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Archive for January, 2010

It seems that birds of a feather do flock together.  Or maybe every 30-something mom in this world is rethinking, retooling and reshaping her life.  Either way, I’m blessed to be surrounded by incredible women — like Christine and Abby — who have taken risks to follow a creative passion that they can’t ignore.  So I couldn’t have been more filled with joy when I raced home today to see my friend Ellen Cross make her national television debut on The Bonnie Hunt Show.  Find Ellen’s performance of “Monday’s Pill” here and check out her site here.

She rocks (and so do her beautiful girls and wonderful husband).

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So before I launch into my weekly recipe review, I want to acknowledge that this here blog is starting to look a teency-weency bit like it’s completely focused on food (with a little bit of self-deprication thrown in here and there).  I didn’t plan it this way, but it turns out that of all the areas of creation on which I am focusing this year, cooking is certainly the most accessible and immediate.  I mean, we all have to eat, right?  I might as well try to make it good.

So, just bear with me good readers (all ten of you)…I promise there will be some non-cooking stuff coming before the end of January.  Bon appetit!

This past Monday, I cracked open Family Meals again to look for a good seafood recipe.  We don’t eat nearly enough seafood in our house, and I want to make sure I capitalize on my 5-year-old’s new-found love of shrimp (I’m making a leap here, hoping that if he likes shrimp he’ll like other things from the sea).  After a couple of minutes perusing the seafood chapter, I started to salivate when I landed on the recipe for Panfried Sole with Lemon-Caper Sauce.  My grocery store didn’t have any sole in stock, so I substituted tilapia (as recommended by author Maria Helm Sinskey).

Serves 4-6

1/2 cup all-purpose flour (I had attempted to make bread earlier in the day and had some leftover white flour/wheat flour blend, so as not to waste, that’s what I used)  

6 sole or tilapia fillets (I bought 3 large fillets)

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1 tablespoon minced shallot

1 heaping tablespoon drained capers

1/4 cup dry white wine (I realized halfway through cooking that our bottle of dry white wine had been polished off during the weekend, so I substituted chicken stock)

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

{I served this dish with avocado slices drizzled with lemon juice and seasoned with salt and pepper}

PUT the flour in a shallow bowl or pie pan.  Season a piece of fish on both sides with salt and pepper, and then coat on both sides with the flour, tapping off the excess.  Set aside on a plate and repeat with the remaining fish.

HEAT a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of the butter.  When the butter begins to brown, add the fish and cook, turning once, until golden brown on both sides and opaque throughout, 2-3 minutes on each side.  If the flour begins to burn, reduce the heat slightly.  Transfer to a platter and keep warm.

ADD 1 tablespoon of the butter to the pan over medium-high heat.  When it begins to brown, add the shallot and capers and saute until the shallot is lightly browned, 1-2 minutes.  Add the wine and the lemon zest and juice and bring to a boil, stirring to dislodge any browned bits from the bottom.  Boil until reduced by half, about 2 minutes.  Remove from the heat and whisk in the remaining 5 tablespoons butter.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Spoon the sauce over the fish and serve right away.

This dish was AMAZING.  It was so easy to make and totally delectable.  In fact, the reason there are no pictures (once again), is that we downed the whole thing in five minutes flat.

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When it comes to the sweet/salty debate, I fall wholly on the side of Sodium Chloride. So last week when I tried making the Turkey Saltimbocca from Family Meals (a gorgeous cookbook I got for Christmas from my wonderful godsister Jen), I knew I was going to like it.  With prosciutto as a main ingredient, what’s not to love?

Serves 4-6

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

6 turkey cutlets, about 1/4 pound each and no more than 1/2-inch thick

kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 pound thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into narrow strips

2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage

1/2 cup dry white wine

{I served the dish with easy-peasy roasted petite brussel sprouts}

PREHEAT the oven to 350 degrees. Put the flour in a shallow bowl. Season the cutlets on both sides with salt and pepper, and then coat both sides with the flour and tap off the excess.  Place on a plate.

HEAT a large ovenproof sauté pan over medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon of the butter. When it begins to brown, add the oil and then add the cutlets. Cook, turning once, until golden on both sides, 3-4 minutes on each side. Transfer the pan to the oven to finish cooking, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a warmed platter. (I did this step twice — only four cutlets fit in my pan at one time.)

PLACE the pan over medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon of the butter. When the butter begins to brown, add the prosciutto and chopped sage and sauté until the prosciutto is puckered and golden, about 2 minutes.  Add the wine, bring to a boil, stir, and boil for 1-2 minutes to reduce slightly. Swirl in the remaining 2 tablespoons butter off the heat and season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon the sauce over the cutlets and serve right away.

The verdict for this dish lies squarely in the reaction from our 5-year-old picky eater (who loves bacon, doesn’t eat chicken unless we call it turkey, and hasn’t eaten anything green except for pesto pasta since he was 12 months old): upon his first bite, he proclaimed “OH MOMMY!  This is SOOOO good!”

Made this non-chef smile ear-to-ear.

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All Talk, No Action

When my husband Dave and I started dating, it was pretty clear, pretty quickly that we were coming to the table with different philosophophies and working knowledge about money.  For starters, his family talked extensively about saving, investing and budgeting.  Mine?  Not so much.  Even our work pattern through college was evidence of our differences.  My husband spent every summer roasting in the sun running a bonafide – and lucrative – landscaping business, saving every penny and then using it to fund his beer on M Street from September through May.  I, on the other hand, slogged away as a retail maven during the summer and pizza shop girl during the school year, spending every penny as I went along.  Often, Dave would stop by Acropolis Pizza around 2 a.m. before heading to an after-party, knowing I still had an hour and a half to go before shutting down for the night. 

Who was smarter about their money?  I think it’s clear. 

All this to say that my husband has a long history with me and my ways when it comes to cash management.  In our 17 years of togetherhood, he’s heard some pretty grand statements about how we should spend or save money, not one based on data or reality. 

“Let’s just use cash for a month, I bet we’ll spend less!” (not so practical or safe)

 “Let’s just buy gas and groceries, nothing else!” (really? we’re a dual-income, 2 child-care family that has a ton of expenses)

“Let’s buy AMEX gift cards as a way to track our discretionary spending!” (huh?)

Finally, last year, we put a great system in place for spending.  Without going into the gory details, let’s just say that the system allows each of us to be in control of spending money without feeling guilty or going vastly over budget each month. 

But there was still a problem.

All my big talk followed me.

So now we had this beautiful system that gave us each control of some spending money, but I created budgets for myself that were, again, not based in reality (see above).   So last weekend, when I had a lot of alone time on my hands (Dave was away with our oldest skiing), I had a little talk with myself…a little cometojesus one might say.  I basically said, “Self, if you’re going to get serious about this whole Make More, Buy Less business, you need to craft yourself a serious, honest, trackable budget, pronto.”

And so I did.

I spent four freakin’ hours stumbling my way through Excel and developing a realistic budget for spending that takes realities into account like haircuts (for me and the boys, so none of us looks like a shaggy dog), the occassional mani (because well-kept hands make me feel pretty great and I just found an awesome local place), and quarterly clothing allowances.

And after three days, I’m doing really well.  Here’s hoping for the next 362.

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One of the things I find so challenging about cooking healthfully in the fall and winter is that my go-to veggies of tomatoes, cukes, peppers and lettuces (boring, I know) are mealy and out of season.  And the produce that is in season?  I just can’t get into it.  Kale looks like something you should use to make a shelter roof in the jungle, not cook up and eat.  

It turns out that I’m not the only one that is winter produce-challenged, so to help us sad souls, Cameron of Cottage Industrialist has designed a fabulous series of free, printable and completely awesome calendars that list the veggies-of-the-month with coordinating printable recipes using said veggies cooked up by Heather over at Home Ec 101.  How cool is that?

Check out Cameron’s calendars here and Heather’s recipes here.  Thanks, ladies!

Image credit: Cottage Industrialist

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It’s Week 1, Day 2, so let’s start with a bang, shall we?  Monday will probably be a good day for me to try new recipes, since it’s one of the days I’m home with my kiddos and not rushing home from work with two starving beasts.  I had ripped out this recipe from Real Simple long ago (March 2008, to be exact), but had never tried it.  So after a quick run to the grocery store, buying only the essentials (like shrimp, for example), I tried it last night.  It was delicious and ridiculously easy to prepare, with the exception of peeling and deveining 1 pound of shrimp — an activity I abhor.

So here it is, copied straight from my olive oil-stained page:

1/2 cup bread crumbs

2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary (I substituted 1 tablespoon of dried rosemary)

Kosher salt and pepper

5 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 clove garlic, chopped (I substituted 1 tablespoon of chopped garlic from a jar)

1 19-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (I used a 15-ounce can)

2 bunches of arugula, trimmed (my grocery store was out of arugula, so I substituted with a small head of red leaf lettuce, chopped in ribbons)

HEAT oven to 400 degrees F.

MIX the breadcrumbs, rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large bowl.  Add the shrimp and toss to coat. Transfer shrimp and any excess crumbs to a baking sheet.

Bake until the shrimp are cooked through and the bread crumbs are crispy, 10 to 12 minutes.

HEAT the remaining oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds.  Add the beans, 1/4 cup water, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.  Cook until heated through, about 2 minutes.  Remove from heat, add the arugula (or red leaf lettuce) and toss to combine.

DIVIDE the beans among individual plates and serve with the shrimp.  Sprinkle any bread crumbs from the pan over the top. (I served the beans/greens combination in one bowl and the shrimp from a platter…we do it family style in my house). 

The verdict? Easy, fast (20 minutes after 45 f-ing minutes dealing with the shrimp process) and delish.  Likely to become a staple in my very limited dinner repertoire.

{I promise to take pictures next time, but it was all gone before I remembered…}

Recipe credit: Real Simple, March 2008

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This is me (coming clean).

Every year, just as December comes to a close, the weight of the month’s gift-buying and grocery-shopping and last-minute-thing-before-the-party-starts-/family-arrives-/school-ends-acquiring begins to crush me.  My heart palpitates, I breathe faster, I can’t sleep, and I feel totally out of control.  What’s strange about this is that during the other eleven months of the year, I am a complete and total spendthrift.  Ok, maybe not a spendthrift (as I quickly check Wikipedia, I would not define myself as a person who is “extravagant and recklessly wasteful”), but I am an excellent shopper.  I am someone who not only enjoys the act, but is really, really good at it.  I find great deals.  I adorn myself and my husband and our children and our home with beautiful, high-quality goodies that have not cost us an arm and a leg.  But it’s this time each year that I start to feel it’s all too much.  Too much money, too much stuff, too much time.

I think the rest of my family has it right.  Thrifty, parsimonious, penny-pinching — whatever you call it, it runs like blood through my family’s veins. My father, a lifelong academic adminstrator, allowed himself a $10 a week allowance even after he became the headmaster of an independent school in Manhattan.  My mother, who returned to public health nursing after raising three kiddos, never even allowed us to get refills on our soft drinks (back in the days before they were free) during our thrice-yearly outings to the Ground Round (dinner out for birthdays only).  Even my youngest brother, as early as I can remember, socked away his hard-earned (or found) coins in a giant traffic meter bank until one day he had enough money to buy a complete drum set.  No joke.

But somewhere along the way, the art of living an economical life skipped a member of the Moses family (maybe that’s why I found my CPA husband Dave, who serves as my frugal proxy), and I became known as The Shopper in the family, swimming through the flood of teasing that has accompanied that title ever since working my first retail stint at Talbots in the late 80s.

But here’s the thing, although I’ve enjoyed my years of shopping…my expertise as it’s come to be…I think it’s keeping me from the things I’m really supposed to be doing.  I think, beyond the obvious benefits of cutting the shopping cord (saving more money being the primary one), I’m going to discover talents I didn’t even know I had (or that I think I might have, but don’t attend to properly).

So, before that bone-crushing weight I was describing earlier starts to lighten, here’s my plan.  In 2010, I pledge to shift my focus toward creation and away from consumption.  I have piles THISBIG of recipes, craft ideas and books ready to be attacked.  I have a re-found interest in running after training for a 4-mile race this past Thanksgiving.  I have always wanted to make-like-ProjectRunway and sew myself a little shift dress (and I even have the sewing machine at the ready).  I’m writing a memoir (no, not about my shopping self) and need to dedicate more time to finishing my pages. 

To help me with my little project, I’ve set some simple goals for myself that I will report on regularly:

Make More: Create a piece of art or craft at least once a month

Cook More: Try one new recipe a week

Sew More: Complete at least one garment for myself by the end of the year

Read More: Limit screen time (computer included) and read one book a month 

Write More: Spend at least three hours a week writing (and I don’t mean blogging)

Exercise More: Run a 10K by the end of the year

Try More: Learn to ski (yes, this lifelong New Englander has never stepped foot on a pair of skis)

And generally, Buy Less: Buy essentials online (the best way to limit in-store browsing is not to walk in); be creative with what’s already in the kitchen (“Cook More” should help this); think through EVERY purchase and be honest about whether it’s a want-to-buy or a need-to-buy; use time with my boys creatively and if possible, don’t schlep them on errands which always ends up with purchasing unnecessary things just to make the trip fast or pleasant.

(On a side note, some of these goals may seem less than ambitious, but between working as a higher ed administrator three days a week and being a full-time mom the remaining four, this is just about all I think I can handle.)

So this is me, coming clean, blogging along the way for everyone to see and to keep me honest.

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