Friday, February 27, 2009

Can You Stand It?

I think tuna fish is one of those things - and I mean that in the nicest way possible. You either like it or you hate it. And if you like it, there are an infinite number of ways to prepare it. If you hate it... then I guess I just lost you.

In this house, when we make it (let's pretend that's not at least once a week), just about the only constant is that the tuna is always made into one sandwich (usually open-faced with whatever cheese is laying around broiled on top) and one salad.

The rest... well, that's completely 100% up to our refrigerator and cupboard. And to be honest, those two have left quite a bit to be desired this past week or so. Here's where things start to look up, though - chances are if you land squarely in the "I like tuna fish" camp, you probably like it no matter how it's prepared.

This week - our two cans of tuna were prepared with just over a TBSP of mayo, tiny diced carrots and onion, most of one thin-sliced green onion, about 2 TBSP grated Parmesan cheese, 1 1/2 tsp of garlic powder, and salt & pepper. It was admittedly a little dry as I am always trying to use less and less mayo, but thankfully Chris will eat just about anything on a piece of toast and since calling this healthy gives me the right to indulge in dessert (and honestly, I haven't found a preparation of tuna fish that I didn't like), I dig in with no looking back also.

Even with that positive PR, I'm always on the lookout for new preparation ideas... or, if you're in the "no tuna fish, never, not gonna happen" group, what is your 'tuna'?

By the way, the left-over tuna fish was just perfect on these onion-flavored butter crackers - but yeah, not nearly as healthy. Especially given the fact that after the tuna fish ran out, I just ate the sleeve of crackers unadorned. Oh well.

*And darn if I didn't realize how obvious that bag of Ghirardelli bittersweet chips would be in the background. At least I was mid-baking (and not snacking) but so much for a healthy and inexpensive eating post!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Old-Fashioned is "In"

Either the world of blogging has corrupted me (which is saying something since many people have been unsuccessfully trying to accomplish this my whole life) or I officially am the most easily amused person in history. The natural follow-on to that is "what's so funny?" right? That's just it - probably pretty close to nothing! (not a very auspicious start to this post, I'll admit, but stick with me)

I knew before I made this moist and delicious *Coca-Cola Cake that it was a bit old-fashioned... that was part of the charm (and after all, Anthony Bourdain dined on this in cute little Charleston and raved endlessly about it). But I didn't quite expect to get slammed over the forehead with this fact.

Now keep in mind that the recipe I used for this cake was from a recipe-bridal shower 'cookbook' (not sure that aptly describes the little xeroxed pamphlet I'm referring to) and when I started writing this post, I was too lazy to go and find it; besides, isn't that what the internet is for? I was happily overwhelmed with hits in response to my search. It seemed obvious that one particular link would be my answer - the Coca-Cola website.

This is where it all went down (you were wondering weren't you)... my recipe wasn't in Coke's everyday list of recipes - you have to scroll to the Heritage section!!! *yes, I'm serious, this is the punchline... see, I told you, I'm easily amused! Talk about making me feel like a lady standing in her completely dated kitchen (here my head goes immediately to Julia Child's kitchen, yeah, the one we saw this past weekend in a museum - you heard right, I felt archaic enough to be transported to something relegated to a museum).

Enough about me feeling old and decrepit - hopefully you will make this yummy cake and not feel the slightest bit age-d.

*we only ever have diet Coke products so this would more accurately be renamed "Coke Zero Cake" in our house - oh, and I'm on a grocery spending hiatus so as you can see, I used walnuts instead of pecans

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Guilty as Charged

(pardon my rant, and I promise not to make a habit of this - regularly scheduled programming will be back tonight, or at the latest tomorrow morning)

I will admit, maybe I shouldn't have let it, but it's finally gotten the best of me (you know it's 'bad' when I feel like writing about it).

Why is it (and it should be noted that I don't feel this is a result of our economic downturn or the overall tumultuous times we're in the midst of) that people are so quick to take advantage of others and above all, others' money? I find this happens most often with regularly occurring payments, especially cell phone bills, but not always. It also seems to usually involve what they deem as just a 'few bucks'?

To put it lightly, this drives me up the wall - both when it happens to others as well as myself. This morning I made my now regular (only 3 days left!) 20 minute round trip walk up to McDonald's for my free cup of coffee (yes, it's that good). A nice man stood next to me at another register and I happened to over-hear his order - "just a medium cup of coffee, please". However, when his coffee was handed to him, the employee said "that'll be $1.54". He looked both disappointed and slightly stunned and responded "oh, I thought it was free" to which the McDonald's cashier didn't respond (or look up) but ripped up the receipt she was about to hand him and printed out a new receipt, with the complimentary cup of coffee correctly recorded.

This probably doesn't warrant me getting so excited, I realize this. I just continue to be disappointed and have a really hard time understanding why this is tolerated (with the knowledge that sometimes it's simply a mistake - we are all human). The thing is... McDonald's, or at least this cashier, would have gladly taken his payment if he hadn't been aware of the promotion (lucky for the nice customer, I was there and would never have let him pay for it - I'm famous for explaining to random by-standers how they can save more money on a purchase). I've had this happen multiple times on past cell phone bills: seeing a $5-10 charge pop up and calling to inquire - to which the cell phone company nicely removes the charge but had I not noticed... they would have equally nicely taken my extra money.

Nothing said here is to drum up a large group of angry pseudo-food blog readers - I'm pretty well acquainted with the fact that most people don't waste brain cells or stress on this kind of thing. I just happen to be one of the special few (and I do feel special!) who let themselves be bothered by it.

But since misery does love company, I'll leave you with this for fun... have you ever called to appeal a charge on a bill only to have the customer service rep on the line tell you "oh c'mon, it's really not that much money". Don't even get me started.

*just in case I ruined your morning with this, though the risk of that is about this (picture me with my fingers very close together) much... I invite you to join me in finding comfort knowing this adorable little lady awaits us at home, and never tries to take advantage of anyone

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Pinch Me

Not much in my book beats having friends visiting from out of town... both getting to play tourist in my own city plus having built-in people to entertain and cook for - perfection.

The worst part? Having to say good-bye... but at least a fun day and a half of memories are left!

Katie and Scott arrived Friday evening, hailing from the metropolis (or at least it was to us back in the days of living in 'the Dash' - ah-hem, Winston's apparent new name) of Greensboro, NC. We dined (said lightly) on a hearty cold-weather meal of Chicken and Dumplings and a green salad with our favorite homemade red-wine vinegar dressing (that I've been meaning to share with you - remind me to do that sometime!).

Saturday morning, we had a leisurely breakfast and then headed into the city, straight to the newly renovated American History Museum. It's always been one of my favorites and it didn't disappoint. We spent most of our time in the temporary Lincoln exhibit, which was well worthwhile if you ask me.

Once we were feeling fully educated in our great country's history, we headed over to Capitol Hill, the site of one of Scott's favorite restaurants that he introduced us to during the Thompson's prior visit. But it was not time yet for dinner... so as if just to tempt Scott, we veered off into Irish Times next door to take in what was to be a thrilling Maryland-Carolina game.

Turns out that the game was the perfect warm-up to a great meal at the Dubliner. We all enjoyed traditional Irish fare accompanied, of course, by our share of Guinness and "Half and Halfs".

To complete a fully Irish afternoon and evening, Katie and Scott were kind enough to introduce us to the world of Bailey's with Caramel that we all savoured back at the house.

I won't even mention Sunday morning since it was mainly just departure activities and I refuse to talk about that stuff. I am, however, thankful for a fabulous weekend with great friends and that 'the Dash' and 'the 'Boro' aren't that far away.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

One of My Very Own

I finally did it...

Breakfast casseroles seem to be a dime a dozen... there are hundreds of recipes for them out there, and they are all slightly different. Do you want bread in yours, and if so, what kind of bread do you use, if not, do you add pancake/baking mix; is yours vegetarian or do you add meat and if so, sausage or ham... and on and on... and on.

So with all those options at my fingertips, you'd have thought that I could have found something suitable to serve my out-of-town guests this weekend - but I struggled, really struggled. And finally I decided I was going to have to take matters into my own hands.

Sure in the past I've tweaked a recipe here or there - omitting salt or adding my own seasonings. Nothing we all haven't done before. But this morning I am proud to have served, and incidentally loved, my very own creation - based on a number of different casseroles I found all jumbled together. Turns out they all liked each other a whole lot.

Spinach, Sausage, and Cheese Strata
adapted from The Dinsmore House

1 lb ground sausage of your choice
1 (10-oz) package chopped frozen spinach, thawed
1 ½ cups finely chopped onion (1 large)
cooking spray
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
8 cups cubed cheesy rolls (I found mine in the "oops we overbaked" aisle)
2 c shredded Mexican blend cheese
1 c shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano
3 c milk
10 large eggs
2 TBSP Dijon mustard

Brown sausage, breaking it up with a spoon. Add onion and squeeze-dried spinach when sausage is halfway cooked. Add ½ teaspoon of salt, ¼ teaspoon of pepper, nutmeg and cook while stirring for 1 minute.

Spread half of bread cubes in a coated 3-quart baking dish and top evenly with half of the spinach-sausage mixture. Sprinkle with half of both cheeses. Repeat layering (ending with cheese).

Whisk together milk, eggs, mustard and remaining salt and pepper in a large bowl and pour evenly over strata. Push down on the bread to make sure the egg mixture thoroughly soaks it otherwise the top will turn to toast. Cover and chill at least 8 hours.

Let strata stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake strata uncovered in middle rack of oven until puffed and golden brown. Cook through for 45 to 55 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

makes 8 servings

Friday, February 20, 2009

No Regrets

Even though this made me chuckle in sort of an "oh my gosh, what do we do" sort of a way... two things about it have given (and continue to give) me cause for second-guessing my desire to post it:

1) Most importantly - please PUH-lease understand and take this to heart... I AM NOT making a political statement here (nor am I asking for political banter or comments), 0% chance of that - at least in public - though, it's a different story each night at our dinner table. I saw it, thought it was pretty funny (and scary, and ironic) but figured that one way or another, we can all relate to it and maybe even commiserate together over the general state of things, however they are affecting you. *or heck, if it's not affecting you, please let me know and then write a book on how you did it

2) It's the weekend - why publicize such a sour reminder (not that any of us needs it) of everything that's going on in our country and economy right now? Major Debbie-Downer.

But I still did it. At least you know I thought twice before doing so. My sincerest apologies.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


We are a pretty healthy people around here... I think most of the people who know me would agree with that. I also am pretty sure those same people would say the reason I cook and eat health-fully is so that I can splurge on something sweet at the end... and those people would be well, they'd be correct, too.

In my experience, the words "baking" and "healthy" just can't co-exist in the same sentence... or really even anywhere near each other - unless it's to say "good and tasty baking can't be healthy".

But as life should have taught me long ago, I should know to never say never. (okay, I didn't say never to begin with but you get the picture) As soon as Susan posted these, I knew they'd be coming out of my kitchen - I have had a bag of left-over fresh cranberries waiting their turn and these cute, adorable Banana, Cranberry, and Honey mini-muffins were just the ticket.

And as Susan's commitment to healthy eating puts mine to shame, of course she's developed a wonderfully healthy but still unbelievably (though I am a believer now) tasty recipe. While her recipe was like nothing I've ever cooked (though all the ingredients are "normal" and required exactly zero special trips to the grocery store), it was so good, and good for you that if I do ever risk branching out, I will always use her base recipe as my starting point. Why mess with something already so perfect!

Watch out world of healthy baking... this could get ugly.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Good Kind

Unless you're new around here, I think we all know that I like free stuff... though I attempt to be somewhat discerning and not just gather the free stuff that has no purpose. Luckily, there was no chance of that today.

Have you heard... for the month of February, every morning from 5am - 9am, McDonald's is giving away FREE cups of their Premium Roast coffee (and while I may lack some fancy tastebuds, I have been told and agree with the tellers, that this stuff is good).

This is exactly what I experienced this morning - since I am usually a law-abiding Metro rider and can't bring beverages with me on my trip into the office - I had to wait for a morning off work.

Ta-DAAA... this morning I said "come to me FREE McDonald's Premium Roast coffee" and it did, and I drank it. I will rinse, wash and repeat as many times as possible in this unfairly short month of February.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Thank Goodness for Valentine's Day

My tune about the big V-Day has changed slightly, and this has nothing to do with having gotten married. I now fully embrace it for a holiday on (and around) which I am 'allowed' (not as if I'm not allowed on other days, but I try and refrain) to make any and every dessert (especially chocolate ones) that I deem necessary. This year, at least two fell into that category.

And what is one to do when you have two desserts and only one recognized "eat all the chocolate you want" holiday? Of course! Invite people over the day before to share in at least one of them, thereby legitimizing said aforementioned extraneous (though no desserts in this house are extraneous) desserts.

I had no problems finding some delicious-looking choices for this year's big day... narrowing down the selection was my real issue. But in the end, I think we did just fine:

To finish off our fun pre-V-Day dinner party, we all enjoyed Martha's one-bowl chocolate cupcakes dipped in chocolate glaze.

These really did require only one-bowl and were as moist and chocolatey as one could ask for. Plus, now that I know about dipping cupcakes into the glaze, there's about a 99.99% chance I may never frost a cupcake any other way.

And our second V-Day weekend dessert, Pioneer Woman's Baked Fudge. Not only did these deliver that perfect sweet finish to our special meal, they are a bloggers dream because really, the name says it all.

Oh - and I should mention, both of these desserts are as easy to make as they seem, absolutely no strings attached. If I did it, you can too.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Not Photogenic

Both this post and I are feeling a bit under the weather (not that that is in anyway relevant to being able to take pictures) but I would have been remiss to not post these delicious recipes that we've enjoyed recently.

As you will soon see (if it wasn't already obvious enough), I've been on a stew/soup kick lately... which was slightly thwarted by the warm weather we've enjoyed these past few days (I am not complaining that this is a distant memory) but even with the weather at a mild mid-50s, I am already looking forward to making (and eating!) these two recipes again.

Beef Soup (serves 6)
adapted from All Recipes

1 lb cubed beef stew meat
Cooking spray
2 tsp Emeril's essence
1/2 c water
2 cans beef broth
1 can vegetable broth

1/2 c merlot (or any red wine)
1 onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
handful of baby carrots, halved if desired

3-4 small red potatoes, quartered
1/2 cup frozen mixed vegetables (carrots, corn, green beans and peas)

1. Cut beef into bite sized pieces and season with essence; in a dutch oven coated with cooking spray, brown beef on all sides. Add water and scrape up any browned bits; then add 2 cans of beef stock, 1 can of vegetable stock, and red wine along with the onion, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, rosemary, thyme and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 2 hours or until meat is tender.

2. Add carrots and potatoes and simmer for 30 minutes or until tender. Add the frozen vegetables and stir; cook for another 15-20 minutes to ensure the veggies are cooked thoroughly.

*I stopped at this point for more of a beef and veggie soup than stew (and I liked it this way - the starch in the potatoes add a little thickness); however, after some feedback from Chris, I will most likely thicken this just a little with a small amount of cornstarch mixed with cold water and then quickly mixed into the soup

Slow-Cooker Chicken and Dumplings

adapted from All Recipes

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

2 TBSP unsalted butter
2 (10.75 oz) cans condensed cream of chicken soup (I always use the Healthy Recipe version)
1 onion, finely diced
2 cans chicken stock
1 c frozen mixed veggies (do you see a trend here... thank you Costco)
1 (10 oz) pkg refrigerated biscuit dough, torn into pieces

1. Place the chicken, butter, soup, and onion in a slow cooker, and fill with enough chicken stock to cover.

2. Cover, and cook for 7 to 8 hours on low. About 1 hour before serving, mix in frozen veggies and place the torn biscuit dough in the slow cooker, pushing down into the liquid. Finish cooking for about 45 minutes on high until the dough is no longer raw in the center.

OKAY, I lied, I do have a picture (or two) for you... straight from the Westminister Dog Show.

**note: put a black and tan face on that dog and this is Annabelle post-bath

Sunday, February 08, 2009

5 Days a Week

Just a glimpse into who (minus the random guy) I spend 8-hours a day, 5 days a week with... pay no attention to the fact that this picture was taken on one of the other two days of the week.

Which brings up another point... we were hanging out with my co-workers (YAY GW Staff & Leadership Development) during the weekend and I actually looked forward to the gathering!! I am each day more and more appreciative that I like my job and love the people I work with.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

A Fan of Traditions

I hesitate to publicize this for fear that the masses will show up next year, but seeing as how my readership (said very lightly) is mostly far from local (and few and far between at that), I decided it's worth the risk.

This morning we made our (now) our annual trek to the Chocolate Lovers Festival with our favorite Old Town Fairfax residents. I guess the saying about practice making perfect has finally come true, at least when it comes to navigating the Chocolate Festival. We had our strategies (note: they were absolutely individual, some headed straight for baked goods while others surveyed the candies) all laid out well before we made our way to the short line.

*Note to self (and of course here, "self" means me, and well, all of you): get in line anytime before noon; we had about an 8-minute wait around 11:45am but when we exited around 12:30/1pm, the line wrapped around the corner into never-never land

I was one of the chocolate "candy" folks - and ended up tasting 5 bits of fudge (HIGHLY recommend the sticky toffee-praline fudge), a little slice of chocolate-chocolate cake from Watergate Pastry, and an assortment of other yummy crunchy and chewy chocolate delights.

Needless to say, it was just as delicious as I'd been dreaming it would be for the past 364 days (give or take).

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Hand-Written Recipes

Have I mentioned that it's cold here? (I know you've been wondering)

Unfortunately these little bites of deliciousness won't warm you up, but you should still stop whatever you're doing and I'm serious.

This is a page out of the archives (though don't bother go looking for an archive, it's just an expression), and I consider it a serious stroke of luck to have recently stumbled upon the old recipe. These Peanut Butter and Chocolate Crispy Bars were a tasty treat that I grew up enjoying - and I think may have been one of the first things I made when I decided that baking for others and/or giving away the baked goods would forever define my life. And now that I've set your expectations (read: these are easily made - give me a break, I was only in 5th grade)... how can you make these your very own?

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Crispy Bars
yield: depends on how big you cut them, makes one cookie sheet

1 c sugar
1 c light corn syrup
1 c smooth peanut butter (make sure you get non-recalled PB!)
6 cups rice krispies (of course I used a generic brand)
12 oz (or more) chocolate chips

Prepare your cookie sheet (with a lip) by a hearty coating of cooking spray or good ole' fashioned Crisco.

In a heavy saucepan, bring to a boil the sugar and light corn syrup. Remove from heat and stir in the peanut butter. Add all of the rice cereal and mix carefully, ensuring that it is completely coated. Pour the mixture into the cookie sheet and using the back of a rubber spatula, press evenly into the pan.

Over hot but not boiling water, melt the chocolate chips. Immediately pour the melted chocolate over the bars and spread to cover completely. Chill for about an hour (if you can wait that long) and then enjoy.

So far, these have about a 200% approval rating (though few people dare to get in between Chris and me and these bars). I'm sure it's been said before but this absolutely proves to me that there truly is delight in simplicity.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


Why seven? Well, besides being the number that both 2009 Superbowl Champion Ben Roethlisberger and I wear... that's the number of hours of sleep I got last night! That's a LOT of sleep, people. Actually, I'd say it's easily almost two hours more than our average.

And I owe it all to my trusty slow cooker. Our relationship has significantly improved in such a short time and I couldn't be happier.

I think I'm in love. How could I be anything else? A mere 5 minutes of prep yesterday morning resulted in a deliciously flavorful Chicken Taco Soup, ready the moment I walked in the door. Okay, so I did throw together a quick garden salad before we were actually able to sit down for our meal - but a homemade and healthy meal turned around that quickly is pretty much unheard of in this house at least.

Have I caught your attention yet?

If not, the fact that all but two of the ingredients came in a very inexpensively purchased can should be the clincher.

Slow-Cooker Chicken Taco Soup (serves 6)
adapted from All Recipes

3/4 onion, chopped
1 can (16 oz) chili beans (I used Hormel Vegetarian beans)
1 can (15 oz) black beans, drained
1 can (15 oz) can corn, drained
1 can (8 oz) can tomato sauce
1 can (12 oz) beer (I used Miller Lite)
1 can (10 oz) diced tomatoes with green chilies, undrained (I used Rotel)
2 TBSP chunky salsa
1.25 oz package taco seasoning
4 whole skinless, boneless chicken breasts
shredded Mexican blend cheese (optional)

Place the onion, chili beans, black beans, corn, tomato sauce, beer and diced tomatoes in slow cooker. Add taco seasoning and stir to blend. Lay chicken breasts on top of the mixture, pressing down slightly until covered by the liquid ingredients.

Set slow cooker on low heat for 6.5 hours. Shred chicken breasts (which really amounts to just pulling the breasts out with tongs because they will "self-shred" right then and there) and stir chicken back into the soup.

Turn the cooker up to high and cook for another hour. Serve with shredded cheese if desired.

Oh, and see this?!?

That enormous pot of delicious soup means only one thing - left overs (and another 7+ hour night of sleep)!!!

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