Monday, January 31, 2011

The Minimalist's Exit

Last Thursday, Mark Bittman who writes "The Minimalist" column for the New York Times announced that he would be exiting the Dining section of the paper. In his farewell column, Bittman discusses the history of the article and announces that he will now be a regular contributor to the Opinion pages where he will explore the politics of food in our nation and the world at large.

I love Bittman's columns, and his cookbook, How to Cook Everything, is one of the most-used references on my cookbook shelf. (A great gift for any cook at any level.) He is the master of the non-recipe recipe, focusing on basic techniques and ingredients that all cooks can use to produce good food.  I also love the fact that Bittman uses his platform to unabashedly advocate for more sound eating habits (less meat, less processed food, more locally/sustainably produced food). I can't wait to see him in his new role at The Times.

A few Bittman links for your cooking pleasure:
The Minimalist's 25 Favorite Recipes
101 Grilling Recipes
101 Summer Recipes

Friday, January 28, 2011

Skillet Dinner - Hearty Winter Pasta

For the past two years, Dave has given me cast iron skillets for Christmas. (He even planned a "fake out" both times by wrapping a box with a note that said, "Look in my closet" where he had cleverly hung the skillet in with his clothes.) I now have a 9" and a 12" pan. Now this may not sound especially romantic, but these are some of my favorite presents. I consider myself a pretty good cook with a pretty well-stocked kitchen when it comes to the basic tools. But for years, my lack of a cast iron skillet was a gaping hole in my culinary collection. (Yes, I am so cool I actually consider the state of my culinary collection.)

Now that I have not one but two skillets, I'm not sure how I got along without them. A cast iron pan is great for searing or browning meat, sauteing vegetables, making crispy quesadillas or toasty paninis, frying up French toast, potato latkes and just about anything else you can think of. One of the great advantages of a cast iron skillet, in addition to its ability to heat up fast and stay very hot, is that you can put it right in the oven to finish off whatever it is you started on the stove.

By the way, if you are thinking of getting your own skillet, don't hesitate. You could certainly go all out and buy the super pricy Le Creuset variety, but there are several other manufacturers that make really good cast iron cookware. Lodge is the brand I have and it was very reasonably priced and works great.

Last night I decided to make a chicken pasta dish. I wanted to use some of the meat in my freezer and I had bought some kale at the store and Valerie assured me that chopped kale would go great in pasta. And by "go great" she meant my kids would eat it without complaining about the green stuff on their noodles. Here is what I did:
  •  Preheat your oven to 350. Put a pot of water on the stove and cook about 1/2 box of rotelli or other small pasta. I had this half used box in my cabinet, but shells, macaroni noodles or bow ties would be great too.
  • Chop up 3 or 4 garlic cloves, half and onion, a handful of mushrooms and a few big kale leafs. Remove stems of kale first.
  • In a cast iron or other oven safe skillet heat some olive oil and cook 2 chicken breasts for about 4 min per side. You just want to sear them; they don't need to be cooked through. Remove from pan and set aside.
  • Re-oil and add a can of diced tomatoes. (I used about 2 cups of frozen tomatoes from the summer -- another reason my freezer is overflowing.) Cook for about 5 minutes until it starts to thicken. Add chopped kale and cook until wilted. remove from pan.
  • Re-oil the pan and add onion, mushrooms and garlic. Saute until they are just about cooked, deglaze the pan with some red wine if you have it sitting on your counter, and add the kale mix back to the pan.
  • Add the cooked pasta and about a cup of spaghetti sauce. I also added some chevre because it was about to go bad in the cheese drawer. Soft cheese (chevre, marscapone, farmer's cheese, cream cheese, ricotta etc.), sour cream, half and half all will make for a creamier and richer sauce. It will also cut the acid of the tomatoes. Totally optional addition, but worth it, I think.
  • Return the chicken to the pan and nestle it into the pasta. Sprinkle with shredded mozzarella cheese. Bake for about 20 min until cheese is bubbly.
Don't skimp on the cheese!

 This was so delicious. A very hearty winter pasta. And this "method" of cooking was really fun - I would like to give it a try with rice instead of noodles, or maybe bulgar or quinoa. I am also happy to say that Val's prediction about the kale was mostly true. I gave Kara fair warning that there would be green things in her noodles and politely requested that she keep an open mind. She wasn't a huge fan of the pasta, but she ate a good portion of it - complaint free, too. Jamie, predictably, was not bothered by the kale. Noodles are noodles in his book, I guess.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Miso Butter

I know I have written about Josh on many occasions, but I am not sure if I have mentioned that Josh's mom is a seriously amazing cook. Over the years, I have gathered delicious recipes for scones, cream cheese brownies, jalapeno poppers, buffalo chicken dip to name just a few. But one of the coolest things I learned from Mrs. D is how to make miso butter. Brace yourself for this complex recipe...
  • Soften 1 stick of unsalted butter, mix it with 2 tbsp white miso paste. Add chopped scallions or shallots to taste.

The only challenging part of making miso butter is, potentially, finding miso paste. I ventured to a local Asian grocery store, stood in front of the miso section for about 5 minutes while Jamie yelled, "MISO!" and then picked the palest miso paste I could find.

Once you have made miso butter, I defy you to find something that it does not improve - it's sort of like caramelized onions in this regard. Mrs. D originally served it on sweet potatoes. I have found it to be delicious on asparagus, broccoli, chicken, white potatoes, fish, bread, a spoon. I have a miso butter problem.

Thanks to Josh and his mom for introducing us to this amazing condiment!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Here's to High Self-Esteem!

Many years ago, I was in a faculty meeting where the chair of the math department was explaining the various choices for math class selection. As part of his presentation, he described how middle school students were either in low, middle or high math groups. More than a few faculty members clearly bristled at these labels. One of our colleagues spoke up to say what many others were no doubt thinking. "Isn't that kind of a harsh way to describe it?" she asked.

Without skipping a beat, the math chair replied, "What would you prefer? Good, better and best?" The laughter in the meeting room just about drowned out his explanation that these names, low, middle and high, were what the kids called their groups, the teachers were just following their lead.

This little anecdote is on my list of greatest faculty meeting moments of all time. Not only because it was incredibly funny, but it points out how adult concerns about preserving the self-esteem of children are often overblown. Much has been written of late about parents who, with the best of intentions, do a disservice to their children by constantly praising even the most mundane of achievements. The argument goes: if we congratulate and award every thing and every child, how will kids ever learn to appreciate what are truly important accomplishments and value the hard work that goes into achieving a goal? How will they learn to distinguish between what is a good what is excellent?And if you have followed any of the Amy Chua madness, you have probably heard a discussion of just how much "criticism" is necessary to "encourage" children to work their hardest and do their best.

After working in schools, I was totally on board with the idea that too many rewards distributed with too little discrimination were not ultimately helpful in teaching kids to be successful students or citizens. And as a parent, I have wondered: At a certain point in childhood, will giving every kid that played soccer a trophy become a problematic strategy as opposed to a form of positive reinforcement? Dave and I have talked on more than one occasion about how we didn't get awards for simply going to t-ball, and we survived, right?

And then Kara was given the "Patriot Award" (named for the mascot not for being one). It's an award given to one or two kids in each class, each month, for academic excellence, outstanding citizenship and/or marked improvements. And Kara won it. Dave and I almost burst with pride. When I told Kara she was getting this special award at the assembly,  all of my beliefs about overindulgent adults slavishly promoting self-esteem went out the window. She was so completely happy and so clearly proud of herself.  I don't know if the whole "Patriot Award," in addition to the many other ways kids are recognized in school, is really  a necessary thing, I hope that it has the desired effect of pointing out excellence in a positive way.  I really hope that by 5th grade the kids aren't so accustomed to this award that it has lost its meaning. But right now, I don't really care about any of these more academic concerns; I am just too proud of my little girl to think beyond this one moment in time.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Dinner for Company - Carnita Beef

On Saturday we had a our good friends John, Jen and their 7 month old son Justin over for dinner. "Uncle" Josh, Kara's favorite dinner guest, joined us too. I decided that this was the perfect opportunity to use one of the fabulous new cookbooks my mother in law gave me for Christmas.

Pam Anderson, not to be confused with the buxom former wife of rocker Tommy Lee, is a foodie, cookbook author, blogger and all around cool lady from what I can gather. Her food blog Three Many Cooks is written by Pam and her two sisters and offers some great recipes. Her cookbooks also get rave reviews. I have How to Cook without a Book and Perfect One-Dish Dinners.

For our weekend dinner, I was looking for something easy and fun that would use up some of the meat that is currently taking up all of my freezer space. "Carnita-Style Beef" from One-Dish Dinners was, in fact, perfect. Basically, you braise chuck roasts in a chile sauce, shred the meat and serve it sort of like fajitas.

Here is the basic recipe for the beef. This makes a TON of food. You could easily cut this recipe in half and it would serve 6-8 hungry adults. If you go that route, you can make the whole thing in a dutch oven. I also think this recipe could be adapted to a slow cooker. I will give that a try next time.

  •  Preheat oven to 450.
  • In a large bowl, cover 2 beef chuck roasts (4-6 lbs total weight) with olive oil, salt, pepper and cumin.
  • In a small bowl combine 2 small cans chopped green chile peppers, 1/4 cup chili powder and 2 tsp cumin. (I might try adding a little molasses or brown sugar to sweeten it up next time.)
  • Chop up 8-10 cloves of garlic.
  • Heat a large roasting pan on high and cover the bottom with oil. Sear the meat on so it gets nice and crusty. Set aside.
  • Add garlic to pan for a minute or so. Then add chile mixture and stir until fragrant - like another minute. Now dump in a quart of chicken stock and stir until bubbling.
  • Return meat to pan and cover with several layers of foil so that the steam is staying locked in.
  • Cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. You want the meat to be shredable. 
  • Shred the meat and set aside until ready to serve. This is easy to freeze in bags and would be great for enchiladas, quesadillas, tacos, bi bim bap. Yum!
I fried up a couple of bell peppers and onions cut into long strips to serve with the beef as well. We just put the meat, the veggies, a bowl of rice and beans,  warm tortillas, sour cream, salsa and guacamole on the table and let everyone make their own thing. It was simple and fun.

Jen, who manages to be a doctor, a mommy and an amazing cook, brought the most delicious carrot cake cupcakes. Here is the recipe from Food & Wine Magazine. Seriously, the best cupcakes ever. Jamie de-frosted his and then devoured the actual cake in under a minute. It was a show!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Grandma Bea

This weekend we visited my grandmother in Boston. A few things that I love and admire about my grandmother:

She is super smart. She reads all the time and is incredibly knowledgeable about a whole range of topics, from how to make the best matzo balls to the ins and outs of Boston politics.

She was a beloved teacher for most of her adult life.

She is an accomplished pianist and bridge player.

She is a fabulous cook and continues to pass down her recipes to me.

She is unfailingly generous.

Despite the fact that her life has not been easy, she has the wisdom to see the many wonderful things that her life has brought her.

She is really funny.

She loves her great grandchildren to pieces.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Peanut Butter Bars

Not sure why I felt the need to stack them.

This weekend we traveled up north to visit some of our friends who live in and around Boston. I believe that a good guest never arrives empty handed. For me, this takes the form of some kind of baking. (For Dave, it means bringing at least a few delicious beers.)

In a fortuitous sequence of events, my friend Kim and I finally got a chance to catch up on the phone last week. She was going to her beach condo for a girls weekend with college friends and was therefore busy cooking up lots of goodies to supplement the many cocktails they would be consuming. She mentioned that she had made recently a no-bake peanut butter bar. Well, that was something that I needed to try myself.

I whipped up a batch the day before we left on our little trip. The whole endeavor took about 20 minutes. These little bars won rave reviews from children and adults alike. And Bob, Dave's buddy from college, paid me the highest compliment by asking me for the recipe while wolfing down his second bar.

Thanks, Kim, for passing this winner along! Here is the recipe with just a few tips.

  • In a medium mixing bowl, use a hand mixer to combine 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs, 3 cups confectioners sugar and 1 1/2 cups peanut butter. (I didn't have enough graham cracker crumbs, so I used vanilla wafer crumbs too which were fine.)
  • Add 1 cup melted butter and mix. (I thought that this was a little too much butter. 3/4 cup would work fine)
  • Press peanut butter mixture into 9x13 pan. Use wax paper to prevent pb covered hands.
  • Melt 12 oz (or one bags worth) of milk chocolate chips and spread over pb mixture. 
  • Let chocolate set and then cut into squares. Do not make the mistake that I made of putting the pan in the refrigerator uncut. If the chocolate is completely hardened, it will crack. I had to rewarm the pan to cut them into squares. A big pain. 

Thursday, January 13, 2011

My Little Helper

Jamie is right in the middle of one of the cutest toddler phases - he wants to help out with everything. Carrying grocery bags, sweeping the floor, putting away the laundry. I just love this time in a toddler's life. I feel like I am seeing the earliest signs of generosity and empathy. When he is trying to pull the bag of groceries saying, "Heavy!" it's like he totally gets what a tough job this mommy gig is. I may be reading too much into this, but I swear, this kid is deep.

And I also appreciate that while he is imitating these grown up behaviors, he is teaching me patience, perhaps the most important parenting skill. It is so tempting to hustle him along, to grab the broom and finish sweeping. But it is ultimately more satisfying to watch him figure out how to swing the broom around without bonking himself on the head.


Jamie's favorite household task? Emptying the dishwasher.

This used to be my least favorite job, but I have decided that it's not so bad after all.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


So one of my new year's resolutions was to eat less meat. You may be wondering why, if this was the goal, every inch of freezer space in my house is filled with chicken, pork and beef. It turns out that eating local trumps the less meat thing, at least for the moment.

For the second year now, my dear friend Valerie, who is a supermom and "locovore" extraordinaire, organized a meat buying club or sorts. Val has befriended a farmer in Lancaster County and buys eggs and produce from him regularly. Now, with ten of her friends, we have become big buyers of his meat supply. Bob, the awesome farmer in question, sold us a pig and a half and a whole cow, butchered it,  packaged it all, and even loaded Val's minivan. Last Friday, Val's living room was entirely covered in frozen meat. Without an ounce of irony, her friend David pronounced, "It's like a meat locker in here."

I stupidly forgot my camera when I went to help sort out the meat into individual orders, but here is what my portion looked like when I got it home. That's $300 plus worth of locally-produced, humanely-raised chicken, beef and pork - an unbelievable price for so much high quality food.

Yesterday afternoon I roasted one of the chickens. It was so delicious and yielded a ton of leftovers. (I froze a quart bag full of meat and still had a large Tupperware to use right away.) Next to having the leftovers, I think the best part of roasting  a chicken is you get to have a mini Thanksgiving dinner. I made sweet potatoes, stuffing, peas, cranberry sauce that I had preserved in November, and I even whipped up real gravy.

There are many methods to roasting a chicken, here is what I do and it never fails.
  •  Preheat your oven to 450.
  • Take the bird out of the refrigerator and place it in a roasting pan. Remove any giblets, neck etc,  and let it come up to room temperature. (True story: The first turkey I ever cooked, I forgot the critical step of taking the giblets etc. out of the body. Yum!)
  • In a small bowl combine a few tablespoons of softened butter and spices of your choosing. The classic poultry mix of sage, rosemary, thyme, parsley always works, but you could go spicy, or Mexican, or even Asian if you wanted. 
  • Pat the chicken dry and sprinkle with lots of salt and pepper. Now slather that bird with your butter/spice mix. Don't be shy with the butter. Make sure to get inside, too. 
  • If you have it, put a lemon half and a quartered apple inside.
  • Use string or skewers to bring the legs in tight to the body of the chicken.
  • Put it in the oven and after about 30 min check to make sure the top isn't getting too brown. If it is, just cover it with tin foil. This is also a good time to pour some chicken stock over the bird and into the pan.
  • Lower the heat to 350. Check on you chicken every 30 min or so and use a meat thermometer to check if it is done. This is always a little hit of miss for me since I have 2 thermometers that never read the same. I looked it up and the common rule seems to be 20 min/pound. Take that, and all other cooking rules, with a grain of salt. Also, remember that the meat will continue to cook out of the oven, so don't overdo it.
  • A tip: If you cook this early in the day to serve for dinner, you can warm up the meat very, very briefly in the microwave. Or if you are nervous that you will turn your gorgeous chicken into disgusting rubber, pouring hot chicken stock over carved meat works really well.
To make gravy:
  • Heat some chicken broth. Pour juices from roasting pan into a gravy measuring container, a pyrex measuring cup or ziploc bag. Put a few tablespoons of fat and a few tablespoons of butter into the roasting pan over medium-high heat.
  • Add two-three tablespoons of flour, depending on how much gravy you want to make and how much pan juice you have. Whisk the flour and fat mixture. Now add the rest of the juices from the pan. If you used a ziploc, cut a small hole in the bottom to release the juice not the fat. I am typically too lazy for that, so I just skim the fat off the top of what it in my measuring cup and pour the rest in the pan. 
  • Add stock a little at a time and whisk to scrape up the drippings in the pan. At this point you could pour the gravy into a pot. I use my cast iron skillet. Keep adding stock until you get the thickness/flavor you are looking for. I also throw in another pat of butter at the very end - gives it that extra boost of flavor.
  • I know this doesn't seem "easy" exactly, as it requires several pans and lots of whisking, but it is SO worth it. If you make way too much, just freeze it for the next time you need gravy on something.
Thank you so much, Val, for organizing our delivery of locally produced meat. And thanks to Farmer Bob for providing this incredible bounty for us city folk.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Never Arrive Empty-Handed

On Saturday night we had an impromptu gathering at our house to watch some football, drink some beers and let our kids run wild for a few hours. My friend Becky calls this the "dinner play date." Kids play, grown ups eat, talk, or in this case watch football, in peace.

Dave invited our friend Tom and his wife Layla to join us. They have six kids. Seriously. I think that this accounts for their refreshingly relaxed take on just about everything. Layla couldn't come, but Tom said he would stop by. When he walked in with a bag from the grocery store, I just assumed it was the most convenient method for carrying beer. I was way off base. Since Tom as all out of beer, he stopped at the store to bring a tomato pie for snacking. When there was no tomato pie left, he picked up a rotisserie chicken and loaf of Tuscan bread instead. Sure. Why not? I have to say I really admired Tom's commitment to not arriving empty-handed, even if we did tease him for being such a weirdo.

I tried to get him to take the chicken home to his brood, but he was having none of it. So on Sunday, I stripped down that bird and made a big batch of curried chicken salad. If you have some leftover chicken around, or rotisserie birds go on sale, give this "recipe" a try. Much better than the run of the mill chicken salad.

-In a medium sized mixing bowl combine:
  • The meat from a whole rotisserie chicken. (The bird I used from the supermarket produced about 3 cups of chicken meat.)
  • 2 stalks of celery, 3 green onions chopped. If you don't have green onions on hand, use 2 tbsp or so of finely chopped yellow onion.
  • One carrot "julienned." You could use a peeler, a mandoline or a grater. The idea is to get nice small pieces of carrot.
  • About a half a cup of canned Mandarin oranges or diced pineapple
  • 1/4 cup mango chutney. If you don't have chutney, apricot jam will work too.
  • 1/2 to 1 cup of mayo - depending on your tastes. You could also use plain yogurt or a combination of yogurt and mayonnaise.
  • 2-4 tsp of curry powder - again depending on your tastes. You could make this salad spicy by adding more curry, some cumin, chili powder, cayenne etc.
  • Other options: 1/4 cup raisins, cut up grapes, chopped apple, walnuts, almond slivers

Friday, January 7, 2011

Beef Stew

Last week I made the best stew I have ever made. I am not entirely sure how to account for this stew success. It's not that my previous stews have been bad, this one was just particularly good. I have a few theories, however, as to why this batch was especially yummy:

-I used my cast iron Dutch oven, which really helped to brown the meat.
-I deglazed the heck out of the pot with a lot of red wine. (If you are not squeamish about profanity, lewd jokes and wildly inappropriate sexual innuendo, I highly recommend the episode of South Park titled "Creme Fraiche" where Stan's dad becomes obsessed with the Food Network and starts saying things like, "I'm gonna delglaze the #*&% out of that pan!" Hilarious.)
-I coated the beef cubes in salt, pepper and flour before I browned them.
-I used a bunch of baby bella mushrooms that were about to bite the dust.
-I used about 3 cups of stock made with Better than Bouillon. I suspect that this stuff is not exactly the healthiest of food products, but it did add a nice richness, and saltiness, to the stew.

Now, you could follow a recipe to make a stew, but that's not really my style. Whenever I read recipes for something like stew, or most soups for that matter, I end up feeling like it is just all too complicated. Of course, the "recipe" that I end up improvising is probably no simpler, but it feels easier somehow. Here is an approximation of my best stew ever. Perfect for a Sunday supper and then a weeknight dinner and then the freezer bank.

  • Chop one large or several small onions, 5 or more carrots and 3-4 celery stalks, 10 plus mushrooms. Peel and quarter 8 medium Yukon gold potatoes. No need to be neat and tidy. Large chunks are good.
  • Set all of the veggies aside and get out a package of beef cubes. About 1 1/2 pounds. In a mixing bowl, stir up about 1/2 cup flour and a hefty sprinkle of salt and pepper. Throw the beef in to the bowl and shake it around to coat all of the pieces. 
  • Coat the bottom of a large pot or Dutch oven with oil, brown the beef cubes in batches and set aside. Careful not to char the bits on the bottom of the pan. Here is the point when I should warn about not overcrowding the pan: You should work in batches and you should not crowd the pan....but if you do, no biggie. Don't sweat it. You are making stew, for goodness sake, it's not that precise. (For a hilarious take on crowding the pan, check out this entry from Jenny and Andy in  Dinner a Love Story.)
  • When the beef is all browned, toss the chopped onion, celery, and mushrooms into the pot. Add some crushed garlic too. Stir it all around and when the veggies have softened, pour in some red wine. Don't be shy. Dave reminds me that a beer would work too - just choose something robust like a porter or dark amber. Bud Lite would be a mistake, I fear. 
  • Now add the carrots, potatoes and about 2 cups frozen peas, if you have them. Stir the mix around.
  • Add the beef cubes back into the pot, too.
  • Add about 3 cups of beef stock until you achieve the thickness you like. It will thicken as it cooks, too. I used the Better than Boullion method, but any stock/broth will work.
  • Let this all cook for at least an hour. It is better on day two as that lets the meat soften more. If you are making it for a weekend dinner, I suggest making it on Sunday morning and letting it cook and sit for several hours.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


Can I just show off the amazing tower Kara and Dave built the other night? It's incredible.

The basic set of blocks was a Christmas present for the kids last year. Let me tell you that good quality blocks are expensive enough to be termed an "investment." But we liked the idea that our kids would have them, and then their kids would play with them too. And Christmas is a time for a little indulgence, right? Well, it was money well spent. At least a couple of nights a week Kara asks if I can put Jamie to bed so that she and her daddy can build a tower. The results, both tangible and intangible, are fabulous. And though he is not as precise as his father and big sister yet, it is notable that one of Jamie's first phrases was and emphatic, "Build tower!"

This year we added to the block set with some decorative blocks. To quote Dave, "These new blocks have definitely taken our towers to the next level."

 Check  out the arches. That was all Dave.

This was all Kara. Amazing.

The Strata (aka Brinner)

Just one day after writing about breakfast casserole for brinner, there is an article in the food section of today's Philadelphia Inquirer about strata. Strata, it turns out, is a fancy name for a bread and egg concoction. I think I actually had that tidbit of food trivia in my brain somewhere.

Here is the article and a couple of recipes, too.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Another Brinner Idea

I have already posted about my deep and abiding love of brinner. If my kids had it their way, we would have fried eggs and toast every night. Though that sounds appealing on several levels, I don't think that would be the most nutritionally sound plan. To satisfy our brinner cravings, I try to work in some other dishes.

This recipe for Breakfast Casserole came to me a few years ago. I was at a parent coffee for Kara's nursery school and one of the moms brought this delicious egg, bread and sausage casserole. You know you hit the jackpot as a cook when pretty much every other mom in the room is asking you to email the recipe asap. Julia, the mom in question, being super efficient, actually followed through the same day, and I immediately copied this recipe into my book. Don't you love it when you come across a delicious recipe by chance?

Here is the original, courtesy of Julia, aka Jack's mommy, aka home cook extraordinaire.

-Cook up one package of breakfast sausage and dice into small pieces
-Slice 6-8 thick pieces of crusty bread and then cut into 1-2 inch cubes
-Grate 1 cup cheddar cheese or measure one cup from the bag of shredded cheese you keep in your fridge.
-Mix 8 eggs and 2 cups of milk. Add in salt, pepper and 1/2 tsp dry mustard powder.
-Butter a deep dish casserole and layer bread, cheese and sausage ending with bread on top. Gently pour egg mixture into casserole and press bread down so that the bread is all wet.
-Cover and refrigerate overnight. (Note: If you are making this for brinner,  you can assemble it all in the morning and it will be ready to cook by dinner time.)
-Bake for 1 hour at 350

In addition to being delicious, this recipe is incredibly flexible. (The version I made yesterday morning and baked last night used half a loaf of stale baguette, onion, red pepper and mushrooms all finely chopped and a Mexican cheese mix.) You can add veggies, omit/change the meat, change up the cheeses, use more or less bread to vary the size of the finished product. It is a great pot-luck addition, and it is also perfect if you are hosting a brunch because all the "work" is done the day before. Finally, it is good leftover. Just pop it in the microwave and it is nearly as good as it was out of the oven.

Gotta love brinner!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Back to "Normal"


This is what my living room looks like today. We officially rang in the new year yesterday by cleaning up the remainder of the Christmas detritus, and more importantly, taking down the tree and all of the decorations. Now the kids' chalkboard has returned to the corner and our lives have returned to normal. (Whatever that is?) Dave is back at work. Kara is at school. And, thank the New Year gods, Jamie is napping.

Is there any task more unwelcome than taking down the Christmas stuff? This job, which really requires all hands on deck, has the universal effect of making us all grumpy. Even Kara, who was actually enjoying hunting for Santas and the missed ornaments hiding in the tree, stopped at one point and said, "I don't want Christmas to be over." I hear you, baby.

But since it is January 3, I feel compelled to make some "resolutions." I actually prefer to think of them as goals and I also think that if you write them down, you substantially increase the probability that you will at least come close to achieving them. 

First, some oldie but goodies. These are the ones I make pretty much every year, with varied success.
  • Sit and stand up straight. Good gracious, when you are as short as I am, you  need every inch.
  • Read a classic piece of literature that has passed me by. I have managed this one most years. Recent additions to my literary repertoire: Anna Karenina (2009) and Death of a Salesman (2010). In truth, I read Miller's play in high school, but since I didn't understand or remember 99% of it, I count it as a new addition.
  • Lose that last five pounds. This has really come to the fore since having two kids. I know that I should embrace my body for all of its beauty and not be oppressed by society's unattainable standards. I should break free of the body image anxiety that plagues me and so many other women. Right. But I live in this crazy society, and I was raised in a house that encouraged a robust fear of being overweight. So what can I do? I should adapt a Zen-like approach to those last 5 pounds, but that's just not how I roll.
Now this year's resolutions, several of which are repeats as well.
  • Eat less meat. This is the second year for this one and I am proud to say, we really have cut back on our meat intake in our family.
  • Eat locally grown food as much as possible. Another repeat and another success story, I think. Yes, in the dead of winter, I buy fruit that comes from warmer climes. But I try to find produce that has traveled from California instead of Chile, whenever possible, at least. Another rationalization -- If I didn't give them fruit, I think my kids' nutrition would be seriously compromised.
  • Write in this blog at least 4 days a week.
  • Dramatically reduce my dependence on my check card. Use cash to buy groceries etc. and therefore have a better sense of what we are actually spending on a daily basis. 
  • Remember my friends' birthdays. (I have high hopes for this now that I have realized that Facebook will do the reminding, if you make it one of your settings. The one legitimate use of Fb, perhaps?)
  • Be kinder to my husband and children even when I am having a horrible/hormonal day. 
  • Learn how to use our fancy camera more fully.
One more list: As I look back on 2010, I am so very thankful...
  • For Dave, the most generous husband and bestest friend I could ever hope for.
  • For Kara, the smartest, sweetest kindergartner on the planet.
  • For Jamie, the cutest and most amazing toddler who makes every day an adventure.
  • For my friends and family who never fail to be supportive and generous, compassionate and kind, funny and wise. 
May 2011 bring us all buckets of  love, peace and happiness.