Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ranch-Covered Oyster Crackers

Elegant? No.

Gourmet? No.

Will they impress your foodie friends? Probably not.

But are the delicious crowd-pleasers? Yes.

And it's not Christmas without these babies. They're the perfect munchie while you're putting together a puzzle, playing a game of Pitch or Rummikub or Scrabble, or sitting around talking at eleven p.m. Wow, I want to be doing all those things, right now!

But since I won't be doing any fun holiday puzzles or games or chatting for at least a few more days, I'll settle for eating my first batch of Ranch-Covered Oyster Crackers in its entirety, small bowlful by small bowlful. Possibly before my husband returns from work.

I hope this easy to make treat becomes a holiday classic around your house, too!

Ranch-Covered Oyster Crackers
2 pkg. oyster crackers
1 pkg. Ranch dressing mix
1 1/2 Tbsp. dried dill
1 tsp. lemon pepper seasoning
pinch of salt
pinch of garlic salt
1 1/2 c. vegetable oil

Mix seasonings with vegetable oil in a large bowl.  Pour in oyster crackers and stir until crackers are evenly coated.  Pour into a rimmed cookie sheet.  Bake at 200 for 1 hour, removing from oven to stir every 15 minutes.  Spread on waxed paper to cool.  Store in a tightly sealed container.  Share, if desired.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Our New Favorite Pork Tenderloin

Here's the deal.  Last year we split a half side of pork with my brother and sister in law.  We've eaten all the bacon and most of the pork sausage.  Did you know you can't get a quarter of a hog, all in bacon?  I felt a bit cheated.  Like maybe my brother knew something I didn't and was taking all the bacon.

So all the bacon is gone, most of the pork sausage is gone, and now I'm left with a bunch of roasts.  Not a bad problem to have, except I only like pork roasts when they are smoked or shredded and covered in barbecue sauce.  And you just can't do that every week.

This recipe doesn't solve my roast problem, but it did remind me that I really do like pork.  When it's marinated in a slightly spicy marinade and then served with a fresh, bright, tangy pesto-ish substance.  Oh yes.  Pork the new way.

The marinade was really good, but it was the sauce that really sold us.  I even ate leftovers.

And it's a recipe from Cooking Light.  Good for you!  Eat on...

Argentinean Pork
Serves 4 (3 ounces pork and 2 Tbsp sauce)
6 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 c. fresh parsley leaves, divided
2/3 c. fresh cilantro leaves, divided
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 (1-pound) pork tenderloin, trimmed
3/4 tsp. kosher salt, divided
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 Tbsp. fresh oregano leaves (I used 1 tsp. dried)
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice (wow, I totally forgot this!)
1 Tbsp. sherry vinegar (I used cider vinegar)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
1. Combine 2 Tbsp. oil, 1/4 cup parsley, 1/3 cup cilantro, cumin and red pepper in a shallow dish.  Add pork.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour (or a few), turning once.
2. Preheat grill to medium-high.  (I used a grill pan because it was about 27 degrees out).
3. Sprinkle pork with 1/4 teaspoon salt and black pepper.  Place pork on grill rack coated with cooking spray (or grill pan coated with cooking spray!), and grill for 8 minutes.  Turn pork over and grill for 7 minutes or until a thermometer registers 145.  Remove pork and let stand for 5 minutes.  Cut crosswise.
4. Combine 3/4 cup parsley, 1/3 cup cilantro, 1/4 teaspoon salt, oregano and remaining ingredients in a food processor; pulse 10 times.  Drizzle 1/4 cup olive oil through food chute with food processor on.  Serve with pork.
Calories 319; Fat 23 g; Protein 24.5 g; Carbs 29 g; Fiber .7 g

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Pumpkin Corn Chowder

This recipe involves four of my favorite year-round ingredients.  Garlic, green onions, sweet potatoes, canned pumpkin.  So of course it's good.  Why was I surprised by how much we both liked it, that first time I made it?

 Pumpkin Corn Chowder has become a family favorite (or at least family chef's favorite) since I discovered it last year. It's doesn't require much prep at all, yet it gives you some unique flavors. Cumin in your chowder? That's new to me...

It's creamy and a little sweet and a little savory.  Topped with sour cream and pepitas, this is a yummy little soup for a cold winter's day.

Pumpkin Corn Chowder
from BHG 2011 Cookbook
1 c. thinly sliced leeks or 8 large green onions, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. butter
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
2 c. 1" cubed sweet potatoes (about 12 ounces)
1 14-oz. can vegetable (or chicken) broth
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 15-oz. can pumpkin
1 14.75-oz. can cream-style corn
1 10.75-oz. can reduced fat and reduced sodium condensed cream of celery or onion soup (I've always used celery, full fat, full sodium... just because.)
1 c. milk
1 Tbsp. snipped fresh thyme or 1 tsp. dried crushed thyme
pumpkin seeds, toasted (pepitas)
sour cream

1. In a 4-qt. Dutch oven, cook green onions and garlic in hot butter on medium heat for 5 minutes.  Add cumin and cook for 30 seconds.  Add broth, sweet potatoes, salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat.  Simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
2.  Stir pumpkin, corn, celery soup, milk and thyme into potato mixture.  Cook on medium heat until heated through.  To serve, sprinkle soup with pepitas and garnish with a dollop of sour cream.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Citrus Salad

Is there anything more gorgeous, on a cold, gray winter day, than sliced citrus fruits?

What?  You mean you don't chop up oranges and grapefruits and clementines on cold, gray winter days?  Because it's tops on my priority list.

Particularly when my ever-loving husband brings home four pounds of eat-them-immediately-before-they-get-any-softer clementines, apparently not remembering about the three pound bag already in our refrigerator.  I love him.  I didn't mention the bag.

But I made immediate plans to whip up this salad.  I called this the "Ward Off Our Nieces' and Nephews' Colds" Salad as we ate it before running over for a birthday party. Leave it to the under-ten crowd to be germ carriers...

I didn't realize it only requires two clementines.  Neither of us are very observant, it seems.

So the salad?  It's fresh, light, tangy, zippy, unusual for us.  The toasted coconut takes it over the top.

It's from Better Homes and Gardens. Ooh...  when I went to get the link to the recipe, I found this delightful-looking recipe for Fresh Citrus and Cranberry Salad.  Cranberries, ginger, oranges, mint - on my list now!

Keep Calm and Drink Coffee

After reading Living Locurto's recent post about being a tad overwhelmed by the many, many, MANY demands - and even the delights can become demanding - of the holiday season, I was inspired to create a little saying of my own.  I'm sure it's not the first time it's been said.  But it's the first time I've said it, and the first time I've created a cute little printable sign that you can hang on your fridge or bathroom mirror or beside your desk.

Remember to stop and savor the scents of the season along with your cuppa joe!

Coffees that should make it into your mug:
Starbucks Caffe Verona... an old classic for me
Starbucks Sumatra... rich and dark, sort of how you might feel after three days of lounging on Italy's Amalfi Coast at some posh resort
Blacksmith Coffee Roastery's Bali Blue Moon... what's not to love?  And they're a small husband-wife team pursuing their passion.
Java John's Superior Blend... a classic, full taste and at an amazing price.  And another entrepreneurial coffee roaster.
Caribou Coffee's Daybreak Blend... usually I prefer coffee from the darker side of the roasting scale.  But this is a treat.

Suggested scents to wrap gifts, decorate the tree, and read the Christmas Story by:
Bath and Body Works 3-Wick Candles... they burn evenly, are highly fragranced the entire time they burn, and if you happen to get them during a Buy One, Get One Free sale, they're only $10 each!  We buy them in bulk - so they gave us a great little cardboard carton to tote them home in.

My favorite holiday scents:  Fireside (smells just like a wood burning fireplace, without the smoke); Winter (crisp, slightly clove and orangey); Marshmallow Fireside (warm, nutty vanilla with a bit of fire to finish it off); Homemade Cookies (a deep, rich vanilla scent, without being too sweet).

And I'll say for the record, nope, they are not paying me to list these things.  I just love 'em myself!

Friday, December 9, 2011

New Year's Eve: Party It Up

We're having a New Year's Eve party!  I'm so excited!  I love entertaining and haven't hosted a big shindig since this summer... because of, chronologically listed, bed rest, baby delivery, new motherhood, holidays.

A big part of my love of entertaining is simply the planning part of the process.  So I've already got a game plan in mind.  Fair warning: You'll be seeing my rough draft notepad rather than a thoughtfully worded monologue about party planning.

7:30    On-time guests arrive / start snacking
8:15    Crazy Rook tournament (prizes for winners and losers)
10:15  Tournament ends / prize ceremony / bake party sandwiches
10:45  Snacking continues / set out puzzles, cards, dominoes, trivia, bingo
12:00  It's 2012!  Bring out the bubbly!

Now, I want to go into hyper-drive and make about 10 different appetizers and a couple drinks and have party favors and possibly even a theme.  I've been poring over magazines and cookbooks and compiling lists.  But in the back of my head, I know this is not necessary.  And with a baby it might just be overdoing it without reason.

Because... our friends aren't expecting an elaborate party.  They will all ask if they can bring something.  And I will let them.  Because I know many of them also enjoy trying new recipes or sharing old favorites, and because bringing something to a party makes (most) gals feel that they've contributed to its success.  Because a good party isn't about the food you provide or the perfect way it all looks arranged together.  It's about the friends you see and the memories you make.

And maybe I'll go all out in a couple years.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Treadmill: First Run

I am pleased to announce I made my inagural run on our new treadmill yesterday.

It was slow.

I breathed with difficulty at times.

I had to walk for a minute mid-way through.

But I did it!  I walked upstairs on lead legs and felt slimmer, tauter (is that a word?!) and stronger already.

Blasting my music helped.  I can't run effectively without music.  It's only a problem when I forget my ipod and only notice as I'm walking into the gym.  But this won't be a problem at all this winter, because I'm going to freeze my gym membership and hit it hard on our treadmill instead.

I'm accustomed to competing with the person next to me (I don't think they usually catch on), and I won't get to do that anymore.

The surroundings are a *bit* stark.

But the proximity is priceless.

3 Months of Motherhood

With three months of motherhood under my belt, I'm finally beginning to think clearly again, finally beginning to feel like I'm regaining some of ME, and finally beginning to spend more of my day enjoying my little boy than panicking about how to be his mother.

I'll be completely honest and tell you, it has been a rough road.  I entered motherhood with a baby IQ of about 10.  Before he was born, I'd changed about 25 diapers in my life, never bathed a baby, never cared for one for more than three hours.  Because he was born 5 weeks early, we didn't even have time to attend the baby care classes.  For a Type A person, this was a frightening situation!

I've always heard it said that a mother's love is instinctual and natural, and I am so grateful it is.  Because that love is all we had going for us.  Our poor baby has suffered through more clumsy diaper changes, discomforting baths, and and weeping mommy moments than I wish he had, but I have learned some things.

1. Pick three or four people, besides your spouse and doctor, that you're going to take advice from.  If anyone else gives you advice (And they will.  Oh, they will...), listen politely, thank them graciously, then either toss it out the window or run it by one of your chosen advisors.

2. Let people take care of you.  Make a list of things you need help with - so you remember when people ask - and then don't be too proud to share your list.  Even if what you really want them to do is watch your baby so you can steal an hour's worth of uninterrupted sleep.

3. Take a shower every day.  Even if you don't put on a speck of makeup or blowdry your hair or wear anything besides stretchy pants, you will feel so much better.

4. Take a walk every day.  Even if you have to go to the mall and walk laps with the orthopedic shoe crowd.  You'll feel better for the activity and getting out of the house.

5. Ask your mom or mother in law to come spend a few days with you - once in the early weeks and then again at about six weeks.  Mine both offered such valuable support and ideas, plus they were more than happy to take care of diaper changes, feedings and even rocking at night to give us a break.  I realize this is ironic, but thank God for mothers!

So that's what I know.  The other stuff - practical stuff about diaper changes and burping and comforting - well, that's all better learned the hard way.

My mom told me, "It's trial and error.  Try something and if it doesn't work, try something else.  And maybe that first thing will work later."  Comforting, right?  Ha!  For someone who thrives on checking the box when I've completed the task, this ambiguity is difficult to accept.  I've found that one of the few constants in my day is the way I love my son.  Whether I show it by holding him when he cries, changing his diaper when he's wet, talking and playing with him when he's awake or comforting him when his tummy hurts, I do believe he recognizes the love in spite of the sometimes clumsy attempts.

Fortunately, love isn't one of those things you have to learn.

Friday, December 2, 2011

My Rosemary Dilemma Continues

Last month I was debating transplanting my rosemary bush into a pot and bringing it inside to survive the winter.  Well, it was one of the projects I never completed, so instead I bought a rosemary tree from the grocery store.  It's so pretty that I haven't been able to cut any sprigs off it yet.  This could be a problem.  But I'll deal with that later.

The immediate problem is that my rosemary tree is shedding little leaves all over our rug!!

It'll tell you something about the current state of my housekeeping when I tell you that my husband noticed this before I did.

Well, you can learn anything online.  It's shedding leaves because rosemary plants are "high light" plants that want a lot of light to thrive.  When they aren't getting enough light (as during winter months, especially if they are indoors), they will shed their less efficient leaves to conserve food for the higher efficiency leaves.  Survival of the fittest.

I just hope my rosemary tree makes it through winter!

An update on my outside rosemary plant:  it seems to be doing quite well, even though temperatures have gotten quite cold.  And it is not losing any leaves.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

"Best of Show" Tomato Quiche

This one's a winner!

I've been making more egg-centered recipes recently?  My mom keeps chickens, so I have a steady supply of fresh, organic, free-range eggs available.  The difference between grocery store and fresh eggs is amazing.  Fresh eggs have harder, thicker shells; their yolks are more yellow and stand more upright after being cracked; they have more and better flavor.  But maybe I'm biased - or at least spoiled - by my ready supply of free, fresh eggs!

I didn't make my own pie crust, so I saved even more time.  And again in the interest of time today, I'll simply give you the link to the recipe!  I love how the recipe contributor says she first used it in the 1970s.  Good food is truly timeless!