I Haven't Just Been Lazy

I've been moving. Packing up and moving.

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See you next door!


Marlo Approved Banana Nut Muffins

Two bananas on my counter this morning were walking the plank to the trash can. They were by no means rotting, just heavily freckled, soft and super sweet. In many households they would still be considered edible maybe even ideal, but I detest bananas this way. In fact I've been known to gag eating such bananas. My naners need a little green on top. The peel needs to be flawlessly yellow and crisp, and the flesh just a bit sour. Obviously the aforementioned bananas were way past their prime in my mind so it was either the trash or the oven.

I didn't have enough to make my favorite banana bread, so I thought I'd try this recipe for banana muffins. I was pretty happy with the way they turned out. The muffins were very moist, light and fluffy. They weren't too sweet or too heavy, so I didn't feel like a piggy eating one as my second breakfast.

Marlo liked them, too. I packed up the remaining 11 muffins into paper bags to take to Jeff's office and stupidly left the bags on the coffee table while I packed up Marlo's lunch for the day. I'm such an amateur. Of course Marlo pulled the bags off the table, pulled out a muffin and began shoving fistfuls into her mouth. When I finally noticed, I panicked thinking she was going to either choke on the nuts or have an allergic reaction and suffocate. I fished out all the contents of her mouth, found no nuts, then proceeded to laugh and grab my camera.

Banana Nut Muffins
Adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup salted butter, room temperature
1 egg
2 large ripe bananas
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup toasted, chopped pecans
demerara sugar (sugar in the raw)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a standard muffin tin or line cups with paper liners.
2. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffly. Add egg and mix in completely.
3. Mash bananas in separate bowl and mix in milk and cinnamon.
4. Whisk together flour, baking soda and baking powder in separate bowl.
5. Starting and ending with flour mixture, alternate adding flour and bananas to butter and sugar. Only mix until just incorporated.
6. Fold in pecans.
7. Fill muffin cups with batter and sprinkle tops with demerara sugar.
8. Bake 18-20 minutes.


Burgers with Caramelized Onion and Mushroom Sauce

"This is quite possibly the best burger I've ever eaten."

No joke. That's what Jeff said to me following the "mmmmm" after his first bite. I'm not going to kid myself, it's not true. It couldn't possibly be the best one he's ever eaten. He's eaten a lot of good quality burgers. Like the burgers at Ted's and Bub's. But they seemed to all be forgotten last night. I would have to agree with him that it was a pretty awesome burger, and that's a good thing because it took more prep work than usual. This wasn't just a slap some ingredients together, mold into a patty, and grill kind of burger. The sauce takes a good half an hour to make. But boy is it worth it!

The original recipe called for blue cheese to be incorporated into the sauce. We've tried blue cheese burgers before and neither of us like them, so I left it out and just sprinkled some Asiago shavings on top. Glad I did. They were seriously perfect, and quite possibly the best burgers we've ever eaten.

Burgers with Caramelized Onion and Mushroom Sauce
Adapted from Closet Cooking

2 Tbsp. butter
1 medium onion sliced
2 garlic cloves minced
1 tsp. fresh thyme chopped
6 oz. sliced cremini mushrooms
salt & pepper
glug of red wine (original recipe calls for brandy - we don't keep brandy in the house)
1/3 cup beef broth

3/4 lb. ground beef
salt & pepper
1 Tbsp. shaved Asiago cheese (optional but necessary all at the same time)

1. Melt the butter in a pan.
2. Add the onion and saute at medium heat until caramelized, about 20-30 minutes.
3. Add the garlic and thyme and saute until fragrant, about a minute.
4. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and saute until tender, about 10-15 minutes. Be careful here not to burn the onions. I lowered the heat a tad and stirred quite frequently.
5. Add the wine and broth and deglaze the pan (scrape up all the brown delicious bits from the bottom).
6. Simmer until it has reduced and thickened, about 3-6 minutes.

For Burgers:

1. Season ground beef with salt and pepper to your liking. Mix well with hands (seriously get over it and use your hands).
2. Form into two equal patties.
3. Grill over high flame 3-5 minutes each side depending on how well you like your burgers done.
4. Lightly toast sandwich buns on grill.
5. Top toasted buns with burger and spoon sauce over burger.
6. Feel like a million bucks when your family swoons.


Place Your Bets!

Last week Jeff and I made a bet as to when we think Marlo will take her first steps. I guessed July 24th and he guessed a few weeks earlier. Now I wish I could change my date. Monday morning she woke up with the strength of five bulls. She can now stand for extended periods of time (okay, a minute or so). Here she is standing at her toy chest pulling out random toys and throwing them on the floor.

Riveting, right?

But seriously, out of nowhere, she began maneuvering her dolly stroller around the living room like she was born doing it. It's fun to see how she really understands how to control it and get it to go where she wants it to go. She's also very good at getting herself unstuck.

So, what do you think? How long before she walks (unassisted)?


Three Sweet Years

Three years ago today Jeff and I were driving back to Chicago following our Cincinnati wedding at Alms Park. The previous day we had said vows, danced, got sunburned (just me) and smiled for pictures. Now we were headed back home to hop on a plane to California. It was the start of a beautiful marriage. After we traveled all of San Francisco by foot, pedaled across the Golden Gate bridge, got drunk for 3 days straight on really awesome wine, and opted out of sleeping at a creepy horror movie house, I'd done a rough tally that we successfully evaded death about 12 times.

I'm not being dramatic. we almost died on our honeymoon. I'll save you some theatrics and just warn you never drive to Eureka no matter what the Chamber of Commerce website says; also, if you want to go to Mendocino, wait until you're 50 - you'll probably enjoy it more and definitely do NOT think it's a good idea to drive Highway 1 down the coastline back to San Francisco.

Please learn from our mistakes. There are portions of Highway 1 that have eroded away and the road just isn't there in one lane anymore. Your lane. They kindly warn you with a single orange cone, but if you miss the cone by chance, you and your lovely will be plummeting Thelma and Louise style into the Pacific. Also, it's not the best road to travel at night. It's dark. There aren't gas stations for miles - tens of miles... twenties of miles. Oh and no cell reception, so don't dare run out of gas. And there are deer. Lots of deer, flying out in front of your car on their way to the beach. Again - Thelma and Louise.

Thankfully, we survived Highway 1 along with a half dozen other flirtations with death and I took this as a great omen that our marriage was built to last.

So far we're doing pretty good. We've smoothly made it through buying an apartment in a Chicago seller's market and then selling it in a buyer's market. We made it through both of us finishing (almost finishing) our educations. We made it through a big move to a new city and a new life. We made it through pregnancy. Childbirth. And 10 months of Marlo.

Doesn't sound like much does it? It isn't. I know. But I have faith we could make it through tougher times if they arrive.

So to celebrate our greatness as a duo, we had our favorite fancy meal last night, Pesto Halibut Kebabs. I was absolutely shocked when I visited the butcher yesterday and saw that the halibut was running only $17.99/lb. Wha?! I'm used to paying about $4 more per pound for the fish. Apparently the recession has really done a number on the demand for fancy fish and the prices have plunged, well, at least at Joe's. So, I reccomend checking out the price of halibut where you live and feasting on it more often this summer. This is a really easy and quick way to prepare the fish. Turns out delicious every single time!

Pesto Halibut Kebabs
Adapted from Cooking Light

1 lb. Halibut skin removed and cut into 1-2 inch chunks
1 large red bell pepper cut into 1-2 inch squares
3 Tbsp. pesto
2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
salt & pepper

If using wooden skewers, soak in water for 10-20 minutes so they won't burn in the oven. Preheat broiler.
Combine pesto and vinegar in large bowl. Lightly season fish chunks with salt and pepper. Add fish and pepper squares to pesto mixture and toss to evenly coat. Let stand for 5 minutes.
Skewer fish and peppers, alternating so you begin and end with peppers. This amount makes about 4 kebabs with 4-5 pieces of fish per skewer.
Line kebabs in a baking dish coated with cooking spray and place under broiler for 8 minutes.

Serve to husband. See him smile.

See baby daughter look on with jealousy.

Jeff brought me home a bottle of Mumm Champagne (one of our favorite wineries from our honeymoon) and a bottle of Albarino - a wine we mutually love. Having a surprise dessert up my sleeve I opted to pop open the bubbly. I made these delicious Toffee Topped Brownies and dipped strawberries in the leftover ganache. It made for a lovely dessert with our Napa champagne.

Toffee Topped Brownie Bites
Adapted From Annie's Eats

For the brownies:
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/3 cup unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

For the ganache:
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

For topping:
Toffee bits (or coarsely chopped Heath Bars)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 24-cup mini muffin pan. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine the unsweetened chocolate and butter. Cook and stir over medium-low heat just until melted and smooth. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the sugar, eggs, vanilla and salt, and whisk until combined. Stir in the flour until just incorporated. Spoon a heaping tablespoon of batter into each mini muffin cup.

Bake for 12-15 minutes or until completely set. Allow to cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes. Remove brownies from the pan and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the ganache, heat the whipping cream in a small saucepan over medium heat just until it simmers; remove from the heat. Add the bittersweet chocolate to the heated cream, let stand for 30 seconds, then whisk until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is well blended.

Gently dip the top of each brownie in the ganache and then sprinkle with toffee bits. Allow the glaze to set completely before serving.

He also surprised me with a pretty cool new cookbook called Local Flavors. It's all about cooking with goods from farmer's markets, which is just in time for Carmel's Farmer's Market season. Both of us are interested in trying new ingredients. Neither of us have a whole lot of experience with different greens like chard and kale. This book gives a lot of ideas on how to prepare these veggies. I'll be sure to let you know when I stumble upon something fabulous!


Comfort Food

In great contrast from the previous post, how 'bout some meatloaf and french fries?

Alright, so this is NOT meatloaf and french fries Paula Dean style. I'd like to think these are possibly the healthiest version of both. The meatloaves are made with ground turkey and the muffin tin portions really curb your ability to go back for another slice, and then another slice... I like that. The french fries are delicious and oven baked with olive oil. Not too shabby, eh?

Turkey Mini Meatloaves
Adapted from Cooking Light

This recipe makes about 5 mini loaves. Jeff and I are happy eating just 2 loaves each. I keep the 5th for lunch the next day. But I suppose the 5th could go to someone particularly hungry, or a really good puppy, or a small child...

1/2 cup chopped onion
Rounded 1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh herbs (parsley, basil, or whatever you have on hand)
1 1/4 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
3/4 lb. ground turkey breast
1 large egg white
4 1/2 Tbsp. ketchup, divided
1/4-1/2 tsp. Tabasco sauce (depending on taste)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat 5 muffin cups in a regular muffin pan with cooking spray.
2. Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion to pan; saute 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from heat; cool slightly.
3. Combine onion, breadcrumbs, and next 7 ingredients (through egg white) in a large bowl. Stir in 2 1/2 Tbsp. ketchup. Fill prepared muffin cups with meat mixture; place muffin tin on baking sheet.
4. Combine remaining ketchup and Tabasco sauce in a small bowl. Brush mixture over meatloaf tops. Bake for 30 minutes or until thermometer registers 165 degrees.

Oven Baked French Fries
Adapted from Joy the Baker

3 or 4 medium sized Russet potatoes, rinsed, scrubbed and dried
2 Tbsp. olive oil plus 1 teaspoon
1 tsp. Herbes de Provence
1/2 - 1 tsp. kosher salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Pour 1 teaspoon of oil on baking sheet and spread around with a paper towel, greasing the sheet before you add the potatoes.

Slice cleaned potatoes lengthwise into 1/3″ thick slices, then slice those slices into smaller potato strips. Place on the baking sheet and drizzle with 2 Tablespoons of oil. Toss the potatoes in the oil to coat. Place in oven for 25- 35 minutes, removing the tray every 10 minutes to toss and stir the potatoes, then returning to the oven. Cook until browned.

Remove from the oven and immediatley add salt and Herbes de Provence. Toss and serve.


Asparagus Chickpea Brown Rice

This might be the most nutritious and healthy dish I've made thus far. I just couldn't resist when I saw the recipe. I love asparagus, chickpeas and tahini, so why not all together all at once.

Aside from the minor prep work needed before you get started, this is a pretty quick little side. Jeff and I both loved it, and it made for pretty good lunch leftovers the next day. The trick with this dish is to season just right with salt and to add in a little more dressing while eating.

Asparagus Chickpea Brown Rice
From 101 Cookbooks

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 14-ounce can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 bunch asparagus, cut into 1-inch segments
2-3 cups pre-cooked brown rice
1 cup almond slivers, toasted
kosher salt

Tahini Dressing:

1 garlic clove, smashed and chopped
1/4 cup tahini
zest of one lemon
scant 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons hot water
scant 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Prepare rice according to package directions

Make the dressing by whisking together the garlic, tahini, lemon zest and juice, and olive oil. Add the hot water to thin a bit and then the salt. Set aside.

Add olive oil to a big skillet over medium-high heat. Swirl the oil around to coat the pan, then add the chickpeas and sprinkling of salt. Let the beans saute for a couple minutes. Add the garlic and onions. Stir for a minute. Stir in the asparagus with another pinch or two of salt, cover with a lid for a minute or two to steam - just until the asparagus brightens and softens up just a bit. Uncover and stir in the rice and almond slivers. Taste and add more salt if needed. Serve in a big bowl drizzled with a few tablespoons of the tahini dressing. Serve remaining dressing on the side and let each person add more dressing to their tastes.

Serves 4-6.


Marlo's First Trip to the Park

I'm kind of embarrassed that Marlo is 9 months old and just now we're taking her to the park. I guess I have the excuse that most of her life thus far has been in winter months. With summer officially here though, we figured it best to introduce her to public grasslands and jungle gyms.

So, last Saturday we headed to Meadowlark Park near downtown Carmel. It's a pretty well maintained park. A lot of open meadow area. A walking trail that leads to the Monon Trail. And a nice small playground equipped with baby swings.

I was really excited to get her in a swing. I was sure she would love it, and I was right.

I attempted to swing as well. It had been many years. The last time I was on a swing I was 20 and at a friend's wedding at a park. Me and a few friends swung for about a half an hour in our cocktail dresses. I think this time I lasted about 30 seconds on the swing before I felt like I was going to throw up. Unfortunately, the feeling stuck with me the rest of the day. I remember a long time ago my dad swinging with me as a child and saying he felt the same way. Does this mean I'm old?

We saw lots of fun things at the park. Like this squirrel who was digging for a nut.

Marlo loves little creatures and absolutely adored the squirrel. We had to sit and watch until he finished eating the nut and ran away.

Marlo sat in the grass for the first time. She hated it.

She found various weeds mildly amusing.

On the way back to the car we saw some tadpoles which is something I haven't seen in probably 10 years. Having spent half of those years living in an urban environment, you don't really encounter too many baby frogs. I call this the organic version of The Miracle of Life (Mr. Rock is playing the part of the egg).


Pork & Sauerkraut

This is kind of a pork weekend, right? Brats on the grill. Maybe a little pulled pork action.

Speaking of brats. I'm sure you're totally annoyed with the Hillshire Farms commercials ("When I say Hillshire, you say Farms..."). But the one for "with the Miller High Life cooked in" brats got me going a little. I love Miller High Life, so they totally snagged me and duped me into buying them. We had them on Monday night topped with a mountain of sauerkraut. They were delicious, but I have no idea what maniac would be able to actually taste the Miller High Life. I couldn't even taste beer let alone the brand. Regardless, I recommend.

Back to the story here...If you're not planning on having some big cook out this weekend and are looking for a more refined way to satisfy your craving for dogs and kraut, try this out. We really like the flavors of this dish and felt especially German eating it. You could go all out and serve it with a side of potatoes, but this here dish isn't exactly healthy so we opted for some fresh green beans instead. By the way, it's a wonderful idea for all the leftover sauerkraut you end up having from just feeding two people dogs and kraut, because even a mountain of kraut on each dog doesn't use up even half the container. Another tip. If you don't have caraway seeds in the cupboard, I've seen cans of kraut that have caraway seeds in it. Saves you from having to buy the spice.

Have a lovely holiday weekend!

Pork & Sauerkraut
Adapted from The New York Times

2 slices thick bacon
2 pork chops (bone-in or boneless - I used boneless)
1 small onion, sliced
1 can of sauerkraut
1/2 tablespoon caraway seeds
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 cup beer
Coarse salt to taste
1. In a heavy skillet, fry the bacon until golden. Remove and drain on paper towels. Brown both sides of the chops in the bacon fat and add the onion. Saute onion for a few minutes until softened. Add the sauerkraut, the bacon, caraway seeds and pepper to the pan. Cover the chops well with the sauerkraut.

2. Add the beer, bring to boil, turn down heat and simmer gently for 20 minutes, or until the pork chops are cooked.
3. Serve by stacking bacon on top of chops followed by a generous mound of kraut and onions.


Dancey Dance

For about a month now, Marlo has pretty much demanded dinner music. She literally goes on a hunger strike if there aren't tunes playing while she's eating. She's not picky. I can just play her little tykes radio, or even just sing her some ridiculous made up song about how much she loves her oatmeal. As soon as the song starts, she hangs her mouth open. Without it, her lips are like an iron fortress.

Lately, though, I can tell she really likes the song if she starts dancing. This girl's got some rhythm, too. Here she is rockin' out to Lykke Li.

Well, La Di Da.

Fancy cookie time!

After my impulse buy of lavender from the spice aisle at Meijer, I was determined to make a lemon and lavender something. Would it be pound cake? Biscotti? Then I stumbled across the recipe for these cookies.

I wasn't sure if I was worthy of them. Their simplicity ultimately is responsible for their almost obnoxious sophistication. Would I have to get dressed up to eat them, I thought. The answer is no, in case you were wondering the same thing. A cup of tea doesn't hurt though.

Now, you may be like me and may never have tried lavender anything before. Or maybe it's old news and I've been living in a cave the past 20 years. Either way, don't be afraid of it. These cookies are delightful, mild, lemony and addictive. Take my advice and portion yourself out two cookies because one's just plain not enough and three, well you might feel guilty and these aren't the cookies you want to use up that emotion on.

Lemon & Lavender Cookies
Adapted from When Harry Met Salad

¾ c. sugar
2 T. grated lemon zest + 2 T. juice from 1-2 lemons
2 t. dried lavender (optional, but then they’d just be lemon cookies)
1¾ c. flour
¼ t. baking powder
¼ t. salt
12 T. (1½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½” cubes
1 egg yolk
½ t. vanilla extract

1) In a food processor (Click here for instructions on how to make the cookies by hand or with a stand mixer), process the sugar, lemon zest and lavender until the sugar looks damp and the zest and lavender are fully incorporated, about 30 seconds. Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt, then add to the sugar mixture; pulse to combine, about 10 1-second pulses.

2) Scatter the butter pieces over and pulse until the mixture resembles fine cornmeal, about 15 1-second pulses. In a measuring cup, beat together the lemon juice, egg yolk and vanilla. With the machine running, add the juice mixture in a slow stream (should take about 10 seconds) and continue processing until the dough forms into a ball, 10 to 15 seconds longer.

4) Turn the dough and any dry bits onto a clean work surface and gently gather into a ball. Working quickly, roll the dough into a cylinder about 12″ long and 1½” in diameter. Center the dough on a piece of parchment or plastic wrap and wrap tightly, twisting the ends together to seal. Chill the dough until firm and cold, about 45 minutes in the freezer or 2 hours in the refrigerator.

5) Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

6) Remove the dough log from its wrapper and use a sharp knife to slice the dough into 3/8″ thick rounds. Place the rounds on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them 1″ apart. Bake until the centers of the cookies just begin to color and the edges are golden brown, about 10-12 minutes (the recipe actually says 14-16 minutes, but 10 minutes was plenty for me and my wonky oven), rotating the baking sheet halfway through the baking time. Cool on sheets about 5 minutes, then transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.


Yummy Chicken Quesadillas

Sometimes I wish my mother was Italian and my father was Mexican. Or maybe even the other way around - that might produce a better looking child, but what do I know.

The reasoning behind this is that I love Mexican food. My frequent attempts at making it is always just average at best because apparently I'm way to pasty white to really make it well. I'm not confident handling the flavors or the ingredients and I just constantly feel like a fish outta water in the whole genre. I never know what's missing and what I need to add. This is where a Mexican mother would come in handy because I'm sure that if I had a generations old Mole sauce to make for Jeff, he might love me a little more. Also, I would've inherited, perhaps, a more natural rapport with cilantro instead of being completely repulsed by it.

But even though I don't have any Gomez, Rodriguez or Flores blood running in my veins, these quesadillas tasted pretty awesome. Okay, I understand that quesadillas are probably the whitest of all Mexican food you can make, but cut me some slack, alright? The wet rub on the chicken can really take all the credit for the awesomeness. The flavors are spot on. The addition of the tomatoes really gave the dish a nice fresh flavor, too. Hope you like them! Adios!

Chicken Quesadillas
Adapted from Annie's Eats

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts pounded to an even ½ inch thickness
½ small yellow onion, finely diced
1 large tomato, seeded and diced
4 large tortillas
olive oil, for brushing/or spray olive oil
1 ½ cups shredded Mexican cheese

For the wet rub:
1 ½ tsp. chili powder
1 ½ tsp. fajita seasoning
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cumin
½ tsp. red pepper flakes
juice of 1 lime

1. Heat a grill pan or skillet over medium high heat. Whisk wet rub ingredients together in a pie plate. Add the chicken and turn to coat. Cook the chicken until browned on both sides and juices run clear. Remove from the heat and using 2 forks, shred chicken. Scrape out any black bits from skillet and add diced onion. Sauté, stirring constantly, onions are tender.

Brush one side of a tortilla with olive oil. Flip over and top one half of the tortilla with chicken mixture, diced tomatoes and shredded cheese to taste. Fold the tortilla over and carefully place the folded quesadilla onto the grill pan or skillet. Cook until heated through and cheese has melted. Repeat with remaining tortillas. To keep quesadillas warm while the others are still cooking, place in the oven on a baking sheet or other oven safe dish at 200°. Cut the finished quesadillas into triangles and serve with salsa, sour cream or other toppings of your choice.


Thank GOOP for Jaydiohead

Marlo isn't really on the cutting edge of the hip music scene. Not coincidentally, neither am I.

Her favorite songs consist mostly of what I call Zoo Jamz from her Fisher Price zoo toy and also Little Tyke's remixes of the classic "ABC" from the Jackson Five and "Allstar" from Smashmouth. Not very current, I know.

There was a point in time where I used to be hip (musically). I branded that as part of my personality. That may be why I have half the male friends that I do. When all else failed in our social evenings, we could always rely on just sitting silently in the car listening to Radiohead at a just-loud-enough-without-being-too-loud volume, which is probably the closest I've come to a religious experience. Usually no words were necessary, and I understood this. Maybe other girls didn't.

I still consider myself a huge Radiohead-head.. or would it be Head-head, I don't know. However, I'm not in the least bit surprised that I just now found this "Jaydiohead" business, thanks to Gwyneth Paltrow. She sends me emails every week or so. We're tight. Don't buy it? Aren't you a wise owl. If you're remotely interested in what Gwyneth Paltrow thinks is cool, you could sign up for her email newsletter GOOP. She will email you on occasion (it's never an annoying frequency) and tell you about recipes, restaurants, general child rearing advice, etiquette, hotels, vacation hot spots, etc. I don't find that it changes my life, but occasionally she'll have some valuable little nugget. Like this Jaydiohead. It's a marriage of Jay-Z and Radiohead. No, they didn't meet together in some London studio and lay some new tracks (the thought of this alone is quite amusing). Some guy who calls himself minty fresh beats merged Jay-Z raps with Radiohead music. I'm not really a huge hip-hop fan (wouldn't it be funny if I was), but I find it easier to swallow if it's layered on top of a Radiohead song. Have a listen and a nice weekend.


Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Sounds good right?

Almost any oatmeal cookie sounds good to me. Especially Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies. My favorite cookies in the whole world are Potbelly's Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies. I might be willing to give my right arm for the recipe. You'd have to catch me on the right day (or wrong day - which is it?) I sent these to work with Jeff when I made them, and apparently they went over well. There was some positive feedback. Personally, I found the flavors really interesting. Nothing about the cookies really shouted "peanut butter!!" or "nutmeg!!" or even "cinnamon!!!" All the flavors just merge and played well together, and make you go "hmmmm" and then "mmmmmm.". Make these this weekend for your kids, or your sig other, or yourself. Everyone will be glad you did.

Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
As seen on Two Peas and Their Pod. Originally from Dorie Greenspan.

3 cups old fashioned oats
1 cup all purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp salt

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup sugar

1 cup (packed) light brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 tsp pure vanilla extract
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chunks, or 1 1/2 cups store-bought chocolate chips or chunks

Getting Ready: Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Whisk together the oats, flour, baking soda, spices and salt.
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter, peanut butter, sugar and brown sugar on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition, then beat in the vanilla.
Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the dry ingredients, beating only until blended. Mix in the chips.

If you have the time, cover and chill the dough for about 2 hours or for up to one day. (Chilling the dough will give you more evenly shaped cookies.)
If the dough is not chilled, drop rounded tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto the baking sheets. If the dough is chilled, scoop up rounded tablespoons, roll the balls between your palms and place them 2 inches apart on the sheets. Press the chilled balls gently with the heel of your hand until they are about 1/2 inch thick.

Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back after 7 minutes. The cookies should be golden and just firm around the edges. Lift the cookies onto cooling racks with a wide metal spatula - they'll firm as they cool.

Makes a TON of cookies.


Hi. I'm...

I love Ira Glass. I love his voice. I love his wit. I love his glasses.

With this in mind, it's a shame I didn't say more about the the live taping of This American Life Jeff and I saw last month in Chicago. A few weekends ago, NPR broadcasted the taping and it reminded me of how funny it was. At times it was more than just funny; it was, for lack of a better word, touching. I laughed until I cried, and sometimes I just plain cried. You see, my emotions were a little less restrained due to a half bottle of wine.

Here is a link to the episode where you can listen to the show through another link for free.

If you listen to the show you may have found yourself doubled over with laughter during the story about the drunk driver accident. The guy telling the story is Mike Birbiglia. Comedian. Funny. As. Hell. Most comedians are kind of assholes. (sorry for all the expletives, I just don't think any other words would seem appropriate) I mean, that's just part of their schtick. They have to have this huge ego. They have to think they're super funny or you definitely won't. Some comedians use this to its full extent. Like Dane Cook. He's not funny, he just cusses a lot. But he is so confident that he is indeed funny, that he's put many people and their money under his spell. Well regardless, Mike Birbiglia isn't Dane Cook. He manages to be hilarious in a non-asshole way. He's really funny in a smart, witty, humble, charming kind of way. Maybe a David Sedaris kind of way.

Moving on, this short animation film was a nice treat they showed the audience during the taping. I think it's an interesting portrayal of how we sometimes treat the people we love. Moral of the story: don't date someone who keeps you in the cupboard. Ta ta!

Quimby The Mouse from This American Life on Vimeo.


Not Just Talkin' the Talk

She's walkin' the walk my friends. Walkin' the walk. (Assisted by her new dolly stroller.)

Sausage & Lentil Casserole

My husband doesn't usually vocalize if he doesn't like something I make. Okay, who am I kidding, it's obvious when he doesn't like something because he just leaves it on the plate. Doesn't even try and squeeze it down for the sake of politeness. He'll pick at it, and just leave the rest for the birds. Yes that's right, he'd rather go hungry than eat something that doesn't suit his palate perfectly. And yes, sometimes it's insulting - especially when I'm my biggest critic and I find the meal outrageously delicious.

Like this casserole. I love it. Could eat it everyday. Jeff groans when I tell him it's what's for dinner. Groans. He claims it's the spinach. He doesn't like cooked spinach. Well okay, that's fair enough but the spinach in this casserole is so mild in flavor and texture I think it's all in his head. I'm certain it's all in head. What you taste most in this casserole is the spicy sausage and the sharp cheddar, all the other ingredients just take very important supporting roles. So if you are like my husband and would rather not eat at all then eat cooked spinach, okay, then this casserole may not be for you; however, even if spinach isn't your favorite (like me) but you won't go running for the hills at the mere sight of it (like me) and you just so happen to love sharp cheddar and spicy sausage (like me and everyone else) then I bet you'll like this casserole.

The only tricky thing about this casserole is finding the right ingredients. The ingredients on paper seem pretty straight forward, accessible, and easy. But then when you actually go out and try to find them, it gets a little tough. Please take my advice on a few things here. I've only found 2 brands that actually make a 19 ounce can of lentil soup. Progresso and Muir Glen Organics. I've used both and Muir Glen is much better than Progresso, but Progresso is cheaper and more widely available. Also, IQF spinach is key and also very hard to find. What you're looking for is going to be a bag of spinach that the spinach leaves were frozen separately in chunks. The boxed kind won't work here. I've made it with the boxed kind, having to cook it first then mix it in, and it turns out mushy and gross. I've found IQF spinach at Whole Foods. Haven't really looked too hard anywhere else. Leave a comment if you find another brand of soup or a store that carries IQF spinach.

Sausage & Lentil Casserole

16 ounces hot Italian-style sausage (I use Bob Evans zesty italian sausage)
1 small onion, chopped
1 19-ounce can lentil soup
2 cups individually quick-frozen (IQF) spinach
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 cup uncooked converted white rice (like Uncle Ben's)
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat a 2- to 2 1/2-quart baking dish with cooking spray. Remove casings from sausage and crumble with a fork. Add sausage and onion to large skillet; cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes. Add soup, spinach and oregano; heat through. Add rice and season with pepper. Transfer to the prepared baking dish; cover with foil. Bake until rice is tender, about 35 minutes. Top with Cheddar and bake uncovered until the cheese is melted, a few minutes longer.

Adapted from Eating Well


Pizza and a Movie

I realize it's been a week.

If you haven't noticed already, I don't post much on the weekend. My husband distracts me. Plus it's hard for me to write sitting next to someone. I get self-conscious. Like they're reading and secretly hating every word I type out. It's paralyzing.

Also, the beginning of the week was spent in Ohio. My friend Savina was home in Findlay from Hawaii for a week. I don't get many opportunities to spend time with Savina anymore, so I jumped at the opportunity to see her. Here is Marlo and Savina taking a break from their deep conversation.

Am I excused?

Will pizza make up for my disappearance? How about pizza and a new Marlo feature presentation.

I made this pizza last week. It's really fun and satisfying to make your own pizza from scratch. While I don't think it necessarily tastes a whole lot better than our favorite pizza shop in town, it feels better. What I mean by that is, it feels good knowing that I know every ingredient and have control over everything so the pizza comes out exactly how I want it.

Tomato & Pesto Pizza

Start off earlier in the afternoon making the dough for the crust. The website I got the recipe from, Brown Eyed Baker, gives directions for making the dough using either a food processor, a stand mixer, or by hand. Please visit the link if you don't have a food processor and need directions for the other two methods. I of course used my beloved new food processor.

Makes enough for 2 medium pizzas.

We find the food processor is the best tool for making pizza dough. However, only a food processor with a capacity of at least 11 cups can handle this much dough. You can also knead this dough by hand or in a standing mixer (see the variations that follow). Unbleached all-purpose flour can be used in a pinch, but the resulting crust will be less crisp. If you want to make pizza dough in the morning and let it rise on the counter all day, decrease the yeast to 1/2 teaspoon and let the covered dough rise at cool room temperature (about 68 degrees) until doubled in size, about 8 hours. You can prolong the rising time even further by refrigerating the covered dough for up to 16 hours and then letting it rise on the counter until doubled in size, which will take 6 to 8 hours.

1/2 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
1 envelope (about 2 1/4 teaspoons) instant yeast
1 1/4 cups water, at room temperature
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 cups (22 ounces) bread flour, plus more for dusting work surface and hands
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Olive oil or nonstick cooking spray for oiling the bowl

1. Measure the warm water into a 2-cup liquid measuring cup. Sprinkle in the yeast and let stand until the yeast dissolves and swells, about 5 minutes. Add the room-temperature water and oil and stir to combine.

2. Process the flour and salt in a large food processor, pulsing to combine. Continue pulsing while pouring the liquid ingredients (holding back a few tablespoons) through the feed tube. If the dough does not readily form into a ball, add the remaining liquid and continue to pulse until a ball forms. Process until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 30 seconds longer.

3. The dough will be a bit tacky, so use a rubber spatula to turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead by hand for a few strokes to form a smooth, round ball. Put the dough into a deep oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Press the dough to deflate it.

I used just half of the dough for this pizza. It was the perfect amount of pizza to stuff both of us. I would use all the dough if you had 4 or so people to feed and double the following recipe to make two pizzas. Otherwise, divide the dough into two equal hunks and freeze the other half if not using.

1/2 of above pizza dough recipe
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. grated Asiago cheese (optional)
3 Tbsp. store -bought or homemade basil pesto
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup shredded fontina
2 ripe plum tomatoes sliced thinly (I used the processor) and let to dry on paper towel
*you can really use whatever tomato you want - I used a hothouse tomato

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Roll out dough to your desired thickness on a well floured surface. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

2. Brush olive oil on the outer rim of dough. Sprinkle Asiago cheese over olive oil.

3. Evenly spread pesto in center of pizza dough. Use more or less according to your taste. Evenly sprinkle cheese over pesto and top cheese with tomato slices.

4. Slide pizza and parchment paper off of baking sheet directly on to the oven rack. Bake 9-12 minutes, rotating half way, until cheese is bubbly and crust is golden. Let cool for a few minutes before slicing.

Adapted from Cuisinart


And now for our feature presentation...

Marlo's doing a handful of cute new things lately.

For the most part she's given up the unbecoming gremlin growl she's had for a good month and traded it in for a nice, feminine "La la", often in a pretty girly voice. "la la la la la" all the live long day here. Occasionally, she'll get fancy and throw in a "buh" and make a few "blah blahs" (these are often accompanied by rather large spit bubbles). The point is: the girl's learning to talk. While I think the only actual word she says associating to an actual object is "dada", I have high hopes that we'll make leaps and bounds the next few months. I'm curious what her first word will be outside of mama and dada. She doesn't have a blanket, nor does she have a bottle, so "baba" is kind of obsolete (unless she means "boob" - which is always possible). I have a feeling it might be some variation of puppy. She loves her puppy dogs.

While she's still working on her words, she's mastering body language. Hilariously, she's learned to shake her head "no". Unfortunately for her, her noggin is so large she about loses her balance when she gets carried away. See for yourself.


Sweet Chili Glazed & Walnut Crusted Tilapia & Grilled Zucchini Orzo

I haven't been making a whole lot of new things lately, note the lack of recipes in recent posts. I figured I'd better get on it before I lose a reader who reads this just for the food ideas. Maybe that person exists. I decided to go all the way and do something new. Seafood. Jeff and my favorite fish is Halibut, and hooray, it's Halibut season. But guess what, who can afford it right now for a measly Wednesday night dinner? Not us. So I settled for the real chicken of the sea, Tilapia. This is one of our favorite fish recipes. It's sweet, spicy and easy. Tilapia is a very mild and affordable fish that's available year round. The orzo was a successful off-the-cuff creation when I realized I didn't have a concrete side dish plan and just a mish-mash of pantry items.

Sweet Chili Glazed and Walnut Crusted Tilapia

For Glaze:
3 Tablespoons honey
1⁄4 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon warm water

For Crust:
1/2 Cup Panko Bread Crumbs
1/3 Cup ground walnuts (I ground them in food processor)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper

2 tilapia fillets
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1. Place the honey, chili powder and warm water in a small bowl; mix to combine. Place crumbs, walnuts, salt, chili powder and pepper into a shallow dish; mix to combine. Season both sides of tilapia fillets with pinches of salt and pepper. With a pastry brush, brush honey glaze on both sides of tilapia then press into crumb mix. Continue until all fillets are coated.

2. Heat oil into a large skillet over medium heat. When hot place coated tilapia fillets into skillet; cook 2-4 minutes per side, until golden brown and fish flakes easy with a fork. Remove and serve warm.

Note: It's not easy to keep the fish "pretty" while frying them up. You should use your thinnest spatula to flip the fish, and since there isn't an egg wash, the breading doesn't stick all that well. I just thought you should know, and not feel like a failure when a quarter of the crust falls off into the fry pan.

Serves: 2

Recipe adapted from: Picky Palate

Grilled Zucchini Orzo

1 medium-large zucchini quartered length-wise
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt & pepper

1 cup orzo pasta
1 14.5 oz. can low-sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup onion finely diced
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1/4 cup grated asiago cheese
zest and juice from half a lemon
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper

1. Brush olive oil over all sides of the zucchini quarters. Salt and pepper evenly. Place on grill flesh side down over medium-high flame. Grill 3-4 minutes and flip once to the other flesh side, grilling 3-4 more minutes. Remove and let stand a few minutes until it's cool enough to touch. Slice into a large dice. Set aside and keep warm.

2. Pour chicken broth into a medium sauce pan and bring to a soft rolling boil. Add orzo and gently boil for about 5-6 minutes (check package directions). Meanwhile, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in small skillet. Add onions and saute until softened. Once orzo is cooked, drain and return to pot. Add onions, remaining olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, cheese, almonds, salt and pepper to orzo. Stir well to combine. Gently mix in zucchini and leave orzo over low heat for a few minutes until warmed.

Serves: 2


The Next Meg White

Last Saturday, Gramps Brittain predicted that Marlo was going to be a drummer because she's always got her arms moving around. She must have heard him because she has since been pounding on any surface she approaches. Last night she gave us a drum solo on the seat of one of our dining chairs. After watching the video, I promptly cleaned the house.


Not Ready to Go Vegetarian? Me Either.

The verdict is in. Eating meat is really bad for the environment. The amount of resources that go into producing one pound of meat is astounding, not to mention the pollution and greenhouse gas emissions the livestock industry is responsible for. About a year ago my father handed me his Rolling Stone which was opened to an article about the pork livestock industry and how absolutely horrific it is. I was so grossed out just a quarter of the way though, I accepted the point and quit reading.

I consider myself to be a generally healthy eater. Okay, okay, I do enjoy baked goods, and on occasion I will whip up a high sodium Campbell's can of Cream of whatever casserole and enjoy every bite; but I'm not so much into frying food, I don't drink a whole lot other than water during the day and I enjoy one light beer every evening, I stay away from fattening condiments (yucko mayo), I really avoid anything prepackaged, and I shell out a fortune for olive oil and won't cook with anything else. I'm always interested in upping the ante, though.

A few weeks ago, Dr. Oz was on Oprah discussing how to prolong your life. I never miss a Dr. Oz episode and neither should you. They talked in length during this show about a restricted calorie diet and how people who have maintained this lifestyle for years (like 10 years) have been shown to actually reverse cell deterioration. Meaning - they're bodies are getting YOUNGER. I was fascinated and am bound and determined to go on this diet, how about on my 50th birthday. See, if you couldn't tell already, I really enjoy food. I like talking about it, learning about it, making it and yeah, eating it. But I'm not kidding myself, sooner or later it'll lose its luster for me and I'll be more concerned about staying alive than about some new chicken recipe. You can learn about a restricted calorie diet here.

But for now, I'll just keep on keepin' on with my regular calorie intake, and focus, instead, on what I can do to keep my family healthy. And I find it very interesting that reducing meat intake is not only better for your body but it's significantly better for the environment. I'm not ready to totally give up my carnivorous appetite, though. Can't I meet you half way? Just for now? Apparently, I can. This article on Slate magazine discusses in detail what meats are more environmentally friendly. Turns out, chicken is the way to go and any red meat (beef, bison, lamb, and pork - yes they consider the "other white meat" really red meat) is environmentally devastating. Turns out red meat is pretty bad for your body, too. Just google "red meat cancer" and you'll get the point quickly.

Recycle. Avoid plastic bags. Eat chicken. Feel a little better about yourself.


TV Detox

I've read about half of about half of these books. Let's just say that reading isn't my forte. I desperately wish otherwise though. My peers are all very well read individuals, and in an effort to avoid having to do the work myself, I have an uncanny ability to absorb every drop of worthwhile knowledge they take away from their books by letting them tell me all about it. Most readers enjoy telling you about the books they read, so it works out very well.

See I grew up in a household somewhat confused about its literacy. My parents watch a lot of TV, well, my mother watches a lot of TV and my father spends most of his free time surfing the internet (which does actually involve a lot of reading, he's not playing poker). Surprisingly, though, there are many books in the house, tucked away on a shelf in a back room or in a cabinet in the kitchen. My mother's book collection involves decorating, cooking and crafts. My father's library includes mostly biographies or historical themed non-fiction. As a child, I'd occasionally see him reading them outside of a bedtime routine. I remember one occasion where he was reading a new book (probably some kind of Who Shot JFK book) and I was impressed that he was already half way through the book after just having started it that day. After commenting on this he said something like, "no I just skip around to the chapters I want to read." Being a kid (and an adult) who is painfully obedient to all the rules of life, including the unstated rule that you have to read chapters 1 & 2 before you dare venture into chapter 3, this completely blew my mind. Skip around?! How do you know what's going on in the story, I thought. This was well before the concept of reading non-fiction for pleasure ever entered my mind. Now non-fiction is really all I can fathom reading for pleasure. My imagination is kind of stale. I pity Marlo the day she asks me to tell her a story.

But, essentially, this all comes down to Marlo. I look at her and I know she's a smart kid already and I want her to use the brains in that big noggin wisely and not rot them in front of the TV. I understand full well that this is only likely to happen if mom and dad surround her in a culture of reading. She has to see mom and dad reading as a normal occurrence for her to have a chance of picking up the habit. She has to see new books as something to get excited about more so than a new episode of The Office.

So this week, Monday through Friday, Jeff and I are having a "No TV Week". We were inspired by the husband of Jeff's colleague who is a principal and does this every year at his school. Not only are we going to do it this week, but we're going to have a No TV Week the last week of every month. Hopefully we'll force ourselves into reading habits instead of the dreadful couch potato TV zombie habits we currently participate in.

Our reading list this week:

Emily: Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English by John McWhorter
Numerous research articles for her research paper

Jeff: City of Thieves by David Benioff


It's Beautiful Out. Why Aren't You Grilling?

By now, you know how I feel about grilling. It's my favorite way to cook-anything. Meat, pizza, vegetables, you name it - I'd rather it on the grill. Not only does food cook better, but it tastes better and there's half the clean up afterwards. Here's a few of my favorite grilling recipes that are easy and delicious.

Grilled Chicken with Pesto

4 large skinless, boneless chicken breast halves*
2/3 cup homemade or store-bought basil pesto
2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Salt and pepper both sides of chicken breasts. Combine pesto and lemon juice in a bowl. Pour over chicken breasts in a shallow dish. Let chicken marinade for about 20 minutes in the fridge. Dampen a cloth or paper towel with olive oil and oil the grill rack, or (with flame off) coat the rack with cooking spray. Preheat the grill. Shake off excess pesto and place chicken on the grill over high heat. Grill about 5 minutes per side or until chicken is cooked through, turning just once.

*It's a good idea to pound your chicken breasts down to an even thickness. This helps the meat cook more uniformly and quickly.

Adapted from: FineCooking.com

Grilled Asparagus a la Francesca

In Wicker Park, Francesca Forno is probably one of my favorite Italian restaurants in Chicago. A little over a year ago, I ordered a side of their grilled asparagus and thought I'd hit solid gold. I was set to reproduce it at home. Here is my version.

1 Lb. Asparagus, rinsed and tough ends trimmed
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt & Pepper
1/4 cup shredded Asiago cheese
1/2 of a lemon, or lemon wedges for each diner

Place asparagus in shallow dish and pour olive oil over asparagus. Salt and Pepper asparagus generously and toss to evenly coat each spear with olive oil and seasoning. Over a medium-high flame, line up asparagus on the grill perpendicular to the grates. Grill about 3 minutes and then turn each spear and grill 2-3 more minutes depending on how thick the asparagus is and how done you like your asparagus. I've found that nice sturdy thick spears hold up better to grilling than the delicate pencil thin spears. Obviously then, you will have less spears to individually turn. This can be tedious. Remove asparagus from the grill and place on serving dish. Top with Asiago and squeeze juice from half a lemon over the asparagus, or just serve with lemon wedges. Don't skip the lemon though. Trust me, you need it.


Honey Pecan Pork Chops

It's annoying when I have no specific plans for the meat sitting in my fridge. It eats at me all day. What's worse is when I decide on some brilliant recipe, but only have half the ingredients and none of the motivation to go to the grocery store (I live across the street from a grocery store, but still, laziness happens). For this reason, I am in love with this recipe. I always have all the ingredients (yeah all 4) in my pantry, and this is a considerably tasty way to make pork chops and the presentation always turns out fancy, too. I can imagine children loving this recipe. It reminds me of the flavor of Chicken McNuggets dipped in honey which I believe I ate as a part of my Happy Meal once a week as a child. But don't let that comparison lower your expectations. You'll be using top of the line pork (right?) and not Grade D chicken "meat". That alone places this dish in a whole other league. Quality ingredients do more than half the work for you. Give 'em a try. Once you see how quick, easy, and delicious they are, I bet you'll make them again (and again, and again...).

Honey Pecan Pork Chops

10 ounces (2 medium) boneless pork loin trimmed and pounded thin (1/4 - 1/2 inch)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. chopped pecans

Salt and pepper both sides of pork loins generously. Add flour and more salt and pepper to a large ziplock bag. Place pork in bag and shake to coat evenly. In a large skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat watching carefully so it does not burn. Shake off excess flour from pork and add chops to the skillet. Brown both sides, turning once until the pork is cooked to your liking. Depending on how thick your pork is, this can be anywhere from 4-6 minutes per side. Transfer meat to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm. Remove pan from burner and lower burner heat to medium-low. Replace pan to heat and add honey and pecans to the pan drippings. Heat through and stir constantly as to not burn the honey. I always add the drippings from the plate the pork was transfered to as well. Spoon or pour the sauce over the cutlets, serve.


What a Weekend!

The last time we went to Chicago was the first time we returned since we had moved away. That was in the middle of January immediately following a blizzard. We left, cursing the city and relieved we had relocated to have Marlo in a more docile environment. This time, we had a change of heart. Jeff drove me up to Chicago for a long weekend to celebrate my birthday. We stayed with my lovely sister Sara (thanks again for sleeping on your couch for 3 nights), and enjoyed the city in a more gentle climate. After this trip, when we left, we did so with a heavy heart. We really do miss you Chicago.

Here are a few highlights from the fun-filled weekend.

Our friends Mike and Andrea drove in Saturday night to have a delicious Mexican dinner (also my first Margarita since before I was pregnant) with us at Lalo's (mmmmmm). We let Marlo and their drop dead gorgeous little girl, Mira, get acquainted for a while at my sister's apartment before we went to dinner. We're not into blind dates. As you can see, Marlo was a little obsessed with Mira. Mira couldn't understand why she was so excited. I love how around :30, Mira strokes Marlo's face as if she were saying "Calm my child." It all worked out. By the end of the night they were kissing - on the lips. We told them to save it for college.

The big "birthday" night was Sunday. Jeff got us tickets to watch a live recording of NPR's This American Life. The show was hilarious. I was a little drunk (see the bottle of wine below), so everything was a little extra funny! Aunt Sara babysat so Jeff and I could have a nice dinner before the show. The restaurant was my choice, and since the show was at the Chicago Theater in the Loop, I seized the opportunity to eat at a restaurant downtown. We showed up at Bandera on Michigan Ave. for a nice dinner. I love this restaurant. The hotel I worked at was right around the corner so my coworkers and I would go there frequently for lunch or after work cocktails. Let me rave about it here for a moment. The place is perfection. If you're going to Chicago and staying downtown. Go there. It's easily overlooked because it's on the second floor above Citibank, but do yourself a favor and don't miss it. The atmosphere is swanky yet casual. Classy yet cool. You could go all dolled up for the opera or in jeans after a long day of shopping. The food is incredible. They have a variety of foods on the menu, but what they're most known for is rotisserie chicken which you see cooking up right in front of you when you first walk in. However, perhaps what's most memorable about Bandera is the service. I've probably eaten here a dozen times and have consistently been blown away by the service (minus one time when the waitress never remembered to bring my sister a straw). The wait staff is always kind, prompt, and knowledgeable.

This romantic evening brought to you by: Jeff Anderson, my husband - he's taken, back off.

A close up of the chips and queso they managed to make into an elegant appetizer and the Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir that was super delicious.

Behold the Hacked Chicken Salad. The most perfect salad ever concocted. The first time I ordered this was the day we found out we were having a girl. This salad is possibly, above all, the reason I go to Bandera, and folks, I'm NOT a salad person. I would post the picture of what Jeff ordered, Bangers and Mash, but it looked kind of vulgar and this is a family show, right? Anyway, he always gets it and its always good!

This past weekend may very well be our final farewell to the city we spent years together in. My sister lost her job last week and will be moving away next month, first to live with us (yea!!) transiently before her final move to Brooklyn. I'm excited for her new chapter in life, but we will miss the free room in our old city. I guess we'll have to start visiting the Big Apple!


Careful Not to Wake the Dragon

Our nights are pretty typical. Marlo goes to sleep around 7:30, and a few hours later, Jeff and I wash up and get ourselves ready for bed (yes, 9:30.. I know. No, we aren't secretly 75 years old). Before we turn the lights out and hit the hay, one of us or both of us will usually take a peek at Marlo. I have to do this because a) I'm paranoid and b) she's a hilarious sleeper. Her most common sleep position is her arms tucked under her belly and her butt sticking straight up in the air. Seeing this right before I go to sleep makes me chuckle and relax a little.

Well, last night, Jeff and I had a classic sitcom moment. We crept into her room together to lovingly take a peek at the the fruit of our loins, when suddenly she grumbled, whined and popped her head up. We immediately and simultaneously dove for cover like a bomb had just exploded in her crib. Jeff, now in her closet, and I, tucked invisibly around a corner, stood motionless and cringing, hoping that she didn't realize we were there. She was in a half asleep stupor, but we were pretty sure she knew I was there. Maybe that was because I couldn't help but pop my head out and watch her. We waited and waited, but it seemed as though she was working more towards staying awake then reverting back to sleep. So, like a Marine, I dropped to floor and army crawled out of the room. My fellow soldier though was stuck. She started laying her head back down, but the floor boards in our apartment are so creaky, he risked being caught with every step. He eventually successfully tiptoed out, and Marlo fell back asleep for the rest of the evening. While this could have had a more somber ending (a wide awake baby right before mom and dad want to go to sleep), it was a close call. Thinking ahead to our next child, I've already asked my parents for a video monitor so we can gaze at our sleeping child from a more "safe" location.

Now for a totally unrelated video, here's Marlo doing her most recent fun thing. She'll sit straight up and lift both arms up for no apparent reason. Now if we could just get her to do the M-C-A part, I'd have something to send in to America's Funniest Home Videos.


Hummus for my Hubby

Hello Gorgeous! Please don't be jealous. Please don't think I'm spoiled. I patiently waited for the right time to ask for a food processor for years. Other needs always trumped the want for this luxurious appliance. However, this birthday, I didn't need maternity clothes or work clothes or any other personal effect, so my wonderful parents bestowed upon me this beautiful, majestic machine. I've been worshiping it now for a little over a week. I've made mostly just delicious meals for Marlo that she's actually eating (hooray for me). However, yesterday, I was determined to make something new and different that I've never made before. I flipped through the Cuisinart owner's manual and found this recipe for hummus. Jeff loves hummus. I couldn't really care less about it, but selflessly, I thought I'd give it a shot and surprise him with his favorite... dip, spread, condiment - whatever it is. I'm not a hummus aficionado, but it tasted good to me.


1/4 cup fresh flat leaf parsley
2 strips lemon zest, 1/2 X 2 inches, bitter white scraped off
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 small garlic cloves
2 (15.5 oz.) cans chickpeas or garbanzo beans, drained, rinsed and drained again
3 Tbsp. tahini paste
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
5 Tbsp. water
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Using metal blade, pulse to chop parsley 10-15 times in food processor. Remove parsley and reserve. Add zest and salt to work bowl and pulse 10 times. With the machine running, add garlic through the feed tube, and process 10 seconds. Add the drained chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, water and cumin to the work bowl, process 1 minute to combine. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the work bowl. Turn the machine on again, and add olive oil through the feed tube in a slow steady stream, and process until hummus is smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add half the chopped parsley; pulse 10-15 times to incorporate. Allow hummus to set for 30 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to incorporate. Sprinkle with remaining parsley and serve in shallow serving bowl with pita slices and raw vegetables.

For lunch, using my favorite new appliance, I shredded some vegetables (carrots, cucumbers and red pepper) I had left in the fridge to make a vegetable and hummus pita. It was delicious, but it could have used more hummus..Yummmm.


A Tale of Two Chocolate Cakes

I love cake. No joke. My favorite part of weddings is the cake, and I'm a fierce critic. I know how much wedding cakes cost, so in my mind, it better be perfect. I honestly don't care what you serve me for dinner, or how awesome your DJ was, your wedding cake makes or breaks the whole shabang in my mind. When Jeff and I got married, I took the cake very seriously. I wanted it to look memorable and interesting, but I wanted the taste to be just as memorable and interesting. I'm quite taken by the look of fondant icing (who isn't) but I loathe the taste. When I met our baker, and she said she can make butter cream look like fondant, I fell in love with her. She wasn't lying and managed to make a gorgeous cake inspired by our invitations. I remember very little from my wedding day, it was all a whirlwind, but I can recall the taste of our cake as if I had just had some for lunch. One layer, my choice, was spice cake with an caramel apple filling, and the second layer, Jeff's choice, was dark chocolate with chocolate fudge filling.

If you couldn't guess, Jeff's favorite cake is chocolate cake, and so is his dad's (at least I heard that somewhere, sorry Scott, if I'm mistaken). When we made plans to eat dinner at the in-laws a few weeks ago, I wanted to bring a dessert, and it absolutely had to be a cake. See, I don't get to satisfy my affinity for cake often. I bake a lot, but usually it's things that last longer than a day or two (most cakes croak in 48 hours) or things that are easily shared, i.e. thrown in a plastic bag and sent to work with Jeff. So, I seized this opportunity and looked for a classic chocolate Bundt cake recipe online. I found what I needed from Martha Stewart.

Chocolate Bundt Cake

I found this cake to be quite nice. In the words of Jamie Oliver, "it's not going to change your life" , but I was very satisfied with the results of my effort. The glaze is really the star, so don't skip or skimp on it. I did not add booze to my chocolate glaze, certainly not because I have anything against that - just that I don't really have a whole lot of hard liquor hanging around. Instead I added instant coffee, and I'm glad I did. By all means, go for the Cognac, but I really recommend the coffee. Also, a note, the recipe asks for a 14 cup Bundt cake pan, I don't have one that large and just used my 10 cup Bundt pan and baked it for 55 minutes. It turned out perfect.

For the cake:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sour cream (4 ounces)
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional, but I think you should - it made the cake more interesting)

For the glaze:

3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons Cognac or rum (optional)
2 teaspoons instant coffee granules

Make the cake: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 14-cup Bundt pan. Whisk flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Mix milk and sour cream in a small bowl.

Cream butter and sugar with a mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, then vanilla. Reduce mixer speed to low, and add flour mixture, alternating with milk mixture, ending with flour. Fold in walnuts, if using. Spoon batter into pan. Bake until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, 55 to 60 minutes. Let cool in pan on a wire rack. Invert cake. (Cake will keep for up to 1 day.)

Make the glaze: Place chocolate in a bowl. Heat cream in a small saucepan until simmering, if using coffee - mix into the milk now, then pour over chocolate. Let stand for 2 minutes. Add butter and Cognac or rum, if using, and mix until smooth. Let stand, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened. Pour glaze over cooled cake.


Sounds good, you say? What else you got, you say? How about a chocolate cake that is just like eating a wedge of dark chocolate fudge. This cake isn't for the chocolate faint at heart. You feel just so-so about chocolate? Take a pass on this one. Do you have dreams of bathing in a claw foot tub filled to the brim with ganache (ahem, Borislava)? You might consider making this next cake, like right now.

As mentioned in the last entry, my parents and my sister made their way down to Indiana last weekend. My sister has found herself under a lot of stress lately, so I wanted to have a special dessert for her the night of our big dinner. Endless options? Not really. She follows a gluten-free diet so that creates a few obstacles when baking. Her favorite gluten-free dessert when dining out is a flourless chocolate cake. I thought this would be quite an endeavor to find a recipe for, not to mention actually making it. I was wrong. I found this great recipe on Whole Foods Market's website and this cake seriously takes very little equipment and expertise. The result, however, like bathing in a claw foot tub filled to the brim with ganache. Enjoy!

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Dark Chocolate Glaze

12 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips or bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1 cup (2 sticks) plus 3 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks
1 1/4 cups sugar
6 eggs
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon gluten-free vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick cooking spray, then line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper. Spray the paper with cooking spray, too, then set the pan aside.

Place two-thirds (8 ounces) of the chocolate and 1 cup (2 sticks) of the butter in a medium saucepan over medium low heat. Stirring often, melt chocolate with butter until completely blended. Remove from heat and transfer to a large bowl. (Alternatively, you may use your microwave to melt the butter with the chocolate, if desired). Add sugar and mix well. Add eggs one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Sift cocoa into bowl and stir until just blended.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until cake has risen and top has formed a thin crust. The cake should be just firm in the center when done. Cool for 10 minutes, then invert onto a plate, removing sides of springform pan. Remove and discard parchment paper and set cake aside to cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the chocolate glaze. Melt remaining 4 ounces chocolate and 3 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan over medium low heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat, then stir in milk, honey and vanilla. Set aside to cool slightly.

When cake has cooled, pour glaze onto the center. Using a spatula or the back of a spoon, very gently smooth glaze along the top and sides of the cake. Chill cake, uncovered, for 30 to 60 minutes before serving to set the glaze and make the cake easier to slice.