Monday, January 30, 2012

Standing on the counter and screaming: Daily affirmations

Have you seen this one yet?  It's a great one.  If not, go ahead and check it out.  It's worth the 50 seconds for the smile, the reminder, and the side benefit of knowing what the heck I'm talking about.

This sweet little video of 4-yr-old Jessica enthusiastically proclaiming her confidence to the mirror and world (via the magic of YouTube) has been circling the webosphere, delighting audiences with Jessica's refreshing brand of self-love.  Strange that unabashed confidence should be news-worthy, isn't it?  Watching her shout out such pearls of childhood affirmation such as "I love my school!", "I love my hair!" and "I love anything!" has me wondering.  What would this look like if her mom was on the counter ranting into the mirror?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Super Easy Meatless Monday: Black olive, tomato & parmesan pasta

My three-year-old is a big fan of black olives: in a can, marinated in oil and spices, even in tapenade. A good source of vitamin E, a variety of minerals, and chock full of the healthy fats that are recommended for heart health, black olives are necessarily always in stock in our house and are an easy go-to grab when I want to throw a little nutrient-rich something on a pizza, in a pasta, or on a salad. They are the classic butt-save for the evenings when 6:00 rolls around, I've forgotten about dinner, and pasta with cheese just doesn't have our spirits soaring.

Allow me to share one such butt-save variation with you.  I like this one for the sweet and savory combo that is created by the warm EVOO-tomato-garlic-parsley blend as well as the finishing twist of lemon that ties it all together with some zing.  Here's to saving Monday night dinners one butt at a time!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Lessons in Accidental Smut (in which my 3-yr-old teaches me about my body)

Siena's recent art project
Allow me to explain. I love when my three-year-old, Siena, wanders off to work in her "office" to create an "art project".  It means a few minutes of independent time (for both of us) and some good old fashioned creativity.  Jeremy and I like to stockpile random things for her to use and since she has been into cutting and gluing lately, the most recent inspiration pile has consisted mostly of the randomness pushed through the mail slot every day. Trust a toddler to transform our junk mail into treasure, shouting out with glee (Magazines!!!) at the first screech of the mail slot.

This morning I was naturally thrilled then when she initiated such a venture during my morning scramble to get ready.  Hurray for the small victories in motherhood mornings!  As is customary during this early morning custom, we hollered back and forth about her progress as I threw on my makeup and what I hoped was a full outfit.

Me: "What are you doing in there Siena?"
Siena: "Making library cards." Snip snip snip.
Me: "Cool!  What will we do with them?"
Siena: "Play library." (Subtext: Duh!)  Snip snip snip.  Glue glue glue.
Siena: "I'm working so hard, Mama!  So hard!"
And so on. . .

As sometimes happens in the frenzy of morning preparations, it wasn't until we were about to rush out the door that I stuck my head in to rally my little worker into her coat and to the car.  And that is when I saw her "library cards". . .

Monday, January 23, 2012

Waking up to "Blue Monday": Anyone else feeling the effects?

I mean. . .really?!? Blech.
Was rolling out of bed this morning particularly hard or was it just me?  The sickly combo of grey skies and the pallor of melting snow mixed with mud does little to inspire me on any given day but perhaps today was different. As reported in an article from CTV News, at least one psychologist has controversially named the third Monday or January the most depressing day of the year.  Widely criticized for his over-use of the term "depression", psychologist Cliff Arnall nonetheless makes some compelling claims regarding this time of year, specifically the potentially toxic brew that can result from failed New Year's resolutions, Christmas bills, bad weather, and winter lethargy. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Just a Little Tipsy: Making your quesadillas crisp-alicious

Can you spot my photographer extraordinaire?
I like my quesadillas best when they are crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside, a feat which can be tricky to accomplish in a home kitchen. Thank goodness for a little ingenuity!

Super Easy Meatless Monday: Black Bean & Green Chile Quesadillas with Homemade Guacamole

What's not to love about gooey cheese, a crispy tortilla, and yummy sides to scoop and slather?  The quesadilla is as versatile as it is simple and makes a filling and scrumptiously simple meatless meal.  After all, let's face it, making the meat to wedge into the quesadilla has always been a pain in the rear anyways. Best news: with the right fillings and fixings, you're not going to miss it.

When easing the fam into a night of culinary meatlessness, a little choice can go a long way. And this is precisely why a quesadilla fits the bill. Although this recipe features cheddar cheese, black beans, and green chiles, there's a lot of room to experiment here with all sorts of fun cheese options (imagine what you could do with a brie quesadilla. . .I feel a future post coming on for that one), different beans (pinto are another family favorite, especially when dusted with cumin), and diced veggies (I'm a big fan of any sort of pepper, especially those pre-grilled frozen ones from Trader Joe's which are super easy and taste like they are hot off the fire).  

And then there's the salsa.  I went with a simple jarred variety here but if you're feeling ambitious, a chopped salsa featuring a favorite fruit could be a fun way to add some excitement, like this seasonal apple salsa recipe for example.  In my world, however, homemade guacamole is the only way to go.  There is nothing quite like the flavor combo produced by fresh avocado, garlic, and cilantro.  I can't write about it without salivating, a condition I call the pavlov-ocado effect. 

Just had to take a picture of this. . .I love avocado.

"Tipsy"s & Staples for Meatless Mondays

Meatless "Tipsy"s
Here are some general guidelines to get you started in planning easy and successful (translation: edible for the whole family) vegetarian meals.
  1. Think protein.  In my experience, the key to cooking sans meat is figuring out the whole protein thing. Protein makes you feel full and if you don't have the right amount in your meal, you'll be looking for the second course while you're doing dishes.  
  2. Keep it simple.  At least at first, the more you keep your vegetarian escapades simple, the more likely you will be to stick with the challenge. Then, once you have a few standbys established, go outside your comfort zone to try something more elaborate.
  3. Amp up the flavor.  Aside from the fact that flavor is what makes food taste good (duh!), flavorful foods can also make you feel full faster. Think bold and rich flavors like citrus and spice and fresh herbs.
  4. Start with what you love.  Figure out the vegetables that your family loves and build from there. If you have some picky eaters, let them choose which veg to include or try making something that builds in choices, like pick-your-own-topping pita pizzas or veggie omelette.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The "Meatless Monday" Challenge on Jesstimonials: Join me!

What if you could make one small change a week. . .
that could help your heart,
and the planet?
Would you?

Here it is in a nutshell: I used to be vegetarian then I was vegan then I was carnivorous with a vengeance and now I'm looking for that happy medium. Enter Meatless Mondays. Whatever your reason (and there are many), cutting back on meat can be beneficial to your health, your wallet, and the planet. I know this. Since I am cheap, kind of granola, and health-conscious, you would think that throwing in a veggie meal here and there would be a no-brainer for me. Yet somehow in the push and shove of the week, I tend to forget and if I'm not careful, we're eating our way through a small barnyard by Friday.

I have no interest in being preachy. You can eat your cow and have your chicken too and never be judged by me. I get it. What I do want to talk about is small choices that can make a big difference. What could be achieved if we each committed to one day a week meat-free? Check it out:

Need more? Here's one that works well for me: Think about your budget. Meat is expensive. What could you do with the money you would otherwise spend on meat? I'm thinking wine or shoes or books or even the luxury of eating out an extra time a month. Or maybe your very own Forever Lazy?  (Can you believe that thing's for real?!?)

One more: You know how we're always telling the little ones (and some of the big ones) in our lives to try new foods and to eat their vegetables. We mean it, right? So why do we relegate our non-meat ingredients to the oblivion of sidekick? Kinda elitist and a smidgen hypocritical when you think about it. If veggies are so important, why are they so often an afterthought on our plates? (Sure, veggies are great, Mom. (Wink wink). The pea next to my burger is my favorite part.) This is a great one to help you check off "live by example" from the list of resolutions. Involve the kiddos in brainstorming new veggies to try and creative ways to serve up your favorites and you have yourself a family activity for the most painful night of the week. Food is best when it's fun and flavor-packed. Vegetarian dishes are no different. Imagine what wonders could be created if the whole family were involved. . .deep fried princess castle of mixed crudites anyone? Okay maybe the three-year-olds shouldn't have full creative license.  
Now I'm getting all excited. . .food, family, frugality, and fun? Be still my heart. Sounds like the perfect fix for the Mondays and a great way to kick off the week. Why Mondays? The official Meatless Mondays site has a few of their own lofty reasons but here are mine: alliteration is cool and the traditional Friday is frankly a pain in the rear for us omnivores who occasionally want to eat dinner with friends. 

Jesstimonials has pledged to go meatless on Mondays. Won't you join me? Puh-lease? For my part, I'll post easy (we're talking Mondays after all) and yummy recipes every weekend to inspire your meatless  adventure and in exchange, you take up the challenge with me! Share your ideas, recipes, and experiences by commenting on the posts and let's get a community going. Who's in? Comment below with an enthusiastic "I heart Meatless Mondays! Can't wait to cook me up some (insert favorite meat-free ingredient or dish here)" to show your support.  Mondays just got a whole lot cooler.

  • Check out the Meatless Mondays site for basic info, tips, more recipes, and news on the movement.
  • Click on the Meatless Mondays widget to the right to access recipes directly.
  • Check back here for some of my own easy and road-tested recipes or enter your email in the top right hand corner to receive emails each time I update the site. (Coming soon.)
  • Check out my list of pantry and freezer recommendations to get you started. (Coming soon.) 
Failed attempt at Meatless Monday art.  Still makes me laugh though.
(Oh, and yes, those are red onion and rosemary earrings. :)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Just a little tipsy: Eggs for dinner (gasp) and poached eggs in a muffin tin

It sounds a little snobby but I'll admit it: I enjoy a good poached egg.  I mean eggs benedict. . .come on, that right there is straight up deliciousness.  It is breakfast royalty and I am a willing subject.  When scrounging through my refrigerator for the makings of a fast-approaching and forgotten dinner, however, I too often overlook the eggs. Why is that? Why have eggs been so disenfranchised? Nothing magical happens between the hours of 10 and 5 to make them less tasty. In fact, I would argue that eggs are even more fabulous in the evening because they are so darn easy.  Fancy is good on a Friday or a Saturday but nothing tastes better than easy on a Wednesday.

And so this brings me back to the fabulousness of the poached egg. It is the perfect topper to a thrown together whatever's-in-the-fridge salad. A little something warm and creamy to make you feel like you at least made some semblance of an effort. Poaching at home, however, has always been a straight up debacle for me. Many an egg and a temper have been lost in my clumsy attempts at poaching---dropping an egg into a hand-stirred tornado of hot water. . .are you kidding me?.  Enter muffin tin.  That's right---muffin tin.  Not only am I serving breakfast with dinner but now I'm using baking utensils for poaching.  Booyah!  Am I blowing your mind yet?

  1. Put water on to boil and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Butter, oil, or spray the inside of the muffin tin. (Do you like my fancy disposable one? I didn't have a casserole big enough for my actual muffin tin.)
  3. Drop an egg in each.
  4. Place the whole muffin tin in the casserole dish.
  5. When water is boiling, pour into the casserole dish (around the muffin tin) until the water is about 1" deep.
  6. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until eggs are firm.
  7. Scoop out your eggs and serve on your receptacle of choice. . .salad, pasta, toast.  Enjoy!

Served here as an addition to our standby goat cheese salad.
A question for my lovely readers:
I would love to learn new ways to use eggs for dinner, poached or otherwise.  What are some of the ways you enjoy eggs for dinner?  Let's get a recipe chain going in the comments section to help us all think outside the carton. ;)

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Monday, January 9, 2012

Just a little tipsy: Removing red wine stains from carpet or rugs

Wine is a sure thing in our house. In my opinion, it goes with everything---seafood, steak, bad days, celebrations, cookies, the sniffles, television, and the list goes on and on. I do not, however, enjoy it on my rug, which sadly seems to be its favorite place to spill, red wine in particular. Wine is for relaxing, right? So why is mine bent on giving me a stain-induced coronary? Nothing kills the chillaxin' like the double despair of lost wine and a crimson puddle on your cream rug.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Tasty Bites: Chocolate and white chocolate chip ricotta fritters (Last course of our New Year's Eve Decadence)

The day before New Year's Eve, I happened upon this video of Fabio Viviani (from Top Chef) making a very simple and very tempting combo of chocolate chip ricotta fritters served with a raspberry prosecco cocktail. Yes please! You know I had to whip up a batch just to practice, right? Oh and then one to refine. And then one round to share with a friend too. Take it from me---this recipe is inexpensive, delicious, easy. . .and apparently hazardous. If you are not a seasoned fryer, exercise caution! My first batch resulted in a small stovetop fire and a large mess. Hot oil is dangerous (an obvious fact I somehow overlooked) so keep the baking soda on hand and remember that the oil will bubble and spatter when you throw in something to fry so you should use a deep enough saucepan to prevent spatters from hitting the burner. Oh and wear an apron to protect your favorite cooking pants!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Tasty Bites: Seared scallops with a tarragon infused béchamel sauce (Course 2 of our New Years Eve Decadence)

I heart scallops. If they're on a menu and I'm feeling rich, I'm buying them. As such, these babies were a total no-brainer for our New Years feast. Since I also heart French cooking and adore Julia Child's cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking for its precision and reliability, experimenting with a new sauce was an indulgence for both my inner wannabe chef and my palette. Why the sauce a l'estragon (a tarragon infused béchamel)? Simple---I had never made it and there was leftover tarragon from the Emeril Lagasse moules mariniere recipe (see the previous post for course 1 of our New Years Eve Decadence). Done. Who knew tarragon was such a fun herb? Kind of like the more gentle cousin of anise. Note to self: must try more herbs. . .maybe a "fresh herb of the week" series is in order?

Anyhow, Julia Child's sauce recipes are absolutely fantastic and always leave me shamelessly licking the spoon and saucepan. This one is no exception. Served under a few seared scallops and next to the tartness of a grapefruit, arugula and fennel salad, the sauce a l'estragon has just the right amount of savory to compliment the scallops without competing with their tender and simple goodness. Best of all, don't let the swanky French names intimidate you---you do not need a fancy chef hat or a genetic predisposition for culinary talent to whip up a fabulous sauce. You do, however, need to be able to read and follow instructions. A little patience is helpful. Oh, and a love of butter is absolutely necessary.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Tasty Bites: Moules Marinieres (1st Course of our New Years Eve Decadence)

Jeremy and I have a tradition of cooking a fancy meal at home every New Years Eve. We buy the kind of ingredients we usually avoid either for health or wallet reasons and spoil ourselves rotten. This New Years Eve we started off our smorgasbord with these delicious monsters served Emeril Lagasse style with baguette croutons for dipping. Moules marinieres is a favorite fancy of ours. A dish discovered during our year in Marseille, moules mariniere is delicious in the way of fond memories. Scented with the salty brininess of the ocean and steeped in the flavors of provence, I can't eat this without being transported. So incredibly yummy. Now you either love mussels or you don't, but if you do, make this. Seriously. Make it now. As an added incentive, although decadent in the sense that you will want to literally drink the broth, we have discovered that fresh mussels aren't really all that expensive and they're pretty easy to cook. Come to think of it, I'm not sure why we don't eat this every night. . .