Archive | December, 2009

What not to do When There is Already a lot Going On {recipe: Spaghetti with Mushrooms, Spinach, and Smoked Gouda}

17 Dec

I try to write blog posts after stuff happens, and not while I am in the midst of it. Because as much as you think you may want to, you really don’t want to read my irrational diary entries. You want to read my blog posts. I do, at least. I want to read and write about what I learned or am learning, and not all of the crazy, I-am-sure-I-am-the-only-one-who-thinks-this-crap thoughts that get me to the end point. So I am writing in the morning, when my head is clear and I haven’t had time to think of anything crazy.

That being said, we have slowed down a little this week. The holidays take people out shopping or on vacation, and we have enjoyed a few nights at home this week. I can’t remember the last time that happened. We love everything we do and have wonderful friends and spend a lot of time out doing things, which I never regret. But, I also do not remember the solace and comfort of being home until I am doing it and it’s cold outside and we’re sitting on the couch drinking tea and eating cookies and not even remembering where our cell phones are. That is a good night.

This, in contrast to my days. I am starting to feel a little anxious. Only during the day when I am alone and usually when I am out to run an errand. I think it is becoming real that at any time, this baby could come and shake our worlds at any time, even when I am running to Target at lunch. I am excited to meet it, but I am also excited for it to bake a little more.

Right now it is safe. Feeding it is easy, I don’t have to know when it sleeps or when it wants to play, it sometimes makes me tired but I am sure it is not as tired as I will be later when it’s out and I am trying to get it to eat or sleep or stay awake or not cry. So when I am by myself, I start to think about the latter half, when it’s out, and I get a little anxious.

And when I get anxious I make lists of stuff.

What stuff? Any stuff. Things to do. Tasks to occupy my time with.

The best part of these tasks is that they are usually things that I have never done. When something stressful is going to happen or when something is coming that I know I don’t have control of, I try and give myself jobs that are a little risky, but I know I can master. I do it to build my self-confidence before whatever big event happens. To show myself that I am strong and I can conquer hard tasks. I also usually come up with these tasks close to the stressful event date, because I also like to show myself that I am good in a time crunch. Which I am.

Examples of past tasks are things like creating hand-made soap (this was two days before having six people come to stay at our house), or making personalized Christmas gifts for  20 people (three days before Christmas).

I am writing this blog post because I just put “make homemade marshmallows” on my list. I am confessing to you that I do not need to make homemade marshmallows, but I am going to do it. I don’t care if I have to get up at 5 a.m., it is worth it. I am going to prove to myself that I can be a little anxious about a baby and truly enjoy a quiet night at home but still conquer marshmallows. Alas, at least I am aware? Look forward to a post on marshmallows later.

This recipe is easy, it won’t make you crazy and you should make it. How is that for a segue?

Spaghetti with Mushrooms, Spinach, and Smoked Gouda

serves 6

12 ounces spaghetti

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 10 oz cans sliced mushrooms

1 small red onion, sliced

1/2 cup dry white wine

kosher salt and black pepper

16 oz frozen spinach

8 oz smoked gouda (or other cheese that will melt well – mozzarella, brie, or monterrey jack would all work well)

8 oz meat, cooked and chopped (optional, I used leftover spiral sliced ham)

Cook the pasta according to the package directions.

In another pan, heat the oil over medium heat about a minute and then add the onion and mushrooms, cook about 5 minutes until onions are soft. Add the wine, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook about 5 more minutes

About a minute before the pasta is done, add the spinach to the pasta pot to thaw it.

When the spinach is thawed, run the pasta and spinach through a strainer and reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water.

Put the pasta and spinach back in the pot.

Toss the pasta with the cheese and reserved pasta water until the pasta is coated. Stir in the mushroom mixture and meat if you’re using it.


Top 10 Kitchen Essentials – Great Gifts for the Holidays

16 Dec

So I am a little late with holiday recommendations, as we are nine days from Christmas and well into Hanukkah (I know this because we were invited to a Hannukah party last week and I ate my weight in latkes and dreidel game chocolates.  Mmmm). But, the good thing about solid kitchen recommendations is that they are timeless. I mean, they should be. The kitchen is usually the place with the least amount of discretionary storage space, and who wants precious counter-top real estate taken up by hardly-used, single-purpose appliances that just become collectors of spaghetti sauce splatters next to the stove.

That’s all to say that these kitchen essentials are just that: essential. You can use them for many purposes and will reap their benefits over many years.

1. 12-cup Food Processor

You can do so many things with a good food processor. KitchenAid and Cuisinart know their value and they charge for it. These are expensive, but don’t settle for an off-brand, they just won’t cut it. Literally. Go KitchenAid or Cuisinart or just wait until later in life to get one of these. With this appliance, you can grate a pound of cheese in about three seconds, or slice 6 onions for French onion soup in less than 10 seconds. It really takes out some of the hassle of making meals from scratch!

Recommendation: KitchenAid 12-cup Food Processor $149.99 (<<that’s a really good price!)

You can use the food processor to make Peanut Butter or Hummus or Roasted Tomato Pasta Sauce.

2. Stainless Steel Pans

Keep one nonstick pan so that you can easily make scrambled eggs or pancakes, and then give yourself over to stainlesss steel ones. They conduct heat much better than teflon ones and don’t have the harmful side effects. It’s easier to brown a piece of meat, or sear fish in stainless steel, and you can throw them in the dishwasher if you need to.

Recommendation: Calphalon Tri-Ply Stainless Steel Cookware set $392

You can use a stainless steel skillet to brown and cook your Turkey Burgers.

3. Silicon Spatulas

Use these to scrape batter out of bowls, or to stir veggies in your new stainless steel pans. They are easily hand-washable and don’t get hot like a metal spoon would if you left it sitting in a hot pan.

Recommendation: Williams-Sonoma Silicon Spatulas $7-10

Use them to get all of your Vanilla Buttercream Frosting out of the bowl.

4. Williams-Sonoma GoldTouch Pans

Gradually, I am replacing all of my baking pans with these. These pans cook evenly and don’t over-conduct heat like the dark-colored, nonstick ones do. Dark, nonstick pans also lose their non-stick coating after a while, but these GoldTouch ones do not falter. For breads, I use the GoldTouch 9×5 loaf pan and by the time the bread is cooked through, the outside of the bread that is touching the pan has not become burned or dried out like it can be in other pans. I also like the 9×9 and 9×13 pans and their square edges, they make an even bunch of brownies or cookie bars.

RecommendationWilliams-Sonoma Gold Touch Pans $27 -$49.95

Get a loaf pan and then make Starbucks Banana Walnut Bread for breakfast and Beer Cheese Bread for dinner.

5. Small Spatula

This tiny guy will get the first brownie out of the pan much easier. Just like a regular spatula, but smaller.

RecommendationPampered Chef Mini Serving Spatula $4.50

Get the spatula, then get these Toffee Shortbread Bars out of their pan!

6. Microplane Grater

Did you mess up the frosting on your cake? Does your chocolate mousse look plain? Do you have company over and want to make coffee that will make them think they woke up at a bed and breakfast? Finely grate something over your dish! With the microplane grater, you can cover up frosting mistakes with grated chocolate or dress up desserts with shaved hazlenut flakes or sprinkle nutmeg over a warm latte.

RecommendationMicroplane Grater/Zester $11.95

Then make this easy chocolate mousse and grate a few chocolate chips or a hazelnut over the top!

7. Coarse Salt

Coarse salt makes your meals tastier and just a few sprinkles bring out a ton of flavor, sparing you from shaking a salt canister tirelessly over your dinner. Salt also boosts baked goods too!

Recommendation: Morton Coarse Kosher Salt $3

Then sprinkle the salt on the best Chocolate Chip Cookies you’ll ever make.

8. Apple Corer

This is a small one but definitely worth it. A great stocking stuffer. The apple corer also can be used for other fruits, too, like pears. I like the corer better than the apple slicer of my childhood because the corer allows you to hold the fruit in one hand, making it easier to apply pressure with the corer (rather than having the apple sitting on the counter and having to push down with both hands), and the corer has sharp teeth with which it removes the cord, and doesn’t get dull quickly like the slicer.

RecommendationCalphalon Apple Corer $9.95

You can use the apple corer and make a Cranberry Apple Crisp.

9. Jars

Here’s an easy one. Chuck your old BPA-laden plastic tupperware and start recycling! Use old jars to store sauces, leftovers, and even a stack of cookies.

Recommendation: This one is free, just wash out your old salsa and peanut butter jars.

Then, store your homemade Salted Butter Caramel in your new-to-you jar!

10. Dr. Bronner’s Soap

Now you have all of your kitchen gadgets and you’ve got to clean up. Dr. Bronner’s soap is the best and one bottle of it will  make biodegradable cleaner for more than a year! In an old spray bottle filled almost full with fresh water, add 2 T. Dr. Bronner’s Sal  Suds and shake! If you want it to be scented, you can add about 10 drops of lavender, grapefruit, or peppermint essential oil.

Recommendation: Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds $16.98 for two 32-oz. bottles

Gaining 10 Pounds from a Single Cheeseburger, or Not {recipe: no-knead beer cheese bread}

4 Dec

The pictures of this bread are not very good but whatever. The bread is delicious. I mean, beer, butter, and cheese? Yes, please.

You can thank the baby for this recipe, because pregnancy has opened up a whole new realm of foods to me.

I spent most of college figuring out how to consume as few calories as possible, namely focusing on food I had put into one of three categories: lean proteins, sugar-free jello, and diet coke. Stellar categories, I know.  The latter two are not really food groups, but I made them so. And, though I was 19, I was sure I had the FDA beat on this one…my food pyramid was definitely better than theirs (<<check that out, it looks totally different from when we were in elementary school). But, I learned that this three-category food pyramid really isn’t a sustainable model. It leaves you tired and frail and stressed out about that supposed-to-be fun dinner with friends that you’re going to but won’t know how much butter they used to saute those vegetables and they surely won’t have jello. Also it makes your mom really worried.

Shortly after we got married, we tried out a month of eating organic and natural foods. This trial month could not include two of my food groups, because, well, aspartame is not organic or natural. I felt fantastic that month, and gained a few healthy pounds. With some encouragement from my husband, I was able to turn that organic/natural month into a lifestyle of healthiness and a better relationship with food. It took two solid years for me to gain the 10 pounds that my body wanted in order to function normally, not because I can eat whatever I want and not gain weight, but because each pound was such an effort to live with, a constant reminder that my life purpose was not to control my weight. But I got through it.

Anyways, one thing I had to learn was that eating a cheeseburger wasn’t going to make me gain 10 pounds in one sitting. That sounds dumb, but it is really what I had convinced myself. I am sure you have convinced yourself of some dumb stuff, too. Learning this allowed me to begin incorporating new food groups into my life, like bread and cheese.

So how does this relate to pregnancy? With pregnancy I kind of threw in the towel around 22 weeks when my leg-bones started to pop out of place from the hip-bones and running and jogging became distant memories. Around this same time I had to stop paying attention to the weight I was gaining. It didn’t really matter what I ate, I still gained weight, as my body prioritizes the baby. So, I began to have more fun foods that I wouldn’t normally let myself have. Not in excess, just in healthy moderation. Homemade eggnog? Sure, I will have a glass. Ravioli drizzled with cream sauce? Yum. A salad with full-fat dressing? Well if you’re going to put it right in front of me…None of these things will make be gain ten pounds in one sitting. They’re fine amongst a balanced diet and an active lifestyle.

Enter this Beer Cheese Bread. Most breads have a fat mixed in with the dough. This one doesn’t have a liquid fat in the batter, rather it has a load of cheese and then you basically drench the thing in butter. It is fantastic. Blake and I came home from work one day at lunch and made it and ate it hot. That is the best way to eat it for sure, about 10 minutes out of the oven.

This bread is halfway between a biscuit and a regular loaf of bread, and best of all, there is no kneading or yeast or rising time, just mix the ingredients and throw it in the oven!

Have a piece, it won’t kill you.

Beer Cheese Bread

Makes one 9×5 loaf

3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup shredded cheese (I used sharp cheddar)
1 bottle (12 ounces) beer (I used Shiner)
1/2 cup melted butter

Preheat oven to 350.

Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a bowl, stir in cheese. Stir in beer until dough is stcky. Don’t overmix the dough, it’s ok if it is lumpy.

Grease or butter the loaf pan.

Pour half of melted butter into bottom of pan.

Spoon dough into pan.

Pour remaining butter over the top.

Bake 45-60 minutes or until top is golden brown and toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.