Friday, March 27, 2009

Trees are Leafing

Tender green leaves are beginning to sprout on the tree in my backyard. Songbirds are beginning to spend the day in it. I love it when this happens! Since it just sopped raining they're really active and vocal. Lots of fluttering about.

I know I Tweeted this yesterday but I just wanted to blog it too. And here's a picture from today to go with - lots more tender greens than yesterday. Birdies are camera shy. Click for larger view.

Ricotta Pasta with Tomatoes al Forno

This is from Rachael Ray's 365 No Repeats Cookbook. It's number 195. It was really good.

I added a box of frozen chopped spinach, I think it dulled down the basil taste, but it added some vegetable nutrition too. If you add spinach you may want to add more salt, or mix some extra Parmesan into the spinach before you add it. Next time I think I would use canned diced tomatoes rather than crushed. I had to buy a big can to get crushed and I think I would prefer to have chunks of tomato. I like this recipe because you can make so many variations - in fact this cookbook actually has 5 different variations. "Al Forno" as best I can tell means "in the oven" and refers to the browning of the cheese under the broiler at the end of the recipe.

My family loved this. Ethan and I ate half of it just the two of us (oops!) and when Robert came home from a dinner meeting he ate a small plate because he wanted to sample it. It was so good he went back for more, but by that time I had already put the leftovers away. Tonight I'll serve the leftovers with Salad and Bread. I recently picked up an herb blend to add to olive oil for dipping bread, so I am looking forward to trying that.

(Recipe Update 4/14/09: I tried the recipe using zucchini and diced tomatoes, it wasn't as good, I prefer the taste of the crushed tomatoes and spinach as described in this recipe.)

1 pound penne or ziti rigate
Coarse Salt
2 cups ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano or Romano Cheese (divided)
2 Tbs Olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed (if you're a garlic lover like I am you could add more)
Generous Handful Fresh Flat Leaf Parsley, finely chopped (I added chopped frozen spinach instead - be sure to squeeze out the extra liquid from the spinach)
1 14 oz can of crushed (or diced) tomatoes
20 fresh basil leaves, shredded or torn
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced

Place the ricotta, butter and 1/2 cup of the Parmesan in a large bowl.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and salt the water. Cook the pasta.

Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil, onions, place garlic on top of the onions and cook for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat.

Drain the pasta. Add it to the bowl with the cheese. Toss to melt the butter and evenly coat the pasta with cheeses, then season with salt and pepper. Add the tomatoes, basil, parsley (or spinach) and onion mixture and toss again to combine.

Transfer the mixture to a baking casserole. I'd zap it in the microwave for a few minutes here - my pasta didn't stay hot enough after adding it to the other room temp ingredients. Then evenly distribute the remaining 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese and the slices of mozzarella over the top.

Place under the broiler and crisp the top and edges of the pasta, melting and browning the cheeses evenly.

4 servings

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Food Blog and Blendy Orange Drink Love

I love food, can you tell? I love preparing it and I love eating it. I love trying things that other people have prepared. Some people like art, some people are nuts over music.... I really enjoy food. There are so many senses involved, is one of the arts!

Davese Gallarini let me know about this wonderful blog...
I could spend all day looking at it and planning which recipes to try out (except I need to get started cooking dinner.)

We don't have Orange Julius anywhere near me, those are my favorite, but I have got addicted to the Orange Dream Machine drink that they have at Jamba Juice, but the one near my house is in a very inconvenient location for my house... so I've been trying other juice places trying to find one that's easier to get in and out of.

With this quest I discovered an new place to eat, today. A quick food step-above-fast-food type of place. It's called FROOTS. I know funny place of interest for a girl who is allergic to nearly every kind of fruit... but it was yummy! They have all kinds of shakes and smoothies (I count at least 38!) as well as fruit juices, wraps and salads. My location also serves breakfast wraps all day long - good to know for those times when I am craving a breakfast burrito - I never crave them at breakfast time when they're available. Besides everywhere else I know puts potatoes in them, which I don't like. So I'm sure I'll be back to try their Mexico Jack Breakfast Wrap another time. Today I had an Orange Dream it was like a creamsicle in a cup. I had them make it with soy milk and add an antioxidant shot to it. For lunch I had the Teriyaki Chicken Wrap, it had Pineapple and oriental noodles in it and was delicious. They grilled it on a panini press so it was nice and warm. I will definitely go back!

Hmmm did you know Orange Julius is owned by Diary Queen? I didn't until now. Those are thick-on-the-ground in this neck of the woods, so why no Orange Julius stores?! :(

Saturday, March 21, 2009

All Purpose BBQ Rub & (Beer) Can Chicken

This is the rub we put on anything that we roast on the BBQ. It's what's for dinner at our house, tonight. I hurt my back so Robert is making dinner. Yum!

All Purpose BBQ Rub

1/4 cup Kosher or Sea Salt
1/4 cup Sweet Paprika
1/4 cup brown sugar (we like a little extra brown sugar, but not too much more sugar has a tendency to burn on the grill)
2 Tbs. ground black pepper.

Mix together and store in an airtight jar for up to 6 months.

To use, place some of the rub into a small bowl (this prevents you from contaminating the rest of the rub.) Rub the meat with oil, then use your fingers and rub the seasoning into the surface of the meat.

We've used this rub on ribs and roasts, but mostly we love it for Beer Can Chicken.

Beer Can Chicken

1 roasting chicken
2 tbs vegetable oil
All Purpose BBQ Rub
Can of Beer, Soda or Upright Chicken Roaster

It doesn't matter much what kind of can you use. We actually use an upright chicken roaster with a well for liquid. We have used a variety of liquids beer, 7up or lemon juice, apple cider. The main thing is that the liquid in the well will steam the inside of the chicken helping keep it moist. We have not found that differnt liquids seem to make much differnce in flavor so use what you have.

We use a gas grill set up for indirect roasting.
If your gas grill has 3 controls preheat all three the 2 outside stations will remain on for cooking, you'll position the bird in the center and turn off the gas to that station when you put the bird on to cook. If you have 2 gas stations heat both, you'll place the bird on one side and turn OFF the gas on the side with the chicken. Preheat the grill to medium. (link at bottom to recipe discussing charcoal grill set-up)
More info on indirect grilling vs direct grill & setup. Ideal temperature for indirect grilling is 325-350 degrees F.

Prepare your wood chips. We put the wood chips inside a foil pouch and punch holes in the foil. If you are going to place the wood on top of charcoal soak it in water or beer for 1 hour so that it will smoke and not just burn up. We've developed a preference for mesquite smoke while living in Texas, but sometimes use pecan wood.

Wash the chicken, remove any extras from the cavity and pat dry with paper towels. If using an upright chicken roaster with a well put liquid in the well. If using a can, open the can, pour out 1/3 of the liquid and make 2 more holes in the top of the can with a church-key style can opener. Rub some of the rub in the chicken cavity and place the chicken tail side down on top of the roaster or can. Use the can and 2 legs to form a tripod. Now rub 2 Tbs of oil on the outside of the bird, followed by the rub. I like to get some rub down inside the skin, the meat is better seasoned that way. Tuck the tips of the wings behind the chicken's back.

When the grill is ready turn off the gas to one station and place the chicken on that part of the grill, place the wood chips over the flames (or directly on the charcoal) and close the lid. This is where you're at a disadvantage with fancy Stainless BBQ's as they usually have a gap in the back that lets the heat and smoke escape - not ideal for this recipe - it may take longer to cook and you won't have as much smoke flavor.

Check on the chicken after 40 minutes, you'll probably want to turn it so it faces a different direction. Cook the chicken until a meat thermometer registers 180 degrees F placed through the meatiest part of the thigh. Carefully remove chicken from the heat be careful not to drop the can out the bottom, very hot liquid. I've used a large spatula under the can and large tongs holding onto the chicken to transfer to a platter or cutting board. Let stand for 10 minutes before carving. If you carve too soon all the juices will run out and the bird will be dry.
We usually allow an hour and a half of cooking time, but some birds cook much faster depending on their size, and sometimes they take longer so use a thermometer to know when the chicken is done. If you've never cooked with smoke before you may no know... smoked meat gets a "smoke ring" this is a pink tinge to the meat, the inexperienced sometimes mistake this for undercooked meat - yet another great reason to use a meat thermometer!

I get the drumsticks!!!

Here is a link to the original recipe - He includes information about how to setup a Charcoal Grill for Indirect Roasting, but I think his gas grill instructions are incomplete.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Museum of Natural Science Houston

Today Papa and I took Ethan to the Houston Museum of Natural Science. We also saw an IMAX film, but the highlight of the day was visiting the Cockrel Butterfly Center which is at the museum.

Butterflies were everywhere flying all around us. Ethan got to hold a butterfly on his hand!
The butterfly sat on him for a good 10 minutes until Ethan said he started to "tickle" we had to try to get the butterfly to step onto a leaf before he finally flew away.

This brown butterfly was very large and the tips of it wings looked like the head of a snake.
Click the Photos for a larger view.
See the Scrapbook Pages I made about this day.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Corn, Avocado, and Tomato Salad

This is the recipe that I made for the Ladies' Recipe Swap last night at church. It's a great recipe, it is always very well received, it couldn't be simpler and it's actually quit healthy. I've been making it for several years, it's wonderful for warm weather or in the middle of winter when I'm longing for the summer. I original found this recipe in Paula Deen & Friends, but I've adjusted the amounts of the ingredients to meet my own tastes. Being a California/Texas girl I needed a lot more avocado than what it originally called for! This is enough to take for a group or potluck, just cut it in half to make the recipe family size.

2 bags frozen corn, sautéed in a skillet (or canned corn, drained) about 6 cups.
4 small avocados, cut into 1/2 cubes.
2 small boxes grape tomatoes, halved
½ cup finely diced red onion

4 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs fresh lime juice (or more to taste)
1//2 teaspoon grated lime zest
½ cup chopped cilantro
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper

1. Combine the corn, avocado, tomatoes and onion in a large bowl.
2. Whisk together the dressing ingredients in a glass bowl. Pour over the salad and toss gently to mix.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Parenting Stuff 3 - A Wonderful Conversation

I just had a wonderful conversation with my son. Today I brought home a number of books and resources that I was looking over at the kitchen table. One of these was Lisa Whelchel's book "Creative Correction." I have seen this book at the book store on several occasions and thought it was a book for people with younger children, but I have been listening to a podcast (Family From The Heart that reviewed the book and just from the examples shared there, I realized this book would be a wonderful resource for me as a parent. Ethan has listened to some of those podcasts with me and was very interested in the book. So at dinner, I was reading him the names of the chapters and some of the example stories. He wanted more and more and was frustrated with me when I would not read any more to him.

"I need time to prepare these lessons for you." I said. This did not satisfy him and he continued to clamor (whine) for more. Just open up the book and read, was his recommendation. "Do you think your teachers at school just show up every day and do you think that they just open up the book and teach you something that they have never seen before that day?" He was very queit and had to think about it... I saw he needed more to grasp the concept. "Do you think Mrs. M. just came up with the idea of challenging you to earn a "Fun Friday" one day and announced it that day in cla$ss with no preparation?" He told me, no, she had Fun Friday with her class last year, he knew becuase he was in the class next door and heard them, and her class had been very noisy on 'Fun Fridays.' "How much fun do you think 'Fun Friday' would be if Mrs. M. didn't plan ahead?" I asked. "If she looked at the chart and said, 'Oh goodness you have earned a fun Friday, whatever shall we do, today? I don't have any games or activities for you to do'" This idea made him giggle. He told me that she plans ahead. That she is very experienced with Fun Fridays and has the students bring games.... I had him, he was on his way to grasping this. "I am teaching you too. And the things I teach you are important and wonderful, and just like Mrs. M. I plan and I prepare for the things that I teach you...." as I took him upstairs to prepare for bed, we continued to talk along this subject.

After I prayed with him... he said it was too bad I wasn't a teacher because then he could stay home with me all day and I could teach him everything. I told him that more time together would be wonderful, but that I am not a specialist in teaching children to read like his teachers are. I asked him what his teachers are preparing him for? "TAKS!" was his emphatic reply. I explained that his teachers are preparing him for a test, but that I am preparing him for life. That we have different methods of teaching because we have very different goals. He was all attention...

I explained that his teachers have special training, that they are experts in how to teach him reading, and math... I specifically used the example of his speech teacher and how she knows special ways to help him to learn things. I gave an inept example of how I could make him repeat the word "Lion" over and over again, but that wouldn't help him to learn to say his "L's" (this is something he has improved in a lot over the last year - an area where I have been praising him for his improvement.) He laughed at my example.

"But you know what?" I said. "Because your teachers are teaching you reading and math and social studies, those basic academic skills.... It leaves me time for us to have FUN and leaves me FREE to concentrate on the things I most WANT to teach you - the things that are important to me... the things that I wouldn't trust anyone else to teach you. Things that are special and part of our family and who we are.

The conversation went along on both sides for quite awhile and I could tell that he was feeling loved, and valued and cherished... That he was excited to think about the things I teach him as important and valuable lessons... as part of our family identity. And that the concept of my thoughtful preparation was wholly new to him.

It was really wonderful. I am sure tomorrow the spell will be broken, after all he is a child... but what a wonderful time of connection, or family identity and pride we were able to share. Times like this are encouraging... they make me feel like we're going to make it. They remind me why I strive through the hard times... out of hope for times like these...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Signed Up For A Class - Telling Stories Deeply

It must be the springtime, or that my heart is ready to come out of the glum greys of winter (although I love a good brisk wind and some real weather!) but I seem to be ready for transformation, I find myself filled with a desire to try new things on all fronts.

I just singed up for my first ever online scrapbooking class. I'm not real good about keeping up with things... so I'm a little nervous about it, but mostly excited! The class is called "Telling Stories Deeply." I love to write and reflect on things... but for some reason it seldom makes it into my scrapbooking... I seldom do any journaling or writing of any kind on my pages - which is odd given my heavy-wordedness in other areas of my life (for example: This Blog!) I actually don't care so very much about my scrapbook pages. I figure perhaps I should just print off all my blog posts and tuck them into one of the page protectors on my scrapbook album - but I am hoping that it might help me to focus more - and to notice more the wonderful things in life. That's one of my favorite things - you know that feeling when time stands still and you look around at the world and the people with you and think - this is a moment I will keep for all time... I already do that from time-to-time but I am hoping to recognize more moments like that - and to write about them more often.

If you're interested, the class is "Telling Stories Deeply" taught by Karekn Grunburg over a Big Picture Scrapbooking. You know after they announced the final issue of Simple Scrapbooking I heard a lot of people worried about what it heralded in the scrapbooking industry. I think it was a sign of the next phase to come... I'll never give up my Personal Close To My Heart Scrapbooking Consultant - but I may replace magazines with classes like this. I hope it lives up to all I hope it will be.

Parenting Stuff 1 - The Background

The Background:
I'm usually not quite so open about things in my blog... but today I feel led to be. I'm not sure why or if this is a new trend or a one time thing but here we go.
We have really been struggling a lot with Ethan, lately. He is going through another of those stages where it seems like he doesn't do anything I tell him to. Where it seems I spend my days in constant battle to get him to comply with the rules of daily life. He isn't interested in doing anything I want him to. He often answers my instructions by telling me what he is going to do INSTEAD, or why he "is not able" to do what I have asked. Not acceptable reasons either, for example: "I'm busy doing something else." Nearly every request or instruction is met with argument and non-compliance and it feels like our lives are in CONSTANT conflict. So much of my time an effort is consumed by this struggle that I haven't had much mental energy left for other areas of our lives. I know how important it is to bring our family into accord and had begun feeling desperate... I am pretty resourceful and have a lot of ideas but when one after another failed to have an effect I knew I'd hit a wall... I began to cast about for some kind of Faith Based parenting class, a place I could get some new ideas.

Low and behold within ONE DAY of arriving at this place.... I discovered that my church was going to begin a new series on Wednesday nights..... "Essentials of Discipline" a series developed by Dr. James Dobson. Hallelujah, I knew it was an answer to my cries of "Help!"

The series began last night and already I learned some wonderful things that I've put into practice, but I think I had better save that for another installment...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Sweet Potato Fries at Fuddrucker's

Yesterday Robert called and met me for lunch at Fuddrucker's. They are now serving sweet potato fries. I love sweet potato fries so I paid the extra $0.50 to upgrade to sweet potato fries. Robert got their regular wedge cut fries.

I am of the opinion that Fuddrucker's wedge fries are some of the best fries going so we We decided to do a taste test.
While the sweet potato fries were good.... Tasted side by side we both agreed the regular wedge cut fries are better. I love to dip them in honey mustard, in fact, it's the fries that keep me going back.

If you're a fan of sweet potato fries, they are also now serving them at TGI Friday's restaurants.