Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Food: chicken tortellini soup

One day that I was substitute teaching, I had the good fortune to stumble upon having lunch with the weekly lunch club in the faculty room. The home and careers teacher had made chicken tortellini soup and it smelled sooo good. Next thing I knew a bowl was in front of me and I was having some of this heavenly concoction. Upon demanding the recipe, here is what she gave me.

You need:

  • 2 quarts chicken stock (not broth)
  • olive oil (enough to coat bottom of pan)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, diced (I tend to use extra)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, not drained
  • 1 pound frozen spinach
  • 2 to 3 large, cooked boneless skinless chicken breasts (or the right chicken equivalent)
  • 1 pound (approx) fresh cheese tortellini
  • salt and pepper to taste
First, saute the onions and garlic in the olive oil until the onions are translucent.  This smells phenomenal.
Add your 2 quarts chicken stock, chicken, diced tomatoes, and spinach.  Cook about a half hour on medium to medium-low heat.
About 15 minutes before serving, add the tortellini and let them heat through.
Add salt and pepper to taste.  I use seasoned salt and a lot of pepper.

Eat this delicious substance:

Monday, November 28, 2011

Psychology: Sleep Study

Anyone who knows me well knows that I sleep in excessive, long, extreme marathon sessions, and that I am an opportunistic napper.  As in any afternoon that I can have a nap, I take one.  After years of complaining about this sleep habit to my doctor (because I really do feel I absolutely need this absurd amount of sleep because darn it I'm tired!) and multiple blood tests later, she sent me on a lovely sleep study, which happens tonight.

What's a sleep study?  Well, I go to the hospital, have my own private room and bathroom (much like a hotel room, they said), and my job is to sleep.  Now, granted, I'm going to have all kinds of stuff strapped all over me including nodes on my chest, head, and things in front of my mouth and nose to gauge my breathing, and wires poking out of all these things.  But I'm still required to sleep.  Then all those things strapped and stuck to me generate a report, and from there they figure out if I have some kind of sleep disorder.

The general suspicion is sleep apnea, because I snore like a freight train, even when I'm on my side.  We shall see.

My fear is that it's all psychological and tied to the depression from which I suffer, and that this sleep study and suffering today and tomorrow will be all for naught.  It is completely true that I do cope with depressive episodes by sleeping even more excessively than when I'm not having an episode.

Suffering? you ask.  Yes, suffering.  Today, for example, I must abide by the following absurd and evil conditions:

  • no caffeine after noon.  (WHAT?)
  • no naps (this, to me, is pure torture)
  • only normal exercise amounts (not a problem, though I am moving a lot more to keep myself from falling asleep)
  • no alcohol, sedatives, or tranquilizers (this I can handle)
  • avoid unusual physical exercise or meals (does eating mashed potatoes for lunch count as unusual?)
So actually, not too bad except for the nap thing.  I'm told I'll be awakened between 6:30 and 7 tomorrow morning to be kicked out, and that I may want to shower after the study, because they put goo in your hair to hold down the nodes.  I do have to shampoo my hair and use no conditioner on it tonight.  (Which is not a problem because I use no conditioner anyway.)

But that's only today!  Tomorrow I fear I will be napping most of the day to make up from my sleep study the night before.  Except for my narcoleptic friends (I have 3 friends with narcolepsy), I'm told it's not a great night's sleep.  But I'm willing to give it the old college try and see if I can give them a good reading.

Here's hoping.  Sweet dreams, y'all.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Food: Raclette - it's what's for dinner

So Raclette, you ask?  What the heck is it?
Well, it's one of these:

And you cook dinner on it at the table.  It's very interactive, a la fondue or something like that, only this puppy cooks meat and cheese at the same time.

First, you put bacon on the turned-on raclette to season the surface:
(and oh, yes, you eat the bacon later.) 

Once the bacon is done, you load it up with various meats.  We used chicken, shrimp, beef, and pork this past Raclette-abration:
Notice the little black thing with cheese in it at the bottom left of the above picture.  It picks up the heat from the element and melts your cheese, which you then dump over your tasty, delicious, amazing boiled potatoes. (Potatoes in any form are my favorite.  Boiled red ones?  Heaven, especially with melted cheese.)

And then you feast.  The meat is served with all kinds of fun sauces for dipping, and we had crab dip and artichoke dip for our crackers as well.  And wine, and bread, and oh it was a grand feast.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Food: Cooking with Mom

Yesterday I cooked Thanksgiving dinner with my mommy.  That's her hands rolling the crescent rolls.  She did it so fast that I had to have her pose for this picture.

Mom is so uber-organized that she makes a timeline on the same paper every year and dates it.  Inside the cookbook below the paper, she has several years worth of timelines saved. 

This dog found out that he LOVES turkey because Mom "dropped" some on the floor.  Sneaky Mommy. 

This year, the turkey was not brined, but merely stuffed and cooked.  And you know what?  It was wonderful.  It was moist, flavorful, and delicious.  I know that if I ever cook a turkey I'll probably brine it, but this turkey was just perfect without the brine.  Foodies across the nation may be freaking out about me saying that, and be wondering about my unrefined taste buds, but I'm telling you: last year's brined turkey was delicious, and this year's unbrined turkey was just as good.  Maybe Mom is magic.

On our Thanksgiving menu:

  • turkey
  • stuffing (mom's secret recipe)
  • mashed potatoes (made with locally grown Yukon gold potatoes, butter, cream, milk, and secret seasonings including but not limited to fresh parsley from my garden)
  • broccoli-cheese casserole (ohhhh yes)
  • sweet potatoes a la mom
  • corn with butter
  • cranberry sauce - "that good stuff that comes from a can" (that's what the Uncle says)
  • crescent rolls
  • gravy
  • pumpkin pie
  • cranberry-nut pie
  • chocolate peanut butter pie
  • Toasted Head Chardonnay
  • Water
And royal shame on me for not photographing the table.  It was busy in that thar kitchen.  But I had a wonderful time sharing the experience with Mom and family.

Love you, Mommy.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Dogs: Thanksgiving Eve

It's Thanksgiving Eve and the boys are asleep...
 Oliver is in circle-mode... and completely "off..."

 Winston is in sprawl-mode, and deigns to open an eye and groan if you pet him.  He's not too fond of the camera flash either.

 see? Circle dog.  Well, more elliptical dog, but who's counting?

How a dog can sleep like this and NOT get a stiff neck is beyond me.

Sleep tight, dear readers, and have a wonderful holiday tomorrow.

Food: Pumpkin Pie worries

For all the crap I shovel about being a decent cook and all, there are a few basic things that I have neither mastered nor done.  Pumpkin pie was one of them until now.  It's in the oven, smelling delicious, but I am absolutely paranoid about it.  I shouldn't really be paranoid; I followed the recipe on the can of pumpkin almost exactly (I substituted ye olde Penzey's Pumpkin Pie Spice for the cinnamon and nutmeg in the recipe according to the instructions given by Penzey's), and the batter tasted almost right.  Why didn't it taste completely right?  It was lacking that spiciness I want in my pumpkin pie usually given by the teaspoon of freshly-grated nutmeg in the batter (for two pies).  Now, Penzey's has built my love and trust for them by being fantastically flavorful even in their dried and ground spices and herbs, and my pumkin pie spice still smells strong and fantastic and worked beautifully in pumpkin pancakes two weeks ago.  So it shouldn't be too bad, right?

The worries/questions circulating 'round my foodie brain are

  • Does the flavor get stronger after baking?
  • If it does, did I add too much spice?
  • What if the edges of my crust are burned?  Will my family disown me for this?  (probably not, to answer the last question...)
We shall see when it comes out of the oven.  My mom's phone must not have been on; otherwise I'd have called her and played the what-if game and she would have laughed me into oblivion.

Regardless of the result of these pies, I wish a very happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Food: Thanksgiving

Ah, Thanksgiving.  National Gluttony Day.  The day where we all feast and have a wonderful time wearing loose pants. :)

This year is the first Thanksgiving since my father passed away in July.  As a result, my mom is cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the first time in quite a few years.  (In the last few years of his life, Dad took a really intense interest in cooking.)  Now, don't get me wrong: Mom is a crackerjack cook and will have a lovely turkey dinner for us, but at the same time, I'm taking control over a couple things because:

  1. I want to make Thanksgiving easier for Mom.  It's going to be hard enough coping with the loss of my father and a house full of guests including but not limited to: my cousin, his girlfriend, me, my husband, my uncle (her brother), 1 little dog, and 2 large dogs (Oliver and Winston).
  2. I make better mashed potatoes than she does (she uses either russet potatoes or those evil boxed flakes).
As a result, I'm making 2 pumpkin pies (easy) and about 6 pounds of mashed potatoes from those Yukon gold potatoes that look all buttery and taste all creamy.  I almost did red potatoes, but I decided against it because:
  1. The red potatoes are $2 more expensive per bag.  What can I say, I'm cheap when it comes to 6 pounds of potatoes.
  2. The red potatoes were not grown locally, and though I'm not a strict locavore, I do like to buy local stuff when I can.  Especially when it's less expensive!
  3. Red potatoes dictate peeling because my (extremely fussy and estranged) brother would pitch a fit about those red flecks in his spuds, while I can hide the Yukon gold skins on them if I work hard enough at them with the hand mixer.  I hate peeling potatoes, and I hear from several nutritionists/dietitians that the skin is where all the nutrition is anyway.  Though with all the butter I'm going to add, I don't think that much nutrition other than saturated fat is going to be had in these puppies.
As for the pumpkin pies, I had every intention of using my dad's food processor to make pie crust dough from scratch but decided against it because:
  1. I've never done it before and Thanksgiving is not the time to take risks that could end in disaster;
  2. I've never used his food processor before and the instruction book is somehow lost;
  3. The unroll-and-bake dough is what my family is used to, and I figure keeping with some (though not very foodie-ish) tradition is okay this year.
But I'm gonna make the pies with my special Penzey's Pumpkin Pie Spice that lends such an awesome flavor to all things pumpkin (and otherwise), so they should be pretty spectacular.  I'm also going to make real whipped cream from heavy cream and Penzey's vanilla extract and possibly a little brandy.  So it should be slightly gourmet and complicated, in the tradition of my wonderful father, who was always striving to make things taste (and be) better.  For the fussiest simpleton eaters at the table I'll also have probably a can of Redi-Whip so they can have their Thanksgiving, too.

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Food: The Brewster Inn

So for my birthday we went to the Brewster Inn in Cazenovia, NY.  I was told this place was pretty nice.  Judging from the menu on their website, I was totally stoked to go and excited to have a "fancy" dinner.  You know, cloth napkins, a wine list filled with stuff that's hard to pronounce, all in-house made foods including the salad dressing, etc.

Husband and I got dressed up into nice slacks and a button up shirt for him and nice slacks and a sweater for me.  I even wore heels, which is unheard-of for me.  I was excited.

We got there and the lobby was nothing short of magnificent.  Old mansion in gorgeous condition, and the restaurant looked beautiful.  The atmosphere was lovely, except that there was a wine bar in the restaurant filled with loud obnoxious people enjoying their wine so much that the husband and I couldn't talk much.  Not even close to the romantic whisperings I was hoping for on my birthday, for Pete's sake.

But the food!  In a word, delicious.  All made in-house from scratch.  And you could tell.  It was wonderful.

We ordered the following:

  • lump crab cake with tangy tomato butter (split as an appetizer)
  • house salad with honey mustard dressing (me)
  • smoked duck salad with wild greens, chevre, walnuts, and raspberry vinaigrette (husband)
  • pan-seared tournedos of beef (medium-rare) with a Burgundy cream sauce and chantilly potatoes (me)
  • black angus strip steak with sauteed mushrooms and sherry glazed onions and chantilly potatoes (husband)
  • Zabaglione with blueberries (husband)
  • chocolate mousse (me)
The crab cake was phenomenal.  I could have eaten 3 of them myself, but we split just the one.  The house salad was entirely satisfactory and the dressing was completely homemade, but I had a better one at The Clipper Inn in Clayton, NY a while back.  Husband loved the duck salad, because he loves duck. (I hate duck, for the record.)

So what are tournedos of beef?  I'll still be darned if I know.  It looked like small pieces of beef that had been pan-seared.  I'd guess it was a tenderloin cut because it was darn tender (and cooked to perfection at the just right amount of redness!).  The burgundy cream sauce was strong but I could have licked it up off the plate.  I settled for mopping it all up with my potatoes, which were spectacular.  Flavorful, creamy, cheesy mashed potatoes.  If I had the recipe, I'd do these for Thanksgiving instead of just mashing potatoes, but that's a whole 'nother ball of wax.

The strip steak was a huge hunk of beef, that looked like it had been cooked to perfection, smothered in onions and I couldn't find any mushrooms anywhere, but I was also a little distracted by my cute little tournedos.

Dessert was lovely.  I like chocolate mousse and I enjoyed this mousse just fine, though I was expecting fireworks, and I only got tingles.  The only disappointment was the dessert.  The 2 glasses of Malbec I had during dinner made me really happy - strong, robust, red, and everything I like in a red wine.

And alas, dear readers, I have no photographs.  It just didn't seem classy to take out my phone and snap photos of our meals after I read the "PLEASE SILENCE YOUR CELL PHONES" sign on the entrance to the restaurant.

But all in all, I had a lovely time, and I definitely look forward to going back again!

The Brewster Inn's Webpage for your perusal.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Dogs: Winston

Meet Winston.

Winston is a Rhodesian Ridgeback bred by Kaskazini Rhodesian Ridgebacks in East Meredith, NY.  We are very proud of his heritage!!

Winston is especially gifted at looking pensive and slightly worried, which makes you want to just cuddle all 100 pounds of this butter-ball.  We just learned yesterday that he's overweight for a Ridgeback, so he is now on a diet and is not pleased at all with us.

Which reminds me... Winston loves to eat.  As a puppy he used to eat lying down, but he now stands to eat.  Even still, the photo of him lying down to eat is too cute to pass up.  Plus, it shows off his magnificent ridge.

Winston also likes to run around outside,
(Winston is the one who's the highest in the air; Oliver is behind him), and is he ever powerful!

Winston is also the apple of his daddy's eye, and his daddy is the apple of his eye.  With a face like that, who wouldn't want to take him home and snuggle him forever?

This photo went on our Christmas card last year.  He's just that perfect at posing.

As far as temperament goes, Winston is a true Rhodesian Ridgeback.  Very loyal, quite stubborn, lazy, destructive if bored, but so darn lovable you can't help but run up to him and snuggle him once in a while.  (To which he usually responds with this throat noise like "nnnnnggggghhhh!!!!")  He also possesses a goofy side, most evidenced by when he wants to play with his brother Oliver and says something like, "ROO ROO!" to get Oliver going.

Aw heck, you need another photo.
 Look at that magnificent boy.  He looks a little goofy in his orange vest, but he is so gorgeous.  This is from his younger, slimmer days; days to which we aspire again!

Once upon a time, we were watching a National Geographic nature documentary, and Winston sat right in front of the TV and watched the whole thing with us.  He was fascinated.  If it's a nature documentary, he still watches it on TV.

Golly gee oh gosh oh gum I love him!

Dogs: Oliver

Meet Oliver.  Photos by the husband.
 Oliver likes to watch birds in ponds,
 snuggle under blankets,
 go swimming,
 play in bathtubs,
 hunt for geese,
and sleep on blankets.

Oliver is a Vizsla, which is another name for a Hungarian Pointer.  He is a golden-rust color, and just gorgeous.  Yes, his nose is supposed to be pink, and he has the most beautiful amber-colored eyes you've ever seen.  He has two settings: on and off.

When he's on, he is one of the most hyperactive, ridiculous, goofy, happy dogs you will ever meet.  As a puppy, he was always "on," and required no less than 2 hours of RUN-time on his walks.  (Side note: I strongly caution anyone who is not incredibly active against getting a Vizsla solely for the puppy stage.  It was brutal!)  My father, when he was still alive, swore that any photos of him sleeping were Photoshopped.  Now that Oliver is 2 years old, he is starting to calm down and requires a minimum of 3 miles on-leash walk and at least an hour of run-time in the back yard (fenced-in).

When he's off, he is grumbly, tired, and snuggly; in off-mode he wants nothing more than to be curled up close to one of his humans (me or the husband or the in-laws, particularly father-in-law) and under a blanket.  If you pet him too much when he's in off-mode, he groans and grumbles at you but is too lazy to move a muscle to get away from the pet.  Off-mode occurs during the day periodically, in the early morning, all night long, and in the evenings after about 8 pm.

As I type, Oliver is "off," curled up in his favorite dog bed in the master bedroom.  But if I were to get out the leash, he would immediately be "on" and ready for one of his daily walks.  Such is the life of a Vizsla.

Food: Garlic, Spinach, and Ricotta Stuffed Shells

This recipe came from necessity.  We were moving in less than two weeks, and I had to raid the pantry to see what I had on hand.  We were also trying to eat everything we could in our pantry so we wouldn't have to move things like half-full boxes of pasta to our new place.  What started as an improvisation turned into deliciousness.

The ingredients on hand:
About 6 oz fresh spinach
16 oz part skim ricotta cheese
12 oz jumbo shells
lots of garlic (we always have garlic in the house)
jarred marinara sauce (Barilla to be exact)
pantry staples like eggs, seasoned salt, mozarella, and parmesan.

Here's what I did.

First, I sauteed the spinach with the garlic in a pan with a TINY bit of olive oil (put it on a paper towel and wiped the inside of the pan with it. Once the spinach was adequately limp, I chopped it roughly (probably should have done that first - it was hot!) and put it all into a bowl.

Then I added about a quarter cup of parmesan and mozarella and stirred it around, then the ricotta, and then one beaten egg. I wound up with this:

Then I boiled the shells for 10 of the recommended 14 minutes. They'll absorb moisture from the cheese and the sauce while they bake in the oven, and I don't like mushy pasta. Plus, having the shells very slightly undercooked makes them easier to work with for me because they don't rip as easily.

While the shells were boiling, I coated a 9x13" pan with just enough jarred marinara sauce to cover the bottom.  This will keep the shells from sticking.

After that, I loaded up the shells with the delicious ricotta mixture that I had tasted (it was good!).  Sadly, I ran out of cheese before I ran out of shells, but the shells were a fine left-over lunch coated with marinara sauce.

After that, I coated the loaded shells with the rest of the jar of marinara sauce, and baked at 350F for about a half an hour.

Since it was a raid-the-pantry experience, there was no mozzarella cheese to be put on top, but it was still delicious.

Food: Beef and Beer Stew

I got this recipe from a popular weight loss company, but then I doctored it up to add taste and, well, a few calories.

You need:
olive oil
1 pound of the leanest stew meat you can find
1 medium green pepper, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
4 red potatoes, cut up into 1/2" pieces (2 cm-ish)
24 baby carrots or just 2 regular carrots cut up
8 oz beer
12 oz beef broth (reduced sodium)
black pepper and salt to taste
1/4 c. evaporated milk
1 tsp paprika
2 tbsp cornstarch

just coat the bottom of your pot with olive oil and warm it on medium heat.  When the pan is hot, add your beef, green pepper, and onion, and brown the meat and cook the pepper and onion for about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for about 2 more minutes, stirring to make sure everything gets cooked evenly.
Add the potatoes, carrots, beef broth, and beer, and bring to a simmer.  Simmer for at least 2 hours, or until the beef and vegetables are tender.  (I tend to simmer longer to let the flavors meld together better.)
About 5 to 10 minutes before serving, make a slurry* with the evaporated milk, cornstarch, and paprika.  Stir this into the stew and cook for 5 to 7 more minutes, or until everything is thick and bubbly.

My family tradition dictates that this be served over noodles, but my husband swears it would be fabulous over mashed potatoes.  Of course, serve crusty bread with it.  Better yet, garlic bread.
Feel free to drink whatever beer you have left.

*slurry = suspension of cornstarch in another liquid.  To make a slurry, mix the ingredients for it together VERY well, until there are no cornstarch lumps.

Getting Started

It's my 31st birthday today.  I've been told that I need to have a blog because I love to write and people I know on facebook have told me I have a little bit of that stuff called wit.  I hope to.

Topics I hope to include on this blog:
- Food.  I love food.  I hope to include recipes, restaurant reviews for the few times we (husband and I) go out to eat, dealing with my fussy palate (it's embarrassing how many "hate" foods I have), and learning how to control portion sizes when I just want to eat it all.
- Dogs.  As the proud owner of both a Vizsla and a Rhodesian Ridgeback, I consider them my first children and treat them well.  They get their minimum of 3 miles walk per day and are a constant presence in my life.  I love telling stories about them and taking their pictures and showing off about just how great they are.
- Mental Illness.  I have been battling some form of depression for over 10 years.  My official diagnosis two years ago was "chronic major depression in partial remission," but after moving away from that psychiatrist and having a new therapist, suspicions of a mood disorder are arising.  My psychiatrist appointment for evaluations and medication control is in two days, and most likely I'll be posting about my experiences trying to stay mentally healthy and functional in a world that always expects my A-game when most of the time I just want to stay in bed and sleep.
- Domesticity.  Of course I will deviate from time to time and talk about my herb garden, life living in the country, why we reupholstered the couch after the Ridgeback chewed it entirely apart, and other random topics that I can't categorize beyond this.

Enough planning.  Let's go!