Sunday, January 23, 2011

Dinner party menu

Since we've had Charlie, we tend to like to stay in versus going out on the weekends. We decided it would be fun to have some friends over for dinner on Saturday night. I had it all planned out: clean house on Friday night after Charlie goes to bed, morning Walmart visit while the boys are still asleep, gym in the morning, grocery shopping on way home, haircut in the afternoon, cook while Charlie is napping, guests arrive at 6:30, dinner at 7:15pm. Sound plan, right? Well, one minor detail I forgot to think about: what to cook and when? You can't shop for groceries if you don't even know what you are going to make! I perused my new Southern Living magazine while getting haircut - nothing. I asked the Hubbie - but I didn't want homemade pizzas, too expensive. I asked the friends - enchiladas but we just had those this week. Nothing seemed to be hitting the mark. I was starting to panic because it was 2:30pm and I still had no idea what to make and still had to grocery shop. So I finally just pulled from memory some of my favorite recipes that are easy to put together ahead of time that I could remember the ingredients since I was on the way to the grocery store with no pre-determined list. Warning, they do take some cook time but I did this mid-afternoon and by the time they arrived, everything was completely finished and ready. 

The Final Menu 
Artichoke dip with bagel chips
Beef Burgundy
Mashed Potatoes
Spinach Salad
Chocolate Fudge Pie

Artichoke Dip
(from my friend, Meredith)

12 oz Artichoke hearts (not in oil)
8 oz soft cream cheese
1 cup light mayo
1 cup parmesan cheese
1 cup mozzarella cheese
3 spring onions, chopped (or several dashes of onion powder if you forget the onions like I did)

Blend everything together by hand. Put in baking dish and sprinkle a little mozzarella cheese on top. Bake uncovered 35-45 minutes at 350 degrees. Serve hot with bagel chips, pita chips or crackers.

Beef Burgundy

1.5-2lbs stew beef (cubed)
1 package Lipton onion soup mix
1 can cream of mushroom soup (low sodium version)
1 can of mushrooms or 2 handfuls of fresh mushrooms
1 cup of Burgundy or red wine (I use a bottle of the single serving red wine 4 packs) 

Mix together by hand. Pour in cast iron pan and cover. Bake 4 hours at 300 degrees (or if you are out of time like I was, 3 hrs at 350 degrees). Serve over mashed potatoes.

Mashed Potatoes

5-7 potatoes (any will do), peeled
2-3 Tbs butter
salt & pepper to taste
4 oz sour cream
skim milk

Boil potatoes until soft. Drain then put in mixer. Add 2-3 Tbs butter, salt & pepper and sour cream. Add skim milk to make the consistency you like for mashed potatoes. 

(once they are done, you can set them aside and heat them in the microwave when it's time to eat)

Spinach Salad

In this salad, put whatever veggies you like. Here's what I had on hand:

baby spinach
mozzarella cheese

I like Girards champagne dressing on spinach salad but any vinaigrette will do.

Fudge Pie

1 stick butter, melted
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup cocoa
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
whip cream

Mix together in electric mixer everything but the whip cream. Put in pie shell (I use the Pillsbury roll out kind but you can also use the Ritz pie shells in the tins). Bake 30 min at 350 degrees. Best served cooled with whip cream on top. Can also be made night before and refrigerated. 

So there it is - a menu for a lovely dinner party that easily serves 4-6 people. What is your "go to" menu? I'd love to hear what other people make when they are in a pinch! 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

2011 Goals

It's mid-January in 2011 and while I don't believe in new year resolutions, I do believe in goals. My friend, Melissa, posted her 2011 goals on her blog not long ago and I have to say, she inspired me. Since reading her goals, I thought, I should set mine and post them so I can hold myself accountable and everyone else can too. So here they go:

1. To have our family debt free (other than the mortgage). We've met with a financial advisor and it's easily doable as long as we stay on target. 

2. This one is two parts a) To have a consistent quiet time b) read my bible.  And by consistent I don't mean never or once in a blue moon. I mean actually sitting still and dedicating time each day for Him. Our Pastor has been stepping all over my toes lately in his messages and it is abundantly clear I'm just mediocre when it comes to my Christian walk. 

3. To be more thoughtful. And not just in the giving gifts or doing things for others but by remembering birthdays, important events, sending little cards and thank you's. So many people have done that for me and it always means so much. I don't want to be so consumed in my own life that I forget to support others. 

4. To lose the baby weight, preferably by June but I'll take the end of the year if it takes that (PLEASE don't let it take that long!)

5. To market Pepper Pots Designs and gain additional painting business. Ideally, I'd like to have a consistent $50/month in profit to start. Know anyone who would be interested in a cute gift? 

6. Cook more with vegetable purees. I've started and featured a few of those on this blog but I want to figure out how to incorporate them into more of my own recipes. 

So that's it! I think those are pretty doable but they seem a little scary when I actually write them down. Something about writing and publishing your goals make them a bit more real. 

Do you set goals? What is the one goal this year you are most nervous about achieving this year? I'd love to hear about it! 

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Unanticipated blessings

Today was my first day back at work. Although I love my job, it is something I have dreaded since I had my little man. Even though it's not an option for me to stay at home, it didn't make the process any easier to deal with. I have lived in some form of denial for 6 weeks now (half my time off) and then on Monday it hit me - I only have a few full days left with my sweet boy before I have to leave him. That brought my head out of the sand and the tears down my cheeks. Each night I would get upset, thankful for the day I had with him but sad that it was over. 

But there was something I couldn't deny today...God's blessings. Not just the big ones (like my son) but all the little intricate details He coordinated today for me. Case in point, I had a most endearing text message from my boss last night making sure I was OK. How many can say their boss would even care enough to do the same? Then my son went to bed at 10pm and slept till 6am. That has NEVER happened! I still woke up a few times out of expectation but overall was able to get a good night sleep. When I got up this morning, the hubbie was uber sweet, getting up early with me to help as much as he could, warming up my car, helping me carry all the stuff to the car, etc. As I'm getting in to the car I start to tear up and know it's going to be a long 15 minute commute.  But who should call? A great friend. She also was on her way to work and wanted to check on me. She distracted me so I didn't break down and she was also able to empathize with how I felt. My little man fell asleep in the car so it helped me when I had to leave him, knowing he was happily sleeping and snug. When I make it to work (2 minutes later, the sitter is 1 mile from the office - another blessing) everyone is excited to see me. Even the cafeteria ladies are happy to see me. Now while I don't need to be patted on the back, it's great to feel loved and my office helped with that today. Everyone was welcoming, helpful and understanding. 

Charlie had a good day and managed to sleep almost the entire time (really? He never does that with me!). While I was disconcerted at first, I realized it was a blessing because it meant he was happy and safe or he wouldn't have felt comfortable enough to sleep. He was happy as a clam when we got home with lots of smiles. 

So as I look back on the day, while I could have focused on how bad my feet hurt in heels (umm, in less than 5 minutes of having them on I might add), the fact I couldn't fit in my pants and had to use a rubberband to hold them up, the sadness, how tired I am or how much I missed my little man, I couldn't deny how God was with me. My day could have been so much worse but God chose to help orchestrate others to help me get through the first tough day. A parent's love is so strong; God's love is even stronger for us. 

This evening, with the feeling of sadness coming back, I had a great talk with the Hubbie about all the emotions I had today and vice versa. Don't forget it's also hard for dad when mom goes back to work. Then we decided to say a prayer of thanks for the blessings instead of focusing on the negatives. It's not in the cards for me to stay home but God did help ease the burden. Thank you, Lord. I couldn't have made it through the day without You. 

Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall. - Psalm 55:22

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A cookbook for everyone

I'm sitting here on a cold winter's day, with snow still on the ground and I decided to pop in one of my favorite movies, Julie and Julia. It always inspires me to be creative when I cook. It's also one of the things that inspired me to blog. It got me thinking, Julie fell in love with The Art of French Cooking and blogged about it...what is my favorite cookbook? The Joy of Cooking...the title says it all. 

OK, cooking isn't a joy for everyone but it is for everyone in my family. I come from a long line of great cooks, some classic, some gourmet, but all of us love to cook. This cookbook has been around for decades and is truly a classic. Not only does it give you recipes but it teaches you HOW to cook and WHY certain ingredients should/shouldn't be used. In my family, this has been passed down for several generations. My mom gave me this copy back in 1998 and I've long since lost the cover from extensive use. There are several recipes that the book automatically opens to (apple pie I & banana bread) because I use it so much. She even inscribed a little note inside, which makes it that much more special: 

"This was your great grandmother's (Grandanna's), your grandmother's (Gimmer) and your mother's (me) favorite cookbook. I hope it will bring you as much Joy as it has all your Boone Family. - Love, Momma 7-31-98"
 Case in point, the Hubbie doesn't often have dinner requests so when he does make one, I know it's something I need to make. After all, "a way to a man's heart is through his stomach" and my hubbie is no different. Not long ago, the Hubbie requested (randomly) Shepherd's Pie. This conjured up thoughts of a quaint, little pub in England that I visited 6 years ago on a business trip but I didn't really know what was in a Shepherd's Pie, much less how to make one. That's where the Joy of Cooking came in. Sure enough it was in there and the recipe was delicious! Did you know that true Shepherd's Pie is made with lamb, not beef? If you make it with beef it's called Cottage Pie. 

Classic Shepherd's Pie

1 1/2 lbs all purpose potatoes, peeled & quartered
1 Tbs butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled & chopped (I used 2)
1 celery stick, chopped (I used 2)
1 lb ground lamb (easily found in the meat section of your grocery store)
3/4 cup beef or vegetable stock
1 Tbs all-purpose flour
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried rosemary
pinch of ground nutmbeg
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Boil the potatoes until done. Drain then add the butter and some salt & pepper.   Mash and beat the potatoes until fluffy (with wooden spoon or electric mixer - you can also use a hand masher).  Tip: taste them, if they taste like good mashed potatoes, then they are good. If not, add more salt or pepper. 

While the potatoes are cooking, in a medium skillet, over medium-low heat add 3 Tbsp oil, onion, carrot and celery. Cook until softened, about 15 minutes. Increase the heat to medium and add the lamb. Cook approx 10 more minutes, stirring to brown evenly. Spoon off any fat then add flour. Cook, stirring 2-3 more minutes then add stock, herbs and salt & pepper. Reduce heat and simmer until thick (about 5 min). 

Let cool slightly then transfer to a 9-inch pie dish or baking dish. Spread the mashed potatoes over the top. Scatter over the top 2 Tbs butter, cut into small pieces. Bake until potatoes are browned and the dish is heated all the way through, approx 30-35 minutes. Serve while hot straight from the pie dish. 

While you may think this is an odd dish, it's actually quite good. If you don't have this cookbook, I encourage you to get it ASAP. You'll not only have great recipes but you'll learn so much about cooking by just reading it. 

If you have a particular dish you want me to try and tell you about before you make it, let me know by posting  comment! I love trying new dishes! 

Bon Apetit! 

Saturday, January 8, 2011

DIY topiaries

Topiaries come in all shapes and sizes, even Disney characters can be found in the form of a topiary. There is nothing like a classic topiary to add a beautiful touch to your mantel, table top or kitchen counter. They are extremely versatile and never go out of style. I've always tried to keep the live topiaries...well alive...but they always turn brown and died or lost their shape too easily. Way too high maintenance for me! So instead, I created traditional topiaries with dried moss. Same "real" look but without all the maintenance. Below are simple instructions on how to make your own topiary. I've created a standard topiary in this post but get creative with the design (pictures are great inspiration)!

  • container(s)
  • topiary form OR styrofoam balls and dowel
  • moss 
  • glue gun
All of these supplies can be found at your local craft store.

topiary form and container (this form was already started)


Step 1 (for topiary forms):
Once you have heated your glue, begin by placing a dime to quarter shape of glue on the top most ball.

Step 2:
While glue is still hot, take a small amount of moss and press firmly on to glue, being careful not to burn yourself. Be sure that the moss is thick enough to cover the form so that it can't be seen. 

Step 3:
Continue attaching moss using the hot glue, being sure that the moss is layered evenly throughout. Always press the moss into the glue so that it will not only stick but also be more uniform. 

Step 4:
Once all of the topiary balls have been covered in moss, insert the form into the selected container. Place a small amount of glue around the edges of the form to hold it in the container. 

Step 5:
Using the same moss or different moss (for added texture), cover the remaining portion of the form at the base of the container. Using scissors, trim any strays so that it looks even and uniform. 
Two types of moss are used here to add texture

If you can't find a pre-made topiary form, follow these instructions:

Step 1 (if using styrofoam balls and dowels):
Drill a hole through the center of each styrofoam ball slightly smaller than the dowel.

Step 2:
Insert the dowel and create your topiary shape as you like

Step 3:
Place a small line of glue around the joints of the dowel and styrofoam balls. 

Step 4:
Follow instructions for standard topiary forms (above).

Viola! You now have a topiary to use to add class to any spot in the house. They look great paired on a mantel; clustered together on a table or put simply as an accent.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Enchiladas with a healthy twist?

As you may have read in previous recipe articles, I don't like to eat vegetables. Now I'm not completely horrible but lets just say my palate is pretty small when it comes to anything green. Of course I had to marry someone the complete opposite. Maybe that is God's funny sense of humor coming in to play. As featured before, I'm trying new recipes from Doubly Delicious. This recipe is a healthy spin on enchiladas and they are surprisingly delicious. And no, not the "it has no taste but it's healthy so we'll pretend like it does" kind've thing. It really is delicious! Don't let the ingredients skew your taste buds. Trust me...

Chicken Enchiladas

2 boneless chicken breasts, cubed
2 Tbs olive oil
1/2-1tsp garlic powder
1/4-1/2 tsp pepper
few dashes of chili powder
1/2 cup sweet potato or carrot puree (I used carrot)
1/4 cup sour cream (I used low-fat)
2 cups shredded cheese (2% mexican or cheddar)
6 (9-inch) or 4 large whole grain tortillas
1/2 cup spinach puree
1/2 cup salsa

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Over med-high heat, add few tablespoons olive oil to skillet. Sprinkle chicken with garlic, pepper and chili powder. Cook until chicken is cooked through (no longer pink). Off the heat, mix the sweet potato or carrot puree, sour cream and half the cheese into the skillet. Grease baking dish with cooking spray. Fill each tortilla with skillet mixture. Place enchiladas seam side down in the baking dish. Dot the tops of the enchiladas with spinach and salsa then cover with remaining cheese. Cover baking dish with aluminum foil and bake until cheese melts and filling is hot (30-40 minutes). 

*to make purees, simply steam the vegetables until soft, then blend in food processor or blender until creamy. May need to add a little water to get creamy consistency. 

No really, it's good! 

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The thing new moms don't talk about...

Having recently become the mom to a beautiful, healthy baby boy named Charlie, I have had my eyes opened to a whole new world. I've watched my friends have kids and they always talked about "mommy brain" but I never could fully appreciate what it was. I was warned about it and truthfully it started when he was still in utero. In concept, I got it but not until you experience it do you ever really get it...literally. I find myself not focusing on conversations, trying so hard to listen but not able to really retain anything. It's getting better now that I can get a bit more sleep thankfully but I;m not sure I will ever fully get my full brain back. 

But that's not the point of this post...I want to talk about what every mom probably feels but no one really talks about. It's called Mommy Guilt. No one ever warns you about Mommy Guilt when you are pregnant. Everyone talks about how wonderful you'll feel and how it will be the happiest time of your life. So you are automatically set up with false expectations. 

Now don't get me wrong. I wouldn't trade parenthood for anything in the world and feel so blessed that God gave me this wonderful little boy. I hope we can have more children but it isn't easy the first time. There is a level of guilt you feel constantly...are you spending enough time with the baby? are you meeting their needs? are you doing the right things to help them develop? are you wrong to go back to work? are you holding them enough or too much? are you exercising? are you eating to lose the baby weight? are you spending enough time with your husband? There are all these questions that plague your brain all while operating on a minimal amount of sleep. And then to top it off, until you get your figure back or at least can button your pants without the use of a rubber band, you feel fat and frumpy. Not a good combination. 

We as women rarely talk about this part of the "joy of parenthood". Is it because we're afraid of what people will say or think? Is it because too many people will respond back "but it's all worth it" and make you feel worse? (a little tip: never say that to a tired new mom). When asked "How are you? How's the baby?" we respond "It's wonderful!" all while thinking - "I need help! I'm sinking without a life line!" And that's hard for someone like me who tends to be very positive and likes to think I can handle anything life throws at me. If you are used to getting everything done and being highly productive, this can add even more to the Mommy Guilt syndrome. 

In my experience, this leads to what is commonly known as post-partum depression. All that we thought we could do or all that we think we're expected to do doesn't get done and we feel very inadequate. Instead of doing a few things well, we now do everything mediocre. That can have a big affect on a woman's self-esteem. 

This all leads to the "super mom" persona that many of us feel like we need to achieve. Here's what I'm learning - IT'S NOT POSSIBLE. To be super mom that is. I can't cook dinner every night, make it to the grocery store when we're out of milk, get to the bank when it's time to pay bills or make it to the gym consistently (just to name a few). And that's OK. 

So if you're a new mom or about to be a new mom - it's OK if you can't get it all done! In fact, plan on not getting done most of what you used to. The important part is to focus on what really matters to you and for your family. If the laundry stays unfolded for two weeks, the dog hair piles up on the floor or you never make dinner or to the gym, life will go on. For me, spending time with Charlie before I go back to work, having a date night each week with my hubbie and the occasional visit to the gym (for mental sanity) are what's important to me. If I can get to those things each day then it was a good day. The rest I will get to later.

Popeye Spinach Casserole

How many of you have kids who HATE eating spinach? Well I have a recipe you should try. I freely admit I'm not the best at eating my vegetables. Ick. In fact, the hubbie tells me I would eat like a 13 year old kid if I could - junk, junk, junk - and he's right. Alas, he keeps a tight reign on me and my body likes to hold on to too many of those calories to make it worth it. The following recipe I grew up on and it doesn't taste like spinach. In fact, I loved it so much that I almost always requested it on my birthday. When we were kids we always called it Popeye Casserole because it made it sound more fun (but we also died our mashed potatoes because it made them more fun to eat...hmmm so my family is a little quirky but we have fun!) You can half it easily and it also freezes well. 

Popeye Casserole (AKA Spinach Casserole)

4 boxes of chopped, frozen spinach
1 pint sour cream
juice of 2 lemons
2 Tbs garlic salt

Boil the spinach for 10-15 minutes. Drain very well (I use paper towels to help get as much juice out as possible). Mix spinach, sour cream, garlic salt and lemon juice. Place in casserole dish and top with bread crumbs (optional). Bake 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until heated through. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

My favorite soup - Taco

 Many years ago my mom told me about a recipe she tried called Taco Soup. I have to admit I was a bit skeptical. Mexican is my favorite food. I could eat it every day if I was able but tacos were meant to be eaten by hand in a soft shell or a crisp, crunchy shell, not in a soup. I should have known better. What's the old adage? "Mom knows best"? After making it, not only was it super easy, but it quickly became my all-time favorite soup. So much so that I was banned from making it by the hubbie for a while (perhaps having it at least once a week may have been a bit overkill). In this version, you serve it over Tostito chips and chunks of cheese. The chips give it a slight crunch while the chunks of cheese soften and melt into the soup. Yum! My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

Taco Soup

1 can black beans (preferably no salt added)
1 jar salsa (mild or medium)
1 can mexicorn or fiesta corn
1 box no salt added or low sodium chicken broth
sharp cheddar or mexican cheese, cubed (I use the bagged, cubed mexican cheese)
sour cream
Tostito chips

Pour the first 4 ingredients into a small pot. Bring to boil and let simmer 10-15 minutes. Put a handful of chips and cheese in the bottom of individual serving bowls. Pour a serving of soup over chips and cheese. Top with spoonful of sour cream and serve. 

Warm comfort food - Chicken Pot Pie

One of Daniel's favorite comfort foods is Chicken Pot Pie. I'm not sure what it is about this hearty, warm, gooey, filling pie that is so satisfying on a cold winter night but it sure does hit the spot. My friend Jaime gave me this recipe and it quickly became a family favorite.

Chicken Pot Pie

1 box roll out pie shells (be sure they have 2 pie shells in the box)
1 can no salt added veg-all, drained
2 cans low sodium cream of mushroom or cream of chicken soup
2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a pie pan and lay one pie shell down. Boil the chicken breast until done (approx 10 minutes). Cut into bite size pieces. Mix in veg-all, canned soup and pepper (approx 3-5 shakes). Pour into pie shell. Top with other pie shell and crimp sides so that the pie is sealed. Bake for 30-45 minutes or until top is slightly golden in color.  Let cool 10-15 minutes so that it sets up nicely. 

Makes great leftovers! 

Bon app├ętit!