Thursday, March 31, 2011

Nothing Like a Little Comfort Food Gone Sweet!

Another busy couple of days have passed, filled with work, errands, and appointments. Trying to squeeze everything in before the weekend when you have a zillion things going on is never fun. This weekend marks my 30th Birthday! Ugh. 30. Actually, I'm not dreading it as much as I thought I would. But, ohhhhh how I will miss my 20's I'm sure.

In between the hustle and bustle of the week we did fit in a few fun things, like getting to the playground before it snows again tonight and the chance to make these incredibly delicious "food" cupcakes. Pictured here are the mashed potatoes and spaghetti and meatballs that I made yesterday afternoon.

Why food cupcakes you ask? Well, it all comes down to Punkin Heads 2nd birthday which is at the end of April. All week the hubby and I have been bouncing ideas back and forth for a theme for the party, and have finally settled on one, we think.

Barnyard Hoedown is the winner! Complete with red and white check table cloths, balloons, cake pops that look like farm animals, and cupcakes that resemble cook-out type foods :)

So, of course I have been obsessed with searching online for the cutest foods and critters I can find. My top finds so far are Bakerella's sweet little sheep and other critters, and amazing food cupcakes on Our Best Bites. They seemed so simple I decided to make them during Dooda's nap. I will post a more detailed recipe later - but, for now to answer all the "what the heck is that??" questions going through your heads - the Mashed potatoes are simply frosting, a yellow Starburst smooshed into a "pat" of butter and caramel syrup as gravy. And the spaghetti is piped frosting, a Ferrero Rocher candy for the meatball, raspberry jam for sauce, and grated white chocolate for parmesan cheese. GENIUS! And they were actually really fun to make. I even got Dan to participate last night, he thought they were pretty funny and brought a dozen to work today.

The hubby and I also tested our creative side and made "corn on the cob" last night.Complete with corn holders. Not as wonderful as the spaghetti and mashed potatoes. Unfortunately, I didn't have all the ingredients on hand for salt and pepper, and had to get crafty with the few Jelly Belly's I had on hand, but you get the idea :)

I'm really excited for this little party - I hope I can pull it all off.
If any of you have any other ideas for our Barnyard Hoedown - do tell! I'd love to hear them!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

1, 2, 3 BREATHE

Phew!! What a hectic couple of weeks it has been! I keep meaning to put up a post, then immediately get pulled away by work, the Punkin Head, or SOMETHING. Im pretty sure if it wasn't pre-programmed into my body I would have forgotten to breathe sometime in the last 14 days. So right now I'm making myself step away from the kitchen to be one with the laptop. Oh how I love my computer - it means I HAVE to sit and type. A little cherished down time for a 24/7 working mom.

What exactly has been going on the past couple of weeks in our little world?

Well, for starters I have been playing around in the kitchen with a few new recipes. I posted a couple (click here) and will put up more later on once I download pictures.

And of course with the beginning of spring comes gardening! The Punkin and I have started getting our hands dirty and cleaning out the gardens when the weather permits. We have been watching the daffodils and iris' start to pop through the ground, can't wait for them to be in bloom. Dooda is quite the little gardener for an almost 2 year old too, Im very impressed! She LOVES weeding - hopefully as the flowers start to sprout she learns fast that only the weeds need to be pulled. I think she may be a little too thrilled with the fact she gets to yank stuff out of the ground :)

We have also been into some arts and crafts - which is always fun and exciting. At the moment she is mystified by transparent tape. If I add a piece of transparent tape onto the paper for her to color on, she can lift the tape up and the crayon stays on the tape, leaving a bare spot on the paper. She has gotten very good at putting the tape back to complete her picture, or sticking it to her nose - whichever seems more appealing at the time. Oh, the little things! We must have done this for over an hour the other day.

I'm thinking that Mothers Day gifts for the grandmothers are going to be handmade paper flower bouquets with a few of Punkin's little hand cut-outs as the petals. We haven't actually tried this yet, but I will keep you updated on how it goes - In my head the vision is adorable!

We also have added a new member to the family this week. Dooda is totally infatuated with fish, so Dada brought home a new beta for her.

Meet Sushi (horrible name, isnt it???):

 The worst part of the whole name thing - he is housed next to a bottle of red wine on the counter. :) We already have Punkin calling him Sushi too, quite amusing.

Outside of home life it has been work as usual for both the hubs and I. Spring marks the start of my busy season with my students and their horses and boy has it started off with a bang! I'm loving every minute of it though. And for the hubs spring means the count down to summer vacation and swapping roles with me. He goes from teacher to stay at home Dad over night at the end of June. I have to admit its nice being able to swap roles like that so we both get a good amount of time at home with Dooda Loo.

Such a BORING post, I know. I promise to update again soon and post the links to some of the crafts, etc. we have been indulging in. For now, I must forfeit the computer and head back to the kitchen to get dinner ready....a yummy sounding fried artichoke recipe I found here on  Im modifying it a bit to incorporate it into a pasta dinner. Cross your fingers for me that it comes out as tasty as it looks! And that MAYBE Punkin will want to try some too. Hope you are all well and enjoying the transition from winter to spring!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Its ALMOST Like a Mini Vacation

Ahhhhh....peace, quiet and some alone time. I can't remember the last time I was totally alone - besides driving to and from work. Last night once Punkin was in bed I had the couch, the remote and the laptop all to myself. It was like being on vacation - almost. It would have been a tiny bit better if I had a frozen beverage in my hand and could hear the ocean. But Ill take it - it was a nice change of pace.

Yesterday my wonderful hubby left for a 3 day conference, which means I'm holding down the fort while he's gone.  Don't get me wrong I miss him more than anything, but amazingly I dont miss the dishes, laundry or having to vacuum every 5 minutes.

So, with Dada out of town Punkin Head and I decided that it would be a great night to experiment with polenta. If we messed up the recipe - no worries! PB&J would be a fine replacement. 

Polenta has always scared me and I dont know why. I think its the texture - polenta in a tube (and polenta in general) grossed me out for the longest time, until I made lasagna with it once. It came out ok, I ate it then I never made it again as it just wasn't flavorful enough. I decided it needed another chance, and since Punkin Head is in a finger foods stage I figured I would try making "crispy parmesan polenta". The recipe is posted on the "Recipes" page. I have to say, it didnt come out bad! Punkin ate hers in stick form, like a french fry, dipped in plain greek yogurt (her main food staple) and I had mine in slices topped with pesto, a little left over basil, tomatoes and olive oil. It made a great and super easy dinner. I think I will experiment a little more with the flavor of the coating I used, and maybe try grilling it next time. 
The other "real" recipes I wanted to make and post on here this week I havent had the chance to dig out, so they will have to wait.

With the rest of my freedom last night I did a little shopping online and browsed around to find ideas for the kitchen and the office - for when we get around to finishing them. Right now the kitchen is still just a pure white plaster shell of a room. The project that was suppose to take 2 to 3 weeks is now on its third month, sitting at a stand still due to lack of time. So the best I can do is browse pictures and day dream. I did however figure out what I want to do with my office, and that project I can start ASAP. A few great subway-type prints caught my eye on Amazon, but they were too expensive to purchase (at $200 each!). One that I did like from Amazon, that is with-in budget is this one . Something about it calls to me, yet I didn't order it. I think I want to make a trip to HomeGoods before I actually purchase anything. The walls in there are a deep red right now, and arent changing until we demolish the room later on down the road, so I am trying to be simple with the decor and pick things neutral enough that I can re-use.  My mind is whirling with ideas and keeps leaning toward a retro black and white office theme - words, letters, typewriter type items. Easy to see in my head, not so easy to put in words. Hopefully what I'm seeing in my mind looks just as good in person, although I think ANYTHING will look better than the nothingness that is in there now.

Well, seeing as though I only have another 24 hours before life returns to "normal" I suppose I should go be lazy and relax on the couch...

Dijon Buttermilk Chicken Tenders

Double or triple the recipe to keep some in the freezer for easy re-heating. See below for tips on freezing.

1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (if desired)
2 pounds boneless/skinless chicken breast cut into thin strips, pounded even them out if needed.
Whole wheat bread crumbs (about 2 cups)

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Place a baking rack on a baking sheet
Mix buttermilk, salt, cayenne and dijon mustard in a bowl.
Place breadcrumbs in a seperate bowl.
Dip chicken in buttermilk mixture, coating thoroughly. Press into breadcrumbs and place on rack on baking sheet.
Bake about 15 - 18 minutes or until cooked through.

Flavor Tips:
*You can also add crushed Cheez-It crackers, Ritz crackers, parmesan cheese, panko, etc. to the breadcrumbs for extra flavor and crunch.
*Mix 1/4 cup of ranch dressing with 1/4 cup of milk (buttermilk or regular milk) to dip chicken in instead of the buttermilk mixture in this recipe.

Cool for 20 minutes on rack. Flash freeze before storing - Place in a single layer on a cookie sheet and place in freezer for 10 - 15 minutes. This keeps the tenders from freezing together while stored. Remove from cookie sheet and place in a freezer bag. To re-heat bake at 350 degrees for 10 - 15 minutes.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Three Seasons, One Weekend

The weather this weekend, although rainy, was such a nice change of pace! After starting out with frigid temps at the end of the week we topped of in the mid 50's yesterday of course with rain, but I still welcomed it with open arms. Rain and warm weather means lots of melting going on which we desperately need. Today we have had the rain taper off to SNOW SHOWERS! Yes, snow - again, and horrific wind as the temps drop back down to 20 degrees for tonight. was nice while it lasted. And at least the sun is trying to make an appearance. It felt like we went from winter, to spring and now back to late fall all in 4 days. Good old New England!

And what would rain and melting snow be without a flooded basement? That was how we started out our Monday morning. We knew the basement was "damp" when we moved in but no one ever mentioned that during March/April of each year we would become the proud owners of an indoor swimming pool. Needless to say I have become great at maneuvering around a floor squeegee. Our major summer project this year - closing down our indoor pool. Honestly, its just too much work with a toddler around :)
Drainage, drainage and more drainage - that is what will consume our lives once the ground thaws.

So today, as our sump pump works over time and the cold temps come rolling back in, I sit here dreaming of green grass, summer flowers, blue skies and rolling white clouds. And playing with my camera still of course. Pictures have finally been downloaded (I even added a few to the recipes I posted, of which I PROMISE Ill post more recipes soon when I have more than 3 minutes to myself). Punkin Head is getting quite annoyed by the fact that my face has turned into a camera lens, but she at least will pose and say "cheeeeeeese" if I prod long enough which makes her the perfect subject for the majority of the pictures.

Oh well, my 15 minutes of "blog time" is over. Off to figure out dinner and get ready to head to work. Hope you all had a great weekend!

Before I go - here are a few pictures from our rainy weekend. I'm in awe that they came out considering it was dark in the house, we didn't have many lights on. My old camera would have laughed at me, then blurred the image until it was unable to be deciphered. Not this one - I'm thrilled with it!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Cant sleep? Might as well blog away!

After being up until 4am this morning with a sick 4-legged member of our family (one of the horses), and then running around like a crazy person the first half of the day trying to get all my errands done, I was suppose to come home to lay on the couch and do nothing but relax. Per order of my husband. He was trying to be a helpful soul and take over Dooda Loo for the day since I got MAYBE an hour and a half of sleep last night. Have I mentioned how much I love him????

I tried to take a nap but couldn't. So, blogging is a form of relaxation, right? Apparently the hubs doesnt think so, I keep getting "the glare" from him as I try to scrunch down behind the laptop to avoid the "you're suppose to be napping" looks. 

Anyhoo, I figured I should pop my second post on here since it has been a couple days. 

So, here goes...I have been trying to decide on what to do about a new camera. Point and shoot or DSLR? Weighing the pros and cons and putting myself on guilt trips as to why I should by a cheap camera and skip the more expensive models. I tend to do that with everything I want to buy, talk myself out of it all. But, as luck would have it a friend of the family is selling her Canon XTi. So I picked it up this morning for a trial run to see if I like it. So far, I AM IN LOVE! How could a camera make my heart skip a beat? Well, for starters the Punkin Head needed to burn some energy, so to the Great Escape we went. I was eager to see what this camera could do with an energetic 22 month old as the focal point. As I fumbled around with it trying to figure out the zoom, focus, etc. I quickly learned that even a total DSLR novice like me can take a great picture when provided a great camera that does the work for me. I was so impressed by my photography skills I couldn't put it down and actually PLAY with Maddy. She got over this quickly and found some poor little souls to chase around aimlessly. Seriously though, it amazes me how clear and crisp a picture can actually be! And the colors are right on, even in the darker areas of the climbing structure the camera did a wonderful job without blurring, or darkening the colors too much - something my old point and shoot was known for. The only thing Im not accustomed to - using the view finder. I was an LCD screen junky with my old camera, probably because it didnt have a view finder. So mutliple times I lost a great picture because I couldnt get my eye to the camera fast enough. Practice makes perfect though I guess.

The next task? Figuring out how to download the pics to the computer. Not this afternoon though. For now I think Ill pop a chicken broccoli casserole in the oven and then finally go take that much needed nap (or at least lay down) while Punkin is still down for hers.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

And today I started a blog...

One more thing to add on to my never ending to-do list? Sure, why not! So here I am starting a blog. And what should I be doing you ask? I SHOULD be picking up my living room that has turned into a battlefield of toys, folding laundry, starting dinner or washing the mound of dishes in my sink while the Punkin Head takes her nap. I know I'll regret this later tonight, but for now I'm happy in my own little world doing something for myself for once.
For the past few months I have toyed with the idea of putting some of the happenings of our crazy life into text, sharing my trials and tribulations in the kitchen, and just having some kind of "hobby" for myself. And I am happy to say I finally took the leap. Why I am compelled to do this I have no idea. I figure maybe it will motivate me to be more creative and organized if I am putting things out there for people to see and read, or maybe its just that I really need someone (those of you poor people that choose to read this) to talk to other than my crazy toddler that tends to use words I cant understand. Whatever the reason may be I hope you laugh along with me, enjoy reading, and most of all that you can relate to the things I go through in my life....after all I'd like to think there are other people out there whose lives are just as crazy as ours!

Basic Calzones

This is just a basic calzone recipe - I add and delete things depending on what I am making. 

1 cup part skim ricotta
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/2  - 3/4 cup shredded provolone cheese
1 to 2 garlic cloves minced (I use 1 clove, Maddy isnt a fan)
1 large ball of Mozzarella sliced into 1/4 inch slices
Refrigerated pizza dough (pre-made or homemade, I generally buy the whole-wheat pizza dough)
Other fillings: pepperoni, veggies, pesto, bbq shredded chicken, anything goes just be creative!

Pre-heat oven to 350
Mix ricotta, provolone, parsley, basil and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Cut the pizza dough in half and let warm to room temperature (easier to roll out)
Roll dough out into a 6 to 8 inch circle. Use some flour if dough is sticky.
Spread half of the cheese mixture and any other toppings over one half of each circle.
Lay mozzarella over the toppings (3 to 4 slices)
Fold the dough over, wet your fingers with water and seal the edges by pinching them
Place calzone on a lightly greased (I use PAM) cookie sheet and place on middle rack in oven.
Bake about 20 - 30 minutes or until dough is golden.
Serve with pasta sauce.

Broccoli and Chicken Casserole

Broccoli Chicken and Biscuits Casserole
This recipe is great to freeze! Double the recipe and make one to eat right now, and another to freeze for later. Please see freezer note at the end as it changes the order of the recipe a bit.

10oz cream of chicken soup
1/4 cup diced onion (I omit due to an allergy)
1/4 cup mayo
1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon curry
2 cups cooked chicken, diced
1 cup cooked broccoli, drained (I chopped fresh broccoli and steamed it for 2 minutes)
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
8oz. refrigerator biscuits

Topping Ingredients:
1/4 cup sour cream
1 egg
1 teaspoon celery salt
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine all main ingredients except cheddar and place in an 8x8 deep dish casserole pan or an 8x8 aluminum disposable tin (I used these to freeze the casseroles).
Sprinkle cheddar on top of the mixture
Bake at 375 for 20 - 25 minutes.
Add biscuits and topping - Cut biscuits in half so you have half circles. Place the cut side down and arrange over casserole - the half circles will be standing up and you will have room between the biscuits. I actually added 3 extra biscuits onto the casserole as we tend to fight over them in our house.
Mix together all ingredients for the topping and pour over biscuits.
Bake another 20 - 25 minutes and enjoy!

***IF FREEZING***Follow instructions for preparing recipe and placing in casserole dish. Add the cheese, DO NOT BAKE. Instead of baking continue with recipe and place biscuits and topping on top, wrap tightly with foil and freeze.
To cook: DO NOT THAW - when ready to use leave the casserole covered in tinfoil and bake at 375 for 45 minutes. Remove tinfoil and bake an additional 20 minutes or until biscuits are golden.

Care to Share?