Ramblings from my life…


Little helpers

My kids are awesome. They love to help in the kitchen, especially when licking spoons is involved.

I’ve always been a bit hesitant about letting them help with any other cooking because most of my recipes are pretty involved. Lot’s of sautéing (that word looks weird, but spell check picked it), chopping and taking hot things out of the oven. Yesterday I made simple beef enchiladas. When I told the girls that I needed to assemble them, they both replied with, what does assemble mean? and can we help?

After realizing that my kids are in fact tall enough to stand at the counter and (b) old enough to comprehend directions, I put together an assembly line and put them to work. It was great… I got to supervise (read a book and have a glass of wine!).

Looks like I will be researching other easy kitchen suppers today…

This is easy mom!

Look at us!

Easy Beef Enchiladas Verde

1 lb (ish) of ground beef
1 28oz can of green enchilada sauce
4 cups of shredded cheese
12 small tortillas

Brown beef, add roughly 1/3 cup of enchilada sauce, let simmer for a few minutes. Transfer to bowl so that little hands can help assemble. Take one tortilla, add beef mixture, cheese and roll up. Place in 13×9 pan (which is prepped with a layer of sauce), repeat. Pour remaining enchilada sauce evenly on top, top with cheese. Bake covered 375* for 20 mins, uncovered for 10 mins for cheese to bubble. Serve with salsa and sour cream.

Life with girls…

One word: Drama.

Anyone with more than one girl in the house can tell you that there is always drama. It doesn’t come it little spurts, but rather in large booms. Anything from screams, crying and growls to the Miss Prissy attitude… it is all there. You might have seen us out in public. We are the family with the two angels that never disrupt conversation or act rude. I mean it, no sarcasm there… but walk into my living room and another story develops.

I often wonder what life is like for my husband. Three moody girls and a dog. Lord help him the day the second kid hits puberty. I can imagine that the pinching, hitting and screaming episodes will calm down at each other… and the Mom is so not cool phase will start. I’m sure there will still be screaming, but maybe it won’t be as high pitched?

Obviously my girls can be sweet little angels at home too… but boy does it seem like they are at each others throats too often! Maybe because it is summer… maybe because the six year old finally has an opinion and wants to share it.

That's her, with her arms folded…

In the cooking world, I made three more appetizers to go over to a crab feast at our friends house.

Watermelon, Tomato, Basil Skewers (as easy as it sounds, with a balsamic glaze)

Black Bean and Mango salad (with red peppers, corn, basil and a lime dressing)

Smoked Salmon with capers and olive oil… garlic toast

All three are again from the cook book I am working through. I will post recipes over on my cooking blog. Tonight my sister-in-law is coming, so I am making a chicken and shrimp deal from the cookbook. Hopefully it turns out well!

Recycle, Reuse, Retire

As a family, we try to recycle as much as possible. Sure every once in awhile a paper towel will be thrown in the trash – but we try to be conscience of what we throw away. With the kids, I’ve started a statement with clean up time. We have our daily pick up of toys – which usually consists of them stashing things under furniture for the clean “look”. We also have our weekly mom sweep, which consist of me finding the proper place for a few things here and there…. and then we have the monthly toss out, which consists of my statement. “Girls, do you want to Recycle this, Reuse it (Something like construction paper that they rolled into a cone shape can be reused for a drawing.) or Retire it?” (which means, give away or throw away.) The monthly toss out takes about an hour and the girls have learned not to get frustrated or upset. I explain to them that old projects cause clutter and if they aren’t going to save it in their box, they need to recycle it. With toys, if it is no longer age appropriate, we decide if it can be given away or thrown away.

Another thing I’ve aways like to do is reconfigure furniture. I feel like it is easier to make a mess when things always stay the same. When you place your furniture in a different spot in the room, (or in a different room altogether) you can de-clutter and organize. When the girls started sharing a room a few months ago, their room became a tight space. However, the guest room stays clean and we only have one kids room to clean up now! Today I made the decision to move the reading chair out of the room and to the basement. The basement only has one overstuffed chair and a rocking chair, so it isn’t very family room friendly. We spend all of our family time up in the living room anyway, but now we have more options. Moving the chair out has made the girls room feel bigger – and taken away one more spot for things to get stuffed under.

In other news, I finished buying school supplies yesterday. I had some things left over from last year that the girls can use. They will also be re-using composition books. I will either tear out pages – or just leave it as is. The math journal had less than half used. I have two left over from last year too… in case she fills the whole thing up. Even with re-using, the supplies cost an arm and a leg. I’m gonna blame it on the pencils. Third grade asked for 8 boxes of 12 pencils, sharpened and First grade asked for 4 boxes of 12 pencils, sharpened. I know that my third grader will not use 96 pencils throughout the year. Maybe 30 – and I think that is pushing it.

Tuna sashimi from date night on the water! yum!

Speaking of food… I made three new dishes for my dad’s birthday party on Monday night. It took me 3 hours to prep them before taking them over to my parents house to cook. We have bacon-wrapped stuffed dates, grilled asparagus and melon salad and last, roasted tomatoes with garlic and gorgonzola. The last two are from the Giada cookbook and the first one was Giada inspired, as she has a procuitto wrapped stuffed date which is not cooked. I wanted to have the goat cheese melted inside the dates – and I love the flavor of the bacon with it. Since I used procuitto in my asparagus salad, I did try one of the dates with it and I didn’t like it as much. You can find all of Giada’s recipes over on my cooking blog. I forgot to take the “after” pictures – but here is the raw product!

raw bacon wrapped stuffed dates… almost yum!


Finally, what you’ve all been sitting on the tip of your seat for… the long awaited first recipe of my summer challenge! The reality of it is I would need to go shopping several times a week to keep up with the different recipes. So, we will have to take things a bit slower. For example, last night I made a new and improved lamb burger with roasted zucchini and yellow squash. Ground lamb was on sale and therefore I could not pass up the opportunity to make something with it. Basically I mixed the lamb with bread crumbs, one egg, kosher salt, pepper and fresh chopped garlic. We added our usual olive oil and balsamic vinegar on top, along with fresh tomatoes and arugula.

Anyway, my first recipe from the new Giada book was “Egg-white frittata with lox and arugula” which I completely over salted, since I don’t measure anything. I also used whole eggs because, come on… I’m not going to use egg yolks separately in anything any time soon… and I’m not going to waste them either. You can watch Giada perfect her frittata HERE on Food Network or copy her recipe from my cooking blog, HERE.

On the home front there is not much to report. The girls finished up their week of vacation Bible school and had a blast. We’ve been trying to make a craft a few times a week and have managed to get ourselves invited to a friends pool at least once a week.

In other news, it seems that something has happened to our water softener system. A few weeks ago we started having a metallic taste to the water and now our iron levels are so high that my tub and sinks are staining. We have never had a problem with this… sometimes when life hands you lemons, you don’t have any sugar to make lemonade.

the ONLY lemon that I like…

everything… and the kitchen sink

…and the adventures of life continue.

Last weekend the family participated in the Powder Puff Derby. It is a Girl Scouts sister event to the Boy Scouts Pinewood Derby. They are given a block of wood and told to transform it into a car weighing no more than 5 ounces. Yeah, I wanna see a 7 year old girl use a saw to cut the rectangle into a car shape, then sand it and paint it… oh, and don’t forget the weights. My husband carved the car out and let her help sand and paint it. I think that was a smart idea. When they went to register the car it weighed 3.5 ounces… I guess that is what happens when you hold a stick of 4 ounce butter in one hand and a car in the other…

Surprisingly, the car came in last in every race. My sweet little girl was not upset though. She held her head high and was very proud of the car that she made with daddy. I guess it helped that we were rooting her car on and then exclaiming, “woo hoo! dead last!!”, each time.

yes, gray paint was all we had on hand...

A few days later on Wednesday night, the Brownies (younger girl scouts) had their Investiture ceremony where they dedicated themselves to the Girl Scouts and the Girl Scout Law. It was pretty cute.  The following night was the 6 year olds Daisy meeting. (An even younger set of GS).

This weekend my older brother-in-law came to visit with his family. The girls love to hang out with their cousins and everyone had a great time… especially when it started to snow Saturday morning!

yay for snow!!

I have continued to try new recipes and upgrade some of the ones we’ve learned to love. I made a shepherds pie out of ground lamb which was very light and tasty. I posted the recipe HERE. Keeping with the lamb theme, I made my famous procuitto lamb burgers, upgrading them with a bit of fresh parsley worked into the mix. I then tried a very spicy Pork Chops alla Pizzaiola, which was mostly spicy because I went overboard on the crushed red pepper. As usual, Giada did not disappoint with her Italian morsels. The dish is usually made with steak – as a Pizza-man style lunch because the Pizza man usually already had the red sauce for his pizza’s ready.

F is for Fish

As some of your know, I’ve majorly improved my culinary skills in the last year. I had never really liked to cook before… but now I enjoy finding ingredients that I never knew existed and seeing how they will work in a dish.

Last night I made Emeril’s Root Beer Pork Chops (READ: Cooking Diaries) and they turned out quite tasty. Even though the caramelized onions were a tad on the burnt tasting side, (ha!) they still tasted good with the meal.

I’ve really enjoyed trying Tilapia and Salmon different ways too. It’s not that I don’t like other mild fishes… but where I currently shop, there doesn’t always seem to be the best selection. If I drove a bit farther, I could get all kinds of fish… in fact, I think I will venture out there tomorrow… why not? Hm… stayed tuned for that!

So anyway, lately I’ve been breading everything. I never did it before… but for things like fish tacos, the juices from the fish would make the tortilla soggy. When I bread the fish and bake it, the juice stay in the fish and off of the tortilla! I usually bread the Giada way, with Parmesan. One of the most fantastic recipes I use is the yummy Salmon Fish Sticks below. We usually just dip them in Horseradish mustard though…

Parmesan Fish Sticks

Recipe courtesy Giada De Laurentiis, 2008

Prep Time: 4 min
Cook Time: 17 min


  • 1 (18-ounce) center-cut salmon fillet, about 9 by 4 inches, skinned
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1 cup seasoned bread crumbs
  • Olive oil, for drizzling

Dipping Sauce

  • 1/3 cup reduced fat mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup lowfat plain yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley or chives

For the Fish Sticks:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Rinse the salmon fillet and pat dry with paper towels. Cut the fish in half to make 2 fillets each about 4 by 4 1/2-inches in size. Starting on the longest edge, slice the fillets into 1/2-inch pieces. Lay the widest pieces, from the center, cut side down, and slice in half lengthways so all the pieces are equally about 1/2 by 1/2 by 4 1/2-inches in size.

Place the flour in a medium bowl and season with the salt and pepper. Place the egg whites in another bowl and beat until frothy, about 30 seconds. Combine the Parmesan and bread crumbs in a third bowl.

Coat the salmon pieces in the seasoned flour and pat to remove any excess flour. Dip the floured salmon in the egg whites and then into the Parmesan mixture, gently pressing the mixture into the fish. Place the breaded salmon pieces on a liberally oiled baking sheet. Drizzle lightly with the olive oil. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown.

For the Dipping Sauce:

Mix the mayonnaise, yogurt, Dijon mustard, and parsley (or chives, if using) in a small dipping bowl.

Fun with food

I hate grocery shopping. There is nothing fun about it. It takes me over an hour because I am either searching for the best deals, trying to find the items that I have coupons for… or realizing that yet again, I  should have bit the bullet and gone to the nicer grocery store because this one doesn’t always have the good stuff.

So, I put off grocery shopping for another day which forces me to get creative at dinner time. After too many fruit, cheese, yogurt, salad dinners – it’s time to look in the freezer. I had two tilipia filets. Instantly my 7 year old exclaims, fish tacos! Perfect, except for the fact they were really small filets and we’d be lucky if we each got a taco. I look in the fridge, “what else needs to be used?” Bacon. There sit 4 pieces of bacon waiting to be fried. I’m thinking that I’ll probably add some of the beef from last night to the mix, somehow… but grab the rest of the salad that I had mixed the night before. I floured the fish and stuck it in a pan of olive oil. Once both sides were brown, I made some really crispy bacon. Then, I look over at the unfinished snack on the counter. Apples… sauteing in bacon fat… hm… I throw them in and set the pan in the oven for 10 mins. Amazingly, it was pretty good. I guess anything is good with bacon.

In other news, once again… the tooth fairy had to be creative. What is it about this lady? She just can’t seem to get her act together. Here we are on tooth number 7 and we are still forgetting. Husband called me a few minutes after he left for work this morning to remind me. Nice. I have NO cash. I look in his dresser and fish out a 5 Euro. Yep. I ran upstairs and gently made the exchange (tooth for money) and tiptoed back out. A bit later a happy faced kid appears at my side. “Look mom! Italy money! When I build a house for daddy, I can use this to buy a hat to wear for safety!” Um, okay kid. She wants to be an architect when she grows up.

And in even more news, I have finally utilized the library to its full potential. I enrolled the girls in the summer reading program, which only makes them read one book a week… but I told them that it was one or two a day. Then they get a stamp in their booklet each week for 5 weeks and at the end get some sort of prize. Hopefully it is good. (ha!) We are also renting movies which are due every 3 days, so it gets us back in the library. Yesterday the girls and I attended a children’s comedian/musician act. Amazing that this guy actually does this for a living… but he was pretty funny.

Everyday Italian

I’ve been meaning to post some of the new recipes that I try that turn out. Only problem is, I never stick to an exact recipe. I get ideas of things that sound good together – or information on how to cook something properly, but I always end up changing something. I guess I can type out the recipes and then tell you what I did different. Here goes:

Orechiette with Sausage, Beans and Mascarpone (courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis)

1 lb orechiette pasta
2 tbsp Olive Oil
1/2 lb turkey sausage, casing removed
1 small onion, chopped
1 (15 oz) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper

Bring salted water to a boil, add pasta and cook until tender. Drain reserving 1 cup pasta water.

In skillet, warm olive oil over medium-high heat. Add sausage and onions. Use wooden spoon to break up sausage as it browns. Add beans and oregano and cook 2 mins. Add cup of pasta water and mascarpone cheese and stir until dissolved into a light sauce. Add salt, pepper and hot pasta, stir until coated.

So, I didn’t have onions, oregano or beans on hand… so those were out. When it came time to add the beans, I added sliced zucchini (which was seasoned with pepper and salt). I also didn’t have Orechiette pasta, so I used Campanelle or “flower shaped” noodles. It was a very light and creamy dish and I’d make it my way again b/c I don’t care for many types of beans. I also would not add extra salt, as the turkey sausage is pretty salty on it’s own (plus, I had salted the zucchini).

Yesterday I tried Chocolate Chip Cookies (by the same gal above)

1/2 cup old fashioned oats
2 1/4 flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar (packed)
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
chocolate chips
(she also had Hazelnuts and English toffee candy on the list – but I did not have either)

I added bits of Reeses Cups to the mixture also.

Preheat oven to 325*. Finely chop oats in food processor. (this was great b/c you can’t even tell there are oats in the cookies!) Mix in with flour, baking power, soda and salt.

In large bowl beat butter and sugars until fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Add flour mixture and stir until blended. Stir in candy. Drop by tbsp’s and bake 15 mins.

My husband and I love to watch Giada’s shows on Food Network and I will usually look her recipes up. However, I was over at my sisters house the other day and spotted a cook book by the lovely gal and snatched it up to borrow for a bit. I’m hoping to make yummy tuna and artichoke panini’s one afternoon for lunch and then butternut squash gratin with pesto as a side for something yet to be determined. The Tilapia with citrus bagna cauda sounds great too…

Stay tuned!