Safe Travels

Eric and I haven’t done much traveling. I realize now this is something I should be quite embarrassed about, similar to finding toilet paper stuck to my shoe or my fly unzipped in the middle of a big presentation in front of People Smarter and More Important Than Me.

But that’s the way it is. Here we are, both turning 30 in 3 months, and we’ve never left the US. Well, I take that back, Eric spent a few days in Canada a few years ago. So he wins. I guess.

Don’t me wrong, I’d love to jet off somewhere exotic. See majestic mountains, jewel-toned oceans and crumbling ancient ruins. There’s just always an absence of two very important things. Mainly, money and time. I frequently hear from the well-traveled that we should do these things while we’re young. While it’s just the two of us. Before kids come along.

We’ve had six years. Let’s be honest. I’m 99.9% sure that’s not going to happen. Someday, right? Someday when we’re retired and all of sudden traveling Europe by train with the lead anchor on the 10:00 news sounds like an excellent idea. (Does your local news advertise trips like this? An Alaskan cruise with your favorite weatherman! The commercials always make me laugh!) Yep. Then we’ll go. Someday….

Until then, it’s a good thing I have a stocked kitchen and an active imagination. With the right food, I can travel wherever I want, whenever I want.

A couple weeks ago, I decided Italy was the place I wanted to go. So, I closed my eyes and thought about what it would be like to be there. I pictured peaches and cream sunsets streaked with lavender and pink, jaunty cobblestone streets and the whir of scooters whizzing by. I pictured a white flowy sundress, gold sandals that tie around the ankles, and hair in long, loose waves. I pictured outdoor cafes, tiny cups of espresso billowing with steam and bottles of wine that last for hours. I pictured hopeful coins shimmering with wishes at the bottom of a tinkling fountain. I pictured history – the last remains of great empires, towering, intricate cathedrals and Renaissance art. I pictured falling in love.

Most of all, I pictured gelato. Walking slowly with one hand wrapped up in the fingers of a true love and the other wrapped around a cone dripping with a cool, creamy treat.

This Gianduja-Stracciatella Gelato will put you there. All of those experiences in just one bite. And if that isn’t what it’s really like there – hey, I can dream right? It is my imagination after all. Someday I’ll know for certain.

I’m not even sure where to begin to tell you how much we loved this stuff. In The Perfect Scoop, David Lebovitz describes gianduja as an Italian confection made from local hazelnuts ground together with milk chocolate. Hello, heaven! This gelato is like frozen Nutella with bits of crunchy, chocolate goodness running through it. It may look like chocolate overload, but really the flavor is not over-the-top rich. It’s chocolatey in a completely perfect way. The hazelnuts give it a little bit of a coffeehouse flair. I’m actually not big on ice cream in a cone, I almost always have it in a dish. But here, the slightly spicy crunch of the cone compliments the chocolate and hazelnuts perfectly. Go for the cone!

GIANDUJA-STRACCIATELLA GELATO (Recipe Source: The Perfect Scoop)

Make the Gelato:

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 1/2 cups hazelnuts, toasted
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 4 ounces good quality milk chocolate, finely chopped
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS:

  1. After toasting hazelnuts*, rub in a kitchen towel to remove as much of the papery skins as possible. Finely chop the nuts in a food processor.
  2. Warm the milk with one cup of the cream, sugar and salt in a saucepan. Once warmed (do not boil), remove from the heat and add the chopped nuts. Cover and let steep at room temperature for one hour.
  3. Put the chopped milk chocolate in a large bowl. Heat the remaining cup of cream in a small saucepan until it just bubbles. Pour it over the chocolate and stir until melted. Set a mesh strainer on top of the bowl.
  4. Pour the hazelnut infused milk through the strainer into a medium saucepan. Squeeze the nuts firmly with your hands to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the nuts.
  5. Rewarm the hazelnut/milk mixture. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm hazelnut/milk mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the mixture back into the saucepan.
  6. Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom while stirring, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through a strainer into the milk chocolate. Add the vanilla then stir until cool over an ice bath. Cover and chill the gelato in the fridge until very cold, at least 8 hours or overnight.

*To toast the hazelnuts, spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake in a 350 degree oven until golden and fragrant, about 10 to 12 minutes, stirring once or twice.

Make the Stracciatella:

Stracciatella is more of a technique than a recipe. It involves melting chocolate and adding it in steaks to frozen ice cream. The streaks are broken up into crunchy “chips” that run throughout the ice cream. I have to say I really loved this technique and will likely use it again in the future. The bits of chocolate are small and they melt instantly when hitting the tongue, giving you a delightful chocolate flavor. Sometimes I find adding actual chocolate chips to ice cream leads to chunks that are so frozen solid, it’s like crunching down on tasteless, waxy pebbles. This technique eliminates that.

  • Finely chop 5 ounces of bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (do not use chocolate chips)
  • In a clean, dry bowl set over a pan of simmering water, melt the chocolate, stirring until it is completely melted.

Freeze:

Remove gelato from the refrigerator and stir. Pour into ice cream maker and freeze according the manufacturer’s instructions. After it’s frozen, transfer from the bowl to a storage container. Drizzle the melted chocolate over the gelato in a slow, thin stream, stirring as you pour to break up the chocolate. Cover and freeze until ready to serve.

ENJOY! :)

3 Comments

Filed under chocolate, ice cream

Those Summer Nights

As my Dad would say – New Years Day is right around the corner.

Oh, you thought New Years Day occurred on January 1? The day we pull out our new day planners and calendars? When the holidays end and it’s cold and miserable outside and there seems to be nothing at all to look forward to for months on end?

Well, yes, there’s that New Years Day. And then there’s the other New Years Day: Opening Day. The start of a new baseball season. A day most cherished by both my dad and my husband. We won’t talk about how they cheer for rival teams. Could get ugly. ;)

Now, I’ve never attended a ball game in April myself, because, let’s be honest, I’m just not that much of a die hard. Even so, I start craving the long, luscious days of summer as soon as the season starts. There’s just something about baseball. It’s the essence of summer.

When I was younger, I got taken out to the ball game more times than I can count. Thanks to my Dad’s devotion the game, I spent many hours of my childhood summers at the ballpark. Or riding in the car to get the ballpark. So much so that as soon as I was old enough to decide for myself if I wanted to go, I pretty much quit all together. Now that I’m older, I appreciate the ritual of the game so much more. I look back on all that time sitting with my Dad at the ballpark very fondly and find going to games with my Dad is still one of my favorite things to do. And it just so happens, I married a big baseball fan so the tradition of summer nights at the ballpark continue.

Baseball is reserved exclusively for the best days of the year. The kind of days that melt into warm, twinkling twilight. The crack of the bat, the suspense of the ball dangling in midair, the explosion of the crowd. It’s the perfect combination of excitement and relaxation. Being at a ball game is like chilling on the patio in your own backyard. All your best buds, eats hot off the grill, ice cold brew. Sure there’s a game going on, but if most the 9 innings is spent laughing and socializing, that’s okay. You still win regardless of the score.

Forget the peanuts and Cracker Jack, when I get to the park, all I want is big soft pretzel complete with a tiny cup of overpriced, overprocessed liquid cheese concoction. Oh, and a cold beer. Carbs, washed down with more carbs = dinner. Those ballpark pretzels….I keep going back. Are they that great? No. When it’s gone do I look down at the wayward pretzel salt stuck to my lap and think “hm, I sure am glad I ate that”? Uh, no. But it’s part of the ritual.

The good news is you can recreate that summer pretzel ritual at home all year round. And have it taste a million times better than the lukewarm, doughy, previously frozen version you get at the park.

Homemade soft pretzels are super easy to make and a great introduction to the world of yeast if you’ve yet to venture into that whole realm. The dough mixes up in a snap, it’s easy to work with and shape and the scrumptious reward at the end is well worth the extra time it takes to do it from scratch. The boiling step can be a bit tedious, but again, well worth it in the end. This time around I fancied them up a bit with classic flavors of an everything bagel. Peppered with a mix of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, salt, onions and garlic, these pretzels pack a ton of flavor. They’re excellent with a bit of honey mustard and outstanding with a homemade cheese sauce. Any way you bake them, break them, dip them or scarf them, you’ll stand up and cheer. :)

EVERYTHING SOFT PRETZELS (Recipe Source: Alton Brown via Foodnetwork.com)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
  • Vegetable oil
  • 10 cups water
  • 2/3 cup baking soda
  • 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • Optional toppings: Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, course pretzel salt, dried minced onion, granulated garlic – all to taste

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.
  2. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.
  3. Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.
  4. In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.
  5. Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with desired toppings. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

ENJOY! Also…play ball! :)

2 Comments

Filed under appetizers, bread

Where the Magic Happens

Hey! Remember last spring when we moved? And I said I was going to be sharing some of our home improvement projects here on the old blog?

About that. I lied. Or something. Honestly, there hasn’t been much worth sharing. Everyone knows the process of making a house your own is a slow one. I have a lot of blank walls, a lot of half finished rooms. I have a lot surfaces missing expertly placed decorative items. And most of all, I have a lot of windows missing window treatments. Luckily none of these windows look directly into the windows of any our neighbors. ;)

The one room that’s getting there is the kitchen. Thought you’d all like to take a peek.

Welcome to our kitchen!

I tend to spend a lot of time in here. Hours on end. Entire weekends. But it’s so cozy, I hardly even notice that what I’m doing in there (cooking, cleaning, washing dishes) happens to be what most people would define as work.

This crescent moon shaped island is without a doubt a unique conversation piece. It has plenty of room to spread out and has electricity. Pretty, but also functional. The stools provide a cozy place to have a quiet breakfast.

So you’re probably thinking…there TWO refrigerators in there? That’s crazy cakes. Well, here’s the thing. When we moved in there was the fridge behind the island and huge gaping hole along the back wall under the overhead cabinets there. We needed a forklift to pick our jaws up off the floor when we heard what it would cost to turn that space into additional cabinets and storage…that just wasn’t happening right away. So what did we do? We stuck a sad looking, half dead houseplant on the floor in the gap and stashed 12 packs of soda there. You know, the usual. When we decided to replace the fridge behind the island with a new french door (LOVE!) we just pushed the old fridge over to that empty space. Like a glove, friends!

I admit it’s a bit odd and it’s not a forever solution, but the extra space for beer and boxes of clementines and my ice cream maker bowl is nice. Someday the budget will allow to finish it off properly but for now, we’re content with being the weirdos with two refrigerators. :)

Now, a few of my favorite things about this room.

The view. Morning sun glistening off fresh snow. We see more than our fair share of friendly forest creatures out in our yard at the edge of the woods. The deer are particularly active. :)

The tile back splash. This was an unfinished mess when we moved in. Now it’s a beautiful focal point.

Kindly ignore the glaring dirt spot on the cook top. Please and thank you.

The glass front cabinets and drawers that flank the cook top. The drawers are the perfect size for spice jars and my out of control collection of loose measuring cups and spoons. And the cabinets allow for storage and a fun pop of color.

The booze shelf. Because… Duh. :)

The other thing I love about the kitchen is the way were able to personalize it. Eric constantly gave me a hard time at our old house about how I refused to put anything on the walls. I just couldn’t seem to find anything I liked. I hated every single mass produced metal wall piece and print I saw. So I stopped looking. Best decision ever. And now we have stuff on the walls.

Like these nifty little metal signs my brother-in-law had made for us for Christmas.

They have our name and other identifying info on them, so that’s been blacked out to protect the innocent. ;) I’ve mentioned before how Eric grew up a on dairy – the top sign is the graphic that was printed on the side of his grandfather’s farm truck and the bottom is bottle cap from his product. Sentimental and special, these make the kitchen uniquely ours.

For Christmas, Eric bought and had framed this print from an Illinois artist. I love it because everywhere you look there’s something new to discover and it’s brimming with my favorite colors. It’s a little bit city and little bit country. Just like us. And of course, the U of I references are appreciated…seeing as that’s where we met.

Finally, as a blogger, there are plenty of photos of food laying around. Fitting for the kitchen, obviously! Now, my photos are nothing special so it’s not like giant canvas prints would be appropriate. But scaled way down, stuffed into cropped square frames, and tiled along a wall in the dining area, it’s a fun way to display a few favorites. I gave the photos a vintage feel by washing out the colors a bit so they wouldn’t be so harsh on the wall. I really liked how they turned out.

Sorry for the cruddy pic – the patio door is directly across from this wall and the glare is insane.

So there ya have it! I hope you enjoyed the detour for a little behind the scenes tour. Back with food in the next post. I have one of my most favorite recipes to date on deck so stayed tuned for that! :)

17 Comments

Filed under Good Living, Just for Fun, Renovations

Getting Better all the Time

I’m trying a new thing. It’s called Let’s Try Not to Waste So Much Time Doing Dumb, Useless Stuff.

I started a new job a couple months ago and one of the many wonderful things about it is the renewed sense of productivity I seem to have gained. When I walk out of the office at the end of the day, I don’t feel like collapsing on the couch as soon as I get home and only getting up to relocate to my bed. Considering I get up insanely early AND have a 40 minute commute, this new development is indeed headline worthy in my little corner of the world.

I’ve been running the errands that typically cut into my weekend. I’ve been cleaning. And exercising! Exercising, people! As in moving around in a healthy-like way. More than that, I’ve been taking the time to do a few things that just make me happy. Enjoying a little retail therapy at the end of the week. Browsing the library, cracking the spines on musty books and discovering new worlds. Sitting at the kitchen table carefully painting my fingernails with my favorite tunes or podcasts on in the background. Snuggling up with Eric on the couch and watching movies we both enjoy. I know that stuff doesn’t sound particularly productive, but seriously, I don’t think I’ve felt this all around awesome in a long time. I think it’s because I’m pushing myself a little harder, but rewarding myself at the same time. Balance. That’s the word.

The most surprising side effects of this new found productivity, aside from feeling like a rock star, is the way I’ve unplugged. Instead of picking up the remote, I’m picking up a book. Instead of the two us in different rooms on different laptops, we talk and laugh and spend time together. Instead facebooking and tweeting and email checking, I’m leaving my computer closed. For hours at a time. This is unheard of!

Unfortunately, unplugging is not so good for blogging. It’s the one area I haven’t quite figured out how to work into this new balance. I get distracted by all the things I’ve spent hours not looking at when I’m trying to post and while I’m off doing other things my Google Reader is exploding. My twitter handle is silent. I’m not commenting enough. I’m not pinning enough. I’m not engaging in the blogging community I love so much which is, by nature, ummm…plugged. Yes. This has put a slight damper on my productivity excitement.

So how do you guys do it? How do you balance your blog and everything that comes along with it? Tell me about how blogging fits into your busy life because I desperately need the advice of experts! That’s YOU! I’ve been doing this for almost four years and I still do it wrong most of the time ;) So give me your secrets. Just don’t say give up watching Parenthood. I mean, I can let Pan Am and possibly The Office go, but I gotta draw the line somewhere. ;)

While you mull that over, let’s eat! Here’s a simple pasta dish fitting for any productive person who needs to get that silly dinner thing out of the way so she can move on to more important things – like painting her nails. ;)

I’m a big fan of sauce-less pasta. If the pasta has enough flavor, it really doesn’t need a thick, goopy sauce masking all the deliciousness. Here we have quite a few textures and flavor profiles combing into something truly outstanding. The broccoli lends a fresh, earthy flavor. The jarred roasted red peppers, a bright, briney tang. Spicy sausage brings meatiness and sustenance and Romano cheese, a salty, nutty bite. Tossed together with chewy orecchiette pasta, it is so completely satisfying. So satisfying, I must say, that I made the entire recipe and ate it for lunch and dinner in one day not once but TWICE before it was all gone. That’s good eating people. And so simple and quick. Add a loaded green salad to up your veggie intake and put this entire meal on the table in 30.

On to more productive things!

ORECCHIETTE WITH BROCCOLI, SAUSAGE AND ROASTED PEPPERS (Recipe adapted from: America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 ounces hot Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 cup jarred roasted red peppers, rinsed and chopped (about one 12-oz jar)
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 bunch of broccoli (about 1 1/2 pounds), cut into 1 inch florets
  • Salt
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 pound orecchiette pasta
  • 2 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Fresh basil, for garnish (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a large pot for the pasta.
  2. Meanwhile, cook the sausage in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, breaking it up as it cooks, until browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the peppers and garlic and cook until just fragrant, about 15 seconds.
  3. Stir in the broccoli, 1/2 teaspoon salt and water. Cover the skillet, increase the heat to high and cook until the broccoli begins to turn bright green, about 2 minutes. Uncover the skillet and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid has evaporated and the broccoli is tender, about 5 minutes.
  4. When the water is boiling, stir in 1 tablespoon of salt and the orecchiette. Cook, stirring often, until the pasta is almost tender but still a little firm.
  5. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Site in the sausage mixture, cheese and oil, tossing to coat. Add the reserved pasta water as needed to loosen before serving. Serve with chopped fresh basil and additional cheese, if desired. Serves 4 to 6.

ENJOY! :)

4 Comments

Filed under pasta, sausage, veggies

Heart to Heart

I’ve never been the type to get really into Valentine’s Day. I don’t dress myself in head to toe red and pink or hand out foil-wrapped chocolate hearts to all my coworkers. It’s just another day. Another cold, wintery February day right smack dab in the middle of a busy work week. Our alarm will sound at 10 after 5 and there will be no breakfast in bed. We will both work all day. Eric will trudge home after 6 dog tired. There will be no fancy dinner. Just a couple of old marrieds, sitting on the same side of the kitchen table so they can both see the Seinfeld rerun on TV while they eat their taco casserole.

Wow. We sound lame. But honestly, it’s a special, cozy, wonderful kind of normal. After nine (NINE! What the what?!) Valentine’s Days together there may not be grand gestures and rose petals and frosty diamonds nestled in red velvet, but there is love. Pure and simple and true. The kind that only gets stronger as each year passes. Valentine’s Day is a good reminder of just how lucky I am to have my Snuggly-Wuggly-Pookie-Boo-Boo-Bear (is that gushy enough for ya?) in my life. ;)

Did you know my heart still flutters when I hear the garage door open and see his truck pull into the driveway every evening? After all this time, my favorite moment of the day is still the moment when he walks in. I’ll never tire of seeing him smile, hearing him laugh. He says thank you when I make him dinner. He helps me empty the dishwasher without me even asking! He brings home candy I like when he’s been at Menard’s buying screws or bolts and goes to pick up the pizza when it’s raining so I don’t have to go out. He’s so thoughtful. And kind. So smart. Like seriously brilliant. And funny! So funny. He makes me laugh every single day. Even when I don’t feel like laughing. Especially then.

He says he’s pretty much the luckiest guy ever to have me around but I say *I’m* the lucky one. How he puts up with all this crazy, I’ll never know. Maybe Valentine’s Day is just another day, but it’s another day in a pretty fantastic life together.

Eric was out of town this past weekend seeing his family so I decided to surprise him with some lovey-dovey cookies upon his return. These deep, dark chocolate hearts layered with sweet and succulent cherry preserves just scream “come on baby light my fire.” ;) Deb at Smitten Kitchen calls these  Brownie Roll-Out Cookies which is a spot on description. They’re tender and sweet and surprisingly chocolately and fudgey-flavored. Chocolate cookies can be kind of flat and boring, in my opinion, but these hold their own. I munched on an insane number of the tiny hearts I cut out of the center of these to make the windows. They are the perfect all purpose chocolate cookie – sandwich them with a layer of peanut butter cream, dip them in white chocolate and sprinkle with colored sugar, top ‘em with a generous smear of buttercream. You cannot go wrong. When stuffed with preserves and dusted with powdered sugar, they are a Valentine’s Day treat worthy of someone special.

I went back and forth debating whether to use strawberry or cherry preserves here. I knew both would compliment the chocolate cookies well, but I wanted these to be special. Let’s face it, strawberry is sweet and innocent. Cherry is…so much more. Dark and passionate, cherries leave their mark. Strawberry is for your crush. Cherry is for your true love.

CHOCOLATE CHERRY HEARTS (Cookie recipe from: Smitten Kitchen)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup unsalted salted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa (I used dutch-process)
  • 1 12-oz jar cherry preserves
  • Powdered sugar for dusting

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Add the butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla and cocoa to the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until fully combined and fluffy. Gradually add the flour mixture, beating until incorporated after each addition. Turn the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap and wrap tightly. Refrigerate until firm, at least one hour.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly flour a work surface and rolling pin and roll out the the dough to a quarter inch thickness. Cut the dough into hearts using a medium size cookie cutter. Using a smaller heart cutter, cut a second heart out of the center of half the cookies. Bake on a parchment lined baking sheet for 6 to 8 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
  3. Separate the solid cookies from the ones with the heart cutout. Dust the cutout cookies with powdered sugar. Spread a thin layer of preserves* on the flat side of a solid heart and top with a sugared cutout heart. Makes about 2 dozen sandwich cookies.

*Note: You may want to nuke the preserves for 10 to 15 seconds to loosen it a bit for easier spreading.

ENJOY! :)

4 Comments

Filed under chocolate, cookies, fruit

Cowboys like Us.

Oh, hey there. Hi.

The following story leans toward the 13 in PG-13. Parental guidance is suggested. The unsavory language has been censored but you’ll likely be able to figure it out. I’m warning you because I’m cool like that and I’m giving you a chance to quietly file out of here and find more appropriate reading elsewhere. I do not mean to offend, but apologies in advance if that happens. You know what they say…

Haters gonna hate.

Anyway. This story is based on actual events. Actually, it’s 100% true. I know. I was there. ;)

The 10 a.m. section of Principals of Accountancy 1 had to be, without a doubt, the most well-attended large lecture on campus. In the fall of 2001, it took all of about 3 weeks for about 750 cocky college sophomores to realize – skip lecture, FAIL Professor C’s exams. There was no all-nighter too exhausting, no hangover too brutal, no snooze button too tempting to keep us away from that lecture. Like a dangling a carrot on a string in front of a pony, my friends.

And so, every Tuesday and Thursday morning, we filed into Foellinger Auditorium to PACK the joint, main floor to balcony. We scribbled feverishly to keep up, bent over our tiny desks, pens flying. There was no time to even look up. Every class ended with a stiff neck and a hand cramp.

One sleepy morning closing in on midterms and deep in through of debits and credits and journals and ledgers, the sound of large, heavy doors banging open in the back of the auditorium caused a collective jump in every seat. Professor C. stopped mid-sentence. Pens halted. Every head turned, every neck stretched like a rubber band as a whooping and hollering stranger rushed down the center aisle.

An audible gasp rippled through the crowd, followed by low, muffled laughter. With his arms up and fists pumping in a blaze of enthusiastic victory, this sudden mid-class distraction was skinny, pale…and practically naked. He sported nothing but a cowboy hat, a red bandana and, wait for it, leopard print thong underwear. Every pair of eyes grew wide in surprise, mouths hung open in stunned silence. Everyone looked around in do-you-see what-I-see? disbelief.

The naked stranger jumped up on stage and shook his bare little bottom for his newly captive audience. All at once the crowd began to clap and cheer wildly. Whistles bounced off the towering ceiling, echoing and piercing through the room. A group in the balcony, no doubt the recently activated frat boys who put the poor pledge up to this, were on their feet, stomping and shouting like the entire thing was a spectator sport.

Suddenly, he turned to face us. He held up his hands and bowed his head to silence the crowd. Shhhhh. He’s gonna say something. A hush fell over the auditorium. He looked up, flashed a million dollar smile, raised his arms above his head once again and shouted to the rooftops at the top his lungs….

“I am Cowboy Dan and I am one bad- mother-!”

Cowboy Dan visiting my accounting lecture is about where my experience with cowboys ends. Now, I know a thing or two about farm boys, who really aren’t cowboys, and I happen to know they love cookies. Especially big, chunky cookies loaded with goodies. I don’t know if cowboys share the same affection, but I’m going to go ahead and say yes. Why not, ya know? And I gotta think a cowboy would love a cookie named especially for him.

These Cowboy Cookies from the Martha Stewart Cookies book are creeping up there as one of my favorite cookies to date. They’re loaded with chocolate chunks, toasted pecans, hearty oats and flaky coconut. They’re a little rugged, a little rough around the edges and probably aren’t going to win a beauty contest any time soon. They’re a bit unassuming, but strong in their silence. Very cowboy-like, if you ask me.

Oh, hey Coconut Haters? Fear not! These cookies are not at all coconut flavored, it’s just another pleasant textural profile to the final product. Try it, you’ll like it. Your cowboys will like them too.

COWBOY COOKIES (Recipe Source: Martha Stewart Cookies)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3/4 cup pecans (3 ounces)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats (not instant or quick-cooking)
  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate, cut into 1/4-inch chunks
  • 1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut (unsweetened coconut is a specialty product that I’ve never found at my regular grocery store, I went ahead and used sweetened and it was fine. I reduced the sugar by about tablespoon)
  • Cooking spray

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread pecans in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast in oven, tossing occasionally, until darkened and fragrant, 10 to 13 minutes. Let cool, then coarsely chop. Into a bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder.
  2. With an electric mixer cream butter and both sugars until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla.
  3. With mixer on low speed, gradually add flour mixture, beating until just incorporated. Beat in oats, chocolate, pecans, and coconut until just combined. (Dough can be covered with plastic and refrigerated up to 3 days.)
  4. Coat baking sheets with cooking spray; line with parchment, and spray parchment. Using a 1 1/2-inch ice-cream scoop or a tablespoon, drop dough onto prepared sheets, about 3 inches apart.
  5. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until edges of cookies begin to brown, 16 to 18 minutes. Transfer sheets to wire racks to cool 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks to cool completely. Makes about 5 dozen.

ENJOY! :)

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Man’s Best Friend

This post is dedicated to a few of my neighbors.

This post is for the happy, loveable yellow lab across the street. She sits in her yard, head cocked to one side, staring longingly across the road when we pull up to our mailbox. Oh, she’s thinking, I want to come and see you SO bad, but there’s this electric fence in the way. Oh please, oh please, come say hi to me!

This post is for the bulldog next door. With his feet turned in slightly, I imagine the low, lumbering notes of a tuba playing in his head as he strolls about, sniffing the grass with his pudgy little nose.

This post is for the dynamic duo from two doors down. An inquisitive pair I have affectionately nicknamed the Tweedle Twins. Occasionally, the Tweedle Twins are seen wandering about, not afraid to explore beyond the boundaries of their own yard. Tweedle Dee is the clear leader – a small-but-fiesty, salt and pepper colored shih tzu. He’s always first to step off the curb and trot down the road en route to some mighty adventure in a neighbors yard. Trotting behind, as if playing a never ending game of follow the leader, is Tweedle Dum, a black lab mix with a rather empty but affectionate gaze. When Tweedle Dee chases a squirrel up a tree, Tweedle Dum does the same. When Tweedle Dee wanders the edge of the forest, Tweedle Dum follows closely behind, exploring each twig and weed as Dee did just seconds earlier. They are a couple of best friends out making neighborhood mischief. I love watching them through my windows.

It’s true we don’t have any pets of our own, but when my pal Branny put the call out for entries for her second Souper Bowl charity event, I just knew I had to participate this time around. See, Branny is a true animal lover and for every entry of a delightful bowl of soup she receives for this event, she will donate $1 to the ASPCA – a definite worthy cause and one I fully support. In the spirit of giving, this post is dedicated to all the furry, four-legged residents in our neighborhood. :) It’s not too late for you to participate too! All you gotta do is whip up some soup, which you totally had planned this week anyway, right? Being that it’s January and all that. Check out Branny’s blog for all the details. :)

This Lasagna Soup is like a man’s best friend. Spicy sausage? Yes. Pasta? Of course! Cheesy goodness. Duh. See, totally man-friendly. My man, skeptical of soup most of the time, loved it. I did too. It really does mimic the flavor profile of lasagna. With chunks of spicy Italian sausage, juicy tomatoes and rich ricotta, it’s got all the goodies without the all the spreading and layering of a traditional lasagna. The best part is the generous dollop of ricotta that dots each serving. The ricotta is mixed with some freshly grated Parmesan and mozzarella, and when plopped into the steaming bowl, begins to melt almost instantly, creating a creamy richness in each bite. Oh, it is SO good. Best enjoyed on a cold, snowy January night, of course, where you can warm your hands on the side of the bowl. Maybe even with a furry friend asleep at your feet.

LASAGNA SOUP (Recipe Source: Adapted from Closet Cooking)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound hot Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 pound curly pasta
  • 4 ounces low fat ricotta
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan, grated
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 1 handful basil, chopped

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook until lightly browned, about 10 minutes, breaking it apart as it browns. Remove sausage from the pot to drain. Discard all but about 1/2 tablespoon of the drippings in the pot.
  2. Add the onion to the reserved drippings and saute until tender and translucent, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes and fennel and saute until fragrant, about one minute. Return the sausage to the pot.
  4. Add the chicken broth, tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano, bay leaf, salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 7 to 10 minutes and remove from heat.*
  6. Meanwhile, combine the ricotta, Parmesan and mozzarella in a small bowl. Serve the soup garnished with a tablespoon of the cheese mixture and top with chopped basil. Serves 5 to 6.

*I always find myself conflicted when it comes to cooking pasta IN soup. On the one hand, I like it, because I think the pasta release just enough starch into the soup to give it a touch of silkiness. On the other hand, there’s Sponge Syndrome to deal with. You know, the next day rolls around and you’re ready to ladle yourself up a big bowl of soup leftovers (which are the best leftovers EVER) and, much to your dismay, you find you no longer have soup. The pasta has absorbed the liquid – just like a sponge! D’OH!

I will say, I DID cook the pasta in the soup this time around and I DID have a major case of Sponge Syndrome the next day. However, it is easily restored to it’s former soup glory by mixing a bit of chicken broth spiked with a shot of tomato base in a sauce pan, adding your leftover “soup” and reheating gently on the stove top. Good as new. You may also cook the pasta separate and add that to the soup at the end, if you prefer. :)

ENJOY!

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Filed under pasta, sausage, soup