One Potato, Two Potato

Oh, hello, there! Nice to see you again. I know it’s been ages since I’ve posted, but I’ve certainly done plenty of holiday eating. I’ve been enjoying more than my fair share of delicious gourmet treats from around the world for the entire month of December, courtesy of some wonderful customers. Having the privilege to work for a company with generous clientele certainly has its perks, but weight loss isn’t one of them.

This is my first Christmas working full-time since having kids, so a lot of things have fallen by the wayside. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; sometimes when you no longer have all the time in the world, you really figure out what’s important and what’s not. Easy-yet-crowd-pleasing potato dishes are definitely a priority. Below are a couple of favorite potato recipes which usually leave our guests asking for seconds.

The first one is inspired from Ina’s original recipe here, but I have made a few significant modifications. I love you, Ina, but my way is better.

Sweet Potato Casserole

4 pounds sweet potatoes (about 6 large)
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoons kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.Scrub the potatoes, prick them several times with a knife or fork, and bake them for 60 to 90 minutes or until very soft when pierced with a knife. Remove from the oven and scoop out the insides as soon as they are cool enough to handle. Place the sweet potato meat into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and add the orange juice, cream, butter, brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt. Mix together until combined but not smooth and transfer to a baking dish.Bake the potatoes for 20 to 30 minutes, until heated through.sweetpotatoes

This second recipe was shared with me by my friend Julie, of Julie’s Sausage Strata fame. I have been making them for so many years now that I have claimed them as my own. Countless friends and relatives have requested this recipe, and I’ve been rather evasive up to this point. A girl can’t give away all of her secrets! But the day has finally come.

Over the years, these have been called To-Die-For Potatoes, Trashy Potatoes, and Heart Attack Potatoes, but I’ve finally settled on Dawn’s Holiday Potatoes. I hope you will heed my warning and only serve these two or three times a year, tops. One, to preserve their specialness, and two, to preserve your health.

Julie’s Holiday Potatoes, courtesy of Susan Moore

32 oz. frozen hash brown potatoes (or potatoes O’Brian if you want to get a little jazzy)

1 stick of butter

1 cup chopped onion

1 can of cream of chicken soup. Vegetarians can use cream of celery. Vegans are out of luck.

1 pint of sour cream, and none of that low-fat nonsense

1 t. salt

1/4 t. pepper

2 cups of Corn Flakes cereal

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place frozen potatoes in 13 x 9 glass pan. In a large pan on medium heat, combine all other ingredients except corn flakes until melted, and pour heated ingredients over potatoes. Top with corn flakes and slivers of butter. Bake for 60 minutes uncovered. Prepare to be a hero.

Now Everything is Easy, ‘Cause of You

Victorious

…to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part…

Marriage vows are said for a reason. Early on, perhaps too early on for my liking, we learned that it’s very easy to be married when you’re healthy and wealthy, but that pesky “poor and sickness” part of the vow really puts things to the test. Our twenty year marriage has been incredibly blessed, despite facing various vow-invoked challenges.

When we first moved to this house, early in 1994, I did not like that we had the corner lot. Even though our property is a hair over one acre, I felt exposed to the road and longed for more privacy. That spring, we went to the nursery and bought ten evergreen trees, Canaan firs. They were about six foot each at the time, manageable enough for Ed to plant by himself, but still an awful lot of work. Once the trees were in, they created a six foot tall natural fence, and it felt like a great improvement. I was satisfied, but I still wanted more.

I would often look at the trees and wish they were taller. Twenty feet would be perfect, or thirty feet would be even better. But wait, I thought. When the trees are that tall, we will be much older than today. Taller trees = more privacy but less years together left on earth. Just one more example of me wanting to have my cake and eat it, too.

Today the trees are very tall.

trees

And like the trees planted in 1994, we are mostly strong and hearty. Remnants of twelve hurricanes and tropical storms — some mighty, some just a nuisance — have blown past those trees, and most of them are still standing. Not all, mind you, since life is never perfect. A couple died, and a couple are looking a little rough these days. Separately, they are not much to look at. But standing together, they create a beautiful, full green fence that blocks much of the road year-round. Together they are a force to be reckoned with.

Almost twenty years and many more pounds ago, I walked down the aisle of Paoli Presbyterian Church and took my wedding vows. I still remember that one of my college friends, the kind of person who was skilled at passive-aggressive compliments, told me I looked “victorious.” Not beautiful, not glowing, not joyous, but victorious. Well, if victorious means I won something, then guilty as charged, sister. Yes, indeedy, you bet I won. I hit the jackpot and I’m smart enough to remember that every single day.

Every birthday, every anniversary, every make-a-wish type occasion, I only ever hope for one thing: more years together. As long as I have that, I will have everything I need.

Our House by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

Cauliflower Crust Pizza

I have been wanting to try my hand at cauliflower crust pizza for a long time. The idea of pizza without excessive carbs seemed almost too good to be true, the elusive holy grail of pizza. I’m here to confirm it really is worth all the fuss. And a fuss it is! Now that I’m a working mom, this almost seemed like too much work when I can just have Ed pick up a pizza on the way home. But I couldn’t get this pizza out of my mind for months. I had to try it, and I’m so glad that I did. If you’re going Paleo or on a gluten-free diet (and even if like me, you’re not), this completely satisfies the craving.

A few notes:

My goal was to create a crust that is so good I would want to eat it alone, and I think I accomplished that. This is the recipe I used for inspiration by Michelle of The Lucky Penny. She has excellent instructions and pictures, so definitely check it out. I personally feel like there is nothing as good as fresh garlic, so I knew I wanted to incorporate that into my version.

If you use a large head of cauliflower, you can make two pizza crusts. Do not overstuff your food processor. Don’t ask me how I know this! Three-quarters of the way full is just right, so go for a small head of cauliflower if you’re just looking for one crust.

Reviews: Ed and I loved this. Our seventeen year old loved this, too. Our twelve year old hated it. And our ten year old ate half of one slice and then made himself a Nutella sandwich.

Dawn’s Cauliflower Crust Pizza

1 small head cauliflower
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon iodized salt
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 cup grated fresh Parmesan
1/4 cup grated mozzarella
1 egg, beaten

Heat oven with pizza stone on top rack to 450 degrees.

Add cauliflower florets, peeled garlic clove, and parsley to food processor. Pulse until finely grated and resembles a snowy texture. Place cauliflower in microwave safe dish, cover and cook on high for 4 minutes. Allow to cool, then place cauliflower in clean dish towel and wring out excess water over sink. You will expel a lot of water. This step is important.

In a medium bowl, beat together egg, salt, oregano and cheese. Add cooled cauliflower and mix well with hands. On a piece of parchment paper sprayed with oil, form mixture into shape of crust. Remove pizza stone from oven, carefully place parchment paper with crust atop the stone, and return to oven. Cook about ten minutes, until edges start to brown. Remove from oven, add your favorite toppings, and cook another 6 to 8 minutes until cheese is melted. Cool slightly, cut, and enjoy!

cauliflower1

doughball

Once the cauliflower is cooked and wrung out, you should be able to easily form it into a doughlike ball.

crust3

DO NOT SKIP THE PARCHMENT PAPER! It allows one to easily move the rolled out dough onto the hot pizza stone in a nonstick manner. And on that note, DO NOT SKIP THE PIZZA STONE! Super high heat helps produce a very crustlike result.

pizza4

Onion and Ale Soup with Blue Cheese Croutons

Hooray for soup season! Add soup to the growing list of things I’m appreciating more as I march through my forties. It’s right up there with slippers, Lawrence Welk reruns, cardigans, and butterscotch candies. I’m sure Bingo is just around the corner for me.

As soon as I saw this come across my Facebook feed, I knew it was a winner. Onions + Beer + Cheese + Croutons? Sign me up! All I needed was a day off from work and a little cool weather, and I was ready to pounce. This recipe is almost too easy. While the onions are a tad time consuming since you cook the hell out of them, the rest of it almost feels like cheating. But I am not complaining! This soup has a surprisingly sweet and layered complexity of a recipe that requires much more effort. Definitely a fun twist on traditional French onion soup.

Soup1

Fine Cooking’s Onion and Ale Soup with Blue Cheese Croutons
by Maryellen Driscoll, original recipe here

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1-1/2 lb. yellow onions (about 3 medium), halved through the root and thinly sliced lengthwise
Kosher salt
1/2 cup pale ale, such as Saranac or Sierra Nevada
2-1/2 cups lower-salt chicken broth
1-1/2 cups lower-salt beef broth
7 oz. sourdough bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (5 cups)
4-1/2 oz. blue cheese, crumbled (about 1 cup)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs. thinly sliced fresh chives

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 425°F.

Heat 2 Tbs. of the olive oil in a 5-quart Dutch oven or other heavy-duty pot over medium-high heat until shimmering hot. Add the onions and reduce the heat to medium. Cook without stirring until the bottom of the pot begins to brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Sprinkle with 1/4 tsp. salt and stir with a wooden spatula. Continue to cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot frequently and adjusting the heat as necessary, until the onions are well browned, 20 to 30 minutes.

Add the ale and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat slightly and cook at a vigorous simmer until all but a thin layer of the ale has evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add the chicken and beef broths and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.

Meanwhile, on a rimmed baking sheet, toss the bread cubes with the remaining 2 Tbs. olive oil. Spread the bread in a single layer and bake until golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the oven, push the bread cubes closely together, and sprinkle with the cheese. Bake until the cheese has melted, about 3 minutes. Let cool slightly.

Season the soup with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with the croutons and a sprinkling of the chives.

Onion and Ale Soup

Just Last Week

Just last week I pulled into my driveway with a brand new baby. I took a deep breath and brought him inside our house, remembering the words of the nurse who discharged me. When worried I couldn’t handle the job without professional help, I implored her to come home with us. She smiled and told me, “Just love him. You’ll figure out the rest, I promise.”

Just last week I dropped a three year old off at St. Andrew’s preschool for two and a half hours. He was very brave and excited to be there, and I held my tears until I got to the parking lot. Then I went to Target and shopped child-free for the first time in three years. At pick up time, we both were very happy and proud of ourselves.

Just last week I dropped off my Kindergartener to school, and then spent the rest of the day baking cookies and waiting for him to emerge from the big yellow school bus. He emerged, and we ate cookies.

Just last week I sent my twelve year old to Washington, DC for a week long leadership program where he arrived knowing no one and returned with new friends from all over the country.

Just last week I gave my sixteen year old car keys for the first time and then proceeded to practice the breathing exercises I learned in yoga so many years ago. He came home, but I still continue to do those breathing exercises.

Just last week we started to receive college mailings and tour universities, but it still seemed like something very far into the future.

This week everything feels different.

As we’re counting down to the beginning of senior year, I am still pulling up to the same driveway I did seventeen-plus years ago. But there are no more car seats, diaper bags, Little Bear, and favorite stuffed bunny. There are no more babysitters, camps, play dates, comic books, Legos. I am keenly aware that this time next year, God willing, we will be packing up for college. It is simply an impossible thing for me to imagine without tears springing from my eyes.

I expected next summer to be difficult, but I was not prepared for everything I would be feeling this summer. I know I am a gifted worrier, but isn’t this a bit premature?

Just last week, when they gave me this baby to take home, no one warned me about how fast eighteen years would go by. They never told me part of the job requirement is to set him free into the wild one day, and that day comes faster than you’d ever expect. But I continue to love him, and hopefully I will figure out how to handle all the rest.

Nutella Pie

nightsinRodanthe

Greetings from the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where we are enjoying a lovely week at the beach. This is the first time any of us have been to North Carolina, and we are very impressed with the beautiful beaches and warm, friendly southern hospitality. We’re vacationing with long-time friends who also have three kids, and our meals and cocktail hours together have so far been delightful.

Last night we enjoyed some fresh caught red snapper from the fish market next door. It was originally supposed to be taco and margarita night, but the state of NC had other plans for us. Apparently no hard liquor can be purchased on a Sunday in this state, much to the dismay of my heathen heart, so margarita night is rescheduled for Monday.

My work friend gave me this quick and easy recipe that immediately appealed to my trashy side. It seemed like the perfect dessert to prepare for a beach vacation or any other need-a-quick-crowd-pleaser-dessert type occasion. I know I probably write like I think I’m too good for Cool Whip, but I’m really not. Well, okay, maybe just a little. Anyway, this dessert could not have been any easier or more of a hit. Minimal effort and maximum praise makes it a big winner in my book.

I followed the directions exactly, and it turned out very well. Since I’m not at home and have limited supplies, I didn’t have the time or inclination to tweak it. However, in a perfect world, I would probably make my own graham cracker crust and top it with real whipped cream.

The original recipe appeared on allrecipes.com by cook Christina right here.

Nutella Pie

Ingredients:
1 jar Nutella, 13 ounces
Philadelphia cream cheese, 8 ounces softened
1 nine inch prepared graham cracker pie crust
Cool Whip, 8 ounces, thawed

Directions:
Spread 1/4 cup of the Nutella on the bottom of the pie crust. Whisk together softened cream cheese and remainder of Nutella. Fold in Cool Whip. Pour into the pie crust and spread evenly. Refrigerate at least four hours or overnight.

coolwhip

Just four ingredients, CAN YOU STAND IT?

nutellapie

Dawn’s Quick Summer Eggplant Salad

A couple of summers ago I went to a nutritional counselor, and she pretty much told me everything I already knew. I don’t want to say it was a complete waste of money, because I did get one or two significant things out of our sessions. For one, I was inspired to start this blog, something which has brought me great joy and satisfaction, and that alone was worth the price of admission. The other thing I took away is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, and that is the notion of “primary food.”

Primary food is the stuff that feeds your soul, but you can’t eat it. And when you don’t have it, you sometimes search for it through consuming actual food. No pepperoni pizza or hot fudge sundae in the world will ever be more than a fleeting substitute for real primary food. Unfortunately, I can not provide you a recipe for primary food; it is something which must be concocted individually. I am making great strides myself, but it’s still not always an easy thing to figure out. In the meantime, we still have to eat actual food, so I will continue to post recipes I’ve been enjoying.

Eggplant is one of those vegetables which I love eating but don’t always enjoy preparing. When I saw Mark Bittman’s recipe today for eggplant salad with mustard-miso dressing, I was excited to learn boiling the eggplant is an acceptable alternative to grilling or roasting. The downside to boiling is that it resembles slimy jellyfish. I would definitely grill or roast the eggplant next time, but I wanted to include the directions for boiling, which is a quick, easy, and less hot-in-the-summertime-kitchen alternative. I added edamame for a source of protein, but I think chicken or shrimp would work just as well.

Dawn’s Quick Summer Eggplant Salad
Serves 2 to 3

Ingredients
1 medium to large eggplant, ends trimmed and cubed
kosher salt
1/2 red onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin (preferably toasted from seed and freshly ground, but let’s be realistic)
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
kalamata olives, halved
edamame, cooked and shelled

Directions:
Add cubed eggplant to a large pot of salted boiling water for about five minutes or until tender. Drain and cool.

In a small bowl, whisk together, onion, cumin, red wine vinegar, sugar, cayenne and olive oil. Toss with cooled eggplant. Gently stir in olives, edamame, and tomatoes. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

eggplant salad

Finding Nemo a Car

Having a new driver is probably one of the hardest parenting challenges I’ve had to face. I’m sure I don’t need to spell out why; my readers are pretty smart cookies. Even though I have a responsible, logical, fairly cautious child with good reflexes courtesy of Crazy Taxi and Grand Theft Auto, I still worry.

When I was a new mom back in 1996, I was a world class worrier. Part genetics, part circumstance, I could not help myself. MOMS Club meetings? Please. Why would I willingly bring my kid to a Lord of the Flies Germfest! Old school playgrounds? Hello, are you nuts?  Metal bars + gravity = permanent brain damage. McDonald’s Playlands with fecal encrusted ball pits? Right, thanks, I’ll take fries with that. I was never exactly a helicopter mom; we often didn’t make it to the airport.

By the time 2001 rolled around and I was pregnant with my second son, I had finally mellowed. I was a bit unrecognizable to my former self and would often wonder things like, “How did we ever have any friends?” How I got from Crazy Neurotic Nut to Something Resembling Normal is a long tale for perhaps another day, but let’s just say I got there.

In 2003, Disney Pixar’s Finding Nemo came out. As a hater of 99% of all children’s movies, I was surprised and delighted by how much I loved this movie. It should be required viewing for all parents. If you never saw it, I hope you will. If I had seen it sooner, I might have enjoyed my first early years of motherhood a lot more. This movie is therapy and entertainment rolled into one.

I’m not great a plot summaries, but the gist of the movie is an overprotective fish father (Marlin) goes on an adventure to find his lost fish son (Nemo) and meets a cast of interesting characters along the way. He enlists the help of fish Dory, who is footloose and fancy-free. And, of course, they live happily ever after. But the following exchange sums up everything I need to remember about parenting:

Marlin: I promised I’d never let anything happen to him.

Dory: That’s a funny thing to promise.

Marlin: What?

Dory: Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.

So here I am, in 2013, finally drawing upon my stored up wisdom from Finding Nemo. The ocean is a terrifying place full of peril and danger, but that’s life. As my friend Heidi said, what’s the alternative? Chain him to the bed? All we can do is dive in, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming, and try to enjoy the adventure. Safe travels, my little fish.

Farmers’ Market Pasta with Leeks, Spinach and Summer Squash

Recently Cook’s Country magazine arrived in the mail for the first time, and I think it has potential to be a good one. As a subscriber of the now defunct Cook’s Illustrated Entertaining editions, I am assuming this magazine was sent in its place. Slowly but surely, life is starting to feel normal again. Well, normalish. Normalish enough that I actually opened up the magazine and looked at some recipes instead of filing it away unread. Any progress is good progress, right?

Of course I went to the quick and easy recipes first. I try to do a lot of my cooking and food prep in the morning before work, because I’m not usually home until 7:00 pm — and by then, I’m in no shape to tie my shoes let alone work with fire. A recipe like this is right up my alley: fresh, flavorful, one pot, and with some added protein, it’s a complete meal. It looked way too beige for my liking, so I added some cherry tomatoes. Since I also added a bit of arugula, I skipped the basil in the original recipe, but that might be preferable if you are just using spinach. This is both good served warm and at room temperature, and a nice change from the normal pasta salads we see this time of year.

Farmers’ Market Pasta with Leeks, Spinach and Summer Squash
inspired by Cook’s Country June/July 2013

1 pound penne or similar pasta
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced thin, & washed thoroughly
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 yellow summer squash (about 8 oz each), halved lengthwise and sliced 1/4 inch thick
6 oz (6 cups) baby spinach, chopped coarse
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
2 ounces good Parmesan grated (1 cup), plus extra for serving
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Optional: 2 cups grilled chicken, salmon or shrimp
Optional but recommended: a handful of arugula

1. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in Dutch oven. Add penne and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, until al dente. Reserve 3/4 cup cooking water, then drain penne.

2. Heat oil in now empty pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add leeks and 1 teaspoon salt and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add squash and 1/4 cup reserved cooking water and cook, covered, until squash is tender, about 4 minutes. Stir in penne, spinach, Parmesan, tomatoes, remaining 1/2 cup reserved cooking water, and butter until combined. Add cooked chicken, salmon or shrimp, if using. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, passing extra Parmesan separately.

farmers'marketpasta

Spicy Cabbage with Pancetta and Shrimp

For the first time in what feels like many weeks, I was inspired to cook, and I have my original blogging inspiration to thank. Luisa from The Wednesday Chef posted this recipe, and it immediately grabbed me. It’s been a long while since I had that I-must-try-this-tonight feeling, and it’s good to have it return. I missed you, apron.

Transitions are always hard for me, and even though I’m very blessed to have a great work environment and lots of support on the homefront, I still struggle mightily with change. Eventually I get my bearings and wind up exactly where I belong, but it’s not always an easy journey.

I celebrated my 45th birthday yesterday. I have loved my forties so far and agree with everyone who told me it’s a great decade: lots of wisdom, and no time for nonsense. My only complaint is that the past five years really zoomed by, and at this rate I will be fifty before I know it. Not that that’s so terrible (as they say, better than the alternative), but I am always amazed at how each year goes by quicker than the last once you hit a certain age. Both at my very first job and my current job, I see a lot of fabulous, vibrant people in their seventies and eighties, so I know the party isn’t necessarily over just quite yet.

I was off the last two days and managed to pack in a lot of fun. Caught up on my Real Housewives of Beverly Hills while folding loads of laundry, just like the good old days. Had two long lunches with two different friends. Browsed Target, my former home away from home, at a leisurely pace. And, finally, blogged.

This is a very forgiving recipe which lends itself easily to variations. Sambal Oelek is this stuff, and it’s stocked in all my grocery stores (even the super white bready ones). I used pancetta, but you can omit it or use bacon. I used shrimp, but you can omit it or add another meat, chicken or shellfish. Luisa’s version is slightly different but I am sure equally easy and delicious. Serve with a hearty bread and call it a meal.

Spicy Cabbage with Pancetta and Shrimp

Serves 4

1 head green cabbage, sliced in strips
1 onion, chopped
4 Tablespoons peanut or canola oil
4 oz. pancetta, diced
1 large can crushed tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon Sambal Oelek or more to taste
10 to 15 large cooked shrimp

In a large Dutch oven, heat oil over medium high heat and add chopped onion. Once softened, add pancetta and cook until brown. Add cabbage and cook for ten minutes, stirring often. Add tomatoes, salt, and sambal oelek. Cover and lower heat for about ten minutes. Add cooked shrimp or other meat and serve.

cabbage

spatially challenged

The above picture is for my long-suffering Ed, who has dealt with my spatial challenges for over twenty years. Clearly he wasn’t home for me to ask, “Will this all fit in that bowl?” Note: Nine times out of ten, the answer is usually no.

spicy cabbage