Thursday, December 14, 2006

Pumpkin and Spice and Everything Nice

I like to start my day with a mug of tea. Several years ago, I discovered the Republic of Tea line and love their varied flavors and blends. My all time favorite is the Vanilla Almond, but I am also partial to Pomegranate Green Tea, Good Hope Vanilla Red Tea, Kiwi Pear Green Tea, Tea of Inquiry and Pink Grapefruit Green Tea. I am addicted to my teas and have collected a large assortment.

However, a recent find has left my teas collecting dust. I have blown the cobwebs off my coffee maker and brewed pot after pot of dark, rich coffee just to savor Coffee-Mate's seasonal Pumpkin Spice Creamer. Friends had been raving about it, but I hadn't been able to locate it in any local stores. I did find Southern Butter Pecan creamer just before Thanksgiving, and while it was good, it didn't set off any cravings for me. I enjoyed it, but could easily walk away from it and go back to my beloved teas. The Pumpkin Spice has me hooked. It is cream of the crop of pumpkin and spice and everything nice.

Another way to enjoy pumpkin and spice and everything nice is a super simple dessert pudding. I originally tried this recipe for our anniversary back in early October, and have repeated it several times since. While pumpkin and spice are traditionally considered fall and winter treats, this cool and creamy dessert doesn't have to be pegged as seasonal (like the Coffee-Mate creamer which will soon disappear from the dairy shelves). Those of us who love the flavor combination can savor it any time. You could even use low-fat products for the calorie conscious. Dig into some Pumpkin Pudding and start enjoying your own pumpkin and spice and everything nice.

Pumpkin Pudding
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon cloves
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¾ cup cooked pumpkin (canned stuff)
1 ¼ cups cold milk
1 large package (or 2 small packages) instant butterscotch pudding mix
1 ¼ cups whipped cream (Cool Whip works)

Combine spices and baking soda in bowl.
Mix in pumpkin and blend well.
Add milk and pudding.
Beat for one minute.
Fold 1/2 cup of the whipped cream into the mixture.
Garnish with rest of the whipped cream. (Serves 4-6)

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Tannenbaum and Bleu Cheese Tantamount?

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, Much pleasure doth thou bring me!

Hubby and I put aside all the responsibilities and demands on our time today. We took a road trip and purchased our fresh Christmas tree. I can't begin to explain how much I love having a fresh tree each year. It just isn't Christmas without it. My allergies act up, it is a hassle to find time to travel to choose the perfect one, and daily watering and cleaning up the dropped needles are not chores that I enjoy, but I love having a fresh tree and find it all to be very much worth every supposed hassle. It is a tradition that I treasure.

I usually decorate 4 or 5 other trees of various sizes and shapes that are scattered around our home, but the fresh tree has the place of honor in front of the living room window and is the first thing noticed by my holiday guests. We don't bring it into the house until mid-December to help prevent so many dry needles, but it (and all holiday decorations) usually stay up through Epiphany. I am always sad to see the twinkling lights and sparkly ornaments be put back into their boxes at the end of the Christmas season. Of course, this season, I am slow on getting the decorations out and up in the first place. The kitchen painting project is still on-going with me continuously being pulled away before I can accomplish much painting. Much to hubby's horror, I have joked that since I haven't had my decorations up since Thanksgiving (as is my usual plan), I will just have to leave them up through all of January. He vows that this won't be the case. It is still fun to tease him.

During our outing today, we stopped at Ruby Tuesday for a late lunch. After scanning the menu, I decided that my tastebuds wanted something with a little kick and ordered the Buffalo Chicken Sandwich. It was good...but, not as good as my own. Their bleu cheese dressing was very good, though. Just as I wouldn't want to face Christmas without my fresh tree, a Buffalo Chicken Sandwich is nothing without good bleu cheese dressing. However, I am the only one singing of the pleasures of bleu cheese in our home. Hubby is not a fan. As if the threat of constant Christmas decoration wasn't enough, I attempted to terrorize him further by offering to lick every drop of the savory dressing from the little condiment dish. I restrained myself, but am thinking that I should add my own Buffalo Chicken Sandwich to our menu once my kitchen is restored.

Buffalo Chicken Sandwich
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
½ cup bleu cheese salad dressing
¼ cup flour
¼ cup butter, melted
2 tablespoons hot pepper sauce
1 cup spinach leaves
4 deli rolls, split and lightly toasted
Place chicken between layers of plastic wrap or waxed paper.
Pound lightly with rolling pin or meat mallet to flatten.
Place 3 tablespoons blue cheese salad dressing in shallow baking dish.
Coat chicken lightly with dressing; dip in flour to coat.
Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
Add chicken to skillet Cook, 5 minutes on one side to brown Cook 5 minutes on the other side to brown.
When cooked through, remove chicken from skillet.
Drain butter from skillet except for 1 tablespoon; add hot pepper sauce and stir to mix with butter.
Return to heat and add chicken.
Cook chicken 2 minutes on each side in pepper sauce.
Serve chicken on toasted buns with spinach leaves.
Serve blue cheese dressing on the side. (Serves 4)

Friday, December 08, 2006


I am going through withdrawal. I haven't really cooked since last week. Hubby has been on the road 3 days this week. I have been subbing at the school, trying to paint the kitchen, and putting in time at the office. We have lived on takeout, convenience foods, and nothing at all. I NEED a good homecooked meal. I need real food. I am in withdrawal.

My kitchen is in a state of total chaos. Paint, brushes, and rollers litter the countertop. The table is shoved into the pantry. The stove is pulled away from the wall and sits in the middle of the room. The cabinets are empty with the drawers and doors topping the tarped dining room table and in a multi-colored state with various coats of the new paint and some still in the old. The walls are ribboned with blue painter's tape and a patchwork of new and old paint. Only the ceiling painting is fully complete.

Not only do we need the nutritional balance of a home cooked meal, we need the comfort of the routine of preparing dinner and sharing a meal. In the chaos of hectic schedules and home improvement projects, we need the solace of a real dinner. My body and mind cry for simmering pots and meals that don't require ketchup. I crave the euphoria of a beautifully presented meal and the idle and calming conversation that accompanies it. I am anxious for life to settle down and my plate to once again be filled with menus of my creation.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Face on the Milk Carton

No. You don't have to start looking for my face on milk cartons. I haven't disappeared. Things are just incredibly busy. After spending a week working at the school, I am trying to get caught up on some office work and have finally started my full kitchen painting project. Add to this the extra farm bookwork for the beginning of the month, and the usual level of chaos that surrounds me, and I am just wiped out. My plate is full, but not with food.

We have kept our meals very simple. Lunches have been canned soup and cold cereal. Dinners haven't been much more inspiring. Sunday night, I cashed in my National Men Make Dinner Day rain check. Hubby used that pound of ground beef that I had originally defrosted for the Thai-Style sloppy joe meal, and made Salisbury steaks with egg noodles. It was a hearty, comforting meal after a long day of chores and paint prep work...and before a night spent at the office. Monday, as usual, took Hubby out with the truck for the liquid feed supplement run. His dinner was on the road, and about 10pm, I ate 3 leftover chicken wings that he brought home. I had spent the day painting (with some very good help) and was too exhausted to care if I really ate, or not. Today, I overslept, but spent most of the day in the office. When I came home this evening, I once again dug into the painting, but had to put that on hold and handle some farm bookwork after our frozen pizza dinner.

Hopefully, over the next few days, things will even out, our meals will improve, and I will regain some energy and motivation to post. In the mean time, the only milk cartons that we need to look for are new full ones. I had the last of the milk this morning, and didn't think about picking up more when I was out and about today.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Feng Shui?

Hubby and I often join another couple to play a card game called Hand and Foot. The guys pair off against the women and usually win. The only explanation that I have for their constant good luck is that the guys seem to be pushing bad Feng Shui onto us. We (the women) are usually forced to sit with our backs to the doors while playing out our hands at the kitchen table. I haven't done an in depth study of Feng Shui, but isn't this considered a no-no? Doesn't this allow the bad vibes to sneak up on us? The one time that the guys switched places with us and sat with their backs to the doors, they lost. This has to be proof, right? ;~) The guys don't believe us. They just revel in their wins and gloat.

Tonight, our game was no different. Following a meal of take-out pizza and cake to celebrate our friends' daughter's birthday, the women again lost miserably in the card game. :~( We did attempt to achieve balance and harmony with the meal, though. I prepared a Seven-Layer Salad to balance with the pizzas. In harmony with the likes and dislikes of the children of the house, I omitted the onions and peas that are usual standards for layered salads. I searched out another Cooking Light recipe that included kidney beans instead of the peas and added prepared Ranch dressing to the topping instead of the normal sugary mayonnaise mixture. No bad vibes could sneak up on this salad, but I wish that it would have attracted better luck for my cards.

Cooking Light's Seven-Layer Salad
6 cups iceberg lettuce, torn
1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups tomatoes, diced
1 cup cucumbers, diced
1 cup carrots, shredded
½ cup nonfat sour cream
½ cup low-fat Ranch dressing
½ cup reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

Layer lettuce, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots in that order in a large bowl.
Combine sour cream and ranch dressing.
Spread dressing mixture over carrot layer.
Top with shredded cheddar cheese.
Cover and chill. (Serves 6)

Confessions of Plans Changed

I got ahead of myself yesterday. I made a plan for dinner early in the day and pulled the ground beef from the freezer. I thought that I was organized and prepared. However, when I came home from the office, my back was aching. I had been stiff all day and attributed it to poor posture and too many hours in front of the computer, but by evening, it was more than just stiff. Sharp pains shot across my shoulder blades and down my arms with every move that I made. I even felt a tightness in my chest and was uncomfortable with deep breaths. I hurt.

I wasn't interested in making dinner, even something simple like Thai-Style Ground Beef. I just wanted a couple of Advil, a heating pad, and a blanket to curl up with. Hubby came home with a list of errands that he wanted to run in the next town, and I gladly gave in when he mentioned bringing home Taco Johns. A Six Pack and a Pound was the perfect dinner for my night of aches and pains. The ground beef for the Thai-Style meal found its way back into the fridge, and will make another meal on another day. That is the confession of what really landed on my plate.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Tied Up Thai-Style

I have been tied up with subbing at the school all week. Today, I am tied up with neglected work at the office. I decided to continue the theme and go with Thai-Style Ground Beef for dinner tonight. It will be a Tied Up Thai-Style Day.

Thai-Style Ground Beef is a recipe that I discovered from Cooking Light. It was promoted as a jazzed up version of sloppy joes that was quick, easy and nutritious for families on the go. We serve it on a bed of steamed rice with a simple salad of romaine tossed with cilantro and green onions and dressed with lime juice, but it could just as easily be sandwiched in a toasted bun just like regular sloppy joes. The magazine article also suggested that romaine or butter lettuce leaves could serve as a "wrap" for this flavorful meat mix.

This recipe was one of our first experiments using curry and coconut milk. It was well received by Hubby and given the blessing to be repeated. Like a traditional sloppy joe, this dish is a bit sweet with spices punching it up. We enjoy it and have included it in our regular recipe rotation because of its perfect combination of ease and great taste. We like to be Tied Up Thai-Style.

Thai-Style Ground Beef
1 cup thinly sliced leeks
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 pound lean ground beef
1 teaspoon red curry paste
1 cup tomato sauce
½ cup light coconut milk
1 tablespoon brown sugar
¼ teaspoon grated lime zest
1 ½ teaspoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
3 cups hot cooked white rice

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add leek; sauté 5 minutes. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute. Add beef; cook 7 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring to crumble.
Stir in curry paste and tomato sauce; cook until half of liquid evaporates (about 2 minutes).
Add milk and next 4 ingredients (through fish sauce); cook 2 minutes or until slightly thickened. Serve with the rice. (Serves 4)
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