Thursday, December 31, 2009

Flabbergasted and Happy, Definitely Happy!

I'm flabbergasted! I just started posting on Monday and already have my first award!

While I'm usually almost as bucky about rules as my Bestie, Mama M--actually she's corrupted me--I used to be MUCH more of a rule follower until she came along . . . HOWEVER I'm going to do my best on this one . . .

The Rulez..
List 10 things that make you happy (I can do that)
Give this award to 10 people (have been in the bloggy world for a week but I'll see what I can come up with!)

10 things that make me happy:

  1. Seeing my son, A, happy
  2. A clean house when I didn't have to clean it
  3. A house full of people eating food I prepared
  4. Painting
  5. God's Grace . . .and His sense of humor
  6. The new Coborn's grocery store in my small town--it is the most PERFECT store!
  7. CookBooks--I use them for inspiration but rarely follow the recipes
  8. A great read
  9. Surprises (good ones obviously)
  10. NYC!!!!

wow . . . I was just getting going . . . could've gone on for days! but I'll stick to 10 per the rules since I'll be breaking them in a bit . . .

Okay, 10 blogs to award this to:

  1. The Bignell Family
  2. Slavik Royalty
  3. Just Another Day in OUR Paradise
  4. All A Bunch of Momsense
  5. And of COURSE Mama M at FiveCrookedHalos
Whew! Okay, Keely, I hope 5 is enough! I'm headed out to the gym for the first time in weeks--gotta train for the Grandma's 5K (and if you don't know the story, head over to Mama M's blog for the complete and humiliating details). Only 6 months to get ready to beat my time!

Then I'm headed back home to get prepped to make Fried Pickles and Black Forest Neopolotins to take to my friends house for New Years tonight--both will be blogged about tomorrow!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My Two Sons

This post title reminds me of "My Two Dads"--do you remember that show?--which reminds me of Paul Reiser--which reminds me of "Mad About You" . . . loved that show. Anyway, nothing to do with this post--sorry 'bout my bunny-trail-mind!
I told you about my son, A:

(Here's A with a swimcap posing more like a dorky speed skater than a swimmer . . . Someday I'll do a post with the many crazy poses of A . . . )

But I forgot to tell you about my other "son"--Drake:

(He's got the cutest "mohawk" hair and a great smile for a dog if I do say so myself :)

Actually, I'm NOT one of those crazy "my dog is my baby" people (no offense) but Drake is definitely part of the family. We got Drake as a puppy almost 4 years ago and it was the best decision I could've made as a Mom--especially as a single Mom. Drake and A are like brothers--they keep each other company, Drake sleeps on A's bed, and they wrestle like brothers:

But right now Drakey is sick--he woke up the other day limping and lethargic and wouldn't eat. A trip to the Vet and a few blood tests later--Drake has Lyme's disease. The good news is we caught it early and with antibiotics, he should make a full recovery--hopefully without any long term damage. But until then I have a sad puppy . . . .

Get better soon Drakey! Yes we call him Drakey . . .and our favorite Drake inspired song? . . .

Drake, Drake, Drake . . . Drake, Drake, Drake . . .

Drake your Booty! . . . Drake your Booty! . . .

(If you didn't know it before, now you do . . .we're VERY dorky . . . and we love our Drakey)

Mix & Match Method and Soup

I've always wanted one of those wardrobes that you can mix & match almost every piece to make new outfits. And I suppose I do in that I have 3 pair of the same black dress pants (and 1 in gray) and multiple tops and jackets and sweaters. But I mean the kind of wardrobe like you'd end up with on "What Not to Wear" where each piece is intentionally selected to go together and for your body type, etc. Btw, what is up with people who go on that show and whine the whole time--people you are in NYC! (my favorite city--I love NYC like I love a good friend--a future post) and have $5000 to spend! Smile, say "Thank You!" and start shopping! Sheesh .. .

Where was I? Oh yeah, Mix & Match. I imagine choosing that kind of a great wardrobe requires a Method--kind of a formula--to make sure you end up with the right number of tops, bottoms, accessories, shoes (sigh . . . shoes . . . I love shoes . . . ). Anywho, I feel the same way about wardrobing as a good "Recipe"--the METHOD and proportions stay the same, but you can swap out ingredients and get creative.

Many great cooks (which I aspire to be one day) have a head full of methods and then create awesome recipes by trying new ingredients. It's a fantastic creative outlet and it's what I love about cooking.

I have a "method" for making soup (I suppose many Moms do) and I make soup at least once a week at our house. I like to Mix & Match the broth, veggies, starch (if any), protein and seasonings (and bread--always have to serve soup with bread--I mean, isn't that the POINT of soup? to be an excuse for yummy, crusty bread?).

This post may be a bit basic for some of you seasoned cooks, but for anyone who hasn't experimented with soups, I highly recommend it!

Here's a suggested "Method" for a broth based chunky soup (just made this one last night). The key to any good soup is layering flavors. I usually cheat and buy stock or use a stock base, but if you've made your own stock--well if you make your own stock you probably don't need to read this :)

Mix & Match Method Soup:

Layer One: Basic--Start by sauteeing chopped onion in a little oil. I'll sometimes add shallots or garlic if I have any fresh sitting around. Advanced--I'll dice some raw bacon and render the bacon first and then remove the bacon with a slotted spoon(place on a paper towl and later sprinkle on top of the soup) and then sautee the onions in the bacon fat--this adds a layer of smoky meaty flavor--yum!

Layer Two: (optional) Raw Meat--if you have hamburger, or cubed steak or chicken, add it to the onions when the onions just start to get soft. Brown on all sides. HOWEVER, if you're using leftover meat that has already been cooked, don't add it yet.

Layer Three: Veggies: Rough chop (bite sized pieces)other fresh veggies for your soup--we like carrots, mushrooms, green beans, brussel sprouts, broccolli, cauliflower--anything that will hold up in the soup. Rough Chop and sautee about 1-2 cups of veggies.

Layer Four: Seasoning: Here's where I add salt, pepper, garlic powder, or seasoning blends--not a lot, but a little salt will help draw the moisture out of the veggies and will give more flavor to the soup. I also have frozen pressed garlic and basil cubes from Trader Joes (LOVE Trader Joes) that I add here as well) After adding the seasoning, wait til the veggies start to brown and roast and get yummy in general.

Layer Five: (optional) Potatoes: If I'm adding potatoes to our soup (and I almost always do), I scrub and dice the potatoes into bite sized chunks and microwave for 1- minutes so they get a head start (otherwise you'll wait forever for the potatoes to get soft in the soup and there is nothing worse that hard potatoes ruining a good soup!)

Layer Six: (optional) Precooked Meat: Last night i just used left over Rotisserie Chicken chopped up. so I added it after the veggies were browned up.

Layer Seven: Broth/Stock: more often than I like to admit, I use a dried chicken stock base with water for my broth. It's actually tastier than most canned broth but I feel like I'm cheating every time. However, there are many boxed stocks and broths that are very tasty. Choose one that will compliment your meat. How much? Up to you! I usually add about 8 cups so we have leftover soup for later! (I only have to feed 2 :)

Optional Additional Layers:

  • Frozen Veggies (if I don't have enough fresh, I add frozen veggies after the broth comes to a boil)
  • Noodles--try not to add noodles until just a few minutes before serving--give them about as long as you'd give them if you were boiling them in water. I've had noodles go mushy on me--not fun. I find Rotini and Rigatoni to hold up best in soup
  • Rice / Orzo--will need the same amount of cooking time as is called for on the box--and you may need to add more liquid
  • Velveeta Cheese--redneck? yes and I like it! sometimes when I've used mushrooms, hamburger and beef stock I like to throw some cubed velveeta in and let it melt in for cheeseburger soup.
  • Additional spices or seasoning--taste your soup! make sure it's tasty :) Add stuff if you need to to make it so!

NOT OPTIONAL--serve with bread, rolls or something to dip!

Bonus: Fried Dough: Last night I tried something new to serve with our soup! I took Trader Joes pizza dough (I LOVE Trader Joes, did I mention that?!), rolled it out, and cut it into random pieces. I heated a nonstick skillet with a tablespoon of oil and "fried" the dough on both sides on medium heat (not high heat--they'll burn on the outside and be doughy in the middle). I salted them when they came out of the pan.

Review from "A": "Mom, this fried dough stuff is outstanding! There's more, right?"

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Being "Unkept"

Being "Unkept" would be tough for some, but I come by it honestly, I swear. I realize my domestic procrastination would drive some type-A folks nuts! And in the business world it would drive ME nuts. My Mom--for example--has to practically sit on her hands when she comes over because she sees "projects" everywhere she looks. It's not that I'm a slob--it's that my time is often spent in order of what is needed or important.

For example, some people would have to "actively" avoid the mess on the kitchen table that was made after piling stuff from the car to the table after a long drive home from a Christmas roadtrip and would have to do something like start a blog just to justify NOT cleaning up said mess.

Not me--even if I hadn't started a blog, I would've taken my time in taking care of the mess. See, eventually I'll NEED everything on that table and it'll get put away . . . "organically" . . . yeah, see my "Unkept" lifestyle is really a "grassroots" movement to go with the flow . . . or something . . ..
And the new bathroom decor I purchased over the weekend (also sitting on the table) will eventually (I'm sure of it!) actually be used to redecorate my bathroom--which I've been meaning to do for over a year now. And I'm sure I won't wait until a week before impending house guests visiting this spring to actually PAINT said bathroom and put up this decor:

Actually! I did think of something to legitimately keep me from painting the walls for at least another week--I'm going to create a piece of art for the walls--and THEN the paint color for the walls will "come to me" .. . you know . . . "organically". So this weekend (New Years Eve Weekend) I plan to create a painting
(here are a few of my past paintings* --I only ever paint flowers--I only use Acrylics--I'm obviously self taught and don't claim ANY painting expertise other than I love doing it--I'll explain in a future post):

(this is a large 3' x 4' split canvas painting I did a few years ago for my office--the only painting I've kept!)

(this I did for my dear friend and colleague--lets call her Sunflower--I just gave this to her for Christmas)

yes! and then I'll pick a paint color based on the decor and whatever I create and then enlist friends to come help paint the walls (which I HATE doing almost as much as I hate doing the dishes). Ooooohh . . I will bribe those painting friends with FOOD! and then will have another excuse for an Unkept Cook blog entry! Yes--it's a master-round-about-plan that will eventually get me to the year-plus goal of redecorating the bathroom!

Hmm . . . if I combine my undone . . .unkept . . . domestic type projects with reasons to cook and blog I MAY actually get things (domestically speaking) DONE in 2010! Shocking . . . this blog thing . . . it's tricking me into domestic action . . . via blogging accountability . . . hmmm . . . that just might work . . . we'll see . . . .

Patience isn't one of my virtues. . . ET Salad

I am not a terribly patient person and when I cook I tend to just "create"--a little of this, a hint of that . . . and pretty soon I have my finished masterpiece. Which I'm quickly finding makes "food blogging" a bit of a challenge--because I'm told pictures are pretty much vital to food blogging and that means I'll need to slow down and think through steps and take photos of, well, the preparation of food!

So for this next recipe I have about half the photos needed . . . but again not the final product! Darn it! I WILL get the hang of this and then my readers (Hi readers! how fun is that--I started a blog and now have readers!? all 10 of you! love to you!!) will get to see what the food looks like and may even be inspired to COOK--which is at least part of the point of all of this :)

I call this ET Salad--as in Entertaining Salad--as in Salad I Entertain with (not salad that entertains you--well, it WILL entertain your mouth . . but you know what I mean!) Also not to be confused with "ET Phone Home"--I never liked ET as a kid--creeped me out. So why did I name this salad after a creepy SciFi creature? Good question.
I made this salad up out of a few recipes I'd read trying to use fresh fennel because I LOVE fresh fennel! It's bright and fresh tasting; it's crunchy and satisfying; it's smells like Anise (which I don't usually enjoy) but tastes delicious. And I love to USE fresh fennel because it's unexpected and people don't think to use it fresh. And I love to serve this salad because its delicious and has a pretty presentation--which you won't get to see today (next time I make it I WILL post a photo however!).
I recently made this salad on Christmas Day--after the Creme Brulee prep-- for my family. The ET Salad and Creme Brulee were bookends to a delightful meal prepped by my Mom--who is an AMAZING COOK!--and who DOES keeps a VERY tidy kitchen (unlike me). We had Prime Rib, loaded mashed potatoes, and fresh multigrain rolls .. . YUM! Anywho, I did start to take photos of the salad prep and then forgot to snap a few of the final product--thank you in advance for your patience!

Okay, the recipe already! (I can tell editing down my bunny-trail type thoughts will be my biggest blogging challenge . . . ahem!)

ET Salad: (please adjust amounts based on how many you're feeding--we were feeding 8 salad plate portions for this recipe--though add grilled chicken and this could easily become a meal itself!)

1 large or 2 small bulbs of fresh Fennel--core and then slice or jullienne bulb only
2 Granny Smith Apples--cored and sliced (no need to peel unless you don't like the peel)
2 Nectarines or Pears--I prefer the Nectarines if you can find them; pears will substitute--also cored and sliced and not peeled
1 Red onion
1 bottle of Marzetti's Spinach Dressing (found in your grocer's produce area)
Real Bacon Bits (rendered yourself or purchased)
Honey Roasted Almond Slices
1 Bag fresh Baby Spinach

1 large Ziplock Bag
Knife of choice--I tend to use my small chef's knife for everything
Cutting Board
Large Platter

Coring the Fennel bulb--first cut off the frond stalks--some people dry and use the fennel fronds for seasoning and I imagine you could use them for soup stock--but that's all a bit too much work for me, so I usually just toss them (but feel free to post your uses for them if you have them!)

Then cut the bulb in half (lengthwise) and take your knife and cut out the core on both sides--it'll be kind of a triangle shape.

core and slice Fennel, Apple, Nectarine, and Red Onion into large bite sized pieces--try to keep all the pieces about the same size. Toss them all into a large ziplock bag.

and add the entire bottle of Marzetti's Spinach Dressing. Now, you could make your own bacon dressing--go for it and send me the recipe!--but I usually spend alot more time on the main dishes of the meal and take help with the salad and this is exceptionally delicious dressing!

Let the veg/fruit combo marinate for 1-3 hours in the fridge (up to overnight). To plate, spread the baby spinach in an even layer on a pretty platter and then using tongs or a slotted spoon, place the marinated mixture on top of the greens. Top with real bacon bits and toasted almond slices and make sure to use tongs to serve. It's delicious! And a great conversation starter . . .


Monday, December 28, 2009

Pajama Team Dance Party Cooking Show . . . Creme Brulee

On Christmas day I made the salad (future post) and my sister and I made the Creme Brulee. Actually, my niece (age 6), my sister and sister-in-law DID make a hilarious video--"the Pajama Team Dance Party Cooking Show" where we made the Creme Brulee with C&C Music Factory in the background. We were pretending we had our own cooking show . . .I want to say it was a fun way to hang out with my niece, but really my family is really this cheesy. My sister, T, and I especially. The video IS hilarious but doesn't actually show the food much :) We were using my new FLIP video cam--I just don' t have the editing part all figured out yet . . .

(Hey! I DID figure out how to take a snapshot from the FLIP footage! here you can see some of us in our cheesy-Dance Party glory rockin out to "Everybody Dance Now".)

Anyway, my Dad:

(Dad is on the left in his ever-present-winter Elmer Fudd hat . . . next to my GQ brother :)

recently had Creme Brulee at a restaurant and declared it his new favorite so we thought it'd be fun to make it for him. Creme Brulee, as it turns out is very simple yet very difficult because there are so many darned steps! I don't normally bake and this is dangerously close to baking . . .but despite none of us having ever made it before, ours did turn out great!

We looked at three different recipes and modified our own (which is usually how I roll). This receipe is for about 8 people. I should also point out that this recipe requires more tools and gadgets than I normally use--but we were in my Mom's kitchen--home of any and all kitchen gadgets!

5 cups Heavy Whipping Cream
12 Egg Yolks
8 Tbsp White Granulated Sugar

1 tsp Almond extract

1 tsp Vanilla extract

Brown Sugar for sprinkling

Berries for garnish



Ramekins (we used various sizes for various ages of family members :)

2 baking dishes

Sifter (optional)

Torch or large lighter for carmelizing the sugar

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Heat 5 cups of Heavy Whipping Cream over a low heat until almost boiling (stir slowly to prevent scalding)--when it's almost boiling, take it off heat; Meanwhile, seperate 12 eggs. I find the easiest way to seperate eggs is to crack the egg into your hand and use your fingers as a natural sieve:

Be sure to refrigerate the egg whites for an omelette the next day! Okay, now beat 12 egg yolks, 8 Tablespoons of sugar, 1 tsp Almond extract and 1 tsp Vanilla extract for about 5 minutes (or until thick and frothy).

Then temper the egg mixture with the hot cream in a seperate bowl--add a cup of the egg mixture in a bowl and slowly add about a cup of the cream while whisking very fast. (no photo of this--sorry!). Then, turn the mixer back on very low (which egg mixture still in the bowl) and slowly add the tempered mixture. Then slowly add the cream a little at a time until it's all mixed together.

Be sure to crank up the tunes and have background dancers to spice up the boredom of having SO MANY STEPS! Here you'll see our background dancers doing the shopping cart . . .

Put about 4 cups of water in a large microwave safe container and heat up for about 1-2 minutes.

Using a ladle, pour the creme brulee mixture into the ramekins to 3/4 full. Place the ramekins in a baking dish (you'll need two baking dishes to make 8 ramekins). Then take the hot water from the microwave and pour it into the baking dish so it comes about halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

Set the timer for 25 minutes but but be prepared for it to be longer. Check at 3-5 minute intervals for the custards to be "set"--by "Set" I mean that you can jiggle the pan and they wiggle a bit but clearly are no longer liquid in the middle. Don't be alarmed if they brown on top--mine did but it was because my mixture was a bit too frothy and the "froth" browned, but underneath was creamy delicious custard.

When they're done, remove the ramekins from the water bath using large tongs or oven mitts and let them come to room temp before putting in the fridge.

I don't have photos of much of this because I hadn't planned on food blogging it and our Danceparty Cooking show lost its mojo after the 20th step (around the time we finally put the ramekins in the oven).

Once cooled (can be refrigerated for up to 1-2 days), they're ready to "brulee!" Place 1/3 cup Brown Sugar and 1/3 cup White Sugar in a sifter and sift the sugar over top the ramekin. Using a torch or large lighter, flame the sugar until carmelized but not burnt--you'll be able to tell when you burn it because it'll make a sizzle sound and turn black. My son found that you can make an even more candy-licious crust by repeating the sugar/flame process 2-3 times.

Top with a few berries and ENJOY! Then take a nap--you deserve it!

Creme Brulee isn't that hard--just time consuming--something I'm not usually down for. But, it was Christmas and my Daddy's favorite .. . and he said it was "WAY BETTER" than what he had at the restaurant. Plus we have a hilarious video to chronicle some classic sister time! Way worth the time spent :)

Love to you and yours and hope you made some great memories this Chrismas!

p.s. does anyone else cook with their family? tell me about it!

p.p.s. if anyone makes Creme Brulee, please take a pic and show me the final product! (since I obviously didn't bother to do so myself!!)

The Unkept Cook

A Great Excuse

Last spring, my Bestie (Mama M) decided to start a blog detailing her life as a Mom, wife, nurse, friend and cook. And I LOVE reading her blog, but had no real desire (or time) to write my own. I was perfectly happy delighting in Mama M's blog and trying to keep my own head above water. I'm a single mom to this amazing 14 year old--we'll call him "A":

and I run a business that can keep me busy 60-70 hours a week. In my spare time I focus on my Faith (love Bible Studies such as Beth Moore!)and I love spending time with family and friends:

(my Bestie, Mama M, is the cute blonde on the left)

and hobbies like painting (a future post) and, of course, COOKING! Actually, what I really love is entertaining--but if you couldn't tell by my blog name, my house is very rarely "company ready". In fact, I'll sometimes invite people over just to motivate myself to get the house in order! It's not that I'm not capable of cleaning up--it's just that there are usually 1000 other interesting things I'd rather be doing and it just isn't a top priority for me--until company is coming :)

Then a few weeks ago Bestie Mama M invites me to be her guest to a Christmas party for blog readers at none other than MckMama's--I had no idea what I was getting myself into! I met a group of amazing women who had at least 4 things in common: 1) They're all Mama's who love their kids :) 2) They all have read MckMama's blog and prayed for Stellan 3) They're all sweet, caring people who I wanted to stay connect to; and 4) they almost all had blogs and stayed connected through them.

So on the way home Mama M encouraged me to start a blog and then Laura chimed in via Twitter. And I decided that a blog might just add a little balance in my life (see, everything seems to be about work in my world) AND would provide a GREAT excuse to cook more often (so I'd have things to blog about).

And that's the story of how The Unkept Cook blog came to be. I promise to have a few cooking posts on here very soon to legitimize the title . . . but I'll likely also post on here often about life and motherhood and other random Tara thoughts!

Hope you enjoy!