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.