Thursday, January 29, 2009

This One is for Ashley!

My twenty year old sister who doesn't know what Shepherd's Pie is. Because my kids can't live off of cupcakes alone, I do have to make real food some times. And today it was Shepherd's Pie, which is something that I thought everyone knew about. . . until I told my sister we were eating it for dinner, and she was confused. I thought it was even stranger that she didn't know what it is seeing how she lives in England, right next to Ireland, which is where I've always assumed to Shepherd's Pie to come from. She says she tried to avoid the local food though. You should find yourself and Irish Pub and try the Shepherd's Pie sometime, Ash! It's good and easy to eat. My version has a bottom layer of ground beef and sauteed vegetable, topped with a layer of corn, a layer of mashed potatoes, and finally some cheddar cheese. Then into the oven until it's hot and the cheese is melted. A simple and warming all-in-one dinner. Ask Mom to make it for you! Recipe follows:
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
1 rib celery, sliced and chopped
can of mushrooms, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 pound ground beef
1/4 cup beef broth
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Freshly ground black pepper
1 can corn, drained
4 cups Mashed Potatoes, I make mine from scratch but I bet you could use instant
1/2 c. shredded cheddar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery, mushrooms, garlic, half the salt, and oregano. Cook until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook until mushrooms are soft and tomato paste has turned brick red, about 8 minutes more. Stir in the beef, the broth, the remaining salt, the Worcestershire, and some pepper, breaking up any large clumps of meat, cook until the meat is no longer pink, about 3 minutes.

Transfer the meat and vegetables to a 2-quart casserole dish, layer the corn on top and then spread the mashed potatoes over the top. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake until potatoes brown and the juices bubble around the edge, about 40 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

The Trouble With Cupcakes. . .

1. They're too easy to make. You whip up a few ingredients, scoop it into muffin cups, and 15-17 minutes later you have a perfectly yummy mini sized cake. Even worse, it hardly leaves a mess. Disposable muffin cups keep the pans clean, and you don't need a plate to eat them.
2. They're a quick fix for a sweet tooth. This kind of goes along with number one. From the time you decide that you want something sweet to eat, you could be chowing down on a cupcake in 30-45 minutes. Much less time than practically any other kind of dessert (except maybe cookies) and certainly a lot less time than it takes to pack two kids up to go to the store :-)
3. They're always delicious. When have you ever seen or eaten a cupcake that you didn't like?
4. They're just the perfect size. . . for making (see 1 above), eating, and giving away! No cutting required, and no plate. Grab a cupcake and a napkin and you're set. And they're perfect for little kid fingers.
And for those reasons above, I think I am well on my way to becoming
"crazy cupcake lady"! I may never make another regular cake again. Just cupcakes from here on out! And today's special is double chocolate malt shop cupcakes with cherry vanilla buttercream frosting! This recipe was pretty good, but I felt it needed a couple of modifications. First off, I am not a fan of dark chocolate, and without an additional 1/3 c. of sugar, this cupcake tasted like bitter dark chocolate, blech! Then I didn't have any malted milk powder. Do you anyone who has malted milk powder nowadays? However, I did have some Ovaltine chocolate malt powder (which may be just as strange, but I grew up on the stuff, and love it!) and so I used that instead. Then when I was ready to pour the batter into the cups, I felt like the batter was waaaay to runny. So I added a 1/4 c. of flour to make it a little thicker. And finally I didn't add any chocolate chips because I have this weird thing about have chips in my cake. It requires too much chewing and messes up the consistency. Totally a personal weird thing though. But they came out of the oven looking perfectly chocolatey and delicious. I topped them off with the cherry vanilla frosting, and I think I could've eaten the whole batch,which was a lot. It made 24 regular sized cupcakes! Half of them have since found there way to other homes, which is much better for my waistline :-) As long as I don't make anymore cupcakes for the rest of the week, I think I'll be safe from being "crazy cupcake lady", right?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I Like Chocolate Mommy!

While I was whipping up some waffles for breakfast this morning, Leila was up to her own mischief. She had hidden herself in the laundry room, which I didn't think much of. I thought she was upset because she had tried to build something out of the legos, and had not succeeded. When Gabrielle came looking for Leila, I told her she was in the laundry room. Then we heard Leila saying from the other side of the door, "Go play with your legos Gabrielle!" So I told Gabrielle that Leila was sad right now, and to just leave her alone. Good thing Gabrielle didn't listen. Instead, she layed on the floor and peeked under the door to see just what Leila was up. Then she stands up and says to me, "Mommy, Leila unwrapped some chocolate in the laundry room!" Our pantry is connected to the laundry room, and apparently Leila had raided it for something yummy to eat. When I opened the door, there she was, standing there with a giant bar of chocolate, wrapping paper on the floor. The first words out of her mouth were "I like chocolate Mommy! I like chocolate Mommy!" I couldn't help but be amused. I closed the door and went to get the camera, and when I came back she was still in the same spot, eating that big bar of chocolate. She kinda reminded me of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with her eating a Wonka Bar!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Yummy Yummy Cupcakes!

Well Food Network got me again! I finally watched the episode of Ultimate Recipe Showdown: Cakes that had been sitting on my DVR last night, and this morning I had a fresh batch of cupcakes! I know it's horrible. It's so hard for me to resist temptation. Especially when it's something easy to make and something that I LOVE. And I LOVE key lime anything. Which is exactly where this recipe got me -- Key Lime Coconut Cupcakes with White Chocolate Frosting! Just the name sounds good enough to make my mouth water and my stomach grumble. And let me just tell ya, these are some YUMMY cupcakes! I could've eaten the whole batch, so I had to give some away just to keep me from doing just that. It's true. I lack will power :-( But hey, if you had cupcakes that yummy looking sitting in front of you, wouldn't you be tempted too? Find the recipe here. Then you'll see for yourself. .. you just can't go wrong with key limes, coconut, white chocolate, and cake all rolled into one!

Chinese New Year!

Happy Year of the Ox! Yesterday was Chinese New Years, and at the last minute I decided to throw a Chinese New Year's Dinner/Party. We celebrate New Year's every year, but this year I decided that there was a lot of food that I wanted to make and not enough people to eat it. So I invited a couple of families over. Then I spent pretty much all weekend preparing! I was so busy that I almost forgot to the get the girls New Year's outfits. It's Chinese tradition to wear a new outfit for the New Year's. Luckily I remembered on Sunday, and so we went to pick them up. Then it was back to the kitchen for me! I ended up making so much more food than I realized. One of the dishes that I was particularly proud of was my Chinese egg custard tarts. They ended up tasting just like the ones I've gotten from the Chinese bakeries. Of course I had to make dumplings because that is also a tradition. I really pushed it with those because I didn't even wrap them until yesterday afternoon. Then I pan fried them and turned them onto a plate. They sort of look like a moon made of dumplings :-). I also made some steamed rice cupcakes which were a really big hit with the kids. Truth be told, I love them myself! I guess it reminds me of my childhood :-). And besides, how can you resist anything so beautifully colored? My shaomai was struggling a bit to stand on there own there, but they were still tasty! In the end, I had made all of those dishes and more! Steamed pork buns. . . clear noodles with shrimp, roast pork lo mein, tofu pudding with fruit, chinese vegetables, radish cake, and new year's cake (which you HAVE to have for New Year's). I can't believe I made all that food. When Andrew asked if this was more food than I made for Thanksgiving, I definately had to answer yes to that one! Needless to say, my kitchen was CHAOS after that. But it was definately worth it! I was a little scared that no one would like it because they were all pretty traditional Chinese foods. But everyone seemed to enjoy it, even the kids managed to find something they liked -- you can't go wrong with steamed rice cupcakes :-)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Inauguration 2009, Part 3: A New Day

For our family, inauguration day started at 5:15 a.m. when I woke Robert. Of course, that was pretty late by most standards. My sister's day started at 3:45 a.m.! That may sound absurdly early, but the metro began running at 4 a.m., and the security gates to the Capitol opened at 8 a.m., and if you weren't inside the ticketed area by 11:30, you would not be allowed in. We left the hotel room at 5:45, and although the metro station was only 20 minutes away, we didn't get there until 7:15! The traffic was that bad! And even then, I had to drop Robert and his dad off about a block away! This would probably be a good time to clarify the fact that I didn't actually go to the inauguration. Out of the six tickets that we obtained, not a single one was for me as I opted to stay at the hotel with the girls. Yes, I know, what madness! But the truth is that I was perfectly happy watching it on television. When they finally got into the station, it was madness! People everywhere! The line was a mile long! They couldn't even get on a train until 8:45! By this point, I was starting to wonder if they were even going to make it, and Robert and his dad didn't even think they were going to. On the other hand, by 8:45, my sister was already in the ticketed section. Now I'm going to let Robert take over the rest of this blog because he's the one that actually lived it.
Once we finally got on the train, we thought we were finally getting somewhere. But even the train kept getting stuck in train traffic. Once we finally got out of the metro, we still had to walk four blocks to get where we were supposed to be. They had closed the metro station that we were supposed to get off at. Now you imagine trying to weave your way through this crowd. When we finally got to where we could see the security gate, we realized there was no way we were going to get through that crowd. It wasn't even moving! The street was completely filled with people, and they weren't going anywhere. At this point, we pretty much gave up on even trying to get into the ticketed section.
There is the silver gate that we were trying to get to surrounded by a sea of people!Instead, we opted to just find some way to get to the mall where there would be a jumbo-tron. We figured we had already come this far, and if we didn't find a t.v. we were gonna miss it altogether. It was already 10 o'clock! So we turned around and had to take the long about way to the mall because so many streets were closed. So then three blocks away, we cut through the line for the silver gate (the line we were supposed to be in) into a little alley and we finally got into the opening where a policeman pointed us in the direction of a back way into the silver gate! A moving line and a miracle! (some of Crystal's luck...she should play the lotto) We ended up making it through security (which wasn't as secure as you would think. . . there weren't even metal detectors), and into the ticketed area. Time: 10:45 a.m.! We actually made it!
All day, throughout all the lines, everybody was so nice and friendly. The same goes for where we ended up standing. There was laughing and joking, everybody was happy and talking. But boy it was a tough crowd! When George W. Bush came out, everybody started "booing"! Imagine, 1.8 million people all booing at the same time! Then imagine them all singing "Nah nah nah nah, hey hey hey...GOODBYE!!" (They edited that from CNN, the perks of being there live :-) Everybody loved Aretha Franklin, nobody loved Yo-Yo Mama (yeah, that's what they called him.) And then the moment we had all been waiting for, the moment that I had driven through treacherous ice and snow for, the moment that I was standing sandwiched (and I mean they were pushing up against me) in my one foot square space for -- the swearing in! We didn't even care that he fumbled through it, we were just waiting for "so help me God." For all the noise made when Bush and Clinton came out, and when Aretha was singing, you could've heard a mouse fart when Obama was speaking. Nobody wanted to miss a single word spoken by our new president. I was there! I was a part of history!
Then he said "God bless America" and we hightailed it out of there. We suddenly remembered we were cold and hungry! Unfortunately we weren't the only people feeling that way. We beat most of them to the deli with the $7 per pound buffet line. But they forced us to walk 13 city blocks to find a metro station that wasn't already jam packed. Here's a picture of everyone behind us also trying to catch a metro!
Okay, now Robert's done. They really seemed to have a good time. When I went to pick them up from the metro, they were full of stories and excitement. I guess it's easy to get caught up in the spirit. . . kind of like Time's Square on New Year's Eve. Unfortunately, we didn't attend any inaugural balls. However, Robert is already talking about going again in four years. I guess it could be a new sort of tradition for us :-) Next time, we'll know what to expect and plan a little bit better. . . and maybe get some tickets to a ball or two (and a sitter). See you in D.C. in four years?

Inauguration 2009, Part 2: Getting There

By Sunday night, I was starting to wonder if we were going to be able to make it to D.C. It had snowed most of the day, and was snowing all night. We left at 4 in the morning to pretty treacherous roads. My older sister, Tanjour, who had flown in from Houston, said she nearly had a heart attack in the van. We finally made it Maryland at 11 a.m. and Robert dropped me and my sister off at the Metro to go straight into D.C. to get our tickets. While the metro stop was pretty crowded, our train was not, so I was pretty optimistic in thinking that we could head into D.C., get our tickets, and be back before we knew it. But as soon as we stepped out of the metro and arrived at the Capitol Complex, I knew we were in a world of trouble. Apparently, I wasn’t the only person picking up my ticket on Monday. So was every other person who had been allotted one of the 240,000 tickets! When we arrived at the building that I was supposed to go to, the line was wrapped all the way around the building. Although there were a couple of entrances, each line was just as long, covering at least two sides of the building. And as you can see from the picture, this building (Canon Building, House of Representatives) is as large as a city block! All those people are waiting in line, and that was such as small portion of it. When we finally found the end of the line, my sister stood in that line while I ran down the street to the Dirksen Senate Building, where I had to pick up the other set of tickets. The line was just as long, and I couldn’t see how I would be able to pick up both sets of tickets by 5 pm. Even worse, we had not planned on being in line for so long, and we had brought nothing to eat. All I had was a bottle of water. My sister called her brother-in-law, whom she was staying with, and he came to help stand in line so that I could go back and forth if I needed to. Meanwhile, I tried to come up with another plan. That’s when I remembered that I had put the phone numbers of the Senator and Representative in my cell phone. When I called Rep. Courtney’s office, a nice young lady there informed me that all the buildings in the Capitol Complex were interconnected through underground tunnels, and that if I could find a shorter line through the back door of another building, then I could make my way to the right building. And that’s exactly what I did! Within 30 minutes, I was walking underground through the basements of the House of Representatives buildings. I made my way to Congressman Courtney’s office, where they presented me with my tickets. This is what the ticket looks like. I think it’s funny that I got an invitation when really I was asking them if I could come. Anyhoo.

While I down there, I did a little sightseeing as you can see. This is a replica of the Capitol building that they have down there in an area that is called the Rotunda (which is unusual because it is underground). They also have a plaster replica of the design that is on the east central pediment of the Capitol.

Unfortunately, I was not able to make my way underground to the Senate buildings because I had to go through the Capitol building or the Library of Congress, and that wasn’t allowed. Luckily, I was able to go another building on the other side of the Capitol complex, and make my way through the tunnels again. By 2:30, I had all four tickets in hand. However, my Senator’s office had told us that if any tickets weren’t picked up by 5, then they would be willing to give them to any Connecticut resident. And because my sister’s brother-in-law (confusing, I know) wanted tickets for his family, we waited around in the Senate building until 5. By 5:15, we had a total of six tickets to the swearing-in ceremony!

Inauguration 2009, Part 1: How We Got Tickets

As luck would have it, at the end of last month I found myself to be the winner of four tickets to the swearing in of President Barack Obama. It came as a huge surprise to me because I hadn’t tried especially hard to get them. After Robert came home one day and told me about how the tickets were hot commodity, I did a little googling to find out just how one gets their hands on a “golden ticket.” Turns out it’s really pretty easy and free – write your Senator or Representative. Well I e-mailed them all – the Senators of Connecticut, my representative for Connecticut, and the Senators in Virginia (where Robert is a resident.) They all replied saying the same thing: “Our office has had over 10,000 requests for tickets and we will only be getting a little over 200. We are going to put your name in a lottery and let you know if you win.” Lucky me, I won – twice. I was given two tickets from Senator Dodd of Connecticut and two tickets from Representative Courtney of Connecticut. Now all I had to do was personally arrive at their offices on Monday, January 19 and pick up my tickets!
This is the letter from Senator Dodd saying that I had won! I should start playing the lottery!

The Long Awaited Blog: Inauguration 2009

Okay, at last I have finally found the time to write about our experiences in D.C. over the past couple of days. Because there was sooooo much to write about, I've broken it up into 3 different parts. Enjoy! Oh btw, no I didn't get to meet President Obama. Sorry :-(

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Return of Inspiration!

It turns out that I was right. . . Robert really does inspire me to cook. He came home this evening, and I spent pretty much all day trying to figure out what to make for dinner. It was hard though because for every meal that I thought of making, I was lacking one ingredient. And I refused to go to the store because when I woke up this morning it was five degrees below zero. I didn't even let Gabrielle go to school. Finally, I gave up and decided that we would just have breakfast for dinner. When I told Robert this on the phone, he said "Sounds great! We can have waffles." Sure everybody likes waffles, but then that got me thinking. . . We could just have waffles, or we could have Chicken and Waffles!!!! Yes, I know it sounds super bizarre, and to be honest, I was a little apprehensive. I saw an episode about it on Food Network (of course), but I've never had them. And the combination just sounds so weird. But apparently it's a pretty big thing, especially in New York and California, so I guess I've been missing out. Well, after a bit of snooping around on the internet, I decided to take my Chicken and Waffles one step further. . . the result: Fried Chicken and Sweet Potato Waffles. The Sweet Potato Waffles is an Alton Brown recipe (FN again) but I had to make a little variation because I didn't have any fresh sweet potatoes. Luckily, I had a can of sweet potatoes hiding in the back. Suffice it to say that I tend to keep a VERY well stocked pantry. In the end, dinner ended up being delicious. Everyone chowed down. . . the girls especially loved the waffles. And they were actually really good. The chicken, sweet potatoe waffle, and maple syrup combination turned out to be surprisingly tasty, and if I ever go to California I will be sure to stop in at Roscoe's, or maybe I'll stick a little closer to home and visit Melba's in Harlem (which was the restaurant featured on the FN). In the meantime, I think I may just top one of those waffles off with ice cream, and call it dessert :-)

For those of you interested in the recipe for the Sweet Potato Waffles, you can find it here. Like I said, I didn't have any fresh sweet potatoes, so I used a standard sized can of sweet potatoes that I rinsed and drained before mashing. And because I didn't want my waffles to be lumpy, I actually blended the sweet potatoes together with the milk, butter, and sugar. They seem like a lot of work, but they are definately worth it for a special Sunday breakfast, or in my case, a special dinner.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

And my Lack of Inspiration

It seems like since the new year has started, I have lost my inspiration for one of my great loves and the motivation behind this blog. . . cooking. I think that it has mostly to do with the fact that Robert has been gone. While I used to cook when I was stressed, my love for it has caused me to cook more often when I am happy. Not to say that I have been wallowing in my sorrows as of late (although I'm close to that point) but I just don't feel up to making anything fantastic, delicious, or totally peculiar. Being stuck in Arctic, frigid air with no hubby to warm the bed at night kind of whips the desire to cook right out of me. In fact, for a potluck at my friend, Sabrina's, house last week, I only brought brownies. Not to say they weren't pretty tasty, as they were cream cheese brownies and you can rarely go wrong with chocolate. But I definately think I could've done better. As several people have commented on my lack of blogs lately, I've been trying to be more inspired to make something. Sorry ladies. . . I think I need my muse to return home. Hopefully soon I will be posting more pictures of tasty food

The Inspiration of Art. . .

The girls have recently acquired a new easel. . . with a little help from Mom of course. This has quickly become the new favorite in this house. It's sad to think that Leila is two and has had so little experience with paint and other forms of art. When Gabrielle was younger, we used to paint and do crafts all the time. But I guess life got busy, and it got harder to coordinate with Leila always wanting to eat everything and cry for undividing attention. But at last we have reached an age of independence and comprehension. Which is key to Leila doing things on her own and to her understanding when I say that "the paint goes on the paper, not on the walls, or floors, or in your mouth" and "it's okay if your hands get dirty, we can wash them." After some research, I ended up investing in a double easel with the idea that they could both use it at the same time. It also has the chalkboard on one side and the dry erase board on the other. So far it has worked well. Gabrielle, who has a lot of experience with painting, jumped right in immediately painting away. Leila needed a bit more time to figure out what was going on, but she has been gradually easing into it, and going so far as to dip her fingers in the paint to paint with. I've put all of there painting stuff in a tub under the easel so that they can get it themselves when they are ready to paint. As with all things, I've found that the more accessible they are, the more likely it is to get used. And so far, it is getting used a lot!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Robert's Birthday!

Today was Robert's Birthday! Unfortunately for him, he had to spend it doing not very much fun fatherly stuff. Just when we thought everyone was healthy, Gabrielle came down with a fever last night. Sometime I think it would be so much better if they both got sick at the same time rather than one then the other. With a fever of 104, Gabrielle pretty much laid around the whole day. At least Leila was a bit more energetic.

I made Robert a pineapple upside down cake and Shrimp and Grits for dinner. It's one of his favorites. . . a meal that we picked up from when we lived in Charleston. It's really popular down there, but I think it general, it's something you either love or hate. We used to go to different restaurants there trying out their version of shrimp and grits. Some were real winners. . . some were just really weird. But after we left we realized that if we ever wanted to eat it again, we'd have to learn to make it ourselves. And that's exactly what Robert did. I don't even know where he found the recipe from, but it's a real winner. Usually he makes it, but I figured since it was his birthday that I'd make it today. It was all going perfectly until I tried to season it with black pepper, and ended up sprinkling cinnamon sugar on it. They're in the exact same looking jars. Oddly enough, the cinnamon ended up giving it a nice little twist. . . thank goodness!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

Woo hoo! And what a happy new year it is! Even though Robert and I stayed up until midnight, I still got the best night of sleep yet this week. Leila's fever finally broke last night, and she spent the whole night asleep in her bed. No crying, no fussing, and no requiring me to sleep on the floor. For those of you with younger babies, I am sure you are thinking that it just isn't fair. But please keep in mind that I have already paid my dues on that angle, and now I like to sleep undisturbed and peacefully with only my husband in bed next to me. Apparently Gabrielle knows that so well that this morning she said that she woke up in the middle of the night and had to go to the bathroom, but she decided to hold it and go back to bed. I didn't even know that a four year old could hold it like that. Apparently her reason was that she was too tired to get out of bed. When we explained to her that it's okay to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, she said "But then I'd have to be VERY quiet when I come into Mommy and Daddy's room (because she uses our bathroom)" She really is like a little angel, a very considerate little angel. I think Robert and I are just grateful that her bed was dry this morning. Well Happy New Year everyone!