Sunday, March 28, 2010

Crab and Avocado Duet

Once, a college girl was in love. Or lust. Or something, but she certainly knew that this boy, this boy who sat in front of her in Fiction 101, this boy with the black hair and the clear blue eyes? This boy was going to change her life.

That is, if he'd ever notice her.

She always sat behind him, but at an angle, so she could study his broad shoulders, his lush eyelashes, the tiny clench of the jaw when he concentrated. She peered out from beneath her behemoth 80's bangs, stealing glimpses, feeling fizzy and full and hollow all at the same time.

She wore her best Guess? jeans to lectures, did the required reading twice before class so so she'd sound intelligent if called upon. She nearly lip-glossed herself to death.

And then one day, one amazingly fine day, he noticed her. Not only did he notice her, he asked her to a party. A Fraternity party. The kind of party she never got asked to.

The Fraternity house smelled like sweat and Budweiser and stale marijuana, and what passed for a bathroom in that place was criminal.

But the boy didn't get too drunk and he made decent conversation and he said he liked her blue sweater. He didn't seem to notice the slight tremor of her hand as she held her beer cup or that she struggled for words.

He walked her back to her dorm at the end of the night, and just when she was sure he'd never kiss her, he leaned in slowly...

And nearly ate her tongue.

If the boy ever found himself unemployed, she thought, he could hire out that tongue as a Roto-Rooter. She almost choked on that enthusiastic, crack-the-whip monstrosity.

And BAM! The dream was over. So much promise...

That's kind of how I felt when I made this Crab and Avocado Duet from Ellie Krieger's cookbook So Easy.

The ingredients were good lookin'. The presentation was innovative. The finished dish, I was sure, was going to have that wow factor. But in the end? Disappointing.

It really didn't have much flavor, to be honest. And I used good crabmeat, Scout's Honor! I was flummoxed. What's not to like about crab and avocado?

In the end, I separated the crabmeat from the avocado, added some capers and a squeeze of mayonnaise, a dab more dijon, a few cracks of salt and pepper, and put the avocado, the "doctored-up" crab mixture and a few slices of tomato on a soft roll. Then I sweetened the deal with a few strips of crisp bacon. Crab club sandwich! A big improvement, I thought, and hubs had to agree. We happily munched Plan B. and decided that there's more to life than good lookin'.

Crab and Avocado Duet
from Ellie Krieger's So Easy
serves 4

1 ripe avocado
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
pinch of ground pepper
1/2 pound lump crabmeat
2 tablespoons chopped chives or parsley

whole grain baguette, to serve

Pit and peel the avocado and cut it into 1/2-inch chunks. In a small bowl, toss the avocado chunks gently with 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice and season with salt to taste.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, the Dijon mustard, pepper and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add the crabmeat and toss.

For a decorative presentation, stand an empty 15-ounce can (with both the top and bottom removed) on a serving plate. Scoop a quarter of the avocado into the can, being careful to avoid any sharp edge on the rim. Place a quarter of the crabmeat on top and press down gently into the can. Gently pull the can off the avocado and crab mixture. Garnish with chopped chives or parsley.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Neighbor Friday: Nicki's Nook

Happy Friday, Readers! I'm so pleased to have Nicki guest posting today! Nicki is sort of a rock star; she's raised SIX kids, remained sane AND she just finished a 13-mile half-marathon. I don't think there's anything that can keep this lady down. She's here today to share some healthy recipes and a little message with you, so give her a warm welcome!

If you're so inclined, click on the icon below and travel to The Never-True Tales for more Friday fun!


Guest Post – The Kitchen Witch

I was just doing my dishes as I was thinking about the CSA meeting I missed on Sunday. It is very hard to find a CSA share where I live but in Ithaca, it is much easier. Since I now drive to Ithaca at least once a week, I figured I would scope out a share there at the three hour “open house” this past Sunday. I would just make pick up arrangements for the day I am in town.

CSA, you ask? Never heard of it? Well, let me tell you that as much as I lust after having a huge garden each spring, I truly do not have a green thumb so my growing, between the fact that I practically live in the Arctic and we cannot generally plant until June 1 and my lack of ability, is limited. I have had some limited success growing in containers but not all things turned out good. But, back to CSA – Community Supported Agriculture.

Typically, March is a bit late for CSA but, like I said, outside planting in my area may hold off as late as June 1 so maybe not so late. What happens is a customer pays a farmer in advance of planting season for a share in the harvest. In some cases, the customer also has to put work hours into the farm but not in all cases. If you are interested in CSA in your area, please check out Local Harvest for locations near you.

Now, you may wonder why I care about local farms as most of the CSA shares around me are veggies, fruits and herbs. Few farms have animals for meat. But here is the thing. Those of you who read around – we encourage this – may have seen Gale’s month of March experiment to go vegetarian. In this she has referenced some of the information she is learning about big agriculture. Truly, the food we purchase at grocery stores, for the most part, is not local, family farm food. It is a result of agri-business and additives, in most cases. Some groceries try to carry local produce in season but not all.

So, I want to encourage you to take a week to start and eat local for that week. Barbara Kingsolver and her family not only ate local, they did so for an entire year. The journey is chronicled in the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. While I could not do what Kingsolver and her family did, I try my best to help the local farmer out when I can. To do my bit to help you support your local farmer or your local farmer’s market, I am willing to send a pdf file with 15 recipes I tried for the first time when I had my CSA. They include ingredients like cabbage, swiss chard, zucchini, jalapenos.


Grilled Eggplant and Chickpea Salad

3 Japanese Eggplant, cut lengthwise
¼ cup canola oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 15.5 ounce can chickpeas, drained, rinsed and drained again
1 red pepper, grilled, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced
1 yellow pepper, grilled, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
15 Kalamata olives, pitted and coarsely chopped (I omitted as I don’t like these)
Juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon red chile flakes
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
8 ounces feta, crumbled
1. Heat the grill to high
2. Brush the eggplant with the canola oil on both sides and season with salt and pepper. Gill for 3 to 4 minutes per side or until lightly golden brown and slightly charred. Remove from the grill and cut each half into half-inch think slices.
3. Place the eggplant, chickpeas, red and yellow peppers, onion and olives in a large bowl. Add the lemon juice, olive oil, chile flakes, mint and cilantro and stir to combine. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving or cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours before serving. Can be served cold or at room temperature.

Grilled Tomato-Basil Relish

Yields 2 cups
8 ripe plum tomatoes – used regular tomatoes
5 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small red onion, finely diced
2 cloves finely chopped fresh garlic
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
¼ cup finely chopped fresh basil
1. Heat your grill to high.
2. Place the tomatoes in a bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Place tomatoes on the grill and trill until charred on all sides, and just cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove from the grill and coarsely chop. Put the chopped tomatoes in a bowl, add the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil, onion, garlic, vinegar and basil and gently mix until combined. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving. Can be made 4 hours in advance and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before serving. Serve with grilled eggplant.

Swiss Chard Pesto

1 tablespoon butter or margarine
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic
Bunch of swiss chard
¼ cup of pine nuts
¼ cup parmesan cheese, grated
Fresh coriander leaves
1. Wash the chard thoroughly and shake to dry.
2. Melt the butter in a saucepan with the olive oil.
3. Chop the chard stems and add them to the pan. Stir and cook, covered, for five minutes.
4. Roughly chop or tear the chard leaves and add them to the pan. Cook for an additional three minutes.
5. Toast the pine nuts for two to three minutes – either under broiler or in dry pan.
6. Turn off the heat under the chard. Add the coriander leaves, pine nuts, and parmesan.
7. Puree the mixture.
8. Serve tossed with pasta. If too thick, thin out with some of the water the pasta is cooked in.
Swiss Chard
Snap off the stems of the swiss chard. Chop and sauté with garlic and butter until soft. Chop or tear leaves and add last two minutes. Finish with fresh nutmeg.

Curried Cabbage

1 large onion – finely chopped
6 tablespoons oil
1 large tomato, sliced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon turmeric
2 carrots, sliced in rounds
1 medium head cabbage, finely sliced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
½ cup water
Salt and pepper
1. In a large shallow pan with a lid, sauté the onion in the oil over a moderate heat until it is lightly browned.
2. Add the tomato, salt, spices and continue to cook for two to three minutes, stirring frequently.
3. Add carrots and cook for five minutes.
4. Add the cabbage and bell pepper. Mix well.
5. Pour in water.
6. Cover pan and simmer until all the liquid is absorbed and the vegetables are cooked.

Italian Cabbage & Bean Soup

1 teaspoon olive oil
½ cup onion, chopped
½ cup celery, chopped
½ cup carrots, sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 ½ cups green cabbage, shredded
1 cup tomatoes, diced with liquid
1 cup white beans, cooked
2 packets onion soup mix, prepared
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Place all ingredients in a large stockpot.
2. Bring everything to a boil and let boil for 30 minutes or until veggies are done.

Creamy Zucchini with Linguine

½ cup olive oil
2 large zucchini, diced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 (12 oz) package linguine pasta
1 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1. Warm olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add zucchini and garlic to hot oil, and season with salt and red
pepper flakes. Cook, turning occasionally, until zucchini are well browned on all sides , about 20 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of generously salted water to boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
3. Stir milk into zucchini and simmer until it is reduced by about half, about 10 minutes. Add pasta to skillet and stir well. Sprinkle parsley and ¼ cup Parmesan over top and toss. Garnish with remaining Parmesan to serve.

Summer Squash Pizza Crust

4 cups finely shredded zucchini or yellow summer squash
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2 eggs, beaten
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
Salt to taste
1. Preheat oven to 350F (175C).
2. Once zucchini or summer squash has been shredded, lightly salt the squash and transfer it to a strainer. Let stand for 15 to 30 minutes and press all remaining liquid out of squash.
3. In a medium sized mixing bowl, combine squash, flour, Parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese, eggs, pepper and salt. Mix well.
4. Spread the mixture into a greased and floured jelly roll pan. Bake for 25 minutes in the preheated oven.
5. Remove the crust from the oven and change the oven’s temperature to broil. Brush the top of the crust with oil and then broil the crust for 3 to 5 minutes until lightly browned.
6. Allow the crust to cool slightly and slide spatula underneath all the edges and under the middle. Place a large baking sheet over the top of the crust and flip the crust over so that the bottom of the crust is now facing upwards. Because it can be difficult to flip the crust smoothly, it may be necessary to cut the crust in half to facilitate the flipping of the crust. If you want to omit the flipping, that is fine but crust will not be as crunchy.
7. Brush the top of the crust with oil and broil for another 3 to 5 minutes until browned. Cover with toppings as desired.

Middle Eastern Cucumber and Tomato Salad

4 cups peeled cucumbers, cut to ½ inch chunks
4 cups ripe tomatoes, cut in ½ inch chunks
1 large red or green bell pepper, cut in ½ inch chunks
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
3 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
1 cup crumbled feta
2 scallions cut in ¼ inch slices
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Chop the fresh vegetables as described above and place in a large salad bowl or glass bowl. Refrigerate until ready to serve so the salad will be nice and cold. If adding feta, herbs, and/or green onion, sprinkle them evenly over the salad.
2. Mix the oil and lemon juice, salt and pepper in a small bowl and set aside until ready to serve.
3. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and toss.

Sandwich Spread

Finely chop jalepeno peppers after deribbing and deseeding (if you want less heat, keep seeds and ribs if you want more heat). Mix in glass bowl with 4 ounces shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese. Add Miracle Whip or mayonnaise to create a spread. Use on tortillas or flat bread.

Balsamic Green Bean Salad

1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed
2 tablespoons chopped shallots
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
1. Place green beans in a large saucepan. Fill with enough water to cover green beans and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer 10 minutes. Drain, and let cool.
2. In a bowl, stir together shallots, garlic, balsamic vinegar and oil. Pour over green beans. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour. Serve cold.

Purple Apple Slaw

½ medium head red cabbage, finely shredded
¼ cup finely minced white onion
2 Gala apples, peeled, cored and finely diced
1 cup mayonnaise
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons milk
1. In a large serving bowl, toss together the cabbage, onion and apples.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, salt, pepper, sugar, lemon juice and milk. Pour dressing over the cabbage mixture and toss to coat.
3. Chill until serving.

Purple Cabbage and Walnut Salad

Note: Original recipe called for pecans but I didn’t have any so used walnuts.

1 head cabbage, shredded
1 cup Chinese pecans (sweetened pecans)
3 scallions, chopped including the green part
½ cup vinegar (used white)
½ cup sugar
¼ cup oil (used canola)
¼ cup soy sauce
1. Mix the dressing separately.
2. You can make the dressing in advance.
3. Just shake well and pour over the cabbage, pecans and scallions.
4. Mix well to coat and serve immediately or nuts will soften.

Zucchini Yogurt Multigrain Muffins

1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 eggs
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup plain yogurt
1 cup white sugar
¾ cup honey
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup shredded zucchini
1 cup shredded carrots
½ cup chopped pecans (optional)
½ cup raisins (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 400F (200C). Lightly grease 24 muffin cups.
2. In a bowl, sift together the flours, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
3. In a separate bowl, beat together eggs, vegetable oil, applesauce, yogurt, sugar, honey and vanilla.
4. Mix the flour mixture into the egg mixture.
5. Fold in zucchini, carrots, pecans, and raisins.
6. Scoop into the prepared muffin cups.
7. Bake 18 to 20 minutes in the preheated oven, until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

Zucchini Brownies

½ cup vegetable oil
1 ½ cups white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups shredded zucchini
½ cup chopped walnuts


6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ cup margarine
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
¼ cup milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 350F (175C). Grease and flour a 9x13 inch baking pan.
2. In a large bowl, mix together the oil, sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla until well blended.
3. Combine the flour, ½ cup cocoa, baking soda and salt.
4. Stir flour mixture into sugar mixture.
5. Fold in zucchini and walnuts.
6. Spread evenly into prepared pan.
7. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven, until brownies spring back when gently touched.
8. To make frosting/icing, melt together the 6 tablespoons of cocoa and margarine; set aside to cool.
9. In a medium bowl, blend together the confectioners’ sugar, milk and ½ teaspoon vanilla. Stir in cocoa mixture. Spread over cooled brownies before cutting into squares.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Better Burger with Green Olives

There are some people out there who would argue that you shouldn't mess with a good burger. My Daddy-O is certainly of that school of Burger Philosophy.

But me? I kinda like to mess around, shake things up, tinker.

I saw this recipe for Better Burger with Green Olives in Ellie Krieger's cookbook, So Easy and was intrigued.

Green olives? In a burger? With cumin, a spice I usually only use when cooking Mexican or Indian food? Huh.

Well, really, why not?

I went to the store for green olives and discovered something even better. Green olives stuffed with jalapenos! We like our food racy at Chez T., so I threw those bad boys in the cart.

I formed the meat mixture into patties and learned one little tip: Although most cooks advise against packing the meat firmly into patties, if you make this recipe, you should pat them together fairly well. Otherwise, they can fall apart. Which is a burger bummer.

Better Burger with Green Olives
from Ellie Krieger's So Easy
serves 4

1 pound lean ground beef (at least 90% lean)--I used 92% lean
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pitted green olives*
2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cooking spray
4 whole-wheat hamburger buns (I used English muffins, toasted)
4 slices beefsteak tomato
4 green lettuce leaves
1/4 red onion, sliced
ketchup, to taste

Combine the beef, olive, parsley, cumin and pepper in a mixing bowl and mix until well incorporated. Shape into 4 burgers.

Spray a non-stick grill pan with cooking spray and preheat over medium-high heat. Cook the burgers for 4 minutes per side for medium, turning once. Serve with condiments.

* I didn't coarsely chop mine--I whizzed them in the food processor. Thus, my husband, who doesn't much like green olives, didn't know they were in there. ~evil cackle~

Verdict: YUM! Honestly, you couldn't really taste the olives. Whether that was due to the jalapeno kick, I'm not sure. The cumin added a wonderful, toasty, smoky flavor. Cumin is awesome in burgers--who knew? Hubs and Awesome Stepkid and I all gave these burgers a thumbs-up.

The best thing? A Better Burger weighs in at about 300 calories. Which would you rather eat? A mouthwatering, fresh burger or an insipid Lean Cuisine (which I am always mad at myself for buying/eating)?

I'll need a few Better Burgers in the next few days, because the family leaves for Hawaii on Friday, for a Spring Break that's sure to be packed with hi-jinks and hilarity. Taking a nod from my friend Kristen , I'm going to try to un-plug for a lot of the trip and focus on my wolf pack.

But please pop in on Friday, when I'm hosting Nicki for Neighbor Friday!

Nicki will take great care of you guys while busy I'm trying to pacify Minxes on a Plane.

If I don't come around much to comment on my favorite blogs or check in here, forgive me. Balance isn't something I do well; I'm trying to err on the side of family this next week! I love you guys!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Meatless Monday: Indian Dhal

So many readers confessed their love for naan in this post, I thought I'd share a recipe that used naan as a delivery vehicle. Gives you a good excuse to eat a buttload of naan, eh?

Dhal (lentil curry) is a South Indian staple; many South Indians are vegetarians, and dhal is a primary source of protein--it's not uncommon to see dhal on the table at every meal.

Traditional dhals are often soupy, and served with rice. My husband doesn't like his dhal like that, and frankly, neither do I.

So welcome to TKW's Bastardized Dhal. This dhal is thicker, and served with my beloved naan, for scooping. This recipe is spicy, so if you have delicate tongues, I suggest you halve the amount of chiles involved. Either way, I'd recommend serving the dhal with a cooling raita.

I love raita--the refreshing blend of cucumbers and yogurt provide the perfect counterpoint to Indian spices. And for the record, it's delicious with naan, too. I think I'm the poster child for Eat More Naan!

Both recipes are adapted (eg: Bastardized) from the cookbook Curried Favors by Maya Kaimal MacMillan. I highly recommend this cookbook; it's by far my favorite of the Indian ones I own (you can get it on A lot of Indian cookbooks are very fussy and require you to toast your own spices and grind them yourself. This one does not, and while there are some time-consuming recipes, there are a lot of recipes so simple that dinner's on the table in about 30 minutes.

Spicy Dhal with Tomatoes
adapted from Curried Favors by Maya Kaimal MacMillan
serves 6-8

1 cup masoor dhal (dried red can get these at Whole Foods) or yellow thool dal, rinsed
2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2-3 green chiles (serrano, Thai or jalapeno), split lengthwise

1 cup chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned, drained

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped

In a medium saucepan, bring dhal, water and turmeric to a boil; turn down heat, cover and let simmer for 20-30 minutes (you will need only 20 minutes if you use red lentils, more if you use yellow). Watch for spilling. (Remove cover to let bubbles subside if spilling occurs).

While dhal cooks, heat oil, cumin seeds, mustard seeds and crushed red pepper in a covered, heavy 3-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. When mustard seeds start to pop, turn the heat down to medium and add onion, garlic and green chiles and cook for 5 minutes until onion is soft.

Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring, until slightly softened, about 3-5 minutes.

When dhal is cooked and tender, mash with a potato masher or the back of a spoon to break up roughly (if you use red lentils, you probably won't have to do this. Red lentils fall apart quite easily). Add tomato and spice mixture (you can throw the green chiles out at this point or choose to leave them in, whichever you prefer). Stir in salt and bring to a boil. Simmer for 2 minutes, adding more water for a thinner consistency, if desired.

Adjust seasonings, garnish with cilantro.

adapted from Curried Favors by Maya Kaimal Macmillan
serves 8

2 medium hothouse (English) cucumbers, seeded and coarsely grated or finely chopped (you can peel the cucumber if it suits you)
1 cup white onion, grated or very finely chopped
2 cups plain greek 2% milk yogurt, such as Fage
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
dash of cayenne pepper
dash of black pepper
1 teaspoon salt

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients. Set aside for 20 minutes before serving so flavors can blend and mixture thins out a little. Taste for salt and adjust if necessary.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Chicken Parmesan Burgers

Oh, Chicken Parmigiana, how do I love thee? I love your crisp, seasoned crust. I love your tangy, herb-studded marinara sauce. I love your ooey, gooey, decadent blanket of cheese. I love the saucy noodles that usually ride shotgun on the plate with you.

I love you. Except for one leeeeetle problem.

You are a Calorie Bomb from Hell. Yeah, I know you think you're all sneaky, because you are chicken--boneless, skinless, chicken at that--which everyone knows is healthy, right?

You little charlatan. You.....Lothario! You seduce us with promises of lean, nutritious protein, add the enticement of a vegetable-studded sauce and then? Ka-blammo! You knock us onto our rapidly-expanding ass.

The proof is in the pudding*. The Chicken Parmigiana entree at the Olive Garden restaurant contains just how many calories, do you think? Huh? I mean, it's only chicken, right? Wrong. The magic number is: 1,090.

'Tis true. You can look it up yourself. And that number doesn't even include the salad and those Crack Breadsticks they serve. 1,090 calories for one meal is seven kinds of wrong, people!

I think I might have a single glass of wine or a Go-gurt left over in the calorie bank after eating Olive Garden Chicken Parm (no salad, no breadsticks. If I eat those, I've hit my calorie allotment for the whole freaking day).

But this sucks! I love you, Chicken Parm! What's a girl--a girl with a firm eye on the size of her backside--to do?

In my case, a girl finds a really kick-butt recipe in Bon Appetit for Chicken Parmesan Burgers. A recipe which, when followed as directed, clocks in at 554 calories. Not bad! If you are on Le Regime, or even a half-assed Regime, you can do like I did and skip the top layer of bread (or skip bread altogether and add a side salad) and make it a knife-and-fork affair.

Any way you dish it up, it will deliver that crave-worthy Chicken Parm taste without the walk of shame in the morning.

Chicken Parmesan Burgers
from Bon Appetit
serves 4

10 1/2-inch-thick slices French bread (4 inches in diameter); 8 slices toasted, 2 slices (crust removed) diced
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese**
4 tablespoons minced fresh basil, divided, plus 12 large basil leaves
3/4 cup purchased refrigerated marinara sauce
12 ounces ground chicken (white meat)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon grated onion
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces whole-milk mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
4 large radicchio leaves

Blend diced bread and Parmesan in processor to fine crumbs. Transfer to pie dish; mix in 2 tablespoons minced basil.

Mix marinara and 2 tablespoons basil in a small saucepan. Transfer 1 1/2 tablespoons sauce to large bowl. Add chicken, 1/2 tablespoon oil, onion and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Sprinkle with pepper; blend. Shape into four 1/2-inch thick patties; coat with crumbs. Heat sauce over low heat.

Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Cook patties until bottoms are crusty, 4 minutes. Turn patties over, top with cheese. Cook 3 minutes.

Cover; cook until cooked through and cheese is melted, about 1 minute.

Assemble burgers with bread, radicchio, basil leaves and warm marinara.

* Proof is in the pudding? Where did that wacky phrase come from, I wonder? That makes no stinking sense.

** Since there are so few ingredients in this recipe, I'm going to urge you to buy the GOOD stuff. Parmigianno-Reggiano from Italy, in the block form. No pre-shredded cheese! The already shredded kind loses it's flavor in like, a day. Okay, enough harassin' ya.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

White Trash Motherlode: Pimiento Cheese Spread

Some of you readers know that I spent many of my formative years in Grand Forks, North Dakota. It was a bleak and frigid landscape, but we had some hoo-boy interesting neighbors. The same neighbors I posted about here happened to give us a family code-word/phrase unique to just us. You have those, don't you? Little sayings that pop out of your mouth, things you've heard since you were a child...things that make no sense to anyone else?

Or are we bigger wierdos than I thought?

Anyways, our code-phrase was, "Let me guess--Emil Schraeder did it, didn't he?"


My sister's best friend Lisa had money. Well, let me correct that. Lisa's family had more money than we did, which now that I think of it, probably wasn't very hard.

Anyways, Lisa's mother, Barb, was quite progressive and liberated. She militantly refused to wear a bra and refused to vacuum and sent her husband's work shirts to the dry cleaners. Believe me, such behavior was, in my eyes, downright exotic.

One afternoon, as Barb was hanging up the freshly dry-cleaned work shirts, she noticed one that she didn't recognize. Sure enough, the shirt was quite a bit larger than her husband's size. Upon further examination, she discovered a homemade tag on the inside, emblazoned with the name: Emil Schraeder.

An odd name, don't you think? I mean, even for Scandinavian-heavy North Dakota in the early 70's, this was a goofy-ass name.

Barb returned the shirt to the dry cleaner, only to get a puzzled look and a shake of the head.

"We don't have any customer named Emil Schraeder, lady. Never heard that name in my life."

Emil Schraeder:Man of Mystery.

From then on, whenever something in the Norby household went missing or was mysteriously broken, Lisa and her brothers would insist that they were not culpable.

"Emil Schraeder must have done it," they said, grinning.

Naturally, my sister and I thought this was genius.

So Emil Schraeder ended up haunting not just one, but two houses.

I'm going somewhere with this, I swear...

Growing up, my father had an addiction to a savory crocked-cheese-spread that he could only get in Fargo. Whenever he had business in Fargo, he picked up a jar or two of this delicious little foodstuff.

He'd reverently crack open the jar, grab a knife and slather the orange concoction on crackers or stalks of celery, sighing in satisfaction. The stuff was delectable.

Alas, my father was (and still is) notoriously stingy about sharing "his" food. Daddy is the only person I know who will go to a Chinese restaurant and refuse to allow a scrap of his entree to pass anyone else's lips. His food is his food.

Thus was his attitude towards his Crack Cheese. He guarded it like a junkyard dog.

But Crack Cheese was delicious...

So we sneaked, pilfered, pillaged. Greasy little fingers would leave smears on the refrigerator door, and when my father saw the streaks of cheesy evidence, he would bellow, "Who's been into my cheese?"

Emil Schraeder, who else?

To this day, I love savory cheese spread, although my tastes have advanced to spicier fare than the Crack Cheese of yore. My cheesy bliss? Pimiento-Jalapeno cheese spread from Whole Foods. I love the stuff. Give me a toasted English muffin, topped with that spread and a slice of fresh tomato, and I'm a satisfied woman.

Problem is, as much as I love my Whole Foods snack, it doesn't lovva my ass. Pimiento cheese spread usually contains mayonnaise or butter or God forbid, both. Cheese+Mayonnaise+Butter=Backside Suicide.

So imagine my delight when I stumbled across a lightened recipe for pimiento cheese spread in Eating Well magazine. I made a batch, stirred in some finely diced jalapeno peppers, and was in snack heaven.

Eating Well Pimiento Cheese
makes 1 1/2 cups

1 1/2 cups reduced-fat Cheddar cheese**
1/4 cup low-fat mayonnaise (do not use fat-free)
1 (4 oz.) jar sliced pimientos, drained and chopped
2 tablespoons minced scallions or shallot
hot sauce to taste (or if you are like me, 1-2 tablespoons chopped jalapeno or serrano pepper)
salt and pepper to taste

Mix together. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes to allow flavors to blend. Serve with crackers or crudites.

**Eating Well magazine is VERY, very fussy about the cheese used in the spread. They know their stuff, so listen to them. The ONLY low-fat Cheddar that's acceptable is Cabot or Cracker Barrel brand. And only the kind sold in block form--no pre-shredded cheese allowed. And not lower-fat than 50%. Got that? Disobey orders and your pimiento cheese will not be Crack-Worthy. I could only find Cabot low-fat Cheddar in the white variety, so you'll notice that my spread is a little pale, but it tasted just lovely.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Lunch Box Ennui

Growing up, Mama never, not ever, made me eat the hot lunch at school. Thank goodness; that dreck they served up was nasty. Every day, she diligently packed things I loved to eat and sent me on my way. I rarely traded lunches with anyone, although I often got asked. Why on Earth would I trade Mama's Bitchin' Tuna Sandwich for Kelly Crosby's thermos of tomato soup? Who wanted Kim Maiser's Oreos when I had homemade peanut butter cookies? What kind of idiot did they take me for?

Those carefully packed lunches were proof, in my eyes, that I was loved and cared for. I never tired of them. And then I grew up and got a job and had to pack my own lunches. Packing my own lunch? Not so fun. I sure as shit didn't bake myself peanut butter cookies. When it came to packing my own lunch, I showed a stunning lack of creativity. Lean Cuisines and apples. Turkey wraps. Yogurt, berries and granola. Yawn.

Blessedly, I no longer have to pack my lunch. However, I'm stupid enough to have, as a newlywed, offered to pack my husband's lunch every day. Fresh Love clearly rendered me incapable of brain function. I hated packing my own lunch; what made me think this would be any different?

I'm trying to do better for hubs than I did for myself. I strive to mix things up for him. Lately, since he's still on Half-Assed Regime, I've been packing protein-filled salads. This particular one has a lot going for it--loaded with protein, veggies and fiber-rich barley, it's hearty enough to satisfy the hungriest of bears. The olives and the feta add salty bite, and the lemon and herbs freshen the whole thing up. Pack this for lunch and you won't suffer Lunchbox Ennui, trust me.*

Half-Assed Regime Mediterranean Salad
adapted from Cooking Light Magazine
makes enough for 4 lunches

3/4 cups uncooked pearl barley

1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 cup chopped cooked chicken breast
1 cup thinly sliced celery
1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped, pitted Kalamata olives
1 (15-oz.) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled

Cook the barley in boiling water as per package directions. Cool to room temperature.

Combine lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil and mustard in a bowl. Whisk to blend.

Combine barley, chicken, celery, tomatoes, red onion, salt, pepper, olives and cannellini beans in a large bowl. Toss with dressing. Add chopped parsley and feta cheese and toss lightly to combine. Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes before serving.

* A caveat: if you aren't used to high-fiber foods, you'll fart. Just sayin'.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Cauliflower: Edible or No?

Confession: I've always disliked cauliflower. It reeks in the refrigerator crisper and reeks again when you cook it. And it doesn't taste like, well, anything, does it? Aside from my father, I don't know anyone who can honestly say that they like cauliflower.

Except for my husband. He likes cauliflower. Specifically, he likes his mother's cauliflower. I must say, I was pretty dubious. But my curiosity was piqued, and when I was visiting my in-laws once, I asked my mother-in-law to make it. My mother-in-law hails from Southern India, and she made cauliflower in the method she learned back home.

And guess what? It was delicious! Because cauliflower is such a blank canvas, it really sings when jazzed up with Indian spices. This wasn't any bland lump of white stuff--this was cauliflower with personality. A little aside: my MIL happens to be a veggie genius. Any vegetable she cooks, I like. Even the dreaded okra. I don't know how she does it, but she makes delicious vegetables every time. She's the Veggie Whisperer.

After that visit, I bought a few Indian cookbooks. I've learned a lot, and am still learning. This particular cauliflower curry isn't as simple as the one my mother-in-law made, but it's delicious. It's actually several recipes put together; I don't know how I came up with it, really. I think I was just fooling around one day and this was the result. We like it with basmati rice or warm naan* to soak up the luscious sauce.

My days of cauliflower boredom are over. If you like Indian food, I encourage you to give this a try!

Indian Spiced Vegetables
serves 4 as a main, 6 as a side

1 head cauliflower, cut into flowerets
1 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds (yellow or black)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (if you like it hotter, use 1/2 teaspoon)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup water
1 cup coconut milk
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 red bell pepper, sliced
2 zucchini, sliced
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Rice or naan, for serving

Heat oil and mustard seeds in a large skillet over medium heat until mustard seeds begin to sizzle and pop. Add onion, turmeric, cayenne, cumin and coriander and cook until onion begins to soften. Add salt, pepper and water and stir until combined. Add the cauliflower; toss until well coated with the spice mixture. Cover pan, reduce heat to low and steam 8 minutes, adding a little more water if mixture dries out. Add coconut milk and lemon juice; stir and re-cover. Cook 5 minutes more. Add bell pepper and zucchini; toss well and cook 4 minutes more. Top with cilantro and taste for seasonings.

*If you've never had naan, you need to. This Indian bread is Food of the Gods. And it ain't even fried. It's cooked in a screaming hot Tandoor oven and goodness, it's delicous. I think you could even wrap the M word in it and suddenly, it would taste good. It's impossible to make, but you can get it at Whole Foods or, oddly, I can get a bitchin' version of naan at my SuperTarget! No lie!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Facing Down My Nemesis

I just about peed myself when I read the March itinerary for Barefoot Bloggers. This had to be some kind of cruel joke. Clearly, some cosmic force had it in for old KitchyWitchy this month, because I was being asked to face my Food Nemesis.

The horror.

I was ordered to make the most evil concoction known to man. That's right folks. The M word.

If you don't know about my traumatic experience with the M word, I suggest you go here.

My husband walked into the kitchen yesterday and saw me sauteeing a mountain of onions.

"Mmmmmm. What's for dinner?" he asked.

"Meat Loaf."

"Geddafuckoutta here," he said. "No way."

"Way," I said. "Some sadistic dillweed at Barefoot Bloggers picked meat loaf as one of the March recipes."

"And you're not just punting on it?"

"Nope. Time to face the enemy. I'm putting on my battle armor, and sheathing my sword as we speak. Meat Loaf, I'm coming for you!"

"Okaaaaayy," he said, backing out of the kitchen. "You have fun with that. I actually love meat loaf."


You can find the recipe for Ina's Individual Meat Loaves here.

When I first scanned the recipe, I noticed a couple of things that just weren't going to fly with me. And since I cannot follow the rules to save my life, I had to tinker with the recipe.

First item of note: Ina calls for ground chuck that is 81% lean. There's good reason for this. Fattier meat=moist and flavorful meat loaf. However, my butt doesn't need fatty meat. There's enough jiggle in that trunk already. I'm pretty sure hubs' butt doesn't need fatty meat, either. So I used 93% lean ground chuck.

Which then posed a little problem about how to add moisture back into the meat loaf. I grated up a zucchini and an orange bell pepper and added it to my meat mixture, hoping that would add the necessary moisture and flavor I needed.

Second item of note: Ina directs you to shape the individual meat loaves into six (10 to 11 ounce) portions. Who on Earth is she cooking for? Lumberjacks? The Green Bay Packers? 10 to 11 ounces of meat is hella lotta meat, people!!

I'd actually halved the recipe to start with (I didn't want all of that extra meat loaf staring at me in the refrigerator later), and I shaped that halved recipe into 4 loaves. Each loaf was about 5 ounces--a much more moderate portion.

However, what did this mean for the cooking time? Did I cut the cooking time in half, or would my meat loaf turn out *shudder* RAW in the middle? I was really not okay with that prospect, so I cut fifteen minutes off the cooking time and called it good.

Verdict: Hubs loved it. I gagged. Sometimes, a girl just can't rise above her past. Sorry Ina, I tried.

And where's the picture, you ask? Ahem. Sorry folks. Just TRY to make meat loaf look sexy. Fail. So you'll just have to take my word for it.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

My First Pie: A Lard Story

You guys know I don't bake, right? Baking and I don't play well together. Because baking requires adherence to, you know, rules. I don't do rules.

So how does a self-professed non-baker find herself ass-deep in pie dough one fine weekend?

Lard. That's right, folks. Nothing motivates a girl to bake like a hermetically sealed, Fed-Exed parcel of homemade lard.

My wonderful friend Phoo-d wrote this post recently about her adventures in rendering lard from local pigs. Imagine my delight when, while futzing around on Facebook, I got the following IM: "Hey, any interest in some homemade hog fat?"

The thrill, my friends. The thrill.

A few days later, this arrived on my doorstep. I was seriously blissed out.

By the time hubs hit the door at 6 o'clock, I'd worked myself into a froth. "Honey!! Lookee what I got!" I crowed, waving the package around. "This is the coolest thing I've ever gotten in the mail. Ev-er!" I might have even done a celebratory version of the Yummy Dance.

He raised a suspicious eyebrow. "What. Is. That?"

"Homemade hog fat, Dude! I got lard in the mail! Isn't that awesome?" By this time, the girls had gotten wind of my enthusiasm and were now bouncing off the walls with me, singing "hog fat/hog fat/we got some hog fat..."

He reached for a bottle of wine and poured himself a sturdy glass. "Only you," he said, shaking his head and retreating down to the man-cave.

Hmph. Some people don't know awesomeness when they see it. I was stoked.

But then came the realization that homemade lard=baking. I emailed my friend Phoo-d in a bit of panic.

"I've never made pie crust before. Help! This has 'fuck-up' written all over it."

Luckily, Phoo-d has a clear head and walked me through the process. "It's honestly not that hard," she said.


I stacked the deck a little. I consulted Cook's Illustrated and found their Best Recipe for pie dough. I also invited Mama over; she spent many a long North Dakota winter wrestling pastry dough. She knows what she's doing. With Cook's Illustrated, Mama, and Phoo-d's generous offer of "call me if you get into trouble," I was ready.

The hardest part was figuring out what kind of pie to make. Shameful admission: I don't really like pie. My husband doesn't really like pie either, except for pecan. I was not going to waste my pie-making efforts on an audience who doesn't really appreciate pie.

Luckily, there just so happens to be someone in my life who loves pie.

Daddy's favorite pie is cherry. Alas, it's totally not cherry season. But apples? We've got them in spades, so apple it was.

Mama and I donned our aprons, rolled up our sleeves and dove into the world of pastry dough. I think we did just fine.

We did so fine, in fact, that we also made quiche. I don't do pie, but I love me some quiche. This made a light and satisfying dinner when paired with a glass of wine and a crisp green salad. And yes, my man does eat quiche.

American Pie Dough for Fruit Pies
from Cook's Illustrated
makes dough for one double-crust 9-inch pie

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting dough and work surface
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
8 tablespoons lard or vegetable shortening, chilled
6-8 tablespoons ice water

Mix flour, salt and sugar in food processor fitted with steel blade. Scatter butter pieces over flour mixture, tossing to coat butter with a little of the flour. Cut butter into flour with five 1-second pulses. Add shortening and continue cutting until flour is pale yellow and resembles coarse cornmeal, with butter bits no larger than small peas, about four more 1-second pulses. Turn mixture into medium bowl.

Sprinkle 6 tablespoons ice water over mixture. With blade of rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix. Press down on dough with broad side of spatula until dough sticks together, adding up to 2 tablespoons more ice water if dough does not hold together.

Divide dough into two balls and flatten each into 4-inch wide disks. Dust disks lightly with flour, wrap each in plastic, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes, or up to 2 days, before rolling.

Apple Pie
from Cook's Illustrated
makes 1 pie

1 recipe American Pie Dough for Fruit Pies
2 pounds Granny Smith apples (4 medium)
2 pounds McIntosh apples (4 medium)
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons juice and 1 teaspoon zest from one medium lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 egg white, lightly beaten

Prepare and shape dough into two disks as directed. Refrigerate until needed.

Remove one piece of dough from refrigerator. If stiff and very cold, let stand until dough is cool but malleable. Adjust oven rack to center position and heat oven to 425.

Roll one dough disk on a lightly floured surface into a 12-inch circle. Fold dough in quarters, then place dough point in center of 9-inch Pyrex regular or deep-dish pan. Unfold dough.

Gently press dough into sides of pan, leaving portion that overhangs lip of pie plate in place. Refrigerate while preparing fruit.

Peel, core and cut apples into 1/2-to-1/4-inch slices and toss with 3/4 cup sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt and spices. Turn fruit mixture, including juices, into chilled pie shell and mound slightly in center.

Roll out second dough disk and place over filling. Trim top and bottom edges to to 1/2-inch beyond pan lip. Tuck this rim of dough underneath itself so the folded edge is flush with pan lip. Flute edging or press with fork tines to seal. Cut four slits on dough top. If dough is very soft, place in the freezer for 10 minutes. Brush egg white over top of crust and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar.

Bake until top crust is golden, about 25 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees; continue baking until juices bubble and pie is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes.

Transfer pie to wire rack; cool to almost room temperature, at least 4 hours.

Asparagus, Sun-Dried Tomato and Fontina Cheese Quiche
adapted from Mark Bittman
makes 1 quiche

1 disk American Pie Crust for Fruit Pies, without added sugar in the recipe
6 eggs, at room temperature
2 cups grated Fontina cheese
1 cup cream
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 cup blanched asparagus tips
1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes, sliced

Preheat the oven to 425. Prick the crust all over with the tines of a fork. Line crust with tin foil and weight down with rice or dried beans. Bake 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and carefully remove the weight and foil; turn the oven down to 325.

Combine eggs, cheese, liquid, seasonings and vegetables and beat until well blended.

Place the baked crust on a baking sheet. Pour the egg mixture into the crust, right to the top. Carefully transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake 30 to 40 minutes, until the mixture is set but is still moist; it should still jiggle just a little in the middle. Cool on a rack and serve warm or at room temperature.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

White Trash Motherlode: Jell-o Squares

My 5th grade class was so enormous that we actually had two teachers, Mrs. Reed and Mrs. Black. There was another, smaller class also, with one lone teacher, but, as my older sister had told me years before, the lucky kids got Reed & Black. There were reasons for this.

First was the issue of sheer entertainment value. Mrs. Reed was a short, voluptuous redhead who loved to experiment with hairstyles and crazy outfits and gaudy make-up. We kids would arrive every morning, having no idea what kind of glitter-bombed treat was in store for us. Mrs. Reed would prance into class like some exotic bird, and our jaws would drop, awestruck. It was like La Cage Aux Folles, without the gays.

The second reason for the superiority of Reed & Black was the fact that both women were, in fact, incredibly nice human beings. They weren't yellers and they laughed easily and liked to have a little fun, which isn't a common trait in teachers of the 5th grade.

But the most compelling virtue of that classroom was that both teachers loved to eat. And they encouraged festivity. Every two months, the class of Reed & Black would have a group pow-wow. The important topic at hand? What to serve for Theme Lunch.

Theme Lunches were hoo-boy fun; we'd pick a theme, like Mexico Day or Italy Day or Barbecue Day and run with it. We'd decorate the room accordingly and enjoy a potluck lunch in keeping with the theme. Every two months, after we'd decided on a theme, letters went home, asking parents for contributions to the meal.

I don't think this kind of parent participation would fly nowadays, but in the late 70's, parents were game. Everyone, from tall to small, thought Theme Lunches were the bee's knees; I never heard anyone complain.

Every time Theme Lunches rolled around, Mrs. Reed would call me up to her desk a few days prior.

She'd smile her fuschia-lipped smile and bat her glittery eyelashes and pat her teased, bouffant bun, and say, "Sweetie? Would you please ask your Mama if she'd make those Jell-o squares? You know how much I love them."

Which made me pleased as punch. I was the only kid who got requests. And, let's face it, Mama's Jell-o Squares were rockin'. They didn't fall apart, or wobble precariously, or melt...even when packed in a Springtime lunchbox. They had a toothsome texture and were a staple around my house growing up.

In fact, Mama's Jell-o Squares were so popular that, when I had them in my lunch, kids would offer to trade me Chee-tos for them. Yeah. I know.

That whole 5th grade year, I was Mrs. Reed's Jell-o Square Pimp. I'd bring them to Theme Lunches and she'd shake her plump little rear in excitement. When the school year was almost finished, I was beckoned to her desk again.

"Sweetie," she said, batting her 4th of July eyes, "would your Mama part with that Jell-o square recipe? I'll just be so sad without them when you're gone."

The next day I came, recipe in hand. God forbid a girl deprive such a magnificent creature of her Crack Snack.

Mama's Jell-o Squares

5 tablespoons Knox gelatin
2 1/2 cups cold water
2 cups cold water
4 (3-oz) packages Jell-o
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup clear juice, such as white grape

Sprinkle gelatin over 2 1/2 cups cold water. Let dissolve.

Mix 2 cups cold water, packaged Jell-o and sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from heat and add softened gelatin and juice. Mix well.

Pour into a 9x13 inch pan and refrigerate overnight. Cut into blocks.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Neighbor Friday: Drama For Mama

Happy Friday, readers! I'm so pleased to introduce Becca from Drama For Mama. I love Becca's honesty and humor, she's not afraid to admit that she's human and that mothering isn't always 100% bliss. I love this post of hers below. I know you will too!

For more neighbor fun, check out The Never-True Tales by clicking the icon below!

And heeeeeeeeere's...Becca!



Too tight squeezes. Loving shoves. Silly Head Butts. We all have witnessed the treacherous bond between siblings. The fine line between adoration and hate. The heavenly feeling as you watch your children play so nicely together and the painful pangs as you watch them tear each other apart and wonder, "why is it that I wanted more than one?"

I always knew I wanted more than one child. And when Hannah was about 18 months old and started clearly showing signs of believing the entire world revolved around her (and yes, I was the enabler), I decided to get moving on number 2. The next 18 months were painful and emotional for me. And I BEGGED with all my being for a miracle. But three miscarriages, an ectopic pregnancy and 2 IVF treatments later, my wiggly, alien looking adorable, miserably collicky, precious little boy was placed in my arms. I didn't know he'd be a HIM until he was removed from me and I heard the room chanting, "It's a Boy! It's a Boy!" and my first reaction was, well, nausea. Maybe a bit from the anesthesia but also because I had imagined Hannah with a sister. A girl she could have tea parties with and push baby dolls around with. Two giggly girls snuggled in a sleeping bag in their bedroom. Two girls sharing their deepest darkest secrets with one another until the wee hours of the morning. Two girls swapping shoes and jewelry and holding hands as they got their ears pierced. Friends. Soul mates. This scenario came to a quick close when I got a Luke instead of a Phoebe.

The first thing Hannah said when she came into the hospital room to meet her new little brother was, "Mommy, I thought it was going to be a girl?" It wasn't so much sadness as confusion in her voice. Somehow, she had convinced herself of the same future with a sister, just as I had in my mind. I told her that having a little brother would be JUST as special as a sister and that they'd grow up to be best friends all the same. I thought in my head of all of the older sister/younger brother siblings I had known in my life and I realized that their relationships were some of the strongest I knew as far as siblings go. The doting, motherly older sister and the well cared for little brother. I quickly convinced myself that my mismatched pair would also have a fantastic friendship as they grew older.

Over the past two years since Luke was born, I've watched my kids go through many stages. The helpless little brother being dragged around by his arm. The clueless little brother happily being dressed up as a princess. The curious little brother sticking his nose into anything and everything his older sister is doing. The nurturing older sister helping her little brother put on his pajamas. The motherly older sister helping her little brother learn to use a spoon. The newly independent little brother not wanting his overpowering big sister anywhere near him. The Elaine-like dancing older sister teaching her rookie little brother some crazy moves. The worried little brother hiding his possessions from his usually bossy and grabby big sister. The strong little brother pushing his big sister out of his way. The concerned little brother hugging his big sister tight when she's throwing a tantrum and flailing about on the floor. In all of these situations though, the one consistent is that when all is said and done, one is always looking out for, or just looking for, the other. The first thing Hannah says in the morning is, "Is Luke still asleep?" And the first thing Luke always "says" when he enters a room is, "Ha Ha (Hannah)?"

And that's what I "want". One always looking out for the other. I'm not sure how to ensure a healthy sibling relationship between my kids. I unfortunately can't have my kids model their relationship after mine with my brother. As much as I've always (and still do) dreamed of a loving friendship with my brother, I sadly don't have one. When people hear that I have an older brother only 2 years my senior they think I'm so lucky. They think he must have always been so protective of me, that I must have always looked up to him and cherished him. But I didn't. And he wasn't. Our relationship was fraught with jealousy and competitiveness. He always had a way of making me feel bad about myself and I never could find the words to tell him that and fix it. He was always the one with too many words (go figure he's a lawyer now) and I always had too few.

So what can a parent do to help their kids foster the strongest, most secure, most trusting relationship between siblings? Anything? I wonder as they grow whether I should step in to guide them or step back to let them build their friendship on their own. I would think just keeping them a part of one another's lives, going to each others activities, letting them get to know each other's friends, having them participate in each other's worlds would be a good start. And stepping back as they go through the necessary and common stages of hating one another. Most important, I would think is ensuring self confidence in each of them separately, so that the competitiveness is minimized, but I also want to give them confidence as a pair. For them to believe that together, they can conquer the ups and downs of life. That they don't always need to go it alone. That they should be "accessories" for one another. When something is missing, the other will keep them warm, make them smile, make them feel strong and beautiful.

This morning I watched Hannah show Luke how to carefully slide down the stairs on his belly instead of trying to climb down the stairs like a "big person". "You won't fall on your face this way Lukey because you're already going down on your face." She taught him. And he listened. And watched. And then copied. How many times have I told him to go down on his belly? Countless. But his sister only had to show him once. And that's my new dream, beyond the giggly girlie sisters. To have my kids trust each other even more than they trust me.


Thank-you SO much Becca, for this very sweet post. As someone with a "complicated sibling relationship" herself, I found so much solace here.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

You're Screwed: A Veggie Tale

Things were getting just a leeeetle dicey in the refrigerator. See, I'd just come off a 3-day jaunt to Las Vegas. So I'd already sort of cleaned us out in the fresh produce department. Monday dawned, and I had to deal with a 17 year-old and a tailbone which may or may not've been broken. With a potty-hating 4 year-old in tow. Note: Awesome Stepkid R. is no Shawn White.

We lucked out in the coccyx department. Alas, the grocery store didn't happen. Tuesday, I had a sitter scheduled for a few hours, so I diligently began making out my list over my morning coffee. And then I heard it. The Ultimate Morning Buzzkill. Bleeeeaaaarrrrggg. Bleeeeaaaarrrrgg. Mommy! Hurry!

The Potty Pariah had the barfs.

I cancelled my babysitter and my grocery plans. Hubs was on call, so an evening trip to the grocery store when he got home from work wasn't happening. I looked in the refrigerator. A few leaves of lettuce. Some barely okay grapes. A shriveled, sad lime. A few cherry tomatoes. Half a red onion. A fistful of cilantro. Not good. I was off the hook for dinner, though, because when hubs is on call, it's panini night at Chez T. Whew.

Guess who still didn't feel good on Wednesday? Guess who was fouler than foul in temperament? No way was I taking a pissed-off Potty Pariah to the grocery store.

I was officially screwed.

I should have just planned on phoning my local Chinese joint come 6 o'clock, but Miss Cheapskate couldn't do that. Because she had fish thawing in the refrigerator that needed to be used ASAP.

So, I opened the freezer and the pantry and found: corn and black beans. Corn tortillas. Bing! The light went on.

The fish got a quick dusting with a Southwestern seasoning mix and I got to working on this side dish. Not bad for a desperate housewife. Not bad at all.

You're Screwed Southwestern Salad
serves 4

1/2 of a package (16-oz.) frozen corn, thawed
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
1 jalapeno chile, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
generous handful of cherry tomatoes, halved or diced
juice of one small lime
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
dash cayenne
crumbled cojita (or goat cheese) and tortilla chips, to serve

Mix the corn, black beans, onion, jalapeno, cilantro and tomatoes in a large bowl. In a small bowl, combine the lime juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and spices. Whisk together; pour over corn mixture. Toss well. Taste for salt and adjust seasonings to your taste.

Sprinkle with cojita cheese. Serve with tortilla chips. Pray for recovery tomorrow. Set aside Chinese takeout menu, just in case.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Born-Again Virgin! Umm, Sorta.

I'm a barley virgin. I know! To be over 40 and still a virgin at anything is an incredible feat! I've never cooked barley...thus, my virgin status.

Now I've eaten barley in vegetable soup, but that's been my only experience with it. And barley in canned soup is a mushy, tasteless mess. No wonder I didn't have any compulsion to expand my barley horizons.

But we're trying to eat more whole grains at Chez T., and barley is a terrific choice. It's full of fiber, has twice the protein of rice and, when made correctly, is nutty and slightly chewy and delicious.

My husband loved this side dish. Loved it. I think he even uttered a "wow" when he took his first bite. It takes a little longer to cook than rice, but it's worth it. The caramelized onions give it a rich, sweet depth and the mushrooms add satisfying heft. The peas and fresh herbs brighten the whole thing, and hey, who doesn't love a good scattering of nutty, salty cheese? The crunchy nuts on the top? Icing. We were smitten.

I served this to my husband as a side dish next to some grilled steak, but I went Veg-Head and just plopped my portion into a big bowl. Comfort food!

Baked Barley with Mushrooms and Herbs
adapted from Cooking Light Magazine
serves 6

1 tablespoon butter
2 cups chopped onion
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups mixed dried mushrooms, put in boiling water to re-hydrate
2 cups sliced shiitake mushrooms
1 1/2 cups pearl barley
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
4 cups vegetable broth, heated to a boil
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/2 cup toasted chopped pistachios or hazelnuts
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350.

Melt the butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and sugar; stir well to coat onions in butter. Cover the Dutch oven, reduce heat to low, and cook 25 minutes or until caramelized, stirring often.

Meanwhile, pour boiling water over dried mushrooms. Soak, drain and slice.

Add fresh and re-hydrated mushrooms to Dutch oven. Increase heat to medium and cook until mushrooms begin to soften and brown slightly, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add barley, soy sauce, salt, pepper, thyme, rosemary and boiling vegetable stock. Stir well to combine.

Cover the Dutch oven and bake for 1 hour or until barley is tender but still pleasantly chewy. Let stand 10 minutes. Add peas and stir to heat through.

Sprinkle toasted nuts over the dish, toss to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Top each serving with a generous sprinkling of Parmesan.