Sunday, March 18, 2012

Griff goes green

What did you do for St. Patrick's Day?  Drink green beer, maybe?  Have some corned beef and cabbage.  Sounds yummy.

My family?

Well... let's just say they got green.

You need to see this.

You've met my dog, Griffin by now, yes?  Yes.

He's adorable.  He's fluffy.  He's soft and lovely.  And sweet.

He's my sweet baby.

He's also ready for a his summer buzz cut.

So, the kids got the bright idea (from Pete) to turn my doggie green.

Like a leprechaun.  Or a shamrock.  Or a dirty dog who rolled in fresh cut grass.

We used green Kool-Aid, so no one freak on me.  The dog is perfectly safe.

And loved.  Did I mention they love the shaggy mutt?  They do.

The love having fun just as much.  Can you tell?

They (read: I) filled an empty bottle with the Kool-Aid and a touch of water... and a-sprayin' they went.
A little splotchy at first. 

Okay, more than a little.  He looks like a green-spotted furry cow.

Did I mention that this dog truly loves being "touched".  Doesn't really matter if you pet him, pat him, or just put a finger on his head.  He loves to be touched.  So this is a good day for old Griff...
in a way.

This is how I choose to look at it.

See? He's happy!  And apparently doesn't mind looking like a graffiti-strewn overpass.

They tried.. really tried... to fill all the color in.

It just didn't work well.  Best laid plans of mice and men.. and kids and dogs, I guess.

Attack of the killer neon green(ish) polar bear dog!

See?  He's happy.  Kristen just doesn't want to get dirty!

 But to add insult to this horrible injury, my lovely little kids, the people I hope become whole human beings (some day) decided the neighborhood needed to see the monster/monstrosity they created.

You go, shamrock dog.  You strut your green stuff.  It's St. Patty's day, after all.  Get your green on!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Best spaghetti and meatballs

I go on food quests on occasion.  Really, they are recipe quests.  I want to make the best: pancakes, french toast, fajitas.  You get the picture.

To date, I've only been successful in all my many recipe quests in one category; spaghetti and meatballs.  It was a long journey.  I put my family through many (too many to think about) less than good meals of homemade spaghetti and meatballs before finally finding the recipe I think is tops in this category.  And I don't get a fight from Pete and the kids on this.  They think this is the bomb.

Or they're just sick of eating spaghetti and meatballs.

Either way, I think it rocks.

The recipe is by Chef Michael Symon.  I found it on so, in case you don't believe what I say here, you can check it out yourself.  The reviews are stellar.

The one drawback (if you look at it that way) is that this takes ALL DAY to cook.  I mean it.  6 to 8 hours of simmering on the stovetop.

But, my oh my is it worth it.

It's also not inexpensive.  You have to buy a rack of baby back ribs.  So, already you know this is gonna be good.  And, if  you consider this is for a nice Sunday night dinner with the family, it's the bomb.

Here's what you do.

Cut up your rack of ribs and cook them in a dutch oven in heated olive oil.  I had to do this in batches.  When you are done, throw in chopped onions (one large onion chopped) and 1 tsp kosher salt and sweat those onions.  Then add in 6 cloves of chopped garlic for just a minute or two.

Then you deglaze the pan with an ENTIRE bottle of white wine.  It calls for dry white wine.  I sent Pete to the corner market (i.e. the gas station) to get a bottle.  It cost a whopping $4.99 but said it was a dry white wine.  And the sauce still came out delicioso.  So, I guess I'm saying don't spend a fortune on expensive wine (and keep your local convenient store in business).

Throw in two 28 oz. cans of tomatoes.  On this ingredient, I did not cheap out.  I bought the beautiful, tasty San Marzano tomatoes.  Well worth the couple of extra bucks in my mind.  Add in 3 TBSP fresh oregano leave (I used 1 1/2 TBSP dry), 1 TBSP crushed red pepper flakes (less if you don't like a little heat) and 1 bay leaf.

And here's what I think is the ingredient that makes the whole thing.... a 2-3 inch parmesan rind.  Oh yeah.

Then, sit back, let it simmer and come together for 6 to 8 hours.  And, let me tell you, I was panicked 3 hours in when it still tasted like horrible, cheap white wine.  But then, magically, something happened around hour 4 or so.

It became kick butt sauce.

But it doesn't end there.  I said this was spaghetti AND meatballs.  So, here is the meatball recipe from Michael Symon.

1/3 C olive oil
1 clove minced garlic
1 minced shallot
1 1/2 C diced day old wheat bread
1/2 C whole milk (I used 2%)
1 1/2 lbs ground beef
3/4 C whole milk ricotta
1/2 C fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/2 C chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 C grated Parmesan
1 tsp kosher salt
1 egg

Sweat the garlic and shallot in 1 tbsp of olive oil for about 2 to 3 mins.  Meanwhile, soak the bread in the milk.
In a separate bowl, combine the beef with the ricotta, basil, parsley, parmesan, salt, egg and the cooked shallots and garlic.  Ring the milk out of the bread and add it to meat mixture.

Form meat mix into 2 inch balls (about 1/4 C each).  Heat remaining olive oil in pan.  Brown meatballs on all sides.   Place in simmering sauce, about 30 minutes.

Then, there is the third element of this terrific trifecta, the spaghetti, which never gets any love.  But in Symon's recipe, he makes the spaghetti sing.  He cooks it al dente, as usual, in salted water.  Drains it, then tosses it in a couple of cups of the sauce, so all the noodles are coated.  Can you say YUM?

Put a meatball or two and a rib or two on top of the pasta, and pig out!

Soooooo good I'm making it again this weekend.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Springtime in February

Come on spring!
I've mentioned before that this has been a fabulous winter, because it's barely been cold at all.  It's been downright warm, in fact.

So warm, the flowers are blooming.

It's February.

Today, on a quick lunch break, I ran up the street with my handy dandy camera and snapped off a few photos of some flowers blooming outside the Krohn Conservatory.

It's remarkable.

But beautiful.

Ah.  I love winter.

Chicken Chowder

Farmhouse Chicken Chowder
Please do yourself a favor and make this soup.  I'm not kidding.  It's so yummy.  And it's easy, which means bonus points in my book.

Lucinda Scala Quinn, one of my favorite TV cooks, who's show is "Mad Hungry", makes this.  I ripped it off, plain and simple.  So, credit her when you taste this simply delicious delight.

She calls it Farmhouse Chicken Chowder.  I call it yum.

It's so simple I'm pretty sure my 12-year old could do it. Oh!  And it's economical, too.

First, you take two chicken breasts, bone-in, skin on and put it in a good sized pot with 6 cups of chicken stock.  I use low sodium.  I also happened to use 7 cups stock.  It so happened that's what 4 cans of the stock I bought (on sale) turned out to be.  Big deal.  It's one more cup.
Simmer the chicken, bone on, skin on in chicken stock.  

So, you simmer the chicken in the chicken stock for 20 minutes.  Take out the chicken and let it rest and cool off.  DON'T PITCH THE STOCK.

Parsnips, onion, turnip and carrot.  Yummy.
Meanwhile, chop up a carrot (I used two because they were teeny), a parsnip (I used two because I like parsnips), one turnip and 1/2 of an onion.

Now, before this recipe, I'd never cooked with turnip and parsnip.  I like turnip, but I now LOVE parsnip.  Yum.  Like a carrot, but white.  Oh, and did I mention these veggies cost pennies?

Except for the onions, I cut my veggies into little 1/2 inch cubes, but whatever.

In a pan over medium heat, melt 2 TBSP of butter and stir in the chopped onion.  Let those onions get good and transparent, but not brown.

Add 2 TBSP flour.

Lucinda recommends Wondra and what a wonder it is.  I don't know what rock I've been living under, what with never having eaten turnips and parsnips before, but I'd never heard of Wondra flour.  Now I do.  Now I love it.
Wondra.  What a wonder.  Ha!  So punny.

Add the onion and flour mixture and the other veggies and simmer for about 6 minutes.

Meanwhile, take the skin off the chicken and the chicken off the bone.  Shred or cube the chicken.
shred it

Add it back into the broth and get it warm again.  Add salt to taste.  And then stir in 1/4 cup of heavy cream.

I've done this with just milk (2%) and it's just fine.  Half and half?.  It's fine.  I even think leaving out the milk/cream is just fine.  But man, is it delicious with it.

Pour that goodness into a bowl and top with a little dill.  I didn't because the dill I had in the fridge looked icky and black and I was sure it was grotty.  And it was delicious without the dill.

(Pete says he likes it better without dill - just an FYI).

I served it this time with some outstanding homemade bread Pete had just made.  (different post down the road).  But I've also made it with these cheesy biscuits Lucinda makes too.  They are so good. But I gotta keep some pounds off, so not this time.  Next time.

Let me know what you think.  I think you (and your family) will love it.  Soooooooooooo good.

Farmhouse Chicken Chowder (by Lucinda Scala Quinn)
2 chicken breasts, bone-in, skin on
6 C low sodium chicken stock
1/2 onion chopped
1 small turnip, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 or 2 parsnips, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 large carrot, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 tbsp flour (Wondra is best)
2 tbsp butter
salt to taste
1/4 C heavy cream
Chopped dill to garnish (optional)

Simmer chicken breasts in stock for 20 minutes.  Remove breasts to a plate to cool.  Leave stock in pot.

Melt butter in pan on medium heat.  Add onions and cook until translucent.  Add flour.  Pour flour/onion mixture into stock.

Add other cut veggies into stock and simmer for about 6 minutes, until tender.   Meanwhile, shred chicken and discard skin and bones.  Add chicken back into stock.  Salt to taste.

Stir cream into soup and serve with a garnish of dill (if desired).


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Surrounded by amazing people

Every week my neighbor, Heidi, and I go for a walk.  We burn a few calories, but maybe more importantly, we get a lot off our chests.  Everything from dinner ideas to laundry woes, what may seem insignificant is debated, discussed and suddenly I feel better about life.

Heidi also happens to be a Pilates teacher, who offers a few of us neighbor chicks a class at her house on Wednesday nights.  Maura, who lives across the street, and I have been taking advantage of Heidi's kindness for years.  On those nights Maura and I work on our core, our stability and our smiles.  We laugh at ourselves and each other.  It's pretty terrific.  Those two ladies make me smile.

While I think I knew how much all this time meant to me, I never really said it out loud until last weekend, when Heidi and I were on our weekly jaunt.  For some reason, I just told her.  About how much she gives us.  Not only is she making us happy, she is making us healthy, stronger, better.  Heidi is making such a positive impact in our lives just by being part of it and encouraging us.

What more can you want from a friend?

There are people in my life like that who I probably haven't taken the time to thank.  My sister, Renee, always knows when I'm feeling down and lifts my spirits through her generosity and kindness.  She is my earth and my connection to my family and knows me better than probably anyone else.

My sister-in-law, Theresa, is a ray of sunshine in my life.  She soothes my heart and makes me smile.  I feel like I'm closer to peace when I'm with her.

Allyson and Janiene listen to the ramblings of a sometimes crazy person without judgement.

Julie has been there through it all, listening, (not judging) laughing and swapping crafty ideas.

Mary Beth encourages me to move my body and live a healthier life.

"Bean" is always laughing, letting things slide off her back and that helps me realize how uptight I am. (ugh)

These are all gifts I get each day.  Every time I reach out to one of these amazing people and the rest of the fantastic people who I'm lucky enough to know.

I just hope I bring something positive to their lives, too.

Many of us are lucky to have that guy in our lives who loves us, cares for us, who is our partner and friend.  I have that.  I am blessed.

But it is these friendships that round out who I am as a person.  They mean the world to me and tell me quite a bit about myself.  They are pretty fantastic, strong, creative people.  I hope to be a reflection of them and let whatever light I have shine back on them, too.

Thanks, y'all.  You are the best.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Coming out of the closet

Guess what?  I got bored again.  Happens all too often.  This time I tackled something that REALLY needed help.  I mean, it was downright horrendous.

The kitchen pantry.

Yikes.  It ain't pretty, folks.  I'm truly embarrassed.

Ugh!!!!!  This is a mess - and one shelf was removed BEFORE I took this picture
You know, I try, I really do, to keep this closet from looking like something out of a show on hoarders.  But this is real life.  No fantasy here.  In this travesty, I find empty boxes of Ding Dongs and expired bottles of vinegar (really? that stuff expires?).  I reorganize it every few months and days later it's a disaster again.  Things fall on the ground and, beaten into submission that this is just a hopeless mess, we give up.
See the floor (well, the bottom?)  Reusable shopping bags and anything that fell.

Why?  Why would such a seemingly normal person have such a ridiculous mess of a closet?  I'd like to blame the kids - and I will for the empty snack boxes (really people... can't we just throw the empty box in the recycling?).  But I can't for the overall state of things.

I blame the previous owner of my home.

Yep. They are the ones who put in these lovely shelves (I'm not being entirely snarky) that are 21 inches deep.  21 inches!  How in the world am I to find anything in shelves that are that deep?
21 inches deep. STUPID.

I've tried putting the soup cans on shoe boxes so I can see them hanging out in the back of the closet.  But they inevitably fall down.  And then they expire.  And I can't find them.  And I get hyper and angry and... I reorganize again.

This time I was DONE.  DONE, DONE, DONE.  So I shelved the deep shelves and, with the help of my trusty husband who is so kind to oblige my insanity, I had wood shelves cut to the width of the closet.  And guess what?  They're only 10 inches deep.  Shut up!  I can SEE!!!!!

sooooooooooo much better.  YOU CAN SEE THE FLOOR!

I can actually see the items, reach for them and not topple everything in my way -- because NOTHING is in my way.  We put little baskets I got at the store on the wall that now hold the paper towels, the chip bags, onions and potatoes.
Beautiful.  Simply beautiful.
I just love my pantry now.  I keep marveling at it.  The kids are equally amazed at its beauty and organization (okay not equally, but they are very happy they can see their snacks better).  I can even walk in, shut the doors and hide in there if I want to.  And I just might want to.  Because the basement is a disaster area.

...til next weekend!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Nutella Fudge - OH MY!

Nutella Fudge.  Yep.  Nutella Fudge.  No kidding.
Okay, I admit that I don't always eat well.

Did I just say, "don't always".

Let's correct that.  Mama always said not to lie.

I almost always eat something really rotten for me at LEAST once a day.

So, when I saw a recipe on Pinterest (totally addicted to this site - but that's another blog post), for Nutella Fudge, I knew I had met a new love of my life.

And, oh baby, is it good!

Wait, I said I wouldn't lie.

It's abso-freak-your-face-de-lummy!

And even better.  It's so easy.  Five ingredients.  Top that.

So hats off to whomever originally came up with this idea.  It certainly wasn't me.  I'm a fan.

This is how easy it is:

Over a simmering pot of water, mix in a bowl:
-a jar of Nutella (the smaller one - about 1 cup)
-1 tsp of vanilla extract
-8oz. good chocolate (at least 60% cacao)
-1 can sweetened condensed milk

Melt it all together (don't let the water touch the bottom of the bowl).
So easy a 14-year-old boy can do it.

Pour into a parchment lined 8 x 8 pan.  I don't have one of those, so I used two loaf pans.  Cool it, flip it onto a plate, peel off the parchment and sprinkle on the key ingredient -- sea salt.
I don't know, but I'm thinking you could use kosher if you needed, but I don't think table salt would be a smart choice.

That's it.  Simple.  Delicious.  It's chocolate, Nutella, vanilla, condensed milk and salt.  How do you mess that up?  Sweet.  Salty.  Yum.

It's so good, the kids have been eating it like it's completely calorie free.  Which it isn't.  I can already tell it's going to cost me more time in the gym.

Oh well.  It's worth it.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Go To Market

Findlay Market.  Fantastic.

We've had a wonderful winter so far... meaning it hasn't felt like winter.  Hardly a trace of snow.  Temperatures in the 50's and 60's.

So when Pete suggested we head down to our local indoor/outdoor food market last weekend, when it was a lovely, sunny, balmy (for winter) day, I was all in.

Findlay Market is one of those places that makes me happy all over.  It's bright, beautiful, urban, fresh, eclectic, exciting and, oh by the way, if you like to cook, it's kind of like paradise.

Findlay has multiple indoor and outdoor stands.  There is everything from fresh meat, poultry and fish...

Pete gets help from Mike Luken at Luken's Fish and Poultry.  

 to veggie stands...

Beautiful, bright, abundant veggies
Just one of the fruit stands in and around Findlay Market

I just love going here because seeing so much color, so much abundance.

Virtually everything you want is at Findlay.  Okay, no toilet paper, cleaning supplies or even barbeque grills for sale.  But if you want fresh.  If you want to buy from a local, small (tiny) vendor, here is where you go.

There is even a stand devoted entirely to spices and spice blends.  Pete wanted to make rabbit for dinner (yep, bunny).  He asked the guys at the spice stand (Colonel De's) for help and ta-da, they had a spice blend for him.

Colonel De's Spices.  Fantastic.

And then there are the "out buildings"  The buildings surrounding the actual market.  Places like, Madison's grocery.  Mostly, if not all, organic.  Hard to find veggies.  Micro veggies, you name it.

A few steps away is a little cookie store.  They only make four or five different cookies, and they're almost all variations on shortbread, but man, are they good.  I love their window (see the elephants?).

A wine store was doing brisk business for a Saturday afternoon.  I mean, it was packed.

Findlay is in Cincinnati.  It's a treasure. It's in the heart of downtown.  If you live here, I hope you go.  To see the people.  To taste the food.  To support the owners.  To support your city.  If you don't, I hope there is someplace for you to go that is equally as special.