Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Water Babies

Spending the afternoon at the pool with my favorite little people (well, two of them at least) brought back a flood of memories.

So much of my childhood was spent at our neighborhood pool - weekly summer swim meets (which also meant an introduction to sugary candy and a fear of loud, startling noises, like the Starter's gun), birthday parties (if you were lucky), and when we were the luckiest, days that turned into evenings when my mom would call for us on the main pool phone (am I dating myself?) with the welcome news that she and my dad would be bringing down dinner... to be eaten poolside, probably at adult swim, so we didn't miss a minute of time in the water.

It also reminded me of the less happy memory of the huge hill that we had to bike up in order to return home each evening. The hill that had been all laughs and a strong breeze as I had flown down it with barely a care in the world earlier that morning. And to think... I thought life was hard just because I had to walk my bike up a steep incline?

Seeing these two swim around, with the water splashing across their faces... all received with nothing but laughs... seemed to wash all our cares away. Sure Charlie didn't love being submerged and Caroline's life jacket made it hard for her to swim as much as she'd have liked... but the raw emotion and excitement they both had with each step into the relative unknown was undeniable and I couldn't have been happier to be there... with them, with family.

It's afternoons (and sweet kids) like this that make any amount of work worthwhile. You try and be a grumpy adult with one of these smiles staring back at you.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

No Pictures, Please

 Recipe: Whatever-You've-Got-Quesadillas

If for nothing else, this post is dedicated to the fact that I truly do take pictures of (almost) everything that comes out of our kitchen... and that I know it's annoying (sorry?). Though most meals (thrown together using whatever is in the fridge) are immediately deemed too insignificant for the blog, with our strictly formal atmosphere and all. Thus, the sometimes fluorescent-lit - tsk, tsk, I realize, but folks, we eat dinner at night and as such, when there is little to no daylight - photos become just more - and more - practice shots (which I suppose, I'm the better for, though my work might indicate otherwise).

It must be noted, while we're here, that spouses of those of us who do play paparazzi with their dinners should be awarded medals. What else can you say for someone who sits patiently as I photograph each (mundane) step of (any-ole) dinner and then snap even more pictures as the meal sits (getting cold), all the while, certainly anticipating that first bite.

As if that weren't yawn-inducing-enough, what I've got for you today is one of those previously mentioned, thrown-together, weeknight meals. Quesadillas are certainly not a Kara-original. But they are a delicious meal that might just be perfect for a multitude of reasons. None of the least of which because it's Mexican - and as long as I'm eating Mexican, the world is right. And it's ideal for weeknight meals to boot - just grab any protein, vegetables and cheese you've got, along with some tortillas and heat, and dinner's on the table (or at least ready to be photographed).

Whatever-You've-Got Quesadillas
serves 1-2 for dinner, 3-4 for snack/appetizer (can be scaled for your group)

1/2 c chopped onion
1/2 c diced bell peppers
1/2 c frozen corn
1/2 c black beans (we cook dried black beans in large quantities using this method and then freeze them in small portions)
1 c chopped, grilled chicken (ours had previously been frozen)
2 TBSP cilantro, roughly torn
1 c shredded cheese of our choice (we used cheddar and Monterey Jack)
2 whole-wheat tortillas

Spray a 10-inch frying pan with cooking spray and cook onions over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until translucent. Add peppers, corn and beans (drained) and cook until heated throughout. Add in chopped chicken, just to warm. Remove all ingredients from pan, leaving the pan heated.

Place one tortilla in your re-sprayed pan and pile half of your chicken and bean ingredients on one side of the tortilla. Cover with 1/2 of your cheese and fold the tortilla in half. Heat the tortilla through, until the cheese has melted and then remove from heat and (take pictures and then) serve!

But if I've bored you... worry not, on the other side of this (i.e. as soon as I'm ready to write another recipe post) is some to-die-for (and absolutely worth every photograph) homemade Key Lime Pie Ice Cream, complete with pieces of homemade graham cracker crust throughout (and perhaps a teaser of some Key Lime Pie Sorbet).

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Literally... how do you get it to grow?

I've talked before about our yard and garden... even at times, sounded ridiculously proud of it. Sure, we have shrubs that we lovingly prune each year and they (thankfully) flower again and again. A bed of your typical perennials also continues to grace us with their presence. Of course there are herbs... can any "cook" live without them, after all? And my mom has helped me over the seasons to arrange a mean container.

But... (a very big) but... this hydrangea (that I now know could be a beautiful pink flower!!!)... this glorious little (wimpy in comparison to its sister and brothers I'm seeing everywhere) flower has stumped me from day one. I know hydrangeas flower from old wood and thus need to be pruned very early... so after having no success the first year when I cut it back immediately after flowering, I haven't pruned her for the past two years. You read that right... not one snip (which these folks say shouldn't matter). As a result, we got a healthy looking shrub... with vibrant, dark green leaves - but no buds, or flowers. And this year - what can only be attributed to the heavy snowfall - four or five buds appeared on our once again otherwise-flourishing hydrangea. While I'm as grateful as can be for these blossoms, I would love to know how we got so lucky and moreso, how I can duplicate this effort (and then some) next year.

In the meantime, my gardening satisfaction for the year will have to come from the other side of our yard... in the form of vegetables. After a successful spinach and still burgeoning green leaf lettuce crop, we've started digging up our sweet baby carrots and enjoying our fresh tomatoes (while waiting on our pole beans, zucchini, and bell peppers). There's just nothing more fun than pulling a grown-from-seed real-live vegetable from your own (compost and all) garden.

Thus, as you might expect, we're already thinking about what to grow in the kitchen garden this fall and again, next spring! Besides conquering a finicky hydrangea, any recommendations for another season of fresh, homegrown, veggies?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Mysterious Splashes and Squeezes

Recipe: Chicken, Craisins, and Walnut Salad (Sandwiches)

It's true that we just got back from somewhere a lot more exciting (and photogenic) than this chicken salad but we've been devouring this salad (and/or sandwich, depending on who you are in this household) for almost 3 years so I couldn't wait another moment to share it with you. *pictures of our July 4th weekend to come... someday

Devouring? A "typical" chicken salad? Really, Kara... the food(-ish) blog world doesn't need one more person over-hyping a recipe. So with that, I will make a promise to you that this is no over-hype... sure it might just be that we have warped taste buds or the fact that we like anything in salad form (egg salad, tuna salad, etc.), but this Chicken, Craisin, and Walnut Salad truly is one of our favorites.

Is it the mysterious splashes of hot sauce? Or the squeeze of lemon? We'll never know (not that we're ever left with much time to figure it out)... all I know is that this is one of the two most often requested dishes around here, which to me says it is anything but typical. It also says "make me tonight... or tomorrow... or better yet, both!" (these leftovers are highly coveted in this house)

Chicken, Craisin, and Walnut Salad Sandwiches
adapted from Bon Appetit

1 1/4 lb skinless boneless chicken breasts
1 1/4 c thinly sliced green onions
1 c coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted
3/4 c Craisins
3/4 c mayonnaise
1/2 c chopped fresh parsley
2 TBSP fresh lemon juice
1 (scant) tsp hot pepper sauce
12 slices wheat bread, lightly toasted

Arrange chicken in single layer in medium skillet; add enough water to cover. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Cover; reduce heat to low and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 25 minutes. Transfer chicken to cutting boat. (chicken can be made in advance using this method, or slow-cooked and shredded using this recipe)

Cut chicken (or shred) into 1/2-inch cubes. Mix chicken and all remaining ingredients except bread in large bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide salad among 6 toast slices and top with remaining pieces of toast.

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