Sunday, October 31, 2010

Today's Special: Butternut Squash Apple Soup, Garlic Soup, Beef with Snow Peas, Sausage, Mushroom, & Spinach Lasagna, and Homestyle Macaroni & Cheese

New Recipe. A couple weeks ago I made some butternut squash gnocchi and had a ton of squash left over. So, I froze it. And used it for this recipe! I honestly just made this to use up the extra squash and didn't have super high hopes for it. BUT, I really liked this a lot! The recipe says to use salt, pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg to "season to taste." I HATE IT when recipes say that without giving you a starting point as to recommended amounts. But, I delved in and seasoned and tasted away and the final product was just what I was hoping for... a nicely seasoned soup that didn't taste sweet. I think it's hard to use cinnamon and nutmeg as a savory ingredient... usually they give more of a dessert quality to a dish. So, in order to help you make this, I will give you the amounts I used for the seasonings: 1/8 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, 1/2 tsp black pepper, and 2 1/2 tsp. salt. You may want to start with 2 tsp. salt, just to be safe. So anyway, this recipe was definitely a winner and it's ORANGE! Perfect for Halloween dinner! (I totally didn't plan that.)

New Recipe. I didn't realize how much time this was going to take to make... at least an hour I think. But, the end product was really good. I think I like this more than the garlic soup I've made in the past... more flavor and a thicker consistency. I used half and half instead of the heavy cream and it was still really delicious. This was good as a light dinner with salad and french bread. It didn't make a whole lot... maybe enough for 4 people... maybe. This would also be good in place of a dinner salad... if you are one of those ambitious people who have several courses to a meal (I'm not). Oh, I also used Jarlsberg cheese instead of Gruyere because I couldn't find any of that.

New Recipe. If you're looking for a fast recipe this week, this is your winner! It took me maybe a half hour and that included all the prep work and cooking the brown rice (pressure cookers are awesome!). The sauce was perfect and the beef and snow peas were so delicious! The extra addition of crushed red pepper made it that much better. This is the first Asian-y beef  recipe I've made that has turned out to my liking. I really haven't had much success with this category of food... it's very rare for me to make something and actually like it as much as the stuff I get at restaurants. It's nice to have found another winner!

New Recipe. Now, I am really picky with my lasagna. Usually I only like the kind I make with my sauce recipe and my mom's lasagna recipe from when I was a kid. But I thought I'd try this one out because #1 It looked a lot healthier and #2 Who doesn't love sausage, mushrooms, and spinach? I made this exactly as written using the Italian flavored ground turkey, but I also used an oven-ready pasta. I was a little worried about the pasta not getting cooked through and/or the lasagna being too dry. Oh, I also added 2 cloves of garlic to the turkey mixture. So, this actually turned out really good. I didn't think it tasted healthy at all and the oven-ready pasta worked just fine. It wasn't the fastest meal ever because of the hour long bake time, but it was well worth the effort.

Old Favorite. Have I said how much I love this stuff? Seriously the best homemade mac and cheese I've had by far. Ok wait, I lied. Rachel made some for us once and it rocked too. But other than that... every other homemade mac and cheese I've made or eaten pretty much sucks. The Dijon mustard in this is what gives it an extra punch of flavor. It only calls for 1 tbsp., but I usually double that because I love it so much.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

October Book Reviews: Schulz and Peanuts, Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Born on a Blue Day, Carrie, A Farewell to Arms, and The Glass Castle

October turned out to be a great month for reading. I was surprised at how many books I was able to finish and I really enjoyed all of them! You can't lose with any of these.

My Rating System: *OK, **Good, ***Great

Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography
by David Michaelis
Rating: **

I had the audiobook version of this one which I noticed was an abridged version of the original, so I'm not sure how much was taken out. I actually really liked this book. It was interesting to find out how Schulz got his start. I admired the fact that he set a goal as a kid to be a cartoonist and just kept plugging away at his dream until it happened. There was a bit of repetition as far as his relationship statuses and such... probably a little more of that could have been omitted without harming the final product, but overall it was an interesting and entertaining read.

by Benjamin Franklin  (duh)
Rating: *+

I really didn't expect to make it through this book. I thought I would get bored and dump it. But, it turned out to be very interesting. Franklin was responsible for so many things of which I'd never heard about. Did you know he actually created a day planner for himself? Yeah, me neither! I thought that was a total marketing ploy! I do think he was a little full of himself... he kept talking about how everyone would come to him to ask for his opinion and advice and thought he was the smartest man alive and also that he was the only one who had printing press skills. So that got a little old. But, he was a smart guy. And had a lot of great ideas. This was a bit difficult to read sometimes just because of the Old English style of speaking from back in the day, but I think I got the overall gist of things. An interesting insight to the life of one of our founding fathers. Also his son's initials are WTF. HA! Old Ben, what a card!

by Daniel Tammet
Rating: **+

I was immediately drawn to this book when I saw it was written by an Autistic savant. Basically Daniel Tammet is a high-functioning version of Rain Man. It was incredibly interesting to have a first hand account of how Tammet's brain works and how he processes the world. He covers his entire life up until the point he writes this book, so you get to see what he was like as a baby, how he developed as a child, and how he is able to make it as an adult. Any book written by someone who memorized 22,000 digits of pi has to be awesome, right?

by Stephen King
Rating: **+

Seth and I listened to this book on a road trip up to Idaho. First of all, it was read by Sissy Spacek, so you know that's going to be awesome. Ok, actually Seth had no idea who Sissy Spacek was, but we fixed that. Anyway, we both really enjoyed this book a lot. There are a lot of details and extra bits of the story you just don't get with the movie. Oh, and in case you're wondering what this book is about, Carrie is a girl with telekinetic powers who lives with her religiously fanatical mother. She also gets teased a lot. You know that's not going to make for a happy ending... Also, Seth and I rented this movie and watched it that same weekend. Awesome as well. Although "they're all going to laugh at you" does not come from the book. But I think it was a great addition. One more tidbit of info... Stephen King originally threw the manuscript for this book away. His wife was the one who found it in the trash and made him finish it. Good thing. It made him famous.

A Farewell to Arms
by Ernest Hemingway
Rating: **

After reading The Sun Also Rises, I decided to give this book a shot. I honestly wasn't expecting much, except maybe that I wasn't going to like it because it's a war story and I'm not usually into that sort of thing. However, I found myself really liking this one. I think I just like Hemingway in general. I like his simplistic writing style and the way he develops his characters. I was talking to Seth about how he makes the food and drink in his books sound so good, but he doesn't really describe them. For example, he talks about how a guy at the hotel makes him some sandwiches and I just thought... Man! Those sandwiches sound really good! Even though he hadn't described them at all. Seth said it was because he writes in a way that makes your brain fill in all the details and I totally agree. Hemingway makes it easy to use your own imagination instead of spelling it all out for you.

Also, for those of you who are into the audiobooks like I am, you know that the narrator can make or break a book. I thought John Slattery did an amazing job with this one. He provided the correct accents for each of the characters voices without sounding cheesy or overdone. It made me think that I need to keep track of the narrators I like so I can pick out more books that they've read. It's always disappointing to pick up an audiobook that looks good only to have the narrator ruin it.

by Jeannette Walls
Rating: **+

This was another book I picked up for cheap at a library sale. It's another one of those books that's very popular at the moment which was one reason I bought it. It's also the reason it sat around for awhile before I read it... I'm usually disappointed by the popular books. I finally decided I was in the mood to read this one and when I picked it up I noticed the caption on the front that compared Walls to Frank McCourt... DING DING DING! We have a winner. I hadn't realized this was a non-fiction book and had I known she'd been compared to McCourt I would've picked it up long ago.

The Glass Castle is a book about the author Jeannette Walls and her life growing up with her siblings in a poor family led by her eccentric parents. Constantly moving around, living off the grid, and fighting to survive are all part of a normal existence.

I was a little skeptical of the McCourt comparision, but I do think it was accurate. Although she had a really rough time of it, Walls doesn't make her parents into villains and actually seems to look back nostalgically at a great part of her childhood. I admire her for this as it would've been very easy for her to paint her parents as monsters and merely seek after sympathy from her readers. Of course, this angle would've been completely justified. I thought The Glass Castle is well deserving of its popularity and I would highly recommend it. A very enjoyable book.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Today's Special: Pot Stickers w/ Soy Dipping Sauce, Chicken Wellington, Kelly's Chili, and Deep-Dish Apple Pie

I resisted the urge to raid my "new recipe" feeds on Google this week and dug out the old-fashioned cookbook. These are definitely some of my favorite recipes!

Pot Stickers with Soy Ginger Dipping Sauce- These pot stickers rock my world. It's a little time consuming to make all the individual folded pouches, but so worth it. Also, do not skip the dipping sauce, it'll take you five minutes to make it and it's amazing! I usually make double batches of these because it's more common to find 48 packs of the won ton wrappers (usually in the produce section) and a full pound of ground pork.

Chicken Wellington with Creamy Mushroom Sauce - So remember a couple weeks ago when I made Crap in Rolls? Well think of this as its more sophisticated, incredibly delicious older sister. The recipe calls for 8 small chicken breasts, but I used 4 large ones and cut them in half. I also pounded out the chicken to a uniform thickness to make sure they cooked evenly (I don't have a mallet... just used the side of a can of beans!). Also... I have a confession to make... I completely forgot about the corresponding Mushroom Sauce this time around. Which was fine... they are totally awesome on their own. HOWEVER. I have made the Mushroom Sauce before and it is awesome. And I would have made it this time had it not completely slipped my mind. Oh, and the recipe says to take the puff pastry out of the freezer 10 minutes before you use it. I'd say make it more like 20-30 minutes. But seriously... this looks really fancy but it's not hard at all to make!

Kelly's Chili- I'm not usually big on chili. In fact it's typically one of my least favorite "soups." But this chili is so good! It always turns out with the perfect amount of heat and it doesn't have a lot of beans in it. In fact I add an extra can of beans to make the meat/bean ratio a little better. I made this for a work party once and everybody loved it. And Seth and I were able to make it through an entire crockpot full of this stuff before it went bad, so that's saying something!

Deep-Dish Apple Pie- This week a friend of mine at work gave me a bag of homegrown apples so of course I had to make a pie! I love making this pie because it always turns out delicious. And look how beautiful! This isn't exactly a fast recipe to make (what apple pie is?) but it's well worth the effort. I use an apple peeler thingy which helps cut down the prep time a lot. A food processor is also a very useful tool with this one.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Remain Calm

Last night I was taking a bath and reading as I'm known to do on occasion. As I was reading I heard a faint alarm/siren going off along with a lot of voices and noises from the neighbors. Of course I just ignored it and continued reading. A little while later Seth came in. "Did you hear those alarms going off?" "Yeah." "Well I went and looked outside. Apparently the neighbors across the hall about burned the place down. The fire department and some cops are here and everything. I guess they just burned something on the stove and the neighbors called 911 when they saw all the smoke. It's all taken care of though.. no big deal." "Oh ok."

So of course I got out of the tub, got dried off, and walked down the hall where Seth was looking through the peep hole out into the corridor. "I just saw some firemen go in there all suited up with air tanks and everything." At this point I thought it would be fitting to streak through the apartment screaming, after which I pushed Seth aside and took his place at the peep hole. "I'm not moving until I see those firemen come out."
So I stood there naked as a jaybird until I saw the firemen come out of the apartment. And Seth took a picture of my butt. I'll probably get it printed and hang it up in the bathroom. The End.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Today's Special: Oreo Balls, Chicken Enchiladas, To Die for Crock Pot Roast, and Pork with Dried Apples & Proscuitto,

Oreo Balls- New Recipe. So I've had these in my "To Try" folder in my Recipezaar account for a long time, but for some reason never got around to making them. The other day a co-worker shared one of these with me and I knew I had to have more. So I made some! These were seriously so awesome. They're just blended up Oreos with cream cheese but man... they rocked! Plus they were actually really easy to make so that was definitely a bonus! Corinne... you better not make these. You'll probably die. Or gain 50 pounds.

Chicken Enchiladas- New Recipe. So I first saw this recipe on the Blue Muse's blog and thought it looked awesome. The night I made this the Internets were down at my house so I had to guess on how to make it. I basically did everything as it says in the recipe, except I didn't add any onions or garlic because I forgot about them. But it still turned out so good! I think the rotisserie chicken made a huge difference in the flavor. Also, I'm not sure if I've used white corn tortillas before or not, or maybe it was the brand I bought (Mission), but these ones were a million times better than the corn tortillas I've used before. Usually they break when I roll them, but these held together very well. I'll definitely buy them again. Anyway, this recipe was definitely easy AND delicious. I'm sure I'll be making them again!

To Die for Crock Pot Roast- Repeat. This is my favorite pot roast recipe. It always turns out good and it makes its own gravy! The gravy is very salty straight out of the pot, so I always thin it out with water and then use a thickener to get it back to a good gravy consistency.

Pork with Dried Apples and Prosciutto- New Recipe. I really liked this recipe. It definitely had a great "Fall" flavor. It was super easy to make and fast and used up some prosciutto and sage I had in the fridge! (You know you're out of control when you have leftover sage and prosciutto). I don't normally like pork chops much, but these were delicious!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Stupid Tax

Stupid Tax.

That's what good old Mister Dave Ramsey calls it. And man have we paid our fair share. $40,000 to be exact.

After years of immature spending, failure to budget, and just plain stupidity, Seth and I came into our marriage with a butt load of debt. Most of it on credit cards. A smaller portion in loans. But it was debt all the same.

As part of our marriage we decided that we were sick of being poor and in debt. It wasn't fun. It was stressful. And it was holding us back from doing so many things we wanted to do. So we decided to stop the craziness and start over.

We both read Dave Ramsey's "Financial Peace Revisited" and then listened to the lectures from "Financial Peace University" (thanks Dad!). We cut up the credit cards and promised not to use them EVER. Then we started with the 'baby steps.'

Seth naturally moved into the position of financial guru. He created a debt pay-off spreadsheet and updated it regularly with bill payments and such. He made weekly lump payments to whichever credit card we were trying to pay off. We both talked about what was and wasn't ok to spend money on. We set limits for gifts and vacations. I planned meals and cooked at home. 
Today I'm happy to say that in 20 months, Seth and I have paid off $37,000 in debt (not including interest!) and we're now completely free of credit card debt. My car will be paid off in another month and we will then have no car payments. Then we can begin to do what we've wanted to do for so long... buy a house. It's been a long time coming.

Truthfully, I didn't think I'd ever be free of credit card debt. There was a long period of time when I would pay the bills and have $50 left for the week to buy groceries, gas and whatever else I needed. And this was only paying the minimums. It seemed like a black hole and I was getting sucked into it faster and faster as the days went on. I worried about it all the time. And the problem was, I continued with my bad habits... partly because getting out seemed so impossible and partly because I was scared to change my lifestyle. I didn't want to get rid of my cute car or live in an apartment. I wanted the biggest and the best! I wanted to eat out at fancy restaurants!

The change started out slowly. First I sold my cute little car. To my surprise I felt a huge sense of relief instead of sadness. Then, I cooked at home. And I didn't miss going to restaurants! In fact when I did go to restaurants I was usually disappointed that the food wasn't as good as I'd remembered and felt sort of ripped off! I started buying all the cheap store brands of food and didn't notice a difference in the taste. I was saving more money and felt like I was living better. Needless to say I was shocked.

I can't tell you how much happier I am today after making this change. And honestly? I don't know if I ever would have or could have done it without Seth. So many of the changes I made and stuck to were because I had him in mind. I didn't ever want to come home and have Seth be disappointed in how I'd spent our money. I'd go to reach for something and ask myself, "If Seth were here, would I buy this?" That alone has helped me curb my spending a lot! Plus Seth was basically the orchestrator of the whole operation. He was (and still is) the mastermind behind our financial future and I'm glad I have him to keep me on the right path. So thank you Seth for everything you've done. Our Stupid Tax has now been paid and I know we'll never have to pay it again!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Today's Special: Beef Bourguignon, Autumn Chicken Stew, Fish Sticks, Squash Gnocchi, Cheesy Chicken & Rice, and Cinnamon Bread

Beef Bourguignon- New Recipe. After making this recipe I can now claim I've flambéed something. Check that off my list of things to do before I die! I have to admit it was a little scary, but all turned out well and I didn't burn any of my hair off. This tasted like a fancy beef stew. Actually Seth and I called this "Alcoholic Beef Stew" because of all the liquor involved... a full bottle of wine and 1/2 c. cognac. Wow. I think next time I'll try making Julia Child's recipe so I can compare. Anyway, two thumbs way up for this one.

Autumn Chicken Stew- New Recipe. I love making seasonal recipes for obvious reasons.... ingredients that are not only cheaper than usual, but tastier as well. It's a win-win situation. The only reason I was skeptical of this recipe was the addition of not one, but two granny smith apples. I thought the resulting flavor would be too sweet for a "stew." Nay nay. This was some good eatin'. Seth thought the apples were potatoes. And he  raved about how much he loved the parsnips (a close cousin to the carrot) and I agreed. Why are parsnips not a common cooking component? Ok ok I know I'm getting carried away with the alliterations. Let's just cut to the chase. This was awesome. You should make it.

EatingWell Fish Sticks- New Recipe. Ok I could not make fish sticks without referencing this episode of South Park. With that out of the way, these were incredibly easy to make and tasted really good. Seth especially really liked these. This was also my first time using Panko bread crumbs which are supposed to be crunchier than regular bread crumbs. I think it worked! I couldn't find the whole wheat Panko bread crumbs, so I just used 1 cup of the regular ones. Oh and don't forget the tartar sauce!

Chickpea, Spinach, & Squash Gnocchi- New Recipe. Doesn't this look so beautiful with all those fun colors? Sadly, the beauty of this dish was only skin deep. It was heart breakingly bland and there wasn't much depth to it. Oh well, guess I don't have to chop up all that squash again.

Cheesy Chicken & Rice- Repeat. This isn't a gourmet meal by any means, but it requires very little prep and it tastes pretty good! Spend five minutes putting it all into a pan, throw it in the oven and do something else for an hour while you wait for it to cook. Oh, and don't forget to cover this with tin foil, otherwise your rice will be crunchy. (Yes I've made that mistake before...)


I'll admit I'm a rookie when it comes to making bread. I honestly just guess my way through it. But I love homemade bread. I'm usually just too damn lazy to make it because let's be honest... it's very time consuming. I decided to try this recipe because it looked awesome and because there were step by step instructions on the Pioneer Woman's blog complete with pictures. How could I screw it up if there were pictures? I couldn't!

So I made this bread one Saturday morning when I woke up at the butt crack of dawn because my body is now used to my early to bed early to rise dork schedule and I can't sleep in past 7am even if I want to. The one thing I really hate about bread recipes is I always have to add a ton more flour than it says to get the right texture and it sort of freaks me out. This recipe said to add 1/4 c. extra flour after kneading for a few minutes if it was too sticky. I ended up adding probably a cup or more.

So I finally got the bread all made and it turned out ok. However, I don't think I rolled it tight enough so it was kind of floppy after slicing. Also, I overcooked it a tad, so after it cooled it was dry. I was a little disappointed. BUT... I sliced it all up and froze it and I plant to unthaw it this weekend and make it into cinnamon french toast! That should save it! At any rate, it looks beautiful. Kinda makes me want to bake bread more often.