Thursday, February 24, 2011

I'm bananas for a still-ripe banana!

I may be late to the party in learning this little gem of wisdom, but it has since changed my life.  Okay, so that's a bit dramatic for a tip that involves bananas.  Yet, it is clearly a big enough deal that I found it necessary to write more than 200 words about it.  I have a banana nearly every day, about mid-afternoon, to tide me over until dinner.  And, there is nothing (fruit-related) that I hate more than an over-ripe banana.  I used to throw more bananas away than I care to think about.  No more my friends. 

You see, there's a simple trick to keep your bananas from ripening too quickly, so that those few bananas that you do not get to until the end of the week are not all brown, soft and destined for the garbage or a batch of banana bread.  Simply separate the bunch of bananas so that instead of a bunch you have individual bananas. I'm sure there is some chemical explanation for why this helps slow the ripening process; but, frankly, I don't care about the science.  I just want a banana on Friday that doesn't make me cringe.  This trick accomplishes that perfectly.  I don't promise that this trick will keep those more-green-than-yellow bananas that you buy on Sunday still looking that way on Friday. But, it does keep them from being so brown they look more like banana-shaped coconuts.

I'm off to enjoy my (still yellow!) banana.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Something's got to give

When I started this blog, I had high hopes that I would be able to post five days a week, with interesting topics for each, and pictures to go along with all my recipes.  I've quickly learned that January is a bad time to start a blog when I have all of the following on my plate:  silent auction co-chair for the Juniors benefit on March 5, ticket sales chair for the Juniors benefit, member of the Juniors nominating committee, wife, employee, cook, mom to Winnie, housekeeper, etc, etc, etc.  Last minute benefit details are consuming nearly every single free moment I have.  Just in the past three weeks, I've had nine week night commitments, plus the typical weekend errands, appointments, and chores that are part of a working girl's (not THAT kind of working girl!) life.  Oh, and it seems I caught that stomach bug, too.  Ugh!

So, rather than add to my already increasing list of things to do, I have decided that something, or a few somethings have to give until after March 5.  But, I promise that after the benefit, and maybe a week or so to catch my breath, I'll be back, ready to tell you all about the things I've been making and plan to make, including a sewing tutorial. 

See you soon,

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Peanut Butter Chocolate Brownie Bar Deliciousness

I had book club this week, one of the commitments that got me out of making dinner for Winnie's Dad.  We gathered at a good friend's house to discuss Freedom by Jonathon Franzen.  I'm sure you have heard about this book, and the author.  If not, get out from under that rock!

It took me about three weeks to read this book. And, by "read" I mean listen on cd.  This book was hard to get in to at first.  Frankly, I didn't find a single character at all likeable.  However, it was well-written, and the story was engaging.  Later this week, I'll share some of my recent favorite reads.  But, enough about books, let's talk about food.  For our book club gatherings, everyone brings a snack.  I stumbled across this recipe a few weeks ago on the internet that I was dying to make and decided book club was as good an excuse as any. I adapted it a bit by adding more peanut butter chips.  Winnie's Dad, who is not a big fan of desserts (something is wrong with him, I know), gave these bars of yumminess rave reviews.  I think my fellow book clubbers liked them as well. 

Peanut Butter Chocolate Brownie Bars

1 c. butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. peanut butter, creamy or crunchy
2 c. flour
1/2 c. cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. peanut butter chips (or even a mixture of peanut butter chips and chocolate chips)

Preheat oven to 325.  Cream butter, peanut butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla until fluffy with an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. (You could skip the sifting if you want, just make sure to add the dry ingredients in batches so your kitchen doesn't end up covered in flour dust.)  Add flour mixture to peanut butter mixture a little at a time and mix until combined.  Fold in peanut butter chips. Spread dough in a 9 x 13 baking dish, lined with parchment paper or sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Bake for 25-30 minutes.  Start checking them after twenty minutes, and remove when toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. For me, that was at about 22 minutes.  Cut into squares and serve.  They will keep for about a week in an airtight container...if they last that long.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Top 5 Faves

I've been a blog stalker for quite a while. In fact, I have more than thirty blogs bookmarked, that I visit (almost) everyday.  It is a sickness.  They range from food and cooking blogs, to sewing and crafting blogs, to home renovation and design blogs, and even one that is a parenting blog.  I'm not an official "follower" of any of them.  Instead, I prefer just to click, one by one, on each of my bookmarks, and visit them in the morning as I get settled at my desk, or during a mid-day break.  I add new ones all the time, give them each a week to see whether they deserve a permanent spot on my favorites list, and cold-heartedly delete if they don't make the cut.  Some of my favorites are favorites because I get the sense, as I read the posts, that I might like to be friends with the author in real life, or because they have the same design/food taste as me or simply because the author's "voice" is entertaining.  Others are favorites simply out of aspiration.  As I became a fan of blogs, I started making mental notes of what I liked, and didn't like, about the various blogs I came across, for the day when I might take the plunge and start a blog of my own. 

I give you my Top Five Favorite Blogs:

1.  Young House Love
This is the blog that started it all for me.  I have been following it for so long that I can not recall how I came across it. Suffice it to say that their budget-friendly DIY renovation, decorating, and art projects had me at "budget".  Oh, and the fact that they have found a way to make blogging a full-time job for both of them is my idea of heaven.

2.  Nesting Place
The Nester's motto, "It doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful" says it all for me.   Her window mistreatments are genius. I will be needing new drapes in the back of my house this Spring, and I plan to follow her lead.

3.  The Pioneer Woman
I think it was a link to a recipe that first took me to The Pioneer Woman's blog, and it was the story of how she and her husband fell in love that kept me reading for an entire work day coming back.  She has tips on everything from homeschooling, to photography, to cooking.  Every single recipe of hers that I've made has been delicious. And, she's hilarious. 

4.  Clover Lane
The writer of Memories on Clover Lane is the mother of five kids.  Though I'm not yet a parent myself, I find that she and I share similar philosophies, both about parenting and life in general.  I think I have shared more links to Clover Lane with my friends than any other blog.  And, it appears that her husband is an Ohio State fan.  What's not to like about that?!

5.  How Sweet It Is
Though I have not been a long time reader, I have known about this blog for quite some time, as the author is the daughter of a colleague. I used to periodically visit to see what she had cooked up.  But, I just recently added this blog to my favorites.  She's another blogger that has turned her blog in to a full-time job.  I secretly envy anyone that can turn a hobby into a full-time job.  I think this one is a favorite because she is proof that people really can do it.  Sure, lots of people have, including Young House Love and The Pioneer Woman, but they are strangers.  Knowing someone personally who has made it work, somehow makes it seem possible. 

There you have it.  My top 5 favorite blogs.  How about you, do you have a few favorites that you would like to share?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Non-Menu Monday

I really wish that my one week blogging break coincided with a real, actual vacation.  Rather, I was just out of town over the prior weekend, and in Columbus for two workdays, which threw my schedule off for the entire week.  Winnie's Dad and I didn't eat very well last week.  In fact, I'm not sure I cooked an actual dinner all week.  Not good. 

Unfortunately, this week is not going to be much better and so I do not have a menu for you this week.   I have commitments after work on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, so aside from leftovers from dinner tonight (slow cooker lasagne), Winnie's Dad is basically on his own for dinner until Friday.  I did pick up a frozen pizza, a turkey pot pie, and some soups for him to choose from.  Even worse, as I look at my calendar for the next few weeks, I realize Winnie's Dad and I are going to be like ships passing in the night and my meal planning is going to suffer.  Maybe March will bring a calmer schedule?  I can only hope. 

Last weekend was very busy, and a little profitable.  Winnie's Dad and I posted three items for sale on Craiglist on Wednesday night, and we had potenial buyers stopping by on Friday evening (sold), and two on Saturday (both sold).  In between the visits from non-killers (that "Craiglist killer" moniker sure has people scared of Craiglist), I spent a good part of my day on Saturday making and delivering lasagne to a college friend who is in town for an extended stay and then staring at a spreadsheet.  Spreadsheets.  Not my forte!  But first, let me tell you about the lasagne I made on Saturday.

First off, Winnie's Dad was excited when he woke up on Saturday morning, and entered a kitchen filled with the smells of a batch of lasagne in progress.  But, that excitement quickly turned to disappointment when I told him the lasagne was not for us.   As soon as it was done, I told him, I would be taking it to a hotel to deliver to a college friend, actually, the older sister of a college friend. The short version of this very long story goes like this.  Sorority sister's older sister (who was also in our sorority) lives in South Carolina, married, with three children.  Husband needed a liver transplant and his wife, my friend's older sister, matched as his living donor.  Husband, his parents, wife, and her Dad, arrived in Pittsburgh the first week of January for the transplant surgeries and extended stay for recovery.  My friend's father has been keeping an online journal and I have been following the ups and downs of the couple's recovery.  I couldn't stop thinking about this family and wanted to do something to help make their situation and their stay in Pittsburgh a bit easier.  I couldn't help medically.  I wasn't close enough to them to feel comfortable visiting.  So, I decided to cook.  That is something I can do, and hoped it would bring them all some comfort to come home from a day at the hospital to a ready-to-cook meal in their refrigerator.  That's where the lasagne comes in.  So, Saturday morning I made lasagne, delivered it to the hotel and then headed home to stare at my spreadsheet.

Now, the spreadsheet.  Well, that might be another long story.  Since 2006, I have been a member of a women's group (not Junior League, but close) in my town that does fundraising, volunteering, and has lots of social events.   Most members refer to our group as "Juniors", so that's what I will call it here, from now on.  I was president of Juniors a few years ago, and have always been very actively involved. I am not really capable of being "slightly" involved in something.  I am either all in or all out. This year is no exception.  Each year, Juniors selects a charity that benefits local women and children, and then throws a gala to raise money for that charity.  I have previously chaired the event, and this year, I signed on to chair the event's silent auction and ticket sales committees.  Silent auction is well on its way, with great donations coming in daily and one of my co-chairs in charge of keeping our donation inventory.  As ticket sales chair, I'm also responsible for organizing the event's registration, which means creating a spreadsheet for all guests who have purchased tickets.  So, that's what I did on Saturday afternoon.  We are about three weeks away from the actual event, and I'm feeling much better about my "workload" not that the spreadsheet is started. Turbo Tax is on my agenda for next weekend. Fun. Fun. Fun.

Sunday was not productive and a bit disappointing.  The Super Bowl did not bring Pittsburgh its seventh Lombardi trophy.  Three turnovers.  Really, that is all that we need to say about the game. Though, I could go on and on about what an embarrassement Christina Aguilera was to her hometown--yes, she's from the Pittsburgh area--by messing up the National Anthem or how boring the commercials were this year. The bright side is that Winnie's Dad and I had a fun evening with some great friends, that included chicken wings, nachos and reuben dip.  I made the reuben dip and it was pretty good.  Though I profess to hate sauerkraut, I guess the better explanation is that I don't like it on its own.  Mixed with soure cream and cream cheese, well, that's another story!  Here's the recipe, altered for how I will make it next time.  There was not enough corned beef in the recipe I used.

Reuben Dip

1 lb sliced corned beef, diced
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. sour cream
1 c. sauerkraut, very well drained
1 1/2 c. shredded swiss cheese
2 T. ketchup
2 T. spicy brown mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350.  Mix all ingredients in large bowl and transfer to a 1 quart baking dish.  Bake for at least 30 minutes until bubbly and top is browned. Serve warm with cocktail rye bread.
To ligthen this recipe up, use light or fat free cream cheese and sour cream.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Unplanned Hiatus

Hi everyone!  Sorry for the lack of posts the past few days.  I was out of town over the weekend and the past two work days, for work, and did not plan posts in advance.  I am going to try to get back in to my routine today.  More to come.  Stay tuned.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Super Simple Sunday Dinner

I mentioned a few posts ago, that I would share with you another one of my go-to favorite dinner recipes. It is a meal that I only make on Sundays, and I just love how my house smells while it is in the oven.  It smells like my childhood, if that makes any sense.  I have always loved it, and thankfully it has become one of Winnie's Dad's most requested dinners.  This is also a great dish to make if you are taking a meal to a sick friend or new mom.

No Peek Chicken

1 box Uncle Ben's Long Grain and Wild Rice (original recipe with the herbs, NOT instant)
1 can Cream of Mushroom condensed soup, regular or reduced fat
1 can Cream of Celery condensed soup, regular or reduced fat
1 can water
dash of curry powder
1 package Pick of the Chicken (aka: two legs, two thighs, two breasts--bone in, skin on or off, your choice)
1 package onion soup mix

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease, or spray with non-stick cooking spray, a 9x13 glass casserole dish.  Mix first 6 ingredients and pour into casserole dish.  Place chicken pieces on top. Sprinkle chicken with the onion soup mix.  Cover tightly with aluminum foil.  Bake for 2.5 hours.  DON'T PEEK!!! Really, don't peek.  I promise it will be done in 2.5 hours.

Serve with a salad or simple vegetable for a complete Sunday dinner.  Maybe a certain follower of Winnie's Mom Makes will make this for Winnie's Mom this weekend, since she's making a trip to Columbus?
Have a great weekend everyone.  Next week, I will try to find some time to talk about an upcoming sewing project. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Dinner for under $10

Every so often, I challenge myself to make dinner for under $10, not including already on-hand ingredients.  This recipe meets that criteria and is a cinch to prepare.  It is a great one-pot recipe for a casual dinner with friends.  

Spicy Mussels

1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
One 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 T. red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/3 c. chopped Italian (flat-leaf) parsley--once you have Italian parsley, I just know you'll never buy the curly stuff again!
2 1/2 lb. mussels, scrubbed and debearded
One French baguette, cut in the four large pieces

In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Stir in the garlic (I used a garlic press rather than bothering to chop garlic, which is a pain in the neck!) and crushed red pepper and cook for 1 minute.  Add the tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, and 1 cup water.  Bring to a boil, cover, lower the heat to medium and cook for ten minutes.

Stir in half of the parsley, add the mussels, cover and cook until the mussels open, about 5 minutes.  Discard any unopened mussels.  Divide the mussels and broth among 4 bowls, sprinkle with the remaining parsley, lightly drizzle with olive oil, and serve with a piece of the bread.  Better yet, prepare the mussels in a pretty pot and bring it to the table and allow your guests to help themselves.   
If I'm willing to splurge and make this more than a $10 dinner, I will pick up a bottle of white wine.  My favorite for this recipe is a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Take Out Fake Out: Slow Cooker Style

Winnie's Dad and I love Asian food: Chinese, Thai, Japanese, even Indian on occasion. The spicier the better.  So, when I found an Asian slow cooker dish, I was sold before we even tried it.  Whip this up in 15 minutes in the morning, and after work, enjoy the taste of take out without the ginormous amounts of salt and MSG or take out containers.  I have a feeling this might show up on an upcoming weekly menu.

Spicy Sweet Asian Pork Shoulder

1/2 c. low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 c. brown sugar
1-2 T chili-garlic sauce (like Siracha, found in the Asian food aisle of most grocery stores, even Wal-Mart! It looks like a bright red ketchup.)
1 T. grated fresh ginger
1 tsp Chinese five-spice powder, optional
Kosher salt and pepper
2 1/2 lb. pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 cup brown rice
1 medium head bok choy, thinly sliced
2 scallion, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced

In a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker, combine soy sauce, brown sugar, chili-garlic sauce, ginger (have you invested in a microplane grater yet?  If not, I implore you to do so immediately!), five-spice powder, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper.  Add the pork and toss to coat.  Cook, covered, until the pork is tender, on high for 4 to 5 hours or on low for 7 to 8 hours.

Cook brown rice according to package directions to be ready when pork is ready--the brown rice I use takes about 50 minutes, so make sure to plan ahead.  Better yet, find some instant brown rice!

Fifteen minutes before serving, skim off and discard any fat from the pork.  Gently fold the bok choy into the pork and cook, covered,  until heated through, 2 to 4 minutes.  Serve with the rice, and sprinkle with the scallions.  This should serve about 4.

Now, isn't that better (and more affordable) than Chinese take out?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Menu Day

Sunday night there was a pretty big football game on, Winnie's Dad requested that I buy some chicken wings for him to make on the grill.  Wings are like a religion for Winnie's Dad, so much so that he was willing to stand outside in the bone-chilling cold to cook them.  It was a late night last night, what with celebrating a Pittsburgh Steelers victory and their 8th trip to the Super Bowl!!  So, all I've got for you today is our menu.  I promise better posts later in the week.

Sunday:  Wings by Winnie's Dad. 
Monday: Maple-Glazed T-bone steaks and a green veggie
Tuesday:  Bacon, Egg and Cheddar Cups and "breakfast" potatoes (I love breakfast for dinner!)
Wednesday: Firecracker Chili in the slow cooker and corn bread
Thursday: I have a meeting. Winnie's Dad is on his own.
Friday:  Spaghetti with homemade Bolognese Sauce, veggie

Friday, January 21, 2011

Food Review Friday

Just as Mondays are Menu Mondays here on Winnie's Mom Makes (can we all agree to call it "WMM" from now on?  So much faster to type!), Fridays are officially declared Food Review Fridays. Thanks to a smooth week, I was able to make all the meals that I had planned.  Winnie's Dad's favorite meal, I think, was the Shredded Beef and Bean Soft Tacos. Though the soft taco shells that I purchased were pretty flimsy.  Lesson learned.  I won't buy that brand again.  My favorite meal of the week was Sunday's Spinach, Pea and Pesto Pasta.  On top of being downright delicious, it was a one-pot meal!  Easy preparation and clean up makes a recipe a winner in my book. There is almost nothing worse than returning to the kitchen after a great meal (and long work day) only to have tons of pots, pans, and mixing bowls to clean up.  Winnie's Dad always offers to clean the kitchen up after dinner; however, to him "after dinner" often means in the morning.  Of course, I could leave the kitchen messy and let Winnie's Dad take care of it in the morning.  Because one of my biggest pet peeves is to be greeted by a messy kitchen when I enter it, bleary-eyed, in the morning to make my coffee, I usually do the post-dinner clean up.  It also would not be fair of me to resent Winnie's Dad for not helping me after dinner.  He offers to do it in the morning.  I say no. End of story.  No resentment and no "keeping score".   Anyway, on to the recipe.

Spinach, Pea and Pesto Pasta

8 oz whole wheat thin spaghetti
2 cups frozen peas
1 cup part-skim ricotta
1/4 cup prepared basil pesto
2 T. grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp salt
zest of 1 lemon
juice of half a lemon
1 bag pre-washed baby spinach

Cook pasta according to package directions, adding peas during the last two minutes of cooking. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of pasta water.  In pasta cooking pot, stir together ricotta, pesto, Parmesan, lemon zest and juice.  Add pasta and spinach.  Toss to combine.  If necessary, slowly stir in reserved pasta water to desired consistency.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serves 4-6.

For some added protein, this dish would be great with some grilled or even rotisserie chicken mixed in. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Couch to 5k Progress Report

I am happy to report that the Couch to 5k Program that I told you about a few weeks ago seems to be just what I needed to get me back on the track to the kind of fitness I miss.  In these early weeks, I have added one more workout to each week. So, instead of three workouts for each "week", I am doing four, just until I feel my stamina increasing and my morning-after soreness diminishing.   I found a great, free play list to download that has verbal cues for the different parts of the workout. There are a few play lists available on itunes, but I am a big fan of "free."  Week 2 includes a 5-minute warm-up walk and then six intervals of 90 second jogging and two minutes walking, ending with another five-minute walk.  With the track that I use covered in several inches of snow, I have improvised and created a loop around the high school at the end of my street.  The sidewalks are shoveled and salted, unlike most neighborhood sidewalks, so I don't have any worries about traction. 

Two weeks in to the new year, I am feeling pretty good about my progress. I was supposed to do Week 2, Workout 2 on Sunday but ended up too enthralled by Ricky Gervais on the Golden Globes.  On a side note, I do not understand what all the apparent fuss is about.  When you hire Ricky Gervais, don't you know what you are getting?  Did the Hollywood Foreign Press think they hired Ellen Degeneres?  I thought he was hilarious. Sure, some of the jokes may have hit too close to home, but if you can't laugh at yourself now and then, I say, "lighten up"! 

But, back to my running...Since I missed my workout on Sunday, I should have hit the pavement on Monday, but fell asleep watching some silly television show and woke at 10:30--a little too late to exercise.  Plus it was raining a little too hard.  So, on Tuesday I was more vigilant.  As soon as I got home from work, I changed in to my cold-weather workout clothes so that I was ready to go as soon as the clock struck 9:30.  It was raining a bit, but it felt good to get out in the elements.  Tonight, I am due for another run, and hope the snow that they are calling for either arrives later than expected or has stopped by 9:30.  I'll let you know how it goes.

In any event,  I have set a goal of running in a 5k at the end of March and plan to register for it after I make it through Week 4 of the program. I also plan to register for Pittsburgh's Race for the Cure, which always takes place on Mother's Day.  I will run that in honor of my Gramma, who is a breast cancer survivor (and the great cook from whom my great-cook mom learned).  I wish I had learned about this Couch to 5k thing sooner.  I now realize that I was pushing myself too hard in the early weeks of a new self-designed running program:  too many miles, too fast a pace, and not enough rest days. All of that inevitably led to injury and frustration, which in turn led to another "failed" attempt to get back in to shape.  Not this time my friends.  So, if you see me in April and May, ask me how my races went.  I'm counting on all of you to help me meet my goals. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Do you ever have those moments where you think, "how did I get here?"  Not in the physical sense of being lost and not knowing where you are. But, in the sense of wondering whose life you are living?  I had one of those moments the other night while driving home from work.  I glanced in my rear view mirror as I was braking in traffic, hoping the car behind me didn't end up in my trunk.  That quick glance brought on all sorts of thoughts.  How on earth am I 34 years old, driving a sedan, on my way home to make dinner for my husband?  Am I really an attorney?  Do I really live in a place other than Columbus?  None of these thoughts were accompanied by feelings of regret, disappointment, or sadness.  Rather, it was simply a reflection on how quickly life passes by us.  And, on how we can plan and dream and hope for one thing, and get something altogether different, and if you are lucky, better.  I grew up with this idea of what my adult life would be like.  And though I'm exceptionally happy with my real, full life, it looks nothing like what I imagined it would.  And, as I realized that, I also realized that I'm perfectly okay that the specifics of my childhood dream for my adult life didn't come true.  Of course the simple parts did: wanting to be happy, wanting to feel fulfilled in a career, wanting a loving husband and great friends, and wanting to be healthy.

I grew up wanting to be a doctor.  For as far back as I can remember, that was my career plan, I think under the naive impression that being a doctor would automatically guarantee financial security (that was before I had any idea about the burden of student loans).   I thought I'd marry my high school sweetheart by the time I was 25 and be done having babies by 30.  I'd live in Columbus, have weekly dinners with my parents, and be the best of friends with the friends I had had since elementary school. I don't know where my "dreams" about my adult life came from.  I suppose I dreamed of marrying a high school sweetheart because that is what my parents did.  The genesis of the rest of my dreamed-up adulthood is a mystery to me.

Decades after this dream of mine developed, the life I'm living is exceptionally different and better than I could have anticipated.  This despite the fact that I'm not a doctor.  I didn't marry a high school sweetheart and at 34, I don't have any children.  I don't live in Columbus and don't get to see my parents as often as I would like.  And, other than through the miracle of facebook and high school reunions, I'm not in touch with my friends from my childhood. 

All these thoughts went through my mind the other night in the blink of an eye.  In another blink of the eye, I was right back to the present, thinking about what was on the menu for dinner and all the tasks I had on my weekend to-do list. It may be easy, in those moments of reflection, to dwell on all the could- and should-have-beens; you can dwell on the fact that the neighbors down the street have a nicer car, a bigger house, and go on grander vacations; you can feel like what you have is not "enough".  But, that is defeatist and the surest way to feel unhappy.  Instead, I try to live in the present, to be happy with what I have and not be defined by the possessions and jobs and lives of others.  Sure, we can dream and hope and plan and work for a better future.  There is nothing wrong with that.  But, feeling like a failure for not having the life you dreamed of as a naive teenager or even twenty-something?  Not in a million years.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Menu Day

Mondays are officially declared "Menu Day" here on Winnie's Mom Makes.  Since I have told you about my menu-making/grocery-shopping routine, I have decided to share my weekly menus with you on Mondays.  Then, on Fridays I will share reviews, photos, and the recipe from our favorite meal of the week.   

Sunday:  Spinach, Pea and Pesto Pasta
Monday:  Shredded Beef and Bean Soft Tacos (a slow cooker recipe)
Tuesday: Rosemary Chicken and Balsamic Glazed Onions
Wednesday: Pork and Pepper Stir Fry with Brown Rice
Thursday: Slow Cooker Sloppy Joe's and Green beans
Friday:  Open (leftovers or a dinner out)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Cold Weather Comfort Food

I don't know what it is about cold weather and snow that makes me crave a yummy pot roast dinner. But, it does, and I'm not one to ignore cravings.  Luckily, I have a great pot roast recipe, courtesy of my dear mom who made it regularly during my childhood, that Winnie's dad has come to love as much as I do:  Pepsi Pot Roast.  Pepsi, not coke!   I know, you're thinking "Pepsi and beef? That's weird."  I know that it sounds weird, but the ingredients combine to make a delicious, sweet and savory gravy.  I promise.  I've tried to tweak it over the years, but the original recipe always turns out the best.  This recipe is equally as good made in the oven or in a slow cooker.  If you make it in a slow cooker, cook it on low for 6-8 hours or high for 3.5-4 hours, depending on the size of your pot roast. We're having this on Sunday night. 

Pepsi Pot Roast

3-4 pound beef pot roast (I recently read a recipe that used a pork roast, but I've never tried it with pork)
16 oz Pepsi--do not use Diet Pepsi, or any other Pepsi variation, and don't use Coke.  I've tried them all and they did not turn out well!
1 can Cream of Mushroom condensed soup
1 package Dry Onion Soup Mix (Lipton or your store generic)

Place roast in a dutch oven (or 4 qt slow cooker).  Spread the mushroom soup over the roast, and sprinkle the onion soup on top.  Pour the Pepsi in the pan.  Cover pan tightly (if your lid is loose, cover with foil first). Bake at 325 for 3.5-4 hours or 250 for 6-8 hours. If you are making this in the oven, it might be a good idea to place your dutch oven on a rimmed baking sheet.  If you buy a larger piece of meat, use a bigger slow cooker.  You want your slow cooker to be about two-thirds full.

I typically make roasted potatoes, onions and carrots to serve with this roast.  After some trial and error, I now make these separately on a rimmed baking sheet rather than placing them in the pan or slow cooker with the roast.  Just cut some potatoes in half or quarters (depending on their size), add some baby carrots, and a few sweet yellow or red onions, quartered, to the baking sheet, toss with some olive oil, salt and pepper and bake in the oven for at least an hour at the same temperature as the roast.   Just keep an eye on them--they are done when the potatoes are fork tender. 

Serve the pot roast "gravy" over the roasted vegetables.  Better yet, make some mashed potatoes and use the gravy on those.  This recipe probably deserves attribution to a cookbook, but all I have is my mom's handwritten recipe card.  Sue me. ;-)

After you try the Super Simple Cranberry Roast, give this one a try a few weeks later, and let me know which you prefer.  Coming soon, a tried-and-true casserole that makes your house smell divine:  No Peek Chicken!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Cranberry Pot Roast: a review

The woman, Stephanie O'Dea, who motivated me to make my weekly-slow-cooking resolution has two cookbooks out.  I bought More Make it Fast, Cook it Slow, released on December 28, 2010, off of Amazon with an Amazon gift card that I received for Christmas (thanks to my Aunt Annette and Uncle Graham!).  The great thing about this cookbook, other than that every single recipe is made in a slow cooker, is that it contains over 200 recipes divided into three sections: $7 and under, $10 and under, and $15 and under.  Each of the three sections is then divided by course.  I've already marked dozens of recipes that I am looking forward to testing on Winnie's dad, including some beverages and appetizers that I'd never thought about using a slow cooker to make. I had a can of whole cranberry sauce in my pantry, so tonight's dinner only required the purchase of the meat and an onion.

Super Simple Cranberry Roast

2-3 pounds beef or pork roast or stew chunks (I used a 2.5 beef pot roast, trimmed of some excess fat)
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
16 oz can whole berry cranberry sauce

In a 4-quart slow cooker, place the meat (frozen or thawed) and add the onion.*
*The original recipe called for raw, diced onion. I've found that I am not pleased with the onion taste or texture when a slow cooker recipe calls for raw onions. So, for this recipe and most other recipes that call for raw onion, I browned the onion in a skillet before adding it to the slow cooker.  It is an extra step that adds about 10 minutes to the preparation time.

Add the soy sauce and pour the cranberry sauce over the top.  Do not add water.  Cover and cook on low for 7-9 hours, or on high for 5-6 hours.  If you cook it on high, take the meat out an hour before serving and cut it in to chunks, or slightly shred it with two forks, and then return it to the sauce for the last hour.

I served this with green beans and steam-n-mash potatoes doctored up with some prepared horseradish, salt, pepper, and a few cubes of cream cheese.  The potatoes provided a great base for the gravy from the slow cooker. 

Our verdict:
Clean plate club, for both of us. After going back for seconds. This one will be going in our regular rotation.  Try it and let me know what you think.

I made a French Apple Tart...and it was delicious!

Last week I had a meeting for which I had signed up to bring half of the food.  I made my go-to date nut cheese ball as well as some cranberry-chili sauce meatballs in my slow cooker.  The only new recipe that I tried was a French Apple Tart.  I was a bit wary of this recipe since it required working with puff pastry.  Puff pastry, for some silly reason, makes me nervous.  But, the picture (don't you just love a cookbook with pictures?) made it look yummy, so I gave it a try. 

My serving platter was empty at the end of the meeting and the reviews seemed to be all positive.  I didn't see any uneaten pieces on the dishes in my friend's kitchen at the end of the evening, an even better sign.  For me, that's a true test of a recipe. It is one thing for everyone to put something on their plate.  But what is important to me is whether people think the food is good enough to clean their plates, or at least to have more than one bite.  This French Apple Tart met that test for me.  So, without further ado, I give you the recipe, and my notes/thoughts/changes:

French Apple Tart
Prep time: 25 minutes            Bake Time: 40 minutes
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
6 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary (optional)
4 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, halved, cored, and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices
1 egg, slightly beaten
fresh rosemary sprigs, optional

*I neglected to take a picture of my finished product, so here's a picture of the picture from the cookbook.

Preheat oven to 400.  Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. You really must use parchment paper, so if you don't have any, add this to your shopping list.  It can usually be found in the aisle with the baking mixes and ingredients, or alternatively, with the aluminum foil and plastic wrap. 

Unfold puff pastry onto a lightly floured work surface.  With a floured rolling pin, roll pastry to a 10x14 rectangle (frankly, just approximate this to make it at least a bit smaller than your baking sheet). Place on parchment paper on baking sheet and refrigerate for 10 minutes.

While pastry is refrigerating, peel, core and slice apples.  Before zesting your lemon, roll it on your counter with the palm of your hand and a bit of pressure, to release the juice--it makes getting the juice out much easier.  Zest the lemon (every kitchen should be equipped with a microplane grater!).   Once the lemon is zested, cut it in half and squeeze the juice over your sliced apples, to keep them from turning brown before baking.

Stir together 1 tablespoon of sugar and all the flour in a small bowl.  Stir remaining 5 tablespoons of sugar with the lemon zest and chopped rosemary, if using, in another bowl. I used the rosemary here, but omitted it at the end of the recipe.

Remove pastry from refrigerator and sprinkle flour mixture over pastry, to 1/2 inch from the edge.  Arrange the apple slices on pastry in 3 or 4 rows (depending on the size of your apples and width of your pastry), starting at the short side and overlapping slices.  Sprinkle slices with sugar mixture.

Brush the uncovered pastry edges with the beaten egg.  Bake pastry until browned and apples are tender, about 40 minutes.  If the edges start to brown too much, cover them with strips of aluminum foil.  Loosen tart from parchment paper and slide onto wire rack to cool.  Sprinkle with rosemary sprigs if using.

Use a pizza cutter to cut into 12 pieces (or more if you'd prefer smaller portions) and serve warm or at room temperature.

*This recipe was adapted from the French Apple Tart recipe in the Weight Watchers PointsPlus cookbook.  None of my changes should significantly impact the PointsPlus value per serving. 
Nutritional Info (without the egg wash on the edges):  Serving Size: 1/12; Calories: 73; Fat: 1g; Carb: 17g, Total Sugar: 13g; Fiber: 2g; Protein: 1g; Points Plus Value per serving: 2! That's right, just two points per serving.

Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

2011: A year of multiple resolutions

I've already told you about my resolution to use my slow cooker at least once a week for the entire year. So far, so good. Saturday's Slow Cooker Pork Roast was a hit.  I modified a pork roast recipe that I use every year on New Year's Day to make it work for a slow cooker, and it turned out to be delicious.

Like millions of other people across the world, I have also made a health-related resolution for the year.  I haven't resolved to lose a certain amount of weight, or to exercise a certain number of days per week.  My resolution is a bit more simple: to be conscious of my choices.  My food choices and my fitness choices.  I know how to eat, and cook, healthfully, and so that's not really my problem (though the choices I make when eating out leave a little to be desired).  Choosing to make time for exercise, though, is one of my greatest struggles.  I've spent enough of my life as an athlete to know that all I have to do is exercise regularly, and I can eat (almost) anything I want, in moderation. The problem, of course, is that I no longer have three-hour soccer practices 6 days a week.  Instead, I have a full-time job, commitments as a member of a women's group in my town, and friends that I don't spend all day with at school or soccer practice.  Instead, I have to schedule time with them in the evenings, too.  On top of all that, I have Winnie, Winnie's dad, and our home to care for.  Not that Winnie's dad needs a lot of caring for, but you know what I mean--grocery shopping, errands, the occasional bit of housework, laundry, etc. can take up all weekend, and several weekday lunch hours, if I let it. 

If I look back over my 2010 calendars, it would be obvious that I did not make exercise or my health a routine priority. Sure, I played soccer once a week, but it is a recreational league and we often go out for drinks and snacks after the games, so you can't really count those games as "exercise".  I didn't make time for exercise in 2010.  Or, I made the time, and then wasted it doing something else.  No more of that this year. 

Rather than set some unreasonably high expectations for my "new" exercise routine or spend money on a gym membership, I've decided to follow a 9-week "Couch to 5k" program.  The premise of the program is pretty simple: three workouts each week, starting off slow with a combination of walking and jogging, and working up over nine weeks to running a 5k (3.1 miles).   This program is just my speed.  I can use the track at the end of my street, which is safe and well-lit enough to use after dark.  Plus, it allows me to exercise on my schedule.   I've learned over the years that trying to exercise before work just does not work for me.  I hit the snooze button too many times and end up feeling like I have sabotaged my day before it even begins. Technically, exercising right when I get home from work would be ideal.  But, by the time 6:30 or 7:00 p.m. rolls around, my stomach is rumbling and Winnie's dad is hungry, too.  So, after dinner works best.  I tend to stay up most nights, until at least 11:00 p.m., so even if I hit the track as late at 10:00, I can get in a workout and still have time to shower and decompress before going to bed.  So, my plan is two weekday, late night workouts and one weekend workout that I'll fit in during the day or evening, depending on my other plans for the weekend.  Simple enough, in theory.
To help me stay accountable, and on track, I've joined a friend's fitness challenge.  The scary part of the challenge is already over: taking my measurements, weight, and "before" pictures, and submitting them to her, in confidence, along with the measly fee of $10 to participate. Then, each week for the next ten weeks, I will e-mail her my updated figures.  After ten weeks, she'll award prizes for largest percentage weight loss, most inches lost, and most miles logged.  Eight weeks from now, I have to attend a charity event that requires a fancy dress, and thus, bare arms.  I'm hopeful that some success in the challenge and the Couch to 5k program will translate into less discomfort at the thought of bare arms.  I hate going sleeveless more than anything--except maybe taking "before" pictures wearing a bathing suit in the dead of pale-skin winter!

In the coming weeks, I hope to be able to report that I've followed the Couch to 5k Program and am on track to run a 5k this spring.  I'll share my progress, and challenges, with you along the way.