... and all was right with the world

I heart office supplies more than most things. Except coffee, family, and friends. Yes, that sounds about right. Office supplies is #4 on the list of things I love. I think they are so great that I am even a fan of post-its on Facebook. If you're not a fan, I encourage you to be. Post-its are great. The sizes, the shapes, the colors - endless possibilities. And they are not just for writing notes; you can have fun with them. Check out this cool stop motion video someone made with them (not me, but I wish). 1:25 of pure gold.

Anyway, the point is that office supplies make me happy (and my birthday is in October, if you're looking to plan ahead.) I'm a nerd and I embrace it. This morning I got to work and went into my 9 a.m. meeting, notebook in hand, and realized I only had a few blank pages left. *insert mini heart attack and gasp here* Tonight, I was off to get a new one - and you can't get a new notebook and not get new pens. It's like eating peanut butter without jelly... just silly.

Tomorrow, I can go back to work with my new notebook and pens. And all will be right with the world, at least for a few moments. I can't ask for more than that.



This is primarily for Julie & Steele, but feel free to take a look.  We had a great time on the lake yesterday and this is Steele's video memior.  Enjoy!


breakfast w/ berries

I asked around a bit about what you can do with strawberries besides eat over shortcake and ice cream, or make jam (which I'm not brave enough to try, yet).  Someone had mentioned strawberries on pancakes... brilliant!  I know they do that at some restaurants, but never considered doing it myself.  Sometimes 2+2=5, right?  Anyway, that's what I did this morning, because we had everything here, including the strawberries already cut and ready. 

1 1/2 c. flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 egg
3 Tbsp. butter (melted)
1 1/4 c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract

In a medium or large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and sugar.  In another bowl, mix milk, melted butter, vanilla, and egg until blended.  Create a silo in the flour mixture, then pour in the milk mixture and stir until mixed well.  Fry in large frying pan at the pancake sizes you want, using canola oil. 

The original recipe I looked at also had 1 tsp of salt in it, but I forgot.  It didn't seem to make a difference though.  I've always wondered why recipes have only 1 tsp or less of salt, like it matters.  And it may.  I have no idea, so would love to hear from you if you know why salt is in recipes for things you wouldn't expect - what's the purpose?

Vanilla extract was an add-on because I wanted to see how it would taste.  The pancakes were yummy, so it obviously didn't hurt, although I didn't really taste it that much, so I'm not sure it made it better either. :) 

We served strawberries over the top, which was great... because I love strawberries!  It also adds a little bit of freshness to the heavy texture of the pancakes.  Eggs were added as a side as well because I'm a spaz about that ever since a friend of mine told me that when you eat things that are heavy for breakfast like pancakes, french toast, waffles, etc... you should eat an egg to get the protein and it helps with digestion etc... and makes you a better person.  It may be a myth, but I'm not taking my chances.  And eggs are good.

After breakfast, my friend Kim was nice enough to let me come and pick raspberries with her (thanks, Kim!!!).  As I write, I'm eating those over ice cream.  Fun fact:  raspberries taste good on butter pecan ice cream.

Enjoy the remainder of your weekend!


a glimmer of hope...

It's been a rough week.  Don't worry though, I'll spare you the sob story and sum it up briefly: insomnia (not clinical, but I haven't been sleeping well). Interestingly (hopefully) I received a link unexpectedly which fits the tone of this week well.  I was happy, though, to be 'introduced' to my new favorite blogger at Hyperbole and a Half (Allie).  Ularious.  I was laughing out loud at her posts.  If she would let me be her best friend, I would. It will never work, though because she is far wittier than I and to make matters more complicated, we don't actually know each other. So I will settle with following along with her posts from this point forward.  I love the information superhighway. 

My favorite thing, though, was looking outside and seeing that my topsy turvy tomato planter not only still standing, but it was GROWING!!!  (see photos - red circle shows about how big the plant the day I planted it and last night)  When I planted it, I was hopeful that it would grow, but not optimistic - trust me, there is a difference. 

Last year, 'the girls' at work gave me a real, live flower plant when my Grandma K passed.  The gesture was more than sweet and I appreciate them more than I can say. That being said, I am not known for my green thumb, so receiving a plant that I was now responsible for keeping alive, was sort of stressful.  And I tried.  But about two weeks after my attempt at planting it (dig hole, put plant in hole, cover hole, water) it was beyond repair.  I'm pretty sure there was a flaw in plan. 

The fact that my tomato plant is GROWING!!!! is so exciting to me.  Mother Nature has been kind and has been watering it for me, which is nice because I don't remember very often that it needs to be fed.  Thanks Mother Nature for the watering - I owe you one!  I spent about 3 minutes looking at the leaves trying to figure out where the tomatoes would be coming out because there are no blooms yet.  I didn't find it, yet.  Patience is a virtue, and my topsy turvy (soon to be) tomatoes are a glimmer of hope that things are looking up!


when life gives you lemons...

... we make lemonade, right?  Generic, I know.  Literally, though, I had a few lemons sitting around and have been wanting to try to make lemonade since it started getting hot out this summer. So I did - pretty simple, short, and sweet.  I only had enough for one cup of lemon juice, so here's what I did:

1 c. lemon juice, freshly squeezed
4.5 c. water
2/3 c. sugar

In a small saucepan, put 1 c. water and the sugar; boil until sugar is dissolved, stirring regularly.  Once dissolved, set aside and refrigerate to cool.  Squeeze lemon juice, removing the seeds of course, but keep the pulp.  Once the sugar/water mixture has cooled, pour it and the lemon juice into a pitcher.  Add the remaining 3.5 cups of water, and refrigerate or serve over ice. 

As you know, I'm not the most patient person, so I let the sugar water get luke-warm, and then mixed mine -- immediately pouring over ice and trying it out.  Was good!  I like my lemonade a little tart, so if you like it sweet, increase the sugar a bit.  Viola!

coming soon to a blog near you...

will post about this soon - Keith made ribs and homemade barbeque sauce. mmm.....


what am i? a critic?

It may be a common misconception that I started doing this because I saw the movie Julie & Julia and thought it was cool. Not so, actually. I just saw it for the first time last weekend because a lot of people have been telling me I need to. By no means am I a movie critic, nor an expert cook, so take what you see here with a grain of salt. My review? It was a cute movie, for sure - and I would recommend it to others. There were some similarities between us that I could see. First, I'm very similar in age to the character. And while I don't have the seemingly depressing and thankless job she has, we are similar in that we do this because it's a way to get away. This is one of the few things that in no way relates to my job. My stove doesn't ask me how work is. I don't talk to my ingredients about the trials and triumphs, or even the day-to-day activities (which, is probably a good thing!) And the smells and the taste distract anyone else from asking me. ... On the bright side, I'm not a border-line stalker of Julia Childs, or any other celebrity cook/chef. *wink*

For those of you who have known me my entire life, my choice to do this may have surprised you to a certain extent. The cook in our family has always been mom, not me - and I'm not a foodie. While I've eaten at some great restaurants, I'm not a critic. I can't pair wines with food (not well, anyway) and I don't have a lot of experience to compare it against anything. But this gives me a chance to relax and prove to myself that what I do for a living doesn't define me. As most of you know, I've spent the last 5 years very dedicated to my job - perhaps to an annoying extent. But I do that because I like it and I believe in it... and I feel fortunate to be able to say that honestly. Anyone who knows me well also knows that last year was a rough year for our family and some others around us. And although I'm nearly an expert at playing the game and on the outside keeping it together, it threw me for a serious loop. It may seem silly, but starting this has helped me get my life back to normal, a little. Most importantly, I do this because I think it's fun, and from what I hear, you seem to enjoy it, too. :)

So there you have it. I'm not Julie. And I'm not Julia. I'm just me and do my best to make that good enough.

use what you have

Right now, we are on a shopping freeze until we use some of the stuff we already have in the fridge and freezer (with the exception of essentials - i.e. milk, bread-see previous post). I kind of feel like we're eating like kings right now because of this, so it's not necessarily a bad thing - ha! Earlier this week, we had BBQs to use the turkey burger we had. On Thursday, we had thawed some shrimp so made a pasta/shrimp dish to use those things. And today, Keith made ribs because we had that in the freezer, too (will post that later when I can ask him how he did it - they were delicious!). And, thawing in the fridge now, is a venison roast. I feel like I need to go for a walk just thinking about all of this... wow.

The shrimp/pasta dish was tasty, so I'm posting that here. Please excuse the quality of the photo; I left my camera at my parents by accident last weekend so I'm relying on my camera phone. When I get it back, I'll be able to post about the sweet potato pie we made when I was down there... but I digress. :)

I found a version of this on Allrecipes.com, which is one of my favorite recipe sites. I modified a bit to adjust for what I had/wanted and ended up with this:

Shrimp & Rotini
1 - 16. oz package rotini pasta
2 Tblsp. olive oil
1/4 c. chopped yellow onion
1 Tblsp. chopped garlic
1/4 c. white wine
2 cans (15 oz) diced tomatoes with green chilies
1/2 tsp. italian seasoning
1 pound shrimp, peeled/deveined
Parmesan cheese

In a large pot, make the pasta as directed on the box. Drain and set aside when done.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in onion and garlic, and saute until onion is soft. Mix in wine, tomatoes, and italian seasoning and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add shrimp and cook 5 minutes, until opaque. Pour mixture into the large pot with the pasta and toss ingredients to combined. Serve and top individually with Parmesan, as desired.

My notes:
  • it's spicy, so if you're not into that I recommend using plain diced tomatoes or doing a can with chilies and one without.
  • the original recipe says to use red onion; I didn't have it, so used yellow.
  • it also says to mix in 1 c. Parmesan cheese; that seemed like a lot, so we just sprinkled our own amount on top
  • this was tasty and seemed lighter than when you would have this with regular spaghetti or creamy sauce, which was nice.
  • garlic toast would be great on the side; we didn't have the right kind of bread for good garlic toast, so just didn't have it.

I'll try to post about the ribs/bbq sauce Keith made tomorrow. yum...



Sometimes, we just need to improvise. Last night, I got home from work and looked around to see what we had. Turkey burger, check. Ketchup and mustard, check. Spices, check. Three leftover buns on the counter, check. BBQs, it is (or the equivalent of sloppy joe, for those who call it that.) After getting everything ready, I grabbed the buns off the counter and realize that they are a little to old to be used, so in the garbage they go. Thinks to self: well, we'll just use bread... not a big deal. Right? Wrong. No bread either. So, we improvised - score! We have crackers! Not ideal, but it works -- and felt like we were having an appetizer for dinner.

The BBQ in itself was an improvisation, which I'm sure you can tell by the very technical cooking instructions you'll be reading momentarily. *wink* It tasted really good, though! I used 1.5 lbs of turkey burger and browned with 1 small onion chopped. Then added enough ketchup to cover the meat well, a squirt of mustard, and a little water to help it mix well (1/4 c. maybe?). Then added various sized dashes of the following: garlic salt, frank's red hot (3), chili powder (couple of big dashes), pepper, italian seasoning.

So, yesterday's experience reminded me that it doesn't always turn out like you hope. Our plans and recipes will sometimes have to change, but you just roll with the punches and it will work out somehow. Even if you feel like a dork (I did - seriously, who doesn't have bread in their house?! ha!) :)


two words for you: So. Good.

I have to start by giving credit for this to Jenny Winjum for a couple of things. First, this recipe is awesome and she shared it with me. I'm not exaggerating when I say that it's definitely comparable to the Tuscan Garlic Chicken at the Olive Garden, as she said it would be. Amazing! Second, if you've been following, you'll understand why I think it's super cool that I got this recipe in the regular mail vs. getting it via e-mail. So, Jenny - thanks for great food and for sending me mail!

Jenny and I have said that we should start a cooking club, and I had been thinking about creating a facebook group where people could post their favorite recipes, tips, etc... and ask for advice. I do this because I think it's fun, but am by no means an expert and often need to ask for help and ideas. If people are interested in giving it a try, I'll put together a group - so let me know.

As I'm writing, I'm eating some leftovers of this so I can tell you it's good leftover, as well. :) And finally, I'll get to the point - here's the exact recipe, I didn't change a thing:

Tuscan Garlic Chicken
4 chicken breasts
1 1/2 c. flour and 1 Tblsp. flour
2 tsp. pepper
3 tsp. italian seasoning
1 lb. fettucini, cooked
5 Tblsp. olive oil
1 Tblsp. garlic, chopped
1 red pepper, julianned
1/2 c. white wine
1/2 lb. fresh spinach
2 c. heavy cream
1 c. parmesaen

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix 1 1/2 cup flour, salt, pepper, italian seasoning in a large dish; dredge chicken in the mixture. Heat 3 Tblsp. olive oil in a skillet and cook chicken for 3 minutes. Then, place the chicken onto a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.

Heat 2 Tblsp. olive oil in a pot. Add garlic, red pepper, and cook for 1 minute. Stir in flour, wine, spinach, and cream. Boil. Sauce is done when the spinach wilts. Stir in parmesaen.

Coat cooked, drained pasta with sauce. Then top with chicken and remaining sauce. Garnish with extra cheese.

And there you have it! I have no notes, comments, etc... it was delish!

I'm ruined...

I don't think I'll eat store-bought shortcake again. We've been buying strawberries quite a bit lately when they have been on sale, and a couple of times have gotten the Hostess shortcake pieces. Not anymore. I wanted to try to make it, and found a recipe at allrecipes.com, and made some adjustments based on the reviews I read. Here's what I ended up with:

3 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. white sugar
3 tsp. baking powder
1 c. butter
2/3 c. heavy cream
1 egg, beaten
1.5 tsp. lemon zest

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix flour, sugar, and baking powder into a large bowl. Cut in butter with pastry blender or two knives. Stir in cream, egg, and lemon zest. On a lightly floured surface, knead for 2 minutes. Roll into balls (a bit smaller than a golf ball) and dip one side in sugar. Flatten balls to about 1/2 inch thick. Place onto a baking sheet that has been sprayed with cooking spray.

Bake for 20 minutes. Serve with strawberries, whipped cream, milk, ice cream... or name your pleasure.

My notes: the lemon zest is optional, but added a nice flavor in my opinion. The cakes didn't get very golden, so even though they are very light in color, it does not mean they aren't done.

For the topping, I like to have the strawberries be juicy, but the berries I get at the store don't make the juice like the homegrown ones my mom makes at home. So, I made sauce out of them by putting the berries, 1/4 c. water, and some sugar in a small pan on the stove. Once they were soft, I used a masher to make the sauce. Because I had the lemon from the lemon zest, I put a little bit of lemon juice in the strawberry sauce, too. When I put them over the shortcake, I also cut some uncooked, fresh strawberries on top, so we still got the fresh strawberry texture. We also topped with some fresh whipped cream (since I had leftover heavy cream, anyway).

Whipped Cream:
1 c. heavy whipping cream
3 Tblsp. powdered sugar
1 Tsp. vanilla extract

Whip the heavy cream until it starts to be able to form peaks; add powdered sugar and vanilla, and continue to whip until firm peaks form. Serve immediately.

Enjoy! :)

five buck cluck

On Thursday, I went to the store to get some things for the house -- and had a craving for chicken salad sandwiches sometime this weekend, so I bought some pre-made chicken salad -- or so I thought. I got home from work on Friday to find that a) I bought ham salad that must have been in the wrong slot at the store and b) someone had already eaten some of that, anyway. Fortunately, the store has $5 rotisserie chicken on Friday nights (get it? 5 buck cluck) and I had the rest of the stuff laying around to make it myself. Win! Back to the store...

I didn't really measure, but here's approximately what I did. I took the meat off of the rostisserie chicken and put it in the freezer to cool because it was still pretty warm. While it cooled, I diced 1.5 stalks of celery and 1 very small onion. Then I cut the cooled chicken into small pieces, and put it in a large bowl with the celery and onion. I mixed it with Hellman's light mayo until I had the consistency I like for chicken salad, and then added a couple of tablespoons of ranch dressing. I also added some pepper and paprika - and you can put in as much or as little as you like, depending on taste. After mixing well, I put this in the fridge until I finished prepping the sandwich - toasting the bun halves in the oven, and adding a little cheese to melt. Once the bun halves were toasted and the cheese was melted, I topped with chicken salad and some fire-roasted red peppers.

My only disappointment was that I expected the red peppers to be spicier, but they were not at all. Next time, I think I'll use banana peppers or add some relish to the chicken salad and see how that works. And for those of you who have easy access to the Caledonia Bakery, I'm sure it would be better on their buns. I'm jealous of you. But all-in-all, it was good, and the toasted buns made for a nice sandwich. I just served the sandwich with some cut fresh strawberries. yum. :)

If you have suggestions for chicken salad to make it interesting, I would love to hear them!