Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Ringing in the new year

I'm sad to say goodbye to 2008; it was a wonderful year in so many ways. Highlights of the year included our family trip to California in June; my youngest beginning middle school; both kids' amazing summer camp experiences; Steve Sr.'s success with Flatout Motorsports and his novels; and the myriad benefits of my job as a personal chef, including the symposium I attended in Charleston in October, my wonderful clients, and the great new friends I've met along the way.

I look toward the new year with wonder and awe, and with the belief that the best is yet to come. I'll try to share that spirit tonight with those gathered at our house to ring in 2009. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Our family's Christmas Eve tradition, dating back at least 4 years, is to eat hors d'oeuvres and desserts for dinner, in front of the fireplace. A week or so before the big day, I take a poll and ask each family member to name one or two items they'd like me to make. Then I make a menu, adding many things that I like and deleting some of their suggestions (ssssshhh... they never remember what they asked for anyway).

Our tradition changed a bit last year, as our fireplace was knocked down during our home renovation. We now have our feast in front of a Yankee Candle. Last year we even made s'mores using the candle. We're an inventive group.

Tonight, we enjoyed our hors d'oeuvres early so we could get to church for the Christmas pagent, and then we had our dessert when we returned home. I had the pleasure of having my daughter help me make the delicious dishes this afternoon.

Christmas Eve 2008

Vegetables and Herb Dip
Antipasto Triangles
Sweet and Sour Turkey Meatballs
Cheese Nachos
Shrimp Shooters
Dessert: Hot Fudge Pudding Cake with Whipped Cream

Sunday, December 21, 2008

White Bean, Pasta and Sausage Soup

The snowy weekend made me think "soup," so today I made an old favorite, "White Bean, Pasta and Sausage Soup." Here's how old and favorite it is: I have a handwritten comment on the recipe that reads, "Oct. 1991 - Very good soup." Enough said.

I served it with a spinach salad and sliced wheat baguette.

White Bean, Pasta and Sausage Soup
Serves 4-6

1 1/2 cups (about 8 oz.) small white beans (Navy beans)
1 - 2 T. olive oil
8 ounces chicken or turkey Italian sausage (sweet or spicy; up to you)
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
seasonings: dried basil, dried sage, dried thyme, fresh thyme if you have any
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 cups water
1 can (14 oz.) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 cup dry small shell-shaped pasta
grated Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley, optional

Rinse and sort beans in fine mesh colander and set aside.

Heat oil in a large heavy dutch oven over medium heat. Remove and discard sausage casings, and crumble sausage into the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until sausage begins to brown. Add onion, garlic and carrot and cook for 5 more minutes, stirring often. Turn down heat if the vegetables are browning. Stir in beans, seasonings, broth and water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook, covered, at a gentle boil, for 2 hours, or until beans are tender to the bite.

Add the tomatoes and their juices, then stir in the pasta. Return to a boil and cook until pasta is just done, about 8 minutes or whatever the pasta box advises. Serve soup with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and fresh chopped parsley, if desired.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Soy-Soaked Roasted Salmon

We all loved last night's dinner. The flavors were just right; not too overpowering but not too shy, either. This is a super-easy dinner to make; the only hard part is doing the dishes afterward.

Soy-Soaked Roasted Salmon with Vegetable Noodles

Serves 4

1/2 pound thin spaghetti
6 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
3 inch ginger -- peeled and grated
2 limes -- one juiced, one cut into wedges
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 1/3 pounds salmon fillet
1 bunch broccolini -- ends trimmed, stems peeled if desired
2 large carrot -- grated
4 cloves garlic -- minced
1 large red bell pepper -- sliced thin
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 teaspoons honey
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
dash sesame oil
pinch sesame seeds
2 large scallion -- sliced

Cook pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain and set aside.

Combine soy sauce, ginger, juice of 1 lime and red pepper flakes. Pour over salmon fillets. Turn to coat and let marinate about 10 min.

Steam broccolini until barely tender (I used a Zip and Steam bag). Set aside.

Place marinated salmon on oiled broiler pan and broil for 10 min., or until done. (My fillet was very thick; thinner fillets will not need as much time.) RESERVE MARINADE.

Heat 1 T. oil in large skillet or wok. Saute carrot, garlic and red pepper for about 2 min. Add honey to reserved marinade. Whisk and add to skillet. Add cooked broccolioni and chicken stock. Bring to a boil and simmer for 1 min. Add cooked pasta and toss to combine. Drizzle with some sesame oil.

Divide veggie/pasta mixture between four serving bowls or plates. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top. Top with salmon fillets. Garnish with scallions and lime wedges.

Adapted from Rachael Ray's "Express Lane Meals"

Friday, December 12, 2008

Snow day!

Well, "ice day" technically. No school today, due to very icy conditions. Yippee! I for one LOVE a snow day. I have the prerequisite gingerbread house kit, which I buy every year and promise the kids we'll make on the first snow day. Should I go wake them up so we can get started? Nah.

Friday is also my paperwork day, so after my coffee kicks in, I'll be printing out menus, labels, recipes and shopping lists for next week's cook dates. This time of year, people either want comfort foods (favorites include Turkey Meatloaf, Chicken Parmesan, Macaroni and Cheese, Chili, casseroles, hearty soups) or lighter dishes to counteract all the holiday party eating (baked fish, stir fries, vegetarian entrees). Which camp are you in?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

Last night's Cookie Swap rocked! I played hostess to 21 of my neighbors; we had appetizers; a Yankee Swap (awesome gifts this year, girls!); and then the much-loved cookie swap. Each of us made 4 dozen cookies, seen here. That big plate is the "Fudgy Bonbons" that I made (recipe below).

Everyone brings an empty container and goes around the table and takes 2 or 3 of each cookie. All the husbands and kids wait up for their wives/mothers to return from the swap, because everyone loves the cookies. One of my neighbors left, only to return because she got home without her cookies and her daughters accosted her; another couldn't find her cookies at the end of the evening and went storming down to her neighbor's house at 11 pm, because she was pretty sure she took them. Margaret, did you take Kathleen's cookies?

My own children miraculously fell asleep while the party was going on, but this morning wondered if they could have cookies for breakfast. I talked them out of that by having them each select a couple to take to school as a snack. Of course, my son left his on the kitchen table (he's not a morning person). Good times!

Fudgy Bonbons
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup butter
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
60 milk chocolate Hershey's kisses, unwrapped
2 oz. white chocolate melts

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Melt chocolate chips and butter over very low heat in medium saucepan, stirring constantly. Mixture will be stiff. Add condensed milk and mix well. Remove from heat.

Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup; level off. In large bowl, combine flour, chocolate mixture and vanilla. Mix well. Shape 1 Tablespoon dough around each Hershey's kiss, covering completely. Place 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake at 350 for 6 or 7 minutes. Cookes will be soft and appear shiny, but will become firm as they cool. Remove from cookie sheets and cool at least 15 minutes.

Melt the white chocolate melts (or regular white chocolate and 1 teaspoon oil). I did this in the microwave at 50% power. Pour the melted mixture into a squeeze bottle or plastic bag. Cut off corner of bag and decorate the tops of the cooled bonbons. Let stand until set. Place in decorative paper cups, if desired.

Makes 5 dozen.
Recipe by Mary Anne Tyndall, Pillsbury Bake-Off Grand Prize Winner

Friday, December 5, 2008

Christmas countdown!

Can you believe it's only 20 days 'til Christmas? I feel pretty organized this year:

- Almost all gifts have been purchased and wrapped; just a few more to get
- Designed cards on and have picked them up
- Just printed labels for cards
- House is as decorated as it's going to get!
- Have some holiday hors d'oeuvres made and in the freezer, ready to bake off before the neighborhood party on Sunday
- Ditto some holiday cookie dough made and in the freezer, ready to bake, though I know I'll be making some other varieties as the days go by
- Just ordered 2 Edible Arrangements to be delivered to special people next week

Hubby and DD are getting the tree on Saturday and the kids will decorate that; I need to write a few checks for mailman, newspaper delivery guy and so on; I need to write out my business holiday cards; DD and I need to plan the Christmas Eve dinner... I think we're in good shape.

How about you?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Crazy delicious

I'm planning to make some baked cod for dinner tonight, which will NOT go over big with the troops, so I decided to make the meal more appealing by whipping up some macaroni and cheese as a side dish. Plus I thought whatever's left will go well with tomorrow night's Oven Fried Chicken. After tasting this, I'm not sure if we'll have any left for tomorrow. It's that good!

Crazy Delicious Mac and Cheese
Serves 6 as a side dish (I think)

2 2/3 cups small pasta (elbows or shells)
2 slices whole wheat bread, crusts removed, pulsed to crumbs in food processor
garlic powder
parmesan cheese
4 T. butter
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cups low-fat milk
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1 T. dry sherry (optional)
3 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese

Cook the pasta until still firm to the bite. Drain and place in large bowl.

While pasta is cooking, melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add 1 T. butter to bread crumbs and toss to mix. Sprinkle in a wee bit of garlic powder and parmesan and toss again. Set aside.

Add flour to remaining butter in saucepan and whisk over medium heat for 2 minutes. Slowly add milk and broth and whisk until smooth. Add sherry if desired. Increase heat and bring mixture to a boil, whisking constantly. Let boil for 2 minutes. Then take off heat and gradually stir in grated cheddar cheese.

Pour cheese sauce over pasta in large bowl and toss to coat. Pour mixture into a greased deep dish pie pan or 9x9 dish. Top with bread crumbs. Broil for 2 minutes, or until crumbs are golden. Watch carefully! (as you can see, I did NOT watch carefully; I was called away to admire the colored lights my husband and daughter had just installed outside of our front door. Oops!)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I'm thankful

Just a short post to say, I am so thankful for all of the riches in my life, which include my family, friends, fellow PCN chefs and clients; our community; my childrens' friends and their families; my childrens' teachers; and the great country in which we live.

I wish everyone a very happy Thanksgiving. May God bless you.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Food 4 Thought

I attended a great presentation at my childrens' school last night. It was part of the school's "Food 4 Thought" series which aims to educate middle- and high-school aged children and their parents about nutrition and body image.

Did you know the average family meal lasts barely 20 minutes, but few other settings in family life have such potential to influence children’s behavior and development? Sharing a meal regularly, research suggests, can boost children’s health and well-being, reducing the likelihood that they’ll become obese or use drugs, and increase the chances that they’ll do well in school.

Last night's presenter, licensed dietitian Jody Fleshman, spoke about the importance of the family meal time as well as the importance of nourishing foods. She demonstrated how quick and easy putting together a family meal can be... you don't even need to cook! I walked away with some great new ideas for helping my family eat more healthfully.

Some of Fleshman's ideas for quick, healthy dinners include:

- a big salad: get out greens, a variety of vegetables, nuts, shredded cheese and a cooked protein (hard-boiled eggs, chicken strips, etc.) and let everyone make their own
- uncooked quesadillas: same as above; place all the fixin's (whole wheat tortillas, black beans, shredded cheese, salsa, low-fat sour cream) on the table and let each family member make his or her own
- turkey roll up with turkey, cheese, light mayo and a side of grapes
- baked potato topped with vegetables, cheese or chili
- tuna fish with light mayo on crackers or wheat bread
- English muffin pizza
- scrambled eggs in a wheat tortilla with cheese and salsa, served with melon

I was so motivated that I made an "oatmeal bar" for the kids for breakfast this morning: I cooked oatmeal and let them help themselves to a variety of toppings, including berries, brown sugar, granola, ground flaxseed, soy milk and milk. TS ate breakfast for the first time in days! DD's eyes went wide when she found out she could have as many of the toppings as she wanted. Then she surprised us all by sprinkling flaxseed on her oatmeal!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pumpkin Pie Muffins

My usual breakfast is a slice of wheat toast or a wheat English muffin with peanut butter and honey. I've been eating this for about 10 years, and I'm sick of it. So I cracked open Ellie Krieger's The Food You Crave and decided to try the Pumpkin Muffins. I made a few modifications; I subbed Penzey's Pumpkin Pie Spice for the long list of spices she required, and I added the pecan crumb topping she had in her Apple Pecan Muffin recipe. Below is my recipe; I tasted the results this afternoon, and I think I'll be a happy girl tomorrow morning.

Pumpkin Pie Muffins
Makes 12
Recipe adapted from Ellie Krieger

2 T. light brown sugar
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Penzey's Pumpkin Pie Spice
(or 1 t. cinnamon, 1/2 t. ground ginger, 1/4 t. ground cloves, 1/8 t. ground nutmeg)
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3 T. unsulfured molasses
1/4 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 t. vanilla extract
3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and place paper liners in 12 muffin cups.

Make the topping by combining the first 3 ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, salt and spices. Set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, molasses, oil and eggs, one at a time. Whisk in the pumpkin and vanilla. Stir the flour mixture into the wet ingredients in two batches, alternating with the buttermilk, until combined. Divide the batter equally between the 12 muffin cups. Top with the pecan topping. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, about 20 minutes.

Remove muffins from tin and let cool completely on a wire rack. When cool, store in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Grilled Steak and Potatoes with Garlic Butter

The critics are raving, and I'm lapping it up, especially since I had to stand out in the rain to get dinner made tonight. Now, don't let the fact that the steak looks like a sarcophagus turn you off; that's just my mediocre food photography.

I actually made two dinners; one was Apple and Fennel Roasted Pork Tenderloin, and I've posted a recipe and picture at my website. That was made in the interest of recipe testing, and because I'm not a steak lover. I made it this afternoon and heated it up at dinnertime. Delish!

But I decided to make the steaks because TS (teenage son) has a couple of friends here, and I knew they'd like it, and I also knew I wouldn't hear any complaints from the hubby or DD (dear daughter). I was right on all accounts.

Grilled Steak and Potatoes with Garlic Butter
Serves 4

1 1/2 lbs. small red potatoes, scrubbed and halved
1 T. olive oil
salt and pepper
4 T. unsalted butter, softened
2 T. minced fresh parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 strip steaks (8 to 10 oz. each), about 1 inch thick
Montreal Steak Seasoning or similar blend

Toss potatoes and oil in a medium microwave-safe bowl and season with salt and pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and nuke at high power for about 4 min., or until slightly softened, tossing potatoes halfway through cooking.

Beat softened butter with a fork and add parsley, garlic and 1/4 t. salt.

Let steaks sit out for about 1/2 hour before grilling. Sprinkle steaks with grill seasoning. Preheat gas grill to high. Grill steaks over direct high heat for 8 minutes, turning once. Then adjust heat for indirect grilling, and grill steaks over indirect high for 4-6 more minutes or until 125 degrees (medium rare) or 135 degrees (medium). Meanwhile grill potatoes for 7-8 minutes, turning several times, until soft and grill-marked.

Place steaks on serving platter and top each steak with 1 T. butter. Loosely cover with foil and let rest for at least 5 minutes. Toss potatoes with remaining tablespoon of parsley butter in a serving bowl. Serve.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Ta Da!

My new logo is officially done! I have to thank Margaret at Crafty Chef Graphics for the cute, cute, cute design and for bearing with me as I tweaked this and that.

Friday is always my paperwork day, and today I'm busy getting that logo onto all my business correspondence (invoices, menus, labels, press releases, etc.) as well as figuring out how to add it to my website and other places I hang out in cyberspace.

Lest you think I've been chained to my desk all morning, I've also managed to reseal the granite countertops in the kitchen; move my daughter's bed to another spot in her room (she claimed her room felt "claustrophobic"); wash and change the sheets on the other beds; and bake some chocolate chip cookies for the kids. Hey, I'm not named "Martha" for nothing!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

The doorbell's still ringing, but I've got the girls answering so I can quickly post the ghoulish snacks I made tonight. I got the idea from a Personal Chef friend of mine, Patti A., who made these cute tortilla cut-outs for a party. She dubbed the guacamole "Monster Brains" and the salsa, "Monster Guts." I didn't label mine, for fear of scaring the girls away. Good thing I took a picture while they were out trick-or-treating, because there's nothing left now. Boo!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

"Fit and Fresh"

I'm teaming up with a fantastic personal trainer to offer a "Fit and Fresh" package to people in our area. Except I wish we could come up with a nicer name. "Fit and Fresh" sounds like a bag of lettuce or something. Any ideas out there?

Here's the scoop: The client contacts us about the package (it's a great gift for a husband, wife, parent or boss-- hint, hint), we set up a date and time, and we both arrive: he to do the training, me to do the cooking. The price is $175 and includes everything - 1 hour of training, groceries, and a healthy, home-cooked meal that will serve 4-6 family members. The challenge for me was designing meals that I could prepare in 1 hour and stay within budget. But, I enjoy that sort of challenge. Here are a few of my ideas:

Turkey Chili
Whole Wheat Rolls
Mixed Greens with Low-Fat Creamy Herb Buttermilk Dressing

Chicken with Cranberry Sauce
Mashed White Beans
Autumn Salad with Maple Vinaigrette

Spicy Orange Beef Stir-Fry
Vegetable "Fried" Rice
Cucumber Salad

Greek Chicken with Orzo
Spinach Salad with Poppyseed Dressing

Crispy Baked Tilapia
Oven-Roasted Sweet Potato Fries
Baby Greens with Lemon Vinaigrette

Slow Cooked Black Beans with Brown Rice and Cheese
Wheat Tortillas
Fiesta Salad

Got comments? We'd love to hear 'em before we officially launch this idea.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Autumn Salad with Maple Dressing

We're big salad eaters in this house. Salads for dinner; salads for lunch; salads as side dishes. I haven't tried salad for breakfast...yet.

This salad is a seasonal favorite. We enjoy it as a side dish with a simply flavored dinner such as roast chicken or grilled pork tenderloin. Feel free to change up the ingredients to suit your tastes; pears are just as good as apples; pecans can sub for walnuts; add some blue cheese or chevre, if that's what you like.
Autumn Salad with Maple Dressing
(adapted from Bon Appetit)

Maple Dressing
¼ cup mayonnaise (light is fine)
¼ cup pure maple syrup
2 T. white vinegar
5 T. canola oil
Salt to taste

1 5- to 7-oz. bag of mixed baby greens
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into matchstick-size strips
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup chopped walnuts, toasted

Make the dressing by whisking the mayonnaise, maple syrup, vinegar in a bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in oil until mixture thickens slightly (This dressing is easy to make in a screw-top jar; just shake well to get the oil incorporated). Set aside. (Dressing can be made a couple of days ahead and refrigerated. Rewhisk —or shake—before using.)

Make the salad by tossing the greens, apples, cranberries and ¼ cup walnuts in a large bowl to combine. Toss with enough dressing to coat. Divide the salad equally among 6 plates. Sprinkle with remaining walnuts and serve.

Serves 6.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Chicken and White Bean Chili

This was a yummy dish on this cold evening. I actually whipped it up this morning, in between yoga class and a trip to IKEA. I heated the chili up on the stovetop tonight, and served it with cornbread and a salad. Clean plates all around.

Chicken and White Bean Chili

3 cups leftover roast chicken, white and dark meat, cooked
2 T. canola oil
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1 can chopped green chiles (the little can)
1 can (14 oz. or so) white kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (14.5 oz.) petite diced tomatoes
1 can (14.5 oz.) low-sodium chicken stock - optional, I like a soupy consistency but you can leave this out for a thicker "chili"
1/2 cup frozen corn
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons chili seasoning from packet or your own mixture* (optional--see below)
garnishes: chopped fresh cilantro, shredded cheese, sour cream, chopped chives

Cut the cooked chicken up into bite size pieces. You can use leftover grilled chicken breasts, roasted chicken or even a rotisserie chicken. As long as it's cooked, it'll work. Set aside.

Heat oil in a heavy Dutch oven. Saute onion and bell pepper over medium heat until tender. Turn down heat if the vegetables are cooking too fast. Stir in all the rest of the ingredients (except chili seasoning and garnishes). Bring to a slow boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 - 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings, if desired. *This is where I decided the chili wasn't spicy enough and decided to add a couple of tablespoons of chili seasoning. If you add seasoning at this point, let simmer for at least 10 more minutes.

Serve topped with garnishes of your choice. Leftovers freeze well, and also make for a great lunch the next day.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Time to Put Thoughts into Action

I'm back home with a list a mile long of incredible ideas I got from the Symposium, as well as a few loads of dirty laundry. I've already started working on both.

Some of my immediate action items include:

* contacting graphic artist to help me design a logo and new business cards (I did my original ones on MS Word and they're OK but not professional-looking)
* sending quick emails to local papers with ideas for feature stories
* taking better pictures of my dishes, and posting those pictures on my website
* following up with the new gym about speaking there one afternoon
* submitting my URL to the major search engines
* adding keywords to my website for search engine optimization

My very first priority, though, is to go to the grocery store. The family has been living off fast food and Fritos since I left. I whipped up Whole Wheat Spaghetti and Meatballs last night, with a salad from what we had left in the fridge, and their gratitude reminded me of why I love to cook.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Charleston Report - Day 3

I call this picture, "MR and MU."

That would be Michael Ruhlman and Martha Ulfelder.

Yes, other things happened today. But I started with the best. We were fortunate to have writer, chef and cookbook author Michael Ruhlman at our Symposium as the keynote speaker today. I'm a big fan of his books, having read The Soul of a Chef and The Reach of a Chef. He spoke with us about his experiences, but got very passionate about the state of food today. He urged us to get back to a solar-based food system rather than the petroleum-based system we've come to rely upon, and he feels it's up to us to educate ourselves and as well as our customers. "Why are people so quick to accept mediocrity?" he asked.

Chef Theo of PCN asked Ruhlman, "What is the one food trend you'd like to see go away?" Ruhlman said, "Foam." If they'd asked me, I would have said, "100-calorie packs." But that's a whole 'nother post.

There were so many highlights of today (Roundtable with USPCA owner Gail Kenagy! Commercial Kitchen Operations! Working with a Dietician! Working with the Press! When PCs Hire Other PCs!), and I have lots of other mediocre BlackBerry pictures to post, including one from my dinner last night. However, duty calls. We're leaving for our last dinner out in Charleston any minute.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Charleston Report - Day 2

Oh my... there's so much to report and so little time. I do need to sleep, after all.

Today started bright and early (7 am) with continental breakfast, group introductions (some of the chefs had not come to Tuesday's optional sessions) and housekeeping details (sign ups for dinner out in Charleston, most importantly).

We then listened to Chef Mike Monahan of Chefs USA, who shared his motivational secrets to success. Next, Anne Willan of LaVarenne presented stories and recipes related to her "Country Cooking of France" book. She's led an incredibly rich life, and says she's been very lucky, landing prestigious jobs such as teaching the Mexican staff at the palace at Versaille how to cook French food; and answering letters and writing recipes for Gourmet magazine, before launching her cooking school in France.

We tasted some wonderful dishes from the cookbook, which Chef Willan, her assistant Christine and two of our PCN chefs (Connie and Jewels) prepared: Aunt Louie's Cheese Balls; Daube of Beef with Green and Black Olives; Gratin of Red Swiss Chard; Tomatoes Stuffed with Goat Cheese; and Flemish Spiced Cookies. (The photos above are of Chef Anne Willan and Chef Peg Nelson; and the Stuffed Tomato. I think you can figure out which is which.)

If you've never heard Chef Willan speak, she has what I guess I'd call a British accent and as well as lovely speaking voice. We couldn't help but laugh as she recalled the selection of foods at the local market, the Piggly Wiggly, which came out "Pigg-a-lee Wigg-a-lee" when she said it.

After our tasting, one chef commented, "Those cheese balls made me long for a glass of red wine." Another agreed, adding, "Me too. Then again, Grape Nuts make me long for a glass of red wine." A third chimed in with, "Waking up in the morning makes me long for a glass of red wine." So that's where we're at. And it wasn't even noon yet.

After lunch, Chef Adriana Mullen of PCN presented an informative class on Food Photography. Adriana has an abundance of talent in this area, and was generous in sharing her tips and techniques with us. I have some mediocre photos I took of her presentation, which I don't dare post. One thing to know: Adriana does not like napkins in her photography. She emphasized that point, so that's why you will NOT EVER see a napkin (or dish towel or place mat) in one of her pics. Take a look at some of her photos.

Next, Chef Cathy Garossino led a speed-session in knife skills, covering more ground in an hour than I would have thought humanly possible. I think everyone in the room learned at least one thing they hadn't known before.

Time to hit the beach? Nooooo. Next up was PCN Chef Theo Petron, who animatedly told us about his journey from a career in advertising to his latest venture, marketing himself as a celebrity chef. Keep your eyes open for Theo; he's coming soon to a network near you! He can currently be seen on "Cook What You Catch," a sports/cooking show that airs on the Fishing Network and various other markets, as well as here.

Finally, the wonderful Denise Vivaldo returned for a late-afternoon workshop called "Large Scale Catering and Wedding Workshop." As always, Denise entertained and informed us as she spoke about achieving success in this segment of the industry.

With our daily agenda over, the chefs were ready to kick back... but the bus was leaving in 40 minutes for our restaurant reservations in Charleston. TO BE CONTINUED!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Charleston Report - Day 1

I've got no shortage of material this week. I'm in gorgeous Charleston, SC, at the Personal Chefs' Network 2008 Symposium. I arrived on Tuesday evening, and after sharing a late-night meal with fellow chefs from across the US and Canada, we hit the ground running today with a fantastic presentation by Denise Vivaldo of Food Fanatics. Denise is not only an incredibly talented chef, author, food stylist and teacher, she is also a RIOT. I was sitting next to the videographer, who had to step away from the camera numerous times because he was laughing so hard at Denise's material, much of which includes some inside (very inside) stories about the famous people she's worked with over the years.

In the photo (taken with my BlackBerry; I forgot the camera.... grrr), Denise (in the blue apron) is preparing a "roast" chicken for it's close-up, showing us some of the secrets of food styling and photography. Chef Karla Billdt of Arizona is assisting. And who's that looking in from the doorway? Oh, it's Anne Willan, founder of the famous French cooking school, LaVarenne. She's in town to talk to us tomorrow, though she joined us today for an impromptu discussion of food magazine covers as well as gas station food in America vs. France. You had to be there!

Tonight we're having a clam bake poolside and receiving our Goodie Bags, which have detailed agendas for the next two days and some surprises. I'll report back again soon.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Homestyle Take-Out

I ended up making pizza on Friday night and General Tso's Chicken on Saturday. Why not just order out, you ask? I'll tell you why. It was healthy, easy, inexpensive, and guess what? They liked it! They really liked it!

DD had asked if we could go out to dinner on Friday. But in the interest of saving money (and because I knew everyone was kind of tired), I said, "Want to make pizza at home instead?" She was interested, so we made a very quick Whole Wheat Pizza Dough in the food processor (no kneading!) and we were halfway there. While she watched TV, I cooked some bacon (oven method... it's the BEST!) and emptied out the fridge in search of toppings. Wow. We had pizza sauce, barbecue sauce, lots of cheeses, cooked sliced chicken, roasted red peppers and turkey 'roni. I was too tired to caramelize some onions; maybe next time. After the dough rose, I divided it in half. One pizza for DD and I to split, another for the hubby (Teenage Son was not home).

Topping and baking was a snap, and we enjoyed really great pizza before 7 pm. DD pointed out it took 2 hours from start to finish, but an hour and 20 minutes was rising time, so I don't think that counts. As a testimonial to its' goodness, hubby ate the remaining slices for breakfast the next day. Mmmm.

Last night, I tried a recipe from this month's Everyday Food: "Lighter General Tso's Chicken." I modified the vegetables a bit to please the crowd. DD was my sous chef again, helping to stir up the chicken coating (cornstarch and egg whites) as well as the sauce, getting out ingredients, measuring and keeping me entertained with an endless stream of chatter.

Hubby was out, so it was just me and the kids eating. The verdict: Two of us liked the dinner; the third loved it. She's the one who likes bland food. I thought it was just OK. Next time, I will add something either salty, spicy or sweet to up the flavor a bit. But that won't stop me from eating the leftovers for lunch. Mmmm.

Editing on 2/20/09 to add, this was DELICOUS when I made it again last night. I really loved it this time, and so did all the kids who were here for dinner. YUM.

Lighter General Tso's Chicken
adapted from Everyday Food, Oct. 2008

1/4 cup cornstarch, divided
1 cup snow peas or sugar snap peas, washed, ends and strings removed
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
4 cloves garlic, sliced thin
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 large egg whites
salt and pepper
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1 inch pieces (or chicken tenderloins, cut into 1" pieces)
2 tablespoons canola oil

In a large bowl, stir together 1 T. cornstarch and 1/2 cup cold water until smooth. Add snow peas, carrot, garlic, ginger, sugar, soy sauce and red pepper flakes. Toss to combine and set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together egg whites and remaining 3 T. cornstarch. Add 1/4 t. salt and 1/4 t. pepper. Add sliced chicken; toss to coat.

Heat 1 T. oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Lift half of the chicken from the egg white mixture, shaking off excess. Add to skillet. Cook, turning occasionally, until golden, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with remaining oil and chicken, and set all chicken aside (reserve skillet).

Add snow pea mixture to skillet. Cover and cook until vegetables are tender and sauce has thickened, about 3 minutes. Add chicken and any juices back into skillet. Toss to coat and heat through. Serve over rice. Serves 4.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

If You Show a Chef a Menu

My title is a takeoff on the children's book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, in case you were wondering. In the book, once you give a mouse a cookie, he'll ask for some milk to go with it. Then he'll want this, that and the other thing until it comes around again to giving the mouse a cookie again.

In my story, if you show a chef a menu, she'll want to cook something from it. And if she cooks something, she'll want to take a picture of it. And if it's really great, she'll want to blog about it. And before you know it, she'll be thinking about the next menu and the next thing she can cook.

It started this morning, when I ran into a good friend at the local music store. Her children were just finishing their lessons, and I had run in to get a flute book for my daughter.

I wished her a happy birthday (it was yesterday), and she told me her family had enjoyed a great dinner out at a local restaurant the evening before. She proceeded to pull the menu from her handbag and point to the entree she had ordered. (All of my very good friends carry menus in their handbags. ;) ) Actually, the way she put it was, "I want you to make this for me next time we get together." It was a delicious-sounding dish of shrimp, scallops, spinach, garlic, white wine, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and mushrooms on pasta.

As I left the music store, though it was only 11 am, all I could think about was that dish. It sounded sooo good.

Fate intervened when my son (the picky eater) decided to spend the afternoon and evening at his friends' house, leaving me all alone for dinner. (My daughter's at a sleepover birthday party, and my husband is at the race track.) YES! I could make the dish I'd been thinking about all day.

I didn't have shrimp, artichoke hearts or mushrooms, but the result was really scrumptious. Feel free to double, triple or quadruple the quantities, depending on how many people you're serving.

Sauteed Scallops with Spinach and Sun-Dried Tomatoes over Fettucine
Serves 1

handful of dry fettucine
4-5 scallops, rinsed and patted dry
1 1/2 T. EVOO, divided
salt and pepper
white wine
chicken stock or pasta water
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 package baby spinach
2 T. chopped sun-dried tomatoes

Put a pot of water on to boil. When boiling, add fettucine and cook until al dente.

While pasta is cooking, heat 1 T. EVOO in non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add scallops, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and let cook 3 minutes. If they're cooking too fast, turn the heat down a bit. Flip and cook 3 more minutes, or until done. Remove scallops from pan.

Pour a splash of vermouth or white wine in the pan and deglaze the pan, scraping up all the bits. When it's thickened a bit, add a splash of chicken stock or pasta water. Pour the sauce into a small bowl and set aside.

Add remaining 1/2 T. EVOO and saute garlic for about 30 seconds. Add spinach and stir until wilted. Add sun-dried tomatoes. By now your pasta should be done. Drain the pasta. Add the pasta and the sauce to the pan and mix it all together until it's nice and hot. If you're a hedonist, add a pat of butter.

Pour the pasta, vegetables and sauce into a serving bowl. Top with the scallops. Enjoy.

Blogging - Who Has Time??

Geez, when I started this blog, I imagined myself sharing witty, interesting things with my handful of readers every couple of days or so. In reality, it's every couple of weeks or so, if we're lucky.

Why, I wonder, are some people so darn good at blogging, while others (me) are not so good? I think it's because the good bloggers:

* don't have jobs
* don't have children
* don't need as much sleep as I do
* abuse caffeine

Does that sound reasonable? Hmmm. Probably not. But I have to believe it. For now.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

One Potato, Two Potato

Tonight I held an informal Baked Potato Soup taste off. I'm trying to create the perfect recipe for this delicious fall/winter soup. My ideal soup would be creamy but not too thick; have lots of flavor and tender potatoes; and not be a caloric nightmare.

The contenders consisted of two soups: one called "California Dreaming's Baked Potato Soup," which I found on the Cooking Light bulletin board and seemed to be a big favorite with home cooks; the other "Makeover Baked Potato Soup," from Healthy Cooking magazine. I made a few modifications to each recipe, based on my family's tastes.

Appearance wise, we all thought "California Dreaming" looked the most appetizing. It's the soup on the left, in the yellow bowl. It was snowy white, thick and creamy with chunks of baked potatoes throughout. "Makover Soup" was beige with many flecks of color from the parsley, bacon and spices throughout. I topped each soup with cooked bacon bits, chopped chives and shredded cheddar cheese.

All of my tasters asked for more bacon on their soup (that's to be expected, since my tasters were my kids and husband). In a surprise upset, "Makeover Baked Potato Soup" was the favorite of 3 of the 4 tasters, who cited its excellent flavor and consistency; only one taster chose "California Dreaming" as her favorite. She liked the thickness of the soup as well as the mild flavor.

Without further ado, the winning recipe, adapted from Healthy Cooking:

Makeover Baked Potato Soup
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Yield: 8 servings (2 quarts)

3 medium potatoes
8 bacon strips, diced (5 for soup; 3 for garnish)
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 cup flour, divided
6 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 T. fresh chopped basil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
2 cups milk
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, plus more for garnish
Additional parsley, chives, cheese, and bacon for garnish

Scrub and pierce potatoes; place on a microwave-safe plate and microwave uncovered on high for 8 - 12 minutes, or until tender, turning once. Remove and let cool while you begin the recipe.

In a heavy dutch oven or very large nonstick skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon to paper towels to drain. Save about 2 T. bacon grease in the pan.

Saute the onion in the bacon grease until tender. Stir in 1/4 cup flour; cook and stir for 5 - 7 minutes, or until golden brown. Add the parsley, basil, salt, pepper and hot pepper sauce. Bring to a boil Cook and stir for 2 minutes, or until thickened.

In a small bowl, whisk the remaining flour with the milk until smooth; add to the pan. Bring to a boil. Cook and stir for 2 minutes or until slightly thickened.

Peel and cube the baked potatoes; add to the soup. Add 5 slices of the cooked crumbled bacon (a bit more than half). Cook and stir until heated through. Add cheese and stir until just melted. Garnish with additional parsley, chives, cheese and bacon if desired.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

I (heart) Autumn

I've always loved autumn. When I was a child, September meant new school clothes, school supplies and cooler weather. I still revel in the crisp, cool mornings; sunny, warm days and comfortable evenings. I didn't grow up in New England, but it didn't take any time for me to fall in love with the beautiful fall landscapes and variety of apples and other produce grown locally this time of year. I'm even excited about the orange and gold foil-wrapped Hershey's Kisses I saw in the store yesterday. Fall has arrived!

These days, I also share in my childrens' excitement as they get ready for a new school year. I feel energized and hopeful; full of great expectations and ready for new challenges. In a few weeks, I may feel overwhelmed with carpooling, schedule-juggling and homework angst, but for now, I'm ready for autumn. Bring it on!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Purgatory Chasm

I took my daughter to Purgatory Chasm in Sutton, MA, yesterday. What a cool place! It's a natural rock formation believed to have been formed about 14,000 years ago. I discovered it one afternoon this spring, and I was determined to take my family there to explore.

Yesterday was the perfect day to go: it was sunny and warm, and we didn't have anything on the calendar. However, my husband is nursing a twisted ankle so he bowed out (wise choice). And it goes without saying that TS (teenage son) wanted nothing to do with it. So that's how it ended up being just my darling daughter (DD) and I, making our way slowly down into the Chasm. I'm here to tell you, it was extremely rocky and treacherous. It was slow going. We got muddy. We got scraped up. We slipped and fell. DD kept pressing on, pausing to look back to make sure old Mom was coming.

Apparently, not all the visitors to the Chasm find it as challenging as I did. This is based on my observation of several preschool-age children merrily making their way though; some teenagers leaping over the rocks with bare feet; and a dapper elderly gentleman and his lady friend (she dressed in white pants and sandals), who we spotted entering as we heaved our sweaty bodies over the final rock ledge and made our way back to the car. I knew DD was truly beat when she turned down my offer to stop at the Shoppes at Blackstone Valley for a little post-Chasm shopping or an ice cream cone.

I highly recommend this very interesting landmark to any brave soul with a snug-fitting pair of hiking boots and some band-aids in the glove box. Jolly good fun!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Brining Chicken... Vive la difference!

I was going to grill some chicken breasts last night, and slap some homemade BBQ sauce on during the last minute of grilling in a weak effort to get the kids to eat the chicken. Grilling "naked" (not marinated) chicken breasts seemed way to ho-hum, so I pulled out Steve Raichlen's "How To Grill" for some inspiration.

Inspiration came on page 236, with a luscious-looking grilled chicken breast an instructions on brining the breasts to make them moist during their quick visit to the hot grill. Great news: they only have to sit in the brine for 2 hours; longer is not better, according the Steve. Bottom line: these were some of the best chicken breasts we've had, and everyone gave the dinner a thumbs-up. Here are the easy instructions, courtesy of Steve R.:

Grilled Brined Chicken Breasts

2 large whole boneless, skinless, chicken breasts (or 4 halves)
1/4 cup coarse salt
1/4 cup light or dark brown sugar
20 whole black peppercorns
1 red chile pepper, thinly sliced (I didn't have this on hand)
2 bay leaves
1 cup hot water, plus 3 cups cold water
1 lemon, thinly sliced
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed with the side of your knife

If using whole breasts, cut each in half. Trim any sinews or excess fat off the breasts and discard. Rinse the breasts under cold running water, then drain and pat dry with paper towels and arrange in a deep 9x13 nonreactive baking dish. (I lightly pounded the fatter part of the breast so they would be an even thickness.)

Make the brine by placing the salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, chile pepper and bay leaves in a large nonreactive bowl and add hot water. Whisk until salt and sugar are dissolved. Stir in the cold water and let cool to room temperature. Pour the brine over the breasts and stir in lemon slices, onion and garlic. cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.


Then, I rinsed the breasts off and grilled them on a lightly oiled grill racks over medium high heat for about 4 minutes per side, brushing with barbecue sauce during the last minute or two of grilling.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Rain, rain go away

I decided earlier in the week to take Wednesday off; I'd been working a lot, and I really felt like I needed a break. I was going to the beach! I mentioned this to my friend and she said, "No, you're not." Huh? "It's supposed to rain all day. You could go to a tanning parlor, though," she said, giving my pale skin the once-over.

I think it's been raining for at least 40 days and 40 nights around here. This morning, the local meteorologist said the cause of all the rain is the Jet Stream. Whatever. All I know is, I WANT TO GO TO THE BEACH! My husband says he's had it with me moaning about wanting to go to the beach. (I was doing it again at the dinner table last night.) "Go tomorrow," he said. "It's the last day you'll have to yourself all summer."

But, guess what? It's raining again.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Houver-douver conundrum

So, I'm going to a cocktail party tonight. Yippee! Time to make an awesome houver-douver (hors d'oeuvre for those of you who insist on pronouncing it correctly).

My first thought, sometime during the week, was "find a simple,
popular recipe that is sure to please the masses AND not take me all day to prepare."

So I found one, highly recommended (by the person who posted it), on the Cooking Light bulletin board. It was "Skewered Tortellini with Creamy Parmesan Dip" or something like that. I shelled out for handmade tortellini, lemons and creme fraiche at Whole Foods, and I was on my way.

Well, as usual, I had doubts. For one thing, this isn't the kind of food I care for. It's carb-heavy, fatty and cheesy -- three strikes in my book. But I pressed on, and made the dip this morning, thinking, if it isn't good, I still have time for Plan B. Well, it wasn't good. It was a gritty, sour blech-fest. Time for Plan B. I'm pretty much known for Plan B.

My heart (and stomach) were saying, "fresh, light, crunchy," when I stumbled upon a great-looking Vietnamese Spring Roll with Spicy Dipping Sauce (OK, that's not the real name, but that's what I'm calling it because I can't quite remember the real name). Made a run to Stop and Shop, found all necessary ingredients, and came home to create my masterpiece.

It's just what I wanted. It looks great and tastes even better. Now to find an equally fabulous outfit, and go make a name for myself on the local cocktail party circuit. I have arrived!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Family Dinner - My favorite time of day!

I can't express how much I enjoy the family dinner time.

The typical scene is that I plan the dinner, based on what I know the family enjoys with some surprises (new recipes I'm dying to try) mixed in.

Every day without fail, one of the family members will ask, "What's for dinner." I have an index card with the week's meals clipped to the family calendar, but I guess no one notices it. Then they ask, "What time are we eating?" Well, we ALWAYS eat between 6:15 and 6:45 pm, but I guess they need it nailed down, just so they aren't in the middle of a Guitar Hero riff (TS); the latest Nick or Disney show (DD); or a nap (Hubby).

Then, in a giant leap of faith, I assume the kids will be present at dinnertime and will remember to do their jobs.
My job = planning, shopping, cooking, cleaning as I go and, during the school year, assisting with homework, which seems to reach a crisis point just as I need to pay close attention to the saute pan
Kids' job = washing their hands, setting the table and pouring drinks before the meal fossilizes

I just realized I started this post about how I enjoy dinnertime, AND I TRULY DO.

So I'll get to the good part. We all sit down, everyone has a smile on their face, and the talk just starts. We update each other on our days, which usually leads to auxilliary conversations about random topics, and frequently ends with TS doing some sort of crazy impersonation or silly voice that has us all cracking up. It's a good thing I know the Heimlich Maneuver, because one of these days, we're going to need it.

We frequently remember and talk about the times when the kids were little, and they crack up at the stories. One our favorite dinnertime memories from that era was when we'd let DD let out of her highchair, she'd use the edge of the table to propel herself around to her brother's plate (picky eater, remember?). He'd leave a lot of food on his plate, and she knew it. So we'd just see a little arm reaching up and grabbing whatever was left on his plate.

Well, it's time to make tonight's meal. I know it will be a good one.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Weekend Recap

Does Friday count as the weekend? I have to start there. I was up early watching the news when I saw that people were already lining up at the Apple store for the new iPhone, scheduled to be released at 8 am.

TS had been saving up, and I had promised him I'd take him to the store early in the morning. I was thinking maybe 7 am. But now I was worried, as I couldn't wait in line all day; I had to get back to take DD to camp by 9 am.

[This would be the time to tell you that my husband is away racing at NHMS this weekend, hence me running around like a chicken with her head cut off. Well, I do that when he's here, too. It's just my standard mode.]

I woke TS, and we were at the mall by 6:20. The line at the Apple store was maybe 35 deep. TS was just starting to count when a very kind security guard tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Come with me. They're also being sold at the AT&T store upstairs, and no one is in line there." Long story short, he was 6th in line; he got the phone; and I got DD to camp on time.

Our friends from out of town stopped in on Friday for dinner. We loved seeing them and catching up. DD and her old friend reconnected instantly. TS went out to the movies with a friend. We all went to bed by 10 pm.

Saturday was a lazy day with errands and our first crack at getting TS packed up for sleepaway camp. It wasn't pretty. In fact, I'll go take a picture of how we left things. Six days and counting until he leaves. I don't know how the packing and labeling will get done, but it will. It was definitely time for a glass of wine and dinner. It had cooled off enough so the kids and I could eat dinner on the deck and then play in the backyard for a while. I also took the opportunity to clean off the grill racks. Yup, that was my Saturday night.

Meanwhile, in NH, my husband had won his race!!! I asked the kids what we should do for Dad to congratulate him. "Bacon," they replied, so bacon it will be, one morning after he returns.

This morning, I was up early again (thank you, loud cat) so I went for a run before dropping DD off for her camp field trip. She was going to the Big Apple Circus in Rhode Island, and she was very excited. The rest of the morning and afternoon, I read the Globe, ran an errand, worked on my website, cooked a few new things, and hung out with TS.

GOOD NEWS FLASH: TS just paid me the $208 he owed me for the iPhone.

BAD NEWS FLASH: He has forbidden me from taking a picture of "his stuff," so there will be no picture of the disaster that is the camp packing zone.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

What's For Dinner, Part 2

What did I tell you? Sure enough, my well-laid plans for the week have been blown to smithereens. In fact, I just read a quote that I find quite appropriate: "If you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans." (or have him take a look at your wacky sideways kebab picture)

Things went swimmingly on Sunday and Monday. Tuesday afternoon, my Darling Daughter (DD) developed some "tummy trouble" and has been subsisting on ginger ale and soda crackers ever since. Dinner went on sort of as-scheduled Tuesday, just without DD and Teenage Son (TS), who had fled to a friend's house.

Today I remembered that we're having some old friends and their kids over for dinner on Friday, which made me rethink my seafood and Asian-vegetable themed meal.

Tonight, DD is feeling better but still not ready for food. TS is HUNGRY, so I ran out to my butcher and got some steak and turkey tips to grill. No sooner did I light the grill then a torrential downpour ensued. "Mom, the grill is smoking. A lot. You better come see," DD cried from her comfy position on the couch. "It looks like a mad scientist experiment," TS commented.

The storm passed, and I grilled in a light drizzle. One of the cats escaped as I came back in the house, but he's the slow one, so I was able to grab him before he wandered off. We thoroughly enjoyed the dinner, which was Grilled Steak Kebabs, Grilled Turkey Tips (I'm not much of a red meat eater) and Orzo with Spinach. TS had plain steak and some orange wedges. DD didn't eat. What will tomorrow bring? I'd better not plan anything just yet.

Grilled Steak Kebabs with Orange and Hoisin Glaze
adapted from Bon Appetit

1/2 cup frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
2 T. chili powder
1 1/2 T. olive oil
2 t. grated orange peel
1 1/2 lb. sirloin steaks, about 1 1/4" thick, cut into 20 cubes
salt and pepper
3 1/3"-thick orange slices
2 red bell peppers, each pepper cut into about 12 cubes

Heat grill to medium-high heat. Whisk juice concentrate, hoisin, chili powder, oil and orange peel in a medium bowl.
Place beef in a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Add 1/4 cup of the sauce and toss well. Let stand 5 minutes. Cut each orange slice into 6 wedges. Alternate 5 beef cubes, 4 orange wedges and 4 pieces of red pepper on each of 4 metal skewers.
Grill kebabs to desired doneness, brushing with a bit more sauce and turning occasionally, about 10 min. for medium-rare.
Serve kebabs with remaining sauce. Serves 4.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Yes, that's Chef Goofy

If you're wondering about my picture, it's me and Chef Goofy striking a pose during my family's recent trip to California.

We took an Adventures by Disney ( vacation called, "Backstage Magic," which included a few days in Hollywood as well as a couple of days at Disneyland. It was a wonderful trip that I highly recommend to folks of all ages. We were part of a small tour group and got many once-in-a-lifetime behind-the-scenes tours of The El Capitain theater in Hollywood, the Jimmy Kimmel Live studio, Jim Hensen's Creature Workshop, the Disney Imagineering Studios, Walt Disney's apartment in Disneyland, a couple of rides and much more. In fact, we were sworn to secrecy about some of the cool things we got to do and see. I'm pretty sure I didn't blow it with the above list.

We were treated like stars, with top-notch accomodations, private meals, more Fast Pass tickets than we could use, immediate access to rides, preferred seating for shows, private tours, etc.

For a very complete commentary on each day of the trip, check out one of our fellow traveler's blog at

Sunday, July 6, 2008

What's For Dinner?

How many times a week do you hear that one? I have to say "Seven." We rarely eat out and my family counts on me to make dinner every night, which I actually enjoy, look forward to, and consider one of the high points of my day.

I try to make a weekly menu and stick to it; however, many things may crop up that will affect the weekly menu. These things usually include at least one of the following:

- the kids being invited to eat at someone else's house
- the kids having many friends over who want to eat at our house
- I see a new recipe and decide I need to make it immediately
- husband tells me he had a big lunch and doesn't want dinner
- we have leftovers of multiple meals and I feel it would be wasteful to make something new

I also have a family who is, let's say, selective. With the exception of my Darling Daughter, the other members of the family have a VERY LONG list of foods they will not eat. But let's not go there now.

So, when I plan a weekly menu, I try to include tried-and-true dishes that I know the pickier eaters will enjoy as well as some new dishes to try, knowing at least my daughter and I will appreciate them.

Here's this week's menu:

Tonight: Grilled Salmon (I will also grill hot dogs for the picky eaters); Herbed Fresh Peas and Corn; Wild Rice

Monday: Hamburgers/Veggie Burgers; Fries; Green Salad; Fresh Fruit

Tuesday: Barbecue Chicken and Black Bean Burritos; Rice; Chopped Salad (cheese quesadillas for the picky eaters)

Wednesday: Daughter out; Son??? Will play it by ear.

Thursday: Mediterranean Chicken with Couscous; Arugula Salad

Friday: Teriyaki Shrimp and Scallops; Asian Bean Salad (picky eaters will NOT like this menu and will probably call for pizza. This rebellion will be led by my husband. I will have LOTS of leftovers for the weekend.)

I'm a blogger!

If my just-turned-11-year-old can do it, so can I!

Let me back up. This morning, at 7 am, my Darling Daughter ran into my bedroom to announce:

1. She had a blog!! and;
2. Her brother was missing!!

Well, to be fair, she told me last night that she had just created a blog. I was reading in bed and it was time for her to go to bed, so I said I'd take a look in the morning. Then I fell asleep. Apparently, I need much more sleep than an 11-year-old. And less than a 13-year-old. More on that later.

So, after her reminder this morning, as well as the news about her brother, I popped out of my very comfy bed and ran downstairs. There, I found my son asleep on the couch, which calmed me down a bit. Then she turned on her laptop and showed me her blog, saying "It's easy, you should do it, too."

My response: "This is going to have to wait until I have a cup of coffee."

So here we are.

As for her brother, he was coming off two sleepovers in a row and had fallen asleep IN HIS BED at about 5 pm on Saturday. I could have sworn I checked on him during the night, but I guess I dreamed that. Apparently, he woke up at some point, went downstairs, ate something involving a lot of crumbs, and fell asleep on the couch, where he remained until about 11 this morning, when I woke him up.