It was a big weekend for food at our house. Not only was Valentine's Day yesterday, Chicago Man's birthday was on Friday the 12th.
Because we had spent an exciting but tiring day at the Nashville Antiques and Garden Show (www.antiquesandgardenshow.com) on Thursday the 11th, we kept it low key on his actual birthday. Friday afternoon we found paczki at Wal-Mart in Ashland City (of all places), so I got a free pass for not preparing a birthday dessert on the actual day, and we had a flatbread pesto pizza from Trader Joe's for dinner (www.traderjoes.com).
Paczki (pronounced punch-key), are Polish custard- or jelly-filled donuts served on Fat Tuesday, to use up the sugar and lard that will not be eaten during Lent. The tradition dates back hundreds of years. In Germany, paczki are called Berliners, so you might have had them under that moniker. Since there are only a handful of Polish-heritage people in the Nashville area, finding these treats from Chicago Man's childhood in Nashville, much less Ashland City, seems like a culinary miracle! We were so excited we purchased two boxes, one chocolate iced with custard filling and one powdered sugar with raspberry filling. Chicago Man had a chocolate paczki for his birthday desset, and we have had the raspberry paczki for breakfast. Here is the link to a youtube video about paczki, which originally aired on CBS Sunday Morning: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WhVUjar905E.
Saturday we drove down to Franklin. Franklin is far enough from Ashland City in distance (about an hour on the interstate), and character, that it seems like a mini-vacation. The Franklin Farmer's Market (www.franklinfarmersmarket.org) is open during winter, but it was darn cold and windy Saturday morning so we didn't linger. We purchased some hot Italian sausage from West Wind Farms (www.westwindfarms.com) and some Kenny's Farmhouse cheese, and then strolled through The Factory (www.factoryatfranklin.com). I was excited to see an artwork display that included beautiful paintings by my friends, Bonnie Brown and Charlotte Helleqvist! Each of these special friends have their own unique painting styles; Charlotte's is nature-based, reflecting her Swedish heritage, and Bonnie paints in a folk art style similar to Grandma Moses.
For lunch, we went to our favorite downtown Franklin eatery, Puckett's Grocery (www.puckettsgrocery.com). We've been going to the original Puckett's in Leiper's Fork for years. Both locations have that wonderful, Williamson County blugrass ambiance that I can't even find words to describe...you just have to experience it. Puckett's in downtown Franklin was packed Saturday at noon, but we managed to get a table after only a 10-minute wait. We did not even need to look at the menu: we both got pulled pork sandwiches on corn cakes, with slaw "Memphis style", and sweet potato fries. Yum!
Saturday dinner was supposed to be light, since we'd had a hearty lunch, but turned out to be "doctored up" frozen Red Baron pizza. If you get the 4-cheese classic or fire-baked crust, then add pepperoni, extra cheese, and fresh mushrooms, it's darn good pizza. For the South, that is.
Sunday, the weather kept us in. Since we hadn't been eating too healthy, I decided to fix an egg casserole from the book, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat by Dr. Michelle May (www.amihungry.com). It was savory, light, and healthy, and here is the recipe:
8 eggs 1/2 cup light sour cream (I used Greek yogurt) 1/2 cup low fat milk 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese 1/2 cup red or green pepper, finely chopped 1/4 tsp salt 1/8 tsp pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Spray an 8" baking dish or 9" round pie pan with non-stick cooking spray
Combine ingredients, pour into dish, and bake 25-35 minutes or until middle is set. I added canned mushrooms to ours, plus some dill which is great with eggs. You could also add ham, green chilies, or whatever else sounds good to you!
And since yesterday was a quiet, stay-at-home day plus Valentine's Day, I made a combo birthday/Valentine's dessert that is full of chocolately goodness (as they say on Food Network). In fact, I was inspired to make this dessert while watching Worst Cooks In America on the Food Network (www.foodnetwork.com) a few weeks ago. It's easy, but has a huge wow factor. I got my recipe from www.famousfrenchdesserts.com, and it is called Best Chocolate Lava Cake:
6 oz semi-sweet baking chocolate 6 oz butter, diced, room temperature 3 eggs 1/2 cup granulated sugar 1/3 cup flour butter for ramekins
Preheat oven to 350
Melt chocolate in bain-marie (water bath; double boiler)
When melted, remove from heat and stir in butter
In another bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until the mixture starts to whiten (on Worst Cooks In America, Rachel, who was the winner, was urged by her chef mentor, Anne Burrell, to "beat those eggs like you mean it." I prefer the description given by a recent Chopped competitor who said, "I beat those eggs like a dog was chasing me!"
Stir in melted chocolate/butter mixture, and then stir in flour
Pour into four buttered ramekins and cook for 10 minutes.
Tip ramekins upside down on dessert plates and enjoy!
I made these lava caked around lunchtime and I am not ashamed to say that after dinner all four were gone! However, I am glad that today is a new day, and I will be having a salad at lunch!
Me not being a football fan, Super Bowl Sunday usually means two things: half price admission at the Nashville Zoo, and not very many people shopping at Wal-Mart, making it a perfect afternoon to go both places.
Chicago Man is not a football fan, either, one of his most endearing qualities IMO.
However, this year it's a bit different for me...because the New Orleans Saints are in the Super Bowl for the first time in their 43 year history.
I lived in New Orleans from 1875-1980 and saw them play (and lose) at the Superdome several times. (even though I am not a football fan, it was just the thing to do).
I wanted to celebrate, and even watch some of the game. (Chicago Man, being a rocker from way back, is excited about the halftime show by The Who. So that gives both of us a reason to watch).
So we decided to have a mini-Super Bowl party...just ourselves this year. Maybe if the Bears make it next year, we'll have a real party.
It would make sense to have New Orleans dishes like muffalatas, red beans and rice, or even beignets, but Chicago Man loves wings (or "wangs" as we say here in Tennessee) and I never fix them. Nor do we frequent "wang" restaurants, so I decided to make him some wangs for our little celebration.
I decided to take life easy and use the crockpot so of course I turned to Stephanie over at www.crockpot365.blogspot.com and her wonderful cookbook, Make It Fast, Cook It Slow.
And there it was, right in the appetizer section of her cookbook or on her site: Sweet and Spicy Wings. Perfect
Since it's just the two of us, and my digestive problems will prevent me from eating even one wing today, I halved Stephanie's recipe but I am reproducing it here for you in its entirety.
Her recipe calls for apricot preserves, but since I could only find Polaner (naturally sweetened) in peach, that's what I chose. It's still orange, right?
4 lbs of chicken wings and tiny drumsticks (I used Tyson all natural and they only had "wing selections" not drummies, so that's what I used)
11 oz jar of apricot preserves
14 oz jar of chipotle salsa (I used Pace mango pineapple chipotle)
brown wings (you can omit this step if you wish; I decided to brown mine)
mix preserves and salsa in separate bowl
put wings in crockpot; pour preserve/salsa mixture over wings
cook on high 4 hours, or low for 8 hours. Mine were done in about 3 1/2!
Oh, and I used a 6-quart crockpot, too.
So now I'm ready to hunker down, watch Chicago Man rock out to The Who and enjoy his wangs, and watch the Saints take the win!
This morning, I am enjoying, savoring, and learning from something I rarely have but highly prize: time alone.
As usual, I am not in the house alone (in fact, I am never in the house alone because my mother never leaves the house unless I take her somewhere). But after popping in and out of the living room/kitchen area about 5-6 times, she has finally settled down for a nap, and so has Chicago Man. So it is so quiet it's as good as it gets for me. Even the cat is napping and therefore not continually pestering me to scratch her chin.
Wow! I am delirious with happiness over this time to myself. I cleaned out the kitchen cupboards and also the laundry room, mopped the kitchen floor, gathered some things together to donate to Bethesda Ministry (old crockpot, rice cooker, candles, etc.), plowed through a big pile of junk mail, and even made some chili cheese dip in the crockpot.
After all that activity, I gained some clarity.
I was thinking about this weight loss journey I've been on for four and 1/2 months now, and all of a sudden...by George, I got it...just like Eliza Doolittle!
Because I am changing so much on the inside, I see how it really IS about the journey and not the destination of getting to 128 lbs and getting into a size 8 again.
God...who would have thought that cleaning out kitchen cupboards would be a self-esteem booster, but it is...because 35 lbs ago I could not bend down to clean out the lower cabinets, nor could I stand on the step-stool to reorganize the upper ones.
This is life changing, folks!!! I feel like I can do anything now! I really CAN dance all night if I want to, and all day and every moment because I am figuring out how to live joyfully!
I figured out why "diets don't work." Why they haven't worked for me in the past, and why they don't work for a lot of other people, either. It's because I and maybe you, are making it all about the destination and not about the journey.
It's not about the weight loss, although that is a byproduct. It's about being the person I previously was not letting myself be. The person I came her to be.
Is being 128 lbs again and a size 8 going to make me happy? No, not in and of itself. But it is going to provide me with more options and opportunities to become truly me.
One of my favorite lunches is a spring mix salad with pear or apple, pecans, feta cheese, and maybe some grilled chicken strips or turkey, tossed with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
However, January's colder temperatures and dreary days have had me craving heartier fare based mostly around bread and potatoes.
I was longing for something lighter and healthier, but salad still didn't have any appeal.
So a few morning ago when I opened my email, I was excited to find a citrus/mint/feta salad recipe from Smitten Kitchen (www.smittenkitchen.com).
It was just what I needed to brighten a dreary day, and make me feel healthy again!
Fortunately, I had every ingredient on hand. I had plenty of grapefruit left from the BOGO special at Publix (www.publix.com) a couple weeks ago, as well as a big tub of feta, oranges, and even fresh mint growing in my kitchen windowsill! Smitten Kitchen's recipe called for red onion, but I have developed some sort of food intolerance for onions both cooked and raw (wah!!!!) so I left that out.
I was not sure how Chicago Man would feel about the salad, but he loved it! We had it with burgers made from Laura's Lean Beef (www.laurasleanbeef.com), and that was really all we needed for a healthy and zesty dinner.
For two of us, I used one grapefruit and one orange. Next time, I will double that because we enjoyed the salad so much we could have used second helpings.
Following Smitten Kitchen's advice, I cut the ends off the citrus, then peeled them getting off as much white pith as possible. Then I sliced the fruits into pinwheels, added a few tablespoons of feta and a few chopped mint leaves, and followed Smitten's dressing recipe of
1 TB red wine vinegar or lemon juice (I used the vinegar); 1 tsp smooth Dijon mustard; 1 TB olive oil, and salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. (I used my new pink Himalayan salt from Trader Joe's www.traderjoes.com)!
This delightful, colorful salad really boosted my mood and gave me a different perspective on how to think--and eat--outside the box.
And preparing for this post also gave Chicago Man the opportunity to teach me more about flash techniques! Next time my photos will be much more professional!
Today has been a busy day because I am taking my mother to the doctor tomorrow, which essentially means I will get nothing done around the house. So I doubled up on cooking, cleaning, laundry and grocery shopping.
One task I was determined to complete, and did, was freezing some red, orange, and yellow bell peppers which I got yesterday on sale at Kroger for $1 each.
If I'd known how easy it is to freeze them, I would have purchased more than five.
This morning I googled "how to freeze bell peppers" and found out that it's simply a matter of removing the stem and seeds, slicing or dicing the peppers, putting them on a tray with waxed paper and placing them in the freezer for an hour, and then transferring them to freezer bags.
I am really excited about finishing this simple task because now it will be so easy to have some tasty peppers in soups, stir fries, and other dishes that are yet to come!
Being organized and disciplined enough to do something like getting a great deal on peppers and then freezing them, makes me feel really good.
I realized as I was standing over the kitchen sink de-seeding the peppers and planning in my head a marinade for the Angus steaks I also got a great deal on, that cooking makes me happy! Much happier than I ever was working in an office.