March 27, 2010

Well, I did end up calling in sick on Wednesday, I didn't have a choice... and resting a day definitely did the trick.  I was bright eyed and bushy tailed... back at 'em Thursday morning.

We decided to take our grocery list and see if we could get it all at Trader Joes today.  That's a little bit of an adventure; you have to have a little flexibility in order to get everything you need.  For example, they don't sell individual green peppers so we ended up with a 2 pack - one red and one green.  They do not have cream of mushroom soup in a can so I decided to get mushrooms and cream and I'll make the sauce myself (it's for pork chops anyway, and this will be way better).  The pre-washed caesar salad in a bag was WAY more expensive that it would have been with Kroger so we got a bag of just spring greens, but we'll put pecan, strawberries, and goat cheese that we already had at home on it and probably enjoy it much better.  The only bread crumbs they had were a bag of organic that was about half the size of the tins I usually get and twice the cost, ouch!  All in all I don't think we spent that much more, and we're pretty excited about the things we got that we wouldn't have gotten at Kroger, like a 3 grain mix of rice, barley, and spelt (don't know what spelt is, but I'll keep you posted).

We also finally got a few reusable grocery bags, yay!  I was only holding out, because I didn't want to take a "Trader Joes" bag into Kroger or a "Kroger" bag into Harris Teeter and so-on.  Oh well.  I'm excited.  It felt pretty great walking out with a ton of groceries and no plastic bags.  Now I can glare at the people still using plastic bags.  Kidding.  Kind of.  ;)

Chicken Bruschetta a la TGIFridays

I don't think I would bother attempting this recipe unless you had someone to grill the chicken for you while you do the rest.  It's pretty easy to make, but not counting the chicken, it takes 3 burners on the stove... the chicken would mean all 4 and I think that's just too much.  If you want to try it and need to cook the chicken on the stovetop, you might consider cooking extra pasta from another meal earlier in the week that you can just use for this meal.  Another thing I would highly recommend if you don't mind spending the extra $4 is buying a bottle of balsamic drizzle (not the same as just balsamic vinegar) instead of making the balsamic glaze.

Chicken Bruschetta a la TGIFridays
3-4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, grilled
1 lb angel hair pasta
6 roma tomatoes diced
2-4 tbsp olive oil divided
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
2 minced garlic cloves
5 basil leaves (I didn't have them, made it without them, and it was fine)
2 garlic cloves sliced into thin coins
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 tbsp sugar

First, find someone to grill your chicken for you.  I suppose you could use a george foreman... do people still use those?  I recommend grilling the chicken last, right before you're ready to serve.

Bring vinegar and sugar to a boil then bring to a simmer and reduce by 75%.  Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the diced romas, minced garlic, basil, salt, pepper, and 1-2 tbsp olive oil.  I scooped the seeds out of my tomatoes, but add any juice that remains on your chopping block into the bowl as well.  Set aside.    Cook the pasta according to the package.  Drain and set aside.  If the balsamic has thickened enough, turn the heat off, because it's best if served at room temp.  Add 1-2 tbsp of olive oil to a skillet over medium low heat and saute the garlic coins, about 30 seconds per side.  If they brown throw them out and start over.  Add the diced romas, tomato sauce, and stir.  Add the pasta and toss.  If you don't have a strapping man around to "man" the grill for you, just keep the burner on very low heat and cover while you grill the chicken.  Serve with the grilled chicken on top and garnish with the balsamic glaze.

There are quite a few steps to this but if you do your chopping in advance and just focus on one step at a time it's really quite simple and well worth any extra effort in my opinion :)

March 23, 2010

Orzo with Shrimp and Feta (and a few extras)

It's only my second week of work at my new job and I have a head cold!  Terrible timing.  I can't bring myself to call in sick on day 7... I'm not that girl that calls in sick every time she sneezes and I don't want to portray myself that way.  On the other hand, I don't want to get my co-workers sick and I realize that if I did stay home and rest for one day the cold would probably go away.  Alas, I insist on going to work, so this will most likely get progressively worse.  What's a girl to do!

I did not make dinner last night.  I didn't do anything last night.  My way-cute husband took my tennis shoes off for me and brought me a blanket on the couch.  That's where I stayed until the nyquil kicked in and I drifted off to sleep.

I did manage to fix dinner tonight however.  Luckily I was able to taste it a little bit too!  This was another throw-together-what's-in-the-kitchen meal.  I just love those.

Orzo with Shrimp and Feta (and a few extras)
3/4 cups orzo
olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 green pepper, finely chopped
1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
10 shrimp, shelled, deveined, cut into thirds.
lemon juice (optional)
sliver of butter
1/3 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/4 cup crumbled feta

*If you've got time to chop everything before you start cooking, I highly recommend that.  We should all have sous chefs, don't you think? :)

Cook the orzo according to package directions.  Drain and add back to the pot.  Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add garlic and cook, stirring frequently for about a minute, don't let it burn.  Add the green pepper and onion and cook, stirring occasionally for 3-5 minutes.  Add the peppers and onions to the pot with the orzo.  Put another drizzle of olive oil in the skillet, turn the heat to medium-high and add the shrimp.  Cook, stirring occasionally for 4-5 minutes.  Squeeze a little bit of lemon juice and give them one more good stir then add them to the orzo.  Add the butter and stir it in until it melts.  Toss in the cherry tomatoes, feta, and a tiny drizzle of olive oil if the pasta seems dry at all, or if you just love the taste like I do.  Go easy though on it though.

feta: you could use goat cheese or parm or any cheese you like
red onion: use any onion, shallots, or just leave it out.  maybe use two colors of bell pepper instead
green pepper: any pepper although I think a bell or sweet pepper of some sort is best
cherry tomatoes: obviously any tomato is fine, or, like the onion, replace it with a second color bell pepper
shrimp: leave the shrimp out and serve it as a side dish with grilled chicken

March 21, 2010


I'm never going to have time to write ever again!  Wow, what a week.  I'm loving my new job, but of course still just getting acquainted and learning lots of new things... and LOTS of new acronyms.  I really get a sense that there is going to be a lot for me to do, and plenty of opportunity for me to really make a difference.  Every night this week between 9:45 and 10 pm I was crawwwling towards the bed... pleeeeease just let me sleep!  I slept like a baby all week :)  Keep in mind that daylight savings was the day before I started my new schedule so for a few days there it felt like I was waking up at 5 am.  Anyway, it's just a matter of time before my body adjusts.

Because I can't blog regularly anymore, I'll just be packing a week-worth of random stories into one weekend post... at least until I can work out a better routine...

We went to a couple of March Madness parties Friday night.  At one of them, Michael (my roommate before Matt and I got married) and Bart (my neighbor) had smoked a whole pig.  Just a big ol' cooked pig strewn out on the table.  Just pull meat from wherever you want and throw it on a bun.  NC at it's finest.  So, apparently whenever you smoke a whole pig you have to give it a name.  This pigs name?... Hampson.  Yes, this is a play on my sweet black cats name, Sampson, whom Michael picks on like he's his little brother.  Poor kitty kitty.  I think deep down Michael really loves my kitties, but hides behind this aggressive attitude so that no one discovers the truth.

Matt and I got me a tennis racket this weekend and played a little on Saturday and Sunday.  On some level, I don't think we've ever had that much fun together.  And... I wasn't nearly as bad as I thought I'd be.  I even managed to make contact with the ball 4 times in a row!  Never mind the fact that I can't aim, my form stinks, and I either don't make it over the net or it goes flying over the top of the fence that surrounds the court... at least I make contact more often than not. :)

Well, in the cooking world, I think I finally mastered a really good cheese sauce!  I made it on Wednesday for a loaded mac and cheese and tonight for au gratin potatoes.

Cheeeeese Sauce
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

In a small sauce pan over medium heat, melt the butter.  Whisk in the flour and let it cook for a minute or two after it's well blended.  Add pepper, just eyeball it.  Add a cup of milk (we used whole on Wed and skim tonight... it really doesn't matter) about 1/4 cup at a time.  Each time, whisk it until it is well blended. After all of the milk has been added and whisked smooth, let it just begin to simmer.  This might take turning the heat up just a hair.  Once it barely begins to just think about maybe trying to bubble (you get the idea?) go ahead and whisk in the cheese... no more than 1/2 cup at a time.  Add more pepper if you would like.

On Wednesday we added this to elbow noodles that we had cooked for 4 minutes, chopped red pepper, chopped broccoli, and half of a kielbasa chopped.  Bake for 20 minutes at 350 and 15 minutes at 425 (to brown the top).

Tonight we added it to 4 redskin potatoes that we sliced about 1/4 in thick.  We layered potatoes, cheese, potatoes, cheese, and so on, in a small casserole dish and baked it covered for 40 minutes at 375 and uncovered for 15 minutes at 425.  This would work fine with russets too, but you might need to cook them for an hour at 375 instead.  We used redskins, because it's what we had in the house.

I love the warm weather because grilling means you don't have to be creative in the kitchen for dinner to still be great.  Matt grilled pork that he seasoned with emeril's essence (we always keep some of this on hand) and zucchini seasoned with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  So good!

March 11, 2010

I'm afraid my days of sleeping in are over...

I begin work on Monday.  Thinking about getting up at 6am almost makes me hyperventilate.  Matt already gets up that early and I'm still not sure I'll be able to do it.  Luckily he's sweet enough to get my cup off coffee going in the Keurig for me... maybe the aroma will cause me to just float out of bed and drift towards it like Garfield when he smells lasagna.  If I can just get that cup of coffee in my hands I think I'll be okay.  I used to open up at a coffee shop, so why does this seem like it's going to be such a major adjustment?  I used to stand in the middle of the dark cold parking lot scraping snow off of my car while the rest of the world slept so that I could be at work around the time I will now have to just be waking up for work.  I can do this!

I'm afraid between this job and potential future children, I may never sleep past 6 again.

I'm not sure I've ever looked forward to a Thursday night more than this one.  The house was spotless, the laundry was all caught up, the kitchen was beautiful and begging to be used.  I fixed a cozy meal, it was raining outside, but not too cold... I rented a movie from the redbox and we pulled out the twin bed sleeper and curled up.  I don't care if this homebody business makes me old and boring... I was so happy deep down to the core.

A picture of the finished kitchen floor:

French Bread Pizza with Sausage and Broccoli

French Bread Pizza with Sausage and Broccoli - Another tweaked Rachael Ray recipe.  I'll get over this kick soon enough, I'm sure.
French Bread
1/2 lbs sweet italian sausage (we cooked a whole lb and saved the rest to stuff portobellos later)
1 cup ricotta
1/3 cup milk
salt and pepper
dried oregano, thyme, whatever you like on your pizza
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 head of broccoli, coarsely chop the florets 
shredded mozz

Toast both sides of the french bread under the broiler for 3 minutes on each side.  Brown and crumble the sausage on medium high then set aside on a plate/paper towel to drain.  Meanwhile, mix together ricotta, milk, salt, pepper, and dried herbs.  Just eyeball the seasoning.  Drain most of the grease from the pan, lower the eat on the burner, and add the garlic and red pepper flakes.  Allow the flowers to infuse the oil then toss the broccoli in it.  Spread the ricotta mix on the french bread, top with sausage, then broccoli, then shredded mozz.  Put it back under the broiler until the cheese is brown and bubbly.  

We served this with watercress topped with grapefruit and avacado.  I just made my own dressing with a touch of white vinegar (because that's what Matt wanted), lemon juice from half a lemon (because that's what I wanted), salt, pepper, one clove of garlic minced, and then enough olive oil until it tasted right.  What a beautiful salad!

March 8, 2010

Home Improvement

Our first major house project. It looks amazing, and we didn't get in an argument once! I'm so proud of us on so many levels. It was half way through Saturday when we decided on a whim to tackle this, although I have to say... getting rid of that terrible vinyl has been my dream project since I moved in over 3 years ago. I could scrub that thing down with 20 clorox wipes and it would still look dingy. On Saturday we moved the fridge to the dining room, the stove to the living room, ripped up the vinyl using crowbars, and scraped the glue off of the cement for hours. We also spent two hours in Lowes laying groups of tile all over the aisle trying to decide which one we liked the most. After church on Sunday we dry-laid the tile, made sure it was spaced right and looked good, and then headed back to Lowes to get a few L-shaped tiles cut and to get a tile cutter to do the rest ourselves. As you can see in the pictures, our first few cuts did not go well, but after cracking about five tiles Matt got the hang of it, and we were able to knock out the rest of them pretty quickly. We didn't start mudding the floor and laying the tiles until 8:45pm and we finished at 11:15. I've got a hot pack on my lower back this morning, but I'm sooooo happy with the results. When Matt gets home from work tonight we'll grout it and then we still have to wait a few days before the stove and fridge can go back in. Let's see what kind of meals I can throw together without a stove. Luckly the fridge is plugged in in the dining room, and the weather is nice enough to fire up the grill.

March 4, 2010

God-centered anger is marked by grief.

Tonight Matt and I went on a mini-date to a banquet/fundraiser for the crisis pregnancy center where I volunteer, but this is not where my story begins.

Yesterday, after getting out of the shower, I twisted my hair in 1/2 in sections and let it air dry like that. The pieces untwisted most of the way, but it still tamed the frizz and left a soft wave in my hair that my husband said he liked. So today I attempted to take this one step further. I took a late shower since I am still a stay-at-home and can, and this time I twisted the pieces much smaller. If you take a small piece of hair, twist it tight, and fold it in half... it twists up again and stays in place! Amazing! So I spent 40 minutes (watching Ellen and) twisting my hair. I wish I had taken a picture of this silly creation, but I was so excited about the wave it would give me in the end. At about 5:15, 1 hour before I had to walk out of the house) I took down my pretty little twisties. Oh meee gosh... my hair was 3 times it's usual thickness and it looked like I had taken a crimper to it. Ooops! That's not cute! I didn't have time to get that mess wet enough that the crimp would blow dry out so I tried putting it in a pony tail. That really looked like the tail of a pony. What a mess. In a moment of panic I decided to put the ponytail high on the crown of my head and wrap it loosely around itself giving me a messy/modern bun, this was my hope at least. I think it worked, for the most part. The only problem was now I was going to a "business casual" banquet with a ballerina hair-do. Oh well, I threw on my outfit, held my head high, and tried to rock it with confidence. Matt let me know that he liked it, but that he liked my "regular hair" better. Like he was worried this might replace my "regular hair" 350 days out of the year. Haha. Thanks. You don't have to worry about me wearing my hair in a high bun too often.

So the banquet! It was really nice. The speaker was Tullian Tchividjian, and he talked about "righteous anger." God-centered anger as opposed to self-centered anger. He showed that we are commanded in Ephesians 4:26 "Be angry and do not sin..." It doesn't say if you happen to be angry, be sure you do not sin. As christians, we should be angry at the sin in the world. He then used Mark 3:5 to show what God's anger looks like: "And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart..." Anger that is marked by grief, because it comes with an understanding that people are created for so much more than the sin that fills their lives. My favorite point that Tullian made was that, to the average un-churched person on the street, christians are known for their anger. They are not typically known for their grief however. He discussed different ways to tell if your anger is self-centered or God centered, and how we should be equally (or more) mad at our own sin than the sin in others. This makes perfect sense. The final point he made was that it's the grief we show in regards to the sin in others that brings glory to God, not the anger. It is because of the anger felt towards the particular sin of sex before marriage and the grief felt for all the people affected by that particular sin that inspires organizations like the crisis pregnancy center in Durham. I wasn't expecting a convicting message tonight, and I definitely wasn't expecting to hear something I hadn't kind of heard before, but I got both and I'm very thankful.

March 2, 2010

Asian Pepper Steak

Oh Rachael Ray, what would I do without you? She made this recipe in her slow cooker but the thought of this dish being soupy/saucy with mushy peppers did not appeal to me so I took the ingredients and made it on the stove top instead.

Asian Pepper Steak
1 lbs beef for fajitas
1 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 large onion, sliced
1 red pepper, sliced
1 yellow pepper, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp ginger, grated
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 c plus 1 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 c canned tomato sauce

Dredge beef with cornstarch and shake off the excess. Use just a drizzle of olive oil in a skillet. Heat over medium high and brown meat, cooking for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium, add onions and peppers and cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Once the peppers begin to give off their liquid you won't have to worry about stuff sticking any burning. Add garlic and ginger and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in the pepper. Dissolve the brown sugar in the soy sauce, then add that and the tomato sauce. Simmer on medium low for 7-10 minutes. Serve over white rice.

March 1, 2010

Waiter, there's too much pepper on my paprikash.

I love this scene from When Harry Met Sally :) I wish I could master the voices they use. I was so excited that Rachael Ray was making chicken paprikash last week. I usually end up tweaking her recipes, but I'm pretty sure I kept this one just like she had it (except I almost always half recipes). Oh, I didn't use "roasted" red peppers, because a jar of them is pricey, and I didn't feel like roasting my own. It still turned out great.

Chicken Paprikash
4-5 bone in, skin-off chicken thighs, just take the skin off yourself
salt and pepper
flour for dredging chicken, plus 1 tbsp
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 cubanelle pepper (if you're food store doesn't have them, use a small can of diced chilis)
1/2 a large onion, finely diced
1 red pepper, finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp paprika
1/4 white wine
1 cup of petite diced tomatoes
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 sour cream

Season the chicken with salt and pepper and dredge in flour, shaking off the excess. Heat olive oil in a dutch oven or large skillet with fairly tall sides. A lot is going in! Brown chicken on both sides, 3-4 minutes per side. Remove chicken and place on a plate. Remove skillet from heat and reduce the eye to medium. Melt butter in the skillet, add the peppers, onion, and garlic. Once the eye cools down to medium, replace the skillet, add 1 tbsp flour and cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Season with salt, pepper, and paprika, stir to mix then stir in the wine. Cook 30 seconds and add tomatoes and stock and wisk to combine sauce. Add chicken to the sauce and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium low, cover and cook 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Take a ladle of the stock and put it in a bowl with 1/2 cup of sour cream. Mix well then add back to the pot. Stir to combine and remove from heat.

She recommended serving this with potato gnocchi and since I happened to have some that I had picked up while they were on sale, that's what we did. Boiled in water for 3-4 minutes then tossed in a med-high skillet with 1 tbsp melted butter, salt, a tiny tiny sprinkle nutmeg, and parsley for 3 minutes.