Friday, March 30, 2012

Spring is Here!

The return of beautiful weather could not have come at a more opportune time. There comes a time every winter when I become so depressed by the endless clouds and limited indoor activities that I begin to despair that the sun will never shine again. Well, God has blessed us with a very early spring this year and the sun has been shining nearly every single day in March! Matthew and I have spent a lot of time outdoors on the isle, at the zoo, and on hikes at various spots around town. On Saint Patrick's Day, we were even able to spend the day at the beach. And I got a sunburn. In MARCH!

Actually, it was a pretty bad burn and very painful. But it was worth every ray of sunshine I soaked up.

We celebrated the first official day of spring with some free Italian ice from the neighborhood creamery and then headed over to the park. Matthew was obsessed with the park last fall and his love of the various slides, swings, and wobbly bridges has not waned. After about an hour of chasing him all over the play structures, Paul and I were exhausted and wanted to go home for dinner. We had to tear our screaming, crying child away from the swing set and forcefully wrestle him back into the car. We were quite the spectacle and the subject of many a critical stare. I think some of the park patrons may have suspected us of kidnapping.

The beautiful weather inspires thoughts of fresh local produce, grilled hamburgers, lunches enjoyed on a picnic blanket, and dinners served out on the patio. I think it is time to leave the mashed potatoes and meatloaf behind and start breaking out some more spring-worthy recipes.

In other words, much to Paul's chagrin, we are going to start eating a heck of a lot more salad.

This recipe is one of my favorite salad staples. During the week, I will normally whip up a batch of this dressing and then have the materials for salad on hand so I can easily throw them together for a quick lunch. Fresh, fast, healthy and fabulous. Instead of the apples, sometimes I will use pears (and throw in a couple pieces of cooked, crumbled bacon for Paul). This salad is also awesome topped with some crumbled Feta or Gorgonzola.

Apple Pecan Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette

For the Salad:
A few handfuls of mixed lettuce (I like spinach and butter lettuce)
One Pink Lady Apple, thinly sliced into bite-sized pieces
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
Handful of chopped pecans, toasted
Handful of craisins
For the Dressing:
2/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 large red onion, finely grated
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 cups canola oil

To make the dressing, place all ingredients except the oil in a blender to combine. Gradually stream in the oil. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Place all salad ingredients in a large bowl. Drizzle enough dressing over the salad to coat and toss gently. Enjoy out on the porch with a glass of Riesling!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Are you my Daddy?

It has been a long time since I've posted here! Things have been really busy - we traveled to Fort Wayne for the baptism of our new godson, began the process of buying a home, enjoyed having a dear friend from high school visit, spent a lot of time out in the glorious sunshine, and - perhaps most importantly of all - have been working very hard at ensuring that Matthew knows who his father is.

Matthew has always referred to me as "Mommy" or "Mother" without hesitation. However, he rarely referred to Paul as his "Daddy."

He actually called him nothing. Until one day...when suddenly Matthew started calling Paul by his first name.

When he got up in the morning he would say: "Hi Mommy!...Hi Paul!"

When Paul left for work in the morning, I would kiss him goodbye while Matthew waved wildly from his high chair: "Bye Paul!"

When Paul came home from work in the evening, Matthew ran to him, chanting: "Paul! Paul! Hi Paul!!"

Paul was crushed, even devastated. His own son did not seem to recognize his own father. Matthew has recently grown to love the "Little Critters" book series and his current favorite is the one titled Just Me and My Dad. Paul was convinced that Matthew was so attached to the book because he was secretly thinking: "I wish I had a Dad. Instead, I'm stuck with just a Paul."

After putting Matthew to bed one evening, Paul came down the stairs glaring at me: "This is all your fault! You have to start calling me Daddy all the time so that he gets the concept!"

Psh. No way. Paul's not my Daddy. And I definitely do not want to become one of those couples you see in the old movies that refer to one another as "Mother" and "Father." I told Paul that Matthew would figure it out eventually.

So, lately we have been very diligent about correcting Matthew whenever he fails to refer to Paul as "Daddy." He has proven to still be quite confused. On a recent trip to Fort Wayne, I asked Matthew, who was sitting in the kitchen devouring a bowl of cereal: "Where's Daddy?" He smiled, and immediately pointed to my brother Raymond.

How very, very wrong.

Obviously, this is still a work in progress.

The recipe I want to share today is a take on one of our favorite Chinese dishes. It is so easy and tasty to make at home - and uses mostly pantry staples, which is always a plus. While not the healthiest of dishes, I'm sure it is actually a bit better for you than most Chinese take-out. Paul and I add a tablespoon or two of Siracha to the sauce because we like the heat, but you can definitely eliminate it.

Spicy Sweet and Sour Chicken
adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

For the Chicken:
3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
1 cup cornstarch
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup canola oil

For the Sauce:
¾ cup sugar
4 tablespoons ketchup
½ cup vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1-2 tablespoons Siracha or other Asian hot sauce (optional)

For the chicken, cut boneless chicken breasts into chunks. Season with salt and pepper. Dip chicken in cornstarch and then in egg. Fry in a little oil until brown but not cooked through. Place in a single layer in a baking dish. Mix sauce ingredients together and pour over chicken.

Bake for one hour at 325 degrees. Turn chicken every 15 minutes so it is evenly coated with the sauce. Serve over rice.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Belgian Yeast Waffles

Paul insisted that I blog about these immediately. He officially declared them "The Best Waffles Ever" while stuffing his face with his 2nd or 3rd. At dinnertime, he was STILL talking about them. "How can you go back to regular waffles after having yeasted ones?" He seriously hasn't been this impressed by something in a long time. Then again, Paul does love waffles.

And he is absolutely right about these.

They are airy, light, and have an incredibly crisp exterior encompassing a wonderfully creamy interior. Not to mention this recipe is ridiculously simple ease and convenient to throw together. You simply mix the batter up the night before, let it hang out in the fridge overnight, and everything is pretty much ready for you to make a delicious special breakfast in the morning! We topped ours with strawberries, whipped cream, and maple syrup but they were almost good enough to eat on their own.

If you like an especially yeasty flavor (more on the sourdough side), definitely add the sugar! If you prefer a more mild yeast flavor, you may omit it. We personally loved the yeast flavor - but then again, we are big fans of sourdough bread.

Give these a try! They may become your new favorite waffles.

Yeasted Belgian Waffles
from King Arthur Flour

This recipe yields about 5-6 waffles depending on the your particular appliance. If you do not have a Belgian waffle maker, go ahead and use your regular waffle iron. I'm sure it will still be delicious!

1 1/2 cups lukewarm milk
6 tablespoons butter, melted
2-3 tablespoons maple syrup (optional)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine. The mixture might be lumpy - that's ok! Cover with plastic wrap and let it hang out on the counter for 1 hour. The mixture should begin to bubble.

After 1 hour, place in the refrigerator until the next morning.

Cook on your waffle iron according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Top with more maple syrup and bananas, strawberries, whipped cream, and/or chocolate syrup!