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Archive for May, 2009

May Flowers

It’s been awhile since I’ve found a spot in the public parking at my work. Mostly it’s streetside for me, so I felt pretty lucky on Thursday when I snagged a spot. But I felt even luckier when I saw what I had been missing. I had to pull off my sunglasses and stare for awhile. An array of bursting bold blooms greets that side of the building. Peonies, my hands-down favorite flowers, were just shouting their vibrancy. I had a moment of total thanks to God for such beauty on a sunshiny day. (I also had a moment of temptation to pull a few tightly balled up buds and take them home with me, but I resisted that one and decided to make sure I enjoy them as often as possible in their given spot.)

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How is it that I finished off the long weekend feeling completely wiped? Satisfied, but wiped no less. (Does anyone know what that means or is my dad the only one who uses that phrase? I will translate if needed). On Friday I determined to make this weekend a “real” weekend … which means my bathroom is about to make me batty because I can SEE the hair and dust … but I’m glad I put my inner task-master to bed (well, for a little while anyway) and just let the weekend be.

On Saturday morning, Nate and I celebrated the beginning of summer in a perfectly summery fashion. We headed to the Oak Park Farmer’s Market early. Early enough to get our choice of homemade Cinnamon Sugar Spice Cake doughnuts, some serious cheese samples, and some peonies not yet bloomed. Early enough that we had time to go home and put together some dream dinners for Emily before heading out to Naperville. The sun was shining, the traffic was cruising, and I got my first sunburn/sweat session watching Nate’s boys play. As a side note, about 15 minutes into the second half, a middle-aged man on the sidelines asked if my kid played for the other team. Um no. These are 16-year-old boys and quite frankly, I’m not sure I was even physically able to give birth when I was 11. Of course I didn’t actually say this. I just smiled sweetly and told him that my husband was his kid’s trainer. After the game we took advantage of a suburban special that we don’t often see: the MALL. It always sounds better than it is. I’m always excited to go find something cute and then I wander from Charlotte Russe to Forever 21 wondering who buys these things? Something about knowing a shirt will fall apart the minute you buy it just seems wrong. Despite the fact that my total “loot” ended up being a new pair of running shorts, it was very sweet of Nate to include this in the agenda. He knows I have been in a “hoarding” mode as of late and indulged me on this one.

Sunday Nate headed back out for games and I headed off to Target and then church to run the café. I really love running the café, despite the fact that it ends up being a lot of work and commitment, with barely a weekend when I can just sit in church. It’s just fun, involving different aspects of me from organization to hosting to cooking … all of which I don’t need much of at my job. I was delighted when Nate got off soccer early. Sunday was beautiful weather-wise and we spent the afternoon outside putting together our little herb garden in a pot, making and delivering more dream dinners, and taking a walk to a Mexican grocery store for some pastry treats for Sunday night.

Monday morning Nate went off to Naperville AGAIN. I put together a dessert, did a little bit of clothes shopping (thankfully, more successful than the MALL), and went over to Laura’s house for a late lunch. We had a full house with out of town friends, family, and family of family. It was our last get together with Nate’s parents since they had back to Argentina today. At night we headed over to Keystone for a rainy, indoor bbq. It was fun despite the weather. Just a typical Keystone event with 2 two-year-olds making both laughter and chaos, food and familiar friends. Our friends Katie & Bill just had their little girl, Ava, on Tuesday and it was fun to hold her and admire how peaceful she is. What I love most about these times is how as the night winds down the conversation just gets richer and then it’s hard to tear yourself away at the end to get some actual sleep. But that’s what we did and it was fun and comforting to have things just be the same and be great!

Meanwhile … I brought my camera to none of these events …

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I love an interesting meal that comes together quickly on the plate.  I also love chicken cutlets because have you seen the size of chicken breasts these days?  These are no quarter pounders.  Each one could probably feed a family of four.  Which is why cutlets come in handy when a spouse whose combination of height and metabolic rate make it easy for him to eat twice as much as me.  (This is why I always photograph his plate, more abundantly piled high.)IMG_1584

I loved the combination of vegetables and decadence in this recipe.  I also love how my recently blossomed desire for mushrooms has opened me up to a whole slew of new flavor combinations.  This recipe is not heavy on sauce or spices.  It is all about the flavors of the vegetables, meats, and cheese piled atop each other.  And it’s all about putting fresh food together quickly on a rare Monday night in.

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Recipe:
(Adapted from Everyday with Rachael Ray June/July 09)
Serves two

¼ c. mayonnaise
salt and pepper
2 portabella mushroom caps
1 zucchini or yellow squash sliced thinly on the diagonal (your preference)
½ lb. chicken cutlets (next time I would pound them thinner for easier eating)
2 slices Canadian bacon
2 thin slices of smoked gouda (what we had on hand and a delicious spin on the traditional swiss)

Preheat grill to medium-high heat or use stove-top grilling rack.

Combine mayo, salt and pepper.  Brush mushroom caps, zucchini or squash, and chicken cutlets with mayo mixture.  Place mushroom caps and chicken cutlets on grill and cook until chicken juices run clear (about 8 minutes unless you pound them thinner).  Halfway through grilling, add zucchini slices and Canadian bacon to grill.

Remove mushroom caps from grill and place a slice of gouda on top of each.  Next add zucchini or squash slices, followed by the chicken and Canadian bacon.  Serve.

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Potholders

These are my potholders, my only two potholders that I have ever owned. I’m sure I got them as a wedding or shower gift because I’ve had them since the beginning. And they are some great potholders. Only, they have looked like this since Thanksgiving five years ago when we cooked our first turkey ever. And we carved our first turkey ever. The carving is important because it was at that point that my husband and brother-in-law thought that using these potholders to hold the hot turkey while the other carved was a brilliant idea.

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They’ve never been the same since. And believe me, I have washed them. Most days I use them at least four times and I love them. Only, they are completely and totally embarrassing with all of their stains and smears and the minute we have people over for dinner or I carry a hot dish out the door to someone else’s house, I become aware of how dirty or thrifty or something I come across. Unfortunately, they apparently just don’t make potholders like they used to. Because of course I have tried to remedy this situation by buying a new set. But every time I feel these new potholders, they are flimsy and thin and make me certain I would burn myself repetitively. So until I find some new thick potholders I’m sticking with these embarrassed, sad ones of old, so if you see my using them please just ignore.

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A month ago I made a special stop-off at Trader Joe’s to pick up mascarpone.  A month ago I was getting ready to host 

IMG_1559little Saturday brunch where I would serve Strawberry Mascarpone Crepes.  Let’s not talk about how that day turned out.  The important point being that I left the crucial mascarpone in the fridge at work just as I warned myself not to.  For the brunch I was able to sub with some leftover cottage cheese which I popped in the blender.  But this left me with a special, stop-off tub of mascarpone to use up.

Fortunately, as I was planning for my in-laws’ visit I remembered this tart recipe and their love of fruit desserts.  Unfortunately, great peaches are not available here yet.  They are all puny and hard and not worth it.  That’s the beauty of a fruit tart, though, because you can use whatever is in season.  Mine became a raspberry and apricot one, based on what was available at my fruit market, and I had fun putting it together.  Overall, the flavors were good and I enjoyed the texture of the filling.  I tried out a new tart crust recipe, though, and was thoroughly disappointed. 

 It was a bit too crumbly and dry and a bit too salty for my tastes.  Next time I will go back to my standard.  Additionally, if I made this again I would like to up the ratio of filling to crust.  I love a good crust, but I love a good filling more.

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Peach & Mascarpone Tart
Originally from Fine Cooking 21, pp. 57
Yields: an 11 inch tart

1 cup chilled mascarpone
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar1 tsp. grated orange zest
1/2 cup chilled heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
6 large peaches, pitted, peeled if desired, and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/4 cup apricot jam, warmed over medium heat until liquefied
1 Butter Tart Crust, baked and cooled

In a medium bowl, mix the mascarpone and confectioners’ sugar and stir until smooth. Add the orange zest and vanilla extract. Whip the cream until soft peaks appear and fold it into the mascarpone mixture. Spread the mixture into the tart crust. Top with the peach slices. Brush the peaches with the liquefied apricot jam to glaze. Refrigerate the tart at least 1 hour or overnight before serving.

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This weekend we had way too much to celebrate.  Two graduations, three birthdays and one Mother’s Day.  Squeezed in amongst Nate’s impossible soccer schedule and my current weakling tendencies.  There wouldn’t have been quite this much if we weren’t uh behind in birthday celebs in a big way.

Congrats to Laura & Mark on both earning their M.A.s on Saturday!  I’m proud to be part of a well-educated family:) And Matt, Mark, and Laura are all a year older as of April-Mayish.  We celebrated with dinner at Red Lobster, Mark & Laura’s restaurant of choice.  Our server was feeling sorry for me for not ordering dinner and kept trying to offer me freebies which I kept refusing as I thought about the bulging pains they would create in my bile duct.  What I didn’t think about was that everyone else at the table would have eaten these freebies for me and thus Nate was quite disappointed in my refusal.

The next day we all headed out for a really late lunch or dinner or something in Bloomingdale for a Mother’s Day get together.  The weather was beautiful and sunny, the traffic was HO-rrendous, but the food was delicious.  It was a little early and nippy for s’mores but we did it anyway and I gobbled them down despite any repercussions.

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(My husband, the under-dressed and minus Nate’s dad, the picture-taker)

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I’m officially back in the saddle again.  I made dinner last night from start to finish, no pre-bought products, brand new recipe.  And it was deliciously satisfying and perfectly, boldly flavorful.  Just how I like it.  The recipe?  A result of my newest magazine subscription, Fine Cooking. 

IMG_1534The Southwestern flavor combos were enough to entice me away from my recently meatless cravings.  It’s been awhile since I stopped obsessively buying boneless, skinless chicken breasts and freezing them.  In fact, these were the only ones in the freezer but by gosh, by golly lucky me they were there when I was ready to come back to them!

This meal comes together quickly and smoothly, as long as you set up your dredging stations ahead of time.  I HATE when I cut up chicken and then have to wash my hands to dole out flour and spices onto separate places, only to re-chicken gunk my hands when I go to do the dipping and patting.  Every time this happens to me (like recently when I was cooking with Kim and threw out an egg yolk only find I needed an extra egg yolk later on in the recipe) I can just hear my mom in my head saying, “Well, didn’t you read the whole recipe before starting?”  No mom, I didn’t.  I am a Home Ec failure. 

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Making this recipe I managed to avoid that internal monologue, only to have it replaced by the one where she says, “Didn’t you know to wash your hands right after cutting jalapenos?”  Yes mom, I did know but that doesn’t mean I did it and it doesn’t stop my upper lip from burning now.  My mom speaks to me often in the kitchen, despite the fact that I pretty much refused to have anything to do with cooking anything other than Chocolate Chip Cookies growing up.  Does your mom speak to you?  Does it happen anywhere specific?  Well, I am speaking to you to say “Go make this recipe now!  It’s good.”  (*unless you are my mother-in-law and then you shouldn’t because one bite of this and you will faint from spice).

 

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Tex-Mex Chicken with Chiles and Cheese

Originally adapted from Fine Cooking 99, p. 86.  I lowered the amount of butter and upped the amount of corn because we like corn and I wasn’t serving no carb-heavy side dish! Next time I’d add even more so there.

Serves 4.

1-1/4 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, trimmed and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1-1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2-1/2 Tbs. unsalted butter
2 cups fresh or thawed frozen corn kernels
1 medium jalapeño, seeded if desired and thinly sliced
1 large clove garlic, minced
2–3 medium limes, 1 or 2 juiced to yield 3 Tbs. and 1 cut into wedges
1 Tbs. chopped fresh oregano
1 cup grated sharp Cheddar

Position a rack about 4 inches from the broiler and heat the broiler to high. Toss the chicken with the chili powder, cumin, 3/4 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. black pepper. Lightly dredge the chicken in the flour and shake off any excess.

Melt 1-1/2 Tbs. of the butter in a 12-inch ovenproof skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

Add the remaining 1 Tbs. butter, the corn, jalapeño, garlic, and 1/2 tsp. salt. Cook, stirring, until the corn begins to brown lightly, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the chicken, lime juice, oregano, and 1/2 cup water. Cook, stirring, until the chicken is just cooked through, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle with the Cheddar and transfer the skillet to the broiler. Broil until the cheese melts and browns on top, about 3 minutes. Serve with lime wedges.

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