Monthly Archives: February 2012

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 πŸ˜‰ 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. πŸ˜‰

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. πŸ˜‰

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! πŸ™‚

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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. πŸ˜‰

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.” πŸ˜‰ Deb at Smitten Kitchen calls theseΒ  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! πŸ™‚

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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. πŸ˜‰

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! πŸ™‚

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Filed under chocolate, cookies