Archive | December, 2012

Brats versus onion breath

15 Dec

That’s right.  Brats on one side, onion (and a wee bit of garlic…if there is such a thing as a wee bit!) breath on the other.  Decisions decisions!  As a foodie, this is the never ending battle.  Food versus breath.  Blue cheese breath only works if you are talking to other blue cheese eating folks all night.  Onions are another offender.  Double offense as this has some hang time with our breath, as well as a being a solid gas producer.  You get the picture.

As a foodie, I happen to be a chronic tooth brusher and self breath tester.  I am a big fan of mints too.  As much as I love great food, I am aware that while socializing with friends or anticipating a possible  romantic moment, good breath is a must.  But when you enjoy good food, lets face it.  There is the possibility that our breath can become unpleasant sometimes.  Fresh breath is fantastic, but it isn’t realistic after certain food indulgences.  So do you indulge in good food knowing that bad(ish) breath is almost certain to follow?  Heck yes!

I am an eastern European mix, but raised mostly influenced by my german heritage.  And I was raised in Chicago, a city with proud ethnic diversity and celebrations.  Brats were one of the basic food groups of my youth.  And, of course, where there are sausages-or most any protein for that matter- in any german influenced kitchen, you have sauerkraut.  How delightful!

Brats, in the home of my youth and now the home of my children, are cooked first in German beer and onions.  They simmer on the stove top, filling the house with the most amazing earthy scents.  The house smells like brats, onions, yeasty beer, savory herbs.  The delicious steamy aroma of this cooking stops one in their tracks, and taking a moment to just breath deeply is involuntary. Your head drifts back, nostrils flair, eyes drape closed, and a satisfying moan might even escape as the senses are treated to these aromas!

After bubbling in the kitchen for a bit, the pot of brats is then ceremoniously taken out to the grill.  Popping the brats onto a piping hot grill creates quite another gift for the senses. Loud sizzling, satisfying smoke wafting off the grill, and nose twanging scents float through the air.  Black grill lines begin to appear, adding to the immense satisfaction of cooking these sausages.  While these are cooking, sauerkraut is quickly heated, buns steamed, and a plethora of mustards stand at the ready as the perfect accoutrement to the brat.  Aaahhh!  Major yum!

Ah yes.  Back to the bad(ish) breath. Can’t eat this without the casualty of altered breath, and probably even a solid belch or two.  But it’s oh so satisfying!  Totally worth it in my book!  It’s the never ending dilemma for any one that loves good authentically prepared food.  Eat a marshmallow and there is no party foul.  Eat an oniony brat, your gonna pay.  But go for it anyway.  Grab the Altoids, a piece of gum, or simply giggle in a charming manner and ask your companions to excuse you.  Better yet, make these for your friends.  After all, a skunk can’t smell himself.  Eat fantastic (albeit offensive) food with friends.  Then your all in it together!   Let me show you my brats in picture story form.  Then you too will choose onion breath!

Brats simmering in beer and onions.  Prick the brats with a fork first so they don't explode.

Brats simmering in beer and onions. Prick the brats with a fork first so they don’t explode.

Brats go onto the grill!  Look at those grill lines!  Great job Denis!

Brats go onto the grill! Look at those grill lines!

Steam or grill those buns!

Steam or grill those buns!

While the brats are cooking, heat  up that sauer kraut!

While the brats are cooking, heat up that sauerkraut!

Grab some mustard!  Do not leave those brats naked!

Yikes! Grab some mustard! Do not leave those brats naked!

Oh yeah!  There you go!  A loaded brat!  Grab a beer, some potato salad, and enjoy!

Oh yeah! There you go! A loaded brat! Grab a beer, some potato salad, and enjoy!

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The story of my sister and the Vodka Cream Sauce

13 Dec

True confession. I love vodka cream sauce. Emphasis on the cream. And it took me forever to find a recipe for home-made sauce that I loved. I have shared it here on this blog. Had I known that finding just the right recipe was closer than I ever thought, my quest would have been much shorter. Who knew that I would find the perfect recipe from my big sister? I should have known. My sister has always been a steady source of wonderful things my entire life. She has been my confidant, my cheerleader, my wailing wall, my late night phone buddy, someone to giggle endlessly with, and my best friend. My mom grew up without a sister and said that when she had a girl, she knew she wanted another. She wanted her daughter to have a sister. And mom knows best..my big sister (and her family) are a huge blessing in my life. I am forever grateful for her. And never more so than when she shared her vodka cream sauce recipe with me. Not really, but props to her!

Here is the twist in this story though.  There has been a modification to her totally yummy recipe. When my sister was visiting (we live in different cities), we went to lunch at a wonderful authentic Italian bistro. It is a small place with all home-made pasta and sauces. Great wine. White table clothes. It’s the type of place that you want to pull out your elastic waisted pants to go! The food is that good! They should put a “warning-food coma may occur” sign on the door! Sometimes when I have a dish that I love, I will order it out. I like to see other approaches to the same dish. The lunch date with my sister was the perfect opportunity to do this.

I ordered home-made tortellini with vodka cream sauce. I just HAD to taste it! (and I knew my sister would not be able to resist poking her fork across the table onto my plate). The vodka cream sauce resembled ours (see how I took possession of her great sauce? I am shameless!). It was a similar color to the sauce that we made. It was the same consistency. Clearly we were on the right track with our home-made sauce. The vodka cream sauce was every bit as good as our home-made version, but there was a secret ingredient that we loved. Could we identify it?

We tasted, we licked, we talked, we rolled our eyes up to the sky deep in thoughtful consideration as we pondered the surprise flavor. And I think we did it. Our discerning palate and fine intellectual discussion rendered the information we were seeking. The secret ingredient was roasted red peppers. Even though we could not get a firm answer from the chef, and believe me we tried, my sister and I were in agreement. And we decided to toss this secret item into our next batch of vodka cream sauce. We both thought it added a very nice delicate layer of flavor to the sauce. We also discussed how to add the ingredient. To puree it prior to adding it, or just give it a rough chop? Both, we cited with strong conviction!  Puree some and chop some. And we decided to add it more toward the end of the cooking process. So here goes!  We put our eatin’ pants on and got to work!

The results were fabulous. Two thumbs up (or should I say twelve??) from the six folks around my dinner table. But this is how it happens….great recipes. You develop them, share them, then continue to seek to improve them. True, though, that at some point you stop improving and keep it how it is. My mom’s meatloaf is a case in point. So is our vodka cream sauce.  But I still enjoy trying other versions of the same dish regardless. But of course, I just enjoy eating…especially with my sister!

Beauty from the inside out!

13 Dec

Wrinkle creams. Facial toner. Skin cleansing systems. Acne wash. Its everywhere! We are constantly barraged by beauty products to make our pores smaller, our skin radiant, and wrinkles disappear when you use them. It’s a miracle!  Really? I say put that beauty cream down. I have something better!

I can state the obvious with saying that fruits and vegetables are good for you because they are packed with vitamins and minerals. They have beneficial fiber, and most of us probably need to eat more of them. We already know that. But surprise! Guess what else they are packed with? Beauty! You see, food contains essential nutrients for good health. But here’s the secret. Food has benefits that don’t fall into a “category”. Fruits and vegetables have lots of health benefits. But they also have benefits that don’t fall into a “nutrient” category. Let me explain.

Have you been to the beach or a northern climate and seen rust on the cars? It is a corrosive reaction. Rust eats away metal through oxidation, which is a chemical reaction that occurs when oxygen is present. An example of rapid oxidation is something burning. Slow oxidation is rust. As you know, our atmosphere has oxygen, and it comes in contact with our skin. That’s right. You guessed it. The cells in our skin break down, or “oxidize”, leading to wrinkles. Dryness. Spots. How can we fight that?

Back to fruits and vegetables. How do they help keep our skin beautiful? The pigment, or color, in fruits and vegetables have antioxidant properties. That’s right. They fight oxidation, so they are fantastic for our skin. Here is my challenge to you. Eat 5 colors a day though your fruits and vegetables, and you will see a lovely change in your skin. Elasticity. Radiance. There are so many health benefits to fruits and vegetables, but making skin prettier is number one in my book.

How do you get 5 colors a day? I have a few suggestions. Fruit and vegetable colors to choose from daily are green, red, blue/purple, yellow, orange, and white. So in 1 day, you can have strawberries, carrots, a salad with lettuces and tomatoes, cauliflower or a pear, and some grapes. There you go. Easy! And when these are out of season, go for the frozen food section. I have frozen berries in my freezer all winter long. I add them to yogurt or a smoothie for a fresh snack.

Get 5 colors a day into your diet and your skin will thank you! Eating more fruits and vegetables has other benefits. As mentioned earlier, increasing these in your diet will increase your fiber, which is a great thing. Most americans do not hit the recommended 25-30 grams of fiber adults need in their diet daily.

Also, fruits and veggies have lots of water. If you are one of the folks that don’t drink enough water, this is a great way to increase your hydration, which is also great for your skin. Proper hydration increases elasticity and tone, so if you don’t drink your water, get it through fruits and vegetables!

Eating 5 colors a day is not only great for you, but it is a wonderful way to introduce new foods to your family. It increases your nutrients and fiber, plus it is a super easy way to begin a healthy habit for both your self and your family that can last a lifetime. Not only is it a fantastic change for any busy moms diet, it is an easy way to think about getting the essential fruits and veggies you need every day.

Adding variety and counting your colors will promote healthy eating for your family in a fun way that is easy to remember. And let’s face it. It is easier to remind your sometimes emotional and moody teen (I used to be one and currently have 3 of them!) what colors to eat instead of telling them to eat more fruits and veggies. Get beautiful from the inside out. Start eating more colors, and you can throw those expensive beauty creams away!

Refrigerator Cook-II (The sequel)

10 Dec

Ok.  Here is another recipe from my pantry and refrigerator.   Super easy, delicious, and healthy.

Tomato Basil Soup

  • 2 T. butter
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 3  28 ounce cans plum tomatoes
  • 14 ounce can chicken broth
  • 4 ounce can V-8
  • 4 T. dried basil
  • 1 t. red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in skillet and add olive oil.  When bubbling and hot, add the onion and garlic.  Saute for 3-4 minutes.

add onions and garlic.

add onions and garlic.

Add can of chicken broth and let cook down for 5 minutes, stirring twice.  Add the cans of tomatoes, V-8, red pepper flakes, and 2 T. dried basil.  With medium heat under the pot, let the soup bubble.  Turn the heat down a bit, but allow the soup to continue to bubble for 30 minutes.  Stir occasionally.

Let the soup start to simmer and bubble.

Let the soup start to simmer and bubble.

Now that the soup has simmered and reduced, its time to mix the soup up.  This will make the consistency change from chunky to smooth and creamy.  I use a stick blender, but you can also use a blender.  Be very careful and mindful of the hot liquid that you are blending up.  Take it slow so it doesn’t splatter.

I use my stick blender for a million things.  Making soup is certainly one of them

I use my stick blender for a million things. Making soup is certainly one of them

Take this opportunity to adjust your seasonings.  Add the remainder of the basil, or more to taste if you prefer.  Also, add salt and pepper to taste.  Let the soup simmer for another 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Then serve!  It is an easy soup and made straight from things you already have on hand!  I garnish with croutons and fresh parmesan cheese.

Delish!  Eat up!

Delish! Eat up!

I usually serve this soup with a grilled cheese sandwich or a tuna fish sandwich.  A glass of red wine doesn’t hurt either!  This is another one of my “refrigerator cook” creations…straight from the pantry.  As promised in my last blog, I will help you build your fridge and pantry so you too can pull things out and start creating!  I have a page attached that has a list for you to start your pantry building.  I will be adding to it and changing it, so take a peek at it every now and again.  Start having fun in the kitchen!

Refrigerator cook

7 Dec

I was recently called a “refrigerator cook”.  Everyone who knows me knows how much I love to cook.  I have taken oodles of cooking classes.  I have attended  all sorts of classes, from Le Cordon Bleu to local celebrity chef classes.  I have been cooking my whole life.  I love food, I love the socializing that happens around meals, I love healthy cooking, and I love bringing family together with celebrations of food.  But a refrigerator cook?  Whats that?

I am told that I have a talent for opening up the refrigerator and pantry and coming up with something fantastic.  Whether it is an appetizer or a whole meal, I seem to be able to pull something yummy together.  And I have a blast doing it.  What let to my label of being a newly crowned refrigerator cook?  Recently, it was my Saturday afternoon football watching bar food.  Here’s what happened.

After a morning of running errands, we came home hungry.  We turned on college football, and unloaded from the errands.  I looked in the fridge to see what I could throw together.  What is better than bar food for a Saturday afternoon?  I pulled out leftover chicken taco meat, cheese, flour tortillas, a can of black beans, some fresh cilantro, salsa, and sour cream.

Next, I pulled my big skillet and put it on the stove.  I warmed up the taco meat in the microwave.  While that was heating, I sliced some delicious cheese and chopped up a bit of cilantro.  I turned the burner on under the pan and sprayed it with non stick cooking spray.  Then I started layering up my quesadillas.  Meat, beans, salsa (not too much or it gets soggy), and cheese.   Into the pan it went with a medium fire under it.  I like to cook my quesadillas slowly so the cheese can really melt!

After a few moments, I took the quesadillas out of the pan and put them onto a cutting board.  They cooled for a moment, then I sliced ’em up.  I put it onto a plate, garnished it with some fresh cilantro, and added a small bit of sour cream.  Yum!  Grab a beer, and a napkin too.  Enjoy that good game with a simple and easy food!  This can also be a great after school snack, or you can add some fruit and make it a nice meal.

I like to keep staples on hand so I can always pull something out to cook quickly.  This takes planning and experience, but anyone can do it.  Now is a great time to start gaining experience!   And the only way to get experience is to get busy.  Get some extra items at the grocery store for the fridge and pantry, and you too can become a refrigerator cook!  How to stock a pantry?  Tune in next time.  I will guide you!

Saturday afternoon home made bar food!  Perfect for watching college football!

Saturday afternoon home made bar food! Perfect for watching college football!

Perfect

4 Dec

What a word.  Perfect.  Everyone knows what it means and we have all used it a million times.  We all say it.  The steak was perfect.  Her hair was perfect.  My life is perfect.  The temperature outside is perfect.  Okay, lets face it.  Reality check.  Not only are those statements false, that isn’t how we usually use that word.

We might say something like “Well I am not perfect you know!”, or “My drawing stinks.  It isn’t perfect.” or “I am sorry that my homework isn’t perfect”.  How self defeating is that?  Whats worse, though, is that we don’t just say these things.  We think these toxic thoughts, like “My house isn’t perfect so I don’t want to have any one over”, or “I can’t do the perfect dunk so I am not going to try out for the basketball team”, or “I am so ugly because my skin isn’t perfect”.  That word, especially when it’s just in our own mind, plays directly toward our insecurity.

In our society, we are raised, to some extent, to aspire to this ideal called perfection.  We value working  toward the perfect (insert school, job, outfit, look, social circle, etc) here.  Like when you are finally good enough, you reach perfection.  Well for the record, I completely poo poo this ideal.  This is not what our life journey should be about.  Every day we have the opportunity to improve, but to be perfect?  No way.

The word perfect seems to be a put down, not an aspiration.  It is a negative word.  Perfect, in my opinion, is used commonly in our society to measure shortfalls, not gains.  And worse yet, I believe that it is used to measure perceived and not actual shortfalls, like why you aren’t something better, or can’t accomplish something more.  It is a rationale for falling short, not an inspiration for improvement. That sounds like a very stagnant attitude.  To make my point, let’s look at a definition of the word.

Merriam Webster partially defines the word including “being entirely without fault or defect : flawless, corresponding to an ideal standard or abstract concept”.  Entirely without defect? Abstract concept?  To this I roll my eyes, huff out an exasperated puff, and say whatever.  To be entirely without defect also sounds entirely uninteresting.  Boring.  Flat.  Why would anyone want to aspire to that?  Ugh.

If you are striving for perfection, it would be difficult or likely impossible to take a risk with an unknown outcome.  You couldn’t think outside the box.  You couldn’t look at this, but try that.  No sir.  Where is the life in that?  Life should be exciting, risky, thought provoking.  That is what propels us forward!

Yes, perfection is a word to be avoided.  In fact, I have a list of words that I ask my children not to say because you simply cannot use certain words in a positive light.  Stupid is a word banned in my household.  So is shut up.  And you guessed it.  So is perfect.  We simply do not use these words in my family.  The “P” word is banned, these “S” words are banned…and so is that “F” word…failure.  Mistake?  Perhaps so.  Failure?  No.

Imperfection.  Now that’s a word for me!  That’s where it’s at!  Use that word and its all good!  In speaking about myself, I am going to say that my face is imperfect (ummm, perfect = flawless)…it has wrinkles, but I am going to smile anyway!   Laugh lines rock!  My mom skills are imperfect, but I am going to continue to honor and rejoice in my motherhood anyway!  My cooking is imperfect, but I am going to make dinner  anyway!  My day is imperfect, but I am going to celebrate joy and be grateful anyway!  So be imperfect, have a blast in life, and forget that “P” word for good!