Friday, May 27, 2011

Power Breakfast: yogurt and muesli bowls of goodness

I've always been the 5 or 6 feedings a day kind of person.  I eat all the time.  Have since high school.  The last 15 years getting up with the girls to get them off to school (especially years 9-11 with the 4:20 a.m. alarm call for driving swimmer girl), it's been a bowl of oatmeal or cereal with them and a latte or toast or bagel snack two hours later to get me through until lunch.  Then, of course there's the afternoon snack (either that or completely crash for me) followed by dinner.  Often finishing the day with a little something around 8 or 9, but not as much after I hit 40.  Even as faithful as I am about working out, there's just something about that lovely number 40 (and seriously something about 45, can't wait for 50) that necessitates a little self-control.  

Sara got me started on a whole new morning plan last summer when one of her favorite food bloggers wrote about putting yogurt or milk with some oats in an almost empty peanut butter jar, stirring it up, putting the lid on and leaving it in the refrigerator overnight.  In the morning, you pour it out and add honey, raisins, banana, fruit, chocolate chips or whatever floats your boat.  Since I made Sara peanut butter sandwiches almost every school day for over 6 years, almost empty peanut butter jars were regularly available around here.  This protein packed breakfast carried me all the way to lunch even with yoga or tennis or another workout in the morning.  Eureka!  We were on to something.  

One day in the Whole Foods cereal aisle the very attractive boxes of dorset cereals muesli from the UK caught my eye.  The flavor combinations are lovely and the muesli has the texture I love:  big, crunchy, chewy, nutty and fruity.  No little millet seeds or tiny cut oats.  Just all around goodness.  At $5.99 a box,  they are kind of a splurge but not a bit is wasted.  Sure, I should try to mix my own muesli and I probably will but for now.  Bring on the pretty boxes in the handsome colors.  Since peanut butter jars only empty about every 3 weeks now, I just add a spoonful to my bowl and make the mix fresh every morning.  The overnight version obviously softens all the muesli ingredients (or the plain oats if you like, nothing wrong with just plain oats especially the oven toasted oats from Trader Joe's), but the fresh textures are quite pleasing too.  

Have a little power breakfast with me so you don't need a nap (if that's what you call sleeping 4 or 5 hours an afternoon) like my cat.  

Rio on Sara's bed at 2:30 p.m.  He has a good life.
Power Breakfast

1/3 to 1/2 C nonfat plain Greek yogurt
1/3 to 1/2 C muesli
1 T peanut butter (quite fond of the natural peanut butter with flax seeds)
2 tsp or just a good drizzle of honey
1 banana

Mix everything together in a nice big bowl and get some protein and fiber to start your day.

delicious dorset cereals muesli splurge from the UK via Whole Foods
usually you can see the muesli through the little leaves, but this box is more empty than full
power up!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Summer is here! bike trip to 3 Sisters Cafe

the climbing roses along my front porch
It's finals and graduation week for Miss Sara.  Tuesday was a picture perfect summery day and with all the rain we've had and are forecasted to have, we hopped on our bikes yesterday for a ride to Broad Ripple while the going was good.  I believe this was our third visit to 3 Sisters Cafe just past Lululemon off the Monon Trail.  3 Sisters serves up breakfast all day and some very delicious and creative vegetarian fare for lunch.  The bakery case of pies and cakes is also a thing of beauty.  Housed in a little two-story home with a wrap-around porch in perfect funky Broad Ripple style, it's become a favorite for Sara and I (aka the members of our family who do not need meat to call it a meal).

I started that day with a great slow flow hot yoga class and Sara started her day with a run.  The bike ride was just a bonus.  If our lunch dishes hadn't left us so full, I surely would have ordered the chocolate layer cake.  But alas, no room for dessert.

Guy Fieri and Diners, Drive-ins and Dives from the Food Network featured 3 Sisters last fall.  We go for  the food, but the servers are ridiculously friendly and charming so we keep coming back.  Around my birthday I went three times in 10 days.  Good stretch.  So far I've loved everything including the Barcelona salad: spinach, bacon, avocado, tomato, red onion, pesto vinaigrette and gorgonzola, the grilled veggie:  tomatoes, mixed squash, exotic mushrooms, sweet peppers, red onion, spinach, garlic, and feta on a French roll with pesto, 3 Sisters:  brie, berries and apples grilled on multigrain wheat (outstanding) and the BBQ Grains:  5 grains together with sweet potatoes and apple butter bbq sauce on a whole wheat bun (a repeat order and the one I had on Tuesday).  Of course I have tried a dessert, their famous blueberry goat cheese pie with basil.  I'm working on an adaptation of that for my blog.  When the blueberries show up at the market, I'll post my version.

Sara had a fabulous salad on Tuesday:  Happy Garden, 3 Delight featuring grilled tofu, almonds, pineapple and edamame on greens topped with avocado and lemon balsamic dressing.  The tofu, almonds, pineapple and edamame were all lightly grilled.  So simple and really wonderful together.  We will make our own version of this for summer dinners when Greg is out of town.  Yum.  Sara also raves about their black bean burger they make fresh in the kitchen and she's an authority on meatless protein patties.

Weekends are crazy busy there, so if you get a free summer weekday hop on your bike (or get in the car, we won't tell) and enjoy breakfast, lunch or brunch at the cafe.  A nicely paced ride on the trail is a great time to catch up with each other.  Possibly as much fun as the meal!

grilled veggie sandwich with a cup of soup from one of my winter lunches

BBQ Grains, crazy good vegan lunch

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Power Foods-stuffed poblanos in chipotle sauce

Not sure if anyone else gets quite as excited for Monday evenings as I do.  I post on a pretty regular basis  on Monday nights and we've gone over this before, but it's two hours of good radio on my favorite local station and usually it's just Sara and I at home.   This week Greg is home too, and I'm not sure he understands the routine, but he's playing along after we went on a nice bike ride around the neighborhood.  Today, after breathing a deep sigh for surviving the last two weeks I decided it was officially time to start cooking through my new cookbooks.  

So I grabbed "Power Foods" from the editors of "Whole Living Magazine", a Martha Stewart publication pretty much targeted at people who could best be described as:  me.  Sara discovered the book at an amazing foodie shop, Parker and Otis in Durham on our visit to Duke.  I bought poblano peppers last week for fajitas and did not use them which was apparently a stroke of genius rather than just an oversight.  I made a quick trip to Trader Joe's (only $32 worth of TJ goodness, not nearly the damage I usually do) and picked up fresh mushrooms and cilantro, having all of the other ingredients at home.  My big ticket item today was a super easy carne asada beef cut packaged in marinade and ready for the grill (by the way, the beef was really tender and flavorful, try it).  Monday nights are now 3.5 summer tennis team practice nights, so I took the easy route.  Really this dish is a complete meal, but a little beef (or leftover grilled chicken) is a nice side.  Especially after a day that started with a vigorous hot vinyasa class, included a good walk with the husband around the hood after lunch and finished with tennis practice.  Needed a little extra protein.  

Alright, so this dish was simply amazing.  Sara's pepper did not have cheese because she's still unsure of goat cheese.  She'll be so bummed she passed it by all these years.  I love it and it's lower fat than a cheddar or jack which would also be good in this recipe.  So much flavor and the only thing you can call a spice beyond salt and pepper is the one tablespoon of chipotle in adobo sauce.  Layers of flavors and textures.  Mmmmm....  I changed it up a little and charred my peppers on our new grill (loving it) and used pinto beans rather than black beans simply because we like them better.  Bigger and creamier than the little black beans.  We just destroyed them before I could remember to take a picture of them after baking.  Ooops.  They just brown up a bit and the cheese melts in a little.  Hungry yet?

ready for the oven

Stuffed Poblanos in Chipotle Sauce

4 large poblano chiles (note, I just had three so now I have a little dish of extra filling leftover)
1 T chopped chipotle chile in adobo sauce
2 cloves garlic
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 C packed cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
1/2 C quinoa
1 T canola or safflower oil
8 oz. mushrooms, cleaned and sliced or quartered
1 C frozen corn kernels (I like roasted sweet corn from TJ's)
15 oz. can pinto beans, rinsed and drained (black beans are fine too)
4 oz. crumbled goat cheese (not your thing?  try cheddar or jack but you'll miss the creaminess)

Heat grill to medium high and place whole poblanos directly on grate to char, turning once.  Depending on your grill this might happen in 10 minutes, just check them.  Alternately, you can use a 450 degree oven with your poblanos on a parchment lined baking sheet to do the same thing, it will take 15-20 minutes in the oven.  Remove chiles from the grill or oven and allow to cool until you can handle them (get everything else started and come back to the chiles).  Remove the charred skins using a paper towel. Carefully make a small slit in each chile and carefully cut out the seeds and discard, keeping the stem end intact.  I actually rinsed my peppers after coring them of the seeds to remove the loose seeds which worked fine, but do it gently.  

In a blender (this was the perfect task for my stick blender with it's beaker, a lot easier on the clean-up), combine the chipotle with adobo, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp ground pepper and 3/4 C water.  Blend until smooth. Add the cilantro and pulse to combine.  This will not be pretty, but it will look better baked and taste amazing.

In a small saucepan bring 2/3 C water to boil.  Add the quinoa (pronounced keen-wa in case you wondered) and return to a boil.  Stir once and cover, reducing heat to a simmer.  Cook until the quinoa is tender and has absorbed all the liquid, about 15 minutes.  The pearly grains will uncoil into little pig-tails and it will look fluffy.

While the quinoa is cooking heat 1 T of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the mushrooms and 1/2 tsp salt and a little freshly ground pepper.  Stir the mushrooms occasionally and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.  Add corn and beans stirring until heated through, about 3 minutes.  Stir in 1/2 cup cheese and the quinoa.

Spray a 2-3 qt baking dish (something that fits the peppers nicely) with non-stick spray.  Pour the chipotle mixture and spread across the bottom.  Place the peppers in the dish and stuff with filling (you will note mine are far from perfect visually, but tasted heavenly).  Dot the stuffed peppers with the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese (I used far less, maybe 2 T of cheese).  Bake until browned a bit, 15 to 20 minutes.  You could easily "bake" these in a grill baking dish (I have a square metal one from Cost Plus World Market) on your warm grill and keep your kitchen cool.  


charred peppers on the grill

quinoa starting to simmer, note it's pearl shape

chipotle mixture before pulsing in the cilantro

mushrooms, corn and beans in the skillet

chipotle mixture in the baking dish

removing charred skins with a paper towel

cooked quinoa now in it's spiral/pig tail shape

quinoa stirred in the skillet

time to remove the seeds

skillet mixture avec fromage (I am watching the French Open)
ready to stuff (see top photo for finished product)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

quick dinner: fajitas

This post is expressly for Sara's managing editors at the HiLite.  This was dinner at our house the other night before Sara and her staff were honored at the Carmel Clay School Board meeting for "HiLite Achievements".  So many awards, you have to just gather them all into "achievements".  The Carmel way or complete and total dominance.  Sara's big sister swam for Carmel, a part of the teams that won state championships #19-21.  This year's team won #25 (in a row mind you).  As Grandma Becky said after watching a meet, "I enjoyed the complete and total dominance".  Love that.  Very proud of Sara, the Editor in Chief and her staff of over 80 students and the amazing print and online work of this past year.  Truly, easier to read than the Indy Star (print and especially online) and more visually pleasing and consistent than some of my favorite national papers.  Good work, HiLite.

Mr. Streisel, Sara and the managing editors

So here's a quick dinner idea for you and your own families of champions.  This post is by request from David Zheng, one of Sara's fellow HiLite champions and a faithful follower of this blog.  Fajitas featuring Sweet Mesquite Seasoning from Costco.  It comes in a nice big bottle and it's amazing.  I always make chicken fajitas, but also love to use flank steak and this seasoning would also be delicious on shrimp.

I also make some mean pinto beans to go along with the fajitas.  Almost as easy as a can of refried beans.  If you have a texture issue with refried beans  you might give these a try, and I know food texture people are out there.  No judgement.  Generally these are just yummy and they certainly look prettier on a plate than refried beans which seriously look like dog food.

Fire up your grill and have a nice fast fajita dinner!

Super Easy Fajitas

boneless, skinless chicken breasts and or tenders
flank steak (I make both)
sweet mesquite seasoning
sweet onions, sliced in rings
bell peppers, cored and sliced in strips
tortillas (flour or corn, whatever you like)
limes, quartered and juiced
sour cream
avocado slices or guacamole

Preheat your grill.  Brush your meat with a thin coat of olive or canola oil.  Season your meat generously (the seasoning is not too salty so don't be shy).  If you have only a little time to make dinner, cut your chicken into strips so it cooks faster and use a grill pan of some sort so you aren't chasing it around worrying about it falling through the grates.  You can, of course cook your meat and your vegetables on the stove on a grill pan or in a nonstick saute pan.

Cut your onions and peppers and lightly toss them with olive oil and kosher salt.

Grill your chicken about 5-7 minutes per side unless your pieces are very thick (could be 10 minutes or more per side for whole breasts).  Grill your flank steak for about 5-7 minutes per side until desired doneness.  Let rest about 5-10 minutes before thinly slicing across the grain.

Grill your vegetables in a grill basket about 10 minutes total.

Warm your tortillas in the microwave or on the grill (directly on the grates or wrapped in foil).  Serve meat and tortillas with limes, sour cream and avocados/guacamole as desired.

Pinto Beans

one 15-ounce can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 white, yellow or sweet onion, chopped
olive oil
1/2 tsp or more kosher salt
1 tsp (or more) dried Mexican or Italian oregano

Heat a little olive oil (about 1 T) in a non-stick saute pan over medium high heat.  Add onion and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and saute for 30-60 seconds being careful not to brown the  garlic.  Add rinsed and drained beans (just use a colander and run some water over them until the slimy liquid is removed tossing to dry), kosher salt and oregano.  Taste for seasoning.  Serve hot or at least warm.  Also good with a little crumbled queso fresco or monterey jack cheese sprinkled on top.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

do one thing a day that scares you-lululemon manifesto

I carry the Lululemon manifesto in my wallet and keep another copy in my vanity drawers for a little motivation.  Way back in October on a Purdue "away" game Saturday morning I joined a complimentary yoga class at the Lululemon showroom in Broadripple, a crazy little space that is aesthetically just right.  The yoga instructor from a studio in downtown Indy played music I love and took us through a blend of yoga poses and core work and I have not gone a week without yoga ever since.

Six months before that first class I "retired" from my apprentice Pilates career at a personal crossroads that led me back home and out of the unpaid workforce to focus on my family.  I missed the Pilates reformer workouts and kept up with core work taking some boot camp classes and as always working out at home.  But then along came yoga.  In November, The Yoga Center opened nearby in Clay Terrace and I joined in the very first (rocking) hot vinyasa class in their new location along with at least 50 others (and now I know why the girl on the mat next to mine had such a beautiful practice, she's one of my favorite teachers).

You've read about my 30-day yoga challenge and why I practice so faithfully.  In case you missed it, my devotion to the practice stems from the amazing moments of pure physical bliss and mental peace.  Moments where I truly do not have anything else swimming through my thoughts other than my focus on breathing and moving.  Nothing.  No lists.  No worries.  No numbers.  No questions.  No answers.  Just nothing.  A state of mind I can not remember, since I have very vague memories of my early childhood (that's a whole 'nother story) and over-programmed has been my natural state since middle school.  Nothing.  Nada.  I can not tell you how happy I was the first time I truly experienced the lovely nothingness, the just being.  For a semi-reformed type-A, control freak mom, that moment meant I'd return to my mat searching for more moments.  More nothing, more space, more room.......

To bring this full circle, I suppose I have Lululemon and that great complimentary class to thank for my love of yoga and it's love of me.

So now I'm reading the manifesto in preparation for a group interview at said Lululemon showroom.  I'm 14-weeks from being an empty nester and it's time to earn a little money and challenge myself a bit.  Do you see on the manifesto "do one thing a day that scares you"?  I do.  It's right there staring my down.  Can I just focus on one of my favorites, "friends are more important than money"?  Or one that I find super easy most days, "sweat once a day"?  Can I just "dance, sing, floss and travel"?  Too easy, already a part of my life.  No, I need to challenge myself.  So here's why I am writing tonight.  The one thing tomorrow that scares me is leaving my beautiful, wonderful, brilliant and talented Kelly at the airport with her massive backpack so she can fly to London and start her 10-week study abroad tour of Europe (10 weeks, 10 countries, 12 credits, one backpack, no phone, one new iPad 2, London to Istanbul).  Go, do, learn, have fun, but don't go, don't be 21, don't leave me....... scares me, so I'm writing while she's packing.

Wednesday, is the aforementioned group interview guaranteed to scare me as I walk up the stairs to that cute showroom surely the oldest girl in the room with the least work experience, but the greatest life experience.  

Thursday, my beautiful, wonderful, brilliant and talented Sara graduates from high school and we'll spend all summer getting her ready for her next four years at Duke.  So far away, but so amazing.  Go, do, learn, grow, have fun, be amazing but don't go, don't be a college girl, don't leave me.....scares me so I'm writing while she's out at grad parties.

I'm still cooking, don't worry I'll post on Monday when I'm waiting for an e-mail or skype from Kelly and watching Sara study for her finals.  Tonight I'm writing and breathing and just being.  Thanks for "listening".  You know this blog is part of the balance that keeps me going.

There will be a lot of yoga in the coming weeks to keep me calm (yes, and to help me look good in my summer clothes it's not all about the zen).  There will be a lot of posting too.  I have new cookbooks and it's time for the farmer's market and the wonderful world of fresh, local produce.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

party food: good things in big batches

Here's a lesson I have learned through many years of hosting parties:  sure you can make all kinds of amazing food, but try just to serve big batches of the favorites.  So I have acquired a rainbow of LeCreuset serving pieces (favorites being the heavy stoneware platters that hold a bit of heat or chill) and all manner of white serving pieces.  For the grad party I actually pulled them out and labeled them on the serving table which was the kind of organization I let go around the age of 40 (along with as many Type A tendencies as I could manage, either that or up the blood pressure medicine), but this was a big party and the hyper-preparation was needed.  Since I was feeding some "blue skies" fans, I decided on my greatest hits:  guacamole, queso, romesco sauce, tzatiki, grilled chicken tenders, grilled vegetables and assorted bar cookies.  I also learned the hard way that if you can make the time, prepping your own fruits for a platter or a fruit salad is not only cost effective but more delicious.  Sara loves fruit salad, but I forgot to tell Greg to pick up a pineapple so I added lots of lemon juice to give it a citrus twist.

this is what 10-avocado guacamole looks like
not enough room to smash it all together with any tools other than my hands

another guacamole action shot courtesy of Sara
I promised my hands were very clean when this started

Kelly and the 5 pounds of queso on the stove

Kelly was queso master on this batch and vetoed adding one
more can each of tomatoes and tomatoes w/chiles
a very cheesy batch

official queso tester and my stunt double, Miss Kelly Rogers

So that was my base plan, but as the numbers rolled up and the panic creeped in a bit I decided that the only way I could feed over 100 people when I was spending almost the entire day of the party at church was if I ordered some reinforcement food from Costco.  I got in my trusty van and drove down to Costco the next morning and ordered a tray of croissant sandwiches (only one half of a sandwich leftover), a tray of turkey/swiss roll-ups (not as popular, but still over half of them were gone) and picked up 4 boxes of mesquite chicken wings.  Then I could sleep.  Both my husband and my mother-in-law pointed out to me (separately, but with the same message) that I was feeding a lot of boys and serving a lot of "chick food".  Apparently really brilliant boys (like Sara's friends) enjoy "chick food".  Smart enough to go to an Ivy League school, smart enough to enjoy grilled chicken and vegetables.  I'm pretty sure they also ate the Costco wings and sandwiches.  I know they ate the queso and guacamole!

Here's how you grill vegetables for 100 people, when you will only have 2 hours before the party to grill:  you grill the day before.  Clean and cut-up all your vegetables.  Toss them lightly with olive oil and kosher salt.  Our new Weber grill has nice shiny grates and the vegetables are prettiest served in big pieces, so we did not use any grilling pans or baskets, just right on the grates over medium high heat.  We grilled bell peppers, zucchini and asparagus.

The red, yellow and orange peppers went on the grill skin side down and we did not flip them.  The skins charred after about 12 minutes.  The new grill puts out some serious btu's so there's a little learning curve after using the same grill for 15 years and the last few having only one hot side and actually losing one burner this past winter.   Eighteen peppers cut in 4 to 6 pieces, depending on the size of the pepper fit on our grill in two big batches.  First on were first off using a big spatula.  The charred peppers were spread out on baking sheets and cooled about 20 minutes.  The very charred skins were removed using a paper towel (works very well, easier than trying to peel).  Some of the peppers just blistered and I left their skins intact.  I stacked them in my glass storage dishes and kept them in the refrigerator.  I spread them out on baking sheets, covered the sheets tightly with foil and reheated them at 250 degrees for an hour (surely they were warm before then, but that was a nice safe temperature).

beautiful charred bell peppers off the grill and on a baking sheet

charred skins toweled off, all ready for company

The zucchinis I sliced lengthwise and then halved them again lengthwise before cutting them in half across the middle so I ended up with about 8 plank-shaped pieces per zucchini.  I cut up about 8 zucchini and 8 yellow summer squash.  If you salt zucchini before roasting you will really dry them out, so you might just toss or brush them lightly with olive oil and then salt them when they are off the grill.  We grilled them about 5 to 6 minutes per side.  When they came off the grill I spread them out in a single layer on a couple of cookie sheets so they wouldn't just steam each other into a mushy mess.  When they were cool they were placed in another glass storage dish (the ones from Costco with the snap lock lids are a good starter set, I've added to my collection through

have a little grilled squash

Saturday night the skies let loose and it poured rain.  While Greg and I took turns grilling, lightning was dancing all around and it was pitch black outside.  Our grill is on a little deck pad just off the kitchen not protected by our roofline.  Do you think it was very wise to have a metal grill spatula in one hand and a metal umbrella in the other?  Ah, no.  But the show must go on and we had to knock out some of the grilling Saturday night.

Sunday Greg grilled six pounds of asparagus and twenty pounds of chicken breasts/breast tenders.  Could not have pulled off the party without the help of him and the girls.  I simply don't have enough hands!  Asparagus is so yummy grilled and so easy.  Trim off the tough ends, toss it with a little olive oil and kosher salt and grill across the grates 10-15 minutes turning at least once.  Again, when you remove it if you stack it you will get steaming and it might get too mushy.  Fine if you are serving it right away.  If not, spread it out a bit.

plated for the party
just as pretty as the grilled vegetables at Whole Foods

The chicken from Whole foods (the big chicken sale windfall of a couple of weeks ago) needed to be thawed and then I cut the tenders off before cutting the breast meat in two or three pieces (bigger than bite-size, just a nice serving size).  I tossed it lightly with olive oil, kosher salt and an all-purpose grill seasoning I like from Rufus Teague (a barbecue sauce purveyor stocked by the local Joe's Butcher Shop).  Grill chicken turning it only once to get the pretty grill marks and keep it juicy.  Time is very dependent on thickness.  Start with 7 minutes on the first side.  If it does not release from the grill grates, it's not ready to be turned.  Chicken is best checked for doneness by pushing on it and feeling the firmness (takes some practice).  Or if you are grilling copious amounts like we did, cut one piece open and check that way.  You lose juices when you do that so don't make cutting into your lovely grilled chicken a habit, but one piece out of one hundred is acceptable.

So now if you have your big party and you aren't too exhausted to put up your leftovers in a timely manner for food safety you have a good start on meals for the next week.  Extra grilled vegetables make for delicious wrap sandwiches, paninis, pizza, pasta and salads.  Extra grilled chicken is a wonderful thing.  We are particularly fond of the Boar's Head EverRoast chicken deli meat, but at around $8 a pound making a little extra grilled chicken at $3-$5 a pound makes a lot of sense.  Slice or shred your own chicken for sandwiches and wraps.  That's kind of home-maker of me, but honestly might as well walk the walk.

So happy to have a successful party all wrapped up before graduation.  Nice feeling.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

party desserts: peanut butter brownies

Made it.  This past weekend was absolutely crazy.  I paced myself, but you know how some things just need to be done at the very end so they either can't be undone or so they are absolutely fresh?  Sunday was the day I've been working towards for about three weeks and all the hard work paid off with a very festive graduation party for Miss Sara.  The kicker was Sunday morning Sara and I were in charge of our one-day 2 x 4 sale for Habitat for Humanity at our church.  So we were up early like a school day and then home after noon before a 3:00 party.  A true test of my dusty skills of organization, delegation (never been good at that one), triage and preparation.  A new appreciation for the energy expended on both endeavors.  And a whole new understanding of why I rarely wear heels (ouch, but I did look fabulous and no, there are no pictures of me being way too busy hostessing over 100 people).

Sara was surrounded by friends and family all important to her in so many different ways.  Sara's graduating class numbers close to 1,200 which is a very impressive number.  More impressive, however, are the accomplishments and destinations of her friends.  As I mixed and mingled with her classmates, I would of course ask where they are attending school next year and what they are planning on studying.   How many neuroscientists were in my house?  Seriously, I'm not kidding.  Micro-cellular-something-something biology.  Great things will come from those I fed pounds of queso, guacamole and brownies.

To go along with the Costco sheet cake, Kelly and I baked toffee brownies, Ghiradelli brownies and peanut butter brownies.  The peanut butter brownies are not for those of you afraid of butter and sugar, but they will disappear quickly at a party because they are insanely delicious.  I used to make these often when Kelly was a swimmer.  Swimmers can, should and do eat anything.  The frosting is like peanut butter fudge.  Extremely dangerous to spread the frosting if you are counting calories.  So don't count, enjoy some frosting and go an extra mile the next day.  Worth it.

Madison, Sara, Clay, Zane and Sig in the dining room

The grad party was particularly fun for me because so many of Sara's friends follow my blog and I have not had the opportunity to feed many of them.  They were my motivation to keep going when I was dead tired and on my feet in the kitchen for hours too numerous to count.  Three days later, the clean-up is done, the leftovers (though not many) have been incorporated into our meals and the exhaustion has passed so I can catch up with my posting.

Peanut Butter Brownies

16 oz. jar natural peanut butter, stirred if needed and divided (don't miss that last part)
1 1/2 C firmly packed light brown sugar
3/4 C unsalted butter, melted and divided (again, pay attention or your brownies will be really buttery)
4 eggs
1 C flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of kosher salt
3 C confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
3 to 5 T milk

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine 1 1/4 C peanut butter, brown sugar and 1/2 C of the melted butter in a medium bowl and mix until smooth.  Beat in eggs until well combined.  Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt and combine with creamed mixture.   Pour into a greased 9 X 13 baking pan and use a spatula to spread evenly and smooth the top.

Bake 25-30 minutes until brownies begin to pull away from sides of pan.  Cool in the pan on a wire rack.

Cream remaining 3/4 C peanut butter, 14 C melted butter, confectioner's sugar, vanilla and 3 T of the milk.  Beat until smooth and fluffy.  Stir in remaining 2 T of milk until frosting is a good consistency for spreading.  When the brownies are completely cool, spread the frosting evenly and leave a little in your bowl to treat yourself!

Oops, all the brownies are gone and I did not get any pictures.  Hmmmmm...  thought I did.  Guess I'll just have to make them again and post them later, sorry.  They are just delightful golden shiny "light brownies".

Monday, May 9, 2011

Another quick dinner: turkey tenderloins and butter lettuce-mango salad

I'm just going to have to fix this again, because my camera battery was charging and I have no pictures to post for you of tonight's dinner.  It was so delicious there really were no leftovers.  The applewood smoked turkey tenderloins are back in the refrigerated cases at my Costco.  Just in time for grilling season.  Those babies are just right for a quick dinner.  Do brush them or your grill grates with a bit of olive oil so they don't stick, but mine are usually done after 10 minutes or so a side on a medium-high heat grill.

Tonight the trusty Weber grill we have replaced grates and flavorizer bars on a few times, moved four times and just loved the heck out of finally rusted-out and the big pan under the bars just fell to the cart shelf below.  Have you seen the new Weber grills?  They are way too modern and stainless steel looking for me.  I bought ours in 1996 and Greg thought I was crazy spending almost $400 on a grill.  He has rescinded his criticism many times.  I'm thinking 15 years is a pretty good run for a grill.  When it first made it's appearance Kelly had just turned 6 and Sara was about to turn 4.  We have less than 16 weeks until we are empty-nesters, so the Weber has been witness to what will surely prove to be my favorite years.  I wasn't overjoyed with babies and the physically demanding years, but I survived.  I bought that grill with my little girls in tow and never looked back.  I would grill for lunches (even just for myself).  I would grill when Daddy was gone, because if I needed Greg to grill we would have missed a lot of good meals.  He's always been the "Grillmaster", but I've honed my skills and sometimes he'll even admit my chicken is better.  He's still got it, but I think some nights he's pretty happy to let me do the honors.  Now we'll need a new Weber.  Perfect timing.  Sara's grad party is Sunday and I'm expecting well over 100 guests and planning on featuring grilled chicken skewers and a big platter of grilled vegetables.   That's how it goes....

Pretty sure this is 1996, or the year of the grill, on the beach in Fort Walton, FL

So, make yourself a nice Costco turkey tenderloin.  I tossed cauliflower florets with lemon juice, a little olive oil, salt and pepper and grilled those on a grill pan.  I fully intended to make a new recipe for a mango-greens salad, but I was missing a couple of things so I came up with a really smashing mango salad that merits a blog post.

Butter lettuce-Mango Salad

1 head butter/Bibb lettuce, trimmed and washed
2 mangoes, peeled, seeded and diced
1/2 red onion, sliced thin (make sure it's a good one and not too hot, if so skip it)
1 avocado, seeded and diced
1/4 C soft goat cheese, crumbled (feta would be good too)
splash of seasoned rice wine vinegar (maybe 2 T)
splash of olive oil (used a nice light one, maybe 1 T)
freshly ground sea salt, 1/2 tsp or to taste
freshly ground pepper, 1/4 tsp or to taste

Toss everything together to get the avocado nice and smushy and incorporate all the ingredients.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Mondays are so productive for me.  It's another New Music Monday post night.  Lord knows I should be doing something relating to the hundreds of guests I'm expecting Sunday.  Nah....

Mother's Day and seconds on dessert: Coconut Pavlova with Strawberries

Happy Belated Mothers' Day to you.  Mine was lovely.  My parents were in town and my in-laws came over for Sunday lunch.  When you've been married almost 27 years, your parents have no trouble hanging out together.  So, I did cook on Mothers' Day, but I figure I owe both of them a meal or two (or two hundred).  Greg grilled burgers and turkey burgers, I made sweet potato fries, heated baked beans (yes, I can make them from scratch but Bush's Grillin' Beans are pretty tasty and super easy) and my mother-in-law made good old-fashioned potato salad with mayonnaise, hard boiled eggs, and pickles.  Three things I will never touch, so this she did for her son (I reminded him it wasn't his birthday or Fathers' Day) and I was grateful I did not have to grin and bear it through potato salad preparation.  Let's face it, I wouldn't and couldn't do it.  I'm on record that if you have me over and you've slipped mayonnaise in something I'll try to get it down, but if you serve me old-school potato or pasta salad there's just now way I can be a good guest.  We all have our quirks.  I have more than my share.  My mother-in-law has known this for about 30 years so she's tried to introduce my girls to all the things I can not abide.  Kelly's more of a trooper than Sara, but there will be no judgement from me.  Judge lest you not be judged.  

Coconut Pavlova with Strawberries
Every good celebration deserves dessert, even if it is served just after noon.  One of my favorite desserts is the Australian Pavlova, a big meringue filled with whipped cream and topped with fruit.  Sara and I bought three new cookbooks during and after our stay in Durham, a foodie heaven.  "Chicken and Egg, A Memoir of Suburban Homesteading" (yes, the author raises her own chickens)gives us this new twist on a classic.  The addition of the coconut to the meringue became something wonderful and toasty.  The addition of nonfat plain Greek yogurt to the whipped cream provide a tangy contrast to the sweet meringue and coconut.  The texture of this dessert is fabulous.  The big meringue (be sure to make yours smaller than your serving dish) has a marshmallow-y center and the cool whipped cream and succulent fruit.....yummm.  Once assembled the dessert should be eaten immediately.  I made the meringue on a rainy day before serving so I simply kept it in my oven to keep it crisp.  If you don't have a spare oven or you need to employ the oven you've got,  wrap your meringue tightly or store in some airtight form of food container (cake keeper?).  Then slice your berries a few hours before serving and chill your whipping cream so you can take it out while your guests linger over dinner and whip the cream and assemble the dessert in just ten minutes or so.  I also like this with kiwi and or starfruit in addition to the strawberries.  

Coconut Pavlova with Strawberries

4 egg whites
pinch of salt
2 T cornstarch
1 T fresh lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla
1 C sugar (I like the Baker's Superfine Sugar in a carton similar in size and shape to a milk carton)
3/4 C sweetened shredded coconut

1 C heavy whipping cream (Trader Joe's makes a nice useful plastic pint bottle)
1/4 C plain nonfat Greek yogurt
2 T sugar

3 C halved or quartered strawberries

Heat oven to 300 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Here's a step I skipped that would have proved useful:  with a pencil trace your serving dish on the parchment.  Turn the parchment over so you can see the circle, but the pencil will not contact the meringue.

Separate the eggs one at a time into a little bowl then pour the white into your mixing bowl before separating the next egg, this way if you have a little yolk issue you don't have to start all over.  Beat the egg whites and pinch of salt with an electric mixer starting at medium to keep the flying egg whites to a minimum.  Increase the speed to high and beat until soft peaks form.  Beat in the cornstarch, lemon juice and vanilla until firm peaks form.  Keep the mixer running and slowly (I mean it, super slow-mo) add the sugar and beat at high until glossy stiff peaks form.  Use a spatula and fold in 1/4 C of the coconut.  

Pile the meringue in the center of your circle on the parchment paper.  Spread it out with your spatula leaving at least two-inches for the meringue to expand as it bakes.  Smooth and sculpt as you wish.  I usually make my sides a little taller than the middle (don't worry if you don't, the center will most likely fall when you add the filling and fruit).  Sprinkle the sides or the whole meringue with the remaining 1/2 C of coconut.  Bake for 45-50 minutes or until coconut is golden and the meringue is firm on the outside.   If it's a dry day outside your kitchen, move the parchment and meringue to a cooling rack.  Cool completely and peel off parchment.  If it's damp or rainy just keep your meringue in the oven on the paper and the sheet after it's cooled a bit.  It's not hard to peel off the meringue hours later or even the next day.  That's the whole point of parchment paper.

Make the filling just before you are ready to serve the meringue.   Beat the heavy cream in a mixing bowl with an electric beater working your way up to high to minimize splashing.  A chilled bowl and beater/beaters speed up the process, but are not necessary.  Beat until soft peaks form (takes a bit longer than the egg whites, at least at my house).  Beat in the yogurt and the sugar until firm peaks form (you can beat cream too long, so keep an eye on it).  

Pile the whipped cream in the center of the meringue.  Top with strawberries and serve.  

beaten meringue

spread meringue (it looks baked, but it was a dark and rainy day)

topped with coconut

all done and on my first attempt at the right platter which was wrong

topped with the whipped cream mixture

and the strawberries

ready to serve

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Go, go, dinner: grilled bruschetta chicken

Crunch time for me and I'm still dragging with the cold.  Not good.  The sun is out today so I'm counting on that boost to get me moving, but I am still sitting here at my kitchen island in my jammies.  You know the kind of tired where even your fingers are tired?  That's where I am this week.  That is not where I need to be.  So much to do, something must get crossed off the list today.  The thing about big parties is that as much as you need the rest of your life to just be suspended for a week or two, that just doesn't happen.  Well, it could happen but then your family will not want you to throw any more parties.

So today I need to write you a little post, clean the bathrooms, make dinner (easy, it's Cinco de Mayo so fajitas are on the menu because everyone loves them and they are super fast especially if you have a jar of the sweet mesquite seasoning from Costco, all you need for spices, it rocks!), change the linens in the guest room (oops, the one bed that still has flannel sheets and as cold as it is this morning it will be too warm for flannel sheets tonight) and etc...  Then there is the little matter that it's Mother's Day this weekend which means that my lovely parents will visit from Ohio.  I have warned them that they are inserting themselves into a crazy weekend with Kelly moving home from Purdue (and just over two weeks before she leaves for her summer abroad with one backpack!!!!!!), Sara still playing lacrosse and studying for exams and me trying to keep all the balls in the air and not just drop from exhaustion.  Joy!  All I want for Mother's Day (besides the mystery gift Sara bought for me in Durham last week) is someone to help me clean the windows.  That's it, please help.  Not only do I despise cleaning windows, I am not really good at it.

What am I doing sitting here typing?  Must get moving.

Here is a quick dinner idea for you.  Really good if it's summer and you have basil on hand from your herb garden (now is the time to plant from seeds here in the Midwest).  If not, go to the store and pick up a nice bunch for this meal.  Marinated chicken breasts on the grill, tomatoes in a grill pan roasting next to them for a lovely topping, grilled cheese "toasties" on the little space you have left on your grill and green beans and mushrooms on the stove to round out the meal.

Okay, one quick story before the recipes.  Last Sunday Sara and I were leaving the sanctuary at church discussing the day ahead and our trip to Whole Foods up next.  I said a little prayer out loud, "Dear Jesus, please let the chicken be on sale" and we had a little giggle over that.  Of course we get to the meat counter and find the bulk skinless, boneless lovely farmed chicken breasts on sale for $3.99 a pound ($2.00 off the regular price per pound).  Thank you, Jesus.  We buy 8 packs of them (about 50 pounds of chicken).  So the checkout girl calls back and asks if I get the case discount (who knew there was such a thing? not a mom who usually is cooking for 2 or 3).  And sure enough, I get a case discount.  How sweet of her.  I go home and divide the chicken up into freezer packages and decide to go back and get all the chicken I will need for the graduation party.  This time I get the last 10 pounds they have for the sale and they just pour it into two 5-pound bags.  Sixty-pounds of chicken in one day.  All I have to say is, "Dear freezer, please stay cold".   That was a good day.

so melty and good you can't see the chicken

Grilled Bruschetta Chicken

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/4 C basil leaves, sliced thin
2 T olive oil
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
freshly ground pepper
juice of one lemon

Campari, roma or cherry tomatoes (at least 4 C)
1/2 C basil leaves, sliced thin
2 T olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper

mozzarella cheese, fresh or shreds

Place chicken in a glass dish.  Toss with all marinade ingredients (basil through lemon juice).  Note:  if you are making this whole meal mince about 5-6 cloves of garlic since I use it liberally in the chicken, tomatoes and green beans.   If you have a jacquard or other tenderizer, use it to incorporate the marinade and the chicken.  Marinade for 15 minutes while you heat the grill.

If you are using campari or roma tomatoes, remove the stems and leaves.  Halve them if desired (they will split open in the grill so you don't have to unless they are large).  Pour oil in your grill baking pan (ideally this is a solid pan-mine is a metal dish with handles from Cost Plus World Market, but if it's a mesh pan or a pan with holes you will still be fine you will just lose some of the juice).  Place tomatoes in the pan along with the basil, salt and pepper.  Toss a bit.  Place pan on grill with the chicken.  You might stir them a bit, but you really don't have to do much and just let them roast at least 15-20 minutes.

Place the chicken on the medium hot grill and grill about 7 minutes per side (this will vary widely based on thickness of meat and temperature of grill).   Always try to flip your chicken just once.  Leave it on for at least 7 or 8 minutes before turning.  This way you get nice grill marks and juicy chicken.  Chicken is easy to test just by pressing your spatula of fork into it and seeing if it is firm, but you can cut into the middle a bit to see if it's done (you will lose some juice, so be pretty sure it's done) or use an instant read thermometer (160 degrees is your target, Sur La Table has nice ones for $10 at the checkout).

Place cooked chicken in the pan with the tomatoes and spoon the tomatoes on top.  Top with a slice of fresh mozzarella or some mozzarella shreds.  Turn off grill and just leave it there a minute or two to melt the cheese.


tomatoes ready to go in pan

chicken after the first turn

grilled tomatoes

grilled chicken topped with tomatoes and cheese, cheese "toasties" in the back

We like hot and cheesy things and grilled cheese "toasties" are a big favorite of my husband and myself. I always slice a good hearty whole grain baguette and make more than we will eat because they are great leftovers with salad or soup for lunch.  Brush both sides of bread lightly with olive oil.  Place on a baking sheet.  Top with slices or crumbles of goat cheese.  Place slices directly on grill over low heat.  Close grill and toast until cheese melts.  Yum.  If your family is not goat cheese friendly (work on it, it's a lot like cream cheese, wink, wink but better for you) use feta cheese (okay, that's a cheese from sheep that's even more pronounced in flavor) or mozzarella.
ready to get toasty

I had green beans and mushrooms to finish, so this little side dish came together nicely.  Boil a pot of water and blanch the green beans (cook for 2-3 minutes and rinse with cold water and drain) while you heat a little butter and olive oil (about 2 tsp of each) and cook the mushrooms over low heat until softened.  Add the cooked and drained beans and heat through.  Mince some garlic and raise the heat a bit to bring out the garlic flavor, stir into beans and mushrooms and cook for another minute.  Season with salt, pepper and a little fresh thyme if you have it.

blanched beans in the colander (see, they were really needing to be cooked and eaten)

mushrooms and garlic (threw my garlic in a little early, but watched it so it did not brown)

all together now