Tuesday, December 16, 2008


8 words to the wise

I think I'm going to take a break from blogland until after the holidays. I hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday. Don't forget to eat tons of yummy food (those holiday calories don't count) and spend lots of quality time with the ones you love! I'll be back after the new year.

Oh and don't forget to say, "rabbits rabbits rabbits" when you wake up on January 1st, before you say anything else. It's supposed to bring good luck.

Happy holidays!

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Peppermint Bark (Recipe included)

5 words to the wise

Making peppermint bark was pretty easy as far as candy making goes. The hardest part was cutting/breaking it into pieces. I attempted to do this while it was cold and hard from the fridge and it was very difficult to get through. It also broke unevenly and the white separated from the dark. After about 1/4 of the way through, I decided to wait and allow to warm up a little and that made a big difference.

Peppermint Bark (from Use Real Butter)
Makes 2 pounds
1 lb dark chocolate (I used 4 World Market Dark Chocolate Bars)
1 lb white chocolate (I used Nestle morsels)
10 peppermint candy canes

Melt the dark chocolate. I did this by breaking it up into little pieces, putting into a micro-safe bowl and nuking for 30 seconds at a time and stirring after each interval.
Then, spread on foil on a cookie sheet and let set (in fridge).
Crush the canes in a food processor.
Sift fine (dust) pieces into one bowl, bigger pieces in another.
Melt the white chocolate and mix in the dusty canes with the melted white chocolate.
Carefully spread the white peppermint chocolate over the dark chocolate and then top with the bigger pieces of broken canes. Press down a little with a piece of waxed paper.
I chilled overnight in the fridge, but make sure to allow to come to room temp before cutting. The cutting process is the messiest part!It was really easy, yummy and makes a festive holiday gift. To purchase 2 pounds of peppermint bark would cost around $30-40. Total cost for this was $14!

I set each place setting at our dinner party with one of these sweet little packages and they were a hit. I neglected to photograph any of the cooking or prep for the event. I was too busy entertaining. Dinner was a success though!

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Peppermint Bark

4 words to the wise

Just a quick photo play-by-play to wet your whistles. I have to run and start on the cheese plate and chicken. More details to come later. I can't believe how hard it was to find normal, red and white, peppermint candy canes. The peppermint bark turned out great!

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Wild rice and chicken casserole

4 words to the wise

I'll be spending tomorrow with out of town guests and preparing for a dinner party (which of course I will blog). I also am intending to make Peppermint bark this weekend after seeing how expensive it is in the store and seemingly easy it is to make on Jen's blog. Until then, this was a "use up what I need to dinner" that turned out pretty good. Sandra Lee would be proud hahaha.

Wild Rice and Chicken Casserole
Makes 6 servings
3 cups wild rice (1 box cooked per pkg. instructions)
1/2 lb button mushrooms, sliced
2 large shallots, sliced
2 tb olive or canola oil
2 tb minced garlic
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1/2 tsp seasoning salt
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/2 cup light sour cream
1 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400. Heat oil in large pan over medium heat. Add mushrooms and shallots and saute until cooked, 3-4 minutes. Add minced garlic and saute 1 minute more. Remove from heat and add all spices, soup and sour cream. Stir to combine. Salt and pepper to taste. Add cut up chicken and stir to coat evenly. Pour chicken mixture into a 9x9 baking dish and top with wild rice. Bake 30 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to set 5-10 minutes before serving.I served atop a pile of homemade collard greens with a side salad.

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Bright lights

0 words to the wise

It's amazing how different things look at night versus during the day. My commute transpires during daylight hours so it wasn't until this weekend, when I ventured out of town, that I was able to see all the amazing lights that are now flickering downtown.

The Lucky Strike tower dazzles with her rainbow colored lights on the American Tobacco Campus. Brightleaf flickers with lights and is adorned with decorations. Then there's the light sculpture at the new Durham Performing Art Center. I was amazed when I spied it from the Freeway. I'm sure to never miss my exit at night!!

I received my Neighborhood Association Newsletter this weekend and was tickled to see that Sunday is our "Night of Lights". They are selling luminaries to put out in everyone's yards and will be lining the park with them. I can't wait to see it all aglow. It probably won't be as magical as recent years due to the construction and re-routing of Ellerbee Creek, but I just love the mystery that night brings and enjoy even more the calmness and comfort of soft flickering lights.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How to stink up your house - Brussel Sprouts

18 words to the wise

I remember liking brussel sprouts as a kid. I later had them on a truck stop buffet and they were mushy and bitter and just not good in any way. I decided at that time, that they were not good.

Skip years ahead. I'm standing in the grocery store on Saturday and I see them on sale. I know they're in season. I've seen lots of appetizing posts on blogs and decide that I want to try preparing them myself. I purchase a little over a pound. When I got home, I looked through some cookbooks and online and decided how I wanted to prepare the mini cabbages. I think they turned out great, even though they stunk up my house.

Brussel Sprouts

Makes 6 servings
1 lb brussel sprouts, washed and trimmed
2 tb olive oil
2 tb butter
3 large shallots, sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
a splash of lemon juice
1/4 cup toasted almonds
salt and pepper to taste

Boil brussel sprouts in salted water for 3-4 minutes. Drain and place in a bowl of ice water to halt the cooking and keep the pretty green color. Cut the brussel sprouts in half.
Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until they are just softened (about 3 minutes). Turn the heat up to medium high. Add the brussel sprouts and butter and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Saute for another 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and toss with parsley, lemon juice, and toasted almonds. Salt and pepper to taste.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti

4 words to the wise

I embarked on a baking extravaganza this weekend. I decided this year that rather then buy unusable or random gifts for my older relatives that already have everything they need, I'd bake stuff. Once I started, I found it hard to stop, so I made a batch of Oatmeal Raisin cookies, Scottish Shortbread, Reese's Peanut Butter & Chocolate cookies and Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti.

I made this biscotti last year with almonds instead of pistachios and I have to say I think I actually like the almond variation better. I've also determined that I don't really care for the taste of almond extract. I might try this again with orange instead. Either way this is an AWESOME biscotti recipe and because there is no butter in it, there's no worry about it getting rancid if you don't eat it for awhile. I also have changed the nut to fruit ratio to my liking.

Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti (from All Recipes)
Makes about 3 dozen
1/4 cup light olive oil (I used half light and half extra virgin)
3/4 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup pistachio nuts (unsalted)

Preheat the oven to 300. In a large bowl, mix together oil and sugar until well blended. Mix in the extracts and eggs. Combine flour, salt, and baking powder in a separate bowl and gradually stir into the wet mixture. Mix in cranberries and nuts by hand.

Divide dough in half. Form two logs (12x2 inches) on a cookie sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. Dough is VERY sticky. I keep a bowl of water nearby and wet my hands with water to handle the dough. This dough log just looks nasty, doesn't it? That's because it needs some quality time in the oven.
Bake for 35 minutes in the preheated oven, or until logs are light golden brown. Remove from oven, and set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Reduce oven heat to 275.

Cut logs on diagonal into 3/4 inch thick slices (my slices were a little too fat this time). Lay on sides on parchment covered cookie sheet. Bake approximately 8 to 10 minutes, or until dry. Cool completely before storing.

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Monday, December 8, 2008

Scottish Shortbread

11 words to the wise

At the request of my husband, I ventured to make Scottish Shortbread this weekend. I found this recipe at allrecipes and really, it couldn't be ANY easier. I couldn't believe how much butter it called for, until of course, I ate a piece. Holy moly!
Scottish Shortbread (from AllRecipes)
Makes about 2 dozen
2 cups (4 sticks) salted butter softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 325. Cream together butter and brown sugar. I dropped these two in the kitchenaid and walked away for a couple of minutes. Too easy! Slowly add 3 1/2 cups flour. Mix well.

Sprinkle rolling surface with the remaining flour. Knead for 5 minutes, adding enough flour to make a soft dough. Roll to 1/2 inch thickness. Cut into 3x1 inch strips. Prick with fork and place on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 325 degrees F for 20 to 25 minutes.

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Friday, December 5, 2008

Bull Durham and images of an older Durham

3 words to the wise

I suppose I should probably wait to write this until I've finished the movie, but I just can't resist. I rented Bull Durham and we began watching it last night. I'm ashamed to say I had never seen it, Durham lover that I am. And watching every scene thus far has been thrilling. I love seeing places I am familiar with on the big screen.

It's also pretty fascinating to see how much has changed just in the last 20 years (and not just Tim Robbins hair). It was really funny to see even the evolution of Wool E. Bull. Even though I grew up just 10 miles (give or take a few) away from Durham, I didn't frequent the downtown area much until I moved here a few years ago. I must admit that as a teenager, I was intimidated by the maze of one way streets.

There's so much growth and development going on Downtown, I am curious what it will look like when things lull to point of non-construction. It seems the skyline is forever changing. I can't imagine what it's like for those people who have lived in and loved this town for decades.

We only got an hour in last night before I needed to head to bed, but I can't wait to finish it. If anyone has any input on things in the movie that are true to history or not, I'd love to hear it.

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Akashi Japanese Grill & Sushi Bar - Hwy. 54, Durham

0 words to the wise

Over the last few weeks, I've had the opportunity to dine at Akashi a few times. I can't believe I'm just now getting around to writing about it. Akashi is my new favorite for sushi in Southwest Durham.

Currently, I'm only able to order cooked sushi, but their menu is helpfully labeled to aid me in making a quick, easy decision. I also like that they break their expansive sushi menu into descriptive sections (rice on the outside, fish outside, etc). They do a lot of business during the lunch hour, but they are still very efficient in taking orders, and turning good food out quickly and at a good price. The service I've experienced each time has been attentive and friendly.

One of the things I really like about their sushi is that with the shrimp tempura, the end shell that most places leave on, they actually remove. So you don't have to dismantle your last bite of the roll to eat it! Genius!

All of their rolls are half price (listed on the sushi menu) and I've yet to go with someone else who didn't love what they had. They also have a hibachi menu and offer bento boxes at lunch time. While I'm always tempted to try them, I opt for sushi instead. I'm a little sad that my work recently moved farther away from Akashi, but I'll still manage to get a lunch visit in here and there :)

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Ole NC BBQ - Roxboro Road, Durham

6 words to the wise

I can't remember where I read that this place had decent barbecue, but since we were in search of a quick warm meal the other night, we decided to give it a try. They are located in a very nice old hollowed-out house of sorts and definitely have the nicest atmosphere of any BBQ joint I've ever been in. On this Saturday night they had an enormous buffet featuring carving stations and meats and veggies galore.

We ordered take-out on the spot and didn't have to wait long. I ordered the small BBQ plate. It came with my choice of two vegetables (sides) and 4 big, light and crispy hushpuppies. I opted for turnip greens and green beans, though I was very tempted to get the mac and cheese or mashed potatoes. All this food for only $5.79 seemed like a steal! I was excited to get home and dive in.

Sadly the hushpuppies were indeed the best part of the meal. Everything else was cooked to death and sitting in 1/4 inch of liquid. The BBQ was the least edible. It was incredibly salty, and lacked any flavor or texture. It was extremely mushy. The only thing I can think to compare it to is maybe high school cafeteria BBQ, but actually, ours was even more edible then this. The green beans were straight out of a can, as were the turnip greens. Both lacked any distinguishable flavor or color.

My hubby ordered the fried chicken and barbeque combo and was relatively pleased with the chicken. He felt the same about the rest of his meal though. I'm not sure we'll go back, but if we do, I'd like to try the chicken. It's hard to beat the amount of food for the money. Perhaps I'll go the next time I've got a cold and can't taste anything ;)

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Photo of the Day - Rottweiler-in-law

5 words to the wise

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Monday, December 1, 2008

Chile corn chowder

4 words to the wise

Chile Corn Chowder
Makes 6 servings
16 oz frozen sweet corn
2 poblano peppers (charred with skin removed), chopped
4 oz can whole or diced green chiles
1 potato, diced
6 green onions, chopped
2 chicken bouillion cubes
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
2 tbsp oil
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
3 cups water
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup sour cream
handful of chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Sautee onions and potatoes 4 minutes. Add chiles, red pepper, butter and flour and stir. Cook 1 minute more. Increase heat to medium high. Slowly add water, 1/2 cup at a time and stir to incorporate. Once all water has been added, drop in bouillion.

Bring to a boil. Reduced heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add milk, corn, parsley and sour cream and stir. Cook until heated through and serve.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Food bible rule #22

4 words to the wise

Calories consumed on (or in celebration of) holidays do not count.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!!

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Jalapeno bacon corn muffins

4 words to the wise

I was on a corn kick yesterday. I made a corn chile chowder (recipe to come) and jalapeno bacon corn muffins. I adapted a recipe for northern style cornbread from the Joy of Cooking. These are spicy and just slightly sweet!

Jalapeno Bacon Corn Muffins
Makes 12 muffins
1 1/4 cups cornmeal
3/4 cup flour
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp garlic powder
handful of parsley, chopped
2 tbsp diced jalapenos (I used the jarred)
4 strips of bacon, cooked and crumbled
2 eggs
2/3 cup skim milk
2/3 cup buttermilk (I subbed letting 2/3 tb of vinegar sit in 2/3 cup of milk for 5 minutes)
2 tbsp oil

Preheat oven to 425. Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, beat together eggs and milk. Add wet ingredients, parsley, jalapeno and bacon to bowl of dry ingredients.
Mix just until moistened. Add oil and stir to combine. Pour into muffin cups. Bake 10–12 minutes.

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Company Regional Mystery Trip

2 words to the wise

Yesterday afternoon we met for our regional mystery trip awaiting further details. Last year our local mystery trip was to the Carnivore Preservation Trust. It was great learning about the meat-eaters and being so close to such huge cats. Yesterday's trip, however topped it.Yesterday we were given an envelope with $25 cash and the name, age and needs of a person to shop for. There were two envelopes for each person, so we paired up and went to Target. I was assigned an 8 year old boy. Luckily I was paired with a male so he definitely guided the toy shopping. For our $50 (actually we spent $70) we got him a transformer, a pair of cargo pants, a hooded sweatshirt, two pairs of really cool gloves, some boxers and socks. We also chipped in with another team who had this boy's brother and we bought laser tag for both of them.
Then we headed off to a sports bar where we wrapped all the gifts, snacked and had a couple of drinks. It was a great end to the day and it was energy very well spent. I think how each person views the holiday season is probably pretty different. But for me, it's always been a time to reflect and appreciate on how fortunate I am and how much I can help and offer others. I'm sure charities are hurting this year with the economic problems that everyone seems to be experiencing, but they are still in need and it felt great to give.

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Berger cookies, I'm in HEAVEN

3 words to the wise

Two weeks ago, Heather had a giveaway on her blog for a box of Berger Cookies. I never win anything, but apparently the planets were aligned and took pity on me and my little chocolate-crazed baby. Last week she announced the winners and behold, I won a box.

We are unpacking this morning and getting settled in to our new workplace and my box of Berger Cookies arrives. I quickly opened one of the two containers and dispersed them to anyone who would take one. I took the last and was quickly on a sugar high. Think fudge meets soft cookie meets ultimate chocolate satisfaction. Thank you so much Heather and thank you Bergers for making a perfect cookie. I was shocked to turn over the package and discover that one of those decadent babies is only 140 calories! It's a perfect treat!

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Chicken and whole grain stuffed cabbage rolls

1 words to the wise

I'm sure you remember what happened the last time I touched a cabbage. If not, here's a reminder. About a month ago, I encountered mass hysteria in my poor kitchen while I attempted to stuff cabbage into something. Monday I decided to attempt the reverse. Instead I stuff something into cabbage! Though still a little messy, this went much better and we both gobbled up the results. Again, I didn't use a recipe. I used what I had on hand and needed to cook up. Let me say, cabbage isn't the most beautiful vegetable, but it sure can taste good, so pardon my colorless photography.
Chicken and Bulgur Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
Makes 12 rolls (4 large entree servings or 6 small servings)
2 cups cooked bulgur (or brown rice), cooked in water and bouillion per package instructions
1 head of green cabbage
1 lb ground chicken or turkey
1 tb olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 handful fresh sage, chopped (if using dry, reduce to 1 1/2 tsp)
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, choppped (if using dry, use 2 tsp)
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
3 tb minced garlic
1 handful fresh italian parsley, chopped
olive oil for drizzling
1/4 cup grated parmesan

Heat 1 tb olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Brown chicken and onion. Add salt, pepper, sage, rosemary and garlic. Stirring, cook for another minute or two over medium heat. If pan is large enough, add parsley and bulgur or rice and mix through. Otherwise mix in a large bowl. Salt and pepper to taste.Core cabbage and place stem side down in a large pot of boiling, salted water for 10 minutes. You core it to make removing the hot leaves easier.Reduce heat to medium and carefully remove an outer leaf from the cabbage with metal tongs. place on a plate and spoon about 1/4 cup of filling into the middle of the curled up leaf. Fold sides in and roll from the end nearest you toward the other end. This may work more like folding then rolling, depending on the rigidity of your cabbage leaves. Be patient and don't worry if it rips. It will still taste great. (Not sure what happened to the photo of me folding the little buggers, I definitely took one, but can't find it)

Preheat oven to 400. Place roll seam side down in a large, lightly oiled 9x13 pan. Continue removing leaves and stuffing and rolling until you have used up all of the filling. I placed all rolls in the pan facing the same direction to make removal easiest.Once your pan is full, drizzle with oil, sprinkle with parmesan, cover and bake for 25 minutes. If my hubby liked sour cream, I would have served these with a mustard cream for dipping. As they stood, they were still great and a well-rounded meal all in one package.

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A whole lotta bakin' going on

2 words to the wise

This weekend I baked cranberry orange muffins (shhhh I cheated, from a Trader Joe's Cranberry Orange bread mix). Unlike a lot of muffin mixes, which are filled with imitation fruit bits, these muffins were filled with big juicy cranberries and they were delicious. I highly recommend this mix and will definitely be buying it again!Saturday I followed this up with a half batch of Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies. I followed the recipe on the bag of chips with the exception of nuts. I substituted 1/4 cup of heath toffee chips instead. I also removed from the oven while still soft and only lightly browned on the edges (a trick I learned from Melanie). This makes a yummy chewy cookie, despite seeming undercooked when first removed from the oven. I was so glad I only made a half batch (about 30 cookies) of these because three days later, my hubby and I have eaten them ALL. The kitchenaid mixer I received last Christmas from my brother made this sooooo easy. I can't wait to make my biscotti this year!!

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Photo Essay – A salvaged dinner

5 words to the wise

So you may recall my post from yesterday, an inquiry as to how to cook turnips. I decided last night that I would create a mashed root vegetable dish to accompany the chicken tenderloins and spinach that I needed to cook. I only had turnips, potatoes and carrots from the root category so I decided to use them all. It started simple and innocent enough...

4 tennis ball– baseball sized turnips (peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes)
4 medium yellow potatoes (peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes)
2 large carrots (peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces)
4 ounces light softened cream cheese
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp crushed garlic
salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add turnips and potatoes. Return to a boil and add carrots. Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking for 30 minutes. Drain well, add cream cheese and mash with an immersion blender. Add salt and garlic and mix well. Check seasoning, then salt and pepper to taste. Oh and this probably makes 6–8 servings. It's quite a lot.

I did all of this (except the cream cheese) and much to my surprise my mash was more of a puree. Turns out boiled turnips hold a lot of water. I almost thought about tossing it all out and then I decided to add the cream cheese. Good decision ;) To perfect the consistency in the future, I'd probably use a higher ratio of potatoes.

So I was disappointed, because the plate started out looking like this:Not too appetizing. It looked like a plate of melted orange sherbet. I was starting to swear at myself for not just following one of those uber-fattening gratin recipes...Every once in awhile we all have a big flop in the kitchen and I was thinking this would be my most recent. The orange of the carrots was throwing me off, despite it tasting pretty good. I decided to wilt some spinach and season with salt and pepper and see how it progressed.Okay so it was looking a little better and I liked the subtle sweetness of the puree combined with the mellowness of the spinach. I had some chicken tenderloins that I tossed with a tiny bit of olive oil and a little bit of pre-made lipton "garlic and herb" soup mix. I decided to grill those babies over some med-high heat in my grill pan and see if dinner was salvageable after all.
And you know what? Dinner was not only saved, it turned out really good. My hubby had no clue of the struggle that had transpired before he got home. The mash was well balanced and the flavors and textures were well complimented by the spinach and chicken. Despite it's bizarre color, I even thought it actually looked mildly appetizing on the plate with the other components. Hubby raved and I enjoyed it. Try something new, outside your comfort zone and wing it.

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Fabulous Award!

2 words to the wise

Triplet Mama has awarded me the Fabulous Blog award. I'm truly honored. There are some days I wonder if I write for my readers or for myself. I've decided it's a combination of both! Thank you to Triplet Mama and all the rest of my "regulars" for your interest in my daily silliness. I don't know where this blog would be without you!

So, here are the rules to receiving this award:
1. You have to pass it on to 5 other fabulous blogs in a post.
2. You have to list 5 of your fabulous addictions in the post.
3. You must copy and paste the rules and the instructions below in the post.

On your post of receiving this award, make sure you include the person that gave you the award and link it back to them.

My addictions are:
1. My growing family
2. Italian food
3. Red wine
4. Sushi
5. Cheese

The five fabulous blogs I'd like to pass this on to are all foodie/cooking blogs:


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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Turnips, where do I start?

4 words to the wise

This spring I purchased and cooked baby turnips (along with their greens) for the first time (and second, and third). I had never had turnips before and really enjoyed working with a new vegetable. This weekend at the grocery store, I was moved to purchase 5 large adult turnip bulbs. I'm a little intimidated by them, but am dying to cook them up. I was thinking about a gratin or something. Do you have a preferred way you cook turnips? Want to share?

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Vita again, in retrospect

4 words to the wise

Yesterday my angry post was fueled by a nasty headache and memories of frustrated hunger. Though I was extremely disappointed with my last experience at Vita, I do have to admit that I didn't comment on the food, our table placement or the fire alarm while I was there and therefore I didn't give them a fair opportunity to correct where I felt we were wronged.

In retrospect, I do feel a bit at fault for that. I think I was just really disappointed, not because I wanted a free meal, because I expect certain types of restaurants to handle the unexpected with the customer in mind. This wasn't the case during my visit. Now, if you look on my previous post, you'll see that Chef Yianni took the time to post a comment on my experience. I'm a little humbled by the gesture (and the offer of a free meal) and I really appreciate the time he took to express his concern. Thanks Yianni. We won't swear Vita off. Everyone has a bad day once in awhile.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Vita YOU SUCK- Erwin Square, Durham

5 words to the wise

Date night at Vita on Friday was a shit deal. It's only fair that I share it with you because I've given them two other shining reviews. Perhaps I'm being a little harsh in considering never returning after one bad dinner, but I'll let you be the judge.

1. We were one of three couples seated in the entire restaurant and we were seated directly between the other two couples. Nevermind that there were 20 other empty tables, I mean god forbid a couple have an intimate meal. Normally I wouldn't complain about this, but it was just the first thing of several to make my experience there bad enough to blog about.

2. I ordered the pancetta, spinach and goat cheese salad as my entree. Having had this before, I was sure that it was an entree portion and that it was a well balanced meal. What I got was literally two handfuls of spinach, three nickel-sized portions of goat cheese, about half a jar of roasted red peppers and about 1/8 cup of fried prosciutto or bacon. This salad was not an entree portion, didn't have the walnuts it was supposed to, nor the pancetta and it was covered in slimy roasted red peppers (which aren't supposed to be on it). I ate it nonetheless and didn't even comment on it to the waiter.

3. About 10 seconds after bringing our salads out the fire alarm started to sound. We were assured that we didn't need to evacuate and that it's just really sensitive. While the alarm went off, we were treated to a skipping Radiohead cd. After about 15 minutes of flashing lights and sirens, the fire department showed up and managed to shut the audible alarm off. The strobing lights continued, along with the skipping radiohead cd, even as we left 10 minutes later. The waiter and bar staff apologized a few times while waiting and I jokingly said, "Don't worry, you can just give us free dessert."

Perhaps my expectations are too high, but if I ran a restaurant with only three tables occupied on a Friday night at 6:00 and they were all couples that had to sit through 25 minutes of a fire alarm going off, I'd comp SOMETHING. Not a damn thing from Vita. Not a free beer, dessert, voucher, NOTHING. Nevermind that they own the restaurant next door too and could have offered to move us over there for a drink or something while we waited for the racket to end. NOTHING. Bad, bad, bad, bad Vita.

We left hungry and irritated (well mostly it was just me that was still hungry since 1 1/2 cups of raw spinach doesn't get it for dinner for a pregnant woman). We headed over to Cinelli's and got an appetizer sampler and some yummy chocolate cake. While the service was a little underwhelming, the fried platter was decent and the atmosphere was much better.

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Sausage and spinach cannelloni

1 words to the wise

We had my mom over for dinner last night and, as with most Sundays, I cooked an Italian meal. We had a salad, along with my summer squash toss (only used zucchini and shallots though), and sausage and spinach stuffed cannelloni.For the cannelloni, I used the homemade marinara I made on Tuesday. I followed the recipe from Better Homes and Gardens, "Biggest Book of Italian Recipes", but with a few modifications.

Sausage and spinach cannelloni (adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Biggest Book of Italian Recipes)
Makes 6 servings
8 oz. pkg manicotti shells (cooked to package directions)
8 oz. ground sweet Italian sausage
1 1/4 cup diced onion
2 tbsp crushed garlic
8 0z. softened cream cheese
2 beaten eggs
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
10 ounces frozen chopped spinach (thawed and drained)
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
1/4 tsp salt
pepper to taste
2 cups marinara
sprinkling of parmesan cheese

Brown sausage and cook onion in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more. Drain any fat and remove from heat. Stir in the cream cheese, eggs, drained spinach, bread crumbs and mozzarella cheese. Salt and pepper. Stir until mixed well.
Preheat oven to 350. Snip the corner off a large ziploc bag and spoon filling into it. Gently squeeze filling into a manicotti tube and place into a 3 quart (9x12) baking dish. If you find the filling hard to squeeze out, cut a larger hole in the corner. Repeat with remaining pasta tubes. I had 2 extra left over at the end because I filled each of mine pretty full. Once the baking dish is full, cover with marinara, then sprinkle with parmesan and bake for 30 minutes.

This is where I would put a photo of the finished product, if I had taken one. Alas, I was too hungry and had my mother and husband waiting, so I just plated and we devoured it.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Risi e Bisi

4 words to the wise

I made this last night, and it does differ from the traditional recipes, but it was still excellent. I didn't use any wine and I added mushrooms on top of tons of peas. I didn't bother to photograph it, but I still wanted to share my recipe.

Risi e Bisi (risotto with peas)
Makes 4 entree servings
1/2 lb sliced crimini or button mushrooms
12 ounces frozen peas (thawed)
5 strips sliced bacon
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1 cup arborio rice
4 chicken bouillon cubes
4 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup grated parmesan
salt and pepper to taste

In a 2 qt or larger sauce pan, boil the water and throw in the boullion. Mix and mash up the boullion until it is completely dissolved. Reduce heat to low and keep broth simmering.

In a 3 qt or larger sauce pan, cook bacon until crispy over medium heat. Remove to drain on paper towels. Add mushrooms and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside with bacon. Add olive oil and onions to pan and cook just until they're translucent (not brown). Add rice and stir constantly to avoid sticking. Once you see white dots in the middle of the rice grains (around 3 minutes), add 1/4 cup or so of the broth and stir so that it doesn't stick. Cook until broth is absorbed. Add 1/2 cup of broth and continue cooking and stirring until the liquid is almost absorbed.

Continue adding liquid 1/2 cup at a time, allowing to absorb each time before adding more. Once the final bit of liquid has been cooked down, add the parmesan, mushrooms, bacon and peas. Salt and pepper to your liking. Stir and cook another minute or so until heated through.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Office space

6 words to the wise

I currently work in my own little 10x10 office but in a few weeks I will be moving into a new building. The office spaces for non-management folks will be divided into "suites". This translates to 6 cubicles each in a large room. I've taken a tour and the space is nice. Upon first hearing about our new setup, I couldn't help but think back to the days of being in cube in a large bullpen of maybe 30 people.

There's a general hum. You can hear people's music, receiving and sending of emails, alerts, etc. All those things that are now missing from my silent office life. I remember getting used to them, learning to shut them out and get in my own zone. But then there are the little things your closely working co-workers do...you know what I'm talking about. The repetitive stuff that maddens you.

For me it was the perpetual throat clearing or coughing of nearby neighbors. Often they were sick, so I know it couldn't be helped but honestly, sometimes I just wanted to shout, "WOULD YOU LIKE SOME WATER??????"

So what will it be in the new setup? Bad breath, B.O., sniffling, gas, talking on the phone constantly? What are your work pet peeves? Help prepare me for what I might be in for...

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Friday, November 7, 2008

Easy Margherita Focaccia Pizza

4 words to the wise

Almost all of the ingredients came from Trader Joe's, but you can get them anywhere. The entire loaf of bread was 840 calories, the cheese was 800 calories, the oil is about 400. This works out to about 500 calories a serving. I served with a nice green salad. Not bad for a healthy and tasty dinner (and no fake or reduced-fat stuff was used)!

Margherita Focaccia Pizza
Serves 3-4
1 loaf herb focaccia (I used rosemary)
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp crushed garlic
1 8 ounce ball whole milk mozzarella
handful of torn fresh basil leaves
1/2 medium onion sliced thin
1 large tomato sliced thin
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat large non-stick grill pan over high heat.Brush olive oil evenly over cut sides of focaccia.
Grill bread, oiled side down for 3-5 minutes, until your desired crispiness. I pressed down on the bread with a spatula to make sure I got those nice grill marks. Spread 1 tbsp garlic on each "crust".
Next cook the sliced onion for about 2 minutes per side in the hot grill pan so that they caramelize and sweeten. Top each each crust with the onions, torn basil leaves and sliced tomato. Salt and pepper lightly.As thinly as you are able, slice the ball of mozzarella and spread evenly over both pizzas.
Place both pizzas directly on the oven rack with a cookie sheet on the rack below to catch any melted cheese. Bake for 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly to your liking.

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