Twenty-eighth new recipe

I’ve tried a bunch of recipes from Noble Pig’s food blog with great results just about every time. For example, I can’t say enough about the cider-glazed sausages that I made twice last week! Unfortunately this recipe wasn’t quite as successful. It was pretty easy to make, which I appreciated, and the soup smelled delicious as it was simmering, but I’m just not crazy about the end result. Maybe it was the wine flavor (I’m in the minority of people who don’t drink – I just don’t like the taste of alcohol) or the type of cheese (I think adding another kind along with the cheddar would have helped), but there was something unpalatable about this soup. It wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, though. Dan and I eat ate a bowl for lunch last Sunday and we discovered that it was infinitely better with bread, but still not worth a repeat performance. There’s a Corningware container full of white cheddar cheese soup in our refrigerator right now, but I have a feeling it’s going to be thrown out rather than eaten as leftovers. Too bad. This will not deter me from trying other recipes from Noble Pig, however, because I’ve found so many delicious ones on her blog. I’m especially fond of her Ranch Mac and Cheese!

1/4 c unsalted butter
1 c yellow onion, diced small
1/2 c celery, diced small
1 tsp minced garlic
1/4 c all-purpose flour
2 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground white pepper
1/2 c dry white wine (I used Chardonnay…from a box)
1 1/2 c chicken broth
1 1/2 c whole milk
1-1/2 c heavy cream
12 oz white Cheddar cheese, grated

Saute onion and celery in butter in a large pot over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Add garlic and saute 1 minute more. Stir in flour to coat the vegetables. Add dry mustard, salt, and white pepper. Stir constantly for 2 minutes to prevent scorching. Whisk in wine – the mixture will be clumpy. Then whisk in broth, milk, and cream, scraping the bottom of the pot. Bring soup to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cheese. Continue stirring until cheese is completely melted. Transfer to individual serving bowls. Enjoy!

Based on Noble Pig’s White Cheddar Cheese Soup.

It’s Friday again

I love Friday afternoons. I spent a very intense eight hours at work today finishing a document I’ve been working on for months so it was such a relief to leave today. Dan and I spent the evening eating frozen pizza for dinner (giving my culinary aspirations the night off) and watching our Blu-ray copy of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1.” What a great movie. The beginning is so moving, especially when Hermione is wiping her parent’s memory. I can’t wait for Part 2 to come out this summer, although I really wish I’d read the book more recently so I could remember the story better. Last night wasn’t much different than tonight except I actually cooked and we watched Game 2 of the NBA Western Conference Finals instead of a movie. The Dallas vs. Oklahoma City games are much more exciting than any of the Laker playoff games, and they’re easier much more relaxing to watch because I don’t really care who wins. My dad always said he wanted whoever beat him in a tennis tournament to win it all because that way he’d have lost to the best player in the draw. I don’t know if I feel that way about Dallas, but they sure are a fun team to watch. Last night’s dinner was a reprise of cider-glazed sausages, this time made with a less sweet Hilshire Farm chicken sausage and served over brown rice. It was really good, if I do say so myself. I cooked the rice in apple cider so it tied the two components of the dish together. I love cooking rice in juice because it gives it such an interesting flavor. If you haven’t tried it before, orange juice and pineapple juice work really well. As far as the weekend goes, tomorrow night Dan and I have dinner reservations at Border Grill in Santa Monica, which is partly owned by one of the contestants on this year’s “Top Chef Masters” (the other owner was actually on the previous season of the show). Dan and I love to watch new episodes of Top Chef every Wednesday so we’re excited to be eating at one of the restaurants we’ve heard about on it. Border Grill is a Mexican restaurant which means that a lot of the dishes are going to be too spicy for me, but the menu just looked too mouthwatering to pass up. I’ll let you know how our meal goes. But for now it’s late and I need to be getting to bed. Dan is going out of town on Sunday so I have to make the most of my Saturday with him! Good night!

Thankful Thursday

My gratitude list last week made me feel so good that I think I’m going to write one every Thursday. I know quite a few blogs have “Thankful Thursday” posts so I’m glad to be picking up on this trend. Spending time thinking about all of the things I’m grateful for is such a great exercise. I always feel better about the world afterwards. So what am I grateful for today?

1) My husband. Even though he was half asleep this morning when I left for work he still smiled at me and kissed me goodbye.
2) Half days at work. I only needed to work four hours today to round out my week (our pay periods end on Thursday) so I got as much done as I could in the morning and left at lunchtime. This made me feel giddy and a little bit guilty. I have so much to do at work, but I’m really enjoying spending the afternoon at home. Especially since it’s quiet today, unlike last Friday when the street outside my house was being torn up.
3) Grocery shopping in the middle of the day. It’s stress free, the checkout lines are short, and the store actually has a better selection because the after work crowd hasn’t picked over everything yet.
4) Hummus and chips for lunch. I seriously need to branch out.
5) Watching trashy TV. I hate to admit it, but I watched several episodes of “Real Housewives of Orange County” after I got home today. It’s like watching a train wreck! It’s one of my guilty pleasures – mindless and relaxing.
6) Homemade cookies. My second batch of 5 Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies didn’t turn out as well as the first one, probably because I used generic grocery store brand peanut butter rather than the pricier Laura Scudder’s. The cookies still taste good, but the texture is a little…off. Next time I’ll fork over the extra $1.50 for the good peanut butter.
7) Leisurely housework. I love having tons of time to get things done. All of the dishes are washed, laundry is in progress, and dinner is on the stove. I feel good!
8) Meal planning. While not all of my new recipes turn out that well, I love picking them out and planning to make them. Dan is going out of town again next week and I need to select a few new recipes to try while he’s gone. I’m like a mad scientist, except in the kitchen rather than of a laboratory.
9) Everyone who reads my inane daily ramblings. I can’t believe that today is the 139th day of 2011 and when I hit publish this will be my 139th post of the year. Crazy. But evern more than that, I can’t believe anyone would read all of the stuff I write! Bless you all!
10) Fridays! I have a feeling this is going to be the last item on every gratitude list.

Twenty-seventh new recipe

There is officially no more peanut butter in the house. I found a half-full jar of crunchy peanut butter that was who knows how old so I put it to good use – making peanut butter bars! I used to make a version of these delicious no-bake treats when I lived in Tallahassee. I even garnered a marriage proposal from one of my guy friends when I was sixteen because of them. I remember a boy I had a crush on walking around with a whole plate full of them at some high school function, which made me hopeful, but he didn’t like me nearly as much as the peanut butter bars. I need to get my mom to send me the recipe that we used back then because the one I tried this weekend just doesn’t measure up. I never remember using graham cracker crumbs before and I think that’s definitely what makes my recent batch of peanut butter bars so bland. A couple of similar recipes online use graham cracker crumbs as well, but much less than the one I made. Whatever it is, I’m just not a fan of this particular recipe. My co-workers were very appreciative when I brought two plates of them on Monday, though. They were gobbled up very quickly. I will revisit this recipe when I get the tried-and-true version from my mom. I’m really looking forward to making those!

1/2 c butter, melted
1 1/4 c graham cracker crumbs
1 c peanut butter (I used chunky)
1 1/2 c powdered sugar
1 c milk chocolate chips

In a medium bowl, stir together melted butter, graham cracker crumbs, peanut butter, and powdered sugar. You might have to use your hands to incorporate all of the dry ingredients. Press the mixture firmly into the bottom of an 8×8″ pan. Melt chocolate chips in the microwave (about 1 min on HIGH), stirring occasionally. Spread melted chocolate over the peanut butter base. Chill for about 15 minutes in the fridge, then cut into bars before the chocolate is completely set. Return the pan to the fridge until ready to serve. Enjoy!

Based on The Girl Who Ate Everything’s Reeses Bars.

And relax

Woohoo! That should tell you that my event went relatively well today. There were a few hiccups, but nothing that prevented us from declaring it a success. And I couldn’t be happier. Today was another ten-hour workday, but when it was over I went home, got directly into bed, and took a nap. It was wonderful. Dan and I had a ballroom dance lesson tonight so we just got home. Luckily I don’t have to get up before 5 AM again tomorrow so it’s OK that I’m staying up a little later than usual. I still have to get to work at a decent hour so I can get my thoughts together before we have a lessons learned meeting for my event, though. My boss was practically pushing me out the door this afternoon to make sure I didn’t work too many extra hours this week. Actually, I won’t have any as long as I can figure out how to take half a day off later in the week. I’m not sure if that’s going to transpire considering how much work I have to do, but I’m still going to try. In other news, I’ve been remiss in my cooking so far this week so I really need to make something for dinner tomorrow night. Not a clue what I’m going to cook, but it will probably involve pasta. The cheese soup I made on Sunday (which I will devote a separate post to) didn’t turn out that well so, besides the leftover pizza in the fridge, there isn’t anything for me to fall back on for dinner. I think some pasta with browned butter sauce sounds good. If only it wasn’t so late I’d make some right now! For now Dan and I are going to watch an episode of “No Reservations” and then go to bed. The morning is going to come too soon, but at least I’ll be able to sleep soundly.

Quiet Monday night

Remember that event at work that I wrote about last Wednesday? Well, it’s been rescheduled for tomorrow. Cue my stress level rising again. The good news is that I was pretty prepared last week so there wasn’t a whole lot more that needed to be done today. I still spent ten hours at work, though. I’m going in early tomorrow to finish getting my handouts and presentations ready too. I’ll be glad when this event is over. I don’t have any reason to believe that it will go badly, but it will be nice to have it behind me. Some sort of disaster notwithstanding I will start my post tomorrow with a “Woohoo!” Dan went to a wine tasting class with some of his co-workers tonight so I’ve had the house to myself for a few hours since I got home. I was hoping to leave work earlier today, but there was just too much to do. Once I got here I warmed up the leftover cider-glazed sausage for dinner (for the record, it isn’t really a microwave-friendly dish) with an appetizer of chips and hummus. Yum. I’ve been on a hummus kick lately. I wasn’t always a fan of it, but with the addition of garlic or red pepper I’m addicted to the chickpea spread. While I would have loved to end my meal with a couple of the delicious peanut butter cookies I made on Friday (seriously, you have to try that recipe), they were just too good to survive the weekend. Dan and I ate the leftovers yesterday while watching basketball. (It’s much less stressful watching the NBA playoffs when your team is already out. R.I.P 2010-2011 Lakers.) While eating I watched the second and final disc of the Emma miniseries and loved it. What a wonderful production. I believe the next movie Dan and I are going to get from Netflix is Lethal Weapon 4. What does it say about me that I’m just as excited to watch that as I was to watch Emma? I’m not going to worry about how strange that makes me right now because it’s after 10 PM and I need to be getting to bed. I finished a really great book last night, The Light by D. J. MacHale, and now I’m stuck reading another library book that I don’t like nearly as well. I suppose that means I won’t stay up too late reading it like I did with the previous book. Goodnight everyone. Wish me luck tomorrow!

Twenty-sixth new recipe

Sausage, yummy sausage! I’m pretty much addicted to Aidell’s brand sausages. I serve the sun-dried tomato variety with our favorite garlic and basil pasta for dinner fairly often, but several of the other varieties are mouthwatering as well. Last week I had it in mind to make this recipe for cider-glazed sausages one night for dinner, but when Dan picked out bratwurst from the refrigerated meat case at the grocery store I decided to postpone. I figured that a package of Aidell’s pineapple and bacon sausage (that I like but Dan doesn’t) would be better suited for a cider glaze, so guess what I made for lunch yesterday? And it was soooooo good! I ate the sausage and onions alone which was really good, but next time I’ll serve it over rice to soak up more of the delicious sauce. I’ll probably use a more savory sausage next time too because the final product was pretty sweet and I think only someone with a voracious sweet tooth equal to my own would approve. This recipe in incredibly simple so it’s perfect for a weeknight dinner, plus the cider glaze is genious so I’ll definitely be making this dish again, with a couple of minor tweaks, when Dan gets back in town.

2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 large yellow onion, cut into 1″ wedges
1 lb chicken sausages (I actually just used 12 oz)
7-10 fresh sage leaves
3 c apple cider
Salt and pepper 

In a large skillet, cook onion and sausages in oil over medium heat until sausages are deep golden brown, turning sausages and stirring onion occasionally. Add sage leaves and cider to the skillet, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a rapid simmer (medium to medium-high heat). Cook until cider is syrupy and coats the back of a spoon, about 30 minutes (mine took 40 minutes). To maximize the sauciness of each bite I sliced up my sausages and returned them to the skillet about 10 minutes before the cooking time was up. Enjoy! 

Based on Noble Pig’s Cider-Glazed Chicken Sausages.

Jane Austen

Emma (2009 BBC mini-series)
When I found out that Dan was going camping this weekend I organized our Netflix queue accordingly – meaning that the first disc of the BBC Emma mini-series that I heard about while watching the Golden Globes arrived on Wednesday. So on Thursday night when I had the house to myself I curled up on the couch under a fleece blanket and watched the first half of Emma. I can’t say enough good things about this production. It’s such a wonderfully intricate story and Michael Gambon is just great as Mr. Woodhouse. I sent Disc 1 back to Netflix yesterday morning so I’m hoping to get Disc 2 and watch the rest of Emma soon. I have to admit that I tried reading the Jane Austen book a long time ago, but I found it boring (which is odd since I love Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility). However, after watching the first half of the mini-series last night I downloaded the free version of the book on my Kindle (because my paperback copy is still in Tallahassee) to give it another try.

Clueless (1995)
This movie epitomized teen culture in the mid-nineties. I was actually in high school when it came out so I should know (although my school was about as far from Los Angeles as you can get). I’m sure I saw this movie in the theater with my girlfriends and I probably still have the ticket somewhere in Tallahassee to prove it. After watching Emma on Thursday night, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Clueless was on television yesterday when I got home from work so I watched it while typing up my daily webpage post. I realize that it’s pretty dated, but it’s still an entertaining movie. I’m young enough to remember the social politics that was high school, and no matter how much I like watching Clueless, I’m glad I’m not a part of that drama any more! I would love to own a few of the dresses that Cher wears, though, especially that red one at the Valley party. Classic. And Clueless is full of great quotes. Here’s my favorite one:

“So okay, I don’t want to be a traitor to my generation and all but I don’t get how guys dress today. I mean, come on, it looks like they just fell out of bed and put on some baggy pants and take their greasy hair – ew – and cover it up with a backwards cap and like, we’re expected to swoon? I don’t think so.”

Emma (1996)
I hated this movie the first time I saw it, maybe due to my dislike of Gwyneth Paltrow, but since I saw that it was available on Netflix Instant I decided to give it another try. Plus, it was a good diversion while I waited for the second disc of the Emma mini-series to arrive. I have to admit that the movie is not as bad as I originally thought, but it can’t hold a candle to the BBC production. I’m not sure any movie can stand on its own two feet when there’s a BBC version to compare it to, though. While I still don’t like Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma (she just didn’t portray the character’s trademark combination of charity and conceit, a duality that makes her so interesting), I thought Alan Cumming was great as Mr. Elton and Juliet Stevenson (who you may remember as Keira Knightly’s mother in Bend It Like Beckham) was brilliant in her cameo role as Mrs. Elton. Her quote to end the movie really wrapped it up in the best possible way.

“I do not profess to be an expert in the field of fashion (though my friends say I have quite the eye) but I can tell you, there is a shocking lack of satin!”

Twenty-fifth new recipe

As I’ve said before, peanut butter is awesome. I always have half-used jars of various kinds of peanut butter in the cabinet, usually left over from one cooking endeavor or another. But besides the yummy peanut butter blondies I made last month, I have failed at other attempts at peanut butter-flavored treats. I’m drying to find a good peanut butter cookie recipe, so when I saw this recipe for 5 ingredient peanut butter cookies I knew I had to try it. These are about as simple as they come – mix ingredients together in a bowl, plop spoonfuls on a cookie sheet, and bake. Delicious! Plus, I got to finish off a jar of natural peanut butter that I bought to make sauce for Thai chicken pizza a while ago. These cookies are insanely delicious and I suspect you could use any kind of peanut butter to make them. And the chocolate chips are probably optional. I’m still on the hunt for a recipe for those sugar-coated and criss-crossed classic peanut butter cookies, but until I find them these will do nicely!

1 c peanut butter (I used creamy natural peanut butter)
1 c firmly packed brown sugar (I used dark)
1 egg
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 c milk chocolate chips

Stir together all ingredients in a medium bowl. Using a spoon and your fingers, form 1 to 1 1/2 inch balls (dough will be wet and sticky) and flatten slightly onto a cookie sheet (I used a silpat because I hate it when cookies stick, but nonstick aluminum foil works too) about 2 in apart. Bake at 350 deg for 9 minutes. Let the cookies cool for a couple of minutes before moving them to a wire rack. Eat warm or at room temperature. Enjoy!

Based on The Girl Who Ate Everything’s 5 Ingredient Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Thankful for today

Here’s what I’m thankful for today:
1) My husband. When I called him from work way too early this morning and woke him up he was sweet enough to agree to leave a spare house key under the welcome mat because I forgot to bring mine with me today. I’m sorry baby! You’re wonderful!
2) My work. Despite the long hours and occasional frustration, I am incredibly thankful to have a job that challenges me and is fulfilling more often than not. It really is my dream job. Paying the bills is nice too!
3) My husband’s car. As nervous as I am driving it, our little family would have a hard time functioning with just one car. Los Angeles just isn’t conducive to it. It helps that the M3 is fun to drive after you get comfortable in it.
4) My house. You know, the place where I’m lounging on a couch, watching TV, and writing this very post right now? That’s it. My personal oasis. I’m so grateful to have a house to come home to after work every day with only the outlying threats of earthquakes and tsunamis to worry about.
5) The weekend. This week has been crazy so far so I’m looking forward to relaxing this weekend. Cooking, reading, watching TV, etc. Unfortunately I have to clean the house this weekend too, but it’s a necessary evil of home ownership.
6) Clif Bars. In my opinion they’re the best on-the-go meal option out there. Having one or two Clif Bars in my work bag gives me all the nourishment I need for a long day at work, especially when I’m tied to my desk and don’t have time to go out to lunch.
7) Diet soda. It’s not just for breakfast anymore. It was my breakfast this morning, though. I needed the caffeine to wake me up!
8) My co-worker who told me that my hair looked like spun gold this morning. What a great compliment!
9) Cool weather. I love opening the windows in my house or my car and feeling a cool breeze. I also love wearing my Gator sweatshirts to work on Fridays and cool weather in Los Angeles allows me to do that almost all year long.
10) Fridays! Enough said!

Many thanks to my friend Jamie for her wonderful writing that’s constantly reminding me to sit down and think about everything that I’m thankful for!