Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Unfinished Projects

Well, the spring cleaning carries on. Unfortunately, it makes for a pretty lame blogging topic so I haven't been posting as much since it started. I'm getting there, but I'm getting a little tired of it now. Spring cleaning has, however, had some more attractive side benefits in the completion of a few unfinished projects. (Of which there are many to choose from at my house.) I'm a "starter." I hear so many others say that their trouble is in the beginning, if only they could just get started then there would be no problem. Oh, how I only wish that were the case. Today, as I organized my craft closet I saw that there must be no less than twenty started (but not finished) projects in there.

What can I say, I love beginnings. I relish in picking out a project, going to the store and pouring over all the materials, deliberating, and carefully selecting each one. Then I'm usually off with a bang and I'd say I get at least 1/2 way through every project that I start. Sometimes I see it through and other times, the romance dies, and it gets placed into one of about 1/2 dozen collections of other failed romances.

I do eventually get around to completing things though - like these necklaces for instance. They've been on my craft table for nearly two months - completely strung and ready to go minus one little thing - a clasp (the less fun part - now you see where my weakness lies).
They were in the way - that's how many of my unfinished projects finally get done.

I've still been leaving enough time for cooking and I'm really pleased with how this recipe turned out. As the temperatures slowly rise and the days get longer, I've been trying to eat a little less heavy. This makes for a nice in between meal - not exactly summery light but not quite winter heavy either. I love the hint of sweetness from the golden raisins. I'm sure you could substitute regular raisins but I think the flavor may be too strong. Golden raisins have a less intense flavor.

Moroccan Chicken with Couscous

olive oil
3 chicken breasts, cut into chunks
1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 large carrots, sliced
1/2 of a red onion, chopped
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cumin
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. of salt (or to taste)
1 28 oz. can of fire roasted tomatoes
1/2 c. golden raisins
chopped fresh parsley, for topping
chopped roasted almonds, for topping

Coat the bottom of a pan with olive oil and heat on medium. Add chicken and saute then remove from pan and set aside. Add onion, garlic, squash, and carrots to the pan. Saute until slightly tender. Add spices and chicken. Cook for another 2-3 minutes then add tomatoes and 1/2 can of water. Simmer until squash and carrots are tender - about 45 minutes to one hour (adding small amounts of water as necessary). Serve over couscous and top with chopped fresh parsley and roasted chopped almonds.

Note: For the couscous, I typically follow the package instructions. However, sometimes I also add a handful of golden raisins, chopped onion, or carrots.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The First Day of Spring

Okay, I know this is not actually the first day of spring. Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to post that day so I'm writing about it now. The first day of spring here was lovely. The sun was shining, the temperature was just right. So I thought it was only appropriate to take down the snowflake garland over the fireplace and transform the winter wreath into a spring one.

For nearly five years now I have used the same grapevine wreath over and over again, season after season. I try to use things that simply need to be sandwiched between the vines but if something needs to be glued I use a hot glue gun and usually the glue will pop off with a little coaxing when I'm ready to change things up again.

So on Saturday morning my front door went from this:

to this:

For a late morning breakfast I enjoyed some yogurt with homemade blueberry vanilla granola.

Blueberry Vanilla Granola
(Note: Recipe adapted from Food Network)

3 c. oats
1 c. sliced almonds
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. maple syrup
1/4 c. vegetable oil
3/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1-2 c. dried blueberries

Preheat oven to 250. In a large bowl, combine oats, almonds, salt and brown sugar. In a separate bowl or glass measuring cup, combine maple syrup, vegetable oil, and vanilla. Pour over oats mixture and mix well. Spread out granola onto two cookie sheets. Cook for about 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes until lightly browned on all sides. Allow to cool, then add blueberries. Store in an airtight container.
In other news, it seems that my spring cleaning opened a can of worms. . . um, no wait, not worms - spiders! (Warning: If you're arachnophobic ( or my husband), you may want to stop reading now).

It seems that this:

drove these right out of their hiding places:

Here's the scary part. I've killed eleven of these big guys in our house since I started my cleaning last Thursday. Eleven. I feel like our home has been transformed into a movie set for Arachnophobia.

I've learned over the past few days though, that trying to do something like identify a spider on your own over the internet is like typing your symptoms into Web MD, you're sure to end up thinking you have something way worse than you actually do. I was starting to become convinced that we infested with some kind of a poisonous hobo spider (these guys are frighteningly huge). I submitted the above photo to and as it turns out the spider was identified as a hacklemesh weaver, harmless to humans but apparently they can still have a nasty bite.

Needless to say my spring cleaning list just got longer. Short of using harsh chemicals, my remedy so far has been to wash down all the baseboards with the lavender oil (I read that this may repel spiders) and place "sticky pads" in strategic locations around the house. I don't really want to used chemicals but I also don't want these things taking over my house. We'll see. . .

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Spring Cleaning

Gosh, I can't believe it's been over a week since I last posted. Spring cleaning is in full force around here. In the past I've never had time for spring cleaning. At least that was my perception. Now I see it as one of the perks of being unemployed.

It's funny how perceptions change. When I was working, I dreaded any kind of cleaning with the same fierceness that I might dread a tooth extraction. And while I was cleaning I was about as happy as I'd be during a tooth extraction as I woefully considered all the other things I'd rather be doing. Now though, with more time on my hands, I don't mind it as much.

The exertion of spring cleaning calls for a hardy lunch. This was supposed to be a Monte Cristo Sandwich with Sweet Mustard Sauce but I made so many adaptations I don't think you could really call it that. The whole "Monte Cristo" thing sounded too rich for my taste so basically what we have here is a ham and turkey sandwich. After I finished making the mustard sauce I decided that it was too messy for dipping so I added 1/4 c. of mayo and turned it into a spread. It was just as tasty that way and much less messy.

Sweet Mustard Spread - (Adapted from
1/4 c. red currant jelly
2 tbs. Dijon mustard
1 tbs. orange juice
1/4 c. mayonnaise

For the pasta salad I used the same dressing as the one for my BLT Salad. To the pasta I added 1 pint of halved cherry tomatoes and one bunch of lightly boiled asparagus. I also topped each individual portion with one chopped scallion. It was even better the second day!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Meatloaf Nostalgia

I love the way cooking meatloaf makes the house smell. Usually, when I cook meatloaf I also slow cook a pound of lima beans in the crockpot along with mashed potatoes. I didn't quite get there with the Lima beans yesterday, but still the smell was wonderful - and wonderfully nostalgic. The savory smell of the meatloaf and the starchy aroma of the potatoes takes me right back to my childhood. It makes me feel like I'm walking into my grandmother's kitchen 20 years ago.

I spent weeks at a time in the summer with my grandparents and it didn't matter if it was 102 degrees outside - something was cooking in the kitchen. It was usually something aromatic and savory like meatloaf or pot roast. I can remember coming into the house after playing all afternoon in the yard - or helping out in the garden, sweaty and covered in a fine layer of red soil dust and the farther I walked into the house the stronger the aroma. You'd catch a whiff of it right when you opened the door.

I recreated that nostalgic smell in my house yesterday with Barefoot Contessa's Individual Meatloaves. The flavor was right on the money, however, I do think that the next time I make these that I'll use little mini loaf pans rather than placing them on a cookie sheet, in order to retain more moisture.

I've copied and posted the recipe below or you can also find it on Food Network.

Individual Meat Loaves
  • 1 tablespoon good olive oil
  • 3 cups chopped yellow onions (3 onions)
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/3 cup canned chicken stock or broth
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 1/2 pounds ground chuck (81 percent lean)
  • 1/2 cup plain dry bread crumbs (recommended: Progresso)
  • 2 extra-large eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup ketchup (recommended: Heinz)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Heat the olive oil in a medium saute pan. Add the onions, thyme, salt, and pepper and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent but not brown. Off the heat, add the Worcestershire sauce, chicken stock, and tomato paste. Allow to cool slightly. In a large bowl, combine the ground chuck, onion mixture, bread crumbs, and eggs, and mix lightly with a fork. Don't mash or the meatloaf will be dense. Divide the mixture into 6 (10 to 11-ounce) portions and shape each portion into a small loaf on a sheet pan. Spread about a tablespoon of ketchup on the top of each portion. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the internal temperature is 155 to 160 degrees F and the meat loaves are cooked through. Serve hot.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Banana Pancakes

An ongoing dilemma in our house is what to do with over-ripe bananas. I am not a picky eater by any stretch of the imagination, however, I am very picky when it comes to eating bananas. I will only eat them raw if they are completely free of even the hint of a brown spot and are still a little green. So we are inevitably left with two or three bananas from the bunch, left sitting out on the counter until I can make something else with them. Typically, they become one of two things - banana bread or banana pancakes. This week it was pancakes - topped with Vermont Maple Syrup and with a side of bacon. Yum!

Of course, if anyone has any other ideas about things that you can make with over-ripe bananas, I'm all ears. Someone once suggested Banana Pudding, however, since it's typically made using raw bananas, for me (picky, picky) they would still need to be a little green.

Banana Pancakes (for two)

1 c. all purpose flour (or whole wheat if you prefer it)
2 tbs. sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 c. milk
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
3 tbs. melted butter
2 over-ripe mashed bananas

Combine first four dry ingredients in a medium to large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together 1/2 c. milk, egg, mashed bananas, and vanilla. Mix into dry ingredients, just until combined. Fold in melted butter. (Note: you can use more milk if you like thinner pancakes). Heat pan coated with a little butter or oil over medium heat, then add desired amount of batter and cook until bubbles form in the middle of the pancake. Flip and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
Yield: about 6 medium pancakes

Tip: If you're like me and you don't have a griddle where you can cook a large batch of pancakes all at once, then just preheat your oven to 250 degrees and as you cook your pancakes place them on a cookie sheet and into the preheated oven. This will keep them warm and crisp without further cooking them.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Last Winter Stew?

Could it be? Could it possibly be that last night's beef and barley is the last winter stew that I'll make this season? It sure seems that way with temperatures promising to rise into the 50s tomorrow and hold steady until at least next Friday. Of course, this could just be a typical March teaser. March likes to torment us with it's identity crisis. Is it winter? Is it spring? March plays both roles. It would not be at all out of character to take a dip back into winter late in the month. But today, the snow is already melting.

As we have had more snow this year than in the last five years combined, there have been many gripes and grumbles about the weather lately. I, however, have no complaints. My emotions and mood are very sensitive to the weather but it's not the dreary, sunless days that most people associate with S.A.D. that have an adverse affect on me. For the past few years, we've had mild winters but they've also been indecisive winters. 30 degrees one day, 60 degrees the next, and so on and so forth, for months on end. While some relish in the momentary and fleeting warmth, I feel like Mother Nature is toying with me. I feel jerked around.

This winter there haven't been those lapses into spring-like weather. It turned cold in December and it has pretty much stayed that way until now, March. Which is how it should be in the winter. Things feel in balance, not all topsy-turvy and out of whack.
(I reflect on this purely on a local level. The victims of the recent natural disasters in other parts of the world are ever-present in my thoughts and I am deeply aware that they do not feel that the world is in balance at this moment).

I knew I wanted to make one last hearty winter soup before the end of the season so I settled on this Beef and Barley which I adapted from The Kitchn. I served them with Herb Gruyere Biscuits, a recipe that I found on Viola with Emily. (I won't post that recipe since I followed the one on Emily's blog almost exactly. My only modifications were to use a little chopped fresh rosemary instead of the sage and I used just 1 stick of butter, instead of 1 1/2 sticks that the original recipe calls for).

Beef and Barley Stew Soup (The original recipe was for a stew but I added much more liquid making this more of a soup than a stew)

2 pound chuck roast, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 onion, diced
4 celery stalks, medium slices
3 carrots, medium slices
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 - 2 tsp. dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup red wine
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
4 cups beef stock
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup barley
salt and pepper

Heat enough oil to cover the bottom of a large soup pot on medium high heat. Add the meat cubes, in a single layer and brown on all sides (about 2-3 minutes on each side). Remove the meat and pour any remaining liquid over it. Set aside.

Using the same pot, add a little more oil and once heated add the onions. Saute for 3-4 minutes. Add celery, carrots, and the garlic. Saute for another 3-4 minutes or until slightly tender (this soup is going to cook for a long time so you don't want the veggies to get too tender just yet).

Pour the wine in the pan to deglaze and cook until most of the wine is reduced - about 5 minutes. Add the tsp. of Worcestershire sauce, the beef, and then the beef and chicken broths. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover and simmer for 1 hour. Add the barley (and water if needed) and simmer for another 30-45 minutes - or until meat and barley are both tender.

Since I served this with the Gruyere cheese biscuits, I topped the soup with a little grated Gruyere cheese, just to tie things all together.

Note: After making this, I really think that a good quality meat is essential to this dish. I found a really nice looking 2 pound roast at the grocery store that had a nice thin marble running through it. As I was chopping it up, it had a nice rich and deep aroma, even before I started cooking it. It was a little pricey but in retrospect it was worth every penny. My husband said that it was the most flavorful and tender beef that I'd ever made.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Winter is Still Here

Old man Winter came out to play again yesterday, if only to prove that he's still here, lurking behind overcast clouds and sparse moments of sunshine. Not that we'd forget, with the remains of the last snow storm still covering large areas of the ground. An inch or two of new snow blanketed the earth and clung to the bushes and trees, but not the roads.

It was a gentle, pretty snow. A subtle reminder that Winter lives on.

With that in mind, my salad weatherization continues with a robust BLT salad. The large chunks of homemade croutons, thick, creamy ranch dressing, and crisp bacon make this a hearty and substantial meal.

BLT Salad

Ranch Dressing

1/4 c. mayonnaise
1/4 c. sour cream
1/4 c. milk
1 shallot, minced
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tbs. olive oil
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/8 tsp. garlic powder

Whisk all ingredients together until well blended. If the mixture is too thick, add a little more milk. I also occasionally add 1 tbs. Parmesan cheese. You can make this dressing as fattening or low fat as you like depending on the fat content of the mayo, sour cream, and milk.