Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hey, There's a Reason they Cost that Much! . . . Learning to Make Artisan Chocolates

Well, my Pastry II class is finally over, and I'm done with schoolwork until September. Boy, have I been craving the mellower pace of summer. To say I'm grateful for its arrival might just be the understatement of the year. I'm looking forward to pondering all that we did in class over the last eight weeks because we produced some of the most extraordinary and elaborate desserts I've ever seen. We also whipped up colorful French macarons, premium ice creams and sorbets, delicate candies, and sugar sculptures. At the half-way point in the semester, we assembled an impressive array of our creations and offered samples to all comers. From the whimsical to the ornate, they were dazzling desserts. It was something to see.

We made great stuff in that class, but I think the hours that we spent on chocolate may have been the most eye opening for me. In fact, one of the most fascinating aspects of culinary school overall has been the way that the veil of culinary secrecy has been pulled back. I'm talking about that invisible shroud that seems to shield us non-chef mortals from the knowledge of how particular food items are actually prepared. Specifically, the sorts of foods that most people would never even think to attempt at home.   

Case in point, the creation of artisan chocolate candies. I'm talking about handmade chocolates of absolute premium quality; think of the shiny treats you see for sale in high-end chocolate shops, sold for upwards of forty or fifty dollars a pound at minimum. Having now been exposed to some of the methods, equipment, and materials used to produce such candies, I have a far more complete and sympathetic understanding of why they command such outrageous prices.

It's not just because they're made from the finest ingredients, are labor intensive to produce, and the tools required to make them are prohibitively expensive. No, it's also because making them requires a significant amount of skill and training, and pastry chefs who are devoted to learning and perfecting those techniques are not a dime a dozen. I think anyone can call himself a "chocolatier" but then, anyone can call himself a rocket scientist, too. Calling yourself that doesn't make it true.

Anyway, after the last few weeks' immersion in chocolate, I am content to forgo artisan candy production in my own little kitchen and leave it for now to the experts. In the meantime, I present to you my chocolate-filled chocolate "box" (which was 100% edible in every way and, of course, we did eat it!) that I made in class, along with the variety of chocolates--nicely packaged in that gold box--that we produced there as well. We were each allowed to take home one packaged box of our candy, along with our own custom-designed edible chocolate box, also filled to capacity.

Pastry class, after all, does have its benefits.

(If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read any existing comments, please click on the purple COMMENTS below!)

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Summer Senses

Quote of the Day:  Tired by Shel Silverstein
I've been working so hard you just wouldn't believe,
And I'm Tired!
There's so little Time and so much to achieve,
And I'm Tired!
I've been lying here holding the grass in its place,
Pressing a leaf with the side of my face,
Tasting the apples to see if they're sweet,
Counting the toes on a centipede's feet.
I've been memorizing the shape of that cloud,
Warning the robins to not chirp so loud,
Shooing the butterflies off the tomatoes,
Keeping an eye out for floods and tornadoes.
I've been supervising the work of the ants
And thinking of pruning the cataloupe plants,
Timing the sun to see what time it sets,
Calling the fish to swim into my nets,
And I've taken twelve thousand and forty-one breaths,
And I'm TIRED!

I know. I know! Another picture of Leo the cat, but he's just so darn cute.

My senses have come alive as summer has finally hit Minnesota.  We've had blue skies and sun all week, temps up into the 80's, and not at all humid.  I cut into this watermelon and breathed in that scent of summer.

Do you ever worry about slicing off a digit when you cut into that slippery watermelon?
I mean, it's the perfect conditions for it, a round, smooth, wet surface and a slick cutting board.
But, have no fear! I've just ordered a handy-dandy new set of knives from the neighbor girl.
It's her summer, before I go off to college, job.  Hey, I'm a sucker for a girl who loved band and tells me she's interested in linguistics.  And, besides, I needed the knives. Really. I see you shaking your head. Stop.

So, I have the warmth of the sun, the smell of the fresh-cut watermelon and mowed grass and the smallest of green tomatoes sprouting from my patio pot garden.  My boys got motivated to do chores because they want their own laptop - because Mom doesn't like to share hers!  They corralled their friends like a couple of Huck Finns and washed the deck.

They actually fought over who got to hose it down first. We had to go alphabetical.

Looks inviting, doesn't it?  Wanna sit a spell? Read a book, listen to music, chat, or nap?

They also swept out the garage.

I purchased extra window washing supplies and buckets.  More fun with water!  It will look like so much fun, I'll be turning them away at the door.

Journaling Prompt:  Share your summer sensory images.  What sounds, smells, tastes, and feels like summer to you?

Orange Polenta Pound Cake

Today I am guest blogging for my new blog friend Annie over at Real Life Living.  She likes good food and saving money which, as you all know, is right up my alley!  I posted an Orange Polenta Pound Cake, and it is very tasty and very easy on the budget!  Go check out Annie's blog for my full post, ENJOY!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Bacon and Cheese Burgers

I'm going to spare everyone my raving and just say...go make these as soon as you can!  If you love a good burger this one will be at the top of your list.  Stuffed burgers are all over the place in blog land but they just were too complicated for me the day I planned to make them.  Instead, I did these and boy were we happy with them! Really though, what could be bad about a burger that has bites of cheese and bacon mixed in?  Is there anything wrong, ever, with adding bacon?  Not in my book!!

What I love best is they are E. A. S. Y. to change up to suit your flavor preference.  Next time I will add finely chopped jalapenos for the hubby who likes his burgers with a little spice to them.  Go make them...please...and don't forget to pair them with these homemade buns because every great burger deserves a good bun to hold it all together!  Enjoy!

I'm linking up to a few linky parties this week, go check out the great recipes everyone is posting!

Bacon and Cheese Stuffed Burgers
Recipe Source: A Cook's Quest

2 lbs burger
1 tsp garlic powder
2 TB dry minced onion
2 TB. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
about 1 1/2 cups cubed cheese of choice
about 8 slices of bacon, fried and crumbled

Combine all the ingredients in a big bowl.  Try not to mix too much, just enough to combine the ingredients. 

Pat the burger into a uniform rectangle.  Divide into equal portions.  I did eight portions to equal 1/4 pound patties.

Place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to firm up and allow the flavors to meld together.  As the burgers are resting heat your grill.  Grill burgers until desired doneness is reached and place on a delicious homemade burger bun with your favorite toppings.  We added more cheese, pickles, tomato, grilled onions, lettuce, and fry sauce.  Mmmm delicious!

For those who aren't from an area familiar with Fry also called Pink Sauce and is basically mayonnaise and ketchup mixed together. Every restaurant and home cook has their own little twist.  Here is what mine "generally" looks like.

Jenn's Fry Sauce
1/2 cup mayonnaise
enough ketchup to added sweetness and to make the sauce pink, probably 1/4 cup or so
a squirt of mustard
BBQ sauce (more than the mustard, less than the ketchup amount)
2-3 shakes of seasoning salt
a squeeze of lemon juice or 1 tsp vinegar

Mix it all up in a bowl and top burgers with it or even better fry up some home made french fries and dip them in.  Delicious!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A good burger starts with a GREAT BUN!

I am a bit hesitant to say what I am about to say out loud for fear that it might jinx everything but, here goes anyway....I think the warm weather is almost (not finally) here! Yep, after the longest Spring with more rain and wind than I care to talk about, I feel safe saying Summer is close...very, very, close to arriving. 

Of course with warm weather comes the season of grilling.  The traditional menu around these parts are hamburgers and hotdogs with all the fixings and side dishes galore.  But, a good burger deserves a great bun.  The bun is what holds all those lovely flavors of meat, cheese, condiments and veggies together.  It is vital, I tell you, to the burger experience.

Now, I know you can buy a bun at any grocery store and many gas stations but I wanted something more than the standard sesame bun.  I found this recipe on and with almost five stars how could I not try it? I am so glad I did!  The buns were light and full of flavor, I would go so far as to say they are the best buns I have had in a long time! Enjoy!

Burger/Hot Dog Buns
Recipe Source: Adapted slightly from All

**Cook's Note-When I first made these I was afraid of making them too thin.  Wrong thing to worry about!  They get nice and fluffy so if you make them too thick you will end up with bread bowls and not buns.  Still tasty but, a bit bulky for burgers!**


1 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup butter
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 (.25 ounce) package instant yeast
1 tablespoons white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 egg

In a small saucepan, heat milk, water and butter until very warm, 120 degrees F (50 degrees C).

In a large bowl, mix together 1 3/4 cup flour, yeast, sugar and salt. Mix milk mixture into flour mixture, and then mix in egg. Stir in the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, beating well after each addition. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. Let rest for about 45 minutes to an hour (longer if you have used regular yeast instead of instant).  Punch down.

Divide dough into 12 equal pieces. Shape into smooth balls, and place on a greased baking sheet. Flatten slightly. Cover, and let rise for 15 to 30 minutes. Remember you don't want tall dinner rolls so this is just a rest!

Just before the rolls going into the oven you can brush them with egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds if you like. Bake at 400 degrees F (200 degrees C) for 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden brown.

**For Hot Dog Buns: Shape each piece into a 6x4 inch rectangle. Starting with the longer side, roll up tightly, and pinch edges and ends to seal. Let rise about 20 to 25 minutes. Bake as above. These buns are pretty big. I usually make 16 instead of 12.


Quote of the Day:  When we walk together, no one has to walk alone.

I'm in a community group called the Mothers of Multiples (MOMS).  One of our own developed breast cancer last fall.  Colleen, pictured above, is 41, has a 13-year-old daughter and triplets who just turned eight.  Hers is inflammatory breast cancer, which is not a lump, but first appears as a rash or bumpy skin. At first, she was treated for rash, given anti-biotics, and topical creams, but they did nothing.  As her condition worsened, she got more assertive, and was diagnosed early in December.

You need to be diligent.  Anything that seems unusual or painful needs to be taken care of.  Listen to your intuition.  Early detection saves lives.

This was my first time walking in the Komen Brainerd lakes Race for the Cure, and I was team captain of MOMS for MAMS in support of Colleen.  I also volunteered to help with registration.  Might as well jump right in!  I liked this gal's hat.

The Race has turned into a huge community event.  Over 2000 people walked or ran, and many more volunteered, or just came to support someone they love.

Colleen is in the bright pink survivor t-shirt, surrounded by her family, and several of the MOMS behind her.  I misted up more than once as I witnessed people getting out and giving their support financially, physcially, and emotionally to people affected by breast cancer.

These folks were walking for their dad/husband.  Don't forget that men can get breast cancer, too.

There's always someone with a sense of humor!

Colleen said that much of the money we raise for this walk stays in the community and that she's already felt the benefits.  We have a Pink Ribbon Cupboard that provides things like gas cards, money to pay bills, insurance, and other support.


Collen with her triplets who are tired after their long walk, her mom on the end, her husband, nephew, and sister-in-law.

Colleen is celebrating her last round of chemo next Tuesday. It's been a rough road, but we're praying that all the efforts, sickness, surgeries, and treatment will pay off and that she'll have many happy, healthy years watching her kids grow.  Here's Colleen's blog, News from Up North, if you'd like to send her some good wishes.

Journaling Prompt:  Have you ever participated in a cause walk? Do you know someone with breast cancer, or are you a survivor?  How have you, or your community, shown support?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Strawberry Mascarpone Bars . . . and a Treasure from Far Away

You know that saying about money burning a hole in your pocket? When you're dying to spend it because, well, it's there? That's how I felt about a particularly precious jar of strawberry-champagne jam that I received recently for review from the East India Company. I could hardly wait to try it. Yes, I'm referring essentially to that East India Company--the one chartered in England over 400 years ago by Queen Elizabeth I, made defunct through British nationalization in 1874, and miraculously reborn  in quintessential 21st-century form in 2010.

To be perfectly honest, before being contacted by them via email I had no clue that the company was currently in existence in any form, or that the very idea of the East India Company still had anything but enduring historic value. In fact, I did a double-take when I saw their email message and thought to myself, "It can't be real . . . can it?" After all, I'm sure I first learned of the massive trading company in an elementary school history lesson.

I can vaguely recall reading in class about those legendary royalty-sponsored ocean voyages--the ones designed to expand international trade through the discovery of new and exotic spices, fabrics, timber, teas, cocoas, and thus enrich the sponsoring country. I can almost see the old textbook illustrations of foreign landscapes, with sailing ships charging through churning waves. (I'll bet merchant sailors had to have a lot of moxie in those days.) That's the kind of image that comes to my mind, in sumptuous color, when I even hear the words "East India."

Anyway, a few weeks after that email exchange, a snug little box appeared on my doorstep. Well-cushioned for its journey, this was clearly a treasure from far away. I unearthed the jar from its padding, admired the refined elegance of its label, and tucked it safely away until the right moment, as I didn't want to waste the precious stuff on a mediocre recipe. Finally, today, the moment was ripe.

After that long wait, it was with anxious anticipation that I twisted the cap off the jar. I held it up to the light, gave it a close look, and sniffed . . . mmmm, nice aroma. I inspected the texture of the jam . . . not too thick or remotely gelatinous. Both positive signs. The consistency reminded me quite a bit of homemade strawberry jam in that respect. Then I spooned out a dab and tasted . . . fine flavor, not too delicate nor at all harsh, and just the right amount of sweetness. So far so good. For a couple of seconds as I contemplated the flavor I thought, "That's lovely all in all . . . but what about the champagne?" And it was just then that the presence of champagne arrived on the back of my tongue.  First a subtle tingle, and then that distinctive sparkle . . . "Ahhh, there's the champagne!"

I smiled.

Strawberries and bubbly, married in a jam. What a charming and quintessentially English combo.  Thank you, East India Company, for sending me a jar of jam that lives up to your illustrious name.

About this recipe . . . 

I adapted this from a recipe by chef Scott Peacock that appeared in the May 2011 print issue of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. Peacock's version is made with fresh raspberries and raspberry jam, along with cream cheese and goat cheese. My version differs in that I used fresh strawberries, the strawberry-champagne jam, mostly mascarpone cheese along with some cream cheese, and no goat cheese at all.

I also dramatically dialed down the lemony factor in the crust, upped the vanilla there (I have a kid who detests lemon in any form within baked goods, and I tend to take pity on him in this regard), and reworded the instructions to reflect exactly what I did. This is a moist and creamy cookie-bar, with a tender shortbread crust, that's open to interpretation. I think it would be interesting made with any bright summer fruit.

Strawberry Mascarpone Bars

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, in 1" chunks
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
About 1 Tbsp. of softened butter, to brush onto sides of foil
3/4 cup high-quality strawberry jam
1 and 1/2 cups hulled ripe strawberries, chopped into small chunks
8 oz. mascarpone cheese, at cool room temperature
4 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. unbleached all-purpose flour
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp. lemon zest
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 and 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 or 3 tablespoons powdered sugar to dust on the baked, cooled bars

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9"x13" metal baking pan with a long sheet of foil, extending it up over the short ends of the pan.

In the large bowl of your mixer, using the paddle attachment, slightly soften the butter by blending on medium speed for just about 30 seconds. Into that, add the brown sugar and kosher salt, mixing on low speed for no more than 1 minute.

Turn the mixer off and pour in the 2 cups of flour, then beat on low speed just until it's incorporated. Raise the speed to medium and beat until a cohesive, even dough forms; the dough should not be crumbly. Break the dough into small clumps and press it down evenly into your foil-lined pan.

Bake this for about 20 minutes, or just until the dough starts to set and look slightly puffy. Remove from the oven, leaving the oven on, and cool this on a rack for 5 minutes while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Brush the softened butter lightly onto the exposed sides of foil, above the crust, all around the pan. This will help the bars release from the foil when they're ready to be lifted out of the pan and sliced.

Evenly spread all of the jam over the cooled crust. Sprinkle the strawberry chunks atop that.

In the large bowl of your mixer, again with the paddle attachment, beat together the mascarpone cheese and cream cheese on medium/high speed for only about 30 seconds. Then add in the granulated sugar, still at the same speed, along with the 1 Tbsp. of flour, just until blended. Add in the egg, egg yolk, lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla extract. Beat the mixture until it looks smooth, stopping to scrape the bowl and beaters as needed.

Pour the creamy mixture evenly over the strawberry layer and tip the pan back and forth slightly to help distribute it evenly.

Bake the bars at 350 for about 30 minutes, until just set.

Cool on a rack for one hour, then cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours. When you're ready to cut the bars, firmly grasp the overhanging foil and lift up; if they stay flat and don't buckle then they're cold enough to cut. Peel the foil back from the sides once they're out of the pan, and slice them with a very sharp knife. 

If you like, sprinkle powdered sugar on top of the bars before or after slicing, using a fine mesh sieve held at least a foot or more above the bars (helps avoid the appearance of big drifts of powdered sugar).

 (If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read any existing comments, please click on the purple COMMENTS below!)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sweet Shredded Pork Tacos with Cilantro Chili Lime Ranch

I really love Mexican food.  Well, let me re-phrase that, I love anything that resembles Mexican food.  OK, I love anything that goes in a tortilla even if it isn't Mexican.  The tortilla is really the perfect carb for just about anything.  These pork tacos are no exception!

I have been eyeing this recipe for close to two years over at A Thrifty Mom.  This is where I learned to coupon and cook from a stockpile.  Sarah has a ton of great recipes that are easy to prepare, and even easier on the budget.  But, back to the tacos, these are sweet but not overly sweet.  The pork combined with the cilantro lime ranch topping are a perfect combination all wrapped up in the warm flour tortillas  Yes, I will say they are quite delicious! I bet you could make them with beef or chicken with great results too.  Enjoy! 

Sweet Shredded Pork Tacos
Recipe Source: A Thrifty Mom

1- Pork tenderloin roast (6-10 pounds) any type of roast will work
2 cans of Tomato sauce 15 oz
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 can of Dr Pepper
1 clove garlic diced
1/4 cup cilantro minced

Add all ingredients to the slow cooker and cook on low 6-8 hours or until the roast is tender.  Remove roast from crock pot and shred with two forks.  Return meat to the sauce and serve in warm tortillas with Cilantro Chili Lime Ranch and your favorite toppings.

**Cook's Note-The leftover meat mixture freezer beautifully and is great for a quick dinner on busy nights.  Just take the freezer container out of the freezer in the morning and let it thaw in the refrigerator.

Jenn's Cilantro Chili Lime Ranch
Recipe source: A Cook's Quest

1 cup prepared Ranch dressing
1/4-1/2 cup cilantro
juice of 1 lime
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin

Combine all ingredients in your food processor and blend unitl smooth.  Use as a topping for Sweet Shredded Pork Tacos.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Your One Wild and Precious Life

Quote of the Day: 
The Summer Day (aka The Grasshopper)

by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

"The Summer Day" by Mary Oliver, from The Truro Bear and Other Adventures: Poems and Essays.
Click over here to hear Mary Oliver read this poem to you.  Close your eyes and let the words fill your imagination.

I woke to a cold and dreary morning.  The wind was blowing, the sky was grey, but the rain hadn't started, so I got up and dressed in case my walking partner was up for a walk.  I opened the door and saw the first raindrops, closed it again and made coffee.  As I was reading blogs and facebook posts, I found this link, posted by my talented photographer friend Joey.  She does most of the photos for the magazine that I write for.  We have become a great creative team.

Since I was in the quiet kitchen, just me and the cat, and the hum of the refrigerator, and the scent of coffee, I could truly listen to Mary Oliver read her poem, let the words soak in, shut my eyes to  see the imagery. 

My comment to Joey:  I could write a whole blogpost on my response to hearing Mary Oliver read this poem. Doesn't it make you want to grab your blankie and pillow and curl up in her voice, her words, and the images they create?

Her response to me, my gift of the morning:  Yes.....just like the images you just created, Mary.

So, I did, I wrote up a blogpost to share with you a truly lovely way to start a dreary day.  I'm inspired to do more than simply clean my kitchen today (and a bathroom or two). I feel motivated to make something good happen.  Maybe schedule a production of Coffee Shop Confessions (with or without music, that's been my hold-up).  It's time to share it with the world.

Joey at the Table Reading of Coffee Shop Confessions. She had tea, just like Lolly, the character she brought to life.

Journaling Prompt:  Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Rhubarb, a Play, and Napping in the Rain

Quote of the Day:  We grow neither better nor worse as we get old, but more like ourselves. - May Lamberton Becker

You know you've reached middle-age when you spend your Saturday night rolling yarn skeins into balls and hitting the sack by 10:00 p.m.  My sister Nancy made the mitten and hat this winter while she was living on the farm. I think she was channeling her Pioneer Woman roots.  She said they had stayed up much later the night before when their friends came over for penny poker and two, count'em, two pots of decaf coffee. Uff-da!

It was late Friday afternoon and my kids had friends over, playing indoors because of the rain, and I was feeling overcrowded, so I went two doors down and sat with my friend Lisa on her porch where the slow, soothing rain nearly put us to sleep. 

During the summer, my four boys spend much of their time with the neighborhood boys, and they often end up in my house.  The doorway is cluttered with shoes.  The air is filled with their sweaty boy scent and talk that escalates above one another.  They're in and out and up and down and challenging the rules and the players and who's in charge and getting water and eating all my snack food.  And, I love them, and I admire their energy, but it's hard to find a moment of peace.  I knew it had been a long week of running here and there and feeding them and cleaning it up and allergy season still here, and sneezing, and having a headache, so that I snapped at Charlie when he was playing with the tape measure.  But, I'll tell you, when your nerves are shot and your head hurts, the grating sound of metal sets you off.

Then, with the door slamming behind them all on Friday night, I heard the ring of silence.  I made myself some chicken, put in a movie, and fell asleep by 9:00 p.m.

I was up bright and early on Sat., so I had plenty of time to get my van's oil changed and a tire rotation. I really know how to live it up when I have a weekend to myself.

After reading and napping in the afternoon, I thought I might be able to stay awake to watch a community theatre production at the local community college.  So, I took myself out on a date.  I saw It Runs in the Family, a British farce, put on by Midwesterners, so sometimes the accents were on and consistent, sometimes they weren't.  Sometimes the acting was good, sometimes, it was just shouting.  But, hey, it's community theatre, and I could tell that all the actors loved what they were doing, and I love watching people come alive in their art.  I thought the old guy in the wheelchair was especially good.  He was quirky and surprisingly agile when left alone with the drink table and the spray soda (got the female inspector in the arse), and the young man who played the punk kid was terrific.  I spent much of the night wondering if all his tatoos were real, or if some were painted on for the show.  They looked real to me.

The funniest part of the show was the guy sitting near me in my row.  He LOVED the play.  He thought it was hilarious.  He laughed so loud and hard that he nearly coughed up a lung.  In fact, at one point, before intermission, the woman in front of him got up and moved seats.  I'm not sure if was his loud laugh or the fear of phlegm that sparked the move.

I've been given so much rhubarb that I spent two CD's worth of music chopping it up and readying it for muffins and jam.  It's all yummy and worth the red fingers and cramps from holding the knife.

If I enter my kid-free weekends with a plan, or at least with the attitude of enjoying my solitude, I embrace the quiet and allow myself to be refueled.

The door slammed open at 5:00 p.m.  Not 10 minutes past and the neighborhood boys started showing up.  As the sun set, they all decided to play night games, and I am able to type this post.  But, they better be back in by 10:00, or I'll turn into a pumpkin.  It's getting past my bedtime.

Journaling Prompt:  Are you able to enjoy solitude, or do you need a friend to accompany you when you go out or find yourself alone for a weekend?

Mexican Lasanga

We like pasta in my house.  We also like Mexican food.  So when pasta and the flavors of Mexican food can be combined we are happy campers!  I thought I had hit the jackpot with Taco Pasta, but this gem of a recipe might, be a smidge better. It comes from Mel's Kitchen Cafe and like everything I have tried from Mel this lasagna is everything she promises it to be.  (Please go look at her beautiful photos of this dish!  They do it much more justice than mine!)

This recipe has everything a good lasagna needs; layers of noodles nestled between a delicious rich sauce and topped with cheese galore oh, and I can't forget to mention that throughout are rich creamy pockets of cream cheese and sour cream.  There is a hint of spice but nothing over powering and the black beans and sweet corn are wonderful additions.  And, the best part, it is fast, thrifty, and EASY to prepare.  I made two small lasagnas instead of one large one and now we have dinner for another night waiting in the freezer.  Enjoy!

Mexican Lasagna
Recipe Source: Mel's Kitchen Cafe

**Because I changed nothing about this recipe I'm including a note from Melanie's recipe: this lasagna isn’t super heavy on the sauce, just enough to plump up the pasta noodles perfectly and help everything hold their shape (not dry…just not overly saucy). I split all the ingredients (sauce, cheese, noodles) into three layers but feel free to simplify and just halve everything and do two layers only. Less noodles, more sauce. It’s up to you. Also, the ingredient list looks long, but it comes together quickly, especially with the no-boil lasagna noodles.

*Serves 6-8

1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef or turkey
1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
dash of ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3 (8 ounce) cans tomato sauce
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 ½ cup frozen corn kernels, white or yellow
1 (6 ounce) can olives, chopped
9-12 no-boil lasagna noodles (I love the Barilla brand), or boil and drain regular lasagna noodles
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup sour cream, light or regular
8 ounces cream cheese, light or regular

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9X13-inch pan and set aside.

In a large 12-inch skillet, brown the ground beef or turkey and onion over medium heat until the meat is no longer pink. Drain the grease. Add the minced garlic and tomato paste. Stir to combine well and cook for about a minute. Stir in the chili powder, cumin, cayenne, oregano and salt and pepper. Mix well. Add the diced tomatoes and tomato sauce. Stir to combine. Add the black beans, corn and olives. Mix well and heat through, about 5 minutes.

Remove the skillet from the heat. Spread 1/2 cup sauce in the bottom of the prepared pan. Layer three (or four, depending on the brand of noodles you use) noodles over the sauce. Spread 1/3 of the sauce over the noodles. Dollop 1/3 of the sour cream and 1/3 of the cream cheese (just pinch off chunks and toss them on top) across the sauce. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the cheeses. Repeat the layers two more times until all the ingredients are used.

Cover the lasagna with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Uncover and bake 10-15 minutes more, until the lasagna is hot and bubbly. Let stand 10 minutes before cutting into and serving.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Rooftop Pot Garden

Quote of the Day:  The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof, shit detector. --Ernest Hemingway (from bro-in-law KC)

I am not much of a gardener.  My mom has a garden the size of a small field.  I must have had my fill of gardening, weeding, and canning, growing up on the farm, so I use pots to grow my tomatoes, peppers, and flowers.

My bro-in-law KC has a rooftop pot garden.  I've invited him to write a guest post.

My sister-in-law, Mary, has asked me to write a little this week about my pot garden, where I don't grow pot mostly because it is illegal, but also because I entered college later in life.

The problem with writing about my non-pot pot garden where I don't grow pot for my sister-in-law, Mary, is I don't consider it a pot garden at all, but a bucket garden.

Pot, to me, sounds far too dainty and ephemeral in either usage: the curved lines of a decorative container or the curled wisps of smoke and patchouli rising from someone's confusion. A bucket is more substantial, the workhorse of the container world. It's more straight-forward. A bucket is something you can sing to Liza about, even if she's just going to tell you to fix it.

So anyway, I think you could probably grow weed in a bucket just as well as a pot, provided you knock some holes in it for drainage, but I only think that because weeds seem to grow anywhere and everywhere you let them, at least in my experience.

I, however, don't recommend letting a weed grow. Instead, make a bucket list. Mine includes radishes, carrots, white and yellow onions, beets, lettuce, tomatoes, bell peppers, and various spices, not including pot.

Three varieties of tomatoes:
Hear no evil, See no evil, Speak no evil.

Inventive use for wheelbarrows, minus the wheels.

The Radish

And, a little weed.

Journaling Prompt:  How does your garden grow?