Saturday, December 15, 2007

A Cape Cod Guest Book

I have been trying to complete this project for only a few days shy of a year. I was driven to create this ocean-inspired book after staying at our friends' home on the Cape on New Year's Eve of 2006. At least it's not 2008 yet!

This does make me think I need to add a bullet to my 2008 Resolutions list that pertains to my giant project list...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Nolio Pizza (a la Bertucci's)

Bertucci's (or "The Bertooch" as we call it here at work - we share a building with the restaurant...) removed a pizza from their menu a couple of years ago. I don't know why they did this. Their Nolio Pizza - god rest its soul - was a white pizza with mozarella, carmelized onions, lemon-y cream sauce and prosciutto.

About a year ago, I came across a knock-off recipe for the Nolio and resurrected it quite successfully! It's always nice to be able to satisfy a food craving by whipping it up in your own kitchen, and I did just that one day for lunch this weekend. John seemed alarmed at the less-than-healthy ingredients, but I was really able to cut back on the quantity of each ingredient - the flavors are so vibrant and go so well together. The Nolio lives on!

My First Granola!

The cold I've been carrying around now for a week woke me up at 6:30am this past Sunday. Despite feeling kind of lousy, I was overcome with inspiration and made a tray of the Barefoot Contessa's granola. It has been a great snack to have in the house (and at work!) - great plain and extra good on vanilla yogurt. Plus, I didn't have to add nasty raisins or chocolate chips!

A little modified, here's the recipe:
4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
1 cup sweetened, shredded coconut
2 cups sliced almonds
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup honey
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 cups dried cherries, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Toss the oats, coconut, and almonds together in a large bowl. Pour the vegetable oil and honey over the oat mixture. Add the cinnamon, and stir to coat. Pour onto a sheet pan. Bake, stirring once with a spatula, until the mixture turns a nice, even golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove the granola from the oven, add the cherries and allow to cool. Store the cooled granola in an airtight container.

Basket o' Sushi

For fundraising purposes, our church encourages members to create themed gift baskets to be raffled off at the Christmas Fair. We are new members (actually, we're not even actual members yet!) so I'd never seen these baskets before, and I was so amazed at how clever and elaborate they were. I had decided on a "sushi" theme for mine, which I hope someone somewhere is enjoying!

We, the Jubilate Ringers, played a bunch of Christmas songs throughout the morning of the fair. That part might not have gone so well. BUT, some friends of mine came, bought some cookies, and decorated their own pre-fab gingerbread houses!

A very congested gingerbread neighborhood!

What Meira made, er, yesterday:

Brainstorming has already begin for next year's fair!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Recycling...With a Little Help From My Friends

...and no help from my work building.

Although we recycle paper in our office, our building does not provide a means of recycling plastic or glass. I drink a ton of water at work, and suddenly became very tuned in with the plastic I was throwing away each day.

I started saving my plastic and glass bottles, and the pile grew so quickly that I found myself with a dilemma: how do I get these bottles home without looking like a bag lady on the train?

The answer: have your friend bring them home for you! I was feeling very lucky that 1) my coworker's husband is a passionate recycler, and 2) he was picking her up at work one day this week. The two of them drove my 2 giant bags o' bottles to Arlington where they were recycled:

Totally embarrassing (my coworker brought my garbage to her house!). But I guess I needed that visual to help me change some habits. I now have a Nalgene bottle at work which I refill, and we discovered that the Au Bon Pain across the street has a bottle recycling bin.

I find each week that our recycling bin is overflowing while our second garbage bin goes unused. This seems like a good problem, but it makes me wonder why recycling bins are so much smaller than garbage bins. This seems to send the wrong message about recycling volume right off the bat. We should have equal or more recyclables than disposables. Case in point, here is my green garbage bin (on the left) and my recycling (right) for this week:

A Political Stance: I Support Kucinich in '08

Similar to the premature media push for Christmas that started in October of this year, I am extremely frustrated with the same media telling me that major decisions have already been made in the November 2008 Presidential Election.

We are shown each day that the race is on between the 3 "major candidates" in each party and, via corporate-owned media, we are spoon-fed who these "major candidates" are before a single vote has been cast.

It's 2007. The playing field is even right now, and I am looking beyond the "major candidates" in this election since each of them seem to be the same creepy, lackluster candidate at a time when our society is in need of tremendous honest, positive change.

There is something seriously wrong when billions of dollars are earmarked for defense while there isn't funding for enough books, heat, or extracurricular activities in our public schools. Our two-income home feels the pinch of necessary expenses and school loans. Maternity leave is limited and unpaid (seriously, check out that link!), and most people I know have found it more affordable to stay home from work rather than pay for day care. Private and even public college tuitions are rising at exponential, unaffordable rates. The homes, job security (with pensions!), and social security that were a given for the previous generation are non-existent or difficult to obtain for young American families. Certainly, day-to-day living is much more challenging for one- or no-income families, and I am grateful for all I do have. My hope is for more support and stability. Something needs to change. Here's something I cut out a while ago from a summer issue of Redbook (click for a larger, readable version):

I believe that Dennis Kucinich stands out among the Democratic candidates for the 2008 Election, and I thought it was important to post and discuss this idea lest he be pushed too far to the sidelines before 2008 even arrives.

Do check out Boston Channel 5's Compare the Candidates.

Addendum, 12/12/07:
In Boston's Metro newspaper yesterday was an article about Harvard's plan to charge tuition on a sliding scale based upon the student's family income. This really struck me as a revolutionary idea (here in the US, anyway), especially coming from an institution such as Harvard that can essentially "get away" with high tuition based upon the reputation of the college. It made me feel hopeful!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Our First Thanksgiving

And what a lovely feast it was! As much as I gathered recipes and opinions and hints and ideas...I was a little worried about cooking several dishes that I had never made before and timing it all to be ready to serve at the same time. Thankfully (pun intended), everything came out perfectly. Thanks to all who listened to me talk about my Thanksgiving menu for two months!

The Menu:
Hors d'Ĺ“uvre:
* Shrimp wrapped in Sage and Prosciutto a la Rachael Ray
* Sliced Parisian bread with onion & tomato confits and olive tapenade
* Gerkin pickles - mom's request!

Main dishes:
* One 13-pound fresh turkey, brined and stuffed with herbs & veggies
* Portobello and Crimini Mushroom Pan Gravy
* Sage, Apple, Cherry & Mushroom Stuffing (from homemade bread!)
* Rosemary and Roasted Garlic Mashed Red Bliss Potatoes
* Green Bean Casserole (recipe straight from the Campbell's can)

* Homemade Apple Pie with Non-Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream
* Sweet Potato Pie from Community Servings (Good idea, bad pie.)

Our tiny T-Day table (forced us into eating buffet-style):

Dad did the honors with his electric carving knife (I kind of forgot to take a photo of the intact turkey - who has time for that while preparing a feast?!):

A beautifully carved bird (with green bean casserole in the background):

I am admittedly proud of my stuffing:

Piled high, pre-gravy:

My dad wouldn't have come if I didn't make apple pie! (Kidding...I think...)

Is it too early to plan for 2008?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Crock-Pot Pot-Roast

This was my second attempt at Alton Brown's Pot Roast recipe from his Good Eats episode A Chuck for Chuck. During my first attempt, I slow roasted the hunk of chuck beef in sealed aluminum foil. So, I thought, why not just put the darn thing in the crock pot and slow cook it all day?

The olive-raisin-balsamic-tomato sauce that accompanies this dish is so good that I think it has (twice!) masked the fact that the chuck is a bit tough and chewy. It could certainly be my cooking technique, and I'm not ready to get rid of this recipe, but it is safe to say that I have not yet conquered pot roast.

Mac No More or You've Come a Long Way, Baby!

As I embark upon preparations for my first Thanksgiving dinner, I am proud to say that I came across these 6 boxes of my previously beloved Kraft Macaroni & Cheese in the kitchen cupboard, all of which were both dusty and expired by 5 months. And, I thoroughly hated the last box of mac I made.

Not all people viewing my blog (if there are any at all) know that there was a time when Kraft Mac and Cheese was not only all I could cook (er, "cook"), but also all that I ate. Despite a slight identity crisis, I am proud to have disposed of these dusty boxes, never to replace them.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Sunday Dinner - Turkey Testing

I am hosting my first Thanksgiving this year. Really, it's the only time of year that I *eat* turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy and the like - let alone *cook* it! So, I haven't had much practice with the meal prep involved for the holiday. Ever.

I recently made my first Green Bean Casserole (complete with nasty-looking mushroom soup - so good!) and have been testing some stuffing recipies. The turkey, though, is the star of the show and I decided I had better practice with a chicken roaster:

I didn't brine it, but I rubbed it in olive oil and rosemary and started it on very high heat for about half and hour. Once it was browned, I covered the breast with the foil "turkey triangle" suggested by Alton Brown so the breat meat doesn't overcook or dry out. My digital probe thermometer told me when the meat reached 165 degrees, I pulled the bird, and let it rest while I made my first gravy ever. It was a beautiful thing.

Malden Baked Beans - Attempt #3

The first time I made Boston baked beans in the crockpot, my beans never cooked. We left them in the crockpot for another entire day (!!) - the beans barely softened, but the heat from the crockpot melted the glue between the wood panels in our kitchen table.


The second time I made baked beans I soaked them overnight prior to tossing them in the crockpot. Still no luck.

This time - the third time - I made baked beans, I boiled the beans for all of two minutes in the evening before adding them to the crockpot where they were to cook for the entire next day until dinnertime. Somehow, the beans were already done in the early morning! Boiling them for 2 minutes had more of an impact on the beans than heating them in a high-heat crock pot for 36 hours! I wonder what the science is there...? I'm not a fan of mushy beans, so I need to find a happy medium for attempt #4.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches and Cole Slaw

My sister-in-law recently asked me to recommend some slow-cooked meals that could be dropped in the crock-pot in the morning and eaten in the evening. I know of a few, and thought I'd start testing them (and maybe re-testing?) before recommending them.

Here is the result of a pork shoulder that was marinated overnight and then slow-cooked on low in the crock-pot for about 11 hours (hey, my work days are long!). Topped with BBQ sauce (a new quick recipe that used ketchup) with a side of chilly coleslaw (made from farm cabbage that we accidentally froze in our fridge). I'll be repurposing the pork tonight as carnitas.

Geez, this food photo looks nasty.

Company Pumpkin Carving Contest 2007!

Today is Halloween, and that means it's time for my company's annual pumpkin carving contest. There was no theme last year and I arrived at the office to find that *two* of my co-workers were using the same idea as mine. I had to come up with a new idea fast and submitted this pumpkin in 2006:

It came in second to someone who "carved" their pumkin into pumpkin pie. How could anyone beat that??

This year had a "scary" theme, and few things are scarier to me than a hand injury. For as many surgeries and nasty medical things I've seen - none of which disturb me at all - there's something about a papercut that causes all of the blood to drain from my face. (This was exemplified a few months ago at work when I X-Acto'd my thumb and had to lay down so I wouldn't pass out!). So, here is my 2007 pumpkin submission:

Red Sox World Series Parade 2007

One of the perks of my current job is working smack in the middle of Boston. I get to catch a bunch of events and weird promotional things (for example, I got to see Fabio pushing I Can't Believe It's Not Butter one day last year...lucky me!) just by stepping outside.

Naturally, a small bunch of us went to the Red Sox World Series Parade yesterday, and we thought we had a pretty good position for viewing - right in front of the press stand! Unfortunately, this whole event was a chance for people to behave badly and about 15 people (including a mom with her 4-year-old daughter!) climbed up on top of the MBTA vehicle in front of us - the roof was concave, but that didn't stop them from doing the Papelbon dance.

Future car-tippers:

Despite a near altercation with some chic who insisted upon wedging herself in front of me, climbing on the truck, such that her butt was in my face (I would have taken a photo and published it on the web if I had her name!), I had a good time. And all was made well when I got to see my personal Red Sox MVP pick, Mike Lowell.

He waved right at me!

And it starts all over again in April...

Sunday Dinner - Turkey Meatloaf

I change my meatloaf recipe every time I make it. Sometimes beef, sometimes turkey. Everything else depends upon what's in the fridge!

Although we ate this for two days, I never took a photo. Maybe because meatloaf just isn't pretty? Or MAYBE because we were too excited (and overtired) watching the Red Sox win the World Series!

Penne with Pumpkin and Sausage

Wow, it was about a year ago in one of my first blog posts that I attempted to make a pumpkin pasta recipe. I had decided (last November!) to try to change the recipe a bit and try again - this time, with much success!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Sunday Dinner - Turkey Tetrazzini

I had roasted a turkey breast (which was much larger than I expected!) and had quite a bit leftover. I had been wanting to make *chicken* tetrazzini for some time, but used the turkey instead to make this wonderful meal - a turkey, linguine and cream-based casserole that was even better the second day.

I am rarely, if ever, disappointed by Giada DeLaurentis' recipes. This one was a bit more time consuming (and well worth it!), but hers are usually simple, delicious recipes.

(Kind of) Craft Day

Although I really needed to designate a "cleaning day," a "laundry day," and a "build my webpage" day, I decided instead to hold a "craft day" for myself. Only, I barely got anything done and the livingroom is in more disarray.

I made an address book for my in-laws as a thank-you for rescuing us from Pep Boys a couple of months ago:

And a Christmas accordion book for......? Somehow I managed to procrastinate more important crafts during "craft day." Not sure how that happened?

ACLS Game 6 Carrot Cake Cupcakes

Today I learned that canola oil and vegetable oil are not the same oil. I don't know what the difference is, and the cupcakes came out fine just the same. However, I now have both in my pantry.

We were treated to an evening of grilled-food and game-watching at the home of my in-laws this past weekend, and I brought dessert: (almost) Ina Garten's carrot cake cupcakes made with our farm share carrots. It has been so much easier to utilize the autumn vegetables than the ones we received in the summer. Who would have thought I would make dessert out of them! If only I could make celeriac ice cream...

Roasted Onion and Garlic Soup

This soup would have taken much less time to make if I hadn't had a freak immersion blender accident (and subsequent cleanup). To me, it felt like this Emeril-recipe soup was trying hard to be French Onion soup and would have been better if it were. In short, I won't be making it again.

Monday, October 15, 2007

"Thank You" Brunch Invitations

A lovely bunch of friends and family came to our rescue this summer when my mom became ill. Now that she is doing considerably better (and has her appetite back!), she decided to invite a small bunch of these folks to a Sunday brunch. I wanted to help out, and quickly created a dimensional invitation with a little brunch-related poem attached to bottles of maple syrup. I can taste the Belgian Waffles already!

The back of the card:

Sunday Dinner - Beef Stew

Althought I've heard that my dad has perfected crockpot beef stew, I have yet to try it myself. So, for my first attempt at beef stew I went with Tyler Florence's "Ultimate Beef Stew," which was...ultimate. Without offense to those who have served me beef stew in the past, this was the best beef stew I have ever had. I made the suggested sour cream/horseradish sauce (which was a fantastic addition!) and my first popovers. AND, I finally got to bust out my cast iron dutch oven. Love it. And, as was part of the Sunday Dinner plan, we have leftovers for at least one more evening meal.

A one pot meal!

Wow, good.

Garlic Giddiness

It was in the early days of our farm share this year that we received those crazy twisty (tasty!) garlic scapes, the sprout portion of a garlic plant that needs to be cut in order for garlic (as we know it) to happen. (Image borrowed from JupiterImages.)

At last, in this week's delivery we received the bulb part of this plant - and a whole lot of it!

What better to make than Alton Brown's "Chicken and 40 Cloves"? (It's been on my to-make list for years!) It was easy and dangerously tender (tiny bones!). The garlic, roasted in olive oil and thyme for hours, was sweet and perfectly spreadable. One drawback - I could still smell the garlic oozing from my pours late the next morning!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Tried and True - Melissa's Beans

This "refried" bean recipe was one of the first things I ever cooked and I am always amazed at how good AND healthy it is. My vegetarian friend shared the recipe with me about 10 years ago (holy!) and I make it to this day - I highly recommend it as a side dish or dip. Try it!

You'll need:
olive oil
1 big yellow onion (cut into rings or half rings)
1 big green pepper (I used a red pepper this time) (cut into thin strips)
3 cloves or garlic (minced)
1 can of pink kidney beans (with liquid)
1 can of red kidney beans (with liquid)
1.5 packets of Goya Sazon
big pinch of salt
big pinch of sugar
big pinch of cumin
big pinch of coriander
2 big pinches of basil

Here's what you do:
1) Sautee the onions and garlic in olive oil until they start to soften
2) Add the peppers until they start to soften
3) Add both cans of the beans and their liquid
4) Add all spices and mix, cook for about 10 minutes with cover on
5) Mash the contents of the pot (so about 1/2 the beans are mashed)
6) Uncover and cook for about 10 minutes (to thicken the bean mixture)
7) Remove from heat and mash the rest of the beans
8) Enjoy!

The Sunday Dinner

The arrival of the cool, dry air of autumn calls for a change in the contents and preparation of our dinners, about which I am very excited. I hope we can fit in one more grilled meal, but the slow cooker is calling to me.

I have decided to start making official Sunday dinners - a bit of a challenge when there's only two of us. I love marking the start of a new week, and I enjoy the pace that such a dinner sets for the day. I'm envisioning spaghetti and meatballs, beef stew, baked beans, chili, roasted chicken...that kind of thing.

So, this past Sunday was a start, although it was more time consuming than future Sunday Dinners will be.

I made slow-cooked pork chops (which I brined overnight - my first brine!) and homemade tortellini filled with roasted delicata squash and ricotta. I learned from both endeavors (overly salty pork and excessively time consuming tortellini) but the sitting-down-to-a-Sunday-meal part was wonderful!

My brine!

Our tortellini (John helped!)

The dinner:

I Know What We Did This Summer

The weather has (finally) started to turn colder, and I have been reflecting upon Summer 2007 - the good, the bad...this summer had it all. Happy to say that things are pretty darn "good" right now.

I thought I would officially document our many ventures over the past 5 months (although my ticket pile is missing the Steely Dan concert we attended in May that had us singing "Black Cow" for months!).

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Cherry Pork Tenderloin & Delicata Squash

This meal was truly easy and unexpectedly delicious. Our first delicata squash was roasted and served aside butterflied pork tenderloin with a shallot cherry sauce. We'll be having this meal again soon!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Tomato Confit?

We have been receiving a good amount of tomatoes in our weekly farm share, and I discovered that my often-referred-to fish/pasta class instructor was experiencing the same. She offered a recipe on her website for Tomatoes Confit which sounded like a great solution for prolonging the shelf-life of these little summery tomatoes. However...

To follow this confit recipe would have meant to actually be at home with the oven on for 3 hours - only after blanching them and removing the skin and seeds. I just haven't had the time, so I decided to get experimental...or, realistic, really.

I simply cored the tomatoes, sliced them in half and plopped them into my crock pot with olive oil, garlic, salt and sugar for, well, all day. Upon coming home from work, I tasted the result and was truly amazed. I am about to put my crock-pot-confit to the test by tossing it with some cheese tortellini.

UPDATE: Oh, the pasta was goooood!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Virtual Invite in an Actual Pinch

One of my co-workers has been planning to plan her daughter's "Sweet Sixteen" party for months and we've been discussing my involvement in the party invitations throughout. My original visions of custom (paper-based) invites went out the window about a month ago. A few days ago, my plan to create a Flash-based invite was also scrapped. Today, with help from some design elements from iStockPhoto, I created an emailable invitation in a very short amount of time.

It's not something I'm incredibly proud of, but I did save (myself) some time, (the world) some trees and (my co-worker) some money!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Signed, Sealed, Delivered!

John and I heard the announcement of Stevie Wonder's tour stop in Boston by chance one morning when it was broadcast on the radio while we were getting ready for work. I always receive advanced notice of Boston area concerts and shows vie email, and we never have the radio on in the morning. We both felt lucky to have learned of the concert. Even luckier, we we able to get two tickets to a show that sold out in two minutes.

This is so not my photo:

The first time John came to my Somerville apartment, looking at my CD collection he said, "Wow - you have Innervisions? We should get married." So, Stevie and that album have become extra meaningful to us. Stevie played a number of songs from this fantastic album, and we felt like he chose his entire playlist with us in mind. He even sang "Isn't She Lovely" as his daughter Aisha shared his piano bench. John and I are still taking in the whole evening!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Boston Walk for PKD!

I am excited to say that John and I were able to raise $1005.00 as members of Team Melissa for today's Walk for Polycystic Kidney Disease. That amount is more than twice what we set out to raise - what amazing friends and family we have!

Melissa's new neice, Kylie, got the best team shirt: