Monday, June 30, 2008

I've Got "Sole" ... Fillets, that is!

Growing up in Northwest Indiana, my family ate fresh fish for dinner just about every Friday. Lake perch, not to be confused with ocean perch, was the meal I most looked forward to. My mom lightly floured and pan fried those lovely, little, need-to-eat-5-or-6-to-make-a-meal, fresh water beauties. As a kid, I loved to watch those thin little fillets deliciously curl up the moment they hit the pan. Their delicate flavor appealed to my entire family, and you can bet that I belonged to the "clean plate club" when lake perch was served.

Now that I live in the Pacific Northwest, fresh lake perch is not available to me. The closest I can get to mild flavored fish is sole fillets, and although they don't compare to the yumminess of lake perch, they are well received by my family. My oldest daughter, who is an amazing, beautiful, brilliant young lady of 12, isn't a huge fish fan. She does, however, love sole fillets, and will gobble them up just as fast as I can serve them. They are hard to come by out here, but the fish monger recently stocked them, and so I, in turn, stocked up myself.

A couple of days ago, I read a great recipe from the always terrific Pam at Sidewalk Shoes. She prepared a wonderful chicken dish where she used tortilla chips as the coating for her chicken. Oooh, her chicken looked so crispy and delicious in her photos. So, tonight as I was thinking about how I could prepare these sole fillets, I wondered if potato chip crumbs would work. Years ago I had made a salmon fillet using shredded potatoes as the crust, but potatoes would over power the delicate sole fillets. Potato chips, though, might just be the ticket. We rarely have potato chips in the house, but as luck would have it, we just bought a bag and I nabbed the new bag and crushed a couple handfuls of them. This would work great with the crumbs left in the bottom of the bag, but hey, I needed those chips now. Also, fyi, I made this with Gluten Free Flour, but it could easily be made with regular flour. My recipe also outlines preparing this on the stove top, but I think if you drizzle the prepared fillets with butter, you could easily make it in the oven instead.


About 1 cup of crushed fairly fine regular potato chips (I used Lays)
Two eggs, beaten
About 1 cup of Gluten Free All Purpose Flour (I used Bob's Red Mill)
Seasonings: Several shakes of: garlic salt, onion powder, season salt, and paprika
Sole fillets
Canola oil for frying
1 Tsp butter
Foil Lined baking pan


Preheat oven to 200. Once the oven is heated, turn off the heat. The purpose of the oven is to keep the fish warm while you prepare the rest of dinner. The fish keeps great in the oven, and doesn't dry out.

Set up an assembly line with four stations. For station one, put the flour in a pie plate. Mix the seasonings into the flour. Station two would be the beaten eggs in another pie plate, and station three is the potato chips in yet another pie plate. (Note: I find using pie plates easier than using zip lock bags because the sole fillets are so thin, they tend to fold on themselves in a bag.) Station four is a large plate to place the floured/chipped fillets on before frying.

Take your fillets and follow the stations as outlined above, first flouring the fillet, then dipping in the egg wash, then dipping in potato chips. You have to press the chips on as they don't really want to stick.

The frying stage takes place very quickly. In a large heavy skillet, add about 1/2 in of canola oil and one teaspoon of butter on medium high heat. When the oil starts to sizzle, place the fillets in the skillet. Make sure your oil is sizzle hot; hot oil = crispy fish whereas warm oil = oily fish. Blech! Anyway, when you place the fillets in the pan, they should on contact have a great sizzle going. The sizzle should occur the entire time they cook, so don't over crowd the pan. I fry about 4 fillets at a time. Fry on one side for about 2 minutes or until golden and crispy, then turn over and cook for 1 - 2 minutes, or until crispy. With a slotted spatula, remove fillets from the skillet at place on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining fillets, keeping the already cooked ones in the oven.

Holy Neptune, did these turn out great! These chips provided a wonderful crunchy yet light coating for the sole. The fillets remained wonderfully moist, too. All three of my little fishes, I mean children, had seconds as did hubby man. Tonight, everyone in my household belonged to the "clean plate club"!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

"I Ain't Got The Blues" Potato Salad

Do you notice how there are about as many different potato salad recipes as there are cooks? Some variations include egg and mustard, while others go the purist route only allowing potatoes, onion, and mayo. Growing up, my Southern Italian (Calabria) mom prepared a delectable combo of sliced, not cubed, potatoes, sliced tomatoes, celery, and onion paired with olive oil, vinegar, and salt. Calabrian cuisine is different than other parts of Italy, having more in common with the Mediterranean regions surrounding it than within Italy itself. And while I’m American born and raised, those Calabrian roots that influenced my youth continue to color and brighten my world today. When my garden gives up some tomatoes and potatoes, the salad that will grace our table will be the one like my mother prepared, as did her mother before her, and so on. Until then .....

Today’s recipe follows more American contemporary cuisine, and it’s killer. Warning: for those of you avoiding fat, run for cover now. We’ll wait. Ok, is it safe to continue? This salad is not for the faint of heart … with bacon, blue cheese and both mayo and sour cream, this baby pairs perfectly side by side with steak, preferably a thick, grilled one.

“I Ain’t Got The Blues” Potato Salad Ingredients:

6 potatoes* (I used russets)
6 slices cooked bacon (crispy and crumbed)
2 Tsp snipped fresh chives (can substitute green onions)
½ cup Blue Cheese (I used Gorgonzola – I’m Italian, remember!)
1 cup sour cream (can use low fat)
1 cup mayo (I used Best Foods/Hellmans)
White Pepper to taste
Sea Salt to taste

*Note: I prepare my potatoes kind of an old fashioned way. I boil them whole with their jackets on. I prefer the texture of the potatoes prepared this way. You can certainly prepare them in the manner you like best. To do it the old fashioned way like yours truly, simply place the potatoes in a large pot and cover with at least 2-3 inches of water. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer, and cook until a knife passes through smoothly. Immediately drain, keep potatoes in the pot and cover with cold water. As soon as you can handle the potatoes (they are hot!), just peel off the skins. I usually remove a strip down the length of a potato with a paring knife, and then just slip the remaining peels off in big pieces. See how easy it peels off?

Boil the potatoes in the method of your choice. Dice the potatoes into decent size chunks. No wimpy little bits here; remember this salad is at it’s best sitting next to a big, juicy steak. Make sure the cubes are cool before combining with the dressing.

(Uh, don't know why the flash didn't go off. I'm still getting used to this new camera! Either way, man do I need some sun. Ignore the Casper like hands!)

While the potatoes are boiling, stir together the blue cheese, sr cream, and mayo in a bowl. Combine the cooled potatoes with the blue cheese mixture, and add the chives, bacon, white pepper, and sea salt to taste. Cover with plastic wrap and set in the fridge. This salad tastes best the next day, as the blue cheese flavor becomes more pronounced over night. Makes six servings. Oh, and as there are no wheat or grain products in this baby, it's gluten free!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Party in the Garden

... for the ladybugs, that is! It's been slim-pickin's in the ol' sunshine department where I live, and everyone's garden, not just mine, is weeks behind in growth. Still, my little plants have been holding on waiting for their photosynthesis moment. And then a day and a half ago ... could it be? Have all the planets aligned? Is that ... the sun? Hallelujah! That glowing orb parted the clouds and bestowed upon us both dazzling light and summer heat. The birds are singing, the bees are buzzing, and the whole neighborhood has sprung to life right along with mother nature's finest. Ah, life is good.

In addition to those bees and birds, we've got some ladybug action going on in the garden. I can see why the ladybugs have set up shop in our plants. This garden is delightful. Following the Square Foot Garden method was the best decision ever. I'm still a novice using this type of system, but I've got to tell you, it's amazing. In the weeks that we've had this organic garden, unlike my friends and neighbors, I've not had to weed once. Not once. Not only are the plants thriving sans weeds, but it is sooooo much easier to manage than what we've done in the past. These beds are high, so access is a snap, and all the plants are organized in squares, not rows, so harvesting will be super convenient. Even though the weather has only just begun to cooperate, our plants have actually done very well in the nutrient rich, fluffy soil they call home.

Check out these pics.

Here's my basil. Just one day in the sun has helped this baby grow. This was taken after I harvested some lovely leaves, and look how good the young plant continues to grow.

Aren't these eggplant leaves pretty? I love the purple and green colors. Looks like the ladybugs like them, too!

This baby zucchini plant grew about 4 inches in 2 days. I'm sure now that the sun is out, it will hold true to its prolific reputation.

See these flowers and buds? Those are future strawberries. This variety will produce all through summer. If I need more, I can always request some from Marjie!

These beauties are cilantro. Pam, if you are reading this, I think of you every time I look at this plant! See the little lady bug standing guard over this plant? He's the bouncer. No pesky pests allowed here!

My middle child is a cucumber fanatic. She can't wait for these plants to grow, grow, grow!

Here's my littlest ladybug, who along with the real McCoy moseying up her arm, is watering my plants. She's definitely my green thumb child. My hubby and other bugs , I mean children, provide the appropriate oohs and ahhs at the garden.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Salmon: It's not just for Grizzlies ...

... but your family might snarl like one over the last piece of salmon prepared in this recipe! Here in the beautiful and bountiful Pacific Northwest, I have easy access to both fresh and smoked varieties. Grilled salmon is a frequent visitor to our table, and was front and center on our menu tonight. Our dining experience included Grilled Salmon with Onion Crispy Strips, Baked Tater Wedges, and Honey Fruit Salad. All yummy and all gluten free.

After having such great success a couple days ago with the dry rub used on the pulled pork, I got to wondering if such a rub would work on salmon, too. I've prepared salmon a million different ways, make that a zillion different ways (ok, that's an exaggeration -- but if you are what you eat, I can expect to grow gills soon), yet I've not actually put a dry rub on one and allowed it to cure for hours. So, after searching the Internet, I found a rub on the Family Fun site that sounded pretty good. I tweaked it just a little bit, and the results were pretty darn tasty.

To make this delectable salmon, you will need:

Enough salmon fillet(s) to feed your grizzlies, uh, I mean yourself and family.

Rub: 1 tbsp kosher salt, 1 tbsp brown sugar, 1 tbsp sugar, 1.5 tsp black pepper, 1.5 tsp celery seed, 1.5 tsp paprika, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1/4 tsp cayenne, 1/2 tsp onion powder, 1/4 tsp chili powder, couple shakes cumin.

Step 1: Combine the rub ingredients. Set aside a couple tsp's to use later on.
Step 2: Generously sprinkle the rub all over both sides of the fillet; really press it in with your hands.
Step 3: Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least a couple hours. (I did about 5 hours)
Step 4: Preheat gas grill on high.
Step 5: Remove salmon from the fridge, and rinse off the rub. Pat dry. Don't skip this step!
Step 6: Using the reserved rub, sprinkle a little bit on or just use salt/pepper or your favorite season salt. Lightly but completely coat the salmon with a little bit of olive oil. NOTE: At this point, I cut the fillets into squares. *Let's pause moment for those who never slice fillets.* Ok, for those of us who don't enjoy flipping entire fillets on the grill, go ahead and cut your fillets into palm size pieces. It makes serving a snap, and everyone feels like they are getting extra when they get two pieces. I assure you the salmon will not dry out. (Just check out the top photo!)
Step 7: Place salmon skin side down on super heated grill. Immediately turn the heat to med-low and CLOSE the grill lid. Let it sit for a full five minutes. Don't touch it. No peeking either!
Step 8: Open the lid, and with your handy dandy spatula, carefully flip the salmon over. Close the lid. Wait 3 more minutes. Open the lid again, and remove those beauties to a platter. Let them sit at least 5 more minutes before you serve them.

Step 9: Let your inner grizzly out and enjoy the feast.

NOTE: This could easily be done in the oven or stove top ... especially if you don't like grill marks on your food!

The Baked Tater Wedges were a snap. I used russets and sliced about 8 potatoes into 6-8 wedges each. Place the potatoes on a foil lined baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with season salt and pepper. I used Red Robin's brand of season salt and my cubs went wild over it. Bake in a preheated 400 oven for about 15 minutes, turn over the wedges, and put back in the over for about 15 more minutes. Keep an eye on them ... you're looking for golden brown not burnt. I was channeling Marjie and so I turned the broiler on for the last 5 minutes and got a real crispy golden brown lickety split.

The Honey Fruit Salad was a great compliment with the salmon. Simply slice up firm bananas, sweet or tart apples, blueberries, and strawberries. Er, um, you'll notice there are NO strawberries in my salad photo. You may recall my earlier post about the strawberry devouring debacle my grizzlies engaged in. Bottom line is I'm out of strawberries. Back to the salad ... drizzle with a couple generous swirls of honey and a splash of champagne vinegar. Toss gently and serve. If you don't have champagne vinegar, just use honey alone. There are some great desert wine dressings that you could make and serve with this, but my cubs were hungry and prowling the kitchen, so additional prep was not gonna happen.

The onion crispy strips were, I must say, outstanding. Like this entire meal, these puppies were gluten free, too. Thinly slice one sweet onion into half-rings (you could do whole rings, but I like half-zies). Place in a medium sized bowl and cover with 3 parts buttermilk and 1 part milk. Don't rush off to the store if you need buttermilk, you can just use regular milk. Cover and set in the fridge; I had them in there for about 2 hours, but I think 1 hour will do. When you are ready to make them, carefully heat up about 1 inch of oil in a heavy saute pan. I used my new cast iron skillet. Love that baby. In a pie tin, combine about 1 cup of gluten free all purpose flour with a couple teaspoons of corn starch, and a couple quick shakes of cayenne pepper. Remove the onions from the fridge, and drain them well. Working quickly, take a small handful of onions and toss them in the flour. Remove to a plate. Repeat until all the onions are coated. Now, carefully place small handfuls of onion strips in the oil. They should sizzle immediately. Adjust your heat up or down depending on the sizzle. You want the onions to have a strong, constant sizzle, but not a boiling sizzle nor a wimpy one. After you place the onions in the pan, stir them up a bit if they are clumped together. As they sizzle, occasionally flip them over so both sides are golden brown. With a slotted spoon or one of those special deep fryer slotted strainer gizmo's, remove the onions and place on a paper towel lined plate. Repeat with remaining onions. I used one onion and divided it into four or five batches. If your oil gets gunky, add a little more to the pan in between batches allowing time for it to heat up to be sizzle worthy. Oh, add a couple of grinds of sea salt on the crispy onions and you can call your grizzlies to the table to eat.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Favorite Kitchen Tools - Installment #1

I have a kitchen full of gadgets and gizmo's. Some things I use regularly, a few items make obligatory appearances during the various holiday seasons, and others are doing time in the back of the cabinet waiting to be paroled once every couple years. I try to buy only those things that I know I will use, and refrain from impulse purchases (well, I like to think that I do). Still, I find myself reaching for the same spoon or knife or pan for most meal preparation.

Today's post is the first installment titled My Favorite Kitchen Tools. Perhaps others find themselves also using the same pieces over and over. Maybe there are those out there who are more adventurous taking advantage of multiple pieces. I am very interested in learning what all those magnificent blog chefs consider to be their valuable, indispensable, favorite kitchen tools.

Today's "My Favorite Kitchen Tool": Wooden Utensils: Spoons and Spatula's

Several years ago, when I converted most of my cookware to non-stick pieces, I also switched out my cooking utensils to nylon or silicon. Not only did I cease using my metal cooking utensils, I also stopped using my wooden spoons. Those new safe-for-teflon pieces with their comfort grip handles caught my attention. Fast forward to about a year ago, I purchased a new wooden spoon by OXO and immediately fell in love with it. It was like greeting an old friend. That little wooden beauty handles both stainless and non stick cookware with ease, won't bow or buckle when mixing cookie dough, and can stir soup without the handle getting too hot. The folks at OXO are very good about incorporating comfort in their designs, and this one has a comfortable, wide handle. The wood doesn't splinter, hold odors, or get "fuzzy". The bowl portion and handle length are perfect. Ah, the perfect multi task tool. It's the one item I consistently reach for. It just keeps on keepin' on.

The one thing it doesn't do well is spatula work. Then today I saw the answer. Hanging on the utensil rack at Target of all places ... A wooden spatula made by OXO. I picked it up. For those of you who saw the Harry Potter movie, do you remember when Harry gets his first wand at Olivander's shop? Remember the dramatic orchestra music sounding out and how the wind blew and the light shown on Harry? Olivander told Harry, "The wand picks the wizard, Harry!" Well, that's what it was like for me and my wooden spatula. Really. Only without the orchestra and the wind, and ... ok, well, let's move on shall we ....

This wooden spatula, like it's spoon cousin, will be a great multi-tasker. I plan to use it for scraping up those luscious browned bits off the bottom of skillets, for scrambling eggs and flipping sausage patties, for two-fisted stir fries, and who knows what else.

Then, while still enjoying my state of glee at finding the spatula, what do I see? The cast iron skillet that I've been scoping out on line. I haven't used a cast iron skillet for about 20 years. I've always found the skillets to be way too heavy for my small wrists, and the iron itself was a pain to care for. Now, though, the newer breed of cast iron skillets come pre-seasoned and in a variety of sizes. This one is only 10", not very big by skillet standards and it will require me to use both hands to lift it when full of food, but it's the perfect size for the types of food I want to prepare in it. Plus, it will give me a chance to see how I feel about using cast iron. It will be rigorously tested on the stove top, in the oven, and on the grill.

Now I just need to season my new wooden spatula tonight with a couple coats of mineral oil and it will be ready to go. Tomorrow morning, prepared in the cast iron skillet and managed with the wooden spatula, it's sausage and eggs, baby!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Temptation: Thy Name Is Strawberry

At approximately 2:30 pm today, I purchased six containers of locally grown, ripe, ruby red strawberries. Oh, the plans I had for them. Shortcake layered with whipped cream, fruit salad with dessert wine dressing, perhaps a dip in some dreamy chocolate. *Sigh* I need a moment. There. Now I can continue.

As with the best temptation scenarios, it started innocently enough. A covert nibble here, a stolen bite there. By the time we arrived home, all pretense of control was gone.

By approximately 5:30 pm today, this is all that remained of my strawberries. *Sob* Those little urchlings of mine, and yes, that includes hubby man, fell prey to temptation. I, of course, remained angelic like and resisted ... yeh, right, but, well, you know how it is. There would be no shortcake with whipped cream, no salad drizzled with wine dressing, no chocolate .... I need another moment.

The girls were the first to fall hard for the lure of the strawberries. My littlest actually asked me to put them out of her reach because she couldn't control herself. My older girl couldn't shovel them in her mouth fast enough. That leaves son and hubby man. It's stunning how quickly they consume food. Plague fast. At that point, I threw in the towel and told them to just have at it.

Can you blame them? Temptation is a powerful thing. Just look at these babies. No wonder everyone fell under their spell. They are red throughout, small but full of summer sweetness, and downright irresistible. Just compare a store bought strawberry to the one's I bought via a local farmer. Sure the store bought one is bigger, but I'd pass it up any day for one of these locally grown, just picked this morning babies.

Today's strawberry rapture was complicated by the fact that my son had to be rushed to the hospital ER this afternoon for an allergic reaction to who knows what (not the strawberries). Something got in his eye (while I was buying the strawberries) and by the time we got home, his right eye was swollen shut and looked like he had just gone ten rounds in the boxing ring. Poor kid. He takes anti-seizure meds, so he can't take over the counter antihistamines, so it was off the ER where they cleaned his gunky eyeball, prescribed something that won't react with his regular meds, and 2.5 hours later, sent him home. He still looks like he should be standing on the ropes of the boxing ring shouting out "A-d-r-i-a-n"!!! I told him that he should tell everyone that he was defending his sister's honor, but he told me ... "Nah, everyone knows I'm too nice to hit anyone". His sisters were properly put out at his comment, but only for a moment. They are well aware how much their brother looks out for them ... that's why they saved some strawberries just for him. Stuff like that makes me forget all about temptations and strawberry plans.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Roll with the changes sole, shrimp, and lemon rice

Our story begins tonight with the best of plans. Menu plans, that is. A lovely meal plan comprised of sole wrapped around a heavenly, garlicy shrimp and lemony rice stuffing. The lovely bundles would be shrouded in foil and lovingly grilled to perfection. Rounding out the menu was a spinach saute. Ah, but then I do have children which means I've learned to punt, roll with the changes, go with the flow ... you get the picture. Here's how our afternoon went .....

A little background info -- My house has an open floor plan and so my kitchen and family room are intertwined. The best feature of my kitchen is my giant island that is not encumbered by any cook surfaces. It's a vast open playing field, an envious prep center that I do not take for granted. Today it held my bounty from the sea ... lovely sole fillets not to thin and not too thick, and gorgeous shrimp that I peeled and cleaned for my family who prefer to never, ever deal with shells in their food. All my spices are laid out, the lovely garlic cloves are teetering back and forth sharing space on the cutting board with the lemon, my favorite chef's knife is ready to go, and just as I start my butter sauce ... sigh ... my built in mother's intuition kicks in. If I were Spiderman, my "spidey sense would be tingling". (Um, yeh, we just watched Spiderman the other night.)

I get these gut feelings often and much to my chagrin, I'm usually right on target. Today when the feeling struck, I actually said out loud, "ouch, that can't be good". Thirty seconds later, my youngest bursts through the door announcing that offspring #2 has wiped out on her bike. The walking wounded limps through the door shaken, bloodied and bruised. Worse was that she was literally turning green from shock ... she's fair skinned so I literally mean she was turning green ... and so instead of whisking my sauce, I ended up whisking her to the couch and administering first aid and some dr. mom time.

When she was comfortably cleaned up and settled down, a quick glance at the clock let me know there was no longer enough time to prepare the planned recipe. (I can see all you mom's nodding your head with a "been there done that" expression.) No worries ... I can punt, roll with the changes (REO Speedwagon flashback), go with the flow. Ahem. I know, you get the picture. As it turns out, the meal ended up better than what I originally planned. I decided to pan fry the sole using some of the gluten free Bob's Mill flour that I recently purchased. I figured I'd make a piccata sauce of sorts and toss the shrimp in it. I still had just enough time to make the lemony rice that I found on Marjie's blog, and set to getting that done. No spinach this time around; instead I substituted sliced, fresh strawberries. In less than 30 minutes, I had a meal that was once again snarfed (yes, snarfed) down by my family. I'm three for three this week using recipes from blogs.

The sole fillets turned out phenomenal using the gluten free flour. Working at warp speed, I simply rinsed and dried the fillets, sprinkled them with liberally with season salt and dredged them in the plain g/f flour. The g/f flour is a silky powder and it kind of melted into the fish as I coated it. I was a bit worried thinking that it would fry up gummy, but I couldn't have been more wrong. If anything, it fried up to a more beautiful, crispy, golden brown than I've ever produced using regular flour. The piccata sauce was a quick mixture of butter, olive oil, white wine, lemon juice, minced garlic, and capers. Since shrimp cook really fast, I prepared the shrimp at the last minute by quickly sauteing it in the piccata sauce. The rice was the delightful element in tonight's fare. In my haste, I unknowingly altered Marjie's directions just a little bit by adding the lemon juice as well as the rind and cream after the rice was prepared. The consistency of the rice immediately resembled a risotto yet the lemon kept it fresh and light. I thought the addition of cream would make it heavier, but it didn't. I really, really, REALLY liked it. Marjie knows her stuff. Double click on the photo and check out how creamy the rice is. While you're there, check out that lovely crust on the fillet, too. I got a kick out of offspring #3 who kept saying between mouthfuls, "I really love this 'melon' rice". When told it was lemon not melon, she responded with her usual shrugged shoulder playfulness, "Melon, lemon ... I have my mouth full!"

Sometimes life throws you curves. It certainly is a common occurrence in our household! Tonight's curve brought us another menu for the repeat list.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

I lost my poor meatball ....

I know meatballs. I'm Italian. I've rolled more meatballs than a Cuban cigar roller has rolled stogies. Well, ok, maybe not that many, but I've made a lot. Of meatballs. A lot.

In the household of my youth, meatballs were served separately from the pasta itself. Actually, most meat was passed around on a separate platter no matter what the pasta type. The meatballs themselves were giant and were slowly simmered in a thin tomato sauce and stacked high in a serving bowl. I can still picture the steam swirling above the bowl. But that's a story for another day.

Now a days, I make the meatballs much smaller and tend to make more of them. I love leftover meatballs sliced and served on a hearty roll with tomato sauce. Again, a story for another time. Today's story is about a new meatball recipe that I tried tonight courtesy of of Karina's Kitchen - Gluten Free Goddess. Since my littlest peanut can't eat wheat, I'm on the prowl for recipes that give a new twist on some of our old favorites. My meatball recipe called for breadcrumbs; a no-no for my wee babe. So, thanks to the internet, I've got access to gluten free recipes. Karina's blog is a godsend for folks trekking the gluten-free path, and I'm certain I'll frequent her blog regularly for ideas.

On 6/12/08, Karina posted an intriguing recipe for Meatballs. Her recipe beautifully blended typical and not-so-typical ingredients. The incorporation of both cinnamon (a secret ingredient my grandma used in her ravioli) as well as balsamic vinegar snared my attention. Her meatballs also included some pulverized veggies, and I always enjoy the mad scientist thrill I get when I turn on the food processor. Double click on the meatball photo above and check out the great texture up close. See those orange bits? Shhh ... carrots! I did use a different pasta than Karina as we've found a gluten free/wheat free one that my offspring enjoy. Mrs. Leepers corn spaghetti is our pasta of choice at the present time. It has a great al dente bite to it and doesn't turn to mush. It's less starchy that regular semolina pasta, yet sauces cling to it just fine. It's particularly good with browned butter and freshly grated mizithra cheese. Anyway ... back to tonight's meal ....

Hubby man was running late getting home from work this evening, so I fed the kids first and held off eating myself so he wouldn't have to dine solo. I was working on something nearby the offspring while they ate, and so when they asked if they could have seconds, I absently gave approval on the condition that they just take a little bit because their dad and I still needed to eat. Mistake. Until very recently, I usually spooned out seconds. In my quest to let the kids grow up and be more responsible, I lost a few brain cells myself. Hungry children + available food they like = portion control issues. Needless to say, I had to quickly boil up some more pasta (the first time I've ever had to do that) ... and we won't be having meatball hoagies tomorrow.

So while I outwardly had on my harumph face, inwardly I had to smile. I love it when everybody eats everything. Tonights recipe goes on the repeat list. Moist and tender meatballs that boasted both familiar and new flavors. Karina -- your meatballs were a hit! And I need to rethink portions for my children who insist on growing!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Triple P's - Pulled Pork and Potatoes

This past weekend, we ate dinner at a wonderful BBQ joint up in the Seattle area. I've never actually dined at a designated BBQ place before, and boy was I in for a treat. The smoked pulled pork was outstanding. All that smoky goodness ... not too strong ... was a flavor memory I'll not soon forget. Plus, my family of five ate in almost total silence, which is unheard of, because they were too busy gnawing rib bones to speak.

While I've prepared pork in numerous ways over the years, I've never smoked it ... or anything else for that matter. Smoked pulled pork is such an amazing treat; however, regular old pulled pork is yummy, too. I came across a recipe on the FoodNetwork website compliments of Tyler Florence for an oven roasted version of pulled pork. While I didn't have the cut of meat suggested in the menu, I did have some amazing boneless ribs in the fridge, and thus a new recipe was born.

Tyler's instructions call for dry rubbing the meat and letting it sit overnight, so that's what I did. His rub is very basic: Salt (I used kosher), paprika, brown sugar, garlic powder, dry mustard, and black pepper. After letting the meat marinade (or cure?) overnight, I slow roasted those babies in a 300 degree oven for about 5 hours. Oh. My. Lord. They turned out PERFECT. No smokey goodness, obviously, but tender, juicy, and full of lip smackin' flavor. My fellas devoured theirs stacked high on buns, and we girls ate ours ala unencumbered on our plates. Served alongside a creamy coleslaw and Crash Hot Potatoes, once again, my fabulous five dined in silence. The only words spoken were: "Mom, I'm in heaven", and "Can I please have some more?", and "Mom, isn't there any more?", and "What do you mean there isn't any more?". Ah, words of love.

I started to take step by step photos of my meal prep, but alas got distracted. Offspring #1 actually was interested in helping prepare (smash) the potatoes, and before I knew it, the stampede of cattle, I mean kids and hubby man, herded to the table and I did not have even a spare second to snap some photos prior to eating. However, check out this link for amazing photos and step by step instructions for the Crash Hot Potatoes ... I used 9 regular sized russet potatoes because that's what I had and there were no leftovers. For five people. Zip. Nada. Nothing left. Good eats.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Mountain of a Father's Day

Since we were already on a mini road trip to our neighboring state to the north, my hubby man declared that he wanted to partake in a family hike at Mt. Rainier National Park on Father's Day. *Sigh* There are a couple things you should know about me. 1) I am a not a hiker. 2) I am married to a hiker. The hiker of all hikers. A backpack loving, hither and yon trekking, strap on a backpack hiker. Going on a family hike every Father's Day has become a ritual, and while I can weasel out of hiking on other occasions, it's really not possible to boag out on Father's Day.

I had held out hope (with some guilt) that we (I) might be spared this annual trek since the weather out at this end of the world has not been summer-like yet. Most folks are somewhat seriously referring to this month as June-uary. As recently as Wednesday, Mt. Rainier was the recipient of some severe winter storms, but on Sunday it was warm with brilliant blue skies and I knew that we'd be heading to the trail head. Super.

Hubby man was so delighted and the offspring (aka little traitors) were excited as well. As our ancient mini van (hold your snickers to a minimum please) creeped and crawled up the curvy mountain side, I realized that alas I had not brought my tennis shoes with me. All I had were my fancy flip-flops and my dress shoes. Oh, dear. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. So, I say to hubby man, "um, I don't think I have the proper shoes for this". This set back does not deter hubby man from his goal. Nope, Nadda, No problem; he'll pick out a nice easy hike. (Sidebar: I've been on his nice easy hikes. Pray for me.)

Along the way to the trail head, we stopped so the kids could pummel each other with snowballs. Yes, SNOW ... something like 6 feet deep. When we reached the trail head, though, there's no snow to be found, just lots of sunshine and comfortable temperatures. Hubby man, you gotta love the guy, took pity on me for like the first time EVER, and said that he'd take the kids for just quick hike if I didn't mind waiting in the van. Picture me, trying not to jump for joy and perform a happy dance simulaneously, responded, "Oh, ok, that would be fine". Fine? It was brilliant! The kids, no longer traitors, provided the appropriate but not overboard protests of disappointment wanting me to go. In the end, they all went on their merry way, and I had time to myself. It was glorious. I pulled out my recent purchases from the homeschool fair and proceeded to enjoy uninterrupted reading time in a beautiful, natural setting. And then, best of all ... wait for it ... I took a nap :-)! It was my perfect outdoors adventure!

Road Trip Weekend

Friday afternoon, my fabulous five family members packed and piled into the minivan (yes, I drive a minivan) and we hit the road for a micro road trip to our neighbor state to the north. For the past several months, I had been looking forward to attending the WHO Convention. No, I'm not a music groupie ... although I think The WHO was an awesome band. This convention was the Washington Homeschool Organization annual conference in Puyallup, WA (that's pronounced "pew-ALL-up"). It is the largest conference on the West Coast and was well worth the 3 hour drive to get there.

The convention was so well organized and much meatier than any conference I've attended to date. Kudos to whoever put this baby together because it had something for everybody. There were awesome speakers giving talks on everything from getting started in homeschooling to preparing your highschooler for college. Great workshops on lapbooking, learning styles, writing, literature, curriculum choices, gifted children, and struggling learners were just a few of the offering available. One of the biggest hits was the physical science demonstrations that grabbed the attention of parents and students alike.

There were over 150 booths to peruse in a no-pressure atmosphere. I was able to inspect textbooks, workbooks, audio/video, paper supplies, novels, instruction guides, curriculum packages, games, foreign language offerings, etc. Also present were some of my existing suppliers such as Rainbow Resource as well as The Critical Thinking Company. It was an AWESOME day. The kids even enjoyed it. The organizers had life size chess games set up ... so fun to watch the kids lift and move pieces. They had multiple regular chess games set up as well. The humane society was there with little kittens and rabbits for the kids to pet, and there were these remote control racing boat games the kids enjoyed. My littlest peanut did her Rembrandt impersonation in the art corner where she painted a lovely ceramic tile.

The WHO did make some money off of me. I was so excited to find the Latin/Greek root word workbooks that I want to use next year. Oh, now stop. I can hear your groans! It's not bad at all; actually, it's really interesting stuff. My son is a whiz speller, actually all three offspring are, and this will be a nice, little, turn-on-your-brain supplement to our spelling program. I also picked up a keyboarding practice book as well as a couple history books.

I walked out of the exhibit hall feeling elated. Not just because I had a good time, which I certainly did. I was on cloud nine because after looking at what seemed like hundreds of programs, books, and curriculum providers, I found that I remain committed to the curriculum that we selected two years ago -- Calvert. Oh sure, I could probably piece something together myself or go with a more affordable curriculum provider, but Calvert works for us. It's a well rounded, full curriculum that will provide my student with a fantastic education experience. Ah, I love it when a plan comes together!

So, after spending all morning and early afternoon with me at the fair, it was time to take the kidlin's to Seattle. Seattle is a lovely city ... very cosmopolitan, shiny, and clean, yet smaller than other major metro areas on the west coast. We did the touristy stuff ... Space Needle, views of Puget Sound, drove across the floating bridge, etc. The kids (I include my husband in that word) enjoyed the Museum of Rock and Roll that is adjacent to the Space Needle. Inside the same building is a Science Fiction Museum that housed cool stuff from movies and TV series including the original robot from the Lost In Space series. You know, the one that waved it's accordion type arms saying in monotones, "Danger, Will Robinson", over and over. There is a mini amusement park there as well, and the kids enjoyed the log ride.

If you look closely at this view of the Space Needle, you can see the copper colored elevator ascending the structure. To give you a perspective, about 20 people can fit in that elevator. Makes you feel kind of puny riding up there.

All in all, this micro road trip gets two big thumbs up from every member of the family. Fun time, fun trip!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Meme Tag

Oooh, my first game of cyber tag. Thanks to Marjie, I've been tagged for a meme. First I had to figure out what a meme was. (Let's all pause for a moment of silence for the newbie.) I'm still not certain how to pronounce meme. Does it have a long e sound like one repeats when preparing to sing ... "me me me me me"? Or does it have more of a French accent as if Inspector Clouseau was saying "meh meh"? Perhaps is a combo of sounds ... "mem ee". Regardless, it's time to play ....

1. What was I doing five years ago?
Hmm, that puts me back to summer 2003. That was the summer that hubby man and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. That means this summer we celebrate our 25th. Let's see, what is the gift for 25 years? I think it should be diamonds for moi.

2. Five things I must do today (I'll modify this to include tomorrow because it's late.)
- Meet with my dear buddy to help her with her website
- Mail Father's Day Package of homemade fudge to my dad (I'm a recent fudge making guru.)
- Make a dent in Mt. Laundry
- Prepare for trip to Seattle Homeschool Conference this weekend
- Get oil changed in van and fill 'er up with a full tank of gas so I can make it to Seattle

3. Five snacks I enjoy
Ok, this is a toughie question because I'm not a snacker. Really. Snacks are quite safe around me. However, beings that I just snarfed down brie and bread at my buddy's house, I'm sure I can come up with something.
- Brie cheese with bread rounds (does my buddy take care of me or what?)
- Homemade chex mix (make a gigantic turkey roaster size pan batch every Christmas)
- Popcorn (although I rarely have it, I won't turn down a handful)
- Strawberries (in season, vine ripened, red all the way through please)
- Dark chocolate turtles (the good stuff with real caramel)

4. Five things I'd do if I were a billionaire
- Dedicate funds to epilepsy support and research.
- Pay off mortgages of family and buddies, oh, and my own, plus any debt they have
- Buy a mountain retreat for hubby man, and houses near me for my Dad and sister
- Set up college funds for all my children, nieces, and nephews.
- Replace vehicles

5. Five bad habits (who me, can't you see my halo?)
- Tad bossy, not super bossy, just a tad
- Like things to be done NOW -- I'm so not a procrastinator and don't like it when others do
- Tad bossy -- oops, already said that. It's more like I prefer to provide loving direction and guidance to my family members.
- Like to have everything laid out the night before. Everything. EVERYTHING! Can't stand rushing around last minute looking for stuff.
- Don't like to be late, so I set the clocks ahead. Of course, I know as does everyone else under this roof that the clocks are set ahead, but it's a system that works for me. (Unlike today, though, when traffic made me late arriving at my buddy's house. Grrr. I even allowed extra travel time. Double Grrr. )

6. Five places I've lived - In my case, there are only 4 places
- Valparaiso, Indiana - born and raised
- Chesterton, Indiana
- Seattle (Redmond), Washington
- Oregon

7. Five jobs I've had
- Hospital cafeteria - high school
- Prudential Insurance - high school co-op job
- Midwest Steel/National Steel - secretary
- McCaw Communications/Cellular One/AT&T - Management
- Mom/homeschool teacher/protector and keeper of universe; well, my universe anyway

I'm now supposed to tag someone else; however, I don't know anyone well enough yet to tag, except for Marjie and she tagged me, and I'm assuming there are no tag backs! So, I will reserve the right to tag someone else in the near future.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Cauliflower is my kind of flower

I love cauliflower. Cooked, raw, baked, mashed ... I like it all. Growing up, my mom would saute it in a little olive oil along with some sliced garlic, salt, and red pepper flakes. Simple, southern Italian fare. Other times, she would treat it like a frittata, mixing it with eggs and other fine ingredients. Again, simple yet outstanding flavor.

Since the weather has been so crummy and cold, I've been inclined to prepare dishes in the oven as it helps toast the house a bit. Baked cauliflower + cold weather = comfort food. Just double click on the above photo, and check out its crispy goodness.

It's quite simple to prepare. Heat the oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with foil. After rinsing, core one large head of cauliflower and break it into bite sized pieces. In a large mixing bowl, add 2T of Olive oil, two chopped garlic cloves, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes if desired. Add the cauliflower and mix well. Pour onto prepared baking sheet in a single layer and place in the oven. Stir about every 5 - 7 minutes and bake until nicely golden brown ... about 30-35 minutes.

This can also be prepared on the stove top. Don't put a lid on your saute pan, though, as you'll end up steaming the veggies.

Serve as a side dish.

Rhododendron Behemoth

Out here in the Pacific Northwest, rhododendrons can be found in just about every yard, park, or meadow. They love the climate and grow like crazy. And I mean like hyper-overdrive crazy. You never need to fertilize them ... they are happy with months of drizzle and survive the summer scorching sun. We have several of them in our yard, and every year I hack them down by at least 2 feet on all sides and the bottom, as well as thin out the interior. It's a huge job and takes a full weekend. Here's the thing ... they grow back twice as full after trimming. One year, I hacked them back so much that my husband issued a trimming citation to me. It was all for naught, though, because the beasties grew back twice as full. It's a weird catch 22. If you don't trim them, they'll over take the landscaping. If you do trim them, they grow back with gusto. We even had one plant that we hacked right down to the ground. That was about 3 years ago, and now the thing is HUGE. They only bloom in the spring providing tons of stunning color in the yard and pollen for bumble bees. There's usually a ball and frizbee or two hidden in it's depths. Jeepers! I'm just thankful it hasn't swallowed one of the kids yet. It's a jungle in there.

In the photo, you can see that these plants are heavily weighted down with flowers. No scent, just lots of beauty. Once the flowers fall off, we'll "dead head" the botanical beasts, and then its time to wack the behemoth back a couple of feet.

The garden of weedin - part 1

After four months of dropping subtle hints followed by 2 months of direct requests ... aka nagging, hubby man constructed two 4' x 6' x 12" raised garden beds for me. This was no small feat, as the drizzle only stopped for a couple of hours. So, after a couple trips to Home Depot and Lowes, the stage was set for construction. This was a manual labor intensive job, and with our hard as cement yard, this would have been near impossible for me. Of course, he made it look so easy cutting through the sod, sawing all the wood, hammering it all together (I could have done that part), hauling it around, etc. I did issue a *sigh* or two watching him looking manly doing all this stuff ... he'd have fit in just fine on the Oregon Trail. Plus, he gave up his parking spot in the garage so all the stuff needed to make this happen could be stored there. Giving up a garage spot is a big deal out here in drizzle city. ANYWAY ... he sawed, he hammered, and he conquered our backyard. I was a bbiigg help. I ordered the soil, shoveled in about 3 loads, provided sufficient oohs and ahhs at progress check points, made a run to Home Depot for more pea gravel, for which my youngest issued an "eewww" response to the name ... yeah, you are guessing correctly and yeah, I had to explain to her that a) its a size reference, and b) it's spelled differently than what she was thinking. All my kids are so literal it's scary.

Also, big kudos to my littlest gal who helped her daddy all weekend long set stuff up in the back yard. Once it stops raining, I'll move onto phase 2 - planting. Never mind the weeds in the background. They will be but a mere memory in a matter of days. Phase 2 is soon to follow. We'll be using the "Square Foot Gardening" method, so we have our square foot grids to put down, followed by planting the actual ... you know ... plants!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Reminiscing about my cute babes!

So here I sit late at night cleaning out the abyss known as "our photos" on the hard drive. I've been sorting jpegs, creating folders, and deleting duds when (insert angelic harmony music here) I came across an old, old gem of a file. Contained within this treasure chest were nestled long lost pictures of my offspring at various stages in their lives. This file must have been created as a catch all at some point long ago and then promptly forgotten. I've looked through each one, and every single photo holds a special memory. Man, I make cute babes. Who'd have thought?

As all three have just completed their school years and insist on growing up, I'm reminiscing about their little people days. My youngest's 3rd grade teacher signed my babe's yearbook, "To the littlest and last (insert our last name here)." Her message continued on and was sweet and kind, and reminded me that my babes are growing up. As if I needed reminding!

So, without further ado, travel down memory lane with me as I wonder how I ever got so lucky to be blessed with such great kids. (Of course, they are asleep right now so they have angelic status. If they were awake, I might not be so generous with my sugar-y comments!) These are in no particular order as evidenced by the various haircuts and heights they possess. And, yeah, their hair lightens up in the summer.

The girls share a room and to help make it special, I told them that I would paint their walls with whatever they wanted. They wanted a tree with flowers and bunnies and fences and birds nests, etc. So, armed with zillions of craft paint bottles and twice as many brushes, I painted their walls and ceilings as requested. If you look toward the baseboard, you'll see the flowers and even a bunny. I like the flowers best, and at the base of the tree is a little door for the bunny to enter his tree home. The girls may soon outgrow this theme, and already their walls are covered with posters of the latest and greatest. For now, whenever I inquire about repainting, they both say no ... although that usually leads to the familiar request of wanting their own rooms. Sure girls, just as soon as that tree there sprouts money, we'll remodel and get you your own rooms.

My most favorite find. Hubby man and my two girl babes at the Community Center Daddy Daughter Date night. The TV news crew popped in and my gang had their 4 seconds of fame on the evening news. Bear in mind that hubby man has only danced maybe 5 times in his life ... our wedding reception, 2 other wedding reception, and at two Daddy Daughter Dances. The things he'll endure for love. Who loves ya baby?!

Offspring #2 in her Halloween finest in 1999. 'Nuff said.

The babes together in August 2004. We were just about to saunter a "short" trail with hubby man. His idea of short and mine are not quite the same. Of course he finds all that hiking to be exhilarating and easy. Figures he discovers his love of hiking after the ink dried on the marriage certificate!

Offspring #3 at age 4 in preschool. Judging by the look on her face, I'm guessing that even then she knew that wheat products were not for her ... even if they contain chocolate!

Offspring #3 on her 1st Birthday ... the wagon was a gift too. Yep, that's a picnic table indoors. Doesn't everyone keep one in their living room? We just donated that away this past summer. Young miss used it last year as her homeschool desk ... genius inspired desk solution if I do say so myself!

Offspring #1 and #2 just after their 4th birthday vacationing in the Maroon Bells in Colorado. The Rocky Mtns are so beautiful; it was tough to adjust to the elevation. Ok, it was tough for me, but bear in mind that I had given birth just 3 months earlier and was toting around a nursing infant. Was totally worth it, though, as the kids had a great time.

Twin offspring #1 and #2 sometime around 3 years old ... they're now 12.5 ... and both of them have longer hair! That's the one and only time they wore overalls. Too bad, cuz they look cute!