One Day I Will Have My Act Together

14 10 2009

If you have been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that I have been out of work since January, although between freelancing and blogging, I have never been so busy. Thankfully, I know myself well enough to know that this working-at-home thing is just not for me, especially when I have an eager 4 year old constantly clamboring for attention and it usually has something to do with ballet, artwork, or Barbie.

I'm distracting? Nahhhhh!

I'm distracting? Nahhhhh!

Don’t get me wrong. I love my daughter, but it’s also hard to work when you are constantly under siege and basically not allowed to finish a thought, let alone an article. Yeah, I know, it’s called being a mommy.

Frustrated, though I may be, I get the occasional moment of reflection and I think I may well be both ADD and OCD at the same time. Really, it’s the only explanation I can muster for the piles of projects that are mounting around me. One day, I will be a grown-up and actually finish what I start. Promise!

Speaking of Unfinished Business…

Last week, I visited the Dublin Village Tavern with my Tastecasting peeps. All in all, it was a fantastic night, despite my being uncomfortably full afterward (damn their hospitality!). Read the official review here. Tonight, we’re visiting the Top Steakhouse and I swear I will actually write a review in this space. It could even happen tonight – I’m kinda madcap like that.

Bangers and Mash at the DVT

Bangers and Mash at the DVT

Just to clarify – Tastecasters are not food critics. Our job is to build awareness, announce grand openings, introduce new menu items, distribute special offers, and encourage people to visit various establishments. We are treated to a free meal in exchange for this effort.

Wild About Harry

I have had a virtual love affair with Harry Connick Jr. since I saw “When Harry Met Sally” for the first time. I fell in love with my college boyfriend to that soundtrack and have followed Harry ever since. I have always loved his dreamy vocal style, loved him as an actor – especially for his role on “Will and Grace” – and loved him even more for his efforts to restore his beloved New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Now, my man has released “Your Songs,” which is a collection of modern classics with Harry’s special twist. Truly, this album is sheer magic.

Harry

Want to Get Your Hands on a Copy? Here’s How.

Tell me your love story. I want to know how you and your honey first met and knew it was for real. Post your story in the comments and I’ll randomly select the lucky recipient of Harry’s latest album Friday night. Winner will be informed via email.

Good luck!

(Note: Thanks to One2One Network for providing me with two copies of the disc – one to review and one to give away)

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Into the Sauce

6 09 2009

photo(5)

I must be mentally preparing for fall’s arrival because I keep dreaming up the comfort foods I’d like to make – stews, breads, and luscious pasta dishes. I’m in the process of unearthing the recipes I’ve been meaning to try, like cheese tortellini with pumpkin sauce, gnocchi,  and buffalo chicken chili.

So far, I’ve never attempted to make marinara sauce – no reason really, other than pure laziness. My kitchen is overrun with tomatoes, so I decided that today was just as good of a day as any to give it a shot, and off to the computer I went in search of the perfect recipe.

After reading marinara sauce recipes until I basically went cross-eyed, it occurred to me that most of the recipes are pretty much the same, given a few variations on seasoning, so I went with the tried and true source – Food Network – and selected the recipe: Tyler Florence’s marinara sauce. The guy can’t be wrong – he’s a celebrity chef and restauranteur, so how bad could his recipe be? I’m happy to say that Tyler did not let me down, but I needed to tweak his recipe a bit – there weren’t enough flavors for me, so I had to embellish the seasonings in order to get t just right, but the end result was much better that I had originally anticipated.

Ingredients
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon oregano, dried
1 teaspoons basil, dried
1 whole bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Salt  and pepper, to taste

Directions
Over medium heat, heat oil in a large pot until hot. Add onion and garlic, saute for 3 to 5 minutes until the onions begin to appear translucent. Add the tomatoes, stir to mingle the flavors. Add in the herbs and bay leaf. Sprinkle in sugar, salt and pepper. Lower the heat and continue to simmer for 30 minutes, uncovered. Stir occasionally.

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I’m very happy to say that everyone loved the sauce, even Hubs, who I was sure would make some comment about the seasonings being off. The Big Kid was completely stuffed and, for once, couldn’t eat another bite, which is really saying something.

iamblissfullydomestic3

On a completely different note, I have been writing for Blissfully Domestic for the past couple of years, mostly for the Blissful Home channel. This weekend, the site is going through a relaunch, so please be sure to check it out. Married, single, neat freaks, Jesus freaks, not mothers, want-to-be-mothers, and don’t-want-to-be-mothers, we are all blissfully domestic.





What do I do With All of These %$#@! Veggies?

11 08 2009

Sautee

If your garden is anything like mine, I’m overwhelmed with produce. Right now, I have a ton of squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, and green beans in a salad bowl on my counter, which means that it’s time to get creative.

Pasta is a great way to utilize veggies and pretty much everyone loves it (plus, adding cheese to the dish may be a way to get the kids to finally eat their veggies without complaining).

In a large skillet, warm 2T of EVOO (roughly twice around the pan if your bottle has a topper) and garlic (do this to taste, but I usually start with a clove or two, depending on the size of the cloves). Sautee veggies of choice – broccoli, zucchini, peppers, cauliflower, squash, etc. – until fork tender. Add diced tomatoes and capers (again, to taste) and toss in a couple of bay leaves. Let simmer for about 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Add veggies to pasta – I like to use whole wheat penne. Top with grated parmesan or mozzerella and enjoy!

Pasta

On a totally unrelated note, for those who enjoy reading my restaurant reviews, go to the TasteCasting site to check out my review of Sugar Inc. Cupcake and Tea Salon in Old Dublin.





V-Day Countdown

11 02 2009

valentine

In case you’re living under a rock, Saturday is Valentine’s Day, which means that the preparations are underway at The Casa. I have already picked up dinner supplies – pizza and an early bedtime for the kids; fillets, twice-baked potatoes, steamed asparagus, and lava cake for us – but what I’m struggling with is a gift. I’m easy to shop for – shiny things and geeky gadgets make my little heart go pitter-pat – but I’m having a hard time figuring out what to get the Hubs. I did a little too well at picking out gifts for him at Christmas, so there’s nothing in particular that he wants or really needs. Hmmm… I may have to tkae this one to my Girls and see what they come up with.

Meanwhile, we’re bracing for another storm. We’re already under a tornado watch, so I’m really hoping that we don’t have to revisit this scenario anytime soon. And if I see the following, I’m not coming out of my basement anytime soon!





Welcome to Naked Barbieland!

24 01 2009

cs-barbie

I’vve discovered an odd phenomenon in my house, and maybe those of you who are the parents of girls can corroborate. It seems as though any Barbie doll who crosses our threshold is destined to be nude. It doesn’t matter what costume she is wearing, how beautiful my daughter swears the doll is, and how badly she wants it, that Barbie will soon be nude. What is that about? I’ve tried begging with her (“please, honey, leave her dress on”), threatening (“if that dress comes off, so help me, that doll is going to someone who will appreciate her”), and even negotiating (“if you leave the dress on, I’ll buy Barbie her very own Dream ‘Vette”). It makes no difference. Perhaps I should consider upping the ante?

Speaking of The Baby, I had an afternoon most parents can only dream of…NOT! Hubs has been very sick with the flu this weekend, so I offered to take her with me to the grocery store so he could enjoy a little peace (Mind you, the Big Kid was up to her elbows in chores I gave her earlier as a punishment for an early morning infraction. Grrrr!). So off The Baby and I went to the grocery store. She’s been home with an ear infection since Thursday, so she was very happy to finally be out of the house. Once we got to the store, she changed modes from quiet and bored to chatty and loud. We were going down the cereal aisle when she saw a guy with a kind face, long hair, and a beard, and shouted, “HI JESUS!” At that point, I prayed that the floor would open up and swallow me. Luckily, the guy had a good sense of humor and laughed it off. The rest of the trip was uneventful, at least until it was time to check out. She had a meltdown over the candy display (in her defense, it was a huge barrel-like-container that was on her level and full of chocolate), then she was mad that she didn’t get a sticker and that Mean Mommy wasn’t going to reward her bad behavior by hunting down an unwitting cashier and get him/her to give this screaming child a sticker. Then, she really “showed” me by refusing to hold my hand in the parking lot, screaming that she didn’t want to go home, and then standing her ground in the middle of the parking lot. I hauled her howling self to the car, much to the shocked expressions of my fellow shoppers, cringing at the knowledge that at least one of them probably assumed I was some derranged kidnapper. And she wonders why she got a looooong timeout once we got home.

Seriously, between demanding 3 year olds and a sick Hubby, I’m pretty much done for the weekend! And don’t even ask about the Big Kid! That’s a whole entry in and of itself!

Oh…and in case it ever comes up in conversation, bad, bad things come up when you Google the term “naked barbie.” Just a little tip from me to you!





Ho-Ho-Hell Yeah!

26 12 2008

This may sound very un-mommylike of me, but I’m very glad that Christmas is over. No more frenzied baking, shopping, and moments of forced gaiety. And the minute I wake up on New Year’s Day, the Christmas crap is coming down! Monday, my dog managed to surprise me by moving the Christmas tree three times in the span of two hours. Not bad for a dog whose intellectual capacity generally rivals that of a bowling ball, eh? Despite my je-ne-sais-whatever (you do know that making up words is a slight obsession of mine, right?), The Baby had a great Christmas: lots of presents and great food, if I must say so myself. For those keeping track at home, dinner consisted of sweet pepper stew, sausage stuffed pork loin, garlic mashed potatoes, salad, crusty bread, and pecan pie.

Meanwhile, the job search resumes, now that the holiday machine is getting ready to grind to a screeching halt. Wednesday is my last day at work and it’s going to be a tough day. I never wanted to leave and maybe this would be easier to accept if I had done something wrong However, it is what it is (a layoff) and I don’t have time to sit and feel sorry for myself.

On a totally random note, what is the deal with WP? All of a sudden, I can’t insert photos into my posts. Why???





Escape Mechanism or Overcompensation? You Decide.

29 11 2008

Thanksgiving weekend is now halfway behind us and, after having survived being housebound with two kids, I can offer a few survival tips:

  • Bribery will get you everywhere. Last weekend, we initiated a non-annoyance clause and forced the girls to work together to get something they wanted.
  • Thank God for the library and its video collection.
  • Thank God for tryptophan. Who knew the Baby would love turkey and gravy so much?
  • Finding time for yourself is a good thing. Yesterday, I carved out some time for a run, which helped me get to my “happy place” and stop focusing so much on the noise and craziness at home.

My other favorite distraction is baking and, thankfully, this is the weekend for yet another Daring Bakers’ Challenge – Carmamel Cake with Carmelized Butter Frosting by Shauna Fish Lydon of Eggbeater, courtesy of Dolores at Culinary Curiosity, with help from Alex of Blondie and the Brownie, Jenny of Foray Into Food, and Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go. Click here to find the original recipe.

cake

CARAMEL CAKE WITH CARAMELIZED BUTTER FROSTING

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Notes from Natalie for those of you baking gluten-free:

So the GF changes to the cake would be:

2 cups of gluten free flour blend (w/xanthan gum) or 2 cups of gf flour blend + 1 1/2 tsp xanthan or guar gum
1/2 – 1 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 350F

Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour and baking powder.

Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}

Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.

Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it.

Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.

CARAMEL SYRUP

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for “stopping” the caramelization process)
In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.

When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.

Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.}

Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.

CARAMELIZED BUTTER FROSTING

12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.

Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner’s sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner’s sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.
To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light

(recipes above courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon)
(Optional) GOLDEN VANILLA BEAN CARAMELS
– makes eighty-one 1-inch caramels –

Ingredients
1 cup golden syrup
2 cups sugar
3/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons pure ground vanilla beans, purchased or ground in a coffee or spice grinders, or 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks, softened

Equipment
A 9-inch square baking pan
Candy thermometer

Procedure

Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with aluminum foil and grease the foil. Combine the golden syrup, sugar, and salt in a heavy 3-quart saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture begins to simmer around the edges. Wash the sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes. (Meanwhile, rinse the spatula or spoon before using it again later.) Uncover the pan and wash down the sides once more. Attach the candy thermometer to the pan, without letting it touch the bottom of the pan, and cook, uncovered (without stirring) until the mixture reaches 305°F. Meanwhile, combine the cream and ground vanilla beans (not the extract) in a small saucepan and heat until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep the cream hot.

When the sugar mixture reaches 305°F, turn off the heat and stir in the butter chunks. Gradually stir in the hot cream; it will bubble up and steam dramatically, so be careful. Turn the burner back on and adjust it so that the mixture boils energetically but not violently. Stir until any thickened syrup at the bottom of the pan is dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, to about 245°F. Then cook, stirring constantly, to 260°f for soft, chewy caramels or 265°F; for firmer chewy caramels.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract, if using it. Pour the caramel into the lined pan. Let set for 4 to 5 hours, or overnight until firm.

Lift the pan liner from the pan and invert the sheet of caramel onto a sheet of parchment paper. Peel off the liner. Cut the caramels with an oiled knife. Wrap each caramel individually in wax paper or cellophane.

Variations

Fleur de Sel Caramels: Extra salt, in the form of fleur de sel or another coarse flaked salt, brings out the flavor of the caramel and offers a little ying to the yang. Add an extra scant 1/4 teaspoon of coarse sea salt to the recipe. Or, to keep the salt crunchy, let the caramel cool and firm. Then sprinkle with two pinches of flaky salt and press it in. Invert, remove the pan liner, sprinkle with more salt. Then cut and wrap the caramels in wax paper or cellophane.

Nutmeg and Vanilla Bean Caramels: Add 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg to the cream before you heat it.

Cardamom Caramels: Omit the vanilla. Add 1/2 teaspoon slightly crushed cardamom seeds (from about 15 cardamom pods) to the cream before heating it. Strain the cream when you add it to the caramel; discard the seeds.

Caramel Sauce: Stop cooking any caramel recipe or variation when it reaches 225°F or, for a sauce that thickens like hot fudge over ice cream, 228°F. Pour it into a sauceboat to serve or into a heatproof jar for storage. The sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for ages and reheated gently in the microwave or a saucepan just until hot and flowing before use. You can stir in rum or brandy to taste. If the sauce is too thick or stiff to serve over ice cream, it can always be thinned with a little water or cream. Or, if you like a sauce that thickens more over ice cream, simmer it for a few minutes longer.

(recipe from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert, Copyright 2007, ISBN: 978-1579652111)

Chef’s notes: this recipe didn’t excite me a whole lot, as I just don’t like too much “sweet” at one time, but this does make a nice treat for those who stop by during the busy holiday season! I thought the recipe was fairly easy to make, but it is pretty labor-intensive, so I would recommend only making this for those who would appreciate all of the work involved (ie: not kids or dessert-scarfing husbands). I doubled the recipe for the cake itself so I could make a double layer cake. BTW, it’s hard to stay out of the syrup because it tastes like liquid toasted marshmallows (ie: crack-tastic).

db2