Top 12 of 2012! And…Oatmeal.

You know my final post of the year wouldn’t be complete without a final guest post from Tony!

From Tony:

Oatmeal

I was lying next to my wife in bed this morning when I asked her “are you hungry?” She said “yes, but I have a taste for something”. My mind leapt to visions of pancakes, or waffles, you know fun and exciting foods. I then heard the complete opposite uttered, “oatmeal, I have a taste for oatmeal”. This to me is an admission of entering the old age era. The teeth have failed and all I can eat is oatmeal era.

I don’t hate oatmeal; in fact it is an essential ingredient in my favorite cookie. I just don’t get why someone would eat it alone, in paste form for breakfast, when any alternatives are available. I think my Mom and Dad have eaten oatmeal every day for the last 40 years. They had Eggos and other foods available and yet they chose oatmeal. Oatmeal is one of the main ingredients in gruel. A food designed to make prisoners unhappy while held against their will for extended periods of time. I think back of meals where my dad took an egg Sunnyside up and mixed it into his steaming bowl of oatmeal.

If there is a hell, and if they serve breakfast, oatmeal is the only choice. Now, if you will excuse me I’m going to eat a damn egg. I’m going to have toast and perhaps some hash browns.

Curse you oatmeal!

Thanks for your final guest post! Open-mouthed smile

So I have been seeing a lot of people doing their top 12 of 2012, and decided to jump on the bandwagon for my final post of 2012.

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So here are the Top 12 Recipes from My Bizzy Kitchen in 2012.  You’ll note that some of these recipes come from 2009, 2010 and 2011, but they were the most viewed in 2012 – crazy!

12.  Skinny Creamed Spinach Stuffed Pork Chops.  I actually totally forgot about this recipe!  This was when Tony was sick after his hernia surgery, he had no appetite, and he was so tired.  This day I came home from work, and he was sleeping, so I made this dinner for one – I forgot how delicious and bright this sauce was!  I need to make this one again soon!

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11.  Classic Roast Beef & Gravy.  This recipe is a no-brainer, since it comes from America’s Test Kitchens.  It’s actually the first recipe where I learned the “magic number” for medium rare meat – 125.  As long as you pull meat at 125 degrees, let it rest before slicing, you’ll get perfect, tender medium rare meat every time.

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10.  Chicken Brunswick Stew.   This recipe is near and dear to my heart, because my Dad spent a lot of time tweaking this recipe to mimic his beloved canned Mrs. Fearnow’s Chicken Brunswick stew he grew up with.  Every time I make it, I am taken back to my parents kitchen and have visions of my Dad stirring this soup.

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9.  Best Chicken Tacos.  I had completely forgotten about this one, but it will quickly be back on the lunches I make for me and my SIL.  Once Tony heard chipotle pepper in the recipe, he was out!

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8.  Simple Crusty Bread.  I am so glad that dozens of you have gotten over your fear of yeast and have made this bread.  I have changed the recipe just a tad.  I make this recipe two loaves of bread vs. the four it calls for.  Second, I cook it in a Dutch oven at 450 degrees, with the lid on for the first 30 minutes, then take the lid off, and bake for an additional 15 minutes.  This bread below I brushed with olive oil, and sprinkled with rosemary sea salt.

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7.  Canadian Bacon Breakfast Casserole.  I actually love making healthy breakfast casseroles because I usually make them four servings, so I’ve got breakfast covered for four days, I’ll just change up the fruit on the side.  This one can also be put together and cooked while you get ready for work.  1/4 of this dish was under 250 calories.  Winning!

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6.  How to Make Homemade Frozen Pizza.  This recipe actually came about when a co-worker was sick and in and out of the hospital.  Her husband was at home taking care of 3 kids under the age of six, so I decided to make up half a dozen homemade frozen pizzas for the nights when he was just too exhausted to think about dinner.

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5.  Best Deep Dish Pizza.  Okay, long time readers know I love pizza.  A lot.  But last December pizza making took a whole new level in my house after making America’s Test Kitchen’s deep dish pizza.  There is softened butter spread over the dough before its rolled together which gives the crust it’s distinctive crispy, buttery crust.  Swoon!

5 - best deep dish pizza

4.  Best Buffalo Chicken Chili.  I made this nearly two years ago, but thanks to the wording of my blog post – it’s what people type into google “best buffalo chicken chili” recipe.  It gets nearly 100 hits a day still!  And it’s been used to enter chili contests and has won 1st prize 8 times!

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3.  No Fail Potato Gratin.  My Mom makes the best scalloped potatoes.  Even makes them without onions for me – thanks Momma!  But it never failed that every.single.time I made them, the potatoes would never be cooked through.  Trust me when I say that Tony has had a couple dozen potato gratins that had crunchy potatoes!  Then I decided to use gnocchi!  It’s made from potatoes, its already cooked, and sure enough, the no fail potato gratin was born.

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2.  Copycat Panera Bread Broccoli Cheddar Soup.  I first made this soup in the fall of 2009.  I loved Panera soup way before my daughter Hannah started working there.  I always imagined workers getting to the store at the break of dawn, making the soups from scratch and letting them simmer before the lunch crowd hit.  Hannah broke my dream when she told me to sit down, the soups get shipped to the stores frozen, and they take the frozen bags and defrost them in bit vats of hot water. Sad smile  This one is pretty close to the real deal though!

2 - panera broccoli soup

1.  Paleo Breakfast Casserole.  I have Helen to thank for this dish.  I’ve discovered I like sweet potatoes, but not by themselves, they need to be combined in some way.  I also have to balance the sweetness of the sweet potatoes with something spicy – this casserole has chopped pickled jalapenos in it!  The funny thing is that while this has gotten the most page views at 23,000, this is not a Paleo breakfast – and I’ve gotten tons of emails from die hard Paleo enthusiasts, that this recipe IS NOT Paleo – because of the cheese!  So let’s just call it a low carb breakfast casserole?  Call it what you want, this one is delicious!

1 - paleo breakfast casserole

So there you have it – the Top 12 viewed recipes in 2012.   WordPress gave me a year end recap:

Crunchy numbers

About 55,000 tourists visit Liechtenstein every year. This blog was viewed about 340,000 times in 2012. If it were Liechtenstein, it would take about 6 years for that many people to see it. Your blog had more visits than a small country in Europe!

The busiest day of the year was August 22nd with 2,362 views. The most popular post that day was KERF Fan or Not?.

The top referring sites in 2012 were:  (Thanks Shelley!)

  1. myjourneytofit.com
  2. tastespotting.com
  3. Google Reader
  4. cookeatshare.com
  5. pinterest.com

Who were they?

Your most commented on post in 2012 was 1,000,000 Page Views! (Giveaway!)

These were your 5 most active commenters:

Erica – thanks for being the top commenter in 2012! Open-mouthed smile

Thanks to each and every one of who take time out of their busy days to stop by, read and say hello when you can.  I really appreciate it!

Tomorrow will be my First WI for 2013 – eek! Surprised smile

Happy New Year from My Bizzy Kitchen!  (and Tony!)

The Best Chicago Style Popcorn

Before I get to the recipe for literally the best Chicago Style homemade popcorn I have ever made (and total crack to both Tony and me, so I won’t be making this for a long time), I have to give a shout out to some more of my blog friends who sent me Christmas cards:

If you haven’t read Ally from Sweet & Savory, you are missing out.  First of all, she has two of the cutest kids I’ve ever seen.  She’s actually not only made my Baja Fresh salsa, but before her daughter was born, she actually sold it at her local farmers market.  Open-mouthed smile

And she makes some delicious stuff!  This recipe has been printed out and sitting on my desk since November!  Must make these biscuits soon!

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She was sweet enough not only to send me a family Christmas card, but also her family newsletter – I feel like one of her family!  And she lives in Iowa, we keep talking about doing a meet up between our two cities – hopefully this summer we can make that a reality!  This picture of her two kids holding hands while walking to the pumpkin patch is priceless!  Thanks Ally!

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Then my new blog friend Louise, who at 65 was the oldest participant in my 171 mileage challenge, and she did it all on her recumbent bike at home!   She is also a talented artist, you can find her handmade products here.  She sent me the nicest card, and wouldn’t you know it, a snowman was on the cover!

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I love it Louise – thank you so much!

And Beth from 990 Square, I think I’ve been blog friends with her since late 2009.  She’s a runner, awesome baker, even got her husband Noel to catch the running bug!   She and her husband love to travel, love the beach, and if I ever travel to the East Coast, she’s one of the first people I’d like to lunch with. Open-mouthed smile

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And I think she likes wine as much as me based on the wine tours she’s gone on – thanks for the card B!  (Yep, I call her B) Open-mouthed smile

But I was so surprised when we got home yesterday and there was a package from Aimee!   She’s also a runner, and even through injury managed to persevere and went to the Philadelphia marathon all by herself.  She beat her previous time by 10 minutes!!

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That takes a lot of guts to do a race like that all by yourself – you should be proud of yourself Aimee!

So she sent me a bag of holiday loot!  Check it out!

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She put notes on everything, which was so cute – I loved this motivational note pad called “Pep Talk!”

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I have a feeling that the TO and FROM are both going to have my name on it!  Thank you so much Aimee for your friendship and generosity! Open-mouthed smile

Blog reader Wendy left a comment asking if I had posted my Chicago Mix Popcorn recipe on the blog, and even though that was my signature food gift this year, I realized I never posted it because I almost always made it at night and my florescent kitchen lighting is awful!

Of course, Chicagoans know that Garrett’s Popcorn is one of the best popcorn places in the City.  In fact, whenever I am in the train station, I am hard pressed not to pick up a small bag of their Chicago Mix, which is half cheddar popcorn and half caramel corn.

ChicagoMix

I have to tell you, before sending the actual food boxes to mine and Tony’s family, I made A LOT of batches until I came up with the right combination, even so far as using the cheese mixture in a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese to make the cheddar popcorn.

In the end, I went with Nacho Cheddar popcorn made from this brand – although yesterday’s version I used the bacon cheddar flavor which I didn’t know existed!

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I’ve found it in the popcorn aisle in Target and at Jewel – each one sold for $2.25 cents.   After several batches, Tony and I both agreed that we liked 2/3 cheddar popcorn to 1/3 caramel corn. That sweet/salty balance was perfect.  Thanks for being such a great taste tester Tony!

Chicago Mix Popcorn

  • 3/4 cup of unpopped popcorn
  • 1/8-1/4 cup oil (enough to cover the bottom of your pan)
  • 1/3 cup popcorn seasoning (about 1/2 of the bottle)
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 1.5 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

I don’t add any salt to the caramel mixture, because there is enough salt in the cheddar seasoning.

Tony was the one who taught me how to make popcorn.  The secret is to use a mesh top, the ones that you use to keep splatters down when frying.

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That way, the steam escapes and you get super crunchy popcorn every time.  Start by adding your popcorn and oil to your pot, and heat over medium-high heat.  As soon as you hear the first popcorn pop, remove from heat, and let the kernals “cook” off the heat for 5 minutes.  Return the popcorn to the burner, now turn on high, don’t start to shake it until the popcorn stops to pop, then shake vigorously – this goes by super fast because all the kernals are ready to pop – as soon as her can count 4 seconds between the pops, remove from heat.

So I took 2/3 of the popcorn and sprinkled it with the bacon cheddar seasoning.

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The white popcorn will soon be caramel corn.  This makes A LOT of popcorn – that silver bowl is 13 quarts!

For the white popcorn, before adding the caramel to it, make sure to take out any unpopped kernels, you don’t want to break someone’s teeth when they bit into kernel studded popcorn!

Making caramel corn is super easy, you don’t need a candy thermometer at all.  You just need to look for the color you want – my only caveat is to tell you that once you see the right color, move quickly, because it can go from perfect to burnt in a matter of seconds.

Melt the butter in a pan.  Add sugar and water and mix well.  Leave it alone now, no stirring is necessary.  It will start to bubble and it gets to the right color in about 10 minutes.  You can walk away for the first few minutes, but I wouldn’t stray too far.  This is how it looks after 5 minutes.

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Another five minutes, and it gets this caramel color.

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Quickly remove from heat, add the 1 teaspoon of baking soda, mix well and toss quickly with your cooked popcorn.  Try to cover every kernel when this mixture is hot because it dries fairly quickly.  Usually mine is one giant ball of caramel, and I take a long serving fork to break it into pieces.

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Once cooled, I mix the two together.  And try not to eat it all in one sitting!

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That bowl is probably 1/5 of the whole batch.  When I gave it away as gifts, this batch easily filled 4 gallon ziploc bags, with some leftover.   Tony and I admit we wish we knew about the bacon cheddar seasoning, because yesterday’s batch ended up being the best one – a bit smokey, a hint of salty bacon, then mixed with the caramel, just …YUM!

So Wendy, thank you for your patience in writing this recipe up!  It would be a hit for any popcorn lover in your world.

Tomorrow I’ll be posting my Top 12 Recipes of the Year, then on Tuesday, the dreaded first Weigh In of the Year!  Confused smile

Enjoy your Sunday!

Dreams

Unlike Veronica, I rarely remember my dreams.  The other night though I had a dream that I was on a cooking show t.v. challenge and Gordon Ramsey was the judge.

Our first challenge (there were 10 of us) was to make mini sliders and French fries – we could interpret that any way we wanted but he said the main goal was to make sure that they sliders were mid-rare.

I decided to make a reuben slider – beef patties, grilled corned beef, bavarian sauerkraut and melted swiss cheese.  Everything was going great, but I could sense that people thought my burger might win, and when I went to go drop my fries, no one would let me near the fryer.

By the time I got my fries done, I had ignored my beef sliders and they were way past mid-rare, and on the verge of being burnt.  But I could hear Gordon counting down “10, 9, 8 . . .”  I had no other choice than to plate what I had.

He came to my station and asked what I had made.  I explained that I had made reuben sliders.  He took one bite, smashed the slider on the table and screamed “you donkey I told you I wanted the sliders mid-rare!  These are awful!”

But the next challenge was to make any dish you wanted.  I felt I had to redeem myself, so I decided to make a salsa burger using my baja fresh salsa, deep fried battered jalapeno slices and pepper jack cheese.

As I was putting my dish together, Gordon walked by and asked what I was making and I said “a salsa burger.”  He laughed and said I was crazy to try another burger dish.

This time, however, everything came out perfectly.  The slightly buttered toasted sesame bun, the medium rare burger full of flavor and juicy.  When Gordon took one bite, his eyes closed and he opened them up, looked straight into my eyes and said “that was the best burger I’ve ever had in my life!”

It makes me laugh just thinking about that dream!

Yesterday I had a taste for a sausage McMuffin from McDonald’s, so I had that with a Florida tangerine.  Does your McDonald’s show the calories of everything on the drive thru menu?  My sausage McMuffin was 370 calories.

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I ran some errands at lunch time, and then came back and made some nachos.  Have you tried the Artisan chips from Tostitos?  I bought these because they were on sale – normally $3.99 a bag, but they were 50% off.

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8 chips were a serving, so I made nachos with leftover beef and black beans, topped with chopped cucumbers, romaine lettuce, cheddar cheese and diced peppers.  So good!

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Most people in Illinois know what Lou Malnati’s is.  It’s a pizza place that started in the early 1970’s and now has 34 locations in the Chicagoland area.

Considered the oldest family name in Chicago pizza, Lou Malnati’s is as rich in history as its pizza is in flavor. Lou got his start in the 1940’s working in Chicago’s first deep dish pizzeria. Lou Malnati took his pizza expertise to Lincolnwood, a northern suburb of Chicago, where he and his wife Jean opened the first Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria on March 17, 1971. Lou was known for his fun-loving character as well as making Chicagoland’s best pizza. Loyal patrons lined the streets on opening day for a taste of his delicious deep-dish creations. Lou always thought it was funny that an Italian should open a pizzeria in a Jewish neighborhood on an Irish holiday. But that was Lou’s style, he loved all types of people and didn’t care much about what people thought.

There is a Lou Malnati’s store front restaurant a few miles from my office that only does delivery and take out.  Tony thought they had a take and bake pizza, and sure enough, they did – $11 dollars for a small deep dish sausage pizza.  They will actually ship this pizza to anywhere in the United States!

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The instructions said to take the pizza out of the tin container, wipe out any condensation, pour some olive oil in the bottom to cover the pan, and bake for 45 minutes at 425.

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Here is what my deep dish looks like:

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While the Lou Malnati’s pizza was good, especially the crust from a frozen pizza, we still prefer the homemade version – I think mine is actually thicker than Lou’s! (that’s what she said!)  But in the end, you can’t beat party pizza Friday! Open-mouthed smile

At the recommendation of Rachel, I plan on renting Perfect Pitch this weekend, probably on Sunday when Tony is watching his football games.  Have you seen it yet?

Question of the Day:  Do you remember your dreams?  Enjoy your Saturday!  I’ll be back on Monday with my Top 12 posts of 2012. Open-mouthed smile

Best Awkward Christmas Card

My friend Christina, who I met through blogging, moved back to her home state of North Carolina.  She used to blog at Dinner at Christina’s, but has moved on and happily I can follow her on Facebook.  Check out her and her husband’s Christmas card this year!

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She said her husband grew out the mustache/goatee especially for this photo.  I love it!  You are crazy Christina!  And yes, those are their pets. Open-mouthed smile

Tony and I both only ate half of our Christmas eve dinner, that left two halves of baked potatoes and two good size pieces of steak.  I took one of those leftovers and made a scrambled egg, zucchini, steak mixture, stuffed it inside the potato skin, stopped with a slice of Swiss cheese, then put it under the broiler at work.  On the side – fruit of Florida tangerines and blackberries. 

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The blackberries, while huge, were a bit on the tart side – or maybe they tasted tart because the tangerine was so sweet?  I ended up eat the tangerine first, then sprinkling some Splenda over the blackberries.

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I thought I might swim at lunch, but there were a bunch of day campers in the pool, so it was onto plan B – intervals on the treadmill.  I am loving the HIIT app on my phone – I don’t have to pay attention to anything but the whistle to either run or walk.  I did 7 reps of 3 minutes running, 2 minutes walking, with my fastest 3 minute run at 6.0 mph.

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I never really meal plan during a holiday week – I buy groceries for the big meal, but don’t feel its necessary to buy more food for the week.  I grabbed what I thought was roasted red pepper soup.  I heated it up, and at first glance I was like “Yes, it’s soup!”  Sadly, upon tasting it, it was pasta sauce – my first bite had a fennel seed in it!  As much as I tried to will myself that it was tomato soup, it wasn’t happening.

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So I ate my “dessert” first – Florida grapefruit drizzled with just a bit of honey – so juicy and delicious!

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I thought maybe I could order food from across the street, but only one slight problem with that.  I’d already taken my insulin for what I thought I was going to eat – if I don’t meet food with the insulin, the insulin works too fast and my blood sugar sinks like a stone.

I borrowed a Lean Cuisine from my boss.  One word.  Ick.

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The package sounded good – but that toasted coconut made the dish overly sweet – I had to add some sriracha to balance out the sweetness.  The package directions said to cook for 5 minutes, let stand 1 minute, stir, and let stand another minute.

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Yep, I somehow burned some of the rice (who knew you could burn a frozen dinner in the microwave?!) and one piece of chicken was still frozen!  I managed to eat half of this, but it was enough food so my blood sugar was fine.

I defrosted a “meatloaf” mix for dinner, not really knowing what to do with it – I could make tacos, or burgers, or meatloaf, or Salisbury steak.  Salisbury steak won!

Here is another delightful florescent photo from my kitchen.  I should really become a professional photographer – ha!

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I love brown gravy packages – my store sells them 2 for $1 on sale, so I stock up.  Each 1/4 cup serving is only 20 calories! 

I wish I could work only 2 days every week!  Hopefully today will go by fast, then it’s another four day weekend – woop!

Do any of you have any plans for New Years Eve?  Do you stay home and have a special meal – go over to friends houses?  Tony and I stay put – too many crazies on the road. Confused smile

I do have a couple mini projects I’d like to get done over the long weekend.  One is cleaning my desk in the basement – it’s awful – it’s probably piled a foot and a half high of old papers, magazines, etc.  I need to shred a bunch of stuff I don’t need anymore.  Do I really need our ComEd bill from 2007?  I don’t think so!

Alright, off to get ready for work – make it a great day!

We Thought We Lost Him. . .

Christmas night we were just relaxing and watching a movie.  If you like quirky movies like I do, you’ll love Moonrise Kingdom with Bill Murray.   Tony lost interest pretty quickly, but I was enjoying the movie when all of a sudden our dog Ed, who was asleep on the couch next to me, jumped down, peed on the carpet, ran around frantic in the living room, and then started to breathe super hard and was foaming at the mouth.

Neither of us had any idea what was going on.  We adopted our dog in September of 2001, and we don’t know how old he was when we got him – anywhere from one to three years old, so he could be 14 years old?

This went on for at least 45 minutes, we each thought that we were going to watch him die.  I asked Tony if he had ever seen any of his dogs die, and he said no. 

Then all of a sudden he was calm, and promptly fell asleep.  And he’s been fine ever since then – so weird!  Here I was telling him it was okay to leave with tears streaming down my face, and the next thing he’s sleeping like a baby!

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My last day off from the long holiday weekend was yesterday, so I slept in until 9:45. Open-mouthed smile  Tony made me another of his amazeball breakfasts, which turned into my breakfast and lunch.  Scrambled eggs, spicy hash browns and sun dried tomato toast with spicy jelly.

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The reason my hash browns were spicy?  My Aunt Martha sent this to me in our Christmas box:

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It has a recipe on there for making pickled shrimp that I cannot wait to try. Have you ever had pickled shrimp before??

After watching the year end show of Real Sports, which I love, I got busy on laundry and going through my clothes.  Once everything was folded and sorted, I counted that I have . . . wait for it . . . 51 t-shirts for working out!  That’s insane, while most women hoard shoes, I seem to have a problem with t-shirts!  I weeded through them, 1/3 of them I was just able to toss because they had stains on them.  Yep, I am classy like that, and I put 10 in the Goodwill pile because I’ve never worn them for one reason or another.

Then it was time for the gym!  I was actually surprised to see how busy it was.  I did 32 minutes on the treadmill – mostly walking on a 15% incline, with some one minute sprints sprinkled in here and there.  Then I did upper body for 10 minutes and abs on the ball. 

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We ended up deciding on pasta, but for the record, Tony almost never wants a red sauce.  So we decided on alfredo pasta.  It’s not too bad though – I make a basic white sauce – 2 tablespoons butter, 2 tablespoons flour.  Melt the butter and add the flour and cook for a few minutes – then slowly add 1 cup of skim milk.  Once thickened, I remove from the heat and added 1/2 a cup of grated Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. 

I cooked frozen peas and added that in, and topped with some bacon bits leftover from our Christmas baked potatoes.   Delicious!

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After I cleaned up the kitchen I started to put my food together for today.  Tony found this product when he was looking for something else in my disorganized cupboard, I had forgotten it was there.

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Shouldn’t all cleaning products be put in between bagged tea and cocoa nibs?!  Anywho, I normally clean out our coffee pot once a month with vinegar.  Holy cow – I used 2 tablespoons of this stuff with a full carafe of water, and it is amazing how well it cleaned the coffee pot – it looks brand new on the inside!  I am sure you can find that at Wal-mart.   I just finished brewing a pot of coffee, and it’s super hot too.

Can I ask a huge favor?  My blog friend (and friend in real life!) Mara, from What’s for Dinner, her sister is up for a JAMES BEARD AWARD!  Holy shizz!  She’s a pastry chef at Café de Architects in Chicago.  Her name is Leigh Omilinsky and you can see her bio here.

From Mara’s Facebook:

Please help her achieve this by visiting this link, logging in (they dont’ send spam, I promise!), and voting for Leigh Omilinsky of Cafe des Architectes in Chicago, IL in the Great Lakes region. Please and thank you! http://jamesbeard.starchefs.com/awards/vote/index_2.php

So if you can spend a minute to vote for her today, I would appreciate it! Open-mouthed smile

Alright, off to put the rest of my shit together for the day – make it a great day!

A Very Merry Christmas!

It’s hard to believe it’s over already!  Since first starting to see Christmas decorations right after Halloween, I can’t believe we’ll ring in 2013 just next week.

Since my Mom was going to my brother’s house for Christmas (check out his last blog post!), we celebrated with my side of the family on the 23rd.  My Mom makes a mean lasagna, and I brought a salad and bread and my sister brought dessert.

While I love snowmen, my Mom loves angels!  She didn’t decorate her house nearly as much as she would have since she wasn’t going to be home, but it was very festive!

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I realized that I was in a lot of the pictures I downloaded, and I didn’t take a picture of everyone – gah!  My Mom is only 4 feet 9 inches tall, so while I stand at only 5 feet 3 inches tall, I kind of tower over her.  In one picture I ducked down so she would be taller – we were laughing so hard. 

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My sister won’t get any points for plating, but my Mom’s lasagna is really good – I had two pieces!

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I specifically told my family that I didn’t want anything for Christmas.  My only gifts were granola and homemade Chicago Mix popcorn.  So imagine my surprise when I was given LOTS of stuff – it was embarrassing!  Snowmen, cookie sheets, a pretty blue pitcher, a 5 quart sauté pan with lid, a big bench scraper, coffee, mustards, homemade treats – it was too much!   So my tip to you is next year tell people you don’t have any money and they will buy you lots of stuff!  So thank you family! Open-mouthed smile

Christmas Eve it was just me and Tony.  We watched It’s a Wonderful Life which is my favorite Christmas movie.  True story.  I was in college (oops, not quite 21 yet!) and my roommate invited a couple guys over and we started doing shots of root beer schnapps.   It was before Christmas break and one of the guys had never heard of It’s a Wonderful Life, let alone seen it.

In my slightly drunken state, I proceeded to tell the movie, from when Harry falls into the ice on the shovel, to when Clarence says that he can’t fly because he hasn’t earned his wings yet, to one of my favorite lines in the whole movie:

Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?

Every year when I hear that, I wonder if I’ve done enough in the past year to touch the lives around me.  And usually the answer is “not as much as I could.”  I hope to volunteer in 2013 – it’s good for the soul!

We ate the steak we would have had on our Anniversary, with a baked potato and garlic bread.  We each only ate half – we easily could have split this plate.

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I made no knead Artisan bread for our Christmas Day dinner.  Just like how I gushed about the lasagna soup I got from Suzie, even if you are afraid of using yeast, this is the easiest recipe!

  • 6 1/2 cups regular flour
  • 3 cups water
  • 1.5 tablespoons yeast
  • 1.5 tablespoons salt

That’s it.  MIx the flour, yeast and salt well in a large bowl.  Add water and mix, making sure the flour at the bottom gets incorporated.  It will be a sticky dough, no worries.

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Now the original recipe says to let rise for two hours, divide the dough into four balls, let those rise another 40 minutes while you preheat your dutch oven in the stove at 450 degrees.  I think four loaves are two small, so I always make 2 loaves out of this recipe.  Yesterday I made one loaf sesame seed and one loaf rosemary and sea salt.

Once your dutch oven gets to temperature, bake the bread covered for the first 30 minutes, then take the lid off for 15 minutes more.  Comes out perfect every time!

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And speaking of lasagna soup, I made that our first course.  I posted the picture of the soup and bread on Facebook, and my Aunt Martha immediately asked for the recipe.  I said I followed Suzie’s recipe to the T, except that I left out the onions.  To which Veronica and Suzie said:

Veronica Miller Biz is crazy, don’t leave them out! 😉

Suzie Shaw Don’t fear the onion! 😉

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My second course:  wedge salad with blue cheese dressing and bacon bits.  Turns out only a few of us like blue cheese!

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I made oven roasted sesame carrots, which were really good, if a bit overcooked.  I made them earlier in the morning and they were perfect, but when I heated them up they got a tad dry.  No worries, a little butter helped!

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I used the baking method from this blog, and also “borrowed” their picture because I didn’t get a good one when they were first done.  I also just used olive oil, salt, and pepper, and 10 minutes before they were done cooking, I sprinkled with sesame seeds.

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And the star of the show?  Tony’s grilled ham!

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My plate:  sauteed apples, baked potatoes my SIL brought, sesame carrots, ham, mustard that Hannah got me – simple and delicious!  And no, that is not butter on my baked potato – its mustard! Open-mouthed smile

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It was a nice, relaxing day.  It just looked like a full restaurant was cooking in my kitchen, it may have been just a bit of a disaster!  Tony and Hannah are clean as you go cooks.  Me?  Not so much.  I think I used every plate, salad plate, bowl, fork, knife and spoon I own. Embarrassed smile

I am grateful for another day off from work today.  I have two projects.  One is to finish the laundry, and the second is to sort through my clothes and donate them – I figure if I haven’t worn it in the last six months, it’s never going to happen.  I also plan on going to the gym!

The only thing I’ve been good about being off from work is getting my water intake in, other than that, my exercise came to a screeching halt.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas!  Make it a great day!

Tony ate the whole thing…beady eyes and all!

Thanks for all the Anniversary wishes on the blog and Facebook!  We had the best day.  Tony of course had to make me my weekend breakfast.  This time it was “toad in a hole” or whatever it goes by in your neck of the woods.  A piece of toast with the center cut out, and the egg cooked in the hole (mine NOT runny, thank you very much) with Florida tangerine on the side.

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That was the three cheese miche bread Hannah brought me from Panera – it’s so fricken good!  Asiago cheese is the predominant cheese and its insulin worthy!

We ran some errands to pick up the last of our Christmas dinner items.  We had a gift card so we stopped at Chili’s for lunch.  I have to say, Chili’s food is pretty good and their lunch specials are awesome.  I got the $7 dollar lunch special which included a choice of soup and an entrée. 

I went with the spicy southwest chicken and sausage soup and the two baby burger sliders.  I stole the pictures off their website – but I have to say the sausage soup looked nothing like this – and it was more tomato based  – not cheezy like this one.

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Tony asked for Tabasco on the side for me – I didn’t need it – it was super spicy all on its own.  And while this shows four baby burgers, I only had two.

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For being small, they were still pretty juicy and flavorful.  So for less than $20 bucks, we had a nice lunch out – and still have money left on the gift card – winning! Open-mouthed smile

So when Tony came up with the great idea for each of us to make each others favorite appetizers, I knew it would be easy for him to make something for me – I like:

Melissa d’Arabian’s Spicy Mussels with Chorizo

Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion, chopped (HELL NO!)
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 ounces fresh chorizo, removed from casing
  • 1 tablespoon harissa (Tony does the tomato paste/cayenne mixture)
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 cup white wine
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 to 3 pounds fresh mussels, scrubbed and debearded (1 pound for me)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream (he uses milk)
  • French bread, for dipping (totally necessary!)

Directions

Cook’s Note: If harissa cannot be found, substitute 1 tablespoon of tomato paste plus 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper.

In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, cook the onions in the butter over medium heat until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and chorizo to the onions and cook until the sausage loses its raw color, about 5 minutes. Add the harissa and red pepper flakes, and then turn up the heat to high.

Once fragrant, deglaze the pan with the wine, allowing to bubble for a minute. Lower the heat to medium, add the chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Add the prepped mussels and cover to steam until the mussels open, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the cream and stir. Serve immediately with plenty of sliced French bread for dipping.

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There is a ton of broth/chorizo leftover, so I plan on making it into some sort of soup.  If you would have asked me five years ago if I would eat this dish, I would have said hells no.  But I realize I can’t assume I don’t like something now that I didn’t like growing up.  Tony still throws up a bit at the final dish – he hates the smell of chorizo and the look of mussels.  Now is that true love or what?! Open-mouthed smile

But Tony was a bit difficult for me.  I cook him football food every weekend, I’ve made him bay scallop gratin before, which I know he loves.  I also make the best homemade shrimp cocktail thanks to America’s Test Kitchen.  He loves escargot, but I didn’t think that would be too filling of an appetizer.   Then it hit me – shrimp toast!  If we eat in at a Chinese restaurant, he loves this appetizer. 

The salt and pepper shrimp heads didn’t come to me until Tony saw I bought head on shrimp and he walked by and said “I’d eat those!”  So his appetizer was born.

I have to say, I had to look up how to prepare the shrimp heads.  I’ve made shrimp toast before, but went with a new recipe this time:

Ming Tsai Shrimp Toast

  1. Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper
  2. 5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes (I reduced to 2)
  3. 1 cup finely diced peeled jicama (I used canned water chestnuts)
  4. 1/2 cup finely chopped scallions, plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling (nope!)
  5. 1 teaspoon truffle oil
  6. Canola oil, for frying
  7. 1/2 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
  8. 8 slices of day-old white sandwich bread, crusts removed (I used 2 large slices of bread)
  9. 1 large egg
  10. Sesame seeds, for sprinkling (I forgot!)
  1. In a food processor, puree the shrimp with the egg until smooth. Add the butter, truffle oil, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of white pepper and pulse until smooth with small bits of butter remaining. Stir in the jicama and the 1/2 cup of scallions.
  2. SpIn a large nonstick skillet, heat 1/8 inch of oil until shimmering. Spread 1/4 cup of the shrimp mousse on each slice of bread and sprinkle with sesame seeds. In batches, add the bread to the skillet, mousse side down, and cook over moderate heat until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Using a spatula, turn the toasts and cook until golden brown, about 1 minute. Transfer the toasts to paper towels to drain. Cut the toasts into quarters on the diagonal. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of scallions on top and serve.

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I cannot tell you how delicious these are.  The toast is nice and crunchy, but the middle of the bread is still soft, and the shrimp paste surprisingly had so much flavor.  Next time I’ll remember the sesame seeds.

I am glad I looked up how to prepare shrimp heads, because I didn’t even notice that the top of the shrimp head has like a razor sharp fin – you need to cut that off.

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The shrimp were on sale for $4.99 a pound, so I got half a pound.  I used the heads for the salt and pepper shrimp heads, and the body for the shrimp toast – pretty cheap appetizers!

I just tossed the shrimp heads in corn starch that was seasoned simply with generous amounts of salt and pepper.

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The shrimp heads cooked for about 4-5 minutes.

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Tony’s final plate:

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We were actually stuffed eating our appetizers, so we’ll save the steak we bought for another dinner.  So good and a great idea.  Thanks for a great anniversary day Tony!

So remember last week when I told you that my parents-in-law always buy me Florida citrus for Christmas?  I knew exactly what it was so I opened it right away.  Tony got a box too, but he figured he would open it on Christmas day. 

Well, we talked to his Mom this morning and realized we could have opened the box the same day I opened mine – it has my MIL’s AMAZING COOKIES!

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You guys, um, it turns out that ALL OF THESE COOKIES ARE INSULIN WORTHY!  Holy cow.  I need to get her shortbread cookie recipe. Open-mouthed smile

But my favorite are her turtles – shortbread cookie with caramel and a walnut on the bottom and then covered in chocolate.  AMAZEBALLS!

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Thank you Bonnie for these delicious treats.  I may have to freeze some so I don’t eat them all in one sitting.  Thanks!

I am headed to my Mom’s house tonight to celebrate Christmas with my family before my Mom goes to my brother Charlie’s house for Christmas.  She’s making lasagna, which is so good – just hope she leaves the onions out!  I am bringing two loaves of my artisan bread. Open-mouthed smile  Should be lots of laughs!

I won’t be blogging again until December 26. I just wanted to wish each and everyone one of you a Merry Christmas and happy holidays!  All the cards, e-mails, gifts and comments I got completely got me out of my Holiday Funk and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Red heart 

MERRY CHRISTMAS!