free baby, she got her own gigantic piece of bakery cheesecake (minus the graham crust) that she garnished with strawberries. I'm surprised we are not all in a sugar coma tonight.

Here are some "then and now" photos. Don't they look magnificent all rolled up? And, yes, despite the obvious blue and pink blankets, I did get asked which one is the boy and which is the girl. I still get asked if they are identical twins. Uh, nope. One's a boy, and one's a girl. I made it to 37 weeks before they made their arrival (after 18 hours of labor which ended in a cesarean). I had a tough recovery and stayed in the hospital for five days, but they did great the entire time. I just love those noisemakers. They are my sun, moon, and stars, and I really do thank the good Lord everyday, several times a day, for blessing me so greatly with them.

Here they are in their little "fish tank" at the hospital. They are a day old here.

Here they are today, on their special day. The young man is the older of the two by a whopping '1' minute!

All of my kids are close with each other, but we are not a squabble free zone. My son is the most mellow of all my kids, and tolerates his sister's antics with extreme patience. He's so much bigger and stronger than both of his sisters; he could squish them if he chose to. Luckily for them, instead, he just shrugs stuff off ... which probably drives them crazy!

I enjoy reading blogs where folks share their day to day lives, and allow me glimpses of who they are and who is important to them. So, in return, here's a glimpse at my kids on their special day.

My son is amazing. He's blessed with an astonishing memory, is a loving brother and son, is handsome and thoughtful, is a talented artist and budding writer, and has taught me the meaning of cherishing every moment. When he was six years old, he developed epilepsy, and continues to deal with it. Luckily, his seizures are mostly nocturnal, and if you were to ask him, he'd tell you enthusiastically that he has a GREAT life. This kid possesses the most positive attitude ever. In his 13 years, he's dealt with more than most will in a lifetime, including being critically ill and in true peril with something called Steven's Johnson Syndrome a year and a half ago. His SJS was caused by a toxic reaction to taking Ibuprofen and it's the most horrific thing you can imagine. He was covered head to toe, outside and inside, with horrible, enormous blisters. He lost his vision for a couple days due to the raging blisters. All the skin in his mouth and inside his nose shed off, his lips turned black and shed off, every membrane and vein in his body was enflamed, developed pneumonia and vasculitis, and endured off the charts pain that could not be dulled with medications. You know it's bad when the nurses cry outside his room. Still, he persevered on, showed amazing strength of character as well as physical strength, and high integrity and character. Today, he's fully recovered, his vision miraculously returned unmarred, and although we were concerned that he'd be scarred head to toe, the only physical sign to indicate his suffering is that his lips have lighter shading where the new skin grew in, and a couple spots on his face. Every one tells him it gives him a rugged look. He plays soccer and basketball, and lives to draw his cartoons and write screen plays. He's a trooper for sure, and is destined for greatness in life.

His twin, who thinks that she should have been born first, is a total package girl. She's an academic over achiever, naturally athletic, beautiful yet shy, curious and interested in everything, and ready to discover the world. She's a gifted learner, and is the most determined child on the planet. When she was a baby and was learning to stand up, she didn't follow the path most kids take. Most kids will position themselves next to something and pull themselves up. Not this child, oh no. She would sit in the middle of the floor and try to stand up un-aided. Thank goodness for puffy diapers, because she plopped many a time on her bottom. I'd ask her over and over if she wanted help, and she's say "I do it, I do it" over and over right back at me. Sure enough, she did do it and felt so proud of herself. That was the first of many ventures where she wanted to achieve some task herself, and keeps at it until she masters it. She has her dad's competitive drive, yet has a very sensitive soul. Coaches and teachers love her because of her work ethic; I love her big heart. She possesses a stewardship consciousness not commonly found in kids her age ... she's interested in conservation, the well-being of the planet and those who live on it, and she's a huge animal lover. She's very protective of her brother and sister, and is very much her momma's girl. We even call her "the little mama". She loves getting hugs, and isn't embarrassed to get one from her mom in front of her peers. Someday in the future, she's going to make a huge mark on the world. She'll be one of those people who make a difference.

And, here's a pic of my wee one ... just to keep her in the loop. Soccer season has started, and they had their first game on Saturday. Um, the score was not in our favor, unfortunately. In fact, toward the end of the game, the other team took it easy on our girls because they were sooooo much better than our team. My little mite is the only girl on our team who even made it to their end of the field to shoot a goal, but alas the other team's goalie blocked her shot. Still, she had a great time, actually all the girls did, and she's ready to get back out and play again. My girl is the one in the purple jersey, with the black shin guards/socks, and blue glasses. I just love this action shot!

So there you have my family, plus hubbyman. How do you celebrate birthdays? Join me in wishing my babies a gloriously happy 13th birthday! We are a happy little group of people, especially today celebrating the 13 big ones --- times two!

Friday, September 5, 2008

I'll Stop The World and Melt With You -- Tuna Melts (Second Try At Posting!)

Ok, Folks. Let's try this again! The first time I posted, something bizzaro happened and not everyone could access my blog. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it works this time around!

Diner Food. What images do those two words conjure up for you? Diner + Food. Do you think of heaping stacks of pancakes dripping with maple syrup? Perhaps an open face roast turkey sandwich with mashed potatoes smothered in gravy comes to mind. Maybe you are thinking about an oversized parfait glass loaded with scoops of ice cream and hot fudge. Picture, if you will, a place buzzing with local patrons seated in past-their-prime colored booths with elbows resting on chrome trimmed tables. In my mind's eye, I also see a string of black backless bar stools lining the counter beckoning those souls who don't want to wait for a booth to open up. One definite must-have signifying a good diner is a couple of waitresses who can handle the Sunday morning crowd with ease and always manage to keep the orders straight. Beverage refills flow freely, and there's an air of welcome in the atmosphere.

I love diners. I'm talking about real diners, not dumpy dives, but real diners. You know the kind I'm talking about ... those quaint eateries that have been around for years and years, and have managed through good food and great service, to hold onto their clientele despite the influx of giant restaurant chains. Now don't get me wrong, those chains serve a purpose, too. Yet I have a soft spot for diners, especially family operated ones, and always enjoy the comfy feel when eating at one.

Recently while on vacation, my girls and I were far from the madding crowd, in the multitude of peninsulas and islands just southwest of Seattle. The small village we stayed in was absolutely darling, with lots of natural areas and state parks nearby where I took the girls on a little hike (Gasp! And I lived to tell the tale, too!) to the water front, where they thoroughly enjoyed throwing rocks in the water and just goofing around.

After our hike, there was a little diner that we ate at, and all three of us fell in love with it. It was small and cramped, yet the service and food were terrific. When our server came to the table, I inquired about some gluten free choices for my wee one, and the server immediately told my daughter that she would personally make something special just for her that's not on the menu. She ended up serving my babe this luscious peanut soup that was made with sauteed vegetables, peanut butter, and broth. Little miss slurped up every drop, and I mean every drop.

That's what I love about diners. That personal touch expounding friendly values. Here we were strangers to the server (who was actually one of the owners), and she took the time to do something kind for us. Have you ever had a server go the extra mile for you without even asking? I really value good servers, and show my appreciation via an appreciative tip.

One menu item that you'll find at most diners is a tuna melt. Have you ever had one? There's something magical about a grilled sandwich, and grilling transforms tuna salad into something comfy and satisfying. I've experimented with this particular sandwich the past couple of days, and I think I've found a winner. Here's the deal.

Paula's Diner Tuna Melts

2 slices your favorite bread (heartier the better)
1/2 cup of your favorite tuna salad (the dryer the salad, the better ... in other words, take it easy on the mayo)
1/4 cup shredded cheese (I used pepper jack)
2 slices bacon
1 sliced roma tomato (I sprinkled mine with garlic salt)
1-1/2 slices American Singles (or other sliced processed cheese)

First, slice your tomato and lightly sprinkle with garlic salt if desired. Prop the plate holding the tomato at a slight angle to drain the juice away. Next, butter one side of each slice of bread. Take one slice, butter side down, and layer with a) tuna salad, b) 1/2 the shredded cheese, c) tomato, d) remaining 1/2 shredded cheese, d) bacon, and e) American singles.

The layering technique is important -- as the cheese melts, it "binds" the sandwich together and keeps the ingredients from slipping out as you take bites.

It was a test of my inner strength to not pick that bacon off and nibble on it. :-)

I tested many types of cheeses, and to get just the right combo of melt and flavor, I found using a little shredded cheese as well as American singles fit the bill. Top with the remaining slice of bread, butter side out. Heat a skillet on med high, and carefully place sandwich in skillet. Keep a close watch, and flip the sandwich over when golden brown. Use a wide spatula because the sandwich is really full. Cook on the second side until golden brown. Remove pan from heat, and place a lid on top (or cover with foil). Let sit for 2-3 minutes to really melt the cheese. Serve immediately. This last step really melts the cheese perfectly while keeping the bread crunchy crisp. Otherwise, you'd risk having burnt bread because you'd have to have it in the skillet a looong time to perfectly heat the insides of the sandwich.

Ooooh, I can't wait for you to experience the unbelievable satisfying crunchiness of the bread, married with the melted cheese, smoky bacon, bright tomato-yness, and tasty tuna. This is a hearty sandwich, and could easily fit the bill for either lunch or dinner. I made one for lunch, and could only eat half of it ... even then I was stuffed. I had a tall refreshing glass of lemonade with mine, but I could see drinking a glass of milk with this too.

What diner food should I explore next? Now that the weather is starting to show signs of Fall, I think I'll try something warm and comforting. Any suggestions?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

I'll Stop The World and Melt With You -- Tuna Melts

Hello blog friends ... I've had to remove this post and repost it above. For some unknown reason, not all of my blog visitors were not able to view it, and so the best thing to do was remove the post and repost it again. I don't want to delete your wonderful comments, though, as they mean so much to me. Soooo .... let's hope that whatever little gremlin decided to visit has now left the building!

Thanks for visiting and commenting, and I look forward to visiting your blogs!

Paula :-)

Monday, September 1, 2008

Chillin' With My Chili

Do you like chili? A hearty, steamy bowl of red to warm both your tummy and soul? Seems like there are just as many variations of chili as there are cooks! Some folks insist that chili be served without beans, others insist that beef cubes be used, and still others claim that chili is only chili if made with ground beef. Then there is the whole “do you use chili powder or ground chili, chopped tomatoes or pureed toms, green peppers or just onion, and thick meaty chili or warm soupy chili”. Of course, there’s also the question of what to serve with it. Sour cream? Avocado? Sliced jalapeƱo’s? Shredded cheese? Cilantro? Crushed corn chips? Saltines? There’s a regional factor, too. Depending on where you live, you may crave your chili spooned over pasta, slathered on a baked potato, spooned over a crunchy salad, rolled in a tortilla, or served straight up with some chips. Oh, and let’s not forget the white chili varieties, along with chicken and vegetarian versions. Plus, folks have strong opinions about the cooking vessel. Some swear by the crock pot, others like it slow roasted in the oven, and still others will only make it in a dutch oven on the stove top.

I like chili. Wait, make that LOVE chili. All chili. I’m not picky, although I prefer versions that don’t singe my eyebrows with too much spicy heat. I’ve been an Oregonian for years now, but I grew up in Northwest Indiana, and the chili of choice from that neck of the woods was your classic ground beef, bean, and tomato version.

Now that the cold weather has started to roll in (the house was freezing this morning!), I thought today would be a great day to make a heaping pot of bone warming chili. I wanted to simply hold my steamy bowl and just be chillin’ with my chili. This is one of those dishes that I’ve made for years without really following a recipe; rather, I just used what was in my fridge/pantry. For today’s blog entry, though, I slowed down and paid attention to what I was tossing in here and there. I was a hit with 3 out of 5 in my household. My husband told me to make this as often as I wanted, he liked it so much. My older kids weren’t wild about it, but, you know, the food groups “touch” in chili, so I didn’t expect any different. We did have a break through, though, in that they said they liked how it smelled. Stubborn little beings!

This is a basic MILD chili. Here’s what I did:

1 ¼ lbs ground beef
½ large onion diced
1 green pepper diced (garden!)
3 garlic cloves minced and sprinkled with sea salt
¼ cup water
2 teaspoons chili powder
½ generous teaspoon ancho chili powder
½ generous teaspoon pasilla chili powder
½ teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 healthy shakes of ground cinnamon
5 large tomatoes, diced (garden!) – you could use a large can of diced toms
3/4 cup tom sauce
½ cup water
Pinch thyme
Pinch oregano

In a large dutch oven, add the ground beef, onion, green pepper, and garlic and heat over high heat. As soon as it starts to sizzle, add the ¼ cup of water, lower the heat to medium high and cook until the water has evaporated out all the while breaking up the beef into small bits.

See how the beef is broken down instead of clumpy? The water helps this process and also helps soften the onion and green pepper. Once the meat has browned, add all the chili powders, cumin, smoked paprika, and cinnamon. Stir. Add the diced tomatoes and tomato sauce. Lower the heat to med, and let simmer for about 20 minutes or until the tomatoes have broken down. The chili will be really thick at this point, so add ½ cup of water along with the thyme and oregano. Let cook for about 10 more minutes. Uh oh, there’s that spoon again! Hey, I’m just checking to make sure the seasoning is correct!

Chili is such an awesome meal, and any leftovers lend themselves very easily to multiple dishes. Plus, this version is gluten free all the way, baby! Check these out.

How do you feel about chili-dogs? Just spoon some chili over a good quality beef hotdog, top with your favorite fixin’s, and you’ve got a quick lunch.

Here it is again spooned over angel hair pasta. Add a dollop of sour cream and mix together for a really filling meal. Or, if you prefer elbows, you can make that famous chili-mac that graces many a bowl during football season.

Or, just spoon into a bowl and serve with Fritos (have you ever scooped up a bite of chili on a Frito? Mark that down as something to try in this lifetime. Yeah, yeah ... you might turn your nose up now, but trust me you'll thank me later!) Good ol' saltine crackers are a nice choice, too. Oh yeah, chillin’ with chili is a goooood thing.

One more thing, check out this lovely purple pepper! That’s so fun to say ... purple pepper, purple pepper! This purple goodie is from my garden and is a variety that I planted on a whim. The above photo shows it on the vine about 2 weeks ago. Here's how it looked when I picked it today!

I'll be tasting this little purple dude tomorrow. I’m looking forward to seeing if that glorious color stays intact when cooked! Have you ever had a purple pepper? Perhaps we could change the tongue twister to be "Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Purple Peppers". Ok, ok. I'll stop now!