Monday, March 28, 2011

Heavy Heart

One minute I'm fine, and the next I'm in pieces.  We had to say goodbye to our sweet Maddie on Friday.  I alternate between dwelling on the good times and bemoaning the difficult end.  I can only be grateful she had 13.5 years on this earth to make everyone around her so happy.

Her energy and vivacity were infectious, sometimes inspiring, and often exhausting.  I will be forever her Maddie's debt for teaching me to love dogs.  The joy she - and all dogs I will love for the rest of my life - bring me is unmatchable.  I know we gave Maddie a great life and she always knew how much we loved her.

Goodbye, sweet girl.  We will never forget you.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Five Things

I have a big thing for work Friday morning, so once that is over I will probably be especially eager for the weekend to start.  Worrying about that all week, along with long hours and rainy weather has turned me into a stressball.  I feel like I'm Cathy (from the comic) instead of Kathy (from real life) - screaming "Ack!!" with lots of weird sweat flying off my face.  Luckily I have my sweet puppy to put things in perspective.  She is always joyful and can put a smile on my face no matter what.

John's mom sent me a book last week and I can't seem to put it down.  Blood, Bones, and Butter got rave reviews from everyone, and it has proven to be a great read so far.  The author details how she ended up the chef at Prune in NYC, and her thoughtful descriptions and heartfelt revelations make this book unlike other food memoirs.  I highly recommend it.

This outdoor European market I frequent was somehow out of garlic, so I picked up this elephant garlic instead.  The name alone tells it all, as these cloves are at least 5-10 times the size of a normal garlic clove.  Perfect for saving some time on peeling cloves.  I will note, however, that it smells more like an onion than garlic, so I can't say that it's a perfect substitute.  Definitely makes life easier if you'd rather have one giant clove, though.

I used a Groupon recently to buy a subscription to Food and Wine magazine.  The past couple years I've been reading food magazines on plenty of airplanes, so I figured I might as well subscribe to one!  I prefer Food & Wine to Bon Appetit, mostly because I'm not too fond of the photography in Bon Appetit.  I guess harsh lighting is their thing for some reason.  The question is whether I'll end up reading my Food & Wine magazines at the gym, in the kitchen, or in that I'm not longer reading them in airplanes.  I have no doubt I'll read them though!

I held out on buying this super-sized bag of Nestle chocolate chips from Costco for as long as I could muster. Whether it was the coupon or the comedic value of it, I couldn't resist any longer.  Anyone want some chocolate chip cookies?  Everyone want chocolate chip cookies?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Butternut Squash and Bacon Strata

In vain I have struggled.  It will not do.  My feelings will not be repressed.  I must tell you how ardently I admire and love my cleaning lady.  She has changed my life in a way not many people have.  When you're a working woman, especially one who has unpredictable hours, keeping up with cleaning can be a bit, er, difficult.  The older we get the cleaner people seem to want to keep their houses (or is that just me?), the bigger our living spaces seem to become, and the more responsibility we're getting at work.  Recipe for disaster.  Enter: cleaning lady.

Having a cleaning lady allows me to do things I enjoy that I probably wouldn't have time for, mainly cooking and blogging.  I'm sure I would get to cook some, but frankly, cooking some isn't enough for me.  Cooking and talking (/blogging) about food has become a real outlet for me that I have no intention of giving up.  The more I cook the more I want to cook.  The more I eat the more I want to eat.  But that's another issue.

Often, lately, I find myself making comfort foods.  Because life with a cleaning lady is rough.  This casserole fits the comfort food bill and happens to combine two of my favorite ingredients: butternut squash and bacon.  Mine didn't turn out spicy, so I might up the spice next time.  This recipe isn't exactly a looker, but it sure is delicious.  A creamy sauce binds the squash slices and a crisp breadcrumb topping makes it all the more incredible.  I'm on a casserole kick thanks to my new casserole pan and casserole cookbook, and I thank my cleaning lady for affording me the free time to develop such obsessions.  With or without a cleaning lady, this recipe is a must-make while butternut squash is still in season.

Butternut Squash and Bacon Strata
Adapted from Not Your Mother's Casseroles

4-6 slices bacon, diced
1 medium onion, diced
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
One 3-4 pound butternut squash
1/2 teaspoon chipotle chile powder, cayenne pepper, or smoked paprika
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup cream
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
2 tablespoon olive oil
3 sprigs thyme (leaves only)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Grease baking dish with olive oil or butter.

Place bacon in large skillet and turn heat to low.  Slowly cook bacon for 10 minutes until crisp.  Add onion and cook over medium heat for another 10 minutes, until translucent.  Add garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the butternut squash.  Cut the squash in half horizontally, separating the bulbous seed portion for the skinnier top.  Slice skin off of both portions and then cut in half.  Remove seeds from bulbous portion. Now that squash is cut into quarters and the skin is removed, slice into 1/4 inch slices (they will look like half moons or semi-circles).

In greased baking dish layer one layer of squash semicircles on the bottom, overlapping the layers slightly.

As garlic turns fragrant stir in chipotle powder, salt, and pepper.  Stir in cream and milk and bring to a simmer.  Remove pan from heat.

Using a slotted spoon remove half the onions and bacon, spreading them over the initial squash layer in the pan.  Sprinkle 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese on top of the onions.  Layer half of the remaining squash on top.  On top of this layer add the remaining bacon and onions and top with another 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese.  Place the last layer of squash on top and pour all the liquid from the pan over the squash.

In a small bowl mix the bread crumbs, olive oil, and thyme leaves together with a fork.  Sprinkle evenly over the casserole.  (You can cover the casserole and put it in the fridge for 24 hours at this point.)

Bake uncovered for 40-50 minutes until the squash is tender and the liquid is bubbling.  Let stand for 5 minutes before serving, if you can wait that long.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Dearest Mom and Dad,
Did I spend my entire childhood wearing hats?

Were you trying to cover up the bowl haircut you forced upon me?

When I had something on my head did a picture suddenly seem warranted?

And why did all of these hats look ridiculous on me?

Did I have some secret hat obsession I'm only now discovering?

Did you ever imagine that some twenty-plus years later I would be posting pictures documenting your hat obsession on something called the internet?  That one I think I know the answer to.

Your loving daughter,

Friday, March 18, 2011

Five Things

Taken at 7:08 P.M. from our balcony
The first week of daylight savings time is always a thrill.  You realize all the fun you've been missing by being at work during that extra hour of sunlight.  It's especially nice for me and John this year because it means an extra hour of playtime for Harper outside.  We've made it to the dog park a couple times this week already, and Harper says she has grown accustomed to this new life and can't go back.  I couldn't agree more!

Our friends Ray and Hannah sent John this amazing toffee from Elaine's Toffee Company for his birthday.  It was literally the best toffee I've ever had in my life.  I will search for it in every store I walk into until I find somewhere to buy it in bulk.  The genius of this toffee is that the each 3-4 bite piece of toffee (which is the perfect texture - hard but not too hard) is coated with chocolate individually.  That way you have chocolate on all sides.  Unbelievable.

How could I not buy this?  A cake stand for an individual cupcake is just something I couldn't walk away from.  I'm not sure who else is buying these other than food bloggers, but I'm just happy it exists.  John, on the other hand, is protesting this post because he believes I shouldn't be able to post about said cupcake stand until I've made cupcakes to showcase it.  Hurumph.

While visiting Sur La Tabla last weekend I stumbled upon this cookie book on sale for $8.99 plus an extra 20% off.  Don't mind if I do!  It has the best cookie recipe from every year 1941-2009.  Maybe if you're nice I'll make you the cookie of your birth year on your birthday!  I hope 1982 is a good one!

I was originally laboring under the illusion that I needn't buy a pepper mill because I could buy the Trader Joe's pepper that came in a plastic mill.  Well after eating huge chunks of pepper for a year, John and I bought a salt and pepper mill set for the dinner table from Crate and Barrel.  It looks pretty, but barely functions.  So I went from plastic to barely a step above plastic and have now succumbed to the wonder that is a Peugot pepper mill with six settings of grind.  Considering I grind pepper 6 out of 7 days of the week, it really made no sense to be using pepper mills that were so bad.  I know I'm trying to justify the steep price tag, but I'm hoping this one lasts me 20 years (or until I get tired of the color).

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Spicy Tomato and Red Pepper Soup

So I guess it had to happen eventually.  In my search for all wonderful spicy soup,s I managed to make one that was a tad too spicy.  Okay, maybe more than a tad.  Don't worry, I will fix my mistake in the recipe below, but let me warn you that if you are tempted to use the entire jalapeno instead of half (and are further tempted to be lazy and not get out all the seeds), you will probably regret it.

You will also regret it if you manage to drop one of the two pans of roasted vegetables.  Not only does this create a very large and steaming hot mess on your floor, but then you'll only have half the soup you were hoping to have!  Tragic!

The jalapeno and the roasted red pepper gives the soup a new dimension on tomato soup.  Don't get me wrong, I love "regular" tomato soup, but this one definitely has more complexity.  It only has a touch of cream too, so it ends up being quite healthy.  Not that I usually care about that sort of thing.  See Parmesan cheese topping, supra.

Tomato season is around the corner, especially if you live in California, so once you see some beauties show up at the market, give this recipe a run.  Since you are roasting the tomatoes you don't need to wait until you have the ripest tomatoes of full summer, but you want them to be decent and not mealy like the ones you get at Subway year round (ugh such a pet peve when you get gray tomatoes in the middle of summer).

Spicy Tomato and Red Pepper Soup
Adapted from Steamy Kitchen

5 large tomatoes, cut into 3/4 inch slices
1 onion, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1/2 jalapeno (cut in half lengthwise), seeds removed
2 red bell peppers, cut into quarters
Olive oil
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/4 cup grated Parmesan (plus more for garnish)
2-4 tablespoons heavy cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Arrange vegetables on one or two large baking sheets, brush with olive oil and roast for twenty minutes until beginning to brown.

If using an immersion blender roughly chop the cooked vegetables and place them in a deep pot with the rest of the ingredients.  Blend until smooth and heat until warmed through.  Serve with plenty of Parmesan cheese on top and crusty bread.

If using a regular blender, roughly chop cooked vegetables and place in blender with all of the ingredients (if they fit in your blender).  Blend until smooth and then heat on the stove.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


My little girl is all grown up.  No, that isn't my pup, but it's one helluva muddy one!  Sometimes when we go to Point Isabel it's low tide in the lowest way imaginable.  The brave owners let their dogs frolic in the mud, but I'm not sure I'll ever be so brave.

Our vet informed us a couple weeks ago that Harper was a couple pounds overweight.  Whoops!  So now we need to feed her less and exercise her more.  Looks like there will be more trips to Point Isabel in our future.

Harper is finally responsible enough to be let off leash at certain parks, and she is loving every minute of it.  And we love all the exercise she's getting.

Occasionally we end up getting some exercise too.  Luckily our doctors don't give us lectures about our weight, though.  When someone tells your dog is a chubster, that's almost as bad!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Five Things

Vacations are always wonderful, but going back to work afterwards is a headache when you're playing catchup for a few days.  It's John's birthday week and we will be celebrating until Sunday when we go out to a surprise dinner.  I figured this was a great week to list my ultimate favorite, John, as one of this week's Five Things.

Yes, Girl Scout cookies, again.  I have a feeling I'm not the only one lusting after Girl Scout cookies this year. I go through these boxes by myself in about three days.  It's just so dangerous that the adorable Girl Scouts always lurk outside my favorite haunt - farmers markets.  This week I opted for Samoas and now I can't decide if I like those more than Tagalongs!  Maybe next week I'll get both to compare.

I grew up eating pretzels.  Preferably of the Snyder's variety.  I would sit down on the floor (undoubtedly in some contorted position my parents couldn't imagine was comfortable to me) with a bag of Snyder's and a huge glass of 1/2% milk (yeah, you read that right) and chow down.  Nowadays I don't really have milk in my house, so I stick with the pretzels solo.  Apparently they carry Snyder's at Whole Foods now.  Dangerous.

My newest cookbook arrived just in time for us to go on vacation.  Be on the lookout for lots of casseroles on the blog in the near future.  This cookbook seems wonderful so far - I've made two recipes and both are winners.  Hopefully I'll be able to change your mind about casseroles like this book has done for me.  I sprained my ankle slightly earlier this week so one morning instead of working out I made a casserole, put it in my fridge, and that night dinner was "made" by slipping it in the oven.  That's something I could get used to!

Casseroles are also a blessing for leftovers.  I'm not a leftovers kind of gal (as my mom can attest), but casseroles and soups are two things that almost always taste better the next day.  Right now we have one waiting in our fridge to be reheated for dinner tomorrow night.  It's spending the evening chatting with the lonely beers in our fridge that haven't been touched since the last time we had beer drinkers around.

And just because I love you guys, here's a bonus picture of our shaggy beast.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork "Stew"

Half the fun of cooking at home is recreating something you know and love and the other half is cooking things you've never tried.  Because I'm not making chocolate croissants this week (the only thing in life I know and love right now) I will share a recipe for something you've probably never had.  It's not exactly something that comes on a menu.

Pulled pork in a spicy chipotle broth topped with cheese and lots and lots of tortilla chips.  A combination that probably only exists as a result of the slow cooker is one that you will never forget.  I ate a disgusting amount of this stuff when I made it.  The true sign of a great recipe, right?

So if you want to make another easy slow cooker recipe that requires zero pre-cooking and 100% dumping-ingredients-in-the-slow-cooker, this is the one to try next.  I'm serious about having lots of tortilla chips on hand though.  Required, not optional, people.

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork "Stew"
From Martha Stewart

1 medium onion, diced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 bay leaves
1 chipotle in adobo sauce, minced
1 tablespoon adobo sauce
1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
1 can (14 oz.) whole tomatoes in puree
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
2 3/4 pounds boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of fat and halved crosswise
Tortilla chips, for serving
Grated monterey jack or cheddar cheese, for serving

In slow cooker combine diced onion, dried oregano, bay leaves, minced chipotle, adobo sauce, crushed tomatoes, whole tomatoes (and puree), kosher salt, and ground pepper.  Add pork and toss with sauce.  Cover and cook on high for about 6 hours, being careful not to uncover the slow cooker while it is cooking.  The meat should shred easily with two forks.  Remove any gristle and using a large spoon strain off grease from the sauce.  Discard bay leaves and serve in large bowls with plenty of grated cheese and nachos.

Monday, March 7, 2011

St. Martin In Macro

Okay, so this one isn't in macro, but the rest are.  Our last day in St. Martin I decided it was time I took some more photos, and what's more fun than macro shots?  So the following are my macros of SXM (that's the bumper-stick abbreviation of St. Martin) with micro descriptions.  











Friday, March 4, 2011

Five Things St. Martin Style

My week in St. Martin is coming to a close, and it's very challenging to narrow down my list of five favorite things from the trip.

Of course I had to list my ultimate favorite, the chocolate twists from Sarafina bakery in Marigot.  Chocolate croissants have one tiny strip of chocolate, but chocolate twists are a foot long and have chocolate throughout.  I would list these suckers in my top five of life.  They are seriously that good.

John and I don't get to play cards much, since with just two people it isn't quite as fun.  We've played an uncountable number of games of pinochle this week, and with the help of John's dad as my partner, my record is quite good.

If there's one thing the French know how to do, it's make a good baguette.  You can buy these all over the island at bakeries and grocery stores for about $1 and they are better than you can find anywhere in the U.S.  It's good  when you're on the island, but sad when you leave.  I have to wait another year for bread this good?

There's nothing like a vacation to allow you to catch up on your reading.  Reading on a lounge chair makes it all the better. I've read 5 magazines and two books so far.  Black Heels to Tractor Wheels is okay, but Hunger Games is not to be missed.  I literally made John drive me to the one bookstore on the island to try to buy the sequel.  Unfortunately it's too popular and they were sold out.  I can't wait to raid the Miami airport to find the sequel so I can devour it on my flight home.

Last but not least, spending time with my family makes the trip even more special.  *This Five Thing brought to you by the Thanks-For-Bringing-Me-On-Vacation counsel.*
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