Friday, December 24, 2010

Eggnog for Breakfast

I don't care for eggnog, but when I saw a recipe for Cranberry Eggnog Muffins in the December 2010 edition of Food Network Magazine, I was intrigued. While I don't care to drink eggnog - mostly because I can't get over drinking something that thick and feel that drinking eggs is just wrong - I thought that the consistency could work quite well in a batter.

The cranberry component is Craisins...soaked in rum. Can't go wrong with rum for breakfast, eh? The muffins also have a delicious streusel topping. It was crispy, crunchy, crumbly, and sweet and added a nice touch to the muffins.

I didn't take any pictures, but I've included one from Food Network's website. Here is the recipe - might be a great one to try for Christmas morning!

Cranberry Eggnog Muffins
from Food Network Magazine, December 2010


For the Muffins:
Cooking spray
1 cup dried cranberries, roughly chopped
1/2 cup rum or apple juice
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups eggnog
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

For the Topping:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar

Prepare the muffins: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Mist a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray. Warm the cranberries and rum in a small saucepan over medium heat, then remove from the heat and let steep 5 minutes. Drain.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, brown sugar and salt in a medium bowl.

Whisk the butter, eggnog, eggs and vanilla in another bowl. Gently fold into the flour mixture. (The batter will be lumpy; do not overmix.) Fold in the cranberries. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.

Make the topping: Mix the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, butter, salt and brown sugar in a bowl with your fingertips until it looks like wet sand. Sprinkle generously over the batter.

Bake until the muffins are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool slightly in the pan, then carefully remove to a rack.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cake Slice Bakers December Cake: Cranberry Cake

I never got around to making November's cake. Between being sick and having a sick kid, Thanksgiving, and oodles of grading, it just didn't happen. And by the time I had time to do it, I had read some of the other bloggers' posts about it and decided it wasn't worth it.
But onto December...Cranberry Cake. I was glad to see that a holiday-ish recipe was selected for this month. I have never bought fresh cranberries before - only Craisins - so I was interested to bake with them. Also, while I've made streusel toppings with walnuts and pecans before, I've never made one with almonds.
This cake was simple to make. I had all of the ingredients in the pantry or fridge except for fresh cranberries. Since it's the holiday season, Wegmans had a plethora of cranberries. The cake smelled fantastic while baking, was beautiful when I took it out of the oven, and I was excited to give it a try. I'm sad to say I was a bit disappointed. The cranberries were a bit too tart for my taste. I also wasn't thrilled about the almond-to-cake ratio - fewer almonds would have sufficed. The cake itself was incredibly moist and delicious. We had a friend over for dinner last night, and all three of us agreed that with some changes, this cake could be a home run.
If I make it again, here's what I'd do. First, I'd use a different fruit - maybe blueberries, raspberries, or chopped strawberries. Second, I'd use walnuts or pecans in the streusel instead of the almonds.
I still have some holiday baking to do. I have a recipe for chocolate peppermint cheesecake bars that I want to try. And we made sugar cookie dough last week but have yet to make the cookies. I think that will be a nice Christmas Eve project, and then we'll have freshly homemade cookies to leave for Santa.

Merry Christmas!

Cranberry Cake
(Recipe from Cake Keeper Cakes by Lauren Chattman)

Makes one 10-inch round cake (or a square cake if you have a square springform pan like I do!)

1 cup sliced almonds
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 tbsp light brown sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
3 eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
¾ cup (1½ sticks) butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 bag (12 ounces) fresh cranberries

Heat the oven to 300F. Grease a 10inch round springform pan.
Combine the butter, almonds and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Work the mixture between your fingers to form large crumbs. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Combine the eggs and granulated sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium high speed until the mixture is lightened and increased in volume, about 5 minutes.
With the mixer on low speed, add the butter in a slow stream. Turn the mixer to medium speed and beat for another 2 minutes. Stir in the vanilla.
Gently but thoroughly fold in the flour mixture, half a cup at a time. Then stir in the cranberries. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula. Sprinkle the streusel over the batter. Bake the cake until it is golden and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean, about 1 hour to 1hour 10minutes.
Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Release the sides of the pan and use a large spatula to slide the cake from the pan bottom onto the wire rack. Cool completely before cutting into wedges and serving.
Store uneaten cake in a cake keeper or wrap in plastic and store at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Now THAT'S a Cookie!

Every December, I devote a full day to baking holiday goodies. This year I shuffled through my many recipe cards and decided to search for some new cookie recipes. I found a new sugar cookie recipe from Paula Deen. I made the dough but haven't yet baked the cookies. I also wanted to use the cookie press I bought from The Pampered Chef about six years ago and have never used, so I found a Martha Stewart recipe for butter cookies. Finally, I had tucked away a recipe for million-dollar caramel cookies that I had found in the December 2009 Parenting magazine. Let me tell you what a disgrace it is that this recipe has been in my recipe binder for nearly two years because it made what I'd have to say are probably the best cookies I've ever baked!

First, let me tell you about the butter cookies. The dough was easy to prepare in my Kitchen Aid stand mixer and worked nicely with my cookie press. The only deviation from the original recipe is that I added about a teaspoon of almond extract to the dough when I added the vanilla extract. They came out great and tasted perfectly buttery. (I guess three sticks of butter in a recipe will do that, yes?)
Now onto the million-dollar caramel cookies. Imagine this: a chewy chocolate cookie rolled in crushed Heath Bar with a Rolo inside. YUM!!! The consistency of the cookies were brownie-like. Warm out of the oven, the caramel was soft and gooey. The Heath Bar added a nice crunch, an element of texture. These will definitely be in the holiday cookie repertoire for years to come.

Cookie Press Butter Cookies

Makes 2 dozen to 3 dozen cookies

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 large egg yolks
3 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Colored sanding sugar

1.Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks, flour, salt, and vanilla. Mix thoroughly.
2.Fill a cookie press with the dough, and turn out cookies 1 to 2 inches apart onto an unbuttered baking sheet. Sprinkle cookies with colored sanding sugars.
3.Bake until the cookies are lightly browned, 7 to 10 minutes. To ensure even baking, rotate sheet halfway through the baking process. Transfer to a wire rack, and let cool.

Million-Dollar Caramel Cookies

Makes 4 dozen

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup white sugar, plus 1 Tbsp.
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour, plus 1/4 cup (if needed to reach desired consistency of dough)
3/4 cup cocoa
1 tsp. baking soda
2 Heath candy bars
1 bag Rolo chewy caramels

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a medium bowl, beat butter and sugars until fluffy, then add eggs and vanilla and beat well.
2. In a separate bowl, mix 2 1/2 cups flour, cocoa, and baking soda. Add flour mixture to sugar mixture a little bit at a time and blend well. If the dough feels too sticky, sprinkle in a little extra flour. Cover and chill dough in fridge for about 30 minutes.
3. Chop Heath bars into small pieces. Place in a small bowl and toss with 1 Tbs. sugar.
4. Once dough has chilled, wrap a piece around each caramel, forming a 1-inch ball and covering the candy completely. Dip top of the dough ball into the candy topping and place on parchment-lined baking sheet.
5. Bake for 7 to 10 minutes. (Mine took 8 1/2 minutes.) Cookies will look quite soft, but do not overbake. Cool in pan slightly, then move to a rack or the counter to finish cooling. Store in a covered container.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cookbook Club: Heading to Louisiana

This month's recipe for the Cookbook Club is from the book River Road Recipes IV: Warm Welcomes. The book features recipes in Louisiana Cajun style. The pick for this month was Shrimp and Tasso Pasta. I had never heard of Tasso, which I learned is a spicy ham. It can be difficult to find outside of Louisiana, so a number of items can be substituted: salt pork, pancetta, prosciutto, Canadian bacon, or smoked ham. Our grocery store didn't have Tasso, so I used a pepper-spiced ham.
The recipe was surprisingly quick to prepare. I planned to make it on a Sunday instead of a weeknight because I was expecting it to take awhile to make. However, I found that this meal could be easily made for a weeknight meal.

I didn't follow the recipe exactly. I used whole wheat egg noodles. I used butter instead of margarine and cut the amount in half; the meal was plenty buttery. I also used only about a half pint of cream. I can't imagine using two whole pints - I think the dish would have been rather soupy. A half pint seemed to give a nice consistency, and I was glad to not have all of the fat and calories of two pints of cream.
The Shrimp and Tasso Pasta was a tasty dish. I would have to say that I prefer a similar recipe by Emeril, Shrimp and Pasta in a Tomato-Chile Cream Sauce. Both recipes are below.

Shrimp and Tasso Pasta
From River Road Recipes IV: Warm Welcomes

Tasso gives a smoky flavor to this seafood pasta dish. This freezes well and is an excellent dish to take to a friend with a new baby or a death in the family.

16 ounces fine or wide egg noodles
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped (optional)
1 bunch green onions, chopped
8 garlic cloves, chopped
½ cup (1 stick) margarine
2 pints heavy cream
1 pound deveined peeled shrimp
2 cups chopped tasso (reminder: substitutes include salt pork, pancetta, prosciutto, Canadian bacon or smoked ham)
Crushed red pepper to taste
Salt to taste
Creole seasoning to taste
Paprika to taste
¾ cup (3 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese

Cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente; drain. Cover to keep warm. Saute the bell peppers, onion, celery, green onions, and garlic in the margarine in a large skillet until the vegetables are tender. Add the heavy cream and shrimp and mix well.

Cook for two minutes or until the shrimp turn pink, stirring frequently. Fold in the tasso and pasta. Season with red pepper, salt, creole seasoning, and paprika and sprinkle with the cheese.

Serves 6 to 8.

Shrimp and Pasta in a Tomato-Chile Cream Sauce
from Emeril Lagasse

1/4 cup kosher salt
1 pound linguine
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tablespoons Essence, recipe follows
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1/4 cup finely chopped jalapeno
1 tablespoon minced garlic
11/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup diced tomatoes
1/2 cup reserved pasta cooking water
1 cup grated Pepper Jack cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves

Set a large 1-gallon stock pot of water to a boil and add the kosher salt. Place the linguine in the pot and stir the pot until the water returns to a boil. Cook the pasta until tender, but with a bit of resistance (al dente), about 12 minutes. Drain a reserve 1/2 cup pasta water.

While the pasta cooks, prepare the sauce. Set a 12-inch saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the butter and olive oil to the pan. Once the butter has melted, season the shrimp with 1 tablespoon of the Essence and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and add the shrimp to the pan. Sear the shrimp until well browned on both sides, about 2 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Add the onions and jalapenos to the pan and saute until the onions are softened and lightly caramelized, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic to the pan and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the cream, remaining 1 tablespoon of Essence, remaining 1 1/4 teaspoons of the salt and the pepper to the pan and bring to a boil. Cook the sauce until the cream is reduced by half, about 2 minutes.

Return the shrimp to the pan, and add the tomatoes, linguine and the reserved cooking water to the pan and cook, tossing to incorporate for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove pan from the heat and add the Pepper Jack, Parmesan, parsley and basil and toss to blend. Serve immediately.

Emeril's ESSENCE Creole Seasoning (also referred to as Bayou Blast):
(Note: You can buy this seasoning already made in the spice aisle at the grocery store.)
2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme
Combine all ingredients thoroughly.

Yield: 2/3 cup

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cake Slice Bakers October 2010: Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Pound Cake

I love just about all things pumpkin. I love pumpkin muffins (especially the Starbucks ones with the cream cheese in the center), pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin cheesecake, and pumpkin bread. Oddly enough, I dislike pumpkin pie.

This is my first month baking with The Cake Slice Bakers. This is an online baking group that bakes their way through a selected cake book each year. The book for this year is Cake Keeper Cakes by Laura Chattman. What's nice about this book is that the recipes are innovative yet simple. Some may require glazes, but all are single layer cakes that don't require frosting. These are perfect "weeknight cakes" - they're easy enough to make that you can come home from work and make one to have for dessert that very night.

So back to the pumpkin. This month's pick is Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Pound Cake. Yum! I remember eating pound cake at my grandma's house as a kid, although hers was always store-bought. She would often put a store-bought cake on a fancy plate and insist that she baked it. I asked her once why it's called pound cake, and she replied, "Because you can eat as much of it as you want and you won't gain a pound." While that's not true, it won't keep me from gobbling up some of this cake.

A couple of notes:
The chocolate chips are a nice addition, and I suspect that cinnamon chips would also be good. I omitted the walnuts for two reasons: 1) I'm not a fan of nuts in baked goods, and 2) I was planning to take the cake into work and am always hesitant to bring in food with nuts in case of allergies. I used whole milk. I also had skim in the fridge but figured the whole milk would be richer. I checked the cake at 55 minutes, but it needed some more time. It was perfect at one hour.
Baking the cake made the house smell like fall. I wish I could bottle the smell! It was beautiful when it came out - a perfect brown. I let it cool a bit before cutting it, but I had my first piece while it was still warm. It was delicious! The cake itself is very moist with a great pumpkin flavor - not too spicy or sweet - and the chocolate chips add a really nice touch. I think this will become a go-to fall recipe!

Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Pound Cake

1 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Pinch nutmeg
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup milk
1 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat the inside of a 9-inch by 5-inch loafe pan with nonstick cooking spray and dust it with flour.
2. Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, cloves, and nutmeg in a medium mixing bowl.
3. Combing the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and cream with an elective mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, about three minutes, scraping down the sides of th bowl once or twice as necessary.
4. With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sidea of the bowl after each addition. Stir in the pumpkin puree and vanilla. Stir in the milk.
5. Turn the mixer to low speed and add the flour mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Stir in the chocolate chips and walnuts.
6. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Bake the cake until it is firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 55 minutes to 1 hour. Let the cake cool in the pan for 5 minutes, invert it onto a wire rack, and then turn it right side up on a rack to cool completely.
7. Store uneaten cake in a cake keeper at room temperature for up to 3 days or in the refrigerator, wrapped in plastic, for up to 1 week.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Hey, Paula! Your Sons Are Hot, But...

Let's face it...Paula Deen has hot sons. And they are so sweet. And they can cook. What more could you want from a man? With all that being said, I have to say that I didn't love a recipe for a chicken and rice casserole from The Lady and Sons Savannah Country Cookbook.

This recipe was the October pick for my cookbook club. I thought that a Paula Deen casserole couldn't be too bad. I was surprised that there was no butter in this recipe, but there was some cheese.

It's really a simple meal to make. There is very little prep - just cutting the onions and sauteeing them in some olive oil and making the Uncle Ben's rice. Then all of the canned ingredients (green beans, water chestnuts, and pimentos) need to be drained and rinsed and the water chestnuts chopped. Very simple prep.

The recipe calls for three cups of chopped cooked chicken. I decided to use the white meat from a rotisserie chicken, which definitely saved me the time of roasting several breasts of chicken and waiting for them to cool enough to handle to chop. I used cream of chicken soup instead of cream of celery because my husband grabbed the wrong can at the store. (He swears that he pulled the can from the cream of celery dispenser.) The cream soup was the Campbell's 98% fat free variety. All of the ingredients get mixed together and then go into a casserole dish.
The casserole bakes for 25 minutes. What I loved best about this is that it gave me enough time to clean up the kitchen and wash the dishes so there was no clean-up left to do after we ate dinner.
When it came out of the oven, I have to say that I thought it looked pretty good. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't my favorite. I tend to cook with fresh ingredients, and I think that's why I didn't love this recipe. I detest canned green beans, but they weren't as bad in the casserole. I thought the water chestnuts just didn't go with the dish. I enjoy their texture in spinach dip but didn't like them here.
My 20-month-old loved it and asked for a second bowl. She usually won't eat chicken, so I've learned that casseroles are the way to sneak in some extra protein. My husband said, "It tastes like something my mom would have cooked in 1986." My mother-in-law isn't a bad cook, but she tends to cook dishes like this because it's all my father-in-law will eat. When my husband told him what we were having for dinner he said, "Oh, that sounds good."
So while I'd still be happy to have a dinner date with either of the Deen boys, I would hope that they pick a different meal to make for me.
Chicken and Rice Casserole
Serves 6 to 8
3 cups diced, cooked chicken
1 medium onion, diced and sauteed
One 8-ouce can water chestnuts, drained and chopped
Two 14-ounce cans water chestnuts, drained and chopped
One 4-ounce can pimentos, rinsed and drained
One 10.5 ounce can condensed cream of celery soup
1 cup mayonnaise
One 6-ounce box of Uncle Ben's long-grain and wild rice, cooked according to package directions
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Mix all ingredients together and pour into a 3-quart casserole dish. Bake for 25 minutes.

Heaven in My Mouth

Fall is my favorite time of year. Not only do I love how the weather gets cooler, allowing one to wear sweaters and jeans, but I love fall cooking - soups, stews, casseroles. And I also enjoy fall baking. After months of "I want to bake something, but I don't want the oven to heat up the house," the urge to bake can easily be handled without the worry of turning the house into a sauna.

I have made two different types of apple cakes this fall. For my husband's birthday, I made an apple spice cake (from Martha Stewart's website) with a cinnamon buttercream frosting. Pretty yummy! I took some of it into work, and the Dean gave it an A+. The other cake I've made is an apple cake with a brown sugar glaze. The apples make the cake so moist, and the glaze, made with brown sugar, butter, and cream really tastes just like caramel. The cake and glaze together provides a caramel apple sensation, but without the caramel getting stuck to your teeth. As a side note, I actually had a bruised tooth from eating a caramel apple. Who knew you could bruise a tooth? I didn't until I went to the dentist for pain that started after eating a caramel apple, and he said that it had bruised my tooth. So, I offer a 99.4% guarantee that this cake will not cause teeth bruising.

And by the way, this cake is delicious served still warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Here's the recipe!

Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Glaze (from Southern Cakes)

Apple Cake
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups finely chopped apples (I used Granny Smith)
1/2 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped (optional - I omitted)

Brown Sugar Glaze
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon heavy cream

For the cake: Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8-ince pan (round or square) and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Stir with a whishk to combine.

In large bowl, mix the eggs with a hand mixer until light in color and foamy. Add the oil and vanilla and beat well. Stir in the flour mixture with a spoon and continue stirring the batter until the flour disappears. Add the apples and nuts and stir to mix them into the batter.

Scrape batter into prepapred pan and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Place the hot cake on a wire rack. Whie it's still hot, prepare the glaze.

For the glaze: Combine all the ingredients into a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the mixture comes to a gentle boil. Cook for 3-5 minutes. Spoon the hot glaze over the still hot-from-the-oven cake. Let the glazed cake cool completely before serving straight from the pan.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Welcome to the Club

I've been a slacker with this blog thing. The reason I have been such a slacker here is because I haven't been a slacker in the other areas of my life. Since the semester began, I find myself trying to balance work and the rest of my life, which unfortunately means less time to bake and less time to blog.

Anyway, I have some exciting news. (At least I find it exciting - you may not.) I am now a member of two blogging groups: The Cake Slice Bakers and the Moving to Maryland Cookbook Club. I have been following The Cake Slice Bakers through two of the blogs I regularly read -
Lick the Bowl Good and McPolish - and have longed to be part of this club. The group picks a cake cookbook once each year and then bakes one cake a month from the book and blogs about it. October will be my first month baking with the club, and I'm really excited!

The Moving to Maryland Cookbook Club is a group I learned about through a friend - her friend actually started the blogging group. Each month, one member selects a recipe from one of her cookbooks she has been wanting to try. She shares the recipe with others in the group, and everyone makes it and blogs about it. September's recipe is from Rachael Ray's book 2, 4, 6, 8, a book that I own but have barely used. The selected recipe was for Mega Meat Stuffed Shells. Here are my thoughts on the recipe. 1) You can use less red pepper flakes than the recipe calls for. I only used 1/8 of a teaspoon, and it was still plenty spicy. 2) The shells need to cook a little bit longer. The centers were chewy. 3) If I make this recipe again, I will put the sauce over the shells in a casserole dish and put them in the oven for just a bit. Without this added step, I felt that they were too dry. To serve with the shells, I made a Warm Mushroom and Sherry Vinegar Salad, also from the 2, 4, 6, 8 book on page 63. I omitted the celery and used spinach rather than the recommended greens. The salad was so yummy!

Lastly, unrelated to either baking/cooking club, I made a rather delicious cake this past weekend. It was a piece of cake to make. (Pardon the lame pun.) It starts from a box mix, and you add other ingredients to make it special. I found it on the Better Homes and Gardens website after doing a Google search for "fall cakes." The recipe is for a Butterscotch Marble Cake. I found the name a bit of a misnomer because it's not really marbled. I did my best to marble it by running a knife through the batter and was surprised upon cutting the first slice that my cake turned out just like the picture. I took most of the cake to work today, and it was gone in less than an hour. I had co-workers upset that they didn't get a piece!

I'm hoping that things will slow down a bit soon or that I at least get more of a grip on life so I can find some more time for baking. I'm looking forward to fall cooking and baking - casseroles, soups, stews, pumpkin, and apple.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

When my neighbor was away a couple weeks ago, she told me to help myself to her garden. She had some ginormous zucchini, and I was still working my way through the first of the two I picked. I've made a couple of zucchini dishes, a chocolate-orange zucchini bundt cake, and today some chocolate zucchini muffins with chocolate chips. When the baking itch set in this afternoon (I think it was the cool weather that prompted it), I checked out my favorite cooking/baking blogs. On For the Love of Cooking I found the muffin recipe and thought it'd be a great way to use up the rest of the zucchini. I liked that the recipe used whole wheat flour, making the muffins somewhat nutritious between the flour and zucchini.

1 cup of whole wheat flour
1 cup of flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup of cocoa powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3/4 cup of milk
3/4 cup of canola oil
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cup of zucchini, shredded (I usually shred mine in the food processor, but today I just did it by hand on a box grater)
1 cup of semi sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a muffin tray with cooking spray.

In a large bowl combine the flours, sugar, baking soda, salt, baking powder, cocoa, cinnamon and nutmeg. Mix thoroughly.

In another bowl, whisk together the milk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. Add the shredded zucchini and stir. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients until just combined then add the chocolate chips. Spoon batter into the prepared muffin tray, filling each cup to the top.

Bake in the oven for 17-20 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the muffins cool before serving.

I was a bit surprised at how runny the batter was, but the muffins came out great. They are light and moist.

And while I'm showing off the muffins, why not show off the beautiful flowers the hubs picked up for me...just because?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Do Chickens Have Ovaries?

The hubs works with a woman who has a farm, and she brings in fresh eggs for her co-workers to buy. In the dozen eggs we got from her, there is one teeny, tiny egg. I guess it's not that tiny, just tiny relative to a standard large chicken egg. So then I got to thinking: what determines the size of the egg? How often do chickens lay eggs? And where do the eggs come from? Human females are born with all of their eggs and then once they reach menstruation age during adolescence, they release on egg per month. Chickens, being as small as they are, can't be born with all of their eggs. At least not full sized ones, right? So then I wondered if chickens even have ovaries?

So I did what any good researcher would do: I Googled it. The exact phrase I Googled was "do chickens have ovaries?" Now the results weren't from any academic source, such as the ones I require my students to use when doing research. But I did find some information posted by chicken farmers, so I figured that they probably know what they're talking about. Here is some interesting information about chickens, eggs, and ovaries.

1) Yes, they do have ovaries.
2) Believe it or not, the egg laying process for a chicken begins in its eye. Chickens lay eggs only after receiving a light cue, either from natural sunlight entering a coop or artificial light illuminating a commercial egg hatchery. The light stimulates a photo-receptive gland near the chicken's eye, which in turn triggers the release of an egg cell from the chicken's ovary. (So I guess this means that they already have eggs in their ovaries, yes? But they must be microscopic. They can't be full-sized Grade A large eggs. A chicken ovary can't hold all of those eggs.)

3) Chickens lay about one egg every 26 hours. They tend to lay one egg per day for about six days before resting for a day. This is particularly true for chickens in captivity. Wild chickens and other wild birds may rest for months before laying more eggs.
4) Chickens less than one year old (called pullets) lay small eggs and will lay larger ones when they get older. Pullets also tend to lay one egg every three to four days and then increase the frequency of their laying (sounds dirty - like a chicken whore!) when they get older.
5) Chickens do not need a rooster to lay eggs. In fact, if the goal of the farmer is to produce eggs, the roosters must be kept away. The eggs we get at the grocery store are unfertilized. If the egg becomes fertilized, it'll turn into a chick. (I guess this makes sense - human women can ovulate without a male but needs male sperm to create a baby.)
6) And finally, one tidbit of info that I already knew: there is no nutritional difference between white and brown eggs.

So now I have learned a number of very interesting facts about chickens, eggs, and ovaries. In fact, I think I've learned a lot about birds in general this year. For example, in the spring, I learned that blue jays and cardinals don't mate and produce purple birds because blue jays and cardinals are different species. Good to know.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Case of the Blues

Before I explain why I have a case of the blues, I need to give you the back-story.

Christmas 2006. Yep. That's when the back-story begins. For Christmas 2006, the hubs (then just the boyfriend) bought me a French press. (It's important to note that a French press wasn't my only gift for those of you who are thinking, "Wow - what a crappy gift." And for those who love coffee, such as myself, a French press is a splendid gift. Especially when it also comes with a pair of diamond earrings.) So the French press from 2006 lasted until July 2010 when I ever-so-gingerly bumped it on the side of the sink and it shattered. So I bought a new one, which we had for about a week until it shattered on a camping trip. (There has to be a better option for making coffee while camping.) Then I learned that one can purchase a replacement carafe (I suppose carafe-shattering is a relatively common occurrence) and did just that. The replacement carafe arrived via UPS yesterday, and I was glad to see how perfectly it fit into the French press. But then it took a fall out of the cabinet not three hours after it was received and it, too, shattered.

Perhaps this is a message from above that we are no longer French press people. Perhaps we are automatic drip people. Luckily, after the shattering of the second carafe I must have had a hunch that we have evolved into automatic drip people and began researching coffee makers. My Cuisinart Brew Central coffee maker arrived today!

OK, now onto the blues.

When the French press carafe shattered on the kitchen floor yesterday, it prompted a necessary thorough sweeping, vacuuming, and mopping of the kitchen floor. Thus, the rugs we have at the back door and in front of the sink needed to be picked up. The hubs placed the rugs outside, and neither one of us thought to grab them when the floor dried. Of course, there was a torrential thunderstorm last night, so the rugs were drenched.

This morning I took out the recycling and when I returned inside, I noticed that my Crocs were leaving blue footprints on the kitchen floor. I looked outside and noticed that there were dark blue puddles under where the rugs were hung, and I put two and two together and realized the dye from the rugs had bled onto the ground. First, I threw my Crocs in the sink to make sure I didn't track the dye any farther. Then I grabbed the rugs, holding them away from myself as not to stain my clothes, and brought them inside to take to the washing machine. Two steps into the kitchen, I realized that the rugs were still dripping. It looked as if someone was dripping blue food coloring all over the kitchen. I was able to wrap up the rugs in such a way to contain the dripping, and I successfully got them into the washer without staining the carpet.

After turning on the washer, I realized my hands were completely blue. I tried to wash them with soap and water, which proved to be futile. I came upstairs and wiped up the kitchen floor and then went up to the bathroom. I squirted soap on my nail brush and scrubbed. And scrubbed. And scrubbed. And after about five solid minutes of scrubbing, my hands were no longer a dark blue but rather a lighter blue. That was as good as it was going to get.

After an hour of my hands sweating through a Body Pump class at the gym, washing some dishes, and showering, I was able to get the rest of the dye off of my hands. The rugs are now clean and dry, and I ran an empty cycle with bleach through the washer.

Hopefully now that we have a regular coffee maker, these types of things won't happen anymore.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

It's Bananas...B-A-N-A-N-A-S!!!

I emailed my nutritionist a couple of weeks ago to ask her about post-workout snacks. I've heard that protein smoothies are a good recovery snack, but do I necessarily need a smoothie that contains protein powder? My nutritionist said that while the protein powder certainly wouldn't hurt, I'd get more nutritional value (as well as the desired protein) from making my smoothie with lowfat yogurt. She suggested making a smoothie with a banana, some lowfat vanilla yogurt, ice, a bit of peanut butter, and a squirt of chocolate syrup. I made this today after my spin class, and it was yummy! I didn't measure anything - just eyeballed it - but here are some approximations:
-One banana (the one I used was pretty's also good to use a frozen banana, which makes the smoothie nice and cold)
-1/2 to 2/3 cup lowfat vanilla yogurt
-Handful of ice cubes
-Teaspoon of creamy peanut butter
-Teaspoon of Hershey's chocolate syrup
I threw it all in the blender and mixed it up. It was a nice snack!

I try to keep vanilla yogurt on hand as well as a variety of fresh and/or frozen fruits. All of these ingredients are great for smoothies. Sometimes a squirt of honey is necessary to balance the tartness of the fruit.

Try coming up with your own concoctions!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Independence Day

We had some friends over for the 4th. I thought I'd share our recipes.

We did basic burgers but with a ton of topping options. We served three different sauces: chipotle ketchup, horseradish mustard mayo, and red chile mustard. We offered a smorgasboard of cheeses: American, Swiss, white cheddar, Manchego, and jalapeno jack. And of course there were pickles, tomatoes, onions, and lettuce.

We also tried a new Southwestern potato salad, a Bobby Flay recipe that is served at his restaurant Mesa Grill. It was quite spicy - a bit too spicy for me. If we make it again, I think I'll use a bit less chipotle puree and/or less cayenne pepper.

We also made our staple summer salad, Ina Garten's guacamole salad.

For dessert, I tried a recipe from one of my favorite blogs, Lick the Bowl Good. Monica, the author of the blog, adapted the recipe from one of Martha Stewart's. We had a delicious strawberry-blueberry cobbler cake with vanilla ice cream.

Here are two pictures, one from before the cake went into the oven and the finished product.

Enjoy the recipes!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Virginia is for Lovers

This past weekend, the hubs and I took a trip to Northern Virginia. Instead of buying Mother's and Father's Day gifts, we decided to put the money into a get-away. I had researched the Blue Ridge Wine Way, so we had a plan to visit some of the wineries in the area. Before our trip, I ordered a Garmin GPS unit, now known as Louise, to assist us in navigating the Virginia countryside. Louise couldn't have been more helpful, despite getting a bit testy and insistent when we don't follow her commands. Before the trip, I had programmed all of the wineries into Louise. When we were ready for our next destination, I could look at my list of wineries and see which one was closest. It made it so much easier to get from one place to the next and plan our routes in a logical manner.

On Saturday, we visited four wineries. The first two shared the same owners. The third one was owned by a Greek fellow, Louie, who has been making wine since 1961. Some of the wines we sampled there differed from anything we've ever tried before. For example, way back when (I want to say the 1500s?), Grecians were traveling by boat between the Greek Isles and transported their wine in barrels lined with pine resin, creating a note of pine in the wine. Louie replicated this in one of his wines.

Our last stop was at a winery across from Louie's. While it wasn't listed on the Blue Ridge Wine Way, we figured that is was worth stopping. The wines were fabulous and the scenery breathtaking. We met the owner, Kate, who we learned from her new boyfriend is going through a bitter divorce. (Later at dinner, our server shared with us that Kate has supposedly stabbed her husband, but we were unable to verify this information via court records or local media sources.) Kate's boyfriend is also going through a divorce and seems to still be dealing with a lot of emotions related to it. We found out his youngest son is spending the summer in Fiji as a punishment for smoking pot. Fiji. That's a bitch. How did I learn all of this? Once I disclosed that I'm a therapist, the boyfriend just spilled his heart and soul out to me. I got a free glass of wine out of it, so all's well that ends well, right?

Then we headed to Sperryville, where we were spending the night at
Hopkins Ordinary B&B. The house and innkeepers, Kevin and Sherri, were delightful. Upon our arrival, Kevin asked if we had dinner plans and promptly made a reservation at the restaurant across the street. We had a tasty dinner on their outdoor deck.

The next morning, we had breakfast in the dining room. Kevin and Sherri served homemade muffins and three different kinds of frittatas, all made with fresh veggies and herbs from their garden. Shortly after we began eating, we were joined by another couple who shared that they were from the area and were enjoying a stay-cation in celebration of their 39th anniversary. They were a nice couple, but the wife was a bit odd. I think she can be summed up in one picture:

Since she and her husband were celebrating their 39th anniversary, she offered us newlyweds some advice: board your horses. Taking care of your horses on your own property is too much work. Ummm, OK. We don't have any horses. And even if we did, our 20'x14' yard would probably not be the best place to keep them.

After breakfast, the innkeepers asked what we were planning to do for the day. When they found out we were planning to check out some local wineries, they gave us a bunch of coupons and even a pass to get into a fairly exclusive winery. The pitchfork couple wife said she wanted to check out the pottery shop across the street. Sherri told her just a few yards farther, she'd find a yarn shop. I thought pitchfork wife was going to have an orgasm because she was so excited. She clapped her hands in merriment and shrieked, "Ohhhhh, myyyyyy, goooooodness!!!" Perhaps she was in the market to buy some yarn to knit sweaters for her non-boarded horses.

We headed out to the car to plan our route for the day. We wanted to be sure Louise was ready to take us to our first stop. Little did I know that I was about to experience one of the most embarrassing moments of my life.

Kevin came out to the car and said, "Is everything OK? Do you need directions anywhere?" We said we were fine and were just trying to decide which winery to visit first. Then Kevin said, "You left something in your room." "What's that?" I asked. "Your underwear," he replied, as he handed me a knotted shut plastic grocery bag containing said underwear.

Oh. My. Goodness. (This circumstance is much more deserving of an "oh my goodness" than finding out there's a yarn shop within walking distance.)

After that moment, we got the hell outta there. We toured several wineries and then headed back home. It was a fantastic weekend, and I highly recommend Northern Virginia as a vacation destination.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


I'm not going to lie - I love to sleep. Even as a child, I never really fought my parents about going to bed because I was happy to visit the sandman. Although the experts recommend seven to eight hours of sleep for the average adult, I need nine to ten hours on most nights. When I was pregnant, particularly during the first trimester, I was so exhausted that I slept 10-12 hours each night and napped for three to four hours each afternoon.

I'm all for sleep. But it needs to happen only at appropriate times, yes?

Today I attended an all-day workshop to earn some continuing education credits to maintain my therapy license. During the opening remarks, the speaker disclosed that there were about 300 local teachers, counselors, nurses, and other professionals attending the conference. The focus of the conference was risky behaviors that adolescents engage in - drugs and alcohol, sex, eating disorders, and social networking. I found all of the presentations to be engaging and applicable to my work.

Apparently others did not.

I saw two women blatantly put their heads down and go to sleep. At a table with nine other attendees. In a room of over 300 people. And what takes the cake is a woman sitting across from me at my table. She fell asleep sitting in her chair and fell out of her chair! Yes - FELL OUT OF HER CHAIR! Who does that? She woke up when she hit the floor, and then chatter ensued around the room. I over heard one woman say rather loudly, "She fell asleep and fell on the floor," explaining what happened to her curious tablemates. Most of all, I felt badly for the speaker, who amazingly kept her composure during this disruption.

I have never fallen asleep in class, at a meeting, or anywhere else where I'm expected to be attentive. Other than as an infant, I have never fallen asleep at church. I can only think of two public places where I've caught some shut-eye: airplanes and buses. Because I am discretionary in my choices of where to sleep, I guess I assumed that other adults are too. I just couldn't believe grown, professional (and I use that term loosely) women thought that there was nothing wrong with going to sleep at a conference and were bold enough to put their heads right on the table! If these women are servicing at-risk teens, no wonder these kids continue to have problems. The people who are supposed to be serving as their mentors and role models don't even behave appropriately!

Enough for now. If I post this entry within the next four minutes, my sleep schedule will work out perfectly: two hours to read and watch TV and 10 hours to sleep. Woot woot!

Friday, June 4, 2010

What is a Justin Bieber?

For the past few days, The Today Show has been talking about Justin Bieber. Apparently, this Bieber person was coming to Rockefeller Plaza to put on a concert today. The cameras panned the sidewalks around the plaza to show tween and teen girls camped out with their perturbed-looking fathers just so they could be sure they got into the concert.

Perhaps I've been living under a rock (or I just have good taste in music), but I've never heard of this Justin Bieber person. I caught my first glimpse of him on this morning's edition of The Today Show, being interviewed by Matt Lauer. This kid is like 12 years old. And he has a bowl cut. A bad one at that. In his interview, he compared himself to the likes of Justin Timberlake and Usher. And then he disclosed that Usher bought him a Range Rover for his 16th birthday. WTF?!? Apparently the kid has driven it only once, and his mom had to be in the car with him because he only has a permit. Lame!

So, of course I had to to Google this Justin Bieber. I had no idea what songs he sings. And then I heard snippets of four of his songs. Oh. My. God. How is this kid such a sensation? He has NOTHING on New Kids on the Block, N' Sync, Back Street Boys, Justin Timberlake, or Usher. Yet dumb girls camp out for TWO nights - in the rain - to see this kid perform.

Perhaps what was most disconcerting is that when I was listening to the bits of Bieber's songs, the daughter was rocking out. She did some kind of version of the robot - no joke. This child has been raised with good music, yet she responded so positively to this teeny-bopper crap.


I guess what's most important is knowing that if you get in with Usher, you could get a Range Rover. I need to work on that.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Once Upon a Time, Anastasia Had a Party

Actually, it wasn't really once upon a time. It was just last weekend. And several of the party-goers have requested that I share the recipes from the fete. Some I just kind of threw together, so I'll give you a basic recipe, although I just do it to taste.


Sherry Vinegar-Marinated Shrimp Wrapped in Serrano Ham wiht Piquillo Dipping Sauce (from Bobby Flay)
3 T. sherry vinegar
1 t. Dijon mustard
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 c. olive oil
1 T. finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 lb. extra-jumbo (16-20 count) shrimp, shelled and deveined
Salt and pepper
12 paper-thin slices Serrano ham or prosciutte, sliced in half lengthwise
Dipping sauce (recipe follows)

1. Whisk together the vinegar, mustard, garlic, olive oil, and thyme in a large bowl. Add the shrimp and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2. Heat grill to high.
3. Remove shrimp from marinade and season with salt and pepper. Place shrimp on the grates of the grill in an even layer and grill until golden brown and slightly charred, 1.5 to 2 minutes. Turn the shrimp over and continue grilling until just cooked through, 45 seconds to one minute longer.
4. Remove shrimp to a platter and wrap each shrimp with a half slice of the ham. Serve with dipping sauce.

Piquillo Dipping Sauce
1 1/4 c. mayonnaise
1 T. sherry vinegar
4 cloves garlic, chopped
4 piquillo peppers or 1 large jarred roasted red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 t. finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
Salt and pepper
3 T. finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

Combine all ingredients except parsley in a food processor and process until smooth. Stir in parsley. Cover and refrigerate at least 15 minutes before serving. Sauce can be made 1 day in advance and refrigerated. Do not add parsley until ready to serve.

Baked Brie (from Food Network)
1 (7 to 8-inch) wheel brie cheese
1/4 cup dried cherries
1/4 cup sliced toasted almonds
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 sheets (12 by 18-inch) puff pastry
2 eggs, beaten

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Using a warmed sharp knife, or unflavored dental floss (See Cook's Note 1) cut the wheel of brie in half horizontally and separate the top half of the wheel from the bottom half. Sprinkle the bottom half of the brie with the dried cherries, toasted almonds, and brown sugar. Replace the top half of the brie and apply pressure to secure the stuffing. Working on a well-floured surface, roll out the puff pastry so that it will fully cover the brie. Place the brie in the middle of the puff pastry and fold the excess pastry around the wheel. Put the wheel aside. Roll out another piece of puff pastry and cut out a circle the same circumference as the top of the brie. Save the trimmings for decorations. Using a pastry brush, brush the egg on top of the brie in the puff pastry and place the circle on top. Brush the top of the circle with egg. Cut out decorations using cookie cutters or a small knife on top of the brie. Brush the entire top side of the brie with the egg and place the brie on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until the pastry begins to turn golden brown, then turn the temperature down to 325 degrees F and bake for another 20 minutes. Serve on a pretty platter.


For the salad, I used bagged arugula and baby spinach. I tossed in pecans and walnuts, crumbled goat cheese, and Craisins. For the dressing, I put olive oil, white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper in a jar. With the lid on, shake it until emulsified. You can also add herbs or garlic.

Pork Tenderloin (from Ina Garten)
1 lemon, zest grated
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (4 to 6 lemons)
Good olive oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic (6 cloves)
1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Kosher salt
3 pork tenderloins (about 1 pound each)
Freshly ground black pepper

Combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, 1/2 cup olive oil, garlic, rosemary, thyme, mustard, and 2 teaspoons salt in a sturdy 1-gallon resealable plastic bag. Add the pork tenderloins and turn to coat with the marinade. Squeeze out the air and seal the bag. Marinate the pork in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours but preferably overnight.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Remove the tenderloins from the marinade and discard the marinade but leave the herbs that cling to the meat. Sprinkle the tenderloins generously with salt and pepper. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large oven-proof saute pan over medium-high heat. Sear the pork tenderloins on all sides until golden brown. Place the saute pan in the oven and roast the tenderloins for 10 to 15 minutes or until the meat registers 137 degrees F at the thickest part. Transfer the tenderloins to a platter and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Allow to rest for 10 minutes. Carve in 1/2-inch-thick diagonal slices. The thickest part of the tenderloin will be quite pink (it's just fine!) and the thinnest part will be well done. Season with salt and pepper and serve warm, or at room temperature with the juices that collect in the platter.

Grilled New Potato Salad with Bacon and Buttermilk Dressing (from Bobby Flay)
2.5 lbs. small red new potatoes, scrubbed
Kosher salt
8 oz. bacon, diced
1/2 c. buttermilk
2 T. mayonnaise
2 T. sour cream
1 T. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 c. canola oil
3 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced

1. Put potatoes in a pot of salted cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender but not cooked through, about 8 minutes. Drain and let cool before cutting in half.
2. While the potatoes are cooking, cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until golden brown and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. REmove to a plate lined with paper towels.
3. Whisk together the buttermilk, mayo, sour cream, and mustard in a large bown and season with onion and garlic powders, salt, and pepper.
4. Heat grill to medium.
5. Brush the potatoes on both sides with the oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the potatoes on the grill, cut side down, and grill until lightly golden brown, about 3 mintues. Turn the potatoes over and continue grilling until just cooked through, about 3 minutes longer.
6. Transfer potatoes to the bowl with the dressing, add the bacon and green onions, and toss to coat. Serve warm or cover and refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours or up to 8 hours.

Marinated Vegetables

This is one I don't use a recipe for. I chopped up yellow squash, zucchini, asparagus, and cremini mushrooms. You want all of the chopped veggies to be about the same size so they cook evenly. I put the vegetables in a large bowl and toss with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, chopped garlic, chopped fresh basil, and salt and pepper. They sat in the marinade for about 2 hours. Then grill them in a grill basket until done.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


The hubs has been at his current job just shy of four years. He began the job as a six month contract, and he was fortunate to have the contract renewed a number of times. It has been disconcerting, though, to see a number of people laid off each week because there were no new projects and thus no need for such a large staff. To give some perspective, the hubs' department began as a team of about 30 people, and it's now down to only seven. If you include turnover people, that's 108 total. So, the hubs was lucky to make it this far. Nonetheless, it's been pretty stressful knowing that he could be laid off any day.

The hubs went on a job interview yesterday. They called him today to tell him he was hired! Woohoo! The worries of a weekly menu consisting of PB&J and Ramen are no longer!

So to celebrate, we had a lovely dinner - a fancy steak sandwich. (Granted, this meal was planned and put on the weekly menu on Friday when I did the grocery shopping, but we can pretend it was a special meal planned in honor of the hubs' new job.) The recipe comes from Rachel Ray's 365: No Repeats cookbook. The hubs refers to RR as "the bitch," but even he enjoyed this meal.

Steak Sandwich...Knife and Fork Required
1 sheet of puff pastry, defrosted, kept chilled
Salt and pepper
1.5 to 2 pounds flank steak
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus some for drizzling
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves removed and finely chopped
1 small bunch of thin asparagus
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
1 large bunch of arugula, stemmed, cleaned, and coarsely chopped (I used a couple handfuls of the bagged stuff)
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Preheat a grill pan or outdoor grill on high.

With a sharp knife, cut the thawed puff pastry sheet into four squares, arrange on a cookie sheet, and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Bake the puff pastry according to package directions, or until golden brown all over, about 12 to 15 minutes.

While the puff pastry is baking, season the steak with the 2 tablespoons olive oil, garlic, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Grill the meat for 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Remove the meat and let it rest for 5 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute. While the steak is cooking, trim the woody ends off the asparagus. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. As soon as the steak is off the grill and resting, add the asparagus to grill.

Grill the spears, turning frequently, until the asparagus is tender, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the asparagus from the grill and cut into 2-inch lengths.

In a bowl, toss together the grilled chopped asparagus, crumbled blue cheese, and chopped arugula. Season the mixture with balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper.

Slice the steak thinly across the grain. Top each golden-brown puff pastry square with some slices of the steak. Top the steak with the asparagus salad and serve.
4 servings

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


I'm back. Yes, it's been a few years. I bought a house, got married, had a baby, and all that jazz. But here I am. So for those of you who have been saying to yourselves, "Where the heck did Anastasia go?" this is your lucky day.

The most recent news in the life of Anastasia Beaverhausen is my first firing. Yep, I fired someone. I suppose I've never fired anyone before because I've never really been in charge of anyone. Well, unless you count the cleaning ladies that came to our house once. They didn't do such a good job, so I told their supervisor that we would not have them back. Not sure if that really counts as firing because I didn't say anything along the lines of "you're fired" or "termination effective immediately."

Anyway, my first firing was that of a nanny. Not a full-time nanny. The hubs and I provide the majority of the care for our daughter. But since we both work full-time, we thought it would be very responsible to hire someone to watch the daughter in our absence. Actually, before the nanny the daughter went to a daycare for four weeks, until we decided to pull her out of there after several incidents of diaper rash so severe that they required medical treatment and being fed cookies and crackers instead of milk. The daughter, six months at the time, hardly had teeth. Who would think that cookies and crackers were a good food option?

I digress.

So after we pulled the daughter out of daycare (that wasn't firing, right?) we were lucky to have some of our friends, such as Pretty, Pretty Princess Di, jump in to care for the daughter while we scrambled to find a new caregiver. We interviewed several candidates and decided on one, whom we'll call the nanny.

Things with the nanny started out great. Over time, though, it seemed that she was viewing her job as more of an inconvenience, despite the hefty salary she was being paid. The nanny made big bucks, especially considering the daughter slept about half of the time the nanny was "working." I put "working" in quotation marks because the nanny did very little. Unless you consider being on facebook, reading, and giving yourself manis and pedis work. The final straw was when the nanny left the daughter in her bed nearly four hours past the up-and-at-'em time. Unfed. The daughter hadn't eaten for 18 hours, but the nanny thought it would be better to leave her in her bed because she thought she was tired. Perhaps the nanny's nails weren't dry, so there was no way she could tend to the daughter. Who knows? Just a theory. Moreover, the nanny contacted the hubs' mother to defend her decision to let the daughter stay in the crib all day! Hello? Boundaries, anyone? Have you ever contacted your boss' mother because you were disgruntled about something at work? I doubt it.

So I fired the nanny. Sadly, it wasn't nearly as Donald Trump-like as it could have been. Rather, the nanny was given a clear and specific list of reasons why she was being terminated. Effective immediately. Yep, I said it. (Thanks PPP-Di for encouraging me to add that part.) The nanny's response was to un-friend all of our friends (most of whom the nanny had never met, yet she thought she'd like to be "friends" with all of them) on facebook.

We're glad to be rid of the nanny. We don't need that kind of drama in our lives. The daughter deserves better. I hope to never be in a position to fire someone again. Maybe Hallmark makes a card with Donald Trump on it, and when you open it, it says "You're fired!" That would be the way I'd go about firing people in the future. But hopefully I won't have to do it again.