Friday, January 31, 2014

Blissful Balls of Alcohol

I never knew that bourbon was whisky. Upon attempting my first lot of bourbon balls, I was relieved to discover that, since we already owned an unopened bottle of Jim Beam, an unnecessary trip to the liqueur store could be avoided.

All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. Bourbon is a big Springsteen fan since it's always born in the USA (or it's not bourbon) and it's a sweet version of whiskey because it has to be made with at least 51% corn.

Liqueur education aside, these bourbon balls are crazy good.

This version of bourbon balls that originally incorporated corn syrup and dyed-green almonds, is rolled in real pistachios and replaces corn syrup with heavy cream.

These balls are crucial for holiday celebrations with disgruntled family members, Kentucky Derby parties, and PMS--in that order.


  • 7 ounce(s) (about 3 cups) Nilla wafers
  • 1/2 cup(s) roasted unsalted almonds
  • 6 ounce(s) (about 1 cup) semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoon(s) heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup(s) granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup(s) bourbon
  •  Finely chopped pistachios, almonds, or pecans, for rolling


  1. In a food processor, pulse the Nilla wafers and almonds to form fine crumbs.
  2. Place the chocolate and cream in a medium microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high, stirring every 30 seconds, until the chocolate is melted and smooth, about 1 1/2 minutes total.
  3. Stir in the sugar, then the almond cookie crumbs and bourbon. Immediately roll the mixture into 1 1/2-inch balls, then coat in the nuts. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

The gluten-free version involves Glutino Vanilla Creme cookies.  

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Thinking Outside the Squash Box

Experience and education won't only make you a versatile individual; proper application of life-skills will also save you an exceptional amount of time as evidenced by how much time I wasted at the supermarket looking for a squash that I would accidentally find in the frozen foods section.

So make note of this: puréed cooked winter squash is something that comes in a box. There is no finding the gourd and going through the grief of chopping into pieces and blending it and for that, I was grateful.

In other words, there are two reasons this recipe is called Freezer Vegetable Lasagna. 

The second reason is another matter of convenience in that this dish is simple to freeze and serve at a later date.

Until I met my boyfriend, I never realized how much stuff you can and should freeze. Growing up with Grandma I learned several refrigerator habits:

1. Don't bother finding Tupperware. When you're finished with soup, just put the entire pan in the fridge with leftovers.

2. Dairy and meat really won't spoil if left on the counter for hours. Just put it back when you remember it's supposed to be refrigerated. It'll be ok.

3. Things that go in the freezer are as follows: stuff you buy in the frozen foods section of the store, ice.

The concept of packaging cooked foods and then placing them in hibernation was completely foreign to me or something people who didn't mind eating gross expired meat and dairy products did. 

Isn't that ironic? Humanity and it's habits.


  • 1 tablespoon(s) olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper
  • 2 clove(s) garlic, finely chopped
  • 6 ounce(s) lowfat cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup(s) lowfat sour cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon(s) ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon(s) cayenne pepper
  • 1 package(s) (16-ounce) frozen leaf spinach, thawed and squeezed of excess moisture
  • 4 ounce(s) (about 1 cup) part-skim mozzarella, coarsely grated
  • 2 ounce(s) (about 1/2 cup) feta, crumbled
  • 1 package(s) (12-ounce) puréed cooked winter squash, thawed
  • 6 no-boil lasagna noodles

  1. Heat oven to 425 degrees F. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, season with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper, and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
  2. Remove from the heat and stir in the cream cheese, sour cream, cinnamon, cayenne, and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Stir in the spinach, then 3/4 cup mozzarella and 1/4 cup feta.
  3. Spread 1/2 cup of the squash on the bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish. Top with 2 noodles and spread a third (about 1/4 cup) of the remaining squash over the top. Dollop with a third (about 1 cup) of the spinach mixture. Repeat twice with the remaining squash, noodles, and spinach mixture, finishing with a layer of spinach mixture.
  4. Sprinkle with the remaining feta and mozzarella, cover tightly with nonstick foil, and bake for 15 minutes. Uncover and bake until the noodles are tender and the top is golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes more. Serve with a salad, if desired.
Squash is one of the foods that I used to decline but now enjoy. Among the others are tomatoes and country ham. It is also the only food that, after I've eaten it, makes me feel energetic. The reason may be due to the amount of zinc found that helps produce serotonin. Other benefits include sugar regulation, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

But for this recipe, it was interesting to line the bottom of the dish with something orange instead of something red. Adding the spinach made the results very Notre Dame. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Power Ploughing

Ploughman's lunches are as English as blood pudding, shepherd's pie, and afternoon tea. A traditional pub meal, the components central to a Ploughman's Platter are crusty bread, cheese, pickles, and chutney. Although images of hunks of bread and hearty slices of meat may invoke thoughts of farmers with their dented pale or pub patrons gathered around their ale, there isn't a lot of evidence to support that Ploughman's Platters date back much further than the mid-twentieth century when the Milk Marketing Board promoted the meal.

Regardless, bread, cheese, meat, and a medley of condiments make for a delectable lunch and an aesthetically delightful combination.

Choosing the presentation for a wine pairing, picnic, or patio party is as diverse as the platter. There are a variety of options to make serving the meal as enjoyable as eating it.

Selecting the board will accentuate where you are, who you're serving, and what you're serving and direct the ambiance of the meal as efficiently as a compass. Having a game night? These boards from BryanBuildsNC are a perfect accent in handmade, checkerboard maple.

There are literally hundreds of cutting boards on Etsy alone--you can purchase cutting boards in shapes, with engraving, or rustic pieces that appear to be fresh from the forest to the table.

Crusty bread is best with a standard cheese or meat if your additional fare is favoring exotic. My favorite condiments for a Ploughman's Platter are chutney, whole grain mustard, and infused olive oil for dipping. If the cheese and meat are the stars of the show, you may be replacing a cheddar or Havarti with brie or goat cheese alongside anchovies or pâté. If that's the case, keep your other fare simple or light by incorporating more fruits and olives or hummus. 

Woman's Day offered a beet salad recipe, which I had never considered but seems like a refreshing and healthy option. You may also consider a variety of textures like crisp radishes or pickled eggs instead of boiled eggs.

Edward Fitzgerald translated "a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou," obviously in celebration of the Ploughman's Platter, for it is now up to you to decide whether you will enjoy a traditional pub beer with your plate or refine your fancy in favor of wine. If this is a business lunch you may forgo the spirits all together for San Pellegrino sparkling water, sweet tea, or ginger ale. 

For my Ploughman's Platter, I found a lovely little tray for only $3.00 are our local department store, Roses. This was really super easy to carry from our apartment to the patio. We found an olive bread from our local bakery and a sofi aware winning plum chutney from Virginia Chutney Co. Then we added an assortment of cheeses from chipotle Gouda, cheedar, goat cheese, and Havarti and paired it with salami and pepperocini.

It was a pleasure to enjoy with a local Cabernet Sauvignon as it complimented nicely with light pepper and currant notes.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Pork and Polenta

The biggest difference between bone-in and regular cuts of pork will be the flavor and the juiciness of the meat. I buy my pork at a local market where the meat is all natural--free of additives and hormones. The flavor and texture are noticeably different.

This night's meal was supposed to be served with polenta, which is often mistaken as Spanish in origin. The concept of polenta, a corn based porridge, is thousands of years old and stems from Roman culture. Polenta was originally made with millet and spelt--grains found for bread-making in the Old Testament of the Bible. Corn was not introduced to Europe until 1650, therefore polenta was not made from corn until hundreds of years later.

So if you invite Goldilocks over for dinner, this may be the dish you'd like to serve. I don't care all that much for blonds, so I nixed the polenta for mashed potatoes.

Pork pairs well with a creamy chardonnay offering notes of crisp apple. I had the pleasure of visiting Ankida Ridge Winery last Christmas. Richard Leahy, author of “Beyond Jefferson’s Vines” writes…“If you want elegance and finesse in Virginia chardonnay, here’s one you don’t want to miss.” 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Pesto: Green and Nutty, Much Like Fashion

My understanding of pesto began only less than a year ago but lately, I've added to my expertise.

Like, apparently you can make pesto out of other types of greens besides basil. But I wouldn't know because for this recipe, I bought basil to add to the spinach since I just really like basil.

I'm always looking for ways to cut corners, so I discovered that instead of paying almost $3 for fresh basil, I can buy frozen basil for $1.98.

This evening I enjoyed the company of a girlfriend and I wasn't entirely sure how she would feel about pesto--especially pesto made with spinach. 


  • 1 pound(s) pasta
  • 2 tablespoon(s) roasted almonds
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • 1 teaspoon(s) lemon zest
  • 4 ounce(s) baby spinach (about 4 cups)
  • 2 tablespoon(s) grated pecorino or Parmesan
  • 3 tablespoon(s) olive oil
  •  Kosher salt and pepper
  • 1 pound(s) large peeled and deveined shrimp
  • 3/4 cup(s) dry white wine
  • 1/4 teaspoon(s) crushed red pepper


  1. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid, drain the pasta and return it to the pot.
  2. Meanwhile, in a food processor, pulse the almonds, garlic and lemon zest until finely chopped. Add the spinach, pecorino, 2 Tbsp oil and 1/8 tsp each salt and pepper. Purée until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
  3. Heat the remaining Tbsp oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season the shrimp with 1/4 tsp salt and cook for 2 minutes. Turn the shrimp, add the wine and crushed red pepper to the skillet and simmer until the shrimp are opaque throughout, 2 minutes more.
  4. Add the pesto to the shrimp and toss to combine. Toss with the pasta, adding some of the reserved cooking water if the pasta seems dry.

 Basil is an excellent source of vitamin K and manganese; a very good source of copper, vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids such as beta-carotene), and vitamin C; and a good source of calcium, iron, folate, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids.

If you have a wheat allergy realize that wheat-free pasta doesn't cook the same as regular pasta. Megan Lust is a lovely gluten-free blogger who recommends lots of water, olive oil, and salt. I've tried it--it totally works.

I bought an Ecco Domini Pinot Grigio to pair with dinner and I must say, the more frequently I purchase wines from other states at Kroger or Walmart, the greater contrast to the detriment of Washington and California wines. These last minute wine choices aren't terrible, but they are lacking in personality.

Ecco Domini smelled like bean farts to me, but had a slight citrus flavor. Not my favorite. But Ecco Domini Fashion Foundation awards aspiring designers every year. Among the 2014 recipients is Timo Weiland, a designer I find overly prices and extremely confusing with his Catholic school dresses and camo wallets for $13. I call it WTF couture

There there's this, which is just like a joke without a punchline.

Then there's this stuff, which is perfectly acceptable in a way that I can't afford or wear yellow.

What was I talking about again?

Monday, January 20, 2014

I Can't BELIEVE It's Not Butter!

This time of year is particularly hard on my skin. It's already dry, but I've had itchy skin for as long as I can remember. When I was a teenager, I would scratch myself at night during sleep and wake up with slashes across my back and behind. For a while, my mom thought I was being attacked by demons. Ok...that had nothing to do with the scratches...

I drink lots of water and I always have lotion on hand. But some areas need a little something extra so whether I'm at the dinner table or in bed, I always put extra butter on my buns.

1. Face It.

At night, I need what I call a sealant for my moisturizer. This product, available at Target, is a little something I like to call a pina colada for the face. That's mainly because it smells like a pina colada.

2. Think outside the box.

Let me tell you something white people--the black folk have been hiding secrets from us in a section of the store labeled "African American." Listen, just because a product says "Black and Beautiful" doesn't mean you can't use it. I noticed a bottle of cocoa butter with that exact title a few weeks ago and imagine my surprise when it smelled like pudding and went on like a vat of satin mixed with "yes please." Meanwhile, I will continue to shop from Ashro and determine whether or not I can get a case of this stuff at Sam's Club.

3. Butter me up.

Sometimes you need to afford yourself a little pampering. I like to use the higher end butter products on my hands because I enjoy the scent and so does everyone else. I lean toward crisp, tropical scents or sultry, musky vanillas but ever so often it's fun to try new products that promise more than your average fill-in-the-blank-mart, cost conscious results. 

My latest interest has been in a company called Bliss. You can find their products at beauty counters like Sephora or chain retailers like Belk or Macys. The company was founded in 1996 by a woman who suffered from acne as a teen and developed a passion for skin care. Their blood orange and white pepper butter sounds delightful. I've never heard of white pepper products.

You can also find the same type of hydration in products that are not labeled as butter. For instance, creams, balms, and Jergen's new milk products are all fairly comparable although I thought Jergen's coconut milk was a bit sticky.

The technical intention of a balm is meant to have healing properties. So when you purchase a balm, you may have extremely dry, cracked, painful skin. I use it as a means to lock in moisture so I don't wake up in the mornings feeling like a mummy. Designate 24-Heaven Balm by Bliss to feet and hands. And in case you didn't know, using balm under mitts or footies helps retain the moisture. 

The big winner here really is the Black and Beautiful for $2 a 17 oz bottle of wonderful, but some of you already are yawning at the lack of surprise.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Who Cares About the Velveeta Shortage?

I've already mentioned my love affair with cheese. It's my favorite food and my memories are peppered with profound ardor and enthusiasm. When I was preschool age, my Grandma used to sneak laxatives into government cheese for my constant constipation issue (it sounds contradictory, doesn't it?). My favorite side item at Thanksgiving was my Great-Grandma Tinsley's Macaroni and Cheese--a recipe I have yet to find on the internet. As I aged (like a fine cheese) I refined my cheese knowledge and expanded from cheddar and provolone to goat cheese, Gruyere, and Gouda, Bocconcini...the list goes on (although I really cannot tolerate brie).

There is also this fabulous macaroni and cheese restaurant in New York that is calling my name.

Actually, there are a variety of macaroni and cheese themed restaurants in the country:

I invited the family over for a birthday dinner this evening after for a macaroni meal. In my opinion, macaroni can officially act as a meal on it's own if it contains meat. This Cajun Macaroni and Cheese recipe includes three types of cheese--cream cheese, extra-sharp cheddar, and Gruyere--and kielbasa. If you prefer to get more creative, you can use Philadelphia Cream Cheese spreads (my suggestion would be chipotle, chive and onion, jalapeno, or salmon) and another type of sausage. We used Aidells Pineapple and Bacon sausage. We get coupons at Kroger for their sausage from time to time so we stock up.

  • 1 pound(s) elbow macaroni or other short pasta
  • 2 tablespoon(s) olive oil, plus more for the baking dish
  • 1 package(s) (13-ounce) kielbasa, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, sliced
  •  Kosher salt and pepper
  • 1 clove(s) garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon(s) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cup(s) whole milk
  • 4 ounce(s) low-fat cream cheese
  • 2 teaspoon(s) Cajun seasoning
  • 8 ounce(s) (2 cups) extra-sharp Cheddar, shredded
  • 8 ounce(s) (2 cups) Gruyère, shredded


  1. Heat oven to 425 degrees F. Oil a shallow 3-quart baking dish or six 2-cup ramekins. Cook the pasta according to package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the kielbasa, about 1 minute per side; set aside. Wipe out the skillet; heat the remaining tablespoon oil in the same skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until very tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetable mixture and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.
  3. Whisk in the milk and bring to a simmer. Whisk in the cream cheese and Cajun seasoning until blended. Stir in the Cheddar and Gruyère and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the cheese is melted and the mixture has slightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes.
  4. Toss the pasta with the cheese sauce, fold in the kielbasa, and transfer to the prepared baking dish. Bake until golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes.

Tips & Techniques

Make it Ahead: Prepare the Macaroni and Cheese but do not bake. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Bake as directed, adding 15 to 20 minutes to the cooking time.

Waste Not, Want Not

I used the leftover spinach from my artichoke recipe and the leftover cream cheese to make spinach dip as an appetizer for another meal. This makes a big casserole dish of pasta and it's also rich, so we were able to share the the meal between five people with leftovers for two, over two days. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

When Six Servings Don't Make Sense

I love how Woman's Day serving sizes don't line up with my results--and that's because it's always to my advantage. I'm not sure how much a Woman's Day "serving" size would be, but what I do know is that their soup recipes last me for days upon days--well over a week more often than not.

Their minestrone would be no exception.

Minestrone predates the Roman Empire at a time when meat was scarce and residents would make a form of porridge called pulte, which consisted of spelt, water, and whatever vegetables were available. Having just finished Western Civilization class (with flying colors) I realize how much advancements like roads and global exchange affected the availability of food and how food became associated with class. Even in early America, foods have evolved. For instance, lobster used to be considered a meal for the poor.

As minestrone evolved, Wikipedia offers two theories of how our modern-day soup came to be:

"There are two schools of thought on when the recipe for minestrone became more formalized. One argues that in the 17th and 18th centuries minestrone emerged as a soup using exclusively fresh vegetables and was made for its own sake (meaning it no longer relied on left-overs), while the other school of thought argues that the dish had always been prepared exclusively with fresh vegetables for its own sake since the pre-Roman pulte, but the name minestrone lost its meaning of being made with left-overs."

Now, I cheated again and used frozen spinach and I have not used the ditalini pasta yet, but I do have plans for it. Pasta salad is like slaw: it's easy to make with what's in the ice box junk drawer and it makes a great side.

And I did make slaw with the leftover cabbage. But I used special vinegar I bought at The Olive Oil Taproom in Richmond, Virginia. It's one of my favorite food specialty stores because you realize the truth about olive oil and you're welcome to taste the difference. It's a tasting room for foodies. I used pineapple vinegar in my slaw along with other basic components. I consider slaw a salad--not just a topping for hot dogs--so I ate it the next day for lunch.

I gave away several normal sized servings of this soup. It lasted over a week. I had it for lunch. I had it for dinner. I snuck half a cup before bedtime. Crazy, ridiculous lasting of soup here.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Recipe with a Side of PSA

Erik loves my stir fry and I have to be honest--cooking creatively seems to be natural for me. I enjoy taking odds and ends and making them into something delicious. I create less waste and discover new dishes. So when Woman's Day presented the opportunity to make curry with rice and shrimp I went out of my way to use the new wok I received for Christmas.

Plus, one of my new year's resolutions was to eat out less (four times a week--and I'm already at my limit because I'm so used to eating out) often, so making the effort to cook and clean up afterwards is sticking to a plan.

I don't know what I did wrong to this recipe, but it was not good. I didn't use long grain rice because we had brown rice and I didn't follow the recipes a few other ways as well, but even though I used the correct amount of curry there was something about the flavor that was off--too bitter, too strong, too...something.

In keeping with more resolutions, I visited the gym after clearing the table. It didn't take too long to recognize I had a problem.

I stank to high heaven. I felt sorry for the people working out around us but more than that, I felt sorry for Erik who has a sensitive nose and who is vehemently polite in all circumstances. The more I worked out, the stronger the odor became--and this was not regular body odor. This was what you refer to as "stank."

And I'm assuming that it was the curry. And it was. And if YOU stink here may be the top ten reasons unless you don't bathe or clean your house:

  • Red meat
  • Curry and Cumin
  • Garlic
  • Asparagus
  • Cruciferous Vegetables (Broccoli, Cabbage, Sauerkraut)
  • Onions
  • High Fiber Foods
  • Fenugreek
  • Durian Fruit
  • Coffee
I frequently ingest at least half of these each week or day, so it looks like I've got some deodorizing to do. 

  • 1 tablespoon(s) olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  •  Kosher salt
  •  Pepper
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon(s) fresh grated ginger
  • 2 clove(s) garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon(s) curry powder
  • 1 cup(s) long-grain white rice
  • 1 pound(s) (medium) peeled and deveined shrimp
  • 1 cup(s) frozen peas, thawed
  • 1 cup(s) chopped fresh cilantro
  •  Lemon wedges, for serving


  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, season with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper, and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the curry powder and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
  2. Add the rice and stir to coat in the onion mixture. Stir in 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.
  3. Fold the shrimp and peas into the partially cooked rice and cook, covered, until the shrimp is opaque throughout and the rice is tender, 4 to 5 minutes more.
  4. Remove from the heat and fold in the cilantro. Serve with lemon wedges, if desired.

I also resolved not to drink as much (I'm a big wino beer-o), but still want something fizzy with dinner without drinking diet sodas or full sugar sodas all the time. So I bought Old Orchard Juices Pomegranate juice to mix with San Pellegrino water. It's refreshing (although you have to get used to it--just like black coffee) and there are several benefits:

  • Pomegranate juice is an excellent source of vitamins C and E
  • Grape seed extract is an antioxidant 
  • There are no artificial flavors
  • Drinking water helps control calories 

However one thing pomegranate juice will not do is flush your system of curry. That takes a few days and more than a few baths.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Cumin-Spiced Steak and REAL Salsa.

Sometimes when coloring by number, you have to go with your artistic flair. In some cases, you may just replace one color with more preferable tone. Other times, half way through, you may decide to dip your brush in and fling it all over the neatly, numerically labeled compartments.

It's the same with recipes. I'll skim them to get an idea of the ingredients and then condescendingly think to myself,"Heavens, who created this recipe and why didn't they consider such an obviously superior options besides (fill in the blank)?"

That happened to me this one time (as in, this evening) as I was preparing cumin-spiced flank steak with grape tomato salsa. Here is how Woman's Day presents it:

Heavens to Betsy, that is not salsa! Those are grilled vegetables. Silly Woman's Day!

So I cooked up the steak (which was really one steak, cut in two) and followed the directions, up until the part where big 'ol grilled vegetables go on the couscous. I threw all the grilled vegetables in a blender with lime, garlic, and a bit of olive oil and WHIR! ZING! Here's your actual salsa:

I get quinoa and couscous mixed up so, until this recipe, I don't think I understood how easy it is to prepare couscous. You essentially just put equal amounts of water in a bowl and wait for it to soften. I love it! Couscous contains a 1% fat-to-calorie ratio.

The salsa made this way leaves extra for snacks later. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

An Artichoke Object Lesson

Everyone has a different palate. For instance, I don't really have a sweet tooth. Well, I take that back. If you cut sugar, you crave sugar. I started drinking coffee black for the new year (saving me sugar and creamer calories) and by the third day (I drink a lot of coffee) I was craving donuts.

I have an affinity for savory or tangy foods like cheese, olives, pickles, onions, garlic, and artichokes in brine. Those ingredients are heavenly to me. Once, I peeled and prepared a real artichoke, I don't know if I did something wrong, but they were not half as delicious as artichokes in brine (and of course, more work).

A little tangent--for children, artichokes are a great object lesson. One, you can introduce them to a different food that's unique and interesting and two, you can demonstrate how we interact as people. Children will understand the visual illustration of how people have layers--just like artichokes--that can discourage others from seeing the good inside. Do you think the artichoke is prickly, boys and girls? Does it look kind of funny compared to other vegetables? Is it something YOU would want to eat if you saw it growing in your garden? Probably not! But the artichoke, once you take the time to peel back the layers, is a delicious and versatile food that many people enjoy.

Sorry. I see an object lesson in everything. It's what happens when you work with children.

 I had been enjoying the discount Kroger sparkling cider I hoarded upon visiting the store after New Year's Eve with previous dinners. Sparking juice with a little Sprite or Perrier is a substitute fine substitute for wine. However, I indulged this evening with Kendall-Jackson chardonnay (chardonnay is a favorite). This particular chardonnay is a lovely partner to chicken--amicable, and vibrant.

This evening I made another aesthetically impressive meal that doesn't take a lot of time or effort. I cheated a little, and used frozen spinach (which cost all of a dollar and cuts down on prep time), which was really to my advantage, since I was able to make it into a dip later using leftover cream cheese from another recipe. I added wine to the saute, making it even more delicious.


  • 1 can(s) (6-ounce) artichoke hearts, rinsed and chopped
  • 1/2 cup(s) chopped baby spinach
  • 2 tablespoon(s) chopped roasted almonds
  • 2 tablespoon(s) grated Parmesan
  • 1 teaspoon(s) grated orange zest
  • 3/4 teaspoon(s) Kosher salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon(s) Pepper
  • 4 (6 ounces each) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 tablespoon(s) olive oil


  1. In a small bowl, combine the artichokes, spinach, almonds, Parmesan, orange zest, and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper.
  2. Cut a 2-inch pocket in the thickest part of each chicken breast. Stuff a quarter of the artichoke mixture into each breast. Season the chicken with 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper.
  3. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken breasts until golden brown and cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes per side.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Double Italian Pizza

I love making pizza. It's not just one of the Nation's favorite foods, it's a dish that makes me feel smart and savvy. I have grown in my knowledge of pizza since starting the Woman's Day project: you don't have to use just tomato sauce as a base (you can use just olive oil or other sauces like BBQ or Alfredo), you don't have to use traditional toppings (potatoes or kale, for instance), and maybe best of all, it's not hard to make your own crust--and it's cheap.

Here are my recipes for regular crust (with photos) and wheat/gluten-free crusts (with pictures).

(wheat version)

I was pressed for time to make this particular lasagna pizza, plus Erik doesn't care for ricotta cheese (which I can't understand--it's sweet--must be a texture issue) so I bought prepackaged gluten-free crusts from Kroger by a company called Kinnikinnick for about $8 for 4 in a  package, which is obviously about $2 each. Still cheaper than Domino's Pizza, who offers a gluten-free pizza with just cheese for $11.02 if you carry-out. But they are offering %50 off orders through the web through January 19th, so you might want to take advantage of the offer while you can.

Lasgna pizza is simple and so delicious:


  •  Cornmeal, for the baking sheet
  •  Flour, for shaping
  • 1 pound(s) pizza dough, thawed, if frozen
  • 3/4 cup(s) part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 2 clove(s) garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup(s) grated Parmesan
  •  Kosher salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup(s) chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup(s) chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 3 ounce(s) part-skim mozzarella, grated
  • 3/4 cup(s) marinara sauce


  1. Heat oven to 425 degrees F. Dust a baking sheet with cornmeal. On a lightly floured surface, shape the dough into a 14- to 16-inch oval, circle, or rectangle and place on the prepared baking sheet.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, garlic, Parmesan, and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Fold in the parsley, basil, and 1/4 cup mozzarella. Spread the sauce over the dough and dollop the ricotta mixture over the top.
  3. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella and bake until the crust is golden brown and crisp, 20 to 25 minutes.

Waste Not, Want Not

I used the leftover ricotta by adding vanilla extract and bananas to make a dessert. Ricotta cheese with any extract and a little sugar or artificial sweetener makes a low-calorie treat for a low carb diet. Fresh basil leaves--and really, this goes for any fresh spice you buy for a recipe--will go to waste if you don't create a plan for waste-not, want-not. I used it to make fresh pesto a few nights afterward. Don't bind yourself to a particular recipe either. Pesto is just basil leaves, olive oil, garlic, Parmesan, lemon, and pine nuts blended together in a food processor (or blenders work-don't by a special machine just to crush up food--we use the blender to grind coffee beans too). I didn't have pine nuts on the fly (who does?) so I used macadamia nuts. Just as good, if not better.

Because Woman's Day offers a printed list for grocery shopping throughout the month, we also had an excess of gluten-free pasta so having a meal for the pesto was no issue.

(wheat-free version)


This cost is better if you make your own crust and grow your own basil. Instead of marinara sauce, we used olive oil  and a bit of leftover homemade salsa, which we already had, and of course, we always have garlic on hand which is about $0.50 each.

We enjoyed local beer with our pizza on this evening, since the local brewery, Apocalypse, is near the Kroger and they offer impeccable customer service and fantastic beer. There guests that evening, Blue Mountain Brewery, offer my favorite local beers, including Evil 8--a welcome pairing to our double Italian pie.