27 May 2010

Not Quittin' My Day Job

Last night for dinner we had another of R's favorites - Steak Salad.  So fast, fresh and fantastic.

While a simply seasoned flank steak and an ear of corn were grilling, I sliced some carrots and red onion and washed the spinach.  After the corn and beef were nicely grilled and had time to rest, I threw everything together and served it Willie's style, meaning the dressing was a mix of queso and salsa. 

After dinner it was time to get to work.  I had decided that I would bake and decorate 50 cookies for the winners of this year's SURVIVOR Challenge.  `Each of the 5 tribes created their own flag, complete with tribe colors, slogan and logo.  The goal was to somehow incorporate those ideas in the decoration. 

What was I thinking????

Here are a few of the baked, un-iced cookies, just staring at me. 
Mocking me, really.

I began with the most simple designs

Team Outback
Simplicity and bright colors make me happy

I found the perfect cookie cutter at Hobby Lobby for my MOKO tribe - a crown to match their logo.

This tribe definitely thought of themselves as royalty...

I was not pleased at all with how this next class period's cookies turned out.  They had a complicated mascot to begin with and then every time I tried to 'draw' their symbol (the swoosh) it ended up looking sperm-like.  Not a good thing when you work with 9th graders. 

One kid today told me it appeared that I had 'given up' by the time I got to their cookies!  Gotta love 15 year-olds for their honesty. 

This tribe's logo was tough to do as well.  I mean, a pineapple???

I don't know if I like the buck teeth or the enthusiastic slogan more.

I had to just let go and do the pineapples and leaves 'freestyle'. 
It's a loose interpretation.  But isn't that what artistic license is????

Finally, we have the tribe that won out of all of my class periods... Thunder From Down Under.  Prior to this I had never made gray icing.  Who wants a cake or cupcake with gray icing??? How depressing.  Thank goodness Hobby Lobby carries every color under the sun. 

Notice I did not even attempt the kangaroo

The cookies turned out to be a huge hit and the kids didn't seem to notice every single imperfection that I was freaking out about.  They were very appreciative of the fact that I customized them for each tribe.  And as much fun as the cookies were to make and decorate, my favorite part was seeing the smiles on their faces each period as I would open the tupperware container and show them their designs. 

Just one more confirmation that the classroom is the place for me.

23 May 2010

A Burger for the Hubs

Although I had a lot of items on my 'to-do list' today, I still managed to find a little time to spend in the kitchen.  So therapeutic... I think what I love most about the kitchen and cooking is that it gives me a chance to clear my mind. 

To start with I rescued some older, sad looking berries from the fridge

and trimmed and transformed them

into a fabulous Berry Coulis.

I see crepes in my future this week!

I was also able to catch up on some dish washing, make granola bars for the week and try a new burger recipe I created especially for the Hubs. 

As I mentioned earlier this week, R loves salty foods, so tonight I made Mediterranean Turkey Burgers for dinner.  Incredibly easy and a great way to use up some leftovers and pantry staples.

The patties were a mix of 1# ground turkey, a little chopped parsley, some crumbled feta, salt, pepper, an egg and some panko bread crumbs. 

It was pretty warm today and I didn't want my cats to get out, so I just used a grill pan on the stove to cook the patties.

To carry the salty theme even further, I made a sandwich spread in the food processor that combined some olives, capers, garlic, olive oil and a tad bit of mayo.  Divine.

For R it was love at first bite... and that makes me happy.

22 May 2010

Copy-Cat Meal

The first Wednesday of each month is set aside for Dinner Divas. 

Dinner Divas started out as the book club "Classically Cosmopolitan", but we started focusing more on the food and drink and less on the book so we quit pretending to be something we weren't and threw the books out completely. 

Which is quite interesting considering all but 1 of us work in a school setting!

There are about 10 of us in the group and everyone has their own distinct style.  It's so fun to go to a very different dinner party every month, but only have to host once a year!

This month's hostess is one sophisticated and fabulous lady.  I would love to hire her as my personal stylist.  Her clothes are fabulous.  Always.

Here is her table setting:

Since it was Cinco de Mayo she made us delicious, fruity Strawberry Mojitos and some real-deal-lucille queso to get things going. 

For our main course she made a Latin meal that included rice, beans, grilled chicken and all sorts of fresh veggies.  For the life of me I cannot remember the name, but I remember how great it tasted. 

I decided to make my own copy-cat version for dinner one night this week...with a few of my own touches.

Layer 1:

I am never without a couple of packages of saffron rice in my pantry. 
My two favorite brands are Mahatma and Vigo

Layer 2:

Black beans - another pantry staple.

Layer 3:

Some leftover corn from last night's dinner
I had stirred in a little honey butter in to it and the way the sweet played off the other flavors was wonderful!

Layer 4:

Chicken marinated in a little olive oil, lime juice, orange juice, cilantro, salt and pepper for about 15 minutes and then grilled over low heat 5 minutes a side.

Layer 5:

A little bit of thinly sliced red onion is never a bad idea. 

Layer 6:

Shredded savoy cabbage and a little monterrey jack cheese means we are almost there...

Layer 7:

To top it off: a little bit of that yummy sauce we used on our fish tacos
This is what absolutely made this meal!

The further ahead this sauce is made, the better it tastes. 

Another super simple, inexpensive and amazingly delicious meal that turned in to the best 'leftover lunches' the next day.

19 May 2010

Keepin' it Real (Simple)

We receive four important magazines here at the house: Real Simple, Conde Nast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler and Cook's Illustrated.

Each one plays a very important, but distinct, role in helping me maintain my sanity.

My dear friend, K, gave me a subscription to Real Simple as a gift two Christmases ago. 

It has changed my life. 

Great organizational tips, cleaning tips, financial advice and recipes for simple, yet tasty meals. 

The June 2010 issue had a whole spread on ribs.  Now I like ribs, but R absolutely loves them, so any time they go on sale I stock up.

Tonight I tried the recipe for Classic Barbecue Spareribs, but replaced the spareribs with baby-back ribs. 


Made the suggested Honey Corn Bread Muffins as a side dish.

Also deeeelish.

I loved both of these recipes because all of the ingredients are pantry staples.  No special trips to the store necessary.

17 May 2010

Stinky, Salty Goodness

I'm reading a fascinating book right now - Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky.

If you love history, geography and/or food it is a 'must read'.

It is Culinary Geography at its finest and I have truly fallen in love... with salt.  sigh

Now don't get me wrong, I don't salt the heck out of my food the way R and my dear friend K do, but I have developed a certain respect and sense of awe regarding this compound and its million and one uses. 

And because I know R loves salty foods, tonight's dinner was just for him...

Mediterranean Chicken with Couscous

Super simple:

I took some black and green olives, capers, garlic and feta cheese, chopped it all up and stirred in a little olive oil. 

After pounding a few chicken breasts until they were about 1/4 inch thick, I seasoned them, spread a little of the 'tapenade' on each, rolled them up and secured 'em with toothpicks.

They were seared on each side and finished cooking in a 375 oven. 

Meanwhile, I made a little whole wheat couscous and during the last 2 minutes tossed in the little bit of 'tapenade' I had leftover. 

It was stinky, salty and made me salivate!  YUM!

16 May 2010

Mother's Day Re-Cap

Yes, I know Mother's Day was 7 days ago and I am extremely slow in getting these photos up, but here we go.  Unfortunately I only have pictures of the food and absolutely zero pictures of people!  Maybe Mom or my sister will send me a few and I can add them.

My sister came in to town from Austin to celebrate Mother's Day weekend.  We had a simple Sunday enjoying each other's company and cooking a delicious meal.  

We started things off with some delicious and sparkly Sangria...

It was a huge hit with everyone
The perfect springtime drink!

The main course consisted of Roast Beef Tenderloin, Oven Roasted Rosemary & Parmesan Potatoes, and Almond Garlic Green Beans.

The beef tenderloin was seasoned with salt, pepper, sugar and bacon grease... how delicious! 
Thank you, PW.

We ate and laughed and ate and laughed and ate some more.

We can put away some serious food.

Finally it was time for dessert.  Creme Brulee - one of my all-time favoites. 

We obviously had not perfected our "torching technique". 

We prepared and ate some wonderful food, but the best part was all of the laughs we shared.   

Great day and I look forward to celebrating many more!

09 May 2010

Fabulous, Fun Weekend #2

This weekend I was off to College Station to reunite with some fun, crazy ladies.  I took a much needed day off of work on Friday and after sleeping in I hit the road and got in to town by lunchtime.

You know how some couples have 'their' restaurant?  Well, my girlies and I had 'our' favorite spot on Northgate - Fitzwilly's.  Not as famous as The Dixie Chicken, but we loved it and ate there several times a week.  (It helped that our dorm was right across the street.)  

Two things you must do at Fitzwilly's:
  1. Order a 'Fitz Favorite' - hamburger, fries and a beer
  2. Play shuffleboard 

I love shuffleboard.  I don't know that I have played much since college, but it all came back.  Made me want to find some places around here with shuffleboard tables... and people who also like to play shuffleboard. 

Summer and Jennie needed to take a break from the game for a few minutes.

Wahhhhndah was our chariot for the weekend. She is a big ol' diesel Excursion who almost gurgles as she gets going, hence the name Wahhhhhndah. Jess was a great chauffeur and parked the large vehicle with ease.

Later on that evening after dinner we headed back to Northgate to a rooftop bar called The Corner.  Although we had to climb 3 killer flights of stairs, the view and breeze were well worth it. 

When we first arrived The Corner was almost empty and it was very easy to hold a conversation, but as it got later and later the place became packed with college students. 

College students who seemed very young... and had no crow's feet, cellulite or varicose veins. 
We soon began to feel old.
So we left.

Since we were so close we drove over to our old dorm, Davis Gary.  Davis Gary was not a glamorous dorm.  In fact, it was probably the most basic of all of the female dorms on campus.  A very small room for two students, community bathrooms and it was surrounded by male dorms. 
We lovingly referred to it as Dirty Ghetto instead of Davis Gary. 
We had some great times there.

My room was on the first floor and just outside the frame of the photo.  Room 114.  And since the window was right next to the door, anyone who forgot their ID (which was needed to enter the dorm) knocked on the window for us to come open it for them.  If I had a dollar for every drunk student that knocked on our window in the middle of the night...

The next morning before I headed out of town I hit one of my favorite 'hole in the wall' joints, Layne's

Their chicken fingers are to die for, even better than Raising Caine's, in my opinion. Not health food by any stretch of the imagination, but absolutely declious. 
I had such a great weekend with my girls!  It was fun to reminisce and revist all of the old favorite spots.  However, I am not as young as I used to be and 24 hours of 'college life' wore this 30-something out.

I was sad when the trip was over and I had to head back home.  Maybe with a nap and a longer night's sleep I could have gone another 24 hours...

I'm hoping that it isn't 7 more years before the next reunion.  This was way too much fun to have to wait that long to do it again.   

05 May 2010

Fabulous, Fun Weekend #1

This is the time of year when things start to get crazy around our house.  Both my husband and I teach and I'm not sure who is more anxious for the end of the school year, us or the students!  Don't get me wrong, we both absolutely love what we do for a living, but it's at this point in the school year when I can start to feel emotionally drained.  It's very bittersweet. 

This year has been especially demanding (and emotionally stressful) with my teaching partner being out on maternity leave for 12 weeks and then being the Cooperating Teacher for an incompetent student teacher for 14 weeks.  Thank goodness the long-term sub was fabulous and that I have many good friends at work who helped me hide from my student teacher during my conference period! (Did I really just say that out loud???)

All of that to say that it was time for me to have a little fun last weekend.

I kicked things off on Friday by throwing a party during the last period of the day to celebrate my student teacher's final day with us.  I was so happy to have survived the experience see him graduate that I made red velvet mini-cupcakes since red and white are our school colors. 

I think I ate at least 4 of these.
I'm a sucker for homemade cream cheese icing.

On Saturday I headed to Austin to visit my sister and ended up having an incredibly interesting evening.  She volunteers with Refugee Services of Texas and takes refugees to their medical appointments, grocery shopping, and helps them with paperwork... you know, all of the things we take for granted.  One of the family groups she works with are Nepalese refugees. 

Their life stories are incredible. 
Absolutely mind-blowing.

These people have been persecuted, imprisoned and tortured, yet still have this light that shines inside of them.  While they may lack material possessions, they are some of the richest people I have ever met.

Sorry for the poor quality. 
I only had my phone with me, but felt the need to capture the moment.

Over time my sister has developed very close relationships with them and we were invited into two different apartments, treated like royalty and fed a wonderful Nepalese meal.  I didn't quite catch everyone's name and how they were related, but I do remember that Aruna is on the far left and Tia is in the far right.  The girls in the middle brought us drinks and cooked us something to eat.  They are either Aruna's children or children of Aruna's husband's other wife.  Did that make sense?

The noodles were coated with a spicy paste and the garnish/relish was a combination of cilantro and onion, along with fresh lime.  Delicious, but I had heartburn afterwards! 

After a good night's sleep and a leisurely morning we were off to Tacodeli for brunch.

I wish we had one here. 
I would visit every weekend...and weigh 500+ pounds

Their queso was out of this world creamy, almost like it was a mix of traditional queso and a white sauce.  I stupidly ordered a large. 

My sister and her roomies are still probably eating on it. 

My sister ordered one veggie and cheese taco. 

This picture sums up my sister pretty well:
smallish portions, mainly non-meat and an international piece of clothing
And it shows how gorgeous she is...

Her food looked good, but not as good as my 2 fat-loaded El Otto tacos.  Refried black beans, thick cut bacon, sliced avocado and shredded cheese on corn tortillas.  Did your arteries just harden a little bit? Mine did.

Yes, the refried 'black' beans were purple.

And this picture sums me up pretty well: I LOVE to eat.

I had a wonderful weekend spending great quality time with my sister.  It was just what I needed.  

This Friday I'm off to my old stomping grounds, College Station, to reunite with some former roommates from college.  Three day weekend, here I come.