Monday, December 31, 2012


I find something magical about New Year's Eve - the idea that we can reset, do better. That somehow when the clock strikes midnight,  we can say goodbye to what we did wrong and resolve to work harder in the next year to be the person I want to be. I find it redemptive.

This past year has been a mash up - a mash up of incredibly challenging and incredibly amazing. This year, a lot of things came into focus. A big one was what being a friend means to me. I realized that if someone doesn't hold up her end of the bargain, that is okay to let her go and wish her well. I also realized that I have to work harder at keeping in touch with those that mean the most to me. It's okay if I am the one doing all the calling and reaching out because talking with those who know my heart best is always always worth it.

This political season clarified my tolerance for other view points. I realized I am not tolerant of ideas I believe are wrong. I am not tolerant of  people who do not believe in rights for all people. I got in several Facebook fights and even got unfriended a time or two. Some folks believe that issues shouldn't tear relationships apart - that we should all respect each other's viewpoints. On gay rights, I don't respect a viewpoint that makes some people less than some other people. I don't respect it. I don't support it and I won't tolerate it. I know this isn't a path that leads to changing anyone's mind, but it's where I am.

I resolved to Live Big, Do Good, and Spend Time with Family and Friends. I can say that I accomplished that. I saw different corners of the world, worked hard to make the world a little better, and spent time with  almost all of my friends and family.

In 2013, I want to do better, be better.

Less Junk. More Vegetables.

Less Anger. More Kindness.

Less about Me. More about Others.

Less Screen Time. More Books.

Less NO! More YES!

Less Tears. More Laughter.

Best wishes to you for a happy and healthy new year!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

2012 Kitchen Bucket List Challenge: A Recap

Alright – so it’s mid- October and I haven’t posted a final recap of my Summer 2012 Kitchen Bucket List. In my defense, I live in Florida and it still feels like summer. Well, here we go.

The Winners

I successfully roasted a whole chicken and would definitely do it again. One friend pointed out that buying a rotisserie chicken costs about the same as roasting one yourself, but I did get a deal of satisfaction pulling that beautiful, golden bird out of the oven.

I learned to make pasta from scratch. In fact, I am pretty good at making pasta and will likely do it in the future.

I figured out quinoa and it is now a regular part of my weekly meal plan.

I gave up on the idea of making my own smoothie. I would swoon every time I assembled the long list of green smoothie ingredients and run directly to big bottle of Naked Green Drink. It’s only $6 at the warehouse store and just worth it.

The Losers

Polenta and bread did not get made from scratch. Their future is not bright.

Three more soup recipes were not secured. Friends did send me some great recipes and I am hoping the winter months provide inspiration to tackle this bucket list item.

I did not learn how to perfectly poach an egg. We have a machine that perfectly poaches eggs. This eroded some of my motivation.

Souffles were just not in the cards. I actually forgot that was on the list until right this second. Now I wonder what the heck I was thinking.

Figure out how to freeze my own skillet meals – This I am still going to do. I saw it on Top Chef and I want to recreate the challenge at home.

A Draw

Figuring out a go to fish dish. I did not figure out a good fish dish, but my husband and I started eating a lot more fish. I consider that an overall win for our health, but we still need something to show off at a dinner party.

So how did you do on your Summer To Do List?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

2012 Kitchen Bucket List Challenge: Roast Chicken

As part of my 2012 Kitchen Bucket List Challenge, I decided to take on roasting a chicken.

I was originally going to use Bethenny Frankel’s Boyfriend Chicken recipe, but then I decided it just had too many ingredients. I wanted a recipe that used salt, pepper and chicken. I found this one  by Thomas Keller. Thomas Keller is the chef behind two of the best restaurants in the United States.

This recipe is the exact opposite of almost every other roast chicken recipe I saw while perusing the internet. Most recipes suggest roasting the chicken at 350 degrees for an hour a half or two hours. Keller’s recipe cranks up the heat to 450 degrees for an hour. This leads to smoke and grease splatters inside the oven. A small price to pay for this awesome chicken.

Before I handled the chicken,I poured some salt and pepper into a bowl so I wouldn’t contaminate my salt and pepper shakers. The first steps are to rinse the bird, remove the sack of yuck from the inside cavity and then pay dry. I coated the bird inside and out with salt and pepper. Then the recipe said to truss the bird. Yep, had to look that one up on the internet. Basically it means tying it together so it cooks more evenly. Here’s a video that I found very helpful:

I tied it up and let it rest while I waited for the oven to pre-heat. This gave the salt sometime to work its magic. Into the 450 degree oven it went.
The spattering sounds started with the first 10 minutes.
Within the first 20 minutes,  wisps of smoke were escaping from the oven.
At 22 minutes, I turned on all the fans in the kitchen and started biting my finger nails.
At 40 minutes, the bird was turning a lovely golden brown.
At 55 minutes, I put a meat thermometer into the breast. It came out 170 degrees so I took it out of the oven.
 I used a basting brush to take the fat from the bottom of the pan and brush over the chicken. Then moved the chicken from the pan to a cutting board. It looked like this:

I did a little dance. The recipe recommended letting it rest for 15 minutes. Do not tent it with foil. If you want crispy skin – you cannot tent. The end result was a delicious, juicy roast chikcken.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

2012 Kitchen Bucket List Challenge: What is Quinoa?

As part of the 2012 Summer Kitchen Bucket List Challenge , I decided to figure out quinoa.   Quinoa is usually considered a “whole grain”, but it is actually a seed and therefore, gluten free. The method to make it is very similar to making rice.

Quinoa's rise in popularity may be due to NASA. Some reports say NASA was looking for a nutrient rich "grain" to send to space and stumbled on quinoa - a staple in the Andes mountains. 

One news article  highlighted how the popularity of quinoa has led to a price increase in many of the areas that previously relied on it as a staple. For instance, in Bolivia, noodles have replaced quinoa in many people's diets. This has a big nutrional impact. At the same time, many people are returning to the country side to farm quinoa because now it is a sustainable profession.

For my culinary experiment with quinoa, I used Trader Joe’s Organic Tricolor Quinoa.

The directions are pretty simple. Rinse the quinoa in cold water. Bring the right ratio of water  and quinoa to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 10 – 15 minutes.

Quinoa does not have a strong flavor. A lot of recipes recommend using a flavorful liquid like a vegetable or chicken broth to cook it. I decided to just use water and then try to spice it up once it was cooked. I found this great recipe for Quinoa Black Bean Burrito Bowls.
You basically make black beans with onion, garlic, chili powder and a  little cayenne pepper.  Prepare the quinoa according to the instructions, then add some cilantro and lime. The quinoa becomes the base of your bowl and then you add lettuce and the beans on top. 

  Instead of lettuce, I layered super greens (spinach, arugula, Swiss chard) in the layer between the beans and the quinoa. The heat from both wilted the greens just a little.  I loved how filling the dish was. The flavors reminded me of Mexico. I also liked how you could personalize depending on what people in your group like by adding salsa, guacamole, sour cream, etc.

Overall, my experience with quinoa was a success. It's very easy to make and I will be replacing rice with it every now and then.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A new twist on lemonade

One of the best tips I picked up from a cooking class is to use dried lavender flowers to fancy up some lemonade. The lavender adds a floral aroma and a slightly sweet flavor.

An easy way to use it is to use brew some lavender to create a lavender lemonade.
 You just follow your favorite lemonade recipe (or the back of the Crystal Light box, in my case) except you replace the water with this:
1. Boil the amount of water needed for your lemonade
2. Add 1 - 2 TBSP of dried lavender depending on your taste to the boiling water.
3. Turn off the heat and allow the lavender to steep in the water. The longer you steep - the stronger the color and flavor will be. Lavender flowers impart a brown color so you may want to steep less unless you are using the pink lemonade mix.
4. Make the lemonade using the recipe.

One variation is to use half the water for your lemonade recipe to make a super concentrated mix. Then, when you are ready to serve - add back in half the amount of sparkling water or club soda. For instance, if you want a gallon of sparkling lavender lemonade - you only use half a gallon of water to make the mix. Then you add back in half a gallon of sparkling water/club soda when you are ready to serve.

Another variation is creating a lavender lemonade sorbet:
Lavender Lemonade Sorbet
4 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 lemon, zest of
1/4 cup lemon juice, fresh
2 -3 teaspoons lavender
1.  Over medium heat mix all ingredients together and bring to a boil.
2. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes
3. Refrigerate 4 hours or until well chilled.
4. Strain mixture and pour into an ice cream maker. Freeze according to manufacturer's directions. If you don't have an ice cream maker, you could put into Popsicle molds or add some ice and blend into a slushee.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Chick Lit - Why Pre-Ordering Books Matters

How Jennifer Weiner, Jen Lancaster and Stacey Ballis got me buying books again

Seven years ago, I stopped buying books. I moved to a city with a great library hold system. I could request all the hot new books and have them in my hands in a matter of months – and they were free.  I blogged about the ones I liked. I tried out cookbooks and even bought a couple of those that I couldn’t live without. Then, I started following Jen Lancaster and  Jennifer Weiner on twitter. Their recommendations turned me on to great authors: Alison Scotch Winn, Caroline Leavitt, Sarah Dessen, Stacey Ballis, Libby Bray , Liz Moore and the list goes on. I read their books and tweeted my delight.  And they tweeted back! It was thrilling to get an immediate answer from authors whose works had transported me to a different place or even back to times in my life with a whole new perspective. Following these women on twitter also opened a door into the publishing world.

In the past year or so, Jennifer Weiner has written about the bias against women in literary publications. She’s noted the gender disparity in the selection of books reviewed by the New York Times and the degradation of literature branded “chick lit”.   Initially, I found this annoying. Who cares? I am a person. I am reading your books. The people who are putting you on the best seller list don’t seem to care about this disparity. I don’t choose books based on reviews in the New York Times because I find the NY Times pretentious and irrelevant to my life. I want to punch people in the nose who say, “I saw in the Times yesterday….” But then I figured, these reviews must somehow be very very important. I was just missing it.

Then author Stacey Ballis spelled it out for me in her blog. Reviews matter because pre-orders matter. Pre-orders determine the size of a print run and the resources a publisher will put into promoting a book. This is a big deal in general and a very big deal for new authors or authors who haven’t previously appeared on the bestseller list. Now I got it. The bias in these literary publications could be quashing the dreams of these incredibly talented women authors simply because a lot of women read their books. That pissed me off. Thankfully, Jennifer Weiner, Jennifer Lancaster and Stacey Ballis have given me an opportunity to do something about it by recommending great new authors early enough that my pre-order can help make a difference. So I have started buying books again and if you value great books written by great woman authors may be you should too.

Jennifer Weiner tweets @jenniferweiner & blogs at

Jennifer Lancaster tweets @altgeldshrugged & blogs at

Stacey Ballis tweets @staceyballis &  blogs at  
You should PRE-ORDER her new book Off the Menu. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

How to make pasta from scratch

This week I attempted one of my 2012 Kitchen Bucket List : Making Pasta from Scratch.

Check out the video for the process.
NOTE: This is the first video my husband and I have filmed like this so be gentle! Also - if you grew up with homemade pasta - my methods may be a smidge different. I went for quick and easy.

I decided just to wing it. I had heard on a cooking show that you just take 100g of flour to one egg mix it, let it rest, and roll it out. That's exactly what I tried to do. I measured the flour into a bowl. It seems that everyone digs a hole in the middle for the egg and then stirs it around until the flour and egg combine. After I did that, I noticed that my dough seemed a little dry so I added olive oil until it came together. I kneaded it four or five times on the cutting board.  Then I let it put it back in the bowl with a towel on top while I assembled the ingredients for the pasta dish I was making:

Linguine with Chickpeas and arugula from Everyday with Rachel Ray Magazine.

I didn't have arugula or lemons so I changed the recipe just a bit.

2 TBSP butter
1 red bell pepper - diced
1 can of chickpeas rinsed and drained
3 cloves of garlic - minced
1 tsp of dried pepper flakes (or to taste)
3 tsp of salt (2 tsp for the pasta water and 1 tsp for the dish)
Greens - anything Swiss chard, spinach, arugula. I like the super greens packages that supermarkets are carrying these days.
Grated Parmesan

It took me about 10 minutes to pull that together. Then I put a pot on medium high heat so that it would be close to boiling when I was ready for it. Also - set out your bowls. At the bottom of each bowl, place a handful of greens.

Then I took out the dough and began rolling it with a rolling pin. I rolled it until it was as thin as I could get it. I cut it into strips that were narrow enough to fit through the KitchenAid Pasta Attachment about about the length I wanted my noodles to end up.  Then I just fed it through - starting on setting one, then two, then three. At this point,  I switched to the cutting attachment and cut the pasta into noodles. I carefully laid the noodles side by side on the edge of a bowl so they wouldn't clump together.

Now, if you don't have a Kitchenaid don't worry. Just roll out the dough as thin as you can and use a knife or cookie cutter to make the noodles. Call them "rustic" and everyone will think you are a super chef!

While the pasta was drying out, I turned up the heat on my water and added 2 tsp of salt.  I sauteed the chickpeas and red peppers in the butter for about 5 - 7 minutes - until the peppers softened. I added the garlic. Now the water was boiling, I added the noodles. The noodles only take 2 - 3 minutes to cook. Seriously. You'll notice a slight change in the noodle's color. Use tongs or a strainer to take the noodles out of the boiling water and put it into the pan with the chickpeas. It's okay if some of the pasta water drips in - this will help make a little sauce. Add the pepper flakes and 1 tsp of salt. Stir everything together for a couple minutes. Take the pan off the heat. Spoon the mixture into your bowls and then add Parmesan to the top. Let it rest for 2-3 minutes before serving. This will allow the greens to wilt a little bit. 

This dish is great. The  dried peppers spice up the meaty chickpeas and the greens and peppers help balance both. The homemade noodles make a huge difference.

Storing the extra uncooked noodles: First you'll need to dry them out. I laid out each noodle on parchment paper or wax paper on my dining room for just over an hour. They will feel dry like the ones you get from the store. Place into a Ziploc bag and refrigerate or freeze.

Verdict: THIS WAS SO EASY! I feel silly having been intimidated for so long. I'll definitely be making more!

Friday, June 1, 2012

My summer kitchen "bucket list" 2012

Hello Everyone!!

I know it has been a while. The other day I was looking at this blog and saw that it has had over 10,000 page views! I was more popular than I even realized. The food posts have been the most popular so I am going to revive it for the summer with my Summer Kitchen "bucket list" 2012.

This summer I am going to attempt to complete these culinary feats and live to write about it:

1. Roast a whole chicken - I am going to start with the infamous boyfriend roast chicken and go from there.

2. Make pasta, polenta, and bread  from scratch  - A friend gifted us her pasta maker attachment for our Kitchen aid so many months ago and I can't believe I haven't tried to use it yet! To see my adventure making pasta, click here.  Plus polenta and bread have such inexpensive ingredients and so expensive to buy prepared in comparison I feel like I need to at least try to make it.

3. Find 3 more soup recipes I like - I make carrot soup at least twice a month during the fall and winter. I need to find a couple more go-to soup recipes before we turn orange.

4. Perfectly poach an egg - A successful brunch event depends on it!

5. Figure out quinoa - How to pronounce it, how to cook it, what exactly it is. Let's just say quinoa is a big mystery in my life.

6. Create a smoothie that I like that doesn't cost more to make than it does to buy it  - I am not a huge fan of fruit. I do like a good green drink, but buying the ingredients to make 16 oz costs more than just pulling a bottle off the shelf.

7. Make a souffle - I have made pseudo-souffles, but it's time to find a good old French recipe and see what happens.

8. Figure out a signature fish dish - I have a signature chicken dish (butter chicken) and a signature soup (carrot). It's a crime that I actually live near the ocean and don't cook my fish. 

9. Figure out how to freeze my own skillet meals - I spend a good chunk of change on those skillet meals in the freezer section. It seems like I could figure out how to make a few myself.

I'll write here about how it goes and what I learn.

What's on your bucket list this summer?