Mom, Wife, Chef, Gardener, Dog Wrangler, Mom, Writer, Friend, Daughter, Sister, Mom, Creative Problem Solver, DIY Chick...figuring out life one day at a time.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mom/Chef: Lasagne of love

My best friends just had a baby. A beautiful boy just six months younger than my son, we are already referring to our boys as future best friends. It doesn't matter that we live over an hour apart, they will be best friends if we have anything to say about it. Now since my baby wasn't born that long ago I remember those first few weeks of having a new baby at home and how difficult it is to do anything but tend to the baby. (Actually come to think of it, it is still hard to get anything not baby related done.) Also being a chef I cook for people I love so I started cooking some things to bring to them. Today I made lasagna. Now my husband and I love lasagna, I mean, who doesn't? But it isn't something I cook very often because it is so labor intensive. Since I was already doing one lasagna I figured I might as well do two, one for them and one for us. I started last week by cooking up the Swiss chard and kale I get in my CSA box every week and putting it in the freezer, so this week I would have plenty for the lasagnas. Today I got everything together and started.

Step One: Clean and chop 1 bunch chard and 1 bunch kale. Saute in olive oil with garlic and red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Let cool. (Mix with defrosted greens that were already done)

Step Two: Boil 2 packages noodles in salted water until al dente. Rinse in cool water and set aside.

Step Three: Mix together 16 oz ricotta cheese, 16 oz cottage cheese, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg, 1 tsp Italian seasoning, salt and pepper and 2 eggs.

Step Four: Grate 2 pounds mozzarella cheese and set aside.

Sauteed greens, grated cheese and cheese filling for lasagna.
Step Five: set up work area, lay everything out including pans and sauce. Sidenote: okay, despite the fact that I like to make things from scratch and all that I almost never make pasta sauce from scratch. My version of from scratch pasta sauce is a can of good quality tomatoes that I can gussy up however I feel like. Starting with fresh tomatoes is just too much for me. And when I do lasagna I always just buy jarred sauce. It is so much work anyway, why make lasagna even harder?

Noodles, pans and sauce ready to go.
Step Six: Assembly! Start with some sauce on the bottom of the pans. Add two layers of noodles on the bottom, then add some of the ricotta cheese mixture, greens and shredded cheese. Add another layer of noodles and repeat.
Lasagna in progress.
Step Seven: Finish lasagna with a layer of noodles, sauce and shredded cheese.

Lasagnas done!
Now I made tons of prep stuff and ended up with enough for three lasagnas, which isn't necessarily a bad thing at all. I wrapped them up and stuck them in the deep freeze.

Now they will be ready whenever I go visit next. Not bad for an hour and a half of work. Next project, squash soup!

Mom/Baker: Why I rarely bake

Several days ago I decided to try out a recipe found in the Penzeys Spice Catalog, previously mentioned before in this post.  It was for a lemon poppy seed cake with berries. Now lemon poppy seed is one of my favorite cakes from childhood so I couldn't pass the recipe up. It was pretty simple and looked pretty in the magazine. It went together pretty easily, and got into the oven without any problem. Changes I made to the recipe included leaving out the poppy seeds and substituting blackberries for strawberries since that was the fresh berry I had on hand. I had meant for the cake to be poppy seeded but somehow between when I placed the baggy of poppy seeds in my cart at the grocery store and when I checked out they disappeared. The problem began with the baking. The recipe said to use a metal loaf pan not a glass one, but guess what, I only own glass loaf pans, so glass it was. Also the recipe said to place a piece of parchment paper on the bottom of the loaf pan, which I did not do, I just buttered the pan really well.  The recipe is pretty vague on times, it said anywhere between 55 and 65 minutes of baking time, so after 55 minutes I checked the cake and found it still really jiggly, so I baked it 10 more minutes. After 65 minutes of baking I checked the cake by inserting a knife into the center of the cake. It was still really wet, so I baked it 10 more minutes. After all of that the cake finally tested done but it had sunk in the middle! I pulled the cake out and cooled it for 15 minutes then tried to turn it out of the pan. It stuck on the bottom and when it finally did come out the edges crumbled. Still, the cake is delicious, moist and lemony and the berries add a nice sweetness. I will definitely make it again.

Lemon berry cake, you can see the edges crumbled, the blackberries sunk and the center of the cake sunk as well.
The problems with this cake reflect the reasons I rarely bake. I suck at it. Even basic recipes require much more careful concentration from me than their equivalent savory recipes. I can throw really good savory food together without much fuss, but baking takes me twice as long and often something comes out just slightly off. Not sure why I can't bake but luckily my mother is an expert baker. She can turn even basic dessert recipes into amazing things, plus she makes up her own recipes, which I would never dare do. Maybe like highlanders there can be only one baker per family?
Anyway, I suggest you try this recipe, perhaps yours will come out prettier than mine did.
Berry Surprise Lemon Poppy Seed Cake
1 1/2 cup AP Flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup milk
2 Tbsp. plain yogurt
1 1/2 cup sugar
6 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp grated lemon zest
2 Tbsp poppy seeds
2 large strawberries, washed dried and sliced

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a metal loaf pan or bundt pan. If using a loaf pan, add parchment paper on bottom of pan.
Sift together dry ingredients: flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl and set aside. Mix milk and yogurt together in a separate bowl, set aside. In mixing bowl cream together butter, sugar and oil until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Begin adding dry ingredients and alternate with milk mixture until all is combined. Stir in lemon juice, lemon zest and poppy seeds. Pour half of the batter into the pan. Carefully layer the strawberry slices on top of batter and then top with remaining batter. Bake for about 55 - 65 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 15 minutes and then turn out and cool completely. Serve with whipped cream and more fresh berries.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Mom/Online Shopper: The Portugese made it through, M'am.

Okay, so this only makes sense if you are in my head, but at the beginning of the month I did an online order through Penzeys Spices. While I was waiting for the order to arrive I would tell my husband that I was waiting for my shipment from the Portuguese to arrive. You know, Portuguese spice traders, spice really is only amusing if you are a nerd like me. Anyway, when the spices took a long time to reach us my husband would ask me if the Portuguese had arrived yet and I would joke that they were held up around the Horn of Africa or stuck in a storm...yeah, as I said, I'm a nerd. So last week the order finally got here. Luckily the problem was not Penzeys, which makes me glad because I love them and would be sad if I couldn't order from them. The problem was our post office. My tiny little town doesn't have door to door mail service, we have a central post office and if you have an address here in town then you get a post office box. Well, despite the fact that I had put both my street address and post office box on the shipping address somehow only the street address came through and somehow my post office couldn't figure out who the box belonged to. Two weeks later they finally figured it out and I got my spices.

My spice order, the large jars in back are cumin and coriander in jars I had lying around.

Oh happy day, I ordered large batches of Cumin and Coriander because I use them in almost everything and I was totally out. (I order them as whole spices so they last a long time) I also got some smoked paprika and a crushed red pepper called Aleppo pepper that I had read about in several recipes and wanted to try. The lovely people at Penzeys also sent me a lemon pepper mix and a catalog. Oh, the catalog, reading through it is like reading through toy catalogs was when I was a kid. All the different spices and spice mixes gave me lots of ideas for things to try myself. Plus there were recipes, some of which looked quite good.
I have already used the aleppo pepper and lemon pepper mix on several different things, with good results. The lemon pepper mix actually tastes of tangy lemon, not salty and fake like some of the cheaper spice blends you find in some grocery stores. The other night I got out some tilapia fillets and went old school, like my parents used to do when I was a kid. I hit the fish with the lemon pepper mix, some butter and fresh lemon juice and baked it.
fish ready for the oven.
To go with the fish I tried a grain casserole I have had the idea for but hadn't tried yet. I cooked up some bulgur and made a light white sauce, then stirred together the bulgur, white sauce, cheese, some dried herbs and a little of the aleppo pepper and baked it for half an hour at 350.

Bulgur casserole ready for the oven.
 The bulgur baked up creamy and almost like a corn pudding in texture, it turned out very yummy. It would also be great I think with a heartier grain like barley or farro, in fact the recipe is based on a baked farro recipe I saw Giada do. A quick saute of some zucchini and it was dinner.
Baked fish, bulgur casserole and sauteed zucchini.

All in all I have been very happy with my spice order. I believe I will be employing the services of those brave Portuguese Spice Traders again soon.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Mom/Chef: caterpillar curry

So, as usual, once the baby went down for a nap this afternoon I started on some dinner prep. I cut up a bunch of vegetables for curry. It is almost the weekend and time for a new CSA box and I needed to use up some of last weeks vegetables that were still hanging around. I started oil in a large skillet and threw in some onions and broccoli stems. While sauteing I noticed a non-onion looking thing, and upon pulling it out of the pan discovered a caterpillar! Okay, I thought, I rinsed the broccoli but obviously not well enough, so I went through the skillet and the plate of broccoli florets and found one more small caterpillar that had crawled out of the broccoli and onto the plate. I removed said caterpillars, rinsed the broccoli once more and gave myself a pep talk about the hazards vs benefits of organic vegetables. I mean really, its only two caterpillars and I caught them, plus the organic vegis are usually so good. So anyway, spirits bolstered I went on to add the bell peppers to the pan, and then the broccoli florets. Seconds later three more caterpillars begin oozing out of the broccoli and frying themselves in my skillet! Now, I know that bugs are protein and many cultures eat them, but I'm sorry, I guess I'm just too squeamish. The pan of vegetables went into the trash, the skillet into the sink and the rest of the vegetables into the fridge until I decide what to do for dinner. The rest of the chopped vegetables are bug free, I know it was just the broccoli, but I may have lost my appetite for vegi curry.
Preped vegetables and caterpillars on the stove.
Maybe I'll have cereal for dinner...
Two caterpillars, one fried, one fresh that found their way into my curry.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


So the baby and I spent the weekend in the big city. (I say 'big city' like I didn't live there myself for five years.) My bff's were having their baby shower, and I also hung out with family and had a fabulous brunch at The Rusty Pelican.  The downside was that strep throat was going around and the day after we left my Mom came down with it. I have been watching baby and myself like a hawk, obsessively taking temperatures, and so far, so good. All in all it was a good trip, it was great to see everyone and fun to be back in the city. I love where we live, up in the mountains, but there are definitely some things I miss about living in the city, primarily family and friends, also the great restaurants.
When I got home Sunday afternoon I found that my husband, when he went to pick up the CSA box Sunday morning was unable to resist the beautiful squash blossoms. This is the second week we've come away from the Farmer's Market with these lovely and fragile flowers, and each time we've tried a different stuffing.
Our first time around we did a sauteed mushroom filling consisting of finely chopped mushrooms with garlic, thyme, basil and white wine. Basically a French duxelles. Those were surprisingly delicious, though I admit at first I thought the mushrooms would be too strongly flavored for the squash blossoms.
Our second attempt used a recipe from Jamie Oliver and consisted of ricotta cheese (I used homemade), lemon zest, one small chili pepper minced, lemon zest, mint and Parmesan.
Both times the stuffed blossoms were dipped in a tempura style batter: flour, egg whites, baking powder,  and cold water before being fried. Both were great, but the mushroom stuffing was the best.
Mushroom stuffed Squash Blossoms

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mom/Fan Girl

So lately I have been rediscovering my fan girl self. This month my satellite TV provider is doing a free channel preview to try to get me to upgrade (they do this periodically) but this month its the Cooking Channel. I had heard some criticism that the Cooking Channel only existed to play Food Network's extras, which is true, partially. They also play some great old school shows like Julia Child and Graham Kerr and the Two Fat Ladies. But what really has my inner fan girl going is Jamie Oliver's show, Jamie at Home. Do you remember Jamie Oliver? I became obsessed back when he was the Naked Chef. He was cute, I was young, and his cookbooks were pretty. I used to get them from the library, read through them and copy out all the recipes I wanted to try. Can you tell I was destined to work with food? Anyway, I have rediscovered him and this new (to me) show of his is so great. In 'Jamie at Home' he shoots the whole show out in his garden, and every episode highlights a different vegetable or two. He does several different recipes, all very fresh and easy and all highlighting what is best about that certain vegetable. This show is so right up my alley, too bad I will only have him for a month. Still, today I got some great tips on roasting beets and carrots, and saw a delicious looking Indian-spiced lamb and carrot dish I totally want to try. Not only does this show fit in with my world view of local, sustainable, fresh cooking, I also really envy his garden. Of course, it says right in the credits that he employs a professional gardener, I'm sure I could have a garden like that if I had someone to work on it full time for me. Oh well, I can always dream.

Mom/Chef: dinner last night

Found a three pound-ish chunk of pork shoulder in the freezer the other day and pulled it out to defrost. Yesterday afternoon when baby went down for a nap, I decided to get some dinner done. Now normally I would go Mexican with this and make carnitas, but the veggies I have lying around speak less of Mexico and more of Provence. So I seasoned the pork well on all sides with salt and pepper and got some oil screaming hot in my favorite pan, a Le Creuset knock-off from IKEA that works amazing on stews and roasts. I browned the pork on all sides, then deglazed with some white wine. Added some chicken stock and water to come ¾ of the way up the sides of the roast, threw in some sliced onion and celery, a big thyme sprig, a bay leaf and a couple of whole pepper corns. Then I slapped the lid on and threw it in the oven at 275 F.

After two hours of cooking I threw in some parsnips and carrots and put it back in for another two hours. When I could poke at the pork and have it fall to bits I pulled it from the oven, spooned the meat and vegetables out and placed the pan back on the stovetop over medium-high heat. In a small bowl I mashed up about 3 Tablespoons of flour with two tablespoons of bacon drippings (butter would have also worked) and stirred this into the bubbling liquid. This simmered five minutes until it thickened up into a light gravy, got some salt and pepper added to it and then I hit it with some sherry vinegar (red wine or white wine vinegar would also have worked but I was out of both) and the meat and veggies were dumped back in along with some roasted baby beets I had in the fridge. The end result? Provencal Roast Pork with root veg.

It turned out great, really good flavor and tender pork. The only problem? The beets turned the sauce bright red. Maybe I will heat those on the side next time. The best part? Tonight, leftovers!

Monday, September 6, 2010


Not Aunt, though I am one of those too, but ant as in the grasshoper and the ant. I love cooking and putting away food for the winter, it makes me feel all warm and cozy-like inside. So, my husband had the last two days off, and while it may sound like the last thing a chef would want to do on their day off, we spent today cooking. Yesterday's CSA box came with a ton of vegetables and the realization that we still had stuff in the fridge from last week. Today we cleaned the house, took the dogs for a walk, and when the baby went down for a nap we got down to some serious cooking. We have made two types of ravioli: one with a swiss chard and homemeade ricotta filling and one with a zucchini-chicken filling.
Swiss Chard Ravioli waiting to go into the freezer.

These plus the big batch of pesto I made will mean there are several easy meals in the freezer, a must when you are wrangling a four month old.  A couple bunches of beets have been roasted and frozen. We also have a big pot of chicken broth on the stove, using up a couple of chicken carcasses I had in the freezer and a bunch of the extra bits of our vegetables, such as carrot tops, leek tops, onions skins, celery trimmings, etc. We are making leek and new potato soup tonight, something easy after all the cooking of the last two days. It seems like a busy weekend, but it has been fun. My husband and I met in the kitchen and worked together there until the baby came.Cooking continues to be a shared passion for us and something we enjoy doing together. Plus, it makes me feel like a very prosperous ant to see my freezer stocked full of yummy summer goodness.

Last night we had Pho for dinner which used up a lot of herbs (cilantro, basil, mint) plus the last of a roast chicken I had. Pho is my favorite version of chicken noodle soup and pretty easy to do if fish sauce and rice noodles are pantry staples for you.

Swiss Chard Ravioli Filling
1 bunch swiss chard, leaves and stems chopped separately
1 bunch kale, leaves chopped stems discarded
1 bunch beet tops, leaves and stems chopped separately
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 cup ricotta cheese, hommemade or store bought
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, grated
1/4 cup grated parm
salt and pepper
In a large saute pan heat some olive oil, add shallot and cook 1 minute. Add chard and beet stems and a pinch of salt cook until they start to soften. Add red pepper flakes, garlic, chopped greens and another pinch of salt, cook until greens are thouroughly wilted and all the moisture is cooked out. Spread on a plate and place in fridge to cool. When the greens are cool, place in a bowl with the cheeses and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste and use to fill ravioli. You can use store bought or homemade pasta sheets.
Ravioli in progress.

Zucchini and chicken Raviloi

1 boneless skinless chicken breast, minced or ground in food processor
1/2 onion, grated
1 zucchini, grated and moisture squeezed out
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 sprig thyme
splash of white wine
1 cup ricotta cheese, hommemade or store bought

1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, grated
1/4 cup grated parm
salt and pepper
2 tbsp. fresh basil, torn

In large skillet, heat some olive oil and add chicken a pinch of salt and sprig of thyme. Cook until chicken is cooked through, scrape into bowl and set aside. Add some more oil to the skillet and add the zucchini, onion, garlic and another pinch of salt. Cook until vegeatbles are softened and starting to brown, about five minutes. Add the wine to the pan and add back in the chicken. Stir everything together and scrape any browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Spread on a plate and place in fridge to cool. When the filling is cool, place in a bowl with the cheeses and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir in the basil then use to fill ravioli.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Mom/Hairstylist: What not to do

So I went from working full time to being a stay at home mom this year, and while my husband still works all those great twelve hour days in the kitchen, those of you who know the industry know you do it for love, not money. Needless to say we are on a budget, luckily for me I like making things from scratch and being a little DIY. Unfortunately, hair cutting should not be one of those things. My bangs were getting too long, and I figured it wouldn't be too hard to trim them up a little and save myself the money for a haircut. Long story short, epic fail. My bangs are now too short and uneven to boot. I am trying the theory that brightly colored headbands distract from bangs gone horribly awry. While I will continue with many of my DIY projects, hair cutting isn't one of them.

Mom/Chef: dinner last night

This is, I hope, what a lot of my posts will be about because food is a huge, consuming passion for me. (Yes, I know how cheesy that sounds) Dinner last night, thrown together between bouts of baby fussiness, was sauteed vegetables over cous-cous. Easy, versatile and I won't bother posting a recipe except to say that I used zucchini, onions, garlic, peppers and some yellow wax beans I had hanging around. The trick is to stir in cilantro and mint at the end, and sprinkle on the feta of course. But what was really amazing was this little dish I threw together as a side.
I had picked up a couple of beautiful Japanese eggplant at the farmer's market on Sunday and remembered seeing a recipe that I had wanted to try in the July/August edition of Food Network Magazine.
Sidenote: as a chef and food snob, I was totally prepared to hate this magazine, I thought it would be a list of what celebrity chefs were doing and whatnot. But when I was in the hospital giving birth to my son, my sister-in-law brought me a copy and I am happy to say I was wrong. There are of course the celebrity chef bits, but there are also a ton of great recipes. This was one of them.
Back to the post, I threw it together the other day and tried it last night, and now can highly recommend it to you. I give you:
Stuffed Eggplant with Walnuts
From: July/August 2010 Food Network Magazine. Posted without permission
1/2 cup bulgur
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 Japanese eggplants, halved lengthwise
2/3 cup walnut pieces
1/2 small red onion, roughly chopped (I used a sweet onion instead, it worked fine)
1 stalk celery, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 cup fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons fresh tarragon
1 teaspoon ground coriander
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar (I used tarragon vinegar)
crumbled feta cheese
Put the bulgur in a bowl, add 1/4 tsp. salt and 1 cup boiling water. Cover and let sit until the water is absorbed and bulgur is cooked, about 15 minutes. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Lay the eggplant halves in the skillet, sprinkle with salt, place another skillet on top and press down adding a couple of cans for weight. Cook 6 minutes. Remove the skillet and cans, flip the eggplant, sprinkle with more salt and recover and cook another 5 minutes. They should be golden brown and flat. (If you don't use enough oil the eggplant will stick) Transfer to a plate to cool.
Put the vegetables and walnuts in a food processor and pulse until they go from coarsely chopped to finely chopped. Add the herbs, ground coriander 1 tsp. salt and some black pepper and pulse until smooth. Add bulgur and vinegar and pulse once or twice to combine. Spread this mixture on one half of the eggplant and sandwich with the other half. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill at least one hour, though chilling overnight didn't seem to harm it any. Serve with crumbled feta and a drizzle of olive oil. I found that a squeeze of lemon juice really brightens it up though, so add that too.


So this is the inaugural post of Mom/... my blog on life and everything that goes along with it. Hopefully I will be able to not only keep up on it but also make it interesting enough to keep people tuned in. I play a lot of different roles in my life and I hope to use this blog to explore those roles as well as chat about all the things I find fascinating and want to share. I am definitely a blog lurker, I have read many blogs and envied their authors, but never taken the blog plunge myself. So, without further ado, here goes nothing!