Cream Cheese Alfredo Farfalle Tuesday, Apr 22 2014 

Ok — so I am not always the amazing cook I like to think I am (GASP!). But. Some days I just want something quick and easy, that doesn’t mean I have spent absolutely forever in the kitchen. I mean, I like to play. But — who wants to always slave away in the kitchen when the sub-friggin freezing weather we’ve had has started to evolve into something resembling warm? I want to be out in the sun, at least a little. Plus, as far as cooking — it doesn’t help when your chef friend is elsewhere for the supper hour. (Oh how spoiled I have been!) The amazing thing though is that my children still appreciate my cooking…Oh yeah baby!!! And — thank God! I love to cook and thoroughly enjoy being in my kitchen a large portion of the time. But I am no restaurant — My philosophy is that if you don’t like it, we always have an abundant supply of peanut butter and (yes, homemade) jelly…No one has ever complained (much) about the alternative anyway. And I’m still providing the “food” portion of the whole food/clothing/shelter stuff, so we’re good — no need to call Children & Youth on me.

So last night was pasta night. It seems to be a “thing” on Mondays. Not only is it usually meatless, in keeping with the whole ‘Meatless Mondays’ movement (http://www.meatlessmonday.com/), but I find it to be fast and very simple, and — most importantly — a meal that stretches. Because I NEVER know who is coming for supper on a Monday. My oldest son has tons of friends who are members of the local fire department (which is really “local”…within obnoxious siren-hearing distance) and so over the years I’ve had many, many extras at my table on many a Monday. Usually my personal preference is a red tomato-based sauce, but let’s face it — some days monotony is absolutely BOR-ING! This past week I found a very simple cream cheese alfredo recipe that sounded pretty fool-proof, and it actually was pretty awesome. I can’t remember for the life of me where I found said recipe, so I apologize in advance for seemingly pilfering an amazing and tasteful dish.

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Here’s what I did:

* I used two 1 lb packages of farfalle noodles that I bought on sale (yay me!!!). Boil according to pacakge directions. I like mynoodles al dente, but not everyone does…Some like them mushy and some like them almost raw. 053

* In a saucepan heat 1 1/2 cups milk, 1 8-oz block of cream cheese and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan (do not skimp and buy the powdered stuff!!!) until the cream cheese is dissolved. This will take about 5 minutes.

* Add 1/2 tsp salt and some fresh ground pepper.

* Stir in 2 cups thawed frozen peas and immediately remove from heat.

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If you want to go crazy, maybe add some fresh herbs too (which I prefer this time of year when winter is giving way to some green…) This is one really rapidly pulled together and easy-peasy dish (no pun intended!). I hope you enjoy. Now go play in your kitchen!!!

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Books versus Magazines…What’s Your Preference? Thursday, Apr 17 2014 

Okay…When you look at these pictures you will realize that I am pretty much crazy…Just look for all the books. And the, ahem…magazines. All related to food in some capacity. Yeah…048047

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I mean — I may never ever be as organized as Heidi Swanson. [If you are not familiar with her, you need to read her amazing blog at http://www.101cookbooks.com] But here is a short synopsis — She discovered that she had a lot of cookbooks. So she resolved to attempt to stop buying more and actually try out the recipes. I admire that. I relate. I mean I seriously relate. I am addicted to the pursuit of a good book in general, but when it is a cookbook…well, I’m like an alcoholic at a liquor store…so much eye candy, not enough money. I mean, it is always my “intent” to use the cookbooks I have — at least before I make a new purchase. BUT. We all know about the road to the nether regions and how it’s paved with the good intentions of many…Such is my world.

I have a LOT — a LOT!!! — of cookbooks — see above pictures — and cooking magazines. I did not post the pictures of the other several bookshelves full because, well…you get the idea, right? I mean, you can see that I’m already way gone. I could fill up a room. You cannot possibly walk into my home and not discover that food is a passion of mine. I guess I am a hoarder. Of recipes. I mean — It’s almost an addiction. And (ironically to confess this on my own blog!) I really try to avoid my iPhone and the internet as recipe sources. Why? Because it’s so addictive. I mean, I don’t actually do that — I have recipes from every source imaginable at times. But I try to avoid the electronic versions when possible (which turns out is not always possible…). And the main reason? I guess you could call me old school…

I like the print version. I love the feel of the paper, the weight of a book, the colorful photos. I love jotting down notes. And saving those books. Heaven only knows what a field day someone will have one day trying to figure out what to do with my estate. I have developed relationships with my collection — I read and re-read them like they are friends, and find them even more interesting if they have stories before each recipe. And let me just add this little tidbit of (useless?) information…My collection of books is bad (as in overwhelming) as it is. But then there are the magazines.

I mean…I don’t have stacks and stacks that preclude me from passing through the halls or that fall over on people who try to sit at my table. But I guarantee my shelves are bulging…Those darn magazines — they are everywhere (!)…there are no rooms in my entire house (with the exception of the kids’ rooms, and even that is questionable once you dig through their personal messes) that does not have some kind of cooking magazine laying around carelessly. Or book waiting on some surface, usually bookmarked with a sticky note, or in a pinch a piece of paper. Mostly because I probably have left them there. I was most likely toying with the idea of experimenting with a new food, new technique or new recipe when someone called me away, at which point I set the darn thing down and promptly moved on.

Because (in case you missed it) — I. Have. Too. Many. Cookbooks. And. Magazines.

And I wish I could say that maybe it’s not all my fault. I mean — with magazines they’re published on a regular basis. So of course I have to keep current…And cookbooks keep me up to date on food trends. Right?? Am I overly attempting to justify? Probably…

So after all of this, my point is that I have a few questions for my readers – should you dare to answer.

* Do you prefer hard copy or electronic versions of recipes, magazines or cookbooks?

* What is your standard “go-to” recipe source?

Since I already answered the first question above, here’s the answer to the second…My standard “go to” book is (drumroll please…):

058The Joy of Cooking“. I may have talked about it before. This is my second copy. My middle daughter has my first one in her hope chest, with my bookmarked favs. The only bad thing about purchasing the updated version was trying to re-learn all those page numbers I had memorized! This is the kind of book I need to have a hard copy of. I need to take my time and look through the table of contents, browse each recipe, jot down notes on what I liked, what my family liked (or didn’t)…This is the kind of book that I will sit down with on a lazy Saturday morning before heading to the local farmers’ market, looking for inspiration. As I transition to healthier eating, I have collected many, many, many (!!!) other cookbooks – and magazines – that I enjoy. But this book is what rescued this housewife and enabled her to stop burning every meal, what gave her courage to keep cooking. And even experiment.

So break out your old standby, or find a new one, and go play in your kitchen!

Sweet Spring Sangria Sunday, Apr 13 2014 

Well, with the advent of spring in Pennsylvania once again — finally after tons of snow, ice and chill from the polar vortex (what is that?! and does that mean that there is or there is not such a thing as “global warming”?) — I am pleased to be able to resume shopping at the local farmers’ markets. Let’s face it…this indoor gal was not braving the below freezing temps to shop local. That is pretty shameful. I hope to do better next year. Of course it will help oodles if I can procure a warm winter coat. And gloves – yeah, gloves would be nice…

So. With the markets transitioning from traditional winter fare such as citrus into the fresh offerings of things like asparagus, peas, and spring onions, my shopping experiences have become a joy tempered solely by that horrible term “budget”. Most women spend tons of money on clothes, make-up, purses, shoes…Not me. I spend money on two things aside from my family — books, and FOOD. Seriously. I think I’d buy one or some of everything the market has to offer, with few exceptions. But alas, that will have to wait until I strike it rich via my writing career or singing or some such thing — haha! [note incredible sarcasm…]

And speaking of singing — One thing that I’ve incorporated into my life lately as a creative outlet, as well as a way to speak to adults instead of constantly engaging in conversations with only children, since January on a regular basis is a weekly outing to sing at a local bar through the amazing technology of karaoke. I am soooo grateful to live in the here and now rather than “back in the day”…I don’t think I could ever have done the whole guitar thing, and I play piano only slightly these days, so my singing would have been limited to “Happy Birthday” (all three — yes THREE! — verses) for my family. But karaoke – well, that offers possibilities! A lot of people get intimidated by the whole “do it in front of the crowd” thing, and I admit I am like that every single time. But in going back week after week I’ve gained a certain confidence in myself that I did not have before. Plus, I’ve found that a little alcohol is calming to my not-ever-going-to-sing-in-public jitters. I’m not in the habit of drinking myself into oblivion (no, not even in my college days!). So I appreciate partaking of something to kind of loosen up, as well as moisten my vocal chords. But what to have?? I am so lucky and blessed to have a best friend – Damian McCartney – who is a chef and seriously knows about food, alcohol and some bartending too. More on him and his interesting life story in a future post, I’m sure. But. He has recently relocated, from New Orleans to our humble little area of Pennsylvania, and so now I can go directly to him for help in the kitchen. He knows I like sangrias so he came up with one two days ago based on a Moscato wine — just in time for our weekly karaoke outing! I could probably drink a whole pitcher myself before venturing out for the karaoke fun, but then I better KNOW the song because I have doubts that I could read the words on the monitor!

If you are not familiar with Moscato, it is a light, kind of sparkling white wine with a lower alcohol content made from the Muscat Blanc variety of grape. I find it to be a really refreshing drink, and the transition to this spring sangria combines the best of the winter citrus with the reappearance of fresh mint after its winter hiatus.

053Here’s what to do:

* Pour half of a 1.5 liter Moscato wine into a pitcher.

* Take 6-8 mint leaves in your open palm and slap them to release the oils in the mint leaves, then add them to the wine.

* Cut 1 Cara Cara orange (or a blood orange) and 1 lemon in half; cut 2 thin slices from each fruit and add it to the pitcher of wine. Juice the remaining halves of fruit and add the juices to the pitcher.

* Thinly slice 1 ripe pear and add to the pitcher.

* Pour 1 cup of wine into a large glass and add 1/2 cup of honey, stirring until the honey is dissolved, then add the mixture to the pitcher. We used orange blossom honey, but you could experiment. You want something light, though, so I’d probably avoid a buckwheat honey.

* Add as much of the remaining wine from the bottle to the pitcher as you can. I think we actually had maybe 1 1/2 cups of wine leftover — not that it went to waste anywhere! Stir gently and cover to let the flavors mesh a bit…or not.

If you like your sangria a bit stronger, take 2 1/2 cups of vodka and mix well with 1 cup of honey, stirring until the honey is dissolved, then add it into the sangria. You want to do this prior to adding the remainder of the wine, in which case you’ll have a bit more Moscato available to taste.

Enjoy! And if you do venture out to karaoke, sing a song for me! And I guess maybe one for Damian too…

A quick chocolate lover’s dessert Wednesday, Apr 9 2014 

Well, it’s already April! Can you believe it — the snow here in PA has finally (mostly!) melted and Easter is not that far away. I will be perusing the farmers’ markets and planning my Easter menu — once I decide on whether to make a brunch or a more formal supper. And with the advent of some nice weather, not to mention both a flat of strawberries and a case of lemons from a good friend, I have been canning (yes!) and will be posting about that in the future. Meanwhile, come play in the kitchen!

I made up a quick and easy recipe years ago that turned out quite nicely. It became a family favorite, and I was getting request for it all of the time. Everyone thought it was completely complicated, but it is simple. I call it a Hershey Pie – so named because I used Hershey bars in the recipe, though I have successfully experimented with other chocolate. I am sure there are tons of similar ones, but this one was not pilfered – at least to my knowledge. I mean, back at its creation there was no internet! (My children now find that unbelievable…)

I was influenced by lots of recipes for chocolate silk pie that relied on chocolate mousse made with gelatin (and you know how I feel about that — see my post about chocolate mousse here: http://wp.me/p32HQ0-2x). So I tried to figure out how I could create something somewhat similar. I have to admit that this recipe was developed out of my commitment to bring a dessert to a family function, back when my tastes (and therefore skills and ingredients on hand) were not quite so…”sophisticated”? Not sure what word I want to use, but you get the idea…I was a young lady just entering the work force and felt the need to be as generous as possible with my commitments – usually so much so that I ended up awake for long hours every night finishing up this, that or the other and still trying to get enough sleep so that I didn’t need to caffeinate myself to death in the early a.m. This recipe was developed out of sheer desperation on a night when I needed more sleep than there were hours to devote to cooking…And I am still using it as a quick treat. I must warn you, though I attempted initially to duplicate a chocolate silk pie, t is not at all “silky”. Freezing the pie makes the chocolate and Cool Whip firm up, so you might want to set it out to soften about 10-15 minutes prior to serving.

Hershey Pie

* Melt 2 of the large (4.4 oz) Hershey bars (I prefer the Hershey with Almond) in a double boiler. Be extremely careful not to get any water from the steam in the chocolate or it will seize up.

* Fold the chocolate into 1/2 of a large tub (16 oz) of Cool Whip.

* Pour mixture into a 9″ graham cracker pie crust and spread evenly.

* Top the chocolate mixture with the remaining Cool Whip.

* Sprinkle with shaved chocolate or slivered almonds.

* Freeze til set.

That’s it. Easy peasy. Very quick and simple. I appreciate the deep, rich chocolate flavor. As I said, I have experimented very successfully with other candy bars, and even using chocolate chips — but the Hershey bars are still my favorite. Is it because I’m blessed to live within 20 minutes of Hershey? Well, that doesn’t hurt! Try it and let me know what you think!