Friday, December 22, 2006

Colorado's Blizzard 2006

Here is our photo after it had been snowing all day on Wednesday.

I think we're expecting more in a day or two. It will be a white Christmas this year!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Couple of pics from Denver's Museum of Nature and Science


The Alma King, the largest complete rhodochrosite in the world, measures 14 cm x 16.5 cm. You can get a sense of the size with my mom in the picture. Rhodochrosite is Colorado's state mineral.

Gray Wolves, my favorite diorama at the museum. They looked so real, I kept expecting one to turn their head and look at me. The museum does a really great job!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

World's Best Macaroni and Cheese


Ok. So maybe I haven't tried all the macaroni and cheeses of the world, but this one is pretty dang good!

Ingredients:
3/4 lb. elbow macaroni (I like Barilla)
5 Tablespoons flour
5 Tablespoons butter, plus couple extra Tablespoons for the topping
2 1/2 or 3 cups (depending on your tastes) shredded Cabot Vintage Choice cheddar cheese*
2 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon Emeril's essence (recipe follows)
2-3 slices sourdough bread, cut into smallish cubes

Instructions:
1. Boil pasta in large pot of water until al dente; drain and rinse in cold water. Set aside.
2. Meanwhile, begin melting butter in a large skillet/saucepan. Once melted, add the flour. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring, making sure not to brown the flour.
3. Slowly add milk while whisking (ensures it will not clump).
4. Remove from heat. Add 2 - 2 1/2 cups of the cheese (reserve remaining 1/2 cup cheese for topping), stirring until melted.
5. Stir in heavy cream to adjust consistency.
6. Pour macaroni into skillet and coat with the sauce.
7. Pour into a buttered baking dish and top with cubes of bread, remaining 1/2 cup cheese, 2 Tbsp butter (broken into small pieces to help the bread get toasty) and 1 teaspoon of essence.
8. Bake in oven at 350 degrees until hot and bubbly and bread crumbs are toasted; approximately 30-40 minutes.

Emeril's essence:
2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried leaf oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme

Combine all ingredients thoroughly and store in an airtight jar or container.
Yield: about 2/3 cup

*Cook's note: I found this aged cheddar at Costco.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Trip to the Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs


Here is a lovely photo from one area in the Garden of the Gods. It is a place of stunning beauty and history.

And here is a photo of some mule deer that I caught while we were hiking. I think they are about as tall as me (around 5' 7")! (Click on the photo to enlarge, so you can really see the deer.)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

It's been snowing since last night. I believe that this is our fourth snow of the year.

The view from my balcony.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Green Bean Casserole Recipe

This was my favorite dish at Thanksgiving this year. It's leftovers disappeared the soonest, by my own hand! I think it's the yummy taste of the onions that really gets me.


Green Bean Casserole, from Paula Deen
1/3 stick butter
1/2 cup diced onions
1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
2 cups sliced green beans
3 cups chicken broth
1 (10 3/4-ounce) can cream of mushroom soup
1 (2.8-ounce) can French-fried onion rings
Pinch House Seasoning, recipe follows
1 cup grated Cheddar


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Melt the butter in a large skillet. Saute the onions and mushrooms in the butter. Boil green beans in chicken broth for 10 minutes and drain. Add the green beans, mushroom soup, onion rings, and House Seasoning, to taste, to the onion mixture. Stir well. Pour into a greased 1 1/2-quart baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes, then top the casserole with the Cheddar and bake for 10 minutes longer, or until the casserole is hot and cheese is melted.

House Seasoning:
1 cup salt
1/4 cup black pepper
1/4 cup garlic powder

Mix ingredients together and store in an airtight container for up to 6 months.

Delish!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Thanksgiving 2006




Thanksgiving went well this year.

Our Menu:

Appetizers:
Green olives
Cabot sharp aged cheddar cheese with Nonni's Panetoni crackers
Veggie crudites with ranch dip
Hot wings with dip

Main course:
Salad with cranberries, feta and nuts
Honeybaked ham
Mashed potatoes with poultry gravy
Sausage, apple and dried cranberry stuffing
Green bean casserole (my favorite thing, I think; it's a Paula Deen recipe)

Dessert:
Sweet Potato Pie (my favorite of the two pies)
Apple Crumble Pie
Vanilla Ice Cream

Beverages:
Lucien Albrecht Rose Champagne from Alsace
Two Rivers Riesling

I hope everyone had a lovely thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Apple Pie Experiment #1

This is the first apple pie that I've ever made. I made it entirely from scratch using a recipe that I found in a Cooking Light magazine.

We all thought it had a funny taste to it, and the only thing that I can guess it that it was the apple cider that made it funny. Oh well, next time I'm going to try a recipe from Allrecipes.com, since I'll know from the reviews whether or not it should be any good.

But it looks good, at least!

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Power of Two

Some people have all the motivation that they need built in.

They get up, exercise five days a week, organize their closet and garage on the weekend and still manage to learn that new hobby they are interested in.

I envy them. For myself, I don't have that built-in fire under my tush.

But like a snowball, I gather speed and mass under the right conditions. Namely, when I am around those who share my interests.

Thank goodness for me that I found someone who shares many of my own interests. My friend and I are tuning in to the same wavelength it seems.

We both want to learn American Sign Language. We both want to learn a foreign language as well. We agree that Spanish is the most practical, but that we'd like something more exotic, just for fun. We'll see if practicality wins out!

What new thing will you be learning during the next year because of the inspiration of friendship?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Store Review: A Tea Utopia in Lafayette, CO

A friend and I visited A Tea Utopia on Tuesday, November 7, 2006.

We walked into the warm, sunlit shop in the middle of the day. The first thing you notice when you enter is the "wall of tea." One of the two main walls of the shop has nothing but shelves filled with jars of loose-leaf tea. Signs indicate that customers should feel welcome to open the jars and smell the teas.

We opened many jars, but left the vast majority unopened. I smelled tea from China that was so smoky it reminded me of roasted meat. I inhaled oolong that made me sigh. I saw a jar of genmai green tea, which normally has toasted brown rice in it, that had tiny, little popcorn mixed in.

The store proprietor came out and offered assistance. If you need advice on how teas will compare to others that seem similar, this is the lady to ask. She handmixes each tea on the wall, carefully selecting the aromatic pieces of the puzzle. She experiments with different blends, sometimes tossing a whole batch if it doesn't come out so well.

I enjoyed a freshly baked blueberry scone with a cup of iced jasmine tea, sweetened to my liking. My friend enjoyed a cup of an herbal tea, scented with vanilla, and a Nonni's biscotti. It was lovely to sit and talk, enjoying our treats. Customers pay for the items purchased at the conclusion of their visit, probably to allow them to add on extra food items as they give in to temptation (hey, we didn't originally start with that scone and biscotti!).

There were a couple of elderly women enjoying tea and conversation, so quiet that they were in their own world and we in ours.

I recommend this store for several reasons. The vast selection usually gives more room for experimentation, going outside of one's boundaries. The fresh pies and other treats would attract even a non-tea drinker. And lastly, the warm atmosphere and hands-on approach of the owner lend the store a very local flavor. It's comfortable there.

A Tea Utopia
1280 Centaur Village Drive Unit 7
Lafayette, CO 80026
303-665-8201

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Casseroles, casseroles everywhere, and not a bite to eat!

I admit that I've been making too many casseroles lately. But, darn it, they are easy!

This week we've had

1. elbow macaroni and cheeses with chicken and vegetables

and

2. ziti casserole with three cheeses and italian sauasage meatballs

Both were delicious, but now I've decided that I need to get back to eating real meals; meals where the entree and side dishes exist separately in time and space.

The trick is finding easy, fast, healthy, and inexpensive meals of that variety. I'll post recipes as soon as I figure them out!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

My Christmas Shopping has officially begun.


I finally faced the facts. Christmas is indeed coming and time is not slowing down. Rats.

Now that the facts have been faced, I now have to determine what gifts to buy everyone.

On a budget, no less. So, I am hoping that my favorite pasttime, that is, tinkering with crafts of all sorts, will pay off.

I found my inspiration this year in Martha Stewart's Holiday Handmade Gifts, on the stands now.

Homemade goodies of all sorts. I hope that there will be something for everyone. We'll see!

Here is what I want to make, so far:

Candles in unique vessels
Sweets - truffles and cookies
Possibly soap

I can't give away all my secrets, since a particular gift-recipient may be reading, but suffice it to say that I should be keeping myself busy on the weekends!

Does anyone else have plans to make some handmade gifts this Christmas?

Monday, November 06, 2006

No, really. No...REALLY!

Today I bought the most high-end pair of shoes I've ever heard of.

When I slid my feet into them and asked, "how do they look?" the answer I got was, "HOT! I'd wear just those and nothing else!"

I am not the biggest Sex and the City fan, but even I happened to catch an episode that featured these shoes.

Here they are. Manolo Blahnik's. And my husband tells me they retail for about $575-900 per pair. I bought mine for...wait for it...$1.99. And no, I won't tell you where!!! Hee, hee, hee! It's my secret!

I also bought a pair of Ann Taylor leather knee-high boots. How much? You guessed it. $1.99.


I was freaking out when I left the store! I tried to call my sister, but alas, she's on vacation. I can't wait to tell her. She's a big Sex and the City fan, so she should know what they are. Whoo hoo! Nothing like a good deal to make your day!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Home Based Food Delivery?

I may have to face the music soon. I might have to get a job.

Yech. Blah. Do I really have to?

I have been trying to figure out what job I would really love to have over the last few months. And now, it seems it will come down to the purely practical. After we start paying for our new benefits and contributing to the new 401K at my husband's job, we will definitely be short of cash.

So, the question is: what kind of job can you have and still be there to drop off and pick up your son from a 6 1/2 hour school day? It gives me at most, 6 hours to work. And, I need to be off for holidays and absolutely cannot work on weekends.

And then, just to be pig-headed, I would like to make more than $8 an hour, and I'm not thrilled at the prospect of going back to secretarial work.

I keep thinking of Paula Deen. She started her food delivery service from her kitchen (yes, against food codes) and basically had her sons go from business to business, selling her homemade lunches. And once business really got going, she was making about $1,000 each week.

I don't know if I can be that ambitious, after all there is only me. But I find myself wondering: can I get a business license and my food handler's card, rent/share kitchen space and sell lunches (while craftily trying to avoid paying taxes) and actually make a profit?

If anyone out there does this for a living, or knows someone who does do this, can you offer any advice, or recommend any must-have books for information?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Restaurant Review: Casa Alvarez in Lafayette, CO

Tonight, my son and I went out in search of good Mexican food (again!). This time, our travels took us to Casa Alvarez.

We arrived late for dinner, at approximately 8:00pm, and were seated promptly. Our server, whose name was either Cevia or Ceria or some such thing, was extremely friendly and courteous.

We sat in the dining room that is shared with the bar, and the atmosphere was that of a neighborhood establishment. Folks sat at the bar in clumps talking about global warming and politics.

My margarita was big and good. There was just enough tequila for me to taste it above the sweet and sour.

I ordered their carnitas enchilada and a beef taco combination plate. My son ordered the children's enchilada plate. Our food arrived shortly after ordering. Everything tasted fine, but wasn't spectacular. However, everything was prepared on site. The chips and salsa were fresh. The crunchy taco shell of my beef taco was fried on the premises.

Overall, I would give this place three and a 1/2 stars out of a possible five. They earned extra points for the friendly, efficient service and the margarita, but simply did not compare to Mi Casa in Costa Mesa, which is our Mexican food standard by which all other restaurants are judged.

Casa Alvarez
502 S Public Rd
Lafayette, CO 80026
(303) 604-4396

Hours:
Sun-Thu 11am-9pm
Fri-Sat 11am-10pm

Payment Types:
Cash, Credit

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween!


Here is my little guy, all geared up and ready to go!

This is a completely homemade costume. Just a cardboard box and lots of styrofoam. I used craft glue and some masking tape, too.

Just a note, if you attempt to make any costume using styrofoam, be sure to only use latex (water-based) paints or, if you plan on spray painting, be sure to "seal" the styrofoam with some masking tape. I believe that all spray paints will "melt" the styrofoam on contact.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Weekend Fun!

My sister came out to visit us this weekend from LA. We had a good time!

We played Guitar Hero and Karaoke Revolution Party Edition (oh, I bet my neighbors loved to hear us rock out). We carved our pumpkins and baked pumpkin seeds. The batch with the cinnamon sugar was so yummy! And we broke open and ate a pomegranate, which are in season and delicious!

We checked out a local bar in Denver called the Blake Street Tavern. It was very much a local's bar and the drinks were good, service was likewise.

And lastly, we showed my sister my son's Halloween costume. Which is a surprise! I'll post a photo tomorrow showing the finished product.

Cinnamon Sugar Pumpkin Seeds
1 1/2 cups rinsed and toweled dry pumpkin seeds
2 tsp. melted butter
Pinch salt
Sugar and cinnamon, to taste

Heat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Toss the cleaned seeds with the melted butter and salt. Spread into a single layer on a large cookie sheet. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring once half-way through.

Once removed from the oven, toss in a bowl with cinnamon and sugar until the desired sweetness/taste is achieved. Serve.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Good Food Hunting

I think that I have good taste.

I like my taste in food, interior design and architecture and clothing. I should; after all, they are my tastes.

I can't always afford to buy the best, but I feel happy at being able to recognize it when I see it (or eat it).

But lately, my passion for enjoying a simply delicious meal seems to be a bad thing.

I'm not one of those people who can walk into an Applebee's and declare that their food is wonderful. (Sorry, but I was conscious when I ate there...and to be fair, it wasn't bad...it just wasn't that good.)

See, if I could truly enjoy a meal from McDonald's, then I'd probably be as happy as a clam.

But as it is, I've tried two Mexican restaurants, multiple chain restaurants and a few fast food restaurants and find myself wondering: where is all the good food in Louisville, CO?

And to make matters worse, if you ask a few different people their opinion on a particular restaurant, you're likely to get responses that range from, so-so to great to absolutely hated it.

I'm looking for mostly affordable, but absolutely delicious, makes-you-wish-you-could-eat-more food.

Anybody have any recommendations?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Too cold for beer...

It's getting too cold for beer while I'm watching my son play outside, so I have been looking online for some nice "cold-weather cocktails." One more nice thing about some truly cold weather. I think that I will enjoy this search!

Here are a few that I'm considering...maybe somebody out there has tried one of these and has an opinion? If I end up making one of these, I'll let you know what I think!

Peppermint Patty
Make one serving hot chocolate, add 1 ounce peppermint schnapps

Hot Scotch Chocolate
1 serving hot chocolate, add 1 oz. butterscotch schapps

Toasted Almond
1 shot amaretto
1 shot vodka
1/2 shot Kahlua
Half & half

Heat the half & half in a pan until very warm, add liquor and stir to mix. Serve hot.

Hot Hopper
1/2 shot creme de menthe
1 shot white creme de cacao
1/2 shot Bailey's Irish Cream
Hot chocolate

Make hot chocolate, add other ingredients and stir. Serve hot.

Hot Toddy
2 shots whiskey
1 shot simple syrup
4 cloves
ground cinnamon, to taste
ground nutmeg, to taste
boiling water
lemon slice
cinnamon stick

Combine ingredients through nutmeg in a mug. Add boiling water to fill. Garnish with lemon slice and cinnamon stick. Serve hot.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Our first snow!

We had our first snow day here in Louisville today. It is still snowing, in fact. It started sometime around 9:30 this morning and hasn't stopped all day. Most of it simply melted when it hit the ground, but then after 3pm, it started to actually look like snow on the grass, roofs, etc.

It is so nice to have some variation to the weather. After years of living in almost perfect weather in Southern California, the change is welcome. I have been purchasing scarves and shopping for new mittens. I served my son and his playmate hot chocolate this afternoon. My hot coffee in the morning seems too good to be true.

Granted, I'll need to shop for new socks, add a blanket to the bed, get the worn out tires replaced and god knows what else...but somehow, that's okay.

Here is a photo of an abandoned stool that I rescued and reupholstered.

Here is a photo of a bag that I made using fabric sample books. (Front and Back)


Here is a photo of the view from my apartment this evening.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Barium for breakfast?! My favorite!

NOT!

Ok, now that I'm back from 7th grade, let me just say, if you don't have to get an upper GI done, don't! Of course, why would you?

My "temporary" physician (it's better than the other nicknames I have in mind...I am not fond of this woman) ordered an upper GI to see if my little heartburn problem had caused any real damage.

So, here's how it works.

First, you put on a stylish hospital gown, preferably one that leaves a draft coming in the front so that you feel you will expose your chest at any moment. Check.

Second, you take a little cup with crystals in it and throw them all in your mouth at once, chasing them with another little cup of fluid. The little crystals start reacting at once in your mouth, sort of like medicinal Pop Rocks. Heres the tricky part: you have to swallow them really quickly, so that they pop in your esophogas/stomach and expand, leaving you full of gas...and you can't burp. Or at least, they tell you not to. This process fills you with "air" so they can get a better look. Check (interspersed with quiet burps).

Third, and my personal favorite (note the sarcasm), you start to drink big gulps of chalky, lumpy barium. Mmmmm. In this third step, you will stand up, get x-rayed, then lay down, and get more x-rays. I almost couldn't drink anymore on cue. That was the worst part! Check.

Fourth. While lying down, roll over. Roll over again. Roll part way. Lay on your stomach, lay on your back. You get the picture. Check.

Fifth, you drink a thinner version of the barium mixture. On cue. While lying down. Check.

And if you're lucky (like me, yippee!), at the end, they'll tell you that you're fine.

I guess that the peace of mind was worth drinking and eating all that stuff. Thank God!!

Scrapbooking at Cut It Out!

Last weekend, I got together with a new friend for a little scrapbooking. Luckily for me, there is a new store in Louisville, CO called Cut It Out that has tables where you can work. And the owner Trish is super nice!

My friend Steph and I had a lot of fun (although I'm afraid that we might've talked more than we scrapbooked) and got a bite to eat at a local New Mexican style restaurant. I tried a bite of her flan, which was very good, I must admit. I've never tried it before because the texture looking a little "wobbly" for me. But this was more like a soaked cake texture.

I managed to finish my second scrapbook, which covers the second year of my son's life. I plan on doing three more to cover the first 5 years of his life. My first two have turned out so cute, that I can't wait to finish the rest and start working on a school scrapbook for him!

Trish demonstrated the Cricut (pronounced cricket) machine for us, which is like a printer, except that it prints out a die-cut design. Just put in the cartridge with the style font/graphics you'd like, type in the design and press go. It was pretty darn cool. You can even feed in whatever kind of paper you'd like the design to be cut out of, so it coordinates with your page.

We'll be getting together again on September 9th, and I'll post the event on My People Connection. My People Connection is a great site that allows users to host events and sign up for events (with no fees to them) as a way to meet new friends. And they do mean friends...this is not a dating service. Which makes it so great, because married folks like me can attend events and there is no pressure, just nice people who like to do stuff!

If anyone out there is in the Boulder/Denver area and would like to come hang out on September 9th, check out MyPC about a week before and I'll post the information. It's free to attend and you only purchase what you like from the store as needed (they'll open a tab for you).

Cut It Out

Louisville, CO 80027

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Isabella at Last!! Congratulations to Kristi!

My blog-friend Kristi has just announced the arrival of her beautiful baby girl. Please congratulate her...it was a long and difficult journey!!!

Congratulations Kristi!!! She's beautiful.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Cat Photo and a Crazy Week!


What a crazy week.

My son started 1st grade. I've been volunteering at a local thrift store that benefits the Birds of Prey Foundation (this has been fun...I'm redoing their jewelry case). I've had a doctor's appointment, a portrait studio sitting and tomorrow I'm hosting a scrapbooking event through My People Connection.

Whew!

But most importantly, I've been reading every possible moment and falling in love with the main male character in Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.

Ladies, this is a book for you. This is similar to what they would call a "chick flick". I guess this goes in that category "chick lit".

Boy, oh, boh. It doesn't have a photo of Fabio on the cover and, in fact, it has been recognized for it's historical and geographical accuracies. But even so, it certainly does make my blood pump.

It won't teach me how to increase my income; it won't teach me how to improve my personal relationships.

However: I don't care.

This is reading for the sheer enjoyment of it. It's an indulgence when I read it. Like eating a ripe strawberry. With champagne. By the fire. With some hunka-hunka Scottish love next to me. Well, you get the picture.

The story is about an English woman who falls slips through a "door" back in time over 200 years. The year is 1743. The place is Scotland. Everything is different in that time period and the main character is trying to find her way back home to her husband and 1945 without being hanged, raped or who knows what else, and along the way meets Jamie.

I'm doing it quite the injustice above, so I'll just say that I strongly recommend the book. You won't regret it!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Going back to basics: Glazed Carrots

Frustration.

Some days, I look at the kitchen and that is the feeling that comes rushing to the surface (not so unlike my acid reflux problem): frustration.

What am I going to cook for dinner? It's only a matter of time before someone else actually asks me that question. What am I going to tell them?

Since I can't very well tell them, "Shove off, I'm not in the mood...," I have to change the way I think about food.

My husband always manages to prepare some ultra-easy, piece of cake meal that makes everyone happy. And sometimes, I feel like a little knowledge (and a small budget) can be a dangerous thing.

I know just enough to know that I want to make miraculous meals that make my family swoon, but I also know that - well - I'm tired. I'm tired and I don't have three New York strip steaks in the fridge to whip out.

But I also know and have to remember that food, at its most basic, is simple.

And when I can remember that, we're all better off.

Here is a simple side dish, suitable for chicken, pork, beef, or any hot meal.

Glazed Carrots
Serves 4

1 pound medium carrots (about 6), peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick on the bias
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3 tablespoons granulated sugar (although I prefer brown sugar)
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Ground black pepper

Bring carrots, salt, 1 tablespoon sugar, and chicken broth to boil, covered, in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until carrots are almost tender when poked with the tip of a paring knife, about 5 minutes.

Uncover, increase heat to high, and simmer rapidly, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced to about 2 tablespoons, 1 to 2 minutes. Add butter and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar to skillet; toss carrots to coat and cook, stirring frequently, until carrots are completely tender and glaze is light gold, about 3 minutes.

Off heat, add lemon juice; toss to coat. Transfer carrots to serving dish, scraping glaze from pan. Season to taste with pepper and serve immediately.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Cherry Cream Cheese Tarts

These mini-cheesecakes are a wonderful alternative to bustin' your hump for hours, and you still get to enjoy that delicious, light, cream cheese flavor and the fruit topping of your choice. People always remark about how good they taste!

I recommend that you share them with friends, family and neighbors to avoid that "oh-my-god-I-just-ate-12-mini-cheesecakes" feeling.

TIPS/USEFUL INFO:
Instead of spooning the cream cheese mixture over the vanilla wafers, I pour mine into a large ziptop bag, close it, and cut off a corner for a quick piping bag. Much, much easier!

When you first pull your tarts out of the oven, they will be these gorgeous rounded top muffins.


But before you know it, they will be cooled...and sunken. Don't Panic.
This is supposed to happen. Place your fruit topping in the indentation, it fits perfectly!


Cherry Cream Cheese Tarts - AKA Blueberry
Recipe courtesy of Paula Deen

Ingredients:
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened (they MUST be softened...can't skip this step)
1 cup sugar (white, granulated)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 eggs
12 vanilla wafers
1 (21-ounce) can cherry pie filling or other pie filling

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Place a paper cupcake liner in each cup of a muffin pan. Beat cream cheese with a handheld electric mixer until fluffy. Add sugar and vanilla, beating well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Lay a vanilla wafer, flat side down, in each muffin cup. Spoon cream cheese mixture over wafers. Bake for 20 minutes. Allow tarts to cool completely. Serve with cherry filling on top, or pie filling of your choice.

Friday, August 11, 2006

You're On Notice!

This was too funny! I saw it over at Interrupted Wanderlust and had to create my own.


If you want to create your own, go here.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Eldorado Springs

On Thursday, we went down and checked out Eldorado Springs, about 20 minutes southwest from where we are.

It is a beautiful canyon between rocky outcroppings of mountain, which you are very likely to see daring climbers ascending high above you.

Eldorado Springs Aug 06


There is a freezing cold river that you absolutely have to walk into (don't ask why, it's a river, do you need another reason?) and hunt for unique, sparkly and colorful rocks.

Eldorado Springs 2 Aug 06


There are trails that head off in different directions, including one which is wheelchair accessible.

I saw a group of four young climbers in the middle of a climbing lesson with their instructors helping them into harnesses. I saw a small Asian family grilling some little foil packages over some very fragrant wood charcoal.

I saw lots of flowers and a few bugs. Here is one very cool bug:

Eldorado Springs 3 Aug 06


Some lovely purple flowers:

Eldorado Springs 4 Aug 06


Some chokeberries (no, actually, they won't make you choke):

Eldorado Springs 5 Aug 06


It was a fun day and a beautiful place. We got out just before it started pouring, too!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Dinners, easy as 1, 2, 3!

I love fondue.

I love the idea of this wonderful, interactive food and also love the taste.

However, making fondue sometimes just doesn't seem convenient.

And while there is something to be said about working hard to make a meal and enjoying the fruits of your labor, there is also something to be said about working smart with quick-to-prepare foods that offer less work and great quality.

Usually, quick-to-prepare and great quality don't go hand in hand. But luckily for me and my family, two meals this week fell under this category with much success.

The first, was Voila from Bird's Eye.


Voila comes in the freezer section and is easily and quickly prepared in a skillet.

I tried the Three Cheese Chicken with radiatore pasta, carrots and broccoli. The most important part: my son liked it. The next most important part: my husband and I liked it, too!

The veggies weren't overcooked, the chicken wasn't rubbery or grisly, and the pasta was perfect.

The second meal that I had this week that fell into this category was fondue.

No, you say, fondue that is quick and easy? Yes. It's true.

If you have ever seen this package and wondered if it was any good, here's your answer: YES.

Swiss Knight Fondue is a quality product that is half gruyere and half swiss cheese and tastes so similar to a pot of fondue that I once slaved over that I was shocked the first time I tried it.

I served mine with some kalamata olive bread, some parboiled white potatoes and some blanched broccoli. Dinner with flair in no time flat!

So next time you're looking for a quick meal but don't want to stop at the local burger joint, try some Voila or fondue...you'll be glad you did!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Cheesy Review: Cotswald and Crackers


While out shopping today, we encountered the fabulous cheese counter at the Wild Oats store in Boulder. I was lucky enough to get the opinion of their cheese expert, who had personally tasted many of the cheeses.

When I selected Cotswald, she said it was one of her favorites. With a creamy, cheddar-like flavor, infused with onion, chive and other seasonings, it's easy to understand why!

This was an excellent cheese, good with fruit or plain.

But today, the Cotswald inspired me to bake some fresh crackers.




From How to Cook Everything
Crackers
Makes about 4 servings

Time: About 15 minutes

Crackers are ridiculously easy to make, and once you produce your first batch you'll have little trouble figuring out how to create your favorites. Sprinkle them with salt, sesame seeds, or poppy seeds; work a tiny bit of garlic or herbs into the dough; or substitute whole wheat or rye flour for some or all of the white flour.

1 cup (about 4 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
About 1/4 cup water, plus more as needed

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit.
2. Place the flour, salt and butter together in a large bowl or in the container of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Blend with a fork or pulse, until the flour and better are combined. Add about 1/4 cup of water and blend, then continue to add water until the mixture holds together but is not sticky.
3. Roll out on a lightly floured surface until 1/4 inch thick, or even less. Don't worry about overhandling - add flour as needed, and keep rolling. Score lightly with a sharp knife or razor if you want to break these into nice squares or rectangles later on. Bake on a lightly floured baking sheet, or directly on baking stones, until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Cool on a rack; serve warm or room temperature, or store in a tin.

Cream Crackers: These are quite rich and yummy; you'll have no trouble eating them with no toppings at all. Increase the butter to 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick). Substitute milk or cream for the water. Proceed as above.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Spinach, Mushroom & Garlic Pizza and...Solitaire


Gosh, I guess that I've been on a bit of a pizza kick lately. I didn't realize it until now.

It must be the attraction of simple, summer food. Food that can be made at home or ordered from a restaurant with success.

For this recipe, I used the basic pizza dough recipe that I used in my focaccia recipe.

After that, I simply topped with a little store-bought pizza sauce, some Italian cheese blend and desired toppings. I used a frozen spinach for the right texture and lots of fresh garlic and thinly sliced mushrooms.

My son won his first games of solitaire this last week. He just learned how to play and he played nonstop until he won. As promised (he insisted this go up on the blog!), here is a picture of his winning piles:

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Stop the presses...I have a new bed!

Or, make that, I will have a new bed. Once they deliver it on Saturday.

And not only is it just any bed...it's a Heavenly Bed like they have at the Westin. We managed to get a pretty decent deal for the mattress only (we'll be getting a platform bed soon, at least, that's the hope!).

I don't want to get excited too early, but the prospect of sleeping on a new bed is just getting me all revved up!

Now, we just need a job!

Mattresses, bed...ugh!

Since I got to Colorado, three weeks ago tomorrow, we have been shopping for a bed. We didn't bring our old bed with us because it just wasn't it good shape, and planned on purchasing a bed right when we got here.

Well, we managed to purchase a bed. But then, we returned it. And ever since, we've been looking again. And of course, we're out about $300 for pillows and stuff that we had to purchase as well as the nonrefundable delivery fees.

First of all, we returned the last bed because the delivery people damaged it during delivery. It had high and low spots and the side was bowing out. It was a pocket-coil type bed, so I guess you have to be especially careful when you move those.

We were afraid that it'd be too easy to damage a new one, even the next time we moved it, so we flat-out returned it.

So. Back to the floor. I've only had one day of excruciating pain (in my shoulder) as a result, so I guess that I must be getting more used to it.

I say more because I woke up this morning with tingling feet.

The first thing on my agenda today is to go to yet another mattress store. Don't ask how many we've been to. Suffice it to say that we've been to every mattress chain except one.

Wish me luck!!! I need it!

And as far as a bed goes (the headboard, footboard, etc.), we couldn't agree on any style any time we've ever been in a store, except one. And this store is the store. It is all Amish furniture from Ohio and all handcrafted (without machines). It's the most amazing, beautiful, top-quality furniture that we've seen.

Too bad a bedroom set only costs about $3600 (on the very cheap end) up to about $6000 for some of the other sets! When we finally agree on the furniture, the only thing we know for sure is that we can't afford it.

My husband would like to just buy, charge, and pay later, but I think that I'll just let my practical side save us from that tragedy.

(for this next section, think Batman)
Will Craiglist save the dynamic duo from this neverending bed-buying torture? Tune in next week (no, not really, maybe tomorrow...besides, if I find a bed, I'll be so estatic that I'll be blogging ASAP) to find out!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

I am a Boston Creme Donut!

Nerissa over at Deetsa's Dining Room had this donut page up on her blog so I thought I'd find out what kind of donut I am.

You Are a Boston Creme Donut

You have a tough exterior. No one wants to mess with you.
But on the inside, you're a total pushover and completely soft.
You're a traditionalist, and you don't change easily.
You're likely to eat the same doughnut every morning, and pout if it's sold out.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Focaccia

Many times, the recipes that I decide to try are foods that I've eaten at restaurants and love. That was the case when I decided that I needed some focaccia.

If you've ever eaten at a Macaroni Grill, then you have tried this bread. Brought to your table hot from the oven and served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, it's one of the most welcome greetings I can recall among many restaurants.

It's salty and tastes of rosemary and wonderful, fragrant olive oil. The olive oil that you dip it in is like butter for a baguette and works perfectly.

And the variations are endless. Use a variety of herbs, or try any of the following as a topping:
1. thinly sliced tomato or reconstituted sun-dried tomatoes, or oven-dried tomatoes
2. caramelized onions
3. pitted black or green olives, or tapenade (black olive paste)
4. freshly grated parmesan cheese
5. thinly sliced mushrooms
6. strips of marinated, grilled, or broiled peppers
7. thin slices of prosciutto (added toward the end of cooking to prevent them from drying out)

Two things that occurred to me as a typed the recipe below:

First, do they really need to say "try not to tear the dough?" It reminds me of exercise videos where the perky blonde says, "don't forget to breathe!"

And Second, if you haven't gone out and gotten kosher salt yet (even after listening to AB go on and on about it, not to mention every other food show of that channel), go do it now. Invest the $2.50 on it and you'll be glad you did.

from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, here is the recipe for Focaccia:
Focaccia
Makes 1 Focaccia

Time: About 3 hours, largely unattended

If you make a thick-crust pizza, dimple its surface with your fingertips, sprinkle it with olive oil and salt, and cool it until just warm or at room temperature, you have focaccia. Of course you can make more complex focaccia than that, just as you can make more complex pizza.

1 recipe Basic Pizza Dough (to follow), made with an extra tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons olive oil
Coarse Salt
Herbs (optional, add hardy herbs, such as rosemary at the beginning, fragile herbs such as sage or basil toward the end of cooking)

When the dough is readyj, knead it lightly, form it into a ball, and place it on a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle with a little more flour and cover with plastic wrap or a towel; let it rest for 20 minutes.

Use 1 tablespoon of the oil to grease an 11x17-inch jelly-roll pan. Press the dough into a small rectangle and place it in the pan. Let it relax in the pan for a few minutes. Press the dough to the edges of the pan. If it resists stretching, stretch it gently, then let it rest for a few minutes. Sometimes this takes a while, because the dough is so elastic. Don't fight it; just stretch, let it rest for 5 minutes, then stretch again. (Just a note, I had NO problem with mine stretching to the desired time, without waiting.) Try not to tear the dough.

Cover the dough and let it rise for at least 30 minutes or until somewhat puffy. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Uncover the dough and dimple the surface all over with your fingertips. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil and sprinkle with coarse salt.

Place in the oven, lower the temperature to 375 degrees F, and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the focaccia is golden. Remove and cool on a rack before serving. Cut focaccia into squares and serve with meals or as a snack. Or cust squares in half horizontally and use to make sandwiches. Focaccia, well wrapped (first in plastic, then in foil), freezes fairly well for 2 weeks or so. Reheat, straight from the freezer (unwrap, remove plastic, and then rewrap in foil), in a 350 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

Basic Pizza Dough
1 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
3 cups (about 14 ounces) all-purpose or bread flour, plus more as needed
2 teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt, plus extra for sprinkling
1 to 1 1/4 cups water
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil

Combine the yeast, flour, and 2 teaspoons salt in the container of a food processor. Turn the machine on and add 1 cup water and the 2 tablespoons of oil through the feed tube.

Process for about 30 seconds, adding more water, a little at a time, until the mixture forms a ball and is slightly sticky to the touch. If it is dry, add another tablespoon or two of water and process for another 10 seconds. (In the unlikely event that the mixture is too sticky, add flour, a tablespoon at a time.)

Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead by hand a few seconds to form a smooth, round dough ball. Grease a bowl with the remaining olive oil, and place the dough in it. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp cloth and let rise in warm, draft-free area until the dough doubles in size, 1 to 2 hours. You can cut this rising time short if you are in a hurry, or you can let the dough rise more slowly, in the refrigerator, for up to 6 or 8 hours.

Proceed with any pizza recipe below, or wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and freeze for up to a month. Defrost in a covered bowl in the refrigerator or at room temperature.

To make this dough by hand: Combine half the flour with the salt and yeast and stir to blend. Add 1 cup water and the 2 tablespoons olive oil; stir with a wooden spoon until smooth. Add remaining flour a bit at a time; when the mixture becomes too stiff to stir with a spoon, begin kneading, adding as little flour as possible[md]just enough to keep the dough from being a sticky mess. Knead until smooth but still quite moist, about 10 minutes. Proceed as above.

To make this dough with a standing mixer: The machine must be fairly powerful or it will stall. Combine half the flour with the salt, yeast, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and 1 cup water; blend with the machine's paddle. With the machine on slow speed, add flour a little at a time, until the mixture has become a sticky ball that pulls away from the sides of the bowl (switch to the dough hook if necessary). Knead for a minute by hand, adding as little flour as possible, then proceed as above.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Butterflies at the Bank

There were two of these beautiful big monarchs outside my bank a couple of days ago.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Take and Bake Pizza (and my 100th post!)

We tried a place called Papa Murphy's a couple of days ago. They are one of a few local companies that specialize in the take and bake pizza.

We never had anything like this in California, but with slightly better prices than buying a cooked pizza, it was worth a try. We bought a family size (16-inch) Cowboy pizza which has pepperoni, sausage, black olives, and fresh mushrooms as the toppings. With coupon, it cost us $9.99 plus tax.

I could barely fit this pizza in this our oven! When it was done, it was fabulous! This was better than a lot of regular pizza places we have tried in the past. There was lots of cheese, toppings and the sauce and crust were great.

This was from:
Papa Murphy's
133 McCaslin Blvd., Ste. G
Louisville, CO 80027

By the way, this post is my 100th post (combined from my previous blog, SoCalFoodie.blogspot.com and this one)!

Maybe I'll celebrate...donuts sound good (for some reason)!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Chicken and Dumplings

Yum. Let's just start there. Yum, yum, and more yum!

If you have ever cooked a recipe and had the result be, well, let's just say, less than satisfying, then you know my pain.

It's the pain of standing for hours, measuring and preheating, tempering or simmering, only to discover that the place with the yellow arches might have been a better dinner. (No, not really.)

But this recipe for Chicken and Dumplings from America's Test Kitchen, really was a wonderful surprise. When the meal was complete, it was exactly what I thought it would be. Which, is to say, it was wonderful.

And to top it off, both of my guys liked it. Which is something of a small miracle.

It is time consuming, but simple enough, and the result is enough food to feed a family of three for at least 2 hearty meals. Maybe more if you don't pig out like I did.

Chicken and Dumplings

Don't use low-fat or fat-free milk in this recipe. Start the dumpling dough only when you're ready to top the stew with the dumplings. Serves 6 to 8

Stew
5 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (I actually used the pcs of about a whole chicken, approx 4lbs)
Table salt and ground black pepper
4 teaspoons vegetable oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
4 carrots , peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 ribs celery , sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 large onion , minced
6 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup dry sherry
4 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
1 cup frozen green peas
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

Dumplings
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon table salt
1 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons reserved chicken fat (or unsalted butter)

1. For the Stew: Pat the chicken dry with paper towels, then season with salt and pepper. Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add half of the chicken and cook until golden on both sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate and remove the browned skin. Pour off the chicken fat and reserve. Return the pot to medium-high heat and repeat with the remaining 2 teaspoons oil and the remaining chicken. Pour off and reserve any chicken fat.

2. Add the butter to the Dutch oven and melt over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, celery, onion, and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook until softened, about 7 minutes. Stir in the flour. Whisk in the sherry, scraping up any browned bits. Stir in the broth, milk, thyme, and bay leaves. Nestle the chicken, with any accumulated juices, into the pot. Cover and simmer until the chicken is fully cooked and tender, about 1 hour.

3. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board. Discard the bay leaves. Allow the sauce to settle for a few minutes, then skim the fat from the surface using a wide spoon. Shred the chicken, discarding the bones, then return it to the stew.

4. For the Dumplings: Stir the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Microwave the milk and fat in a microwave-safe bowl on high until just warm (do not over-heat), about 1 minute. Stir the warmed milk mixture into the flour mixture with a wooden spoon until incorporated and smooth.

5. Return the stew to a simmer, stir in the peas and parsley, and season with salt and pepper. Following the photos below, drop golf-ball-sized dumplings over the top of the stew, about 1/4 inch apart (you should have about 18 dumplings). Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the dumplings have doubled in size, 15 to 18 minutes. Serve.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Nature...direct to you!

Last night my son and I returned home from the grocery store, carrying frozen peas for our chicken and dumplings (will post tomorrow), and we came across a baby bird in the grass. I almost did't realize that it was a baby bird, mostly because it didn't move at all and blended in somehow.

As I got closer, I realized that the bird was so young that he didn't even have the ability to fly or hop away. So, I thought, he's waiting for his close-up (Mr. Demille)!

I dashed inside and retrieved the camera and here is the little dear. I hope that he makes it through the night and nobody bigger and hungrier comes along to meet him.

It occurred to me that when I was younger, I would've begged and cried to be able to bring that bird in the house. I would have laid awake wondering if he was okay and dashed outside first thing to see what happened while I slept. I guess that I've gotten older and have begun to accept that some things are up to nature and fate, if you will.

My son didn't beg or ask to take it inside. I guess either it's a girl thing or perhaps he's more Zen than I am when it comes to letting go. Either way, I am guessing he'll sleep better tonight than I will.


Sunday, July 09, 2006

Coffee Cake Muffins

On Saturday, I tried a recipe from my new cookbook, How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman. They turned out well, and my husband even thought they were better than the coffee crumble cake from Starbucks.

The sugar in this muffin recipe is kept to a minimum, so if you prefer a sweeter muffin, you should increase to taste. I made it according to the recipe and I thought it was fine.

3 tablespoons melted butter or canola or other neutral oil, plus some for greasing the muffin tin
2 cups (about 9 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 egg
1 cup milk, plus more if needed

1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup finely chopped walnuts, pecans, or cashews
2 tablespoons melted butter

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Farenheit. Grease a standard 12-compartment muffin tin.

2. Mix together the dry ingredients in a bowl. Beat together the egg, milk, and butter or oil in a separate bowl. Mix together the brown sugar topping in a separate bowl. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients and half of the brown sugar-nut mix into it. Using a large spoon or rubber spatula, combine the ingredients swiftly, stirring and folding rather than beating, and stopping as soon as all the dry ingredients are moistened. The batter should be lumpy, not smooth, and thick but quite moist; add a little more milk or other liquid if necessary.

3. Spoon the batter into the muffin tins, filling them about two-thirds full and handling the batter as little as possible. (If you prefer igger muffins, fill the cups almost to the top. Pour 1/4 cup water into those cups left empty.) Bake 20 to 30 minutes, or until the muffins are nicely browned and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes before taking them out of the tin. Serve warm.