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Dilettante! [Jun. 8th, 2013|09:47 pm]
Dilettante triathlon in a week!

I'm so excited to finally participate in an outdoor triathlon. I think I first heard about triathlons in college, and thought "I will do this one day." And that day is coming. :-)

Swimming I feel pretty good about. It will be in a lake, but I've done three lake swims in the Seattle area so far, and although the water is chilly, it's not unbearable, especially once I get warmed up. In fact, it's actually easier to swim in the cold water than in the 83F the Y keeps its lap pool at! The waves take some getting used to, as does the bright sunlight. So far, swimming without my glasses or a pair of contacts hasn't been an issue. On race day, I'm told the swimming portion is out-and-back, with the turn-around marked with a huge orange buoy. Even I should be able to see that. :-)

Biking will be a bit of a challenge. Although I routinely do more than 12 miles during the spinning class, I've yet to do that distance outside. In fact, it's starting to look like my first outdoor ride over 10 miles will be the race! Combine that with new clipless pedals, and biking will be the tough spot. I've been using the shoes in spinning class, so I wasn't totally thrown off by my first "real" bike attempt today, but I did almost fall, to the point of pulling my right foot out at the last moment as I was headed towards the ground! I'm planning on just getting on the stationary bike at the Y and clipping in and out, over and over, to get the motion drilled into my legs. "Heel to the bike, heel to the bike, heel to the bike..."

Running is going to be awesome. I've come so far from where I was, I'm still amazed. I ran around Green Lake today, 2.8 miles, and it's safe to say I actually ran (ok, jogged) 2 miles of that, with walking breaks in between. I got into the water by about 4:45 for a 1/4 mile swim, and was done with the run by 5:30. Given the time it took to clean all the wet sand off my feet after the swim, I'm pretty sure I averaged more than 5mph during the run! My shins are a tiny bit sore, and I'll probably feel it in my knee a bit tomorrow, but I'll take it. 6 months ago, even half a mile would have left me in pain for days. Yay for training up slowly! I felt really silly doing my 30 seconds of jogging spaced out with 4.5 minutes of walking, but now I'm glad I did that - I seem to have saved my joints!

Have to say, I think I'm addicted to triathlons, now, or at least to the training. The variety is awesome - 3 types, plus the indoor/outdoor variation, plus crosstraining with yoga or weightlifting. Add to that the ability to post a picture of me in nothing but a swimsuit and tri shorts with the caption "This is what a triathlete looks like." :-) 44" tummy and all!

And just for kicks and giggles, plus a recent photo, me and Monkey at Touch-a-Truck!
Cut for length...Collapse )
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Turkey dumpling soup [Nov. 26th, 2012|08:44 pm]
My MIL makes turkey soup with dumplings after every major holiday. I personally am not a huge fan of poached bread product, but DH loves the dumplings, so last year I attempted... and failed miserably. The "dumplings" were just drop biscuit dough, and they simply dissolved into the soup.

This year, I got the recipe from her, and had much more success!

Turkey Dumpling Soup

1 turkey frame
onions peels from several onions

Soup ingredients:
Turkey meat (stripped from boiled frame)
leftover gravy
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
1/2 onion, small dice
1 c. each frozen green beans, corn, and peas

3 eggs
1/2 c. milk
1 tsp baking powder
2 c. flour

The night before, break up the turkey frame (the bones, skin, and whatever meat you can't easily remove) into a pot, pushing on it to get it way down inside. Put the onion skins (I save onion peels and ends in a bag in the freezer for a couple of weeks for this purpose) on top of the frame. Barely cover the frame with water, just wetting the bottom of the skins. The goal here is to make a very concentrated stock. Bring to a simmer, and let simmer, covered, overnight, on a very low heat (just hot enough to keep it hot, but not hot enough to boil).

In the morning, strain the stock and let the bones cool a bit. Pick off all the meat, which should now be quite loose. Chop any large pieces into bit-size ones. Reserve meat. Chill stock until close to dinner time.

To make soup:
Heat the stock and whisk in the leftover gravy.

Sautee the onions and carrots in a bit of butter, oil, or turkey fat until onions are transluscent and carrots begin to soften. Add to heated stock. Bring stock up to a simmer. Dump in frozen vegetables and reserved meat.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs in a small bowl with some salt. Add the milk. Mix the baking powder and flour together, then add all at once to the egg mixtures. Mix thoroughly. Dough should be about the consistency of drop biscuits or thick brownie batter. If too dry, add a bit more milk. If too thin, more flour. Drop by the scant tablespoon into the simmering soup. The dumplings will drop, then rise and float as they cook. Cover and let cook about 5 minutes, until dumplings are cooked through. Serve.

*Note: Only one person in our household likes dumplings, so I only made 1 egg's worth. Cutting the recipe by a third ended up making 6 good-sized dumplings, so unless you have a crowd to feed, I highly recommend only making a small amount!
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Pecan tart [Nov. 23rd, 2012|07:41 pm]
For Thanksgiving this year, we stayed home and invited another family to join us. My friend and her husband have two kids close in age to our two, so it worked out well.

We had the standard turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, etc., which I'm sure tons of people have recipes for (though I'll post my mom's stuffing recipe later). However, I couldn't make our usual two pies - pumpkin and pecan - because I only have one pie dish. In the past, I've borrowed my sister or mom's, but now that were a couple of thousand miles away from them... not so practical.

Brian used to do a lot of baking, so he had a tart pan. Now, it's kind of hard to modify a pie recipe down to a tart, as the pan is a lot thinner. I decided I couldn't do it with pumpkin, so that one ended up as a crustless pie in the glass pie pan. Pecan, on the other hand...

Brian also has a book called "Bittersweet". It's all about chocolate, but some of the recipes include intriguing things like "the perfect shortbread crust". Another favorite were "Black-Bottom Pecan Praline Bars", which are essentially brownies topped with a pecan praline mixture that expands as it cooks and comes out rather light for a praline. I decided to combine the shortbread crust with the topping.

And it was Perfect. It came out tasting like the top part of a pecan pie resting on a thin shortbread crust. So if you don't like pie crust, or don't like the "gooey" part of pecan pie but do like the crunchy pecan-y top, this is definitely an awesome substitute for pecan pie. As a side benefit, it is way easier to cook than pie - no dough to roll out, it's simple to tell when it's done, and it tastes great made even two days in advance (cover with plastic wrap when it's completely cool). They would also make fantastic cookies to serve at a party or give as gifts.

Pecan tart - cobbled together from Warm Mocha Tart and Black-Bottom Pecan Praline Bars in "Bittersweet" by Alice Medrich

Shortbread crust:

1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven 350F.

Mix the butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla in a medium bowl. Add the flour and mix just until well blended. Don't worry if the dough seems very soft. Pat and press the dough very thinly and evenly into the bottom and up the sides of the tart pan. Bake at 350F for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the praline topping:

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 c. plus 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 c. coarsely chopped lightly roasted pecans

Mix the flour and baking soda together thoroughly and set aside.

Combine the melted butter, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Stir in the egg yolk and vanilla, then the flour mixture, and finally the nuts.

When the crust is done, pull it out of the oven. Drop spoonfuls of the praline mixture all over the hot crust. They will spread out during baking, so don't worry too much about getting it "perfect".

Bake another 15-20 minutes until the edges of the topping are well browned and cracked. Let cool completely in the tart pan. When cool, pop off the fluted outer edge and serve as wedges.

Makes 12 slices.
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Best Steak Marinade [Nov. 18th, 2012|06:34 pm]
So when I bought 14# of meat a few weeks ago, part of that was 2# of sirloin. I finally cracked into that this weekend, and Brian and I are going to have it for dinner after laying the kids down early for bed. Stay-at-home date night! It just so happens that tonight is a special day for us, too, as we started dating on the 18th of February a few (hee) years back, and we've made a point of doing something, from a little media-free cuddling to dinner out, on the 18th of every month we've been together.

On another note, I'm a little surprised at how long this 14# has lasted. I bought it shortly after the 15th in October, and we still have a whole cut-up chicken in the freezer, along with half a pound of bacon, 3/4 of a pound of sausage, and the 2# of steak, which I'm sure we won't finish tonight (and has a future destiny in a sandwich or stir-fry). The bacon was thick-cut and had a very high percentage of meat, much more than I'm used to, so half a pound with some homemade waffles made for a very satisfying breakfast yesterday. Usually when I make "regular" bacon, so much of it is fat that I either also make scrambled eggs or cook the whole pound (and end up with like half a cup of bacon grease!) in order to feel like we've had enough protein.

So dinner tonight will be marinated steak cooked in a cast iron skillet, baked potatoes, and steamed broccoli with some bread. We'll probably just have chocolate chips and red wine for dessert.

Brian came up with a steak marinade a few years ago that we love, and have used ever since. He looked online and in our pantry at the time, and cobbled together several different recipes to come up with this.

Best Steak Marinade

For 2# of steak

1/4 c. olive oil
1/4 c. canola oil
3 T red wine vinegar
2 T lemon juice
1 T yellow mustard (the kind you'd use on a hotdog, not powdered)
1/4 c. soy sauce (light or regular)
1 1/2 T Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 onion, very thinly sliced

Whisk together everything except the onion until combined. Stir in the onion. Place in a glass 8x8 or 9x9 baking pan, then add meat. Turn to coat, cover, and let sit in the fridge at least 6 hours, up to overnight. Turn once during marinating time. Remove from marinade, dry surfaces with a paper towel, and let sit at room temperature while you heat up your cooking method. Cook as desired (we've grilled, broiled, and done in a cast iron skillet with equal success).

If you have oddly-shaped cuts or just don't have the right size pan to make sure the marinade is covering or nearly covering the meat, you can also put meat and marinade in a ziploc bag, press out the air, and then let that sit on a plate (to catch any leaks) in the fridge.
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Going out [Nov. 17th, 2012|08:11 pm]
Last night was Friday Night Pizza, and I made a batch of chili and cornbread, plus some oatmeal muffins, for a mom in my MOPS group that recently had a baby. I found out she just became a SAHM after being a working mom with her two-year-old, so I think we're going to try to get together, and I offered her the best advice I got when I became a SAHM - it will take 6 months for you to find your new "normal", so don't feel bad if things still feel weird a couple of months in!

It rained a good portion of today, and I spent the best of the weather working in the community garden across the street, so by the time naptime rolled around, I still hadn't done the grocery shopping. There's a Denny's across the street from our usual store, so we decided to go out to dinner and then do the shopping as a family. I love doing that - all the fun of bringing the kids along with none of the responsibility of chasing after them while trying to shop!

Both Brian and I ordered grilled turkey sandwiches, and the kids had fries with a side of grilled cheese. In that they ate all their fries, and Katy had a few bites of grilled cheese. After we ordered, we were told it was "free kids meal" day if we ordered drinks for the kids. Both kids just wanted water, but we also ordered them some milk. Katy drank some of hers, and Christopher didn't touch his! Proof that if he says he just wants water, he really just wants water, I suppose.
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Black bean enchiladas [Nov. 15th, 2012|08:52 pm]
Monday everyone had off, so we spent it together as a family, including the grocery shopping. :-)

Monday dinner was black bean enchiladas. Originally I was going to serve it with brown rice, but while shopping, Brian found some good avocados, and so we had guacamole and chips instead.

Tuesday I made some green pea soup. Brian loves that soup, and it went well with the overly-dense whole wheat bread I made on Monday. I got a couple of pounds of whole wheat flour from the same bin as usual, but it was a much coarser grind than before, and the bread it made didn't rise well at all!

Wednesday and today we had leftovers, and tomorrow will be Friday Night Pizza.

Black Bean Enchiladas

1 c. dry black beans
1/2 c. salsa
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp salt
10 6" flour tortillas
8 oz shredded cheddar, divided
1/2 c. salsa

Soak beans overnight. Drain and cover with water. Cook beans until tender. Add salsa, chili powder, cumin, and salt. Cook until beans start to fall apart a bit. Cool to about room temperature.

Make enchiladas: On each tortilla, spread 1/4 c. (or so) cooked beans and 2 T shredded cheddar and roll up. Lay each tortilla in a 13"x9" pan, seam side down (mine usually fit 8 parallel to the short side with two along one long side to fill the gap).

Pour the final 1/2 c. of salsa over the top of the enchiladas and spread around to moisten all the tortillas. Use more salsa as needed. Top with remaining shredded cheddar.

Bake at 350F for 30 minutes. Serve with 0% plain greek yogurt, chopped tomatoes, and shredded lettuce.
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Macaroni and Cheese [Nov. 11th, 2012|10:35 pm]
A couple of weeks ago, I bought a package of several different cuts of meat from a local butcher. Tonight I finally tackled the pork chops! I had a major craving for some homemade mac and cheese, so the chops ended up just seasoned with salt, pepper, and sage, then panfried. I made a quick sauce by deglazing the pan with white wine, adding some chicken broth and minced onions, then reducing the sauce and finishing with some butter.

The main feature of tonight's dinner, though, was definitely the mac and cheese. I used to be a Velveeta girl when it came to mac and cheese, but somewhere along the line (thank you, Alton Brown!), my tastes grew up. Here's my stand-by recipe. I haven't quite gotten it to the point of creaminess after baking, so I keep tweaking it. Tonight I tried adding 2 oz of cream cheese, which did seem to help the texture a bit.

One-Pot Baked Mac and Cheese

8 oz Barilla Plus elbow noodles
3 T butter
3 T flour
1 T powdered mustard
1/2 tsp salt
3 c. 2% milk
2 bay leaves
1/2 medium onion, small dice
8 oz cheddar cheese, shredded
4 oz cheddar cheese, shredded, to sprinkle on top

Fill an ovenproof (no plastic handles) 3qt pot to within 1" of the top with water. Bring to a boil. Cook the elbow noodles 10 minutes, then drain. Put a lid on the colander to help keep the noodles from drying out too much. Put the pot back on the stove on medium heat. Melt the butter, then add the flour. Stir and cook until golden brown, then add the mustard and salt. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes, just to take the edge off. Pour in the milk while whisking briskly, then return to a medium-low heat. Whisk constantly until it starts to thicken, then reduce to very low. Add the bay leaves and onion, cover, and leave on a very low simmer for 20-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350F if you want to bake it for 30 minutes, or 325F if you need to leave it in for an hour.

Remove the sauce from the heat, and take out the bay leaves. Stir in the 8 oz of cheddar, then fold in the cooled noodles. Sprinkle the 4 oz on top, and put the whole pot in the oven, uncovered. Bake at 350F for 30 minutes, or at 325F for 1 hour. Let cool 10 minutes before serving.

NOTE: Try mixing in some cream cheese, subbing some of the cheddar with Monterrey Jack, or using another creamy-textured cheese to help smooth out the texture.
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Catching up, French Toast, and pizza [Nov. 9th, 2012|05:04 pm]
We were out of town for a week, got back Tuesday evening. Consequently, we had practically nothing in the house. I ended up taking the kids out for breakfast on Wednesday, as Walgreens (the closest store) had no eggs when I went to pick up milk for K's bottles on Wednesday night.


Wednesday night was spaghetti with meat sauce, plus some OK storebought "french" bread. I am reminded why I like to make my own bread. :-P

Thursday we made french toast with the remaining bread, and I made an egg bake with sausage, onions, and green pepper, since by then I'd had a chance to go shopping.

Tonight is pizza night! Whoo-hoo!

French Toast

2-3 slices per person of a good, solid bread, at least day-old, perferably a little dried out
1 egg per adult, 1 egg for every 2 kids, in general. For 5 large slices of bread, I used 2 eggs
1/4 c. 2% or whole milk for every egg
1/4 tsp vanilla for every egg
sprinkles of cinnamon and nutmeg, to taste

Beat the eggs in a bowl with the milk and vanilla. When everything in homogonized, add the spices and mix thoroughly. Pour into a pie plate the same size as your skillet. This way, you just keep adding slices of bread until the plate is full, and you know it will all fit in the skillet. I use a 9" glass pie plate for my 10" cast iron skillet - gives me a bit of flipping room. Add the first batch of bread to the skillet to soak while your skillet heats.

Pre-heat your skillet until the whole thing is medium to medium-high. Grease with salted butter, about a teaspoon or two per batch. Cook the slices until dark golden brown on both sides. Time will vary widely with slice thickness, so you'll just have to check. When you remove slices from the liquid, add more to soak while you cook that batch. Keep in mind that good, chewy bread will withstand a lot more soaking than Wonderbread types. If you're using soft bread, don't soak it - just dip and fry.

Serve with warm maple syrup, vanilla yogurt, jam, whipped cream, fresh fruit, or Nutella. Or a selection. :-)
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Black bean soup [Oct. 29th, 2012|03:08 pm]
...and this is why I've started posting what I make! I was able to go back through my posts and find the broth-less black bean soup I made that turned out so well.

Tonight will be black bean soup and corn bread.

We're leaving tomorrow morning for Chicago. Bus, train, plane, car - it will be a day of transportation!
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Egg bake [Oct. 28th, 2012|05:45 pm]
Tonight was another variation on egg bake. I didn't have any green pepper, so I used some orange pepper I'd diced and frozen a while back. I tried pre-cooking the shredded potatoes, we'll see how it turns out!
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