Month: May 2015

Mediterranean Pasta Salad

This pasta salad is crazy delicious. It is “the chef’s” recipe and it is full of flavor. You could bring this to a gathering and blow all of the other side dishes out of the water, impress your family at home or indulge yourself for a light lunch. No matter what the ocassion, this should now be your go-to pasta salad.

For dressing

1/2 cup champagne vinegar
3 garlic cloves roughly minced
Juice of half one lemon
1 1/2  Tbsp spicy brown mustard
1 1/2 Tbsp honey
Pinch of kosher salt
Pepper to taste

1 cup olive oil

Combine the first seven ingredients, all except oil. Then slowly add oil while briskly whisking to emulsify. Then chill for 1/2 hour

For salad

1 cup cucumber diced
1/2 cup Kalamative olives (whole to measure then sliced)
About 10-12 spicy pickled green beans finely diced
3/4 cup sliced sun dried tomatoes
2 cups diced mixed mini sweet peppers (about 8 oz.)
8 oz crumbled feta cheese
1 pound penne pasta cooked

Toss all ingredients and add dressing…chill for an hour and retoss before serving.

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Look at all of the things in this beautiful salad!

Now I have to mention that I first went to the grocery store and couldn’t find a couple of the items… And I said to the chef, “Rachel, I’m going to have to put you on the shelf with my other fancy chef’s cookbooks because I can’t find all of your fancy ingredients.” And because she is awesome she brought me this…

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And because she explained it to me, I can tell you that the spicy beans are found next to the hot sauces, not in the jarred pickle/olive section. And the champagne vinegar was originally bought at Whole Foods, but also found at TJ Maxx. If you still can’t find it you could use a red wine vinegar in its place.

The Chef

The time comes in every blogger’s life when they need to share… one of their sister’s recipes. At least, that is my experience. My sister, Rachel, is everything you would want in a sister, and then some. She is talented and creative and successful at everything she puts her hand to. Rachel is loyal, trustworthy, thoughtful and kind. Lucky for me, she is good at hair and make-up and accessorizing, so she is also my go to for any fashion advice… And it just so happens to be that she is a chef! Now, she will not call herself a chef, because she is not in practice as such. (She is a stay at home mom.) However, for all intents and purposes I will refer to her as a chef, because she has been trained and degreed as one. And whenever I have any culinary questions, my best friend is a chef! How amazing is that? (See what I did there?)

The moment has arrived for me to share this information, because I am about to post a recipe from “The Chef.” And henceforth, when you see a recipe from “The Chef,” you will know to whom I am referring. It’s a little Christmas in Connecticut, except I’m giving her all of the credit. Also, a slight word to the wise, when you see a recipe from “The Chef,” print it out or write it down; because, she is good at what she does.

The Chef

The Chef

(Truth be told, I do deserve a little credit, because she is all chef in the way of; “add more of this… ooh, its missing acidity… it’s what I had, so I put in some of that,” and getting her to pin down a recipe takes a small amount of effort and requires some trial and error. So, you’re welcome.)

Simple Southwest Burgers

These burgers are juicy, delicious, and easy to make. What more could you ask for? Well, maybe something cold to drink and something cool, creamy and crunchy on the side… but nothing more in a burger, that’s for sure. And now that it’s officially grilling season, let’s fire up the BBQ and chow down.

Serves 4

1 1/4 pound ground beef

1/2 cup chipotle garlic salsa

Pinch of salt

Approx 1 1/2 tsp Granulated Garlic (or 24 dashes straight from the jar)

Approx 1 tsp Chili powder (or 16 dashes straight from the jar)

Freshly ground black pepper

4 rounded Tbsp Queso Cheese Dip (such as Trader Joe’s Chipotle Queso)

Four buttered and toasted sesame buns

Owen is the ‘grill master’ of our house, and you can see that his measurements differ from mine. But the instructions are simple… You’ll be happy with the results!
Get your grill nice and hot. In a medium bowl mix your burger, chipotle garlic salsa and a hearty pinch of salt. (Being the health nuts we are (yeah,) we use 90/10 ground sirloin, but 80/20 chuck would be delish). Form four patties, and place on a plate. Then wash your hands. Now, it gets tricky… not really, season each patty with three dashes of the granulated garlic, two dashes of chili powder and some freshly ground black pepper. Using one hand gently rub in the seasonings on the surface of the hamburger and flip it over. With the clean hand, repeat the seasoning method on the other side and follow with a rub from your raw meat exposed hand. Next, wash your hands again. Move your plate next to the grill. If your grill happens to be outside, weather permitting, take a deep breath and enjoy the great outdoors. When you’re ready, place the hamburger patties on the grill and let them cook for about four minutes (give or take depending on your preferred doneness), then flip to the other side and top each with a rounded tablespoon of the queso cheese. Allow them to grill for about 4 more minutes, then place the gorgeous cheese dripping patties on your toasted bun and serve with your favorite sides. (Sidenote: I thought this burger was begging for a couple strips of crispy bacon on top, but Owen is not a big fan of bacon… And this was his recipe so I let it ride. But if you are a fan of bacon do yourself a favor and fry some up to put on top of this burger!) Enjoy!

A Fish Story

Alas, my mother is extremely allergic to pet dander. So, if we ever want her to come visit (and we do) we are not at liberty to get indoor cats or dogs. (The mere mention of even a ‘hypoallergenic’ breed is enough to make my mother break out in hives.) So, the kids were elated when at long last we took them to each pick out their own fish (the baby excluded). And the excitement continued as we filled the tank with rocks, fake plants and eventually Rosie, Fred and Bones (Naomi’s, Elijah’s and Isaiah’s fish respectively).

As the newness wore off, as it always does, I of course was left to care for the fish. So, I can’t say I was deeply disappointed when a couple months later we had a ‘floater.’ (It was unfortunate that it was Naomi’s Rosie, since she was seemingly the most attached and definitely our biggest animal lover.) We held the ceremonial ‘buried at sea’ via the toilet funeral; a basic rite of passage for every child with indoor plumbing. There were a few tears shed by my daughter, and many questions by my two year old son, Elijah. “Where’s Rosie?” he started.

“Rosie went bye-bye,” I answered.

“Is she coming back?” he continued.

“No, she’s not coming back,” I replied.

“Where’s Rosie?” Elijah asked again. “Is she coming back?”

“Maybe,” I stated, contemplating the idea of a replacement.

“No she isn’t! She’s dead!” Isaiah in his nine year old wisdom chimed in.

After a few moments things began to calm down and I proceeded to clean the fish tank. I was doing a short cut version without removing the remaining fish; dumping the water and adding some more, dumping out more water, wiping away algae, then adding more water, etc. And then to my complete surprise I dumped Bones down the drain of the garbage disposal. Still in shock I yelled for Owen, who I thought would stick his hand in the drain and retrieve the fish, but in my amazement flipped the switch and started the disposal! (Side note: I can’t blame him for not wanting to stick his hand in the garbage disposal or let the fish suffer any longer, but it was still shocking.) So I’m standing there in total disbelief of the chain of events that just transpired and Isaiah starts crying and yelling “murderer!”

“Me? Your father is the one who started the garbage disposal,” I reasoned.

“You dumped him down the drain!” Isaiah went on through tears and frustration, “Murderer!”

I understand that losing a pet is upsetting. But I am almost certain that his disappointment was as much (if not more) due to the fact that Elijah’s fish was the last to survive; because, everything is a competition to that kid. I mean, I would never do anything like that on purpose. I’m the only one who fed those fish and certainly the only one to ever clean that stinky tank. And we keep that foul thing right on my kitchen counter!

The loss had a an impact on Elijah and at random times, like in the car on the way to the grocery store, he would ask “Where’s Rosie? She in the toilet? She coming back?” And every time I would clean the tank he’d remind me “No put Fred in the sink, ok mom?” As time passed, however, the threat seemed to fade and eventually things went back to normal.

Unhappily, I am reminded of that story as yesterday the time had come for Fred to move on to deeper waters. And as we bid farewell to dear old Fred I’d like to say “Thanks for the memories, you were the last fish swimming… and thank you for clearing up my counter.”

Flavors of India

Can I just tell you that Dinner Club -India Night was a roaring success! It was a complete dive into another culture without ever having to leave the country. It started by researching recipes and continued at Bombay Grocers getting ingredients my local supermarket didn’t carry, and things I had never even heard of like fenugreek leaves, jaggery and cardomom pods. And can I just add, that the man who greeted me from behind the counter and assisted me throughout the store was absolutely fantastic. Hands down the best service I’ve ever received shopping for groceries.

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Between the first Dinner Club and this, we decided it might be fun to incorporate some decor into the assignments. So setting up for the evening was fun too. Although I have to ask you to keep in mind that this is my “Mommy Night,” and doing a ton of dishes is not my idea of indulgence. This experience is about exploring new foods and recipes, getting together with friends and enjoying ourselves. So, remember this was about fun, not perfection in trying to recreate the Taj Majal… and please don’t judge the paper products.

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The evening started with the not-so-traditional iced chai latte. From brewing the fragrant tea concentrate to tasting the light notes of almost an egg nog like beverage, the whole thing was delightful.  http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/2011/06/working-with-what-you-have-iced-chai-tea-latte.html

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Next we partook in an Indian Feast. Oh my goodness, I had no idea I liked Indian food so much! Wow, where have I been hiding? Indian food is great! I dare say, it even changed my perspective on cilantro. I don’t know, somehow it worked.

Cauliflower Fritters with Cilantro-Ginger Sauce, http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alexandra-guarnaschelli/cauliflower-fritters-recipe.html

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Indian Quinoa Salad with Golden Raisins

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Did you know that by weight saffron is worth more than gold? It also has amazing health benefits like cancer fighting properties, increasing circulation, positive effects on eyesight, anti-aging properties, etc. Crazy, right? We should sprinkle it in our morning coffee! Saffron Rice, http://vegrecipesofindia.com/saffron-rice-or-kesar-rice/

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Naan (Indian Flat Bread)

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The main course was an assortment of simmered chicken in a variety of six different sauces; Butter Masala, Madras Curry, Tikka Masala, Korma Curry, Mango Curry and Kashmini Curry. Unbelievably good. I couldn’t pick a favorite.

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Not pictured, but not to be left out, a delicious fried potato and pea cake called aloo tikki served with a mango chutney. Also a great and flavorful potato dish that I would love to make again in the fall, aloo gobimatar, http://www.sharmispassions.com/2014/12/aloo-gobimatar-recipe-easy-potato.html?=1

We finished up the night with a lovely ice cream, almost sorbet type dessert called Malai Kulfi, yes please!!  http://m.allrecipes.com/recipe/210541/easy-malai-kulfi/

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I think this Dinner Club is the best idea I’ve ever had. And maybe it was the saffron talking but I thought the night was great, and the food was delectable. Next time it’s Israeli food… I’ll let you know what happens!

Strawberries and Cream-Cheese Cake

We love cream-cheese frosting. What’s not to love about cream-cheese frosting? The crux of the issue is that the cake had until this point taken a back seat. It was basically a vehicle to obtain something more desirable; just a means to an end. Then you take something as delicious and simple as strawberries and cream. It’s all about the berry… okay and the cream. Well let’s just put them both together and have something outstanding. We don’t need to limit ourselves to carrot and red velvet cake. Besides strawberries are gorgeous, and scream summer time! And who’s ready for that? I know I am! Oh, and the best part, you don’t have to worry about keeping it chilled all day.

As organic as you can:

Cake:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup butter (1 stick) softened

2 cups sugar

1 tsp vanilla

2 eggs (room temperature)

2 pints strawberries, rinsed, dried, stemmed and halved (includes berries for topping)

1 Tbsp lemon juice

1 1/4 cup milk

Frosting:

1 8 oz. block of cream cheese

1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick) softened

2 1/2 to 3 cups powdered sugar

1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9 x 1 1/2 inch round pans. (Side note: If you wanted to forgo the layers, you could totally do this in a 13 x 9 baking dish. Another side note: they make some great organic sprays for greasing your pans, otherwise do the classic thin even layer of butter and dusting of flour.)

In a medium bowl, add flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk ingredients together. In a large mixing bowl beat the butter with an electric mixer. Add sugar and vanilla and beat (or cream) until smooth. Add 1 egg at a time, beating them in as you go. Add lemon juice and beat again. Next, alternately add dry ingredients and milk to the butter mixture; because it is a baking law. Just mix until combined.

Select about 5 of the berries and dice into small pieces. Then put those pieces on a plate (to catch juices that might escape on a cutting board,) and mash them with the back of a fork. Gently fold the berries into the batter. When all is combined, pour the batter equally into the two prepared cake pans.

Put the pans in the oven, and bake for 20-25 minutes, until you poke them in the center with a toothpick and it comes out clean. Let the cakes cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes. Then, making sure they have separated from the sides of the pans (you can trace the sides of the pans with a knife to help this if they haven’t,) flip the cakes over on to the wire racks to cool. You should notice the cakes have a nice density, perfect to stand up to the rich frosting. You probably also noted the cakes are dotted with lovely bursts of berries, and you’re thinking “those are fantastic just like that!” (That’s if they released from your pans of course…) Just wait. Let them cool completely before frosting.

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To prepare the frosting, add cream cheese and butter into a mixing bowl. Using a mixer, beat together until entirely combined and creamy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Sift the powdered sugar into the cream cheese/butter mixture about 1/2 cup at a time. (Side note: I emphasize the “sift” portion of this direction, because if you’ve ever tried to skip this detail for any recipe, you know that unsifted powdered sugar balls are near impossible to beat out.) After the first 2 1/2 cups of sugar are incorporated, check for frosting for sweetness. I prefer a balance to still taste the tang of the cream cheese, but if you like it a little sweeter, add the rest of the sugar.

Place one of your cakes on top of a cake stand or plate. (If one of them came out not as pretty as the other, use that one.) Using half of your frosting mixture, spread it out evenly over the top of the cake. Then using half of your halved strawberries, place them randomly and evenly flat side down on top of the frosting. Next place the second cake on top of the frosted and berried cake. Using the remainder of the frosting, repeat the process. Then take a step back and admire your work, because layered cakes topped with white fluffy frosting and berries are beautiful to look at.

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Everyday Chocolate Chip Pancakes

To be clear, I am not suggesting that you should eat chocolate chip pancakes everyday. I am inferring that you can make these pancakes from everyday items you already have. Maybe they should be called Anyday Chocolate Chip Pancakes? We eat pancakes at least once a week at our house, my kids love them. Rarely do I keep buttermilk in the refrigerator, and even less often do I have the forethought to mix up a batter the night before I make them. (If I had that kind of forethought, I’d probably have buttermilk in the fridge.) These are a little sweet, so I like to balance it out by serving it with a side of sausage (don’t judge me).

Makes about 10 Medium sized Pancakes (And this recipe can be easily doubled)

As organic as you can:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 Tbsp sugar (rounded)

1 1/2 Tbsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup milk

2 Tbsp oil (I like sunflower, but you can use canola or vegetable)

Butter for your griddle

3/4 cup chocolate chips (give or take)

Okay, now I am going to be very specific about this, because I like my system and I think it saves on dishes. That said, please feel free to use your artistic license and dirty as many bowls as you’d like to clean, separate your dry from your wet, etc.

Add the dry ingredients in a batter bowl (that pours) and whisk them together. In a measuring cup, using the same whisk, beat your egg with the vanilla. (Side note: I don’t remember when I first learned about the egg/vanilla thing, but it really is a thing… and why, I don’t know, but  I do it every time.) Then dump your egg and vanilla right on top of the dry ingredients. Next, in the same measuring cup, measure your milk and pour it into the batter bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Now I like to mix the ingredients, with a wooden spoon, lightly until incorporated. (Side note: Wooden spoons seem nostalgic, but again use your creativity…) Then add the oil and lightly stir again until everything has come together. Don’t ‘over-mix’ because things get tough, but you don’t want flour pockets either. Just do it perfectly… And don’t worry about a few little lumps.

Then while that sits a minute heat your griddle (or pan) on medium heat and put a tab of butter on it. When it starts to melt, move the butter around until the surface is coated. Now if your batter seems too thick, add a little more milk and stir. If it seems thin, add a little flour. When ready, pour the batter in little round circles about 4 inches in diameter. Immediately following, sprinkle the chocolate chips evenly around the pancake. I do it this way, because that’s how my kids like it; and they eat the chocolate chips in lieu of syrup. However, if you have traditionalists who want plain pancakes (like myself) this step can be omitted completely or on a to-order basis.

When the batter starts to get those little bubbles breaking through to the top, flip them over. After about 1-2 minutes, when lovely and golden, remove the pancakes to a platter or plate and start over with the butter, batter and chips cycle. Along the way gauge your pan, if your butter is browning quickly, turn down the heat (maybe even wave your pan in the air a couple times to let it cool, just saying). If your pancakes are white and oozy, you probably need to turn the heat up. And have fun, by golly! Sneak a chocolate chip, or better yet, let your kids! (But give them a wink and a smile, or permission, so they know you see, and that way they’re not really being sneaky).Because life is too short not to enjoy yourself!

Serve right away, while warm. And if you are so indulgent, top with syrup and whipped cream. Delicious.

My Nest

My husband, Owen, of almost 14 years, is my biggest supporter. It doesn’t matter what latest endeavor I have conjured up, he is supportive. If I want to sell handbags, go back to school or raise chickens, he supports me 100%. I could probably tell him I wanted to be an astronaut, which probably wouldn’t surprise him because I can be so random, and he would try to come up a with a way to make it happen. This picture of him is perfect. For one he loves coffee, for another he is almost always holding, wrestling or playing with our kids.

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I have four (admittedly I am partial,) adorable, creative, and completely individual children. Noah is the baby (pictured above). He is completely engaging, and communicative. Sadly he’s had a rough start. He has a severe case of an allergy-induced eczema. It makes it nearly impossible to put him down or leave unattended for any length of time. However, no matter how miserable and itchy he seems, he tries to smile. Isaiah, my eldest is 9 years old and highly imaginative. He likes all things super hero. He is pensive and very in tune to his feelings. He is cautious toward new things and protective over his siblings. He has a million Legos and probably needs to clean his room. Naomi, is four, the only girl and very smart. She loves sparkles, dresses, princesses and performing. She is not intimidated to hang with her rough and tumbling brothers. She is extremely independent. If she can think of it, she’ll figure out a way to do it. Elijah is the third born, two years old and bigger than his older sister. He is polite and considerate. He always (well almost always) says thank you. He is the first one to ask if you are okay after you trip or cough. He is really funny; you can tell he has a natural ability and desire to make people laugh.

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I love this picture. It was taken on a Saturday morning, when we were enjoying having nothing to do but watch cartoons. The living room was a mess and they were still in their PJ’s. It captures a glimpse of all of their personalities.

I have been blessed with a great life and wonderful family. It’s not that everything is perfect all of the time; but the truth is, life is a lot of perspective and attitude. And I am truly blessed.

The Honest Company

Usually a business with ‘honest’ in the name would instantly make me skeptical. It’s like driving on the highway and seeing a sign that says some fill-in-the-blank restaurant at the next exit is “EZ on-EZ off,” hilarious. But since the founder and spokesperson is largely recognizable, and her claims were very specific; to be naturally derived, safe for the environment and healthy for children, I took the bait.

Of course, being a stay-at home mom of 4, with two children still in diapers, a trip to the grocery store is like a major event. So, the convenience of having things such as laundry and dish detergent (which we go through at an incredible rate) sent right to my door is like amazing. But the fact that I have now used the products and am happy about it is… (hmmm, how do you top amazing? Even more amazing?) even more amazing! I

The list of products they make is pretty extensive and the accolades, certifications and verifications are impressive. You can find them at www.honest.com

Photo courtesy of The Honest Company

Photo courtesy of The Honest Company

Disclaimer: On a complete whim I felt like doing a product plug; to share information about useful products that I feel good about purchasing in case others would like to know. I am in no way affiliated with The Honest Company or any relation to Jessica Alba (but from every angle, we do look like twins.)

Hummus Lover’s Hummus

I am a huge fan of hummus. At any given time, I can eat unladylike amounts with ease. Let’s pretend we just had a hearty meal followed by dessert, and then for some unknown reason, you bring out some hummus and pita chips. I’d be like, “yeah, I have a little room for some hummus.” Smooth, chunky, creamy, pasty, garlicky, spicy, pine nutty…

As Organic as you can…

3 cloves garlic

1 scallion

2 -15 1/2 oz cans chickpeas rinsed and drained, (about 3 cups cooked)

6 tablespoons tahini

6 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

3/4 tsp salt

2 Sprinkles of cumin

Sprinkle of cayenne

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tsp chopped parsley for garnish (optional)

Do a rough chop on the garlic and scallions and throw them into the food processor. Pulse a couple times. Add chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, salt, cumin, and cayenne. Then turn your processor on and walk away. Check your processor and if need be scrape down the sides with a spatula. If it seems very pasty and not blending well, this is a good time to add a tablespoon or so of water. (You don’t necessarily want to add more lemon juice, or olive oil at this point). Then turn it back on and go do something else. Don’t be scared to let it run for what seems like a ridiculously long time, we want it creamy. When it looks incorporated and smooth slowly drizzle olive oil in. (Sidenote: sometimes my tahini is oilier than other times. If it seems thick to you, and you’d like to, add another tablespoon of olive oil.) Then using a spatula, and being careful of the blade, scoop the hummus into a bowl. Cover and let chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours. Do not skip this step! Because the hummus you taste right now is not going to be the better hummus you taste in two hours. However you can do a little taste for seasoning, and if need be and more salt and any of the spices you’d like. Then in a couple hours or even the next day when you’re ready to eat the hummus, remember not to eat it all by yourself at one sitting because that is a lot of hummus! (That last note was for me.)