Sunday, December 27, 2009

Penne with Pumpkin Cream Sauce

Penne with Pumpkin Cream Sauce

I haven't had Christmas Day yet. My sister and her husband have an "every other" arrangement with my parents and his side of the family. We had our Thanksgiving meal on Thanksgiving Day so Christmas this year isn't on Christmas Day.

In previous years, it has been within a day or two, so it really hasn't felt much different. But this year, it's a whole WEEK later.

I took the week off of work to help my mom prep for our celebration, but we're pretty much already done! Now, I'm going a bit stir crazy and my sister won't even be in town until Tuesday.

I was busy on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day with holiday prep -- carrying gifts to my parents so my cat wouldn't destroy them, expertly rolling peanut butter balls for my mom's Buckeyes, googling "Chinese restaurants open on Christmas day" so we could have something to eat -- you know, the usual.

But I didn't have any plans today. I was going to clean my wreck of an apartment, but I mostly just goofed off and caught up on some of my DVR, including Ratatouille -- hands down my favorite Pixar movie -- while I folding mounds of laundry.

Dinner was also an old favorite -- Penne with Pumpkin Cream Sauce. OK that's not the actual name of the Rachael Ray recipe, but the title is annoying so I renamed it because it's my blog and I can do what I want.

I have tried this recipe many times and tried to lighten it with evaporated milk, 1/2 and 1/2, etc. with varying amounts of success. Heavy cream is the way to go. Trust me. I use less oil and less pasta and use the parm sparingly. Plus, I use whole wheat pasta. Plus, in my warped mind, the nutrition on the pumpkin cancels out the cream.

And... it's not like I make this every week or even every month. A little cream definitely belongs in a healthy lifestyle.

I first made this a two years ago and have been hooked on this ever since. I don't make many savory pumpkin dishes, but this is a keeper. The cinnamon and nutmeg aren't overpowering and it has just a hint of a kick. Did I mention is has cream? Yum!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Chili Dogs!

Have I ever mentioned how much I secretly love chili dogs? Probably not, considering it's a secret love. Well, I do, and I don't care who knows it.

Hot dogs and I, well, we've always had a THING.

Chili Dogs

According to my mom, one of my first meals ever in a school cafeteria was a footlong hot dog. I was maybe five or six at the time. Why they ever thought serving FOOTLONG hot dogs to a 6-year-old was an excellent idea I'll never know, but that's besides the point.

Anyhow, I came home that afternoon, apparently shocked they made such a thing. I've been told the conversation with my mom after school went something a little like this:

Me: You should've seen it. That sucker was THIS BIG (outstretching my arms as wide as I could to demonstrate the apparent size of this footlong hot dog).

My mom: Really?

My sister (who, at 3 years old, was listening intently to our conversation): Sucker?!? I thought you said you had a hot dog!

OK, so maybe that's only funny to our family, but it's a story that my mom loves to retell. Usually, my hot dog condiments are standard: spicy deli mustard, ketchup and pickle relish. But then I met my first chili dog.

It was at Dairy Queen of all the places. It's the only thing I've ever eaten at DQ, besides their awesome Mint Oreo Cookie blizzards, of course. Somehow, the chili dog was pretty awesome.

I'm sure if I went back today and ordered one they'd be much less awesome. I'm not really a big fan of fast food anymore, and when I'm craving a chili dog I make one at home.

This one was a Kosher beef hot dog (the only way to go, imho) on an Ezekiel sprouted grain hot dog bun topped with Turkey White Bean Chili and 2% shredded sharp cheddar. Now how's that a use for leftovers?

On the side were my favorite oven fries from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. They come out super crispy every.single.time. This version had salt, pepper, and garlic powder sprinkled on them before baking.

And because I was nursing a super tired body and a bit of the "Margarita Flu" (as my dad calls it) from playing trivia the night before, I had a mug of Chai green tea.

Green Tea

It came with a gentle reminder:


I don't know about you, but I could definitely practice a little more patience!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I am the Leftovers Queen

Woo hoo! I made the Foodbuzz Top 9 with my last post! I am so ridiculously excited about that. So head over there and check it out.

Now I almost feel bad following up a stellar post with leftovers. Oh well, nothing much I can do about that, I suppose!

Last night's dinner was pretty boring, actually. Just leftover mac and cheese with kale and a sad looking side salad:

Leftover night

Oh, and a cup of Trader Joe's Cranberry Green Tea. If you can find it, it's delicious! It is kind of licorice-y, but I kind of like that. I was cold and tired so it was the perfect pick-me-up.

TJ's Cranberry Green Tea

After dinner I headed out of a night of trivia at a local bar with a college alumni group. We actually came in a close second, I think out of maybe 10 teams? Good thing the group I was with knew some of the answers. I may be the Leftovers Queen but I'm definitely not the queen of trivia. I should've known more with categories such as one-hit wonders, TV show theme songs and movie quotes. Too bad it didn't include quotes from Anchorman or Napoleon Dynamite because I can practically recite those movies.

Tonight's dinner will still be leftovers because it's been a crazy week, but tonight's should be exciting, I promise.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Two Budget-Friendly Meals

I have so much to catch up on! For one, I spent all last week dog sitting this cutie pie. She looks so sad that her parents were out of town:


I planned to blog all week and even snapped a few photos of the meals I made while at my parents, but realized I couldn't upload them or edit them because I shot them all in raw format and the software to convert them to jpegs is on my home computer. Oops.

But I do have good news. I found out Thursday that I do have a job and I get to continue doing pretty much what I do now. Plus, it happened to be a promotion! It is such a relief to go into the holidays knowing 100% that I have a job. I was pretty sure I would end up with something, but nothing is ever certain. In fact, I was nearly certain I wouldn't even have to reapply for my job to begin with, but I was wrong about that.

Either way, I'm still gainfully employed and with more money to boot. I feel so rich. I think I'll enjoy the feeling while it lasts because soon enough I'll probably be thinking.. darn I could use a little more money. Not that I would spend it. Ever since my sister and my brother-in-law moved into their house this summer, I have house envy! For me to buy a home responsibly that would mean 20 percent down and an 8 month emergency fund.. and um, that's a lot of money to come up with! I'm saving like crazy.. so someday!

I should actually talk about some food. Speaking of frugality.. I made two budget-friendly meals this weekend that I actually liked. The first was an actual recipe: Winter Lentil Soup. This is super cheap for several reasons: There's not a whole lot cheaper that dried lentils and canned diced tomatoes. Plus, seasonal veggies — like the sweet potatoes — are a great bargain right now. The only potentially pricey ingredients are the fresh herbs. But it's a soup that simmers a while, so dried is fine. That's what I used.

Plus, look at how pretty it is.

Winter Lentil Soup

The downside is that I ended up with a ton of leftover kale. So I made Annie's Mac and Cheese and stirred in sauteed kale with garlic.

Mac and Cheese with Kale

I put in a baking dish, covered it with the bread crumbs I made with the leftover bread from Saturday and leftover grated parm.. and baked it at 350 until the bread crumbs toasted up.. about 20 minutes. It was a little dry, so I might make the cheese sauce with more milk than it actually calls for knowing that it's going in the oven. Otherwise it came out great and not bad for a) repurposing the ingredients I had on hand and b) dressing up a boxed mac and cheese dinner. I usually just go with stirring broccoli in, but the kale and bread crumbs was a welcome change of pace.

I know there's lots of Annie's mac and cheese eaters out there.. how do you like yours?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Chicken Vindaloo

Chicken Vindaloo

Today has been a weird day. I'm spending the week dog sitting at my parents while they're on vacation, and I left a zillion and one things at my apartment. I made one trip to bring my cat, then forgot my grocery list and had to drive back home. On my way to the grocery store I stopped to put gas in my car, but realized I left my wallet at the apartment and had to go back. On my way to the store (for the second time) my mom called to say she landed and reminded me about my job interview tomorrow -- which made me remember I left my portfolio from my last company at home. Grrr.

Guess who's getting up early to drive 20 minutes in the opposite direction of work? Me! I probably don't need the portfolio, but I like to appear super prepared.

While at home, I grabbed the leftovers from last night to take for lunch tomorrow - Chicken Vindaloo. I really liked this, but after a couple of bites I realized it need a little bit of this:

Best hot sauce. Overall, pretty delicious and simple! Now if I can only get the smell of curry out of my apartment. :)

Now I think I may crawl into bed early and get my beauty rest.

Hope everyone had a great weekend.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Turkey White Bean Chili

Turkey White Bean Chili

It feels like a heat wave — compared to Chicago at least. It's in the teens here, but compared to 3 degrees, it's almost tropical. What a difference 10 degrees or so makes.

I get cold easily, so it's the perfect time to be eating warm, comforting favorite like chili.

If you've been reading this blog a while, you may know I struggle with finding the PERFECT chili recipe. I like this one because it's closer to the style of chili my mom makes. But the Turkey White Bean Chili I made yesterday may be a close second if not dethrone my previous top choice altogether.

It has tons of chili powder, but isn't too spicy. In fact, it's just spicy enough that it has heat without being uncomfortable. I still might add some red pepper for more kick or even a jalapeno, especially if I'm planning to top it with cheese and sour cream. I like my food spicy.

The turkey doesn't taste like turkey here. In fact, you probably would think it was beef. The white beans are a new twist I actually liked. Kidney beans aren't my absolute favorite anyhow.

If you make the recipe as written, which I did, you get tons of chili. Perfect for chili dogs later in the week. I am ridiculously excited I am for that. I haven't had a hotdog in AGES.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Chilly Chicago

Salmon cakes

Holy cow it's cold in Chicago. This morning I woke up to a brisk 3 degrees. To think, yesterday morning was a seasonably warm 50 degrees in Ohio.

I've been slugging back tea all afternoon in an attempt to stay warm.

Unfortunately I'm still stuck in the airport waiting, not so patiently, for my 9:30 flight. Only two and a half hours to go, and I've been here since 5 ish. They didn't have any 8 p.m. flights and I thought anything sooner might have been cutting it close if the workshop I was at ended at 5 p.m. like it was supposed to.

I attended a writing workshop for my job, and it was a great reminder of how I WANT to write but often am too rushed to give it the thought it requires. Definitely guilty of taking the easy way out of a story just to get the copy up on time and move on to the next assignment. Unfortunately, with too much to write and too few to write it, sometimes speed trumps all.

I'm definitely a copy churning queen, but I'm looking forward to putting the ideas I got today into practice and become a copy churning queen with INTERESTING stories, too. Given the bad news I received two weeks ago, hopefully I'll still have a job in the New Year and hopefully still be writing. Neither are givens.

Obviously, since I'm traveling I didn't cook. I didn't even pack a camera. My small carry on and laptop bag are STUFFED. So I'll share a photo of these salmon cakes I made last weekend. I have the recipe, but I'll have to add it in tomorrow when I get home. They were just "meh" anyhow. I really want to love Clean Eating magazine, but their recipes are sometimes all over the map. In case you're wondering, those are Green Giant boxed teriyaki veggies on the side.

Question: Since I spent most of the day in a writing seminar, I have writing on the brain. We talked some today about how, since blogs grew in popularity, the definition of "the media" and "journalist" has changed. People, who have no formal training in journalism are now taking that role, thanks to blogs. I know most bloggers aren't writers in their day jobs so... if you have a blog, do you consider yourself a writer? Or, if you don't have a blog, do you consider bloggers to be writers?

I write for a living in a corporate setting, so I'm lucky to be a "professional" writer. I've considered myself a writer, though, since I was 12. That's when I discovered my passion for it, and even competed in fiction writing contests. (Yeah, I was THAT nerd.) Is it odd I knew what I wanted to do for a living when I was 12? Anyhow.. tell me your thoughts.. I'd love to know.

In the meantime, I think I'll get another cup of tea.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Penne with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage

Penne with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage

I apologize for the long absence. I received some potentially awful news at work last week, and it has taken me a week to process it and regroup.

I've also struggled with what to say about it, if anything at all. Obviously, this is mostly a food blog, but obviously — stress and emotions in general — can make a direct impact on the food choices I make in a day. So in my mind, it's completely relevant.

I'm not much of an emotional eater, truthfully, and I'd like to think I can *mostly* handle bad news with poise. All things considered, I handled the breakup of my 3-year relationship last year well. Externally, at least. I took a day to cry it out, and then it was business as usual. Eating-wise, when under that much emotional stress I completely lose my appetite. So there wasn't any gallons of ice cream consumed or anything like that.

This time it's a bit different. Unlike a breakup, which is final, things are a bit in limbo at the moment. In a month's time things can go really, really well, but things could also end up in the toilet. While I'm fairly sure things will be fine in the end, there's no certainty and that's the bit that's driving me nuts.

My stress levels are much better this week, but last week was all kinds of a mess. I abandoned my usual healthy routine. I did make it to the gym over the weekend and yesterday, but a wrench was thrown into my plans for today and I'm traveling for work the rest of the week.

My schedule for the next few weeks, actually, is just as crazy. That's why I'm thankful for meals like this Penne with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage. It's practically a 15-minute meal. You can't beat that with a stick.

I wasn't in love with the broccoli rabe, but I don't think that's the fault of the recipe. I remember liking it in this dish, but for some reason, I found it to be way too bitter this time. Does anyone know how to cut back on the bitterness? Other than that it was pretty tasty, but I don't think you can really go wrong with turkey sausage, garlic and pasta.

On the side was a frozen vegetable medley from Aldi's. Trader Joe's actually used to carry it, and probably still does. I can't remember what the blend I bought is called, but it was always called the Brittany Blend at TJ's. It's yellow and green beans with baby carrots - two of my favorite veggies!