Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Happy Birthday, Matthew!

Earlier this month, our sweet little Matthew turned three years old! I can hardly believe how he has grown from the tiny, wailing baby I used to walk up and down the hallway all night long to the happy, playful, loving little boy he is today. He has brought Paul and I more joy than we could ever have imagined and continues to make us smile and laugh ever single day. I thank God every day for the gift of motherhood and I would not trade a single moment that I have had the privilege of spending with my Matthew for anything in the world. Currently, his favorite activities include coloring, painting, reading Thomas the Tank Engine themed books with Mommy, making kettle corn with Daddy, and snuggling under a fleece blanket while the whole family watches a Disney movie together.

I reviewed the photos from his previous two birthday celebrations and it simultaneously saddens and delights me to see how he has grown over the past couple years.

From our plump little baby who was scared of the frosting on his birthday cupcakes...

To a toddler just beginning to express his love of everything chocolate...

To our newly-turned three-year-old boy, celebrating his birthday with pizza, cake, and three of his closest friends...

We love you, dear Mr. Matthew and are very proud to be your parents. As the years go by and you continue to grow up, our hope is that you will forever stay sweet, vivacious, and curious. And remember, no matter what, you will always be my baby boy and I will never stop being your mommy!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Savory Cornmeal Waffles with Tomatoes and Poached Egg

Sweet waffles are a pretty ubiquitous breakfast staple. Walk into any breakfast joint and the menu is sure to feature some Belgium waffle monstrosity drenched in sweetened fruit syrup and mounded with whipped cream. Delicious, yes...but how 'bout a savory waffle for a change of pace.

Behold one of my favorite breakfast recipes. I am a huge fan of any baked good made with cornmeal so the idea of a savory cornmeal waffle topped with some fresh vegetables and a poached egg sounded like heaven to me. I originally first made this recipe during a Friday in Lent and we enjoyed it so much that we ended up making it multiple times during that same month. Paul normally enjoys his waffle topped with some shredded Pepperjack cheese in addition to the tomato mixture, but I think it is completely delicious without it - just so long as you have a good, runny egg yolk to function as the perfect "sauce."  You could also skip making your own tomato topping and simply use some store-bought salsa...it's pretty fantastic that way!  These waffles are also awesome when topped with some fried chicken breast and sawmill gravy, if you are in to the whole chicken and waffles thing!

Either way, for a truly different twist on waffles for breakfast, give this recipe a whirl!

Savory Cornmeal Waffles with Fresh Tomatoes and Poached Egg
Waffle Recipe adapted from Joy the Baker

For the topping:
1 large ripe beefsteak tomato, small dice
2 tablespoons minced red onion
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
A small squirt of olive oil
A small splash of lemon juice
Salt and Pepper to taste
Poached Eggs

For the tomato topping, combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Season well with salt and pepper.

For the eggs, bring a small skillet filled to a 2-inch depth of water to a gentle simmer.  Poach eggs in water for 3-5 minutes depending on how set you like your yolks. Season with salt and pepper.

For the waffles:
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/3 cup melted unsalted butter
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cup buttermilk

Whisk together the flour through pepper in a medium bowl. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and then pour in the wet ingredients. Gently fold everything together until no dry spots remain. Follow the manufacturer's instructions on your Belgium or regular waffle maker. Keep warm in a 200 degree oven until the eggs are ready (if you are making multiple batches). Top with poached eggs, tomato mixture, and a few dashes of Frank's hot sauce (why not?) and enjoy!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

TWD: French Apple Tart

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie featured a recipe that I had very much been looking forward to making.  A dessert tart, especially an apple flavored one, seems like such a classic staple French dessert and so very Julia Child-esque that I could not think of a more appropriate recipe to make in honor of the late culinary legend.  Paul was especially excited for this particular recipe because apple pie is one of his favorite indulgences and he was literally hovering over me as I worked away, eating pieces of raw dough and slices of apple. I may or may not have banished him from the kitchen by threatening that he would not get to sample a single slice if he did not leave me alone.

Although this recipe consisted of multiple components - the tart dough, the apple filling, and the apple topping - none of it was very difficult to throw together individually and the recipe could definitely be spread out over a 2-3 day period in order to simplify things. The filling tasted heavenly on its own and the unbaked tart looked so pretty that I had to snap a few shots of it before placing it in the oven for the final bake.

I did not quite achieve the blackened edges of apple that Dorie spoke so highly of on the final tart, but I still think this was one of the pretties desserts I have ever made. The taste was even better. Beautifully simple, this is the type of homey dessert that just about everyone will enjoy. I liked it with a bit of ice cream on the side, but Paul preferred to inhale half the tart unadorned while standing at the kitchen counter with a fork. He was very cross when I took the uneaten half of the tart away from his sticky fingers, wrapped it tightly in saran wrap, and firmly instructed him to share with his friends at work. Paul later claimed that he set the tart down in the break room at 7:30 a.m and by the time he returned for a cup of coffee at 8:05 a.m. the entire thing was gone. The tart was enjoyed by all!

I had these two little spies watching me the entire time I was trying to photograph this dessert. I think the cat even wanted a piece...

This will definitely be a dessert I make again - so elegant, pretty, and relatively simple. If you would like to give this recipe a go, our host Gaye has the recipe up on her blog.

Friday, January 18, 2013

To My Best Friend...

Today marks the 27th birthday of my favorite person, best friend, and love-of-my life. Although he has not been looking forward to today (rather, he has been dreading it like a Novocaine-free tooth extraction), I feel that it is important to celebrate grandly because he deserves a day dedicated to acknowledging what a wonderful person he really is.  Normally I love to tease and give Paul a hard time, but today I will only gush, giving you a glimpse of how much I truly adore and love this guy.

In honor of his birthday, I would like to share 10 favorite memories (so far) of my life with Paul...

1)  I first met Paul in the 3rd grade at vacation bible school in Helena, Montana. Our families attended the same parish and we eventually even went to school together one year. My Dad then got a new job and we packed up and moved across the country immediately after the conclusion of our 6th grade year. When we were reunited after a seven year separation during our Freshman year at Notre Dame, I ran up to him and began chatting endlessly about memories from Montana. He only stared at me with obvious boredom, waited for me to finish, and then asked: "And who are you, exactly?"

2)  While praying together at the grotto at Notre Dame six months before we officially became a couple, Paul and I both suddenly felt that we would marry one another someday. This was especially disconcerting to me because I really was not too fond of him at the time (I was still upset and embarrassed about memory #1).

3)  I will never forget the cold night while strolling back from a hockey game when Paul stopped to tell the sidewalk how much he loved it. It took me a second to realize that he was talking to me and shyly telling me he loved me for the first time. For the record, I said it back...and we haven't stopped saying it to one another every single day since.

4)  While attending our Sophomore formal together, Paul's twin made a joke just as I was sticking a rather large piece of pineapple into my mouth. I laughed a little too violently and suddenly inhaled the entire pineapple, causing it to become firmly implanted in my windpipe. I could not breathe (or make a sound, for that matter) and began to panic. Paul saw that I was choking, ran over, and swiftly administered the heimlich maneuver. It did the trick and the pineapple piece went flying across the room in front of the 30 people who had gathered around to watch the whole fiasco. I have been calling Paul "my hero" ever since.

5)  One chilly November night during our Junior year, while taking our ritual stroll around St. Mary's Lake, Paul got down on one knee and proposed in full view of the Golden Dome and the Basilica steeple.  He surprised me so much that I forgot to say "yes!"

6)  Standing up on the altar nine months later in front of family and friends and staring excitedly into Paul's eyes as we joyfully became husband and wife will forever be the greatest and most important moment of my life.

7)  For Paul's 23rd birthday, he requested a decadent, four-layer monstrosity of a Black Forest Cake and I was more than happy to make it for him! I was thrilled with how beautifully the cake layers baked up, how wonderful the kirsch-kissed filling smelled, and how silkily decadent the frosting tasted.  As I was putting some finishing touches on the decorated cake, spinning the cake stand so I could achieve a smooth look on the sides with my spatula, disaster struck. I must have been working way too close to the edge of the countertop because I spun the cake stand right off. It fell upside-down on the floor, sending cake and frosting splattering everywhere. I collapsed on the kitchen floor next to it and began to bawl while pathetically trying to pick the cake up off the floor. It only imploded further, leaving my hands covered in a goopy mess. Paul had heard the crash from his office and came running into the room where he found me (and our kitchen) covered in cake and frosting. "I ruined your cake! I wanted to make it special and I ruined it!" I bawled. Paul grabbed two forks from the utensil drawer, knelt down next to me, wiped my tears, and handed me a fork. "Dig in!" he proclaimed. And we sat there eating the cake off the floor (at least the parts that were not actually touching the floor) while laughing at the whole situation.

8)  After suffering through a devastating miscarriage, Paul and I were nervous and apprehensive when we learned that we were pregnant once again.  When we headed into our first sonogram, we were extremely scared and nearly shaking with worry. You see, it was during our very first sonogram that we learned that our first conceived child was without a heartbeat.  However, this second baby (our future little Matthew) did have heartbeat. And it was strong. We both burst into tears of joy at the sight! It was a beautiful moment.

9)  I will never forget the moment, at the very end of a pretty dramatic labor, when Paul kissed my forehead while joyously proclaiming: "HE'S HERE! HE'S HERE!" The doctor then handed us our son and we both  were in such awe of how beautiful he was. The amount of love we both felt at that moment, for one another and our little newborn baby, is indescribable.

10)  Paul received a promotion while at work this past year and, while he had always been planning our escape from the Midwest, this new development convinced him that perhaps we should realistically acknowledge that the time had come to buy a home.  Within a day, we found a home up for sale while on a family stroll. We immediately met with the owners and drafted an offer. We met with them in person to discuss the offer, and they immediately accepted even though three other people had also submitted offers. Paul and I were so excited when we left that meeting that we skipped (no kidding) all the way home, holding hands and swinging our arms. We must have looked so dorky, but we didn't care! We were going to buy a home!

I love this man more than words can express and I know that we will share many, many more memories together as we continue on this journey through life together.

To my love, my husband, the father of my children...Happy Birthday! I love you!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Zuppa Toscana

With all this chilly weather we have been having, there can never be too many bowls filled to the brim with warm, comforting soup.  At least that's my excuse for sharing yet another delicious soup recipe.  And another restaurant favorite.

Everyone and their mother has probably dined at that certain ubiquitous Italian chain restaurant famous for their unlimited soup, salad, and bread sticks lunch.  To most people, the menu at this particular chain features some fairly mediocre Italian food (well, everyone except Marilyn Haggerty) - nothing horrible, but certainly nothing too impressive or spectacular.

However, there is one soup that I love eating whenever I happen to dine there: the Zuppa Toscana.  My Mom and I like to fill up on soup and salad when we go out together for lunch, and though the restaurant offers 4-5 other varieties of soup, I find myself ordering bowl after bowl of this awesome sausage and potato soup.  It is so simple, yet so satisfying and warming.  There are a ton of copycat recipes available on the internet for this soup (apparently I am not the only one who things it is awesome!) but this is the version I like best.  The original recipe calls for the addition of bacon, but I find it unnecessary because the bacon flavor really gets overwhelmed by the sausage.  Plus, I really do not see the need to incorporate two types of fatty pork into one dish.

This recipe makes a lot of soup!  Which really is great because you will go back for bowl after bowl!

Zuppa Toscana
Inspired by Olive Garden

1 pound hot Italian sausage, casings removed
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 large onion, diced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
5 (13.75 ounce) cans chicken broth
3-4 medium potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup half-and-half or cream
1/4 bunch kale, coarsley chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste

Cook the Italian sausage, red pepper flakes, and a couple tablespoons of water in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until crumbly, browned, and no longer pink, about 10-15 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Add the onions and garlic the the same Dutch oven and cook until onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.  Pour the chicken broth into the Dutch oven with the onion mixture, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add the potatoes, and continue to simmer/boil until fork tender, about 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and stir in the half-n-half or cream and the cooked sausage; heat through. Adjust seasonings to taste.  Mix the kale into the soup just before serving.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Have you ever eaten something at a restaurant that was so delicious and satisfying that you wished you could have the recipe so you could make it at home?  This has happened to Paul and I several times.  From a coconut layer cake at a simple family-owned restaurant in Indiana to a jasmine tea-wrapped pork tenderloin from a tapas bar in Pennsylvania, we have been served some amazing dishes that have tickled our taste buds and left us longing for more.  Most people probably briefly mourn the fact that they will not be able to replicate these flavors at home, but then get over it and go on with their lives.

Not me.  If a particular dish really strikes me, I have never hesitated to ask the chef of the restaurant for the recipe.  Surprisingly, I have rarely been shot down.  The first time I requested a recipe, the chef copied down my email address on the back of an order ticket and stuck it in his back pocket before heading back into the kitchen.  I assumed that I would never hear from him again.  However, the next morning he emailed the recipe in its entirety.  Most of the time, they are simply flattered that I enjoyed the dish so much that they are more than happy to share.

That is exactly how I obtained this soup recipe.  I tried it while out to dinner at one of our favorite local restaurants and the chef happily passed the recipe along to me!  Now, I know there are probably a million different recipes out there for chicken tortilla soup, but this one is truly fantastic.  Fresh vegetables are simmered with mexican herbs before being pureed with some Pepperjack cheese to a smooth consistency.  Roasted, shredded chicken is then added and the entire mixture is gently reheated before being spooned into bowls and topped with sour cream, green onions, avocado, salsa, cheese, and more tortilla chips (or nothing at all as it is delicious on its own!).  This is a fantastic, full-bodied soup that I could eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and I usually spend a week doing just that if I make the full batch since it feeds an army!).  Perfect for a chilly evening!

Chicken Tortilla Soup
from my Chef Buddy

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups diced yellow onions
1 1/2 cups chopped, peeled carrots
1 1/2 cups chopped celery
1 1/2 cups chopped red bell pepper
1/4 cup chopped garlic
6 cups rough chopped fresh tomatoes (do NOT substitute canned)
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 Tablespoon salt
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
10 cups chicken stock
2 cups crushed tortilla chips
1 1/2 cups shredded Pepper Jack Cheese
2 cups roasted, shredded chicken

Heat vegetable oil in dutch oven over medium high heat and add vegetables.  Saute until tender, stirring frequently.

Add the tomatoes, seasonings and chicken stock.  Bring to a simmer and let cook down for at least 20 minutes on medium heat.  I like to let it simmer for about 1 hour to develop flavor.

Add the broken tortilla pieces and simmer for 10 more minutes, stirring frequently.

Remove the pot from the heat and blend the soup in batches until mixture is smooth, adding a handful of cheese to each batch and before pureeing until smooth.  Return the soup to the pot and gently fold in the roasted chicken.  Gently reheat the entire mixture over medium-low heat.

Spoon into bowls and finish with your favorite toppings!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

TWD: Pizza with Onion Confit, Pear, and Gorgonzola

I am incredibly late in posting for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie.  As far as excuses go, I have a really lame one.  I was with my husband on a business trip in Detroit and forgot to upload the pictures of my pizza onto the laptop before leaving.  I really hate to post without a picture to accompany it, so I had to wait until we got back to put this up!  I hope the group will please forgive me for being so late.  I actually made this almost two weeks in advance and felt so proud of myself for being on top of things.  Well, now you all know what a disorganized mess I actually am!

This recipe was easy, fun, and particularly awesome because it could be served for dinner!  I used a combination of red and vidalia onions for the confit.  I found that my confit did take a little longer to reduce, but it might be because I used a smaller pan than specified in the recipe.  After it was finished, I chose to top my pizzas with the confit, sliced pears, Gorgonzola and Parmesan cheese.  No less than 10 minutes later, a beautiful pizza emerged from the oven.  The husband was extremely skeptical about the toppings, but actually ended up really enjoying it.  Plus, I made another pizza with BBQ sauce, shredded chicken, bacon, mozzarella, and the onion confit just in case he would reject my "fancy pants" pizza.  I was pleased when he noted that the onion confit really added something special to the BBQ pizza.  This recipe is a keeper!

As far as the pizza dough is concerned, I was pleased with the results, but I have a couple other pizza dough recipes that have a better flavor and crumb.  I'll probably end up sticking with those in the future.
If you would like to try your hand at the onion confit or pizza dough recipe, please head over to The Boy Can Bake where the recipes are posted in their entirety.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Taking it Easy: Skillet Lasagna

It has been a long time since I have posted here - and for good reason!  My husband took a very long vacation for Christmas and we have been enjoying our time together as a threesome.  After all, the next time he takes time off it will be in honor of the arrival of our new baby.  It was perfectly wonderful to "just be" for a small amount of time - nothing pressing to accomplish and nowhere terribly important to go.  We read a lot of books to Matthew, ate plenty of deliciously unhealthy food, danced around the living room to the Thomas the Tank Engine soundtrack, took family trips to the gym, and played in the 8-inches of snow we were blessed with just in time for Christmas day.  It was such a wonderful time but went by all too fast.  When Paul headed back to work, both Matthew and I were a little sad that the vacation was over.  Now my focus is to spend as much time with my little guy before my attention shifts to our newborn.

Have I mentioned that he is the ultimate goofball? We were unpacking baby things and he decided to don this outfit.

I have really been enjoying the more causal approach to life that we have been taking lately and plan to continue that until the baby is born.  I am starting to get more and more uncomfortable with standing for prolonged periods of time mainly because my lower back begins to ache.  Thus, quick family dinners that require minimal amounts of standing over a hot stove have been a must (risotto has definitely not been the meal of choice for a while).  A couple months ago, my sister-in-law posted a recipe for skillet lasagna.  I had seen many recipes pop up for skillet lasagna over the past few months, but after she posted it I could not get it out of my head.  I honestly hate assembling and eating lasagna because of the ricotta/cottage cheese layer in the middle.  It has been a major source of disappointment for my husband who is a huge lasagna lover.  However, with this skillet preparation, I could easily scoop out the noodles/red sauce/sausage and leave the ricotta/cottage cheese for the other two to eat.  Plus, you get all the flavors of a traditional lasagna on the table in around 30 minutes.  Win, win!

Excuse the nasty pictures.  I have a very hard time taking photos when all natural light disappears at 4:00 pm.

Skillet Lasagna
from Cook's Illustrated

1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound hot Italian sausage
10 lasagna noodles, broken into 2-inch pieces
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup cottage cheese (do NOT use nonfat)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil, divided
1/4 teaspoon salt

Add the diced tomatoes along with their juice to a 1 quart (4 cup) measuring cup. Add enough water to bring the volume to 1 quart total.

In a small bowl, mix together the cottage cheese, 1/4 cup Parmesan, 2 tablespoons fresh basil, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Set in the fridge until ready to use.

Set a large nonstick skillet over medium heat and add the oil. When it starts to shimmer, add the onion and the salt. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the onion begins to brown, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and red pepper and cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the sausage, using a wooden spoon to break it apart. Cook until browned.

Add the broken noodles to the pan, but do not stir - just let them sit on top of the onion/sausage mixture. Pour the tomato/water mixture and the tomato sauce over the noodles (again, don't stir). Cover the pan and bring the liquid to a simmer. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook, now stirring occasionally, until the pasta is tender (about 20 minutes).

Turn off the heat under the pan. Stir in 1/2 cup of the Parmesan and season to taste with salt and pepper. Drop the cottage cheese mixture by heaping spoonfuls onto the top of the lasagna (don't stir to incorporate), then cover and let stand for about 5 minutes to allow the cheese to soften. Remove the cover and sprinkle with the basil and additional Parmesan if desired.  Serve immediately.