2.28.2009

Marlo Doesn't Like My Cooking



I've made the mistake of introducing jarred food to Marlo. Don't get me wrong - jarred food is just fine, in fact I secretly love jarred food. It's so fun to shop for. Like my friend Andrea said, you can spend hours in the baby food aisle just staring at all the combinations. But it hurts my feelings that Marlo likes jarred food better than mommy's food. I have a pretty good hunch it's a texture issue, since her mother has major texture standards when it comes to her food - it's really no surprise. The only foods I can get smashed finely enough to even hold a candle next to the smoothness of jarred food are sweet potatoes and bananas. Surely not coincidentally, Marlo doesn't have a problem with these foods when I make them for her. It's the peas and the carrots I can't get her to swallow (literally - she gags). The recent trip to my parents' in Ohio loaded me up with jarred foods, and Marlo has just been havin' a ball gobbling up all the deliciousness that I spoon into her mouth from a little plastic tub, instead of our little ceramic bowls.

Ah well - I refuse to give up, even after several failed attempts at making her new foods. Take last night, I tried making spinach and potatoes for her. Boiled up the potato, and steamed the spinach. Dumped it into the blender and out came a gummy, tar-like green completely unappetizing mush. Apparently, my blender couldn't handle the spinach and all the over mixing brought out the starches from the potato and voila - green paste. So instead Marlo ate Gerber Organic Peas and Carrots and loved every bite. (Wipe away tear)

I'm hoping this situation improves with age, and that when she's 8 or 9 months we can sit together at the dining room table and I can just grind up table scraps from mommy and daddy's plates in a food mill and feed it lovingly to the chunkster (first Jeff and I will actually have to start sitting at the dining room table and not on the couch in front of the tv). Because, there's something about jarred meat that I just can't bring myself to buying and feeding to Marlo. So I'm hoping that before we reach the protein stage, she'll start tolerating more rustic textures. But for now, I'll enjoy shopping my favorite jarred food brands and Marlo will enjoy eating them.

2.26.2009

Where Did Last Week Go?

I can't hardly believe that tomorrow is Friday. Especially when it seems like just yesterday I was in the car with Marlo in the backseat making the three hour drive to Findlay, but that was last Friday. The visit to Ohio was nice. Marlo is starting to get better on long trips and only cried during that last 30 minutes (the whole 30 minutes). But no matter, I'm pretty sure she got me out of a speeding ticket in Indiana, so all is forgiven.



We spent three full days with my parents, which was nice. It appears that Marlo really likes them which is a relief because she doesn't get to see them any more than once a month at best. A lot can change in a baby's life in a month. She's a completely different baby than she was last week! She's an accomplished sitter now, and has even taken to "dancing" while sitting. Grandpa Keith calls it her Stevie Wonder. Here's a taste:

video

She's also figured out how to get up on all fours and rock back and fourth. This is exciting to watch as I'm waiting for the day she takes off crawling across the room.



I'm working on quite a few food posts so stay tuned!

2.18.2009

Have a Bad Day?

I know I've sent this video to a few of my friends personally a few months ago. But since I love it so much, I thought I'd post it here as well. The little girl, Capucine, has the most incredible imagination to just ad lib this hilarious story about Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, a witch with strawberries and a hippo that's allergic to magic. Even if you don't read the subtitles or care about what the words mean, it's satisfying enough to watch this little darling speak French to you with her little voice and charming expressions. The mother should write a book because I'd love to enable Marlo to have such a wildly creative imagination. I hope watching this video helps this dreary Wednesday melt away.


Once upon a time... from Capucha on Vimeo.

Got a favorite part?

Mine's at 1:50.

2.17.2009

Oh Milk & Honey, How I Miss You...




When I moved to Chicago in 2004, I scored a pretty awesome job. A new hip Marriott hotel just off Michigan Ave. hired me as their Executive Assistant. I got all the hotel employee perks like free rooms all over the world, free Starbucks coffees, and parties in the Hancock building, but none of the hotel employee crappy hours like nights, weekends, and holidays. I got to dress-up everyday and take the train to work often walking through Nordstrom on my way to and from, it felt pretty glamorous.

However, after a promotion to management almost a year later, I had had enough. I was working often 50 hour weeks on a dreadful salary (dreadful for Chicago, dreadful for Indiana, dreadful for just about anywhere) and trying to manage my full time school on the side. After coming home night after night crying to Jeff, he looked at me and said - why don't you just quit? So I did. Now, any other time in my life that wouldn't have been a catastrophe. Ever since I was 15 I've juggled at least 2 jobs at once. Quitting one was never a big deal, I always had the other. But this resignation would have left me unemployed which was a scary scenario for me.

I think I went 7 days without employment. After eating breakfast at a neighborhood cafe, Milk & Honey, I asked the manager about a help wanted sign in the window, filled out an application, and was hired on the spot. Now, Milk & Honey is pretty special. The next time you go to Chicago, find them and go there for breakfast (and order French Toast) and then again for lunch (and order the Ham Sandwich). Their menu is simple, inexpensive but sophisticated and delectable, and if I was working that day, you'd be munching to Radiohead, the Shins and Camera Obscura.


The work was hard. Very hard. A complete 180 from the hotel though. I wore my crap clothes and lawn-mowing shoes to work. You were on your feet for often 9 hours straight with a wee 15 minute break while you inhaled your delicious free lunch of your choice. But there was just something about working there that I will always miss. I'm not sure but it's probably a combination of the totally rockin' girls I worked with, the fact that I could blast whatever music I wanted to in the cafe, the fact that I learned how to barista, or maybe it's that I made tons of cash and met a lot of really neat and notable neighborhood people who were regulars (like Liam from Plush and the piano player in Wilco).

Anyway, one of the better things about Milk & Honey is their bakery selection. Everyday there were homemade muffins and scones with interesting combinations like blueberry almond and peach cranberry, as well as cookies, cupcakes, tarts, brownies and my all-time favorite - banana bread. Now, I love bananas but I don't really like banana flavored things. I'll eat the banana Runts outta the box, but don't you dare make me eat a banana pancake. However, Milk & Honey's banana bread made all my dreams come true with each bite. I would die for the recipe. I've never asked for fearing straight out laugh-in-my-face rejection. My mom makes a pretty good banana bread, but it's just not the same as M&H's (sorry mom). I stumbled across this recipe on Food Network this past summer after I was sick of staring at rotting bananas on my counter-top. I made some changes and what I came up with is pretty darn close (but still no cigar) to M&H's. I've made this now several times and it is now my go-to recipe for banana bread. Again, simple ingredients...enjoy!

Banana Walnut Bread

1 cup sugar
8 Tbsp. butter softened
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 ripe bananas
1 Tbsp. milk
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 cups of flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 cup (8 oz.) chopped walnuts

Start by preheating the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a loaf pan. Here's a trick that you may not know about. Use the butter wrapper to butter the pan.



Next, in the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, whisk or sift together the flour, baking soda and powder, and the salt. In another bowl, mash the bananas to your desired texture. I hate banana lumps so I pretty much liquified them. You can mash using a fork, but I found this step goes by so much faster with a potato masher. Also, you want to be sure you're using ripe bananas. Some say the browner the better, but I personally have an affliction against rotting fruit, so I just use spotty ones and it works out just fine.


Stir in the milk and the cinnamon to the bananas and set aside. Add the eggs one at a time to the butter mixture. My mom always taught me to crack your eggs in a separate bowl and not directly into your mixture, just incase one's rotten so you won't ruin all your other ingredients. Then add the vanilla. Next add the banana mixture to the mixing bowl and blend until completely incorporated. Finally, in 2 batches with the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients and mix just until the flour disappears. I've been told time and time again from Giada, Ina and the likes that if you over mix, your bread will be "tough", whatever that means. So don't over mix. Finally add the chopped walnuts and mix for just a few seconds.

Pour the batter into the buttered loaf pan. I sprinkle coarse sugar on top of the batter to sweeten up the "crust". Bake for 1 hour and 5 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. This is important: leave the bread to cool in the loaf pan for 10-20 minutes before removing it to cool completely on a wire rack. I got impatient the first time I made this and waited just about 5 minutes before popping it out of the pan and I got crumbly broken pieces - still delicious though! I store my loaf in a gallon size ziplock bag and keep for a maximum of 3 days.

2.16.2009

Our V-Day Dinner at Home



When you have a baby, especially one who turns in at 7:30 each night, going out to dinner is not an option. The baby doesn't care if it's your birthday or Valentine's Day. Babysitter, you say? Well, the last time Grammy and Gramps drove an hour up to Carmel to babysit so Jeff and I could go on a date, she screamed bloody murder the second we left. We gave up our steakhouse dinner for Chick Fil A and headed home to relieve our exhausted parents.

So rather than risk a repeat date cut short, I cooked up some chicken of my own at home. We dined, put the babe to bed, and sipped Scotch until the wee hour of 10 pm. This was the first night I tried this recipe. I found it on Fine Cooking's website and Jeff and I agree that aside from the chicken being a tiny-bit overcooked (this is normal for me, I have a crippling undercooked chicken phobia) it was a success! I served it with a version of a roasted broccoli recipe that we've been enjoying for a few weeks.

I hope you find that most of my recipes, while they may (hopefully) appear and taste deliciously gourmet, actually consist of pretty everyday ingredients. Over the years of living on my own I've stocked a pretty extensive pantry and spice cabinet, but I still refuse to go out and buy some obscure ingredient that will only be used in one meal. Not my thing. So here it is, enjoy!


Sear-roasted Chicken with Tomato & Red Wine Sauce

For the Chicken
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (I just used 2 halves or 1 whole breast)
kosher salt & ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. olive oil or canola oil (I used olive oil)

For the Sauce
1/2 cup of Red Wine (I'm sure it tastes better if you use table wine, but I always just use the cooking wine you find at the supermarket for any of the wine in my cooking)
14 oz. can of petite diced tomatoes with juices*
2 Tbsp. of chopped fresh oregano (I used 1 tsp. of dried oregano)
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1/3 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
kosher salt & ground black pepper

*Whenever canned tomatoes take a starring role in a recipe, as they do in this one, I always "splurge" and buy the best canned tomatoes the store has to offer. Now this isn't much of a splurge, it's mostly just the difference between $1.99 and $2.99 for a can. No biggie. I prefer Muir Glen brand. I've found that cheaper tomatoes have too much of a tomatoey taste, not a fresh taste.

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Make sure chicken is very dry by blotting with a paper towel. Salt and pepper both sides of the breasts generously. I also pounded down the thicker side of the breast a little so it was more uniform in thickness and would cook more evenly. Heat an oven-proof skillet over medium high heat for one minute. Add the oil and swirl around the pan. Then place the breasts in the pan presentation side down. Leave untouched for 2 minutes. Using tongs, check the chicken to see if it's browned, if not, leave for 1-2 more minutes before flipping to other side. Cook the second side for 1 minute and then transfer pan to the oven and continue to cook the chicken for 5-8 minutes. I had the chicken in the oven for about 9 minutes. Keep in mind I had 2 breasts, and they were just a little dry according to Jeff (I thought they were perfect). If you are cooking 4 breasts, I would suggest around 9-10 minutes, with just 2, perhaps stick to 6-8 minutes. Remove chicken from pan and place on a separate plate. Tent with foil to keep warm.

To make the sauce, discard any leftover fat in the pan and heat the pan over high heat. Add the red wine and scrape up any of the brown bits in the bottom of the pan. Let the wine reduce for 2-3 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium high and add the can of tomatoes and the red pepper flakes. If you're using dried oregano, add that now as well, if using fresh, add last. Let the tomato juices reduce for about 3 minutes. Stir in cheese and season with salt and pepper. Spoon over seared chicken.

2.14.2009

Better than the Grammy's

Last week, Jeff and I happened upon the Grammy awards on television. It wasn't more than 5 minutes into the program that an overwhelming feeling of embarrassment came over me. I was embarrassed that I was watching such nonsense, and embarrassed for the people on stage trying to be musicians. We were determined to stick it out, though, because we knew that Radiohead would be performing. Since they are the best band of my generation, I knew they'd make us wait until the end to see them.
So, we hit the mute button and hit YouTube looking for something that Jeff heard about earlier that day while listening to POTUS. In 2006, the Democracy Now radio program hosted a debate between DePaul Political Science Professor Norman Finkelstein and Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz about the state of Israel. Now, being a small town girl from Ohio, I'm not schooled on the history or even current conditions of Israel. I know enough to get me by in a amateur cocktail party conversation, but I don't know enough to have a fully developed opinion on the situation. The minute Finkelstein opened his mouth, however, I was hooked. If you're in the mood to watch a couple of Jewish guys throw down on public radio, then look no further. While toward the end they get more into policy debates, most of it is Finkelstein attacking Dershowitz's scholarly integrity and outright accusing him of fraud and plagiarism and Dershowitz desperately trying to appear to laugh off Finkelstein and defend himself.

Here's a little background information:

Finkelstein: Son of 2 Holocaust survivors of whom most of extended family members were murdered in WWII concentration camps. Political Science professor at DePaul University until 2007 when he resigned after an uproarious controversy of the University denying him tenure which many argued was due to his negative stance on Israel. Authored The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering for which he received the label of the Anti-Semite Jew.

Dershowitz: Lawyer (adviser for the defense in the OJ Simpson murder trial). Professor at Havard Law. Generally supports current Israeli policy. Authored several books about Israeli policy.

The fun starts about 10 minutes in to Part I.

PART I:


PART II:


I'd be interested in your opinions, comments if you have any.

2.13.2009

Der Kleine Appetit - Part 1: Peas


When I was pregnant and Jeff and I established that I was going to be fortunate enough to stay home with Marlo, I decided I was going to make it as hard as possible for myself. No easy way out. I planned on breastfeeding, using cloth diapers, and making Marlo's food at home. Well, there's no such thing as a diaper service in Indianapolis, and there was no way I was going to scrape, scrub and bleach them myself all the live long day, so that went out the window as soon as it flew in. I'm proud that I was able to and continue to breastfeed Marlo. I felt like giving up in the first few months about 3 dozen times, but I stuck with it and we're doing good. Now that she's 6 months and starting to wean, I've been having fun making food for her. While it's not as easy as opening up a jar, and I have no idea if it's really all that much healthier for her, I feel good about feeding her something I made. I feel the same way when I cook for Jeff. We have lots of options for healthy and affordable take-out, but I find it deeply satisfying to create homemade meals for him. Cooking is by far a labor of love for me. I cook for you because I love you. I should've been born Italian.

Anyway - peas. I've found making baby vegetables a lot easier than making baby fruits. Before the peas yesterday, I attempted to make plums for Marlo. After staining clothes, towels and the countertop with plum juice, I managed to puree a sour, acidic, foamy mush that I could barely swallow let alone dare feed it to Marlo. So, she got a mushed up banana instead - much to her delight. I had much more luck with peas.



Marlo waiting patiently to try her new tasty bowl of mush. (She wasn't that patient.)




Use frozen peas. Canned ones are too salty and not as nutritious, and who are you kidding thinking you're going to shuck that many fresh peas. I just bought a 16 0z. bag of Meijer brand organic petite peas. Pour the peas in a saucepan and cover with water. Once boiling, I simmered the peas for about 8 minutes until they were tender. Drain the peas, reserving some of the cooking liquid to loosen up the puree if necessary.


I used my hand blender to puree in the pan, but you could also use a food processor or a food mill. I ended up adding about 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid to thin it out to a smoother consistency. This batch yieleded about seven 2 Tbsp. portions of peas, which for Marlo, is a week's worth of vegetables. Not bad for only about 15 minutes worth of work. Always freeze the excess puree. You can use ice cube trays, or special freezing containers called "Baby Cubes". Defrosting is a a cinch. I just plop the frozen cube of food in a small saucepan over low heat and heat through until piping hot. Of course, always cool to luke warm before feeding your baby.

It turns out that the puree was still a little too thick for Marlo. She gagged a little on the first bite, but nothing that mixing it with her cereal didn't fix.



This girl eats anything. She inhaled it. This feeding was a little more difficult than past feedings (note the amount of peas she ended up wearing), which may mean she didn't like the peas all that much, but the bowl was scraped clean, so peas are on the menu for the rest of the week!



For those of you with babies, or with babies on the way, I hope my experiences making baby foods will inspire you to try to do the same for your little one. My mother and my mother-in-law both purchased me Annabel Karmel baby food books for Christmas. They've got great basic instructions and ideas. I recommend First Meals and Top 100 Baby Purees.

2.12.2009

A Classic

I don't intend on this being a food blog, but I spend a lot of my time reading about and watching cooking so I usually have a lot to say about food. Lately, Jeff and I are eating at least 15 meals a week at home, so I'm spending plenty of time in the kitchen trying new recipes and perfecting old ones. This is a recipe that I've been making since Jeff and I first started dating. It's one of my parents' favorites and I like it because I don't have to make a separate trip to the butcher. I believe I originally found it in Cooking Light, but I've been unable to track the original recipe down on the net. It easily serves 4 with leftovers, and even though it takes a little over an hour from start to finish to make, it's pretty low intensity cooking.
Penne with Caramelized Onions & Chicken Sausage

3 large onions sliced
4 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. d
ried thyme
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
Black pepper
12 oz. package of italian chicken sausage links (I used Al Fresco brand)
1 lb. Penne pasta
1/2 cup white wine
1-1 1/2 cup chicken broth

It doesn't matter what kind of onions you use for this. Whatever you prefer. I've tried the recipe with every kind and found I prefer the flavor and appearance of red onions. I didn't have 3 large onions this time, so I used 2 large and 2 small. Slice the onions somewhat thinly.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and add the onions to the saucepan. It will seem like an overwhelming amount of onions in the pan, but they will cook down and reduce in size tremendously. Add the kosher salt, thyme and black pepper to taste. Don't go all low-sodium and skimp on salting the onions, the salt helps the onions release their moisture. Toss the onions well in the oil and seasonings. Cover and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring occasionally. If the onions brown, turn the heat down to medium low. The goal isn't to sear the onions, just soften. Here are the before and after of the onions I cooked tonight.


While the onions cook, slice up the sausage links into 1/2 inch wide chunks and brown in a pan sprayed generously with cooking spray. Once browned, set aside and keep warm. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water and cook the pasta according to the package directions and drain. Once the onions have caramelized, increase the heat to medium-high and add the wine. Scrape up any brown bits in the pan. Let the wine reduce for 2-3 minutes. Lower heat back to medium and add the chicken stock. Reduce for 5-8 minutes until you've reached a desired sauce consistency. The more stock you use and the longer you leave it reduce, the more flavor you will achieve. Finally, toss the onion sauce, the sausages and the pasta together and serve immediately.

This recipe allows for a lot personal variation. I encourage you to experiment. Next time I make this I may use red wine to deglaze the pan and beef broth to make it heartier. I hope you enjoy this recipe!

2.03.2009

Novice


Perhaps it's a little self-indulgent to think that anyone would want to read about my daily ventures, especially considering most of them are pretty mundane and often unappealing. I am, however, someone who finds herself alone in new(er) surroundings with a hefty handful of friends and family members elsewhere with (could I entertain) a slight interest in my life, if only for my 6 month old daughter, Marlo. So be it. I plan to fill these pages with, as the title proclaims, random experiences and encounters in my days as a mother and a wife. I have opinions about nearly everything (my father was suspicious that I would be a critic when I grew up) and I have some rather old fashioned domestic hobbies like cooking, baking and sewing. Surely, snippets of these will surface along with musings about the star of my movie, Marlo. I hope you find something interesting along the road.