HotM12: Stews and Casseroles

It’s that time of the month again! No, not when PMS hormones are raging and I feel like throwing books or other trinkets at LB when he asks me how my day is. It’s time for Heart of the Matter – the much-nurtured blogchild of the lovely ladies, Ilva and Joanna – whereby bloggers all over the world come up with heart-healthy dishes to share. Last month, my co-host Joanna had a great round up you can find here or here, and thanks to all of you, I now have plenty of fabulous soup recipes to get me through the rest of the gray Oregon winter.

Even more importantly, this is February, and if you’re in the USA, this is the month the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute has dedicated as American Heart Month. February 1st, coming up fast (ahem, tomorrow!), is also National Wear Red Day – to promote awareness that heart disease is the leading killer of women in the United States. Regardless of where you are though, this disease kills and it’s a disease that is mostly preventable!! Which is the whole reason why we started this monthly event. This post that I did last year was what first started our conversations about starting the HotM, and next month, we’ll be celebrating the ONE YEAR anniversary of the HotM blog. Can you believe it? It’s very exciting what bloggers can do when they get together, and now we’ve all created a great archive of recipes from all over the world that are heart healthy and delicious!

This brings me to our current theme - for this month, we decided on a theme of Stews and Casseroles. Now, if you’re like me, you grew up where there wasn’t much distinction between a “soup” and a “stew.” Wikipedia, in fact, had a similar idea...

The distinctions between stew, soup, and casserole are fine ones. The ingredients of a stew may be cut into larger pieces than a those of a soup and retain more of their individual flavours; a stew may have thicker liquid than a soup, and more liquid than a casserole; a stew is more likely to be eaten as a main course than as a starter, unlike soup; and a stew can be cooked on either the stove top (or range) or in the oven, while casseroles are almost always cooked in the oven, and soups are almost always cooked on the stovetop. There are exceptions; for example, an oyster stew is thin bodied, more like a soup.

A casserole in our house, however, was an entirely different matter. Casseroles were eaten with a fork and sometimes even a knife, and almost always cooked or at least finished in the oven. But some stews are heavy and hearty and cooked in the oven too - and sometimes served over mashed potatoes or couscous or some other goodness that will sop up all that yummy, thick sauce. So, however you might personally distinguish between a soup and a stew or a casserole, make it, bake it, or interpret it with all the creativity (and health-minded ingenuity) you can muster and send us your recipes for a heart-healthy stew or casserole. You could even surprise your Love for Valentine’s Day on February 14th with this heart healthy dish (if you do, send us the story!) – for what better a gift than protecting their heart?

If you’ve participated before, you already know the basics. If you haven’t, check here, here and here for ideas on what “heart-healthy” means, and we hope that you’ll join us! Again, we ask that this please be a single event entry (please don’t use your post for other events – that way we can keep things centered on healthy heart awareness). Just send me your entry at mphilli4 AT uoregon DOT edu by February 24, linking to my site, The Accidental Scientist (and to the HotM blog if you’d like) and I’ll post the round-up a few days later on both sites. Happy Cooking!


Hands-on Cooking

Eyes may be considered the windows to the soul, but a person’s hands speak volumes about them. As much as our fingerprints are unique, our hands have their own stories to tell. A baby’s fingers are fat and new, having not yet experienced much of the world. And then there are the hands of a grandparent: darkened liver spots, wrinkly knuckles that maintain their shape long after the skin has been moved around, and the hard work they have done and wisdom they have gained is easily recognized in the flesh surrounding long fingers and bones that have withstood so many years gone by. I remember my grandmother’s finger had swollen up around her engagement ring, making permanent creases in the flesh that bespoke the 63 years that she and my grandfather celebrated of their marriage before she passed away. And as my other grandmother fights the Parkinson’s disease that is slowly changing both her mind and her body, her fingers grow thinner, scars record the falls she takes much more frequently, and she now must wear her wedding ring on her middle finger.

When I lived in Monterey, California for two years, I was an avid attendee of the year-round farmer’s market on Tuesdays. There was a man there, surely in his 70s, who put up a folding table every week and sold beautiful, earth-covered mushrooms. His hands were gnarled, his knuckles swollen and fingers shortened from years of digging through the dirt to pick the small crop of mushrooms he grew on the land, and noble trade, he had inherited from his family. After picking out the basket I wanted, he would load them into a small paper lunch sack, set the sack down, then grasp my small hands in his large ones, look into my eyes and say, “Thank you, miss.” I bought mushrooms every week, even if I still had a bag left over from the previous one (and not just because he called me “miss,” which I also loved).

It’s easy to see evidence of the hard, physical labor of the Crush on the hands of the Winemaker I work with. During the most intense period of the Crush, the grape juice stains on your hands can no longer be washed out, and the acidity of the juice begins to dry out and crack your skin. When I asked him about his hands once, he smiled and called them “alligator hands,” but to me, they looked like the hands of someone who works hard, loves what he does, and has spent so much time touching the grapes and the grape must, doing the physical labor of the work, and putting a bit of himself into making good wine that it had left deep stains on the creases of his hands. During my time there, my own fingers began to develop purple stains in some of the creases of the knuckles, and it gave me a deep sense of satisfaction and gratification– the kind that can only be gained through accomplishing hard work. In this part of the wine industry, there is even a “purple hand award” – an acknowledgment that you made it through that most grueling period of harvest and have become part of a far-ranging team that understands just how much physical labor, long hours and care goes into making a glass of wine.

LB once made a comment about how he wasn’t sure he wanted to buy food from someone that had stains on their hands. I disagreed and immediately brought him to the farmer’s market - to the booths where just that morning, farmers had been digging in the ground, pulling up the super-sweet carrots – small particles of dirt still clinging to the skin of both vegetable and farmer. Farmers selling raspberries had juice stains on their palms and evidence of the prickly stems of the berries etched into the backs of their tanned hands. Every hand told the story of both the farmer and the food they were selling. None of the fruits or vegetables had been touched by cold, mechanized steel; only hands, loving and caring enough to make providing sustenance to others a profession, had ever touched them. After that, LB changed his mind and now actively seeks out farmers with hands that have stories to tell.

(That's an Oregon black truffle in his hands...)

Our hands are also a big part of how we cook. Touching food brings a certain sense of intimacy with it, just as touching the hands of another human does. Lovers intertwine fingers as a forthright show of affection and a gentle brushing of hands or fingers, one could not quite be construed as a mistake, often portrays a budding interest. More than just the wielding of a knife or spoon, when you touch the food you’re preparing, you transfer some part of yourself and your intuition into the dish. I heard a quote recently about how food that is only touched by machines is “emotionally sterile,” and I have to agree.

Cooking is done as much by emotion and four other senses as it is by taste. Plunging your finger into the flesh of a rare steak will tell you as much about its texture as it does the flesh between your thumb and forefinger. Good bread requires an understanding of the dough and kneading slowly transforms it from lumpy and incongruent to smooth and elastic. Marinades don’t seep as deeply into food when simply sprinkled above it as they are when they are rubbed into all the nooks and crannies. A good avocado can only be identified by a gentle squeeze, recognizing the right amount of give in the tender flesh of the fruit (but never, ever squeeze a tomato!). And if you make something with love, I think it shows - even if it doesn't come out perfectly.

As I've said before, cooking is one way I show people that I care about them, appreciate them or want to make them happy, and I never cook a meal without touching some part of my food...of course there is the chopping of vegetables by hand, but also tossing dressings into the leaves of salads, rubbing butter or olive oil into the skin of a chicken that will be roasted to crispy perfection (unless you have issues like I do with roasted chicken), forming tender patties of homemade sausage, grabbing handfuls or pinches of salt for pasta water, or sprinkling spices over a dish. I like to think that the people that I cook for can taste the love and work I put into each dish, whether they are friends or family or house guests. But even if they can’t or don’t, when I wash my hands for the final time, I get that deep sense of satisfaction that I made something for them with my bare hands – from picking out the ingredients, to transforming them into something delicious (well, one hopes), and finally, presenting it to them. And I hope that intuitively, if not consciously, they can read the story my hands are telling them.


Grandmas are Cool.

One of my goals in Life is to become a Very Cool Grandmother. Because Grandmas, in general, are awesome. I have memories as a child going over to Grandma Mary’s house and immediately heading for the large, stand-up freezer in her entryway...where I knew there was a Lifetime Supply of ice-cream sandwiches. And at Grandma’s house, you were allowed to eat whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted.

At my Grandma Evelyn’s house, every Sunday morning was filled with fluffy homemade biscuits, thick, incredibly rich gravy and piles of bacon that crumbled in your mouth with a satisfyingly resounding crunch. Better still, everyone at the breakfast table knew my love of bacon and graciously offered me any of the extra slices at the end of the meal. Ah, it was a budding food-loving child’s heaven. My mother has already informed me that when I finally make her a grandmother, and she says this with a loud sigh, rolling her eyes and exasperation in her voice, she is going to completely spoil my children. Great, so while I'm trying to get my kids to eat fresh figs, artichokes and steamed kale, she's going to be giving them slurpees from the local Dairy Queen. Grandmothers, she figures, have earned the right. Touché, mom, touché.

LB’s grandmother, Mimi, is Italian. Mimi has what I, as someone who has not yet made the trek across the pond to Italy, might consider as having Quintessential Italian Characteristics (or at least characteristics that I might imagine an Italian grandmother having). Namely, when you walk into her house you are immediately offered food: crispy bacon (my favorite), scrambled eggs, panettone, eggplant Parmesan, pancetta, fresh cheese...the list goes on and on.

Mimi and LB

I love visiting Mimi. This Christmas, we had Mimi show us how to cook some of her favorite recipes so that we could learn them and so that they would be passed on in the family. It was a day filled with laughter and love: our hands dug deep into bowls of flour, we sprinkled breadcrumbs, ate marinated olives, cured meats and mozzarella, we imbibed glasses of Italian wine (for it was surely noon somewhere in the world), and by the end of the day, our bellies were filled with lots of good, home-cooked Italian food.

We let Mimi decide the recipes she would like to pass on – LB had told her he would like to make something that might be lost if she didn’t pass it on herself. She decided to share one of her favorite recipes, Eggplant Parmesan, and one that her father had taught her and would make whenever company came over: "Company Meatloaf." To be honest, at first I was slightly disappointed at the thought of making meat loaf (the original decision was to make homemade gnocci). And, as I’ve professed here before, meatloaf is not one of my favorite dishes to eat. In fact, it’s difficult for me to get all the way down to my stomach sometimes. And even more difficult for me to keep it down there. But, we were grateful that she was taking us in to show us a family recipe, and being the newbie in the family, there was NO WAY I was going to say one word about not liking meatloaf.

My own biases aside, the meatloaf got rave reviews from the table. And for meatloaf, it was definitely the best meatloaf I’ve had – not that I’ve had much, nor do I intend on having much in the future. But I ate every bite (of course I did - you don't mess with Italian grandmothers!) and the proscuitto and mozzarella make for a tender, moist and delicious combination. For those of you that DO enjoy a meatloaf on occasion, you should certainly try it like this. Just the act of making it is a pure joy, especially when you’re making it alongside a little Italian grandmother.

First, whip up a batch of your favorite meatloaf (if you're into that sorf of thing). Try Nicole's - because it's actually a meatloaf that I would most definitely eat (yes, even me) and that I'd consider making again (although I haven't...I have to face the truth, meatloaf is just not one of my favorite dishes). Mimi makes hers with 1 lb of ground beef and 1/2 lb of ground pork for moisture.

Dump out your pile of meatloaf mix onto some wax paper and pat it out into the shape of a rectangle until it is very thin - about 1/2 inch thin. Then, layer paper thin slices of proscuitto on top.
Follow that with a hefty sprinkling of mozzarella cheese - finely shredded or grated. Don't buy the previously shredded stuff, because you're going to need slices of it for the top too...

Roll it up like you would a jelly roll, starting at one end, until you have a roll o' meat, as opposed to your usual loaf o' meat. Put it on a cookie sheet, and bake at 350F for about 40 minutes. Remove it from the oven, and layer thin slices of mozzarella across the top of the roll (Mimi cuts them into rectangles or squares, then halved them diagonally to make pretty little cheese triangles). Put it back in the oven for 15 minutes, or until the meat is done in the center, but the ends aren't yet dry, and the cheese has melted and gotten bubbly (you'll have to keep an eye it and determine the times that are best for your oven ...Mimi has this down pat for her own oven, but better safe than sorry). Sorry there's no finished picture - meatloaf just isn't the most photogenic of foods, and besides, I was busy eating Eggplant Parmesan (oh yeah, and meatloaf too).

So there you have it - meatloaf fit even for company. Meatloaf that can bring together little Italian grandmothers and non-meatloaf eaters alike, and make them both happy. Besides, the way I figure it, every Cool Grandma should know how to make at least one good meatloaf...just in case someone that loves meatloaf happens to come over.


Slow Roasted Sundays

Weekends are the days I look forward to cooking the most. There is that one element that is often missing during the hustle-bustle of the other days: Time. Sundays are, by far, my favorite days for cooking and baking. Saturdays are often filled with adventures – whether it’s shopping, time with friends, skiing or traveling, you can do almost anything you want to on a Saturday and not have to worry about staying up late or not getting it all done because you will always have Sunday, just around the corner. Sunday is usually the day to clean the house (well, maybe every other Sunday, or sometimes every other other Sunday, but who’s counting?), relax, simmer a homemade chicken stock, bake a batch of English Muffin Batter Bread, cook something that takes lots of attention, hours of marinating or has multiple, time-consuming steps (remember, this = fun!).

Lasagna is one of those multiple-step time-consuming dishes. While simple to assemble, and comforting enough to warm even the most cold-stricken of bodies (and hearts!), all of the cooking and layering added to the long baking time make it a dish that doesn’t grace our table very often. But I love that kind of hearty, homey type of dish with all of my heart. For me, it evokes visions of a rustic hearth (oh how I wish I had a rustic hearth...), well-used pots and pans, and a crackling fire. Besides, this type of food is preferably enjoyed while surrounded by good company and with an earthy glass of wine in hand - and what could be better than that?

This recipe was inspired by an email advertisement that came in my inbox last week, but I didn’t use the recipe – this dish came together on its own. I’m finding that I’m becoming much more at ease without a recipe these days. That's not to say that I'm a better cook necessarily, just that I don't feel the need to follow someone else's directions anymore. Even if it doesn't come out quite right, then I can decide what to change next time...a little more of this, a little less of that, maybe some other ingredient added... I still use recipes for ideas and inspiration, and in baking I’ll often stick to precise measurements of flour or butter while taking more liberty to lighten things up, add more spices or change some of the flavoring ingredients, but savory dishes are now totally open to interpretation.

There is also no ricotta mixture in this lasagna recipe – I wanted it simple and easy and I actually liked it without the added heaviness (or richness) of the ricotta...there was something about the cinnamon in the sauce and the eggplant that went so well together that I didn’t think it wasn’t needed, but it could certainly be added if you wanted a thicker, richer lasagna. You could also do more layers if you wanted a thicker lasagna - just follow your intuition and what makes you happy. The tomato sauce, should have find yourself with leftovers for any reason (maybe you made a double batch, perhaps?) would be a great dipping marinara for breadsticks, or even good on pasta with some added vegetables, or even surrounding and nestling meatballs (maybe cut down the cinnamon just a touch - it goes best with veggies in my opinion). Everything can be assembled ahead of time and kept in the fridge until you're ready to bake it. I even did the first bake, let it sit out on the counter under foil while I went to an early movie, then baked it the rest of the way when we got home. It also develops even more flavor the second day, so it makes great leftovers.

Roasted Eggplant Lasagna with Fire-Roasted Tomato Sauce,
serves 6

1 large, firm eggplant, slice thinly into ¼ inch slices
salt and pepper, to taste
lasagna noodles – I used 6 sheets of Barilla homemade-style no boil lasagna noodles
1 ½ cups of part-skim mozzarella cheese
½ cup dried breadcrumbs
fire-roasted tomato sauce (see recipe below)

Fire-Roasted Tomato Sauce (makes just enough for this recipe):
1 ½ tsp. olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
2 cans fire-roasted crushed or diced tomatoes
½ tsp. oregano
½ tsp. basil
¼ tsp. cinnamon
dash of red pepper flakes

Salt the eggplant in a colander, and leave it for 30 minutes. Rinse thoroughly and pat dry between two tea towels or paper towels. Preheat your oven to 400F. Cover two cookie sheets with foil and spray down with olive oil or cooking spray (we have a Misto). Lay slices of eggplant on the cookie sheets in a single layer and spray the tops with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven until they begin to turn light brown and become soft – about 30 - 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce: Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan, until hot but not smoking. Sauté the onion until it is translucent, then add the garlic and cook for another minute. Feel free to add a splash of wine here if you’ve got an open bottle). Add the two cans of fire-roasted tomatoes and the herbs and cinnamon if you are using dried herbs (wait until the end to add the herbs if you want to use fresh). Bring to a simmer and simmer for 10 minutes or until slightly thickened. Using an immersion blender or regular blender (just let it cool!), puree the sauce until it is smooth and thick. Now would also be the time to cook your lasagna noodles to al dente if you are not using the “no boil” variety.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350F. In an 8x8 ceramic or glass baking dish, add a few spoonfuls of sauce to the bottom of the dish. Layer on two pasta sheets (or enough noodles to cover), a layer of over-lapped eggplant slices, a good sprinkling of breadcrumbs, and a layer of mozzarella cheese. Add another layer of sauce (a little thicker now), noodles, eggplant, breadcrumbs and cheese. Add one more layer of sauce, a layer of noodles, the rest of the sauce and top off the dish with a good sprinkling of cheese. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 40 minutes or until cheese is hot and bubbly. Remove the foil, then bake for another 25-30 minutes until the cheese begins to brown on top.


Meyer Lemon Season: A Winter Sanity Saver

In my humble opinion, I think that winter - especially dark, gray, gloomy ones - should be divided into multiple seasons based on the fruits and vegetables that are at their peak. Wouldn't this make the months go by faster, always having something delicious to look forward to? Some suggestions might be: Succulent Satsuma Mandarin Season, Greatest Grapefruit Season, Sweetest Broccoli Season and there should definitely be a Meyer Lemon Season.

I’ve already gushed on this blog about how much I love Meyer lemons and the foods made from them: Meyer Lemon Layer Cake, Meyer Lemon and Vanilla Bean Marmalade, even a simple salad dressing of Meyer lemon juice and olive oil somehow brings the dish from humble to exquisite. These tangy, orangey, almost-but-not-quite sweet little beauties are something that I look forward to every year, relying on their Spring-like flavor to get me through the winter. Somehow, the contrast of that bright, golden yellow peel (somehow brighter and more orange than the pale skins of normal lemons) against the gray backdrop of rainy Oregon weather makes it bearable to stay inside so much.

While I was in Colorado for Christmas (a place blessed with winters full of sunshine as well as snow), my family roamed around the desert tasting the wines of the region and I found myself falling into my usual wine-tasting trap. It’s the same story every year: we start drinking and the competition begins...it’s me, and my pocketbook, against the Marketing Guru who first decided to line up gourmet food items along the shelves of various wineries. Unfortunately for me, he or she always wins and I come home with a few jars of something yummy-sounding (It must be the alcohol?! Damn!).

This year I came home with a Meyer Lemon Spread and a jar of Caribbean Rum Caramel Sauce. The caramel will top a bread pudding later on or perhaps go into a batch of ice cream with candied pecans. The Meyer lemon spread ended up in some Coconut-topped Meyer Lemon Bars this weekend. The bars got rave reviews from the male football-watching contingent taking over my couches last Sunday (oh, there's nothing like feeding a bunch of hungry men who have been busy watching football all afternoon and are more than happy to be offered any kind of snack - a great ego booster). However, the spread was a bit sweet for my tastes – I like my lemon bars a little more tart and tangy. Next time, I’ll be using the Meyer lemon curd that is already in my repertoire, and I can already imagine that sunshiny yellow curd (the spread had only a pale yellow color) sandwiched between soft, sugar cookie-like crust and crumbly coconut-scented topping washing the winter away.

Coconut-topped Meyer Lemon Bars, makes 16 bars
inspired from a little recipe attached to the spread

**I made these with whole-wheat pastry flour, just because I could, and while you can certainly use all-purpose flour, the taste of these little bars was not compromised – so, why not? The recipe is an amalgam of a few recipes for lemon bars, modified for my tastes and to boost the flavor of them. As always, use the most high-quality ingredients you can afford, and you’ll be rewarded with high-quality taste.

½ cup powdered sugar
10 tbsp cold unsalted sweet cream butter, cut into cubes
1 ½ cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 tsp. Meyer lemon zest
pinch of salt

6 oz. Meyer lemon curd (recipe here)
**Remember, leftovers of lemon curd are never a bad thing! Try these.

1 cup grated coconut (with the tang of the curd, use sweetened or add a little sugar to the mix )
3 tbsp. cold unsalted sweet cream butter, cut into cubes
1 ½ tsp. good vanilla extract
2 tbsp. whole-wheat pastry flour

Preheat your oven to 325F. Cover the bottom and sides of an 8” square pan with parchment paper. Combine the sugar, butter, zest, flour and salt in a food processor and pulse until it resembles a fine meal. Dump the meal into the prepared pan and press it down with your fingers along the bottom of the pan to form the crust. Bake for 30 minutes or until a light golden brown. Let cool.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300F. Spread Meyer lemon curd evenly on the on the crust. Combine coconut, remaining butter and vanilla extract in the food processor (no need to clean it) and pulse several times. Then add the 2 tbsp flour and pulse a few more times until it becomes crumbly. Sprinkle this on top of the meyer lemon curd, then bake the bars for 20 minutes. Let cool, remove by lifting the parchment paper, then cut into 16 squares.


Chicken Soup for the Heart

Soup. It’s the quintessential comfort food. When you’re sick, when you’re down, when it’s gloomy outside and you need a little pick me up, soup is an almost perfect solution. It can be a hearty meal or a light first course. It can taste like summer, bringing you back to carefree days or like mom used to make, cradling you in the comforts of home. It can warm your heart, soothe your soul, and maybe even cure your cold (there is some scientific evidence to suggest that something in chicken noodle soup can help you get over your cold faster, but whether it’s mind over matter, science, or even magic, it’s a remedy that I’ll always turn to).

This month, Joanna is hosting Heart of the Matter (HotM 11) and has asked us to share all of our glorious soup recipes. I can’t wait to see what everyone has to offer in this category! In the wintertime, as it is here, I’m happy to make soup even as often as once a week, so in my opinion, the more soup recipes to choose from, the better! I chose this soup because I’ve had a hankering for Asian foods lately, and it sounded delicious: Lemongrass- and Ginger- Scented Chicken Soup. While I’m a big fan of the hearty homemade chicken noodle soup that my mom has made for many years now, after all the heavy foods during the holiday season, this lighter, Asian-style version was a perfect interlude: it’s healthy, full of flavor, and at least in my mind, cancels out all those coconut lemon bars I chowed down on this weekend (recipe forthcoming).

Thanks for hosting, Joanna! See you all next month for HotM 12!

Lemongrass and Ginger-Scented Chicken Soup, serves 5
recipe adapted from Body and Soul Magazine

2 cups chicken stock
4 cups water
4 lemongrass stalks, cut into 2 inch pieces and bruised (I used a hammer!)
2 chicken breasts
1 carrot, sliced
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp. of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 tbsp. soy sauce
2 scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces
10 medium-sized shitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
4 oz. of soba noodles
1 ½ cups of bok choy, sliced
3 tbsp. roughly chopped cilantro (or basil, or both!)

Add chicken stock and water to a large saucepan. Tie the lemongrass into a bundle inside some cheesecloth (or I put it in a steamer basket because I was out of cheesecloth!), and add to the water. Add the chicken breasts, carrot, onion, garlic and ginger to the pan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat until it is barely simmering, cover the pot and simmer gently for about 20 minutes or until the chicken is no longer pink in the middle (Don’t over-poach it though! Nobody wants tough chicken!).

Remove the chicken and the lemongrass bundle from the pot, then put the chicken on a plate and shred it into pieces using two forks. Return the pot to a boil, then add the soy sauce, mushrooms and soba noodles and cook until the soba noodles are tender (about 3-4 minutes). Add the bok choy, scallions and chicken to the pot and cook until chicken is heated through. You can cook the bok choy and scallions longer, but I like them just slightly cooked so that they retain their bright green color. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the cilantro (you could use basil instead, if you’d like – or both) just before serving. Enjoy!


Some days...

Some days it would be nice to just go right back to bed...


A Year of Possibilities

Hi all, I hope this finds you well-settled into the new year and cooking up a storm. After nearly a month of traveling, it feels good to finally be home and trying to get myself back into a normal routine. While this post is coming a bit late, as January 1st has already passed, I think the sentiment is still applicable, so I'm posting it now. I'll be posting more recipes and pictures soon.


What is it about January 1st that makes us feel like it's our one chance in the year to begin anew? That somehow this single day is our God-given blank slate, no matter the mistakes we’ve made or how far we've strayed from our goals the rest of the year? We make long lists of resolutions, start diets and exercise programs, and vow loudly to anyone within hearing range that we're finally going to become organized this year! Even before the day arrives, we’re frantically writing out Christmas cards, baking cookies, making and buying gifts, and hosting dinner parties in an effort to be that woman (or person) that is able to do it all and survives the journey to midnight on New Years Eve in our perfectly fitting little black dress - without gaining 40 pounds, making too many visits to our therapists, or smashing the Kitchenaid with our bare hands when our 80th batch of snickerdoodles burns in the height of our baking frenzy because we were trying to wrap presents at the same time.

And yet, it remains that for the vast majority of us, even if we do wake up on January 1st alive and with our sanity intact, those long lists of resolutions become lost in the stacks of papers piling up on our office desks. The diets we began meet a quick death with that first thoughtless spoonful of indulgence into a full-cream vat of crème brulee (or maybe after the last spoonful at the bottom of that vat). Our desire to exercise or go to the gym falls away under the pressure of the other things we’ve already obligated ourselves to do, and daily life takes over our neat piles of bills and pristinely organized drawers and cabinets. Because the truth is, we’re human. And sometimes being human is just plain hard. Sometimes it’s hard to be a good graduate student. A good friend. A good blogger. A good daughter. A good wife. Each of these roles, whether you’ve been doing it for 6 months or 60 years, comes with its own set of difficulties and the vast majority of us are attempting to fit ourselves into all of them at the same time.

So instead of making resolutions this year, perhaps we should consider it as a year of open-ended possibilities...perhaps we should remember that we are never going to be perfect people, we are only always going to simply be ourselves – faults and burnt cookies, dry chicken breasts and little pudgy spots on our bodies, funky ear lobes and sometimes broken promises. Instead of beating ourselves up for not fulfilling some resolution we had, we can begin anew. We can accept our faults, our mistakes, our pudgy spots, and our trials as they come and realize that every day is a blank slate – no matter what the date is.

And this year, we even get an extra day! It’s Leap Year and Those Who Decide Such Things decided that this year they’re giving us one more day in the year to do whatever it is we need to do – to cook, to relax, to remind someone we love them, to get more work done or take up a new hobby - and to start over, free of any guilt or disappointment in ourselves for anything that might have happened earlier on. That’s my resolution this year – just to remember. Remember that everything is okay – that if I screw up tomorrow on a talk I have to give, or my chocolate truffles tasted like dirty tube socks and I just happened to have given them away before I tasted them, or if I haven’t posted to my blog in a few weeks, or if don’t like some small part of my body, that it really doesn’t matter, I always have tomorrow. No one isn’t going to be my friend, or stop coming by my blog, or stop loving me, just because of that one little thing. Gulp...I hope! But that vulnerability is simultaneously refreshing, terrifying and full of freedom.

While goals are certainly healthy, and oh yes, I still have goals...plus a thousand things to do on my “to do” list, and ways I’d like to improve myself and my relationships, and on and on and on...but I know that if I don’t get to them today, or if I fumble them up today, or if I forget this positive line of thinking and start screaming at someone who doesn’t deserve it today, then tomorrow is a new beginning. And I can get to those things, or start over, or apologize tomorrow – and you know what? It might even turn out better tomorrow, or next time. I might have to start saving for that Kitchenaid again, but hey, that’s what Life, and being human, is all about, right?

I had resolved to have a picture and a recipe to accompany this post for you. But alas, I do not. So then I decided that it doesn’t matter if I always have a pretty picture to accompany my posts. After all, I’m not a perfect blogger, I’m just perfectly me. And should I come across here as Little Miss Positive – please note that I just had my first breakdown of 2008 a few days ago. And that those tears were such a release I felt like a new woman afterwards...one that could face the world. I’m certainly thinking of myself, just as much as I am thinking of you. So: I hope 2008 brings you heaps of happiness to revel in and mistakes from which to learn, cooking triumphs as well as disasters, fulfilled goals and ones to strive for in the future (but not beat yourself up about), new adventures and new friends, lots of love and laughter, and perhaps a smidgen more of acceptance of yourself (baby steps, people!). I don't know about you, but I can’t wait to see what this year of possibilities holds for each of us. Shall we begin again?