Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bacon-Wrapped Artichoke Hearts with a side of other non-bacony stuff

Snacks plates are a regular menu item at our friend Jessica's house. In fact, they're one of the secret weapons in her $250/month food budget.  We are no where near the $250/month mark. In fact, we spend $250 a week on groceries round these part (here's why). But the snack plates seemed like a pretty good idea, so we tried them.  The kids were pretty meh about the whole thing.  

But tonight we may have struck on something that even the pickiest kid will like....

These little babies are Bacon-Wrapped Artichoke Hearts, ready to pop in the oven.  They're so simple!

  • package of bacon
  • container of artichoke hearts (use marinated in a jar or un-marinated in a can, whatever you prefer. Just be sure to retain some of the liquid)
  • toothpicks (or something like 'em. we had wooden skewers handy)
1) cut the bacon in half (TIP: use scissors instead of a knife. It's much easier!)

2) Quarter the artichoke hearts and wrap each with 1/2 piece of bacon.

3) Line 'em up, sprinkle with the leftover artichoke juice ...

4) and bake 'em at 425 degrees for 12 - 14 minutes. 

5) Serve with whatever non-bacony side items strike your fancy. For us, it's carrots, sliced red pepper, clementines, blueberries, crackers, and two cheeses (Cheddar Clothbound Cabot & "stinky cheese", a.k.a. Zamorano)

(and no, that entire plate isn't mine! Jason, Olivia and I split it. Miranda and Hannah are at the theatre most nights this month.)

Jason - I thought it was pretty good. Anything with bacon's good in my book. How about Bacon-Wrapped Bacon tomorrow night?! These would be a really simple appetizer for a party, especially if you have a large crowd.

Tanya - Agreed! Simple and tasty (you can even taste the artichoke - honest) and I actually like the sides too. 

Olivia - (review phoned in from upstairs, where she's frantically reading for school) It was good. I really the bacon-wrapped artichokes. Do we have any more of those?!? (no) You should definitely write that they need to make lots more bacon-wrapped artichokes than they think they'll need.  (done)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Parmesan Pork with Herb Sauce

We'd planned My Brother's Chicken Tacos for last night. But then we found out that our favorite Birmingham beer bar (and Draft Magazines Best 100 in U.S.), The J Clyde, would be duking it out with another little tavern up in Huntsville to sell the most Heavy Seas Winter Storm .... well, we had to scrap the original plan and head out for great beer and a hummus plate.

So, instead of Tacos, we offer today a recipe for one of our all-time favorites: Parmesan Pork with Herb Sauce from the Publix Simple Meals series.


  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon peel
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh sage leaves, finely chopped - (we've used dried sage as well) 
  • 1 cup Italian-style panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 egg whites (or 1/4 cup egg white substitute)
  • 1 pork tenderloin (about 1 lb)
  • 1 1/2 cups reduced-fat milk
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 packet garlic/herb sauce mix (about 1 1/2 oz)


  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.  Zest/grate lemon peel (no white). Chop sage.
  2. Combine on plate, lemon peel, panko, Parmesan cheese, and salt. Combine in bowl the lemon juice and egg whites. Dip pork lightly into egg mixture; then press and turn in panko mixture to coat (wash hands). 
  3. Bake 20–25 minutes or until 160°F (for medium). Let stand 5 minutes before slicing.
  4. Combine milk, butter, and sauce mix; bring to a boil on medium, whisking to blend.  Reduce to medium-low. Stir in sage; cook and stir continuously, 2–3 minutes, or until thickened. 
  5. Slice pork and serve with sauce.

It's a hit in our house... hope you enjoy it too!

Photo Credit:  J Clyde photo from

Monday, December 12, 2011

Red Velvet Cake Balls - Part 2

Our first take on Red Velvet Cake Balls featured milk-chocolatey goodness. We also promised a lower-calorie, lower-fat version and here ya go:

Doesn't look particularly healthy, does it? But it is (at least healthier than most holiday goodies), thanks to a nutrient-packed secret weapon from that last holiday...

Most cake box mixes call for at least two eggs (164 calories -- 104 calories from fat) and 1/2 a cup of oil (964 calories -- 100% from fat). Leave out the eggs and oil and use, instead, 2 cups of canned pumpkin. It's got 166 calories (only 12 calories from fat) and gives you 0 cholesterol, 5 grams of protein, and loads of Vitamin A. Night vision, anyone?

It works great in muffin and cupcake recipes. When I was making these Red Velvet Cake Balls it was a bit messier than the egg/oil version. The consistency with pumpkin is moister/gooeyer; but you can compensate by freezing them a bit longer before rolling in white chocolate and sprinkle heaven.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Pork Scallopini with Butter Caper Sauce

(Woo Hoo!! Jason is writing a blog post... the first in many, many months - he's usually content to cook and eat. Here goes:)

One of my favorite Birmingham restaurants is Urban Standard.  It's a cool place to hang out. You'll find professionals (it's my office away from the office) sitting table to table with people of all ages just hanging.  

Trevor and the staff always serve excellent food (Tanya loves the cupcakes) and it fits with our values.

One of my favorite lunch entrees is the Pork Scallopine.  I was craving it today, but unfortunately Urban Standard is closed on Sundays so I had to fend for myself.  **If anyone at Urban Standard would like to share the restaurant recipe, I’d love to try it at home …  please :-) **

I wasn’t able to Google a recipe that approximates Urban Standard’s, but I did find two that showed up over and over again: one with a butter caper sauce and the other with a mushroom marsala sauce.  We love mushrooms, and Cassie Craves’ recipe looks really nice.  But I was a little worried the marsala would overwhelm the pork.  So, I opted instead for this Butter Caper Sauce recipe

  • 1.5 pounds pork tenderloin (we had them butterflied, so nice and thin)
  • 2 tbsp capers
  • 1/3 cup white wine
  • 1.5 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

1. Slice pork into 1/2 inch slices on a diagonal (we skipped this -- remember, butterflied)
2. Pound pork thin between plastic wrap with a meat mallet (a.k.a. Tanya's hammer. She's already hung four pictures with it today.)
3. Sift together the flour and salt.
4. Lightly dredge pork and shake off any excess flour.
5. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
6. Cook the pork 2-3 minutes on each side or until golden and transfer to a warm plate.
7.  Wipe out skillet.
8. Heat a tablespoon of butter in a skillet.
9. Add the capers, white wine and lemon juice.
10. Allow to reduce just a little before adding the final tablespoon of butter.
11. Mix slowly to incorporate and remove immediately from the heat.
12. Spoon the sauce over the pork and serve. 
I followed the recipe fairly closely (I’m not real good with measuring things … just like to eyeball it … probably being lazy rather than creative).   I decided to pair it with just a little angel hair pasta and Brussels Sprouts, made in the traditional Fulmore/Ott Fashion.  We slice in half, drizzle some sea salt and olive oil on it and then bake those little jewels at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or so.  It is by far one of our favorite side dishes and, given our schedules of late, we haven’t had the opportunity to enjoy them as much as we’d like.  I’d like to branch out a little on preparing the sprouts … if anyone has any suggestions please let us know.

Of course you can’t enjoy Pork Scallopini without a really great beer: Existent by Stillwater Artisanal. I picked it up at Charleston Beer Exchange during our anniversary trip in June.  The guys at CBE recommended it based on the other beer I bought (Allagash, Jolly Pumpkin, and others that I still can't find in Alabama).  Brian Strumke of Stillwater Artisanal describes Existent as …
Representing the philosophy behind Stillwater Artisanal.  We strive to define ourselves through our passion and sincerity while accepting that not all aspects of life are readily explanable.  To manifest this ideology we present an ale of intrigue, deep and dark, though deceptively dry, braced by a firm yet smooth bitterness and accented with an earthy hop and mild roast aroma.  This is an ale for you to define...
Brian is a Gypsy brewer. What's that mean? Check out this story that aired on NPR's Weekend Edition.


Jason - I though it was excellent! If the pork had been prepared just a wee bit better, ala Urban Standard, it would have been unbelievable! I will tell you the sauce, to me, was a little thin. I would have liked to have a little thicker sauce; but all in all, very good. 

Tanya - Loved it... LOVED IT! The pork was really moist (despite the smoke and crust  --- we had a little burning "incident" that Jason didn't go into in his blog post, but it involved too much oil and too high a temperature) and the Butter Caper Sauce was very tasty. And of course I'll eat Brussels Sprouts from here to next Wednesday.

Miranda - Burnt! There's no other way to describe it. I don't want it. (note: she's in a, um, "mood")

Olivia - I didn't like the chicken. It wasn't very good.  (um, pork, babe... pork)

Hannah - I really like the pork. It was great! Crispy on the outside but juicy and stuff on the inside.  The green cabbage things, I didn't like. They're too mushy. But it's okay. Whatever.

                   ~~~~~~            ~~~~~~           ~~~~~~         

Another recipe that looked really interesting is this one for Honey Mustard Pork Scaloppini. Think we'll try that one soon.  In the meantime, the plan for the rest of the week is:

My Brother’s Chicken Tacos – The Pioneer Woman 


Chicken from Oman - part of Olivia's World of Food series


Friday – we’re farming out the kids and having a Date Night!

Photo Credits: Urban Standard by ACNatta

Friday, December 9, 2011

Red Velvet Cake Balls

First, a shout out to @Miyuki704 who turned me onto these little drops of red velvet wonder.

She heard about my early New Year's Resolution to conquer my fear of baking and suggested I check out Bakerella's Red Velvet Cake Balls.  I'm so glad she did because not only are they easy (time consuming, yes... but easy), but they're super yummy!


  • 1 box Red Velvet cake mix 
  • 1 can cream cheese frosting (16 oz)
  • 1 package chocolate bark (regular or white chocolate)
  • wax paper

1. Cook cake according to directions on box, cool completely, then crumble into a large bowl.

2. Mix can of cream cheese frosting into the crumbled cake (I used my hands. Messy, but effective)

3. Roll mixture into quarter size balls and lay on cookie sheet.

4. Chill for several hours in fridge, or speed up the process by popping into the freezer for a while (I put mine in for 35 minutes)

5. Melt chocolate in microwave per directions on the package (do only a few blocks at a time because it does harden up rather quickly)

6. Roll balls in chocolate and lay on wax paper to firm up.

I'm already imaging all of the variations. Maybe coconut sprinkled on top before it hardens? How about white chocolate covering with colored sprinkles for a kids' party?  Different cake mixes?

I've already made another batch of cake crumbles using this tip that saves tons of calories and fat. Olivia's going to mix in the frosting and make the balls tonight with her sleepover friends. We'll let ya know tomorrow whether it works!

(photo credit: top photo from Bakerella)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Steamed Tuna Steaks with Zucchini and some AWESOME (!) Bread

Jason and I have been cooking together for nearly 25 years (wow - that makes us sound really old!).  The first few years were filled with lots of ramen noodles and spaghetti (it was college - don't judge).  We then graduated to stir fry and the weekly menu looked something like this:

Monday - chicken stir fry with Worcestershire sauce
Tuesday - beef stir fry with soy sauce
Wednesday - chicken stir fry with store-bought marinade sauce
Thursday - beef stir fry with Worcestershire sauce

(you get the idea)

Jason grew up in a traditional home. He mother never was taught to cook (women's work, ya know).  I also grew up in a traditional home (once, when Grandpa was left alone for a week, he fried up and ate dog food patties that'd been left in the freezer), but my Dad - an Iowa farm boy - occasionally took to the kitchen.

It could be fear inducing.  His "dump soup" is family legend - and I still remember the peanut butter and jelly omelets he tried to pawn off on me and friend who'd spent the night.  But he could also whip up the basics - eggs, bacon, spaghetti, etc.  And mom made sure all of us - including my brother - left the home knowing how to cook.

Fast forward 25 years and Jason and I share duties in the kitchen and our repertoire has greatly expanded. But, our philosophies are still different.  He's a "recipe" cook who pays attention to detail and generally follows the rules. That's what makes him a good baker.  Much like my Dad, I'm a bit more "make it up as you go", occasionally combining random ingredients I find in the pantry and fridge, while praying it comes out alright.  Often, when I tell Jason what I'm making for dinner he'll politely inquire: "Is this a real recipe or something you made up?"

So, I ask you: how do you answer when it's a real recipe that you've tweaked so much it may not look much like the original?  Last night I made Rachael Ray's Rosemary Grilled Tuna Steaks with Eggplant and Zucchini.  The original recipe follows, with my changes noted in parenthesis.


  • 4 tuna steaks, 6 to 8 ounces each
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, just enough to lightly coat the steaks
  • 6 sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves chopped, about 3 tablespoons (It's 30 degrees outside. We have no fresh rosemary. I'd planned to use dried rosemary, which one commenter on the original recipe site said worked fine, but I forgot. Oh well!)
  • steak seasoning blend or coarse salt & pepper (I opted for the latter)
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil for drizzling (didn't use this - see explanation below) 
Eggplant and Zucchini Topping Ingredients 

  •  2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped 
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 small, young, firm eggplant, chopped (we're not eggplant fans, so we left this out)
  • 1 small zucchini, chopped
  • 1 small yellow squash, chopped
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves chopped (30 degrees. Nothing growing. Didn't feel like spending $4 for a small packet of fresh thyme)
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 small vine ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced (I'm the only one who likes tomatoes, so I used one and didn't bother with seeding since the seeds don't bother me. In fact, I ate 1/2 of the tomato whole while prepping the meal.)
Preheat grill pan to high. Coat tuna in balsamic and season with rosemary, salt and pepper. Drizzle fish with oil, coating lightly on both sides. ***

Preheat a medium nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add 2 tablespoons EVOO. Add garlic and onion and saute 2-3 minutes. Add zucchini and squash to the pan, turn to coat and combine with garlic and onion.  Add eggplant, thyme, salt and pepper (again, no eggplant or thyme in ours). Cook, stirring frequently, 10 minutes, until veggies are fork tender. 

Grill tuna, 2-3 minutes on each side for rare, up to 6 minutes on each side for well done.   (***Note: I opted to steam the tuna instead of grill it. It's easier and saves calories. Just put about 1.5 inches of water in bottom of steamer - I use a microwave one - and steam tuna stakes for 8-10 minutes). 

When tuna is done and veggies are fork tender, stir the chopped tomatoes into the eggplant/zucchini mix and remove from pan.  Serve the tuna topped with the vegetable salsa. 

Consider serving it with this awesome Vegetable Antipasto Stuffed Bread, also from Rachael Ray (this time, with only minor tweaks):

  • 1 loaf crusty bread, 9 - 12 inches in length
  • parsley (no amount give in Rachael's recipe. I sprinkled a bunch of dried parsely into the pesto mix)
  • 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, drained and chopped
  • 1/4 cup black pitted calamata or oil cured olives, chopped (we used green, pimento-stuffed olives)
  • 1/2 cup prepared pesto sauce
  • 1/4 pound deli sliced provolone (we used shredded mozzarella)
  • 1 jar, 16 to 18 roasted red peppers, drained (we used significantly less than that #. Maybe 2 total)
  • 1 (15 ounce) can quartered artichoke hearts in water, drained (we also used significantly less than that. Maybe 2 artichoke hearts total)
  • 1 cup giardiniera (a.k.a. pickled vegetables... can include hot pickled peppers, cauliflower, carrots, etc. I found it near the pickles at Publix. You can also find it in the Italian foods aisle)
  • salt and pepper
  • EVOO for drizzling
Cut the top off a loaf of crusty bread. Hollow out the inside of the bread.  Mix parsley, sun-dried tomatoes, olives and pesto sauce in a bowl. 

Spread the mixture evenly across the bottom of the hallowed out bread. 

Layer cheese into the loaf, then the roasted red peppers on top of the cheese. 

Add the artichoke hearts over the peppers.

And sprinkle the chopped hot pickled veggies on top and drizzle with some EVOO.

Replace the top, then cut the stuffed loaf into pieces and serve.  I am in love with this recipe!  So simple, so tasty.... (even if the kids don't like it.  To quote Olivia, "Um, yeah... I don't like that stuff.  But the tuna was good!" 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Need Tips for Dealing with a Contractor

We need your input/help. We usually do home renovations ourselves. Since buying our 1978 fixer-upper four years ago here's what we've accomplished:

1.  Pulled out the carpet in the kitchen (YES!! they covered the kitchen floor with that ubiquitous blue office carpet. GROSS!) and the gold shag carpet in the living and dining rooms and replaced it with a nice maple laminate.

2. Built an island, complete with wine fridge and tiled countertop, in the kitchen and pulled out the poo-colored brown laminate backsplash and replaced it with a nice glass tile.

3. Ripped out the 1970's bar (complete with gold laminate countertop) in the family room, flipped it around on the wall, refinished it, built a new top and added bookshelves above -- voila, a "built in" bookcase!

4. Lots of other ripping out of ugly wallpaper (we had TIKI HEADS on our dining room wall!) and painting of various surfaces.

But this latest project has us a bit flumoxed (I *don't* to electricity!), so we're calling in the experts.  The first contractor is coming this morning. What advice do you have? What questions should we ask? What should we be watching for when choosing which contractor to go with?

Thanks in advance!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Peppermint Snowflakes ... and other adventures in Holiday Baking

You know what's super cruel?!? Blogging about your baking escapades when you know your co-workers read the blog, but you aren't bringing in any to share!

So, a disclaimer:  I will make more and bring them in to the radio station. I promise!

But first, we have to take care of all the teachers (23 of them?!?), especially since the new state ethics law outlaws most other types of holiday gifts.  (which, by the way, I'm okay with ... more on that on a blog post coming tomorrow).

Back to the baking. Let's be clear. I am not a baker. Jason bakes bread. From scratch. By hand. Really impressive bread like this Ethiopian Spiced Honey Bread that he helped Olivia make for her World of Food series.

I usually bake from a box. And sometimes I even screw that up (like the time I used lemon juice concentrate instead of freshly squeezed lemon juice in a poppyseed cake I made Dad for Father's Day). But, inspired by really good bakers like my friends Melanie and Erika, I'm putting "learning how to bake" at the top of the culinary resolution list for 2012.  I thought I'd get a head start by trying a little scratch baking this holiday.  Here's the result...

Melissa d'Arabian's recipe is called "Delicate Mint Sandwich Holiday Cookies" - but I prefer "Peppermint Snowflakes".  It's punchier. And I didn't have a round cookie cutter (see!!! I'm really NOT a baker!), so I made mine into snowflake shapes.  I also doubled the recipe to it would make 24 complete sandwich cookies. The amounts below are the "doubled" amounts.

Ingredients for Cookies:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 6 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • colored sugars (green, blue, red, silver, white, whatever. I used red.)
Ingredients for Mint Filling:
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar (for us non-bakers, that's a.k.a. "powdered sugar")
  • 4 tbsp butter, softened
  • 4 drops mint extract
  • 4 drops red or green food coloring (I used red, but it turned out kinda pink. Which I like!)
  • confectioners' sugar, for dusting, optional (I forgot this part)
For the cookies: Preheat over to 375 degrees F. Cream the butter, cream cheese and sugar until smooth using a handheld mixer (or stand mixer, if you're lazy like me).  Slowly add the flour until incorporated.  Scoop the dough into a ball using your hands, put in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the dough has firmed slightly (about 30 minutes, give or take a little bit)

On a floured surface, roll the dough about 1/8-inch thick. (I resisted the urge to take out a ruler and measure the thickness. Just make sure it's all the same thickness. And it's not too thick.)  Now it's time to cut your cookies. If you've got round cookie cutters like d'Arabian's you can use them to cut cookies, then cut a smaller hole in 1/2 of the cookies. Like this:

Aren't those pretty!?! 

If you're like me, though, and you've got a limited selection of cutters, just chose one you like and start cutting! As you do, transfer the cut cookies to a baking sheet and sprinkle with colored sugars. Re-roll the dough scraps and repeat until all the dough is used. 

Bake cookies until golden around the edges, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes on baking sheets, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. 

For the filling: 
Place the sugar, butter, mint extract, food coloring and 1/2 tsp water in a medium bowl and beat on medium until mixed and fluffy. Spread thin layer of filling on cooled cookies, then top with another cookie. Don't be like me! Remember to sprinkle the finished cookies with confectioners' sugar.

Enjoy! And be sure to save some to share (and please... post your favorite holiday cookie recipes below. I'd love to try them!)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Scallops with Creamy Bacon Corn Sauce

I'm sitting here in the studio (between breaks in Morning Edition) listening to Martha Stewart talk about entertaining. She's got a new book (her 75th!?!) called "Entertaining"...

Martha's giving some useful tips (if you're going to wait till morning to clean-up from a party, be sure to put a little water in the wine glasses so the leftover wine doesn't etch the glass).

And she's reminiscing about her years in prison and how she used her monthly stipend to buy clay and mold a nativity set that she says looked just like Wedgewood. Ohhh, Martha!

Her book includes hosting tips, decorating ideas and recipes, including one for Noah's Ark Cookies.  Got me thinking -- how long did it take Noah to build the Ark?  According to one source, about 40-50 years. And that's exactly how long it seems to be taking to finish my latest building project.

Yes, Jason set an eight day deadline; but after he unceremoniously hammered into the soffit and that led to taking down the walls, and then we found that under the tiled floor was a crumbling concrete pad (on the 2nd floor? Was HardiBacker not invented in 1978?), well - let's just say the timeline and the budget have expanded.

Yesterday was filled with hours of reno, bags of chunked up concrete lined up on the front stoop, and...

Baking. Yes, that time honored holiday tradition of attempting to look like I know how to bake. This year's Bake-Fest takes on special meaning given a new state ethics law that outlaws gift cards and "anything of value" for public school teachers.  Here's a preview of what Olivia & I made:

(more on those goodies in a post coming soon....)

As soon as I get time to do anything besides destroying drywall or mixing sugar and butter!  We've been so busy that lately that we haven't had a chance to blog about all the great meals we've been making. But here's a really good one I wanted to share.

Scallops with Creamy Bacon Corn Sauce (from Publix Apron's Simple Meals)

  • 4 slices bacon
  • 3/4 lbs scallops
  • 1 tablespoon canola or olive oil
  • corn (can be removed from 3 ears fresh corn or use one can corn)
  • 1/3 cup diced tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup diced onions
  • 1/3 cup diced bell peppers
  • 1/8 cup coarsely chopped chives
  • 1 tbsp blackening seasoning
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • salt & papper

1.  Preheat saute pan on medium-high for 2-3 minutes. Season scallops with salt and pepper. Put oil in pan,  add scallops and cook for 1-2 minutes on each side or until golden, opaque and firm. Remove from  pan, put on plate and cover to keep warm.

2. Cut bacon into small piece (use kitchen scissors.... it's easier!). Cook in pan 3-4 minutes until crisp. Drain bacon fat, reserving one tablespoon in pan. Stir in tomatoes, onions, and peppers (It's called a "Trinity Mix" -- anyone know why?!?!). Cook 2-3 minutes.

3. Combine blackening seasoning, half-and-half and corn; add to pan.

4. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook 3-4 minutes more, stirring.

Transfer corn mixture to service dish and top with scallops and chives.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving Leftovers = Mother of Invention

It's a cold, dreary day so we kept ourselves busy inside doing renovation work.  Jason agreed to let me demo the "master" bathroom (quotations necessary since it's a 5x7 foot space), so long as I have the project done in 8 days and it's kept tidy enough that he can still take a shower.  Demanding guy! 

Here are a couple "before" pics...

Don't look too long. That wallpaper could induce seizures! 

What's with the (wallpapered) soffits all over this house?!? They must have been tres chic in 1978.

You know how when you start a renovation or even just redecorating one thing leads to another? Our bathroom sink was really, really grody and no matter how well you cleaned it it never looked clean.  It's an integrated sink/vanity countertop and when I went to the Big Box yesterday to look for a replacement I found out it was a specialty size.  The cheapest (non-formica) countertop I could order would set us back $757.  So I opted for a new vanity/sink combo ($379), which necessitated a new wideset faucet ($89).  Brought it home, and started ripping out the existing cabinet....

only to find that (no surprise here), the ceramic tile didn't extend under the cabinet. So I had to rip up the tile (of course)...

I got up early this morning to go to Big Box again (remember, 8 day deadline on this project and I work full-time).  When I got back to the house, tile in tow, I found Jason up on a ladder hammering away at the soffit.  "I knew you hated it, so I thought I'd rip it out.  Hey, guess what?! There's no drywall behind the soffit."

So.... now we're ripping out the drywall and the ceiling, rather than patching the  part that he tore down.  Even Olivia's getting in on the action. Need some demo?!? She's your girl.

By the time dinner rolled 'round tonight I could barely move and while a dinner of Chocolate Oatmeal Stout and Advil sounded perfectly reasonable to me, had to think about the kid. So we whipped up one of our favorites from Nana:

Ingredients & Directions (it's that easy) for Turkey Casserole 

Line a dutch oven or 9x13 baking dish with leftover turkey and 10 oz frozen broccoli (thawed & drained). Cover with  leftover (or newly prepared) stuffing.  Mix 1 can cream of chicken & 2/3 cups milk and spread over turkey/stuffing.  top with 1.5 cups shredded cheddar cheese. Baked at 350 for 30 minutes or until warmed through and serve with Sister Schubert's dinner rolls (also leftover). Good comfort food for a cold, dreary day (and a sore, weary body).

What's your most unusual leftover reinvention??

Thursday, November 24, 2011

It May Be Turkey Day, But the Real Stars are the Veggies!

Back when I was a flexitarian my mother and mother-in-law used to fret about holiday meals. What ever will I eat if I can't have turkey or ham?!?

Truth be told, holiday meals are a smorgasbord for vegetarians.  It's the one time a year that many hard core carnivores actually welcome a spread of veggies to the table.  Mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes (or are they yams? What's the difference?), buttery dinner rolls, cranberry relish (just not Mama Stamberg's!)... MMMmmmmm.

We usually spend Thanksgiving with Jason's parents (Grammy & Dampa of the Pirate and Big Birthday Bakeoff party fame) and there are two standout dishes that I just love.

Vegetable Casserole

I grew up eating Campbell's Classic Green Bean Casserole, and I really like it. But I don't love it the way I do this recipe from Grammy's friend Dianne Taylor.

Ingredients for casserole

  • 1 can french style green beans - drained
  • 1 can shoe peg corn - drained
  • 1/2 cup celery - chopped
  • 1/4 cup bell pepper - chopped
  • 1/2 cup onion - chopped
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 can cream of celery soup
  • 1/2 cup sour cream

Ingredients for topping

  • 1/3 box Ritz Crackers - crushed
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds
  • 1 stick melted butter

Mix the casserole ingredients and pour into baking dish. Top with topping. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes. 

It's toasty, crunchy, and mouth-wateringly yummy.

Pretzel Jello Salad

Grammy got this recipe from Main Street Cafe in Madison, Alabama, but it's made the rounds for years so I'm not sure where it originates. It's one of those salty-sweet things (like dipping your french fries in a Wendy's Frosty!)


  • 2 1/2 cups pretzels, coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup margarine
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 8 oz. cream cheese (softened)
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large container Cool Whip
  • 2 (3 oz) packages of strawberry jello
  • 2 (10 oz) packages of frozen strawberries

Mix the pretzels, margarine and 3 tablespoons of sugar. Bake in 9x13 pan at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Cool completely.

Blend the cream cheese and 1 cup sugar. Add Cool Whip, mix well.  Spread over cooled pretzels. 

Dissolve jello in boiling water. Add strawberries, breaking up with a fork as you stir. Chill until slightly thickened. Pour over Cool Whip layer.

Chill until set. Cut and serve.

High-calorie heaven in a pan! (no one ever said vegetarian always = healthy)

Some more random holiday shots:

Miranda, with Chateau Gatorade circa 2011.

Olivia with her Thanksgiving Day favorite - black olives. Girl can put away some olives!

Hannah (and Olivia) folder the napkins into tiny little cranes. ("Who wadded up my napkin?!?" Dampa asked.)

From our family to yours -- Happy Thanksgiving!

Ohhhh Yeassss I DIH-ihhhhd!

I've been in public radio for 23 years and every year the doyen of the airwaves, Susan Stamberg, has tempted us with her recipe for Mama Stamberg's Cranberry Relish.   Her mother-in-law clipped  Craig Claiborne's recipe from a 1959 New York Times.  Susan first shared it with the radio world in 1972 on All Things Considered, and she's been sharing it every year since. 

In 2003, she got Sid Caesar to perform the recipe.  In 2004 she managed to steer a conversation about chocolate back to the cranberry dish.  The next year she talked relish with domestic diva Martha Stewart, and in 2006 she lectured listeners about table manners and not refusing unfamiliar dishes like, oh, say Mama Stamberg's Cranberry Relish. In 2007 she lobbied for the cranberry relish as a football munchie and in 2007 food expert Ruth Reichl gushed about Stamberg's Standby.  

Now, 2010 ... that was a memorable year!  Coolio rapped the recipe.  Listen to it. Honestly, Coolio rapping about Cranberries. "Fetish... for that relish..."

This year, she again brought her tradition to the airwaves. This time she went to the White House to kvetch with the chefs there.  

"It sounds terrible, but tastes terrific," Susan cooed.  

I love the moment in the conversation when the chef says something like, "You do this... and then you do... that and then you throw it all out!  Just kidding. Ha! ha! ha!"   (you have to actually listen to the story, not just read the web version to hear this exchange.)

But, as you know, behind most jokes there's a sliver of truth. Or in this case, a whole big cranberry log of truth. 

Back in '93, I was newly graduated, new married and newly moved to Denver to host All Things Considered. It was the first time I was away from home and confronted with making Thanksgiving dinner for myself, Jason and another young nomad.

So, we bought a turkey and all the fixins, including:

  • 2 cups whole raw cranberries, washed
  • 1 small onion
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons horseradish from a jar ("red is a bit milder than white")

We ground the raw berries and onion together in a food processor. We added the rest of the ingredients, then froze it.  Early Turkey Day morning we pulled it out of the freezer and put it in the frig to thaw. 
Later that night (after my 3-7 p.m. shift on air) we pulled it out of the frig and discovered it was thick, creamy, Pepto Bismol-pink... 

And, NASTY!, in my opinion.  And I'm not alone. Google Mama Stamberg's Cranberry Relish and you'll see, if anything, the response is passionate. People either love it - or hate it.  One person even takes the hate to a whole new level....  (seriously, pubradio fans who've endured this yearly tradition, watch this video!)
Okay, Freddy Krueger and heavy artillery aside ... you might like it. If you're brave enough to try it. Are you? 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Blech Comes to Visit

So, we've been battling a major sinus infection (Miranda) since Tuesday and now the stomach/fever virus (Hannah) comes knocking.  Ugh!

Need something really easy for dinner tonight, so we're trying Crockpot Peppercorn Steak.  We'll let you know how it is in, oh, 7 hours or so.  Now, back to laundry load #2017.

Hope you & yours are healthy....  

Friday, November 11, 2011

Southwest Salmon

or... yet another recipe in which we extol the virtues of my favorite fish!  We've already bragged on

And of course, Olivia's all-time favorite recipe: Grilled Salmon with Avocado & Corn Salsa.  Mmmmmm!

We've got another to add to the list...  a so-simple recipe with a bit of kick!


  • 1 can of spicy diced tomatoes
  • dash of lime juice (eyeball this - maybe a tbsp?)
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • dash of chili powder (again, eyeballs - 1/2 tsp should do it)
  • salmon fillets
  1. Preheat large saute pan on medium high 
  2. Combine tomatoes and mayo in a shallow bowl
  3. Coat salmon fillets with tomato/mayo mixture & place in pan; top with remaining mayo mixture
  4. Cover and cook 3-4 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily with a fork
  5. Serve over rice
See... how easy is that! And healthy too, especially if you choose wild-caught.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Dangers of Food Blogging

Back in the early days of this blog we featured a multi-part series on how *flipping* much our family spends on groceries. We wondered. Are we normal?

We asked for guidance,  and my dear friend Jessica answered with some sobering numbers of her own and some great suggestions (especially for kids), including:

We reserve one day for “snack trays.”  The kids can choose between the 12 cup muffin pan or the 6 cup jumbo muffin pan, and they fill each cup with whatever they want to nibble on. I started doing this when they were toddlers, so I always got all food groups involved. They have kept it up even though they now make their own choices. I let them scour the pantry and refrigerator for whatever they can find. Often it's nuts, dried fruits, fresh fruits, cut veggies w/ homemade dips, yogurt, cheeses, crackers, etc. They love it!
"Brilliant!" I thought.   So last night I served the kids this

apples & caramel
"stinky" cheese & crackers
Also (not shown): carrots, chips & queso, and brownies (courtesy Hannah. She baked 'em herself, y'all!).

So, yes, not usual fare for our house, but I figured the kids would <heart> it.

Yeah... no dice.  "It's so random."  "Why isn't there anything hot?" "When's Dad coming home so we can have some real food?!?"

Oh well. Guess that's just one of the dangers of Food Blogging! It can't be Blackened Shrimp Alfredo every night!

Smoked Salmon Hash and Eggs

When I was growing up my grandmother, bless her heart, served these salmon patties that could only be described as archeological expeditions.  They were so full of little vertabrae bones that alternately grossed me out and sent me on a mission to crush them all with my teeth.  Chomp, chomp, chomp!

This was my only exposure to salmon, until I reached adulthood and learned that, o.m.g., salmon can be absolutely delicious (and bone free!).   It's now one of my favorite meals (witness this, this, and this... ooh, ooh, ooh... and this All-Time Favorite!)

My mom recently admitted that she never served to us salmon growing up because she hated Grandma's salmon patties.  So I've made it my mission to find and share with her (and you) the best salmon redeeming recipes.  Which leads me to this week's offering:

Smoked Salmon Hash & Eggs (modified from a Whole Paycheck recipe)

Ingredients: (serving for 2)

  • olive oil
  • 2 cups shredded hashbrowns, thawed
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 can salmon (minus the skin and vertabrae)
  • 2 eggs


  1. Heat large skillet with olive oil. 
  2. Add hashbrowns, 2/3 of the onions, and 1/2 of the pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until just crisp (about 5 minutes).
  3. Add salmon, toss together until combined and heated through. 
  4. Transfer hash mix to plate and keep warm. 
  5. Wipe skillet clean, add more oil, and cook eggs to your liking. 
  6. Serve egg over salmon hash, garnished with remaining onions and pepper. 
Yum, yum, yum!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Halloween Lament

Halloween is one of my favorite - if not the favorite - holidays of the year.  I don't remember getting that into it as a child. My parents were firm believers that you stopped trick or treating when you started middle school. I remember being invited to my friend Stacy's halloween party in 6th grade, only to find the group was going TOTing.

Moral dilemma: Do I demurely decline TOTing, citing OTT family rules... Or do I TOT in secret and hope my mom doesn't find out?  (being an oldest-child-adult-pleaser kinda kid I chose the latter, but I sulked a whole bunch).

So, imagine how delighted I was when I grew up and realized that there were adults -- plenty of adults! -- who love Halloween and celebrate it with great gusto.

Denver 1992:  Double-decker bus with a keg in back ferried us from bar to bar while random dude dressed as GI Joe sprayed Jagermeister from a plastic machine gun.

Denver 1993:  Friend Cheryl and her boyfriend Ben (a professional magician's assistant and set/prop builder - how cool is that?!?) host a Halloween party to end all parties. A huge papermache skeleton draped his arm over their front porch and I stood in line for the keg with their elderly neighbor. (First time I'd been at a party with an octogenarian. It made an impression. Old people drink... from kegs?!)

Gainesville 1995:  Pushed Miranda around the entire neighborhood in a stroller TOTing, even though she only had a couple baby teeth.

Orlando 2000:  Dragged Miranda, Olivia and newborn Hannah around the neighborhood, even though 2/3 of the houses didn't celebrate. Who knew there were so many Jehovah's Witnesses at Disney?

Birmingham 2010: We hosted our first (hopefully annual**) Halloween Party. No super-sized skeletons draped over the house and certainly no keg (we like good beer). But plenty of kids and parents, fun games, good food...

So I had high expectations for this year.


Hannah spiked a fever on Sunday, and so began my Halloween Lament.

Disappointment #1: I didn't get a single picture of Olivia dressed in her Nerd Costume.  And I had to rip a picture of Miranda off Facebook (she's the blue legged native american. Hey -- it's better than the Sexy Cop costume that was the 2nd choice!)

Disappointment #2: Hannah couldn't TOT.  And I'd even convinced her to dress up in a costume that was more befitting a toddler than an 11 year old.

Disappointment #3: Not one kid came to our house to TOT. Not One!

My mom has long complained that she gets no TOTers. Back in the day (early 70s through late 80s) there were plenty of kids in my parents' neighborhood. But the kids have grown up, had their own kids, and now their neighborhood is mostly retirees and college students.  Weird mix, I know.

Our neighborhood is full of kids! Our street alone has at least 14, not including our girls.  So you'd think we'd get decent traffic. But nope. Total crickets. Poor Hannah, whom I'd appeased by promising she could hand out the candy (as long as she didn't touch it or breathe on anyone), sat on the couch, candy bowl at the ready, for three hours asking every 10 minutes when someone was going to ring the door bell.

It. was. sad. Painfully sad.  I just had to scoop her up in my arms, give her a really tight hug, and remind her that now we have lots of tootsie rolls to eat.

Here's my theory:

1. People are lazy! We live half-way up a hill. That's just too much exercise when there're easy pickins at the bottom of the incline. (note to slackers: walking up hill supposedly burns 476 calories an hour. That equivalent to 1.5 Snickers Bars!)

2. People are crazy! "The world is so crazy and the thought of ringing a stranger's doorbell, asking for candy really makes me nervous!" wrote one of my Facebook friends. No, honey, you are crazy!  Or watching too much Criminal Minds. Or both.

3. People are ... well, there's not one word that sums up this one, but here goes. People are so programmed these days to want a "big experience" that they'd rather pack up the kids and drive to someone else's neighborhood because it has (a) the best candy (b) pyrotechnic displays and elaborate front yard corn mazes (c) <insert other cool stuff here>.

But here's the problem. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy, isn't it? If you skip Halloween in your own neighborhood because it's not the "cool one", there are fewer people TOTing there, neighbors decide it's not worth the effort (or the calories) to buy (and eventually eat) the bags of candy, there are fewer front porches lit year after year until it definitely isn't a neighborhood you could TOT, even if you wanted to!

Oh yeah, and you miss a great opportunity to meet your neighbors and discover they're not psychopaths injecting rat poison into the Mars Bars.

Think about it.

Rant over.

There's always 2012.  I'm already "pinning" decorating and food and costume ideas.  And I might just start stockpiling newspapers for that papermache skeleton.  

Pork Schnitzel and Braised Red Cabbage

When I was a kid I had a long list of things I wouldn't eat:

1. fish (exception: sardines. I dunno.)
2. liver (Dad's favorite. I choked it down covered in ketchup)
3. rabbit (traumatizing incident with Dad)
4. spaghetti sauce (but I could pack away a mountain of dry noodles covered in processed Parmesan cheese!)
5. any light-colored soda (Sprite - blech. Mt. Dew - no way!)
6. lima beans (can you say wallpaper paste wrapped in a thin shell?)

I'm sure there were more. But those were the biggies. Thankfully, I came to my senses and now love salmon, as well as a good veggie spaghetti sauce. Still haven't developed a taste for liver, rabbit, Sprite or the beans; but that's okay.

Part of the reason we started cooking (and eventually blogging) with girls was to encourage our pickiest eaters to expand their horizons. And to that end, Jason recently made Pork Schnitzel with Braised Red Cabbage. It's from the Publix Apron's Simple Meals series. If you're not lucky enough to have a Publix, you should still check out their recipes. We've had really good luck with quite a few. They're easy, use common recipes, and are usually quite tasty. This one's no exception.

one thin pork chop per person
1 Granny Smith apple
1/2 cup diced onions
1 (16 oz) jars sweet & sour red cabbage
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs (we used Panko, since we had it on hand)
2 eggs
1 tbsp unsalted butter
4 tbsp canola oil
 1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (hmmmm, that's unexpected!)
1 tsp kosher salt

Directions for Schnitzel: 
1. Place flour in shallow bowl; bread crumbs in 2nd bowl.
2. Beat eggs gently in 3rd bowl.
3. Preheat large saute pan (yay cast iron skillet!) on medium-high. Season pork with salt & pepper. Dip pork in flour, coating both sides, then into eggs (let excess drip off), then bread crumbs.
4. Put 2 tbsp oil in the pan, add pork and cook 4-5 minutes on each side or until pork is 160-degrees F.

Directions for Braised Red Cabbage: 
1. Coarsely chop apple.
2. Combine apple, cabbage (drained), onions, butter and cinnamon in microwave safe bowl and heat on high 3-5 minutes.

How easy is that?!?! 
Publix serves its over German Potato Salad, but we opted for sliced, boiled potatoes. So yummy and a hit all the way around (even the picky eater!)

Nigerian Chicken Skewers

Do you like it HAAAWT?!?

If so, this recipe's for you.  Olivia (our 12 year old) chose it for her weekly World of Food Series meal. Olivia loves food and she loves to cook. **  

So far she's made meals from Afghanistan, Belgium, Croatia (ick!), Denmark (our video debut), Ethiopia, France, Ghana, Hungary, Italy (a 5-course meal that would make Rocco proud!), Japan, 

Kenya, Lebanon, Morocco, and now.... 


Nigerian Chicken Skewers (aka Suya).  And boy is it spicy! 

1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon paprika
2 tablespoons cayenne powder (here's your HEAT!)
2 tablespoons peanuts, finely minced
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast
2 tablespoons peanut oil
couscous (cooked according to directions) 

1. Mix all dry ingredients together. 
2. Slice chicken into thin pieces and sprinkle with seasoning mix. Let sit for a couple minutes. 
3. Thread chicken onto skewers (we use metal - no risk of burning!) and brush with oil.
4. Grill or broil for 4 minutes on each side or until thoroughly cooked.

** Olivia is also a very type-A girl. She already has plans to get her business degree from our alma mater, attend culinary school, then open a Cupcake & Meatball restaurant in a most unlikely place.   Why there? Because it offers more room than a Manhattan studio apartment for her Great Dane ("Chuckles") and St. Bernard ("Chloe"). 

Friday, October 28, 2011

What The Heck Can I Eat?!?

I'm a pretty healthy person. Overweight, yes... but otherwise no real complaints.  But there are some minor things that are creeping up as I inch into my mid-40s.  I've had thyroid disease ever since Miranda was a baby and I had to have a tumor removed from my thyroid.  The cholesterol, while still in the normal range, is pushing the upper limit. And my rosacea's flared up in the past few years (honestly, that's the one that really ticks me off! No... I'm not going to pass out, I'm simply bright red because my skin hates me!)

This year doctors started giving me "dietary tips" to deal with these things. Here're the lists of "things to avoid":

Thyroid -- Soy. That means no tofu and no edamame (boo!). It's one of the reasons I gave up being a flexitarian a couple years ago.

Cholesterol -- bacon, bologna (no problem there), hot dogs (oh well... no more Wienerpaloozas for me... sad face), Swiss/American/Cheddar cheese (ugh! that means I'll have to skip Hannah's specialty), cream cheese (hello??? Bagels???), croissants/pastries/donuts (awww, Krispie Kreme), egg noodles, coconut (?), ice cream, chocolate, potato chips, buttered popcorn

Rosacea -- tea, coffee, alcohol, tomatoes, spinach, eggplant, cheeses, steak, chocolate, vinegar, soy sauce, citrus, bananas, raisins, figs, avocados, yogurt, sour cream, and pickled/marinated/fermented items.

So, basically, I can eat whole-grain bread. And water.

Yay, me...

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Italian Chicken with Noodles

What a busy day! It started at the gym...

Olivia tied for 2nd on the beam, placed 3rd on the floor, 4th on vault and 6th on bars (danged bars!).

And that was just the morning. After the gym there was theatre rehearsal for Miranda and Hannah. And of course...

(minus Tebow, hence the crappy score)

So, it's 7 p.m., the troops are starved and we need a quick meal!

We scrambled through the pantry and fridge and came up with....

  • 1 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs 
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme 
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano 
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 1/2 cups thinly sliced carrots
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 8 oz uncooked corkscrew pasta 
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • the dregs of the shredded parmesan cheese

Cook pasta according to directions.

Chop chicken breasts, put in skillet with olive oil, sprinkle with spices and sautee.

Add onions and carrots...

Add peas (oooh, this is getting colorful!)

Add tomatoes (looking like a rainbow! Just the way we like it.)

Stir in cooked pasta, serve in bowls, topped with parmesan.

Everyone agrees: Yum!!

(and Double Yum!! Olivia and Hannah have brownies in the oven right now)