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Archive for January, 2012

Okay, maybe that’s being a little extreme but finally, FINALLY, this weekend I met the only other wife to accompany her husband to this training.  It’s SO different than at Fort Benning where it seemed everyone’s spouse came along for the ride.  Anyhoo, we were able to to go out to breakfast with this couple and it was so refreshing!  Leaving the security of my social world in Iowa has really shown me how much having the company of others affects my energy level.  Just a few hours of quality time recharges my batteries and makes me feel like I can take on anything (conversely, too many hours of isolation finds me lying on the couch like a bump on a log).

So feeling recharged by not only Saturday’s quality time, but the hope of quality time to come (said friend wife lives just a couple buildings away), I felt ready to embark on another culinary adventure.  Enter: Enchilada Pasta.  Now, I love me some Iowa Girl Eats (which is where this recipe originates) and I LOVE me some enchiladas so I was really really looking forward to this dish.  Unfortunately, a rough couple of days of evening nausea (thought this was supposed to be over in the first trimester!) prevented me from enjoying the dish, but I still thought I’d share!

Like IGE mentions, having the chicken done up ahead of time really helps.  Thankfully I had this left over from a couple of days ago!

Here’s some of the characters from the main line up.  I gotta say, I am majorly picky about enchilada sauce.  Even though I didn’t officially taste this brand, I’m pretty sure from the color and smell, it’s not going to be a returning cast member.

Okay, so this is just my attempt at ingredient transparency.  Yes, we have four containers of cumin.

In my defense (there’s none really)…

1. We did just combine two households

2. I think at least one of these were from a time I was cooking at my sister’s and she didn’t have any

(No, I don’t know why I didn’t let her keep it if that was the case)

3. Is there really such a thing as too much cumin?

Well, excuses aside, I’m going to make it my goal to be down to two containers by the time we leave Virginia!

Good things starting to happen on the stove top!

Finished product!

Well, at this point, I thought I was still going to manage to eat some and well, we know about me and condiments.

For most of you, garnishing with avocados, sour cream, and whatever else you love on your Mexican food would dress this dish up a bit!

Enjoy!

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The Continuum of C’s

First C = Cuties

As in, look at these cuties:

I mean, even if you’re a chocolate person (another awesome C-word), aren’t they adorable?

Second C = Crap!

Yes, I said it!  After four batches, four different recipes, four different flavors, four different icings.  Nothing.  Nada.  They ALL tasted horrible.  I was so disappointed because I was ALL about the baked doughnut craze.

Third C = Continue

Even if you spend all day, wasting your efforts and your very last egg on baking attempts, dinner still has to be made.  Thankfully, earlier in the week I had found this little gem.  Just a chopped red pepper, green pepper, some leftover potatoes and onions (from the sausage corn chowder), and some Italian turkey sausage links.  Roast and done!

Okay, now that this post is on the upswing, let’s keep the trend going 🙂

Fourth, fifth, and sixth C = Chocolate Chip Cookies

Let’s be honest.  If you have any self-knowledge, you know where you fall on this ultra important continuum.

Do you prefer:

Chewy and thick?

Chewy and thin?

Crispy and thick?

Crispy and thin?

Semi-sweet chocolate only?

As many types of chocolate and nuts that the dough will hold?

A cookie stuffed with another cookie or brownie (I know there are some Picky Palate fans out there!)

Anyway, you get the idea 🙂

Personally, I am a thick and chewy cookie girl with a lot of flexibility regarding add-ins.  As much as I love the good ol’ Nestle recipe, it just doesn’t typically yield the texture of cookie that I’m looking for.  While browsing for that elusive successful baked doughnut recipe, I stumbled upon a number of chocolate chip cookie recipes that called for a recipe I hadn’t considered: molasses.

Seventh C = Curious

Yeah, so I was curious.  Could molasses really work?  I’m going to let the photos do the talking:

Yes, it has brown sugar and molasses.

The batter will look a little weird after you add the molasses.  Don’t worry–it’s normal.

Now, this particular recipe (see below) makes a whole heap of cookies.  And because you’re baking at a higher temperature, each batch will take less time (9:20 was the perfect time on my oven).  Which will annoy you if you’re trying to finish a book.

So, moral of the story: even when you’re met with a few challenges–in and out of the kitchen–I hope you’ll persevere and you just might end up with a sweet treat in the end!

Chocolate Chip Cookies

(recipe from Cookie Madness who says it’s from the White House Chef–heck, these cookies are even patriotic!)

3 cups plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter — (2 sticks) softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 c molasses
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups chocolate chips — (one 12-ounce bag)
1 cup chopped walnuts

Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium mixing bowl.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar until thoroughly combined. Beat in the eggs, molasses and vanilla, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice as necessary. Stir in the flour mixture until just incorporated. Then stir in the chocolate chips and walnuts. Place the bowl in the refrigerator and allow the dough to chill for 1 hour.  DO NOT SKIP on this step.  Chilling makes all the difference.  Plus, it will help you to get closer to finishing that book!

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat pads*

Drop heaping tablespoons or No. 40 ice-cream scoops of the dough 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets, flattening them slightly by hand. (Balls of dough may be placed next to each other on parchment-lined baking sheet, frozen, transferred to zipper-lock plastic bags, and stored in the freezer for up to 1 month. Place frozen cookies on prepared sheets as above, and defrost on the counter for 30 minutes before baking.)

Bake until just light golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool the cookies for 5 minutes on the baking sheets before using a metal spatula to transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. Chocolate Chip Cookies will keep in an airtight container for 2 to 3 days.

*I had no problem with these cookies sticking but if you own Silpats, go for it!

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Southern Comfort

The blustery, rainy weather combined with being given the Tricare shuffle on the phone today, plus generally missing life in Iowa, meant dinner tonight called for some major comfort.  Bring on the soup!

Tonight’s recipe is a conglomeration of this version, a few tweaks from my dear friend Angie, and a recipe I was given in a church bulletin I got on post last week.  It really does lend itself to adaptations so do what works for your family!

First, you’ve got to chop about half an onion and one jalapeno.  Get them going in a pot with about a tablespoon of butter.

While that’s going, go ahead and rinse your potatoes and start to brown your ground sausage.  I got a little over zealous in my rinsing and didn’t use all the potatoes.  But now they’re rinsed for the next meal I have planned for them!

So, I’ve gotta ask: do YOU have a magic kitchen wand?  Cause I do!

Okay, so maybe you’re one of those patient people who delicately pre-crumbles any meat they plan to brown.  And maybe you don’t mind handling  meat.  Either way, at least in my preggo state, it’s a no go.  This wand (okay, so it’s a Pampered Chef masher thingy) is awesome!

So, by now, you’ve got your onion and jalapeno sauteing, your sausage is browning, and your potatoes are chopped into bite-sized pieces.  Time to add the chicken broth and get those potatoes into their hot bath.

Once your potatoes are fork tender, it’s time for the remaining ingredients!

I did end up using two cans of cream corn, but my goal was really to make this soup stretch.  I chose to use cream corn and evaporated milk because in the past, I’ve been really hit and miss with the roux for this soup.  It also allowed me to thicken things up without adding whole milk (which we just don’t normally have on hand).

Anyhoo, the finished product!  Even after it was attacked by a hungry husband and preggo wife, we still had half a pot left!  Comfort achieved 🙂

Corn Chowder

Ingredients

1 lb ground sausage

1/2 sweet yellow onion

1 jalapeno

5-6 red potatoes

3 1/2 cups of chicken stock

2 cans cream corn

1 can fat free evaporated milk

Salt & Pepper

Directions

1. Chop onion and jalapeno.

2. Add to soup pot with one tablespoon of butter.  Saute for 3-4 minutes.

3. Rinse and chop potatoes.

4. In a separate pan, brown ground sausage.

5. Add chopped potatoes and chicken stock to soup pot.  Bring to a boil.

6. Once potatoes are fork tender, add sausage, cream corn, and evaporated milk.

7. Salt and pepper to taste.

Enjoy!

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Well, to be honest, we’ve just begun to sample the cuisine. And none of it has been southern. But I’m sure we’ll get there 🙂

On Thursday evening, we had the opportunity to celebrate the start of the four day weekend with some of the hubster’s classmates. One of the women is Korean and she had recently scoped out a local restaurant called Koreana. With trepidation (on my part–the hubster was immediately enticed by the promise of tentacled morsels), we joined the group.

Overall impression: less scary than anticipated but it was a no go with the cartagena-to-be. Whew–killer heartburn the whole next day!

If you haven’t had the opportunity to have Korean food before, our friends tell us you can judge the quality of the restaurant by the quality of items they serve with the main dish.  Most restaurants will serve between 6-7 side dishes with your main option.  Ours included spicy bean sprouts, cucumbers, broccoli, sardines (ack–couldn’t get past the eyeballs!), and a few others I couldn’t identify.

I ordered a pretty traditional beef Korean BBQ dish while the hubster went for the more adventure “hot bowl.”  It included some kind of meat, greens, rice, hot paste, and originally had an egg on top.  The restaurant owner mixed it all together at the table and it looked like this:

Apparently it was pretty spicy.  It managed to slow down the boy who thinks EVERYTHING tastes better with pickled jalapenos.  Seriously.

After taking a day to recuperate (I normally love spicy food, but whew, this stuff took me out!), we decided to head north to the Richmond area to do some exploring.  We weren’t really sure what we were hoping to find or hoping to do.  At first, we checked out an uppity mall area that was recommended by a couple we had met the night before.  It was a nice suggestion, but just not our speed.  Next, we were going to try to find a good Mexican place (if anyone can find a safe way to send me El Azteca salsa, I will be your friend forever!!) but then we discovered there was a local Caribbean joint (thank you Trip Advisor).  When there are tostones within a thirty mile radius, we can’t be deterred.

Following a crap-do-we-have-any-change toll scare, a few moments gawking at the gorgeous houses in the neighborhood we ended up in, and several minutes of debating the parking situation, we ended up at this little gem:

Now, I’m a hole-in-the-wall junkie.  I love a good, local, ten or less tables joint.  If that’s not your cup of tea, Kuba Kuba will stress you out.  But if you don’t mind Barbie doll legs coming out of the light fixtures (not sure why) coupled with great Caribbean food, I highly recommend this place.

On Saturdays and Sundays, they have a brunch menu which delighted my soul.  Not realizing our entrees would be accompanied with tostones, we immediately placed an order.  ONLY $2.95 for at least a dozen.  I would show you the picture but they were consumed before I thought of it 🙂

I got this AMAZING Cubano sandwich (made on locally baked bread) for only $6.95!

The hubster’s entree was a little bit pricier but it was enough food that he actually ate it for dinner that night as well (it’s rare that a dish, especially a Caribbean dish, doesn’t get polished off immediately).

Stuffed to the gills,  we paid (FYI: they do take cards but don’t divide checks), and decided to take a walk through the Careytown area.  It’s a quirky neighborhood with several independent small shops.  Of course, I only took photos in the important ones: where chocolate was available.

Our first foodie stop was Careytown Cupcakes.  Now, I’m a bit of a cupcake snob, but if you’re the average consumer, please take my review with a grain of salt.  Then again, if you’re an average consumer, you may be thinking, who THINKS about their cupcakes?!  Just eat, woman!

Store: clean, cute, good seating.

Selection: they only sell until they run out and we weren’t there until late afternoon.  It looked like they ordinarily have 5-6 choices per day.

The Cupcake: marshmallow frosting was good, but the frosting-to-cake ratio was a little lacking (for my preferences).  The best part: a surprise graham cracker layer at the bottom of the cake, making it truly, a s’more cupcake.

Our next chocolate stop was an amazing little place called:

Our favorite part was the variety of chocolate they had from all over the world (including our favorite Puerto Rican candy bar).  We managed to keep our purchased stash within reason (comforted by the proximity if repeat trips were needed).

All in all, it was an enjoyable day.  We’re really looking forward to doing more exploring in the area.

Last but not least, here’s some photographic evidence that we do feed our minds (not just our stomachs):

This AWESOME rare and used book store was a treasure trove!  We found a map of Iowa from the 1850s, a book on the Spanish American War where Puerto Rico was spelled Porto Rico, and overheard a sales person say they just sold a signed copy of an Emily Dickinson text for $10,000.  We managed to get out with just a reasonably priced vintage engineering text.  Once again, return trips in store!

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On the Road Again…

3 days. 2 cats. 1 pregnant lady.

Sounds like an ad for an adventure comedy, but nope, just our lives!

Last week we left the epicenter of the universe–Ames, IA–and headed for the East Coast! We’ll be living in southern Virginia for the next few months while the hubster completes some military training.

If you know me, you know I am a big schedule person. After almost seven years though, I think I’ve gotten to a point where I can run on Puerto Rican standard time without massively freaking out 🙂 With that being said, we left for our journey a day and four hours later than we planned to. I was feeling the time crunch but knew that we had a couple extra days built into our plans.

We made it to Urbana, IL on our first day. Exhausted, with two very freaked out cats, we grabbed some gyros and salads at a local joint called Niro’s Gyros (really reminded me of Mr. Greek’s in Chicago) and headed to the hotel. I should back up and say that after some consideration, we decided not to sedate the cats (overall, they did pretty well, but we could tell they were in a bit of shock). The first night went well and we only had a brief scare in the morning when we couldn’t find Zoey. We don’t know how she did it, but she managed to get INSIDE the box the hotel bed sits on. Thank you hotel staff for the suggestion to check there!

On the second day, we made it across Indiana, Ohio, and a good chunk of West Virginia (Wild and Wonderful–or so the sign says). Thankfully we didn’t drive in WV for too long because it was dark and those hills were S-C-A-R-Y! We made it to the hotel and crashed. The next morning, Baxter managed to ESCAPE! Thankfully, we (and by we, I mean Jensen) were able to chase him down an enclosed staircase and get his now-in-serious-trouble kitty butt back into the room. Sheesh!

The other scary part of day two was calling our property manager and finding out they weren’t expecting us until Sunday. Eek! Thankfully, they worked with us and we figured out we could still move in. Phew.

Finally, day three and Virginia is in sight! We spent a lot of the day calling each other (we really should have invested in walkie talkies), exclaiming, “did you just see that?!” “we’ve gotta come back and visit that!” Thankfully we have some time to explore!

We arrived at our complex (it’s the civilian equivalent of Ft Knox–more on that tomorrow) around 6:00 p.m. That was after a brief detour onto Squirrel Level Road. I’ve gotta say, when we took that exit, I shamefully thought: I am NOT giving anyone my address. Followed by: what IS squirrel level anyways? About six inches?

Anyway, I promise to be much better in updating everyone, but for now, know we’re here, we’re safe, and getting adjusted. We’re also missing you all like crazy!

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