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 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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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Sage pork chops with shallot gravy

1 words to the wise

This is an easy, low calorie method for making really flavorful pork chops. The original recipe is here. I used boneless chops so I only simmered for around 30 minutes. I also subbed olive oil for the butter, reduced the salt to 1 tsp and added 1 tsp of garlic powder to the dry rub.

When the chops were done, I removed them to a platter and poured all of the broth into a measuring cup. I then added 2 tbsp olive oil and 2 sliced shallots to the pan. I cooked over medium-high heat until the shallots were translucent and added 4 tbsp of flour. I cooked over medium heat until it started to bubble a little. Stirring constantly, I slowly added the broth back to the pan, a few tablespoons at a time. I continued this slow process until I had a nice thick gravy. I plated a chop, topped with oven roasted yukon potatoes and covered it in the shallot gravy. Dinner was easy!!!

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Woooooooo Hooooooooo

5 words to the wise

I am proud to have participated in such a historical election.

I am proud to be bringing a baby into a world where a man like Obama can be president.

I am proud to be living in a country which, at this moment, is filled with hope and optimism.

And as always, I am proud to be an American.

Thank you to all who voted and spent time and energy in the process. Your efforts made a difference.

Hey Elizabeth Dole, don't let the door hit you on your way out!!

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Photo of the Day - Wintery wisp

0 words to the wise

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Monday, November 3, 2008

Vote and stop by for free coffee from Starbucks

2 words to the wise

Not that I drink coffee, but for those who do, all you need to do is stop in a Starbucks tomorrow and tell them you voted and you'll receive a free cup. Details here.

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Halloween block party - Northgate Park, Durham

0 words to the wise

Friday night I had the pleasure of being introduced to a new tradition for Northgate Park Halloween enthusiasts – the Halloween block party. Organizers closed off a block of Elgin Street and set up festivities. I had read about it in the neighborhood listserve, but wasn't thinking of really going until a marching band went marching by the house. Curiousity got me, or rather it got all of us. I scooped my bowl of candy into a big plastic bag and headed down to Elgin.

On schedule for that evening were fire dancers, live bluegrass, a marching band, fortune telling, stilt walkers, a haunted maze for kiddies and lots of other activities and CANDY. We settled in front of the bluegrass band and enjoyed listening to them, drinking a few adult beverages (not me, I was strictly on a candy high), and meeting neighbors. We were treated to an awesome tap-dancer during one of the songs, and there was a Sarah Palin look-a-like reminding us to vote during intermission that gave Tina Fey a run for her money.

The block party was a huge success so far as I could tell and I can't wait until we can take our little gal for all the kiddie fun. I feel really lucky to live in such a fantastic neighborhood with some really great people!

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Carrot Cake

5 words to the wise

This was my second cake ever made from scratch and it turned out good. Refrigeration didn't harm it in any way either. The texture was really crumbly, but still moist. If I had to do again, I'd probably leave out the coconut, reduce the amount of nuts and add raisins. I'm glad I only used half the nuts called for too. The flavor was great but it was a little difficult to cut and serve. The recipe I used was from Simply Recipes.

My hubby blew out all 30 candles in one puff and I've been eating healthy cake all weekend! Yum!!!

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Photo of the Day - Going to the chapel

1 words to the wise

Duke Chapel on a Sunday morning. This is the closest I've been to a church in a long time!

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