Sunday, March 27, 2011

I did it!

I finally finished the The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas this afternoon, all unabridged 1,462 pages.  Phew!  What an accomplishment!  I think it took me about two months, not exactly record speed.  But I am feeling good about being on track with one of my New Year's Resolutions, reading more classics.   The Count of Monte Cristo was definitely my "classics" start with a big bang.

The first 350 pages are riveting-- getting all caught up in the middle of an exceptional jail break story..

But then, there is a dramatic change starting in Chapter 31, "Italy: Sinbad the Sailor."  A whole new cast of characters appear on the scene, each with a half a dozen back stories.. and well, this reader was a bit lost.   I should have paid a bit more attention to these lines at the end of Chapter 30, "The Fifth of September":
"And now," said the unknown, "farewell kindness, humanity, and gratitude! Farewell to all the feelings that expand the heart! I have been Heaven's substitute to recompense the good- now the God of Vengeance yields to me his power to punish the wicked!"
Around page 500, I was seriously doubting my ability to continue another thousand pages to the finish.  But my friends encouraged me.  Luckily, around page 800, the story again gained steam.  At a dinner party scene, the various characters and back stories began overlapping and explaining each other.. and I kept muttering, "oh! aha! yes!"  And I was glad I had stuck things out.

All in all, I was thoroughly impressed with Dumas' story telling ability.  He wove a web of characters, plot lines and French history... successfully culminating into a satisfying ending of righted wrongs, lovers reunited, vengeance delivered and hope restored.  I like these endings!!

If you read this book, I encourage you to
1]keep the dictionary app on your phone open the whole time!
2]find a list of characters online and tape it to the inside of your book cover
3]download the movie to your iTunes and watch it AFTER you finish the book

So to Edmond Dantes, Sinbad the Sailor, Lord Wilmore, Abbe Busoni and the Count of Monte Cristo, thank you for entertaining me (and growing my vocabulary) the past two months.

Secret Ingredient Mashed Potatoes

A sneaky way to slip in vegetables.. and I get compliments about having the "best mashed potatoes" quite often... and they never know!!!

Secret Ingredient Mashed Potatoes
2 lbs+ potatoes, washed and chunked (peeled if desired)
1/2 head of cauliflower, washed and chunked
salt, to taste
4-5 Tbs+ butter
2/3 cup+ milk
1 tsp+ granulated garlic, to taste

1. Place potatoes and cauliflower {I like to keep the ratio 2/3 potatoes to1/3 cauliflower} in large pot of boiling water.  Boil 25-30 minutes, until very tender.
2. Drain water.  Add milk, butter, salt and garlic.  Blend with hand mixer.  Adjust amount of ingredients accordingly to taste :)
3. Add any other fun condiments found in your fridge, {i.e., ranch dressing, sour cream, cheese, parsley, etc.}
4. Serve hot!

Step 1: Wash and chunk veggies.

Step 1 con't: Add veggies to boiling water.  

Monday, March 21, 2011

Artichoke Florentine Dip

Yes, the rich and creamy cravings continue.  I feel a bit more guilt about this recipe than the Manicotti Florentine, even if I try to tell myself that it has spinach in it...

Artichoke Florentine Dip
1 cup+ fresh spinach, chopped
3/4 cup artichoke hearts, chopped
1/2 cup mayonaise (I like the kind made from olive oil)
8 oz package cream cheese
3/4 cup fresh parmesan, grated
3/4 cup mozzarella, shredded
2 Tbs lemon juice
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp red chili pepper flakes (IF you like it spicy!)
a shake or two of black pepper for fun

1. In medium bowl, cream mayo and cream cheese together with a fork.  Stir in parmesan and mozzarella cheeses, lemon juice and spices.
2. Fold in spinach and artichokes.
3. Press into greased 8x8 dish.  Bake covered 20 minutes at 375.  Bake uncovered additional 5-10 minutes until golden brown.  *If everything is cold, (i.e. coming out of fridge) may need to bake 25 minutes first.

Serve warm with blue corn tortilla chips or warm bread.

Manicotti Florentine

Serious craving for rich Italian food these days.  This recipe hit the spot without too much guilt.

Manicotti Florentine
1 1/2 cup fresh spinach, chopped
1 cup fresh mushrooms, chopped
1 1/2 cup cottage cheese
salt & pepper to taste
1 cup+ mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
1 jar favorite spaghetti sauce (Classico Traditional Sweet Basil for me :)
1 package manicotti pasta (16 or so shells), uncooked

1. Mix spinach, mushrooms, cottage cheese, parmesan cheese and salt & pepper in medium bowl.
2. Spread 1 or 2 cups pasta sauce on bottom of 9x13 dish.
3. Fill shells with cheese & veg mixture.
4. Place in dish.  Cover with more pasta sauce and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese.
5. Bake covered 50 min at 375.  Remove cover for additional 10 minutes.

Serve with Greek Salad.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Polenta Lasagna

This is one of my "go-to recipes".  One of the "old fall backs".  One of the ones I always try to have everything on hand for, in case I need to whip up a quick and easy dinner.  As a bonus, this is recipe is Gluten Free and easily Vegetarian.

Polenta Lasagna
1 package polenta, sliced
1 jar spaghetti sauce
4 cups (?) mozzarella cheese
veggies!  [whatever is in your pantry and fridge!] tonight I used about a handful of each:
purple onion, chunked
broccoli, chunked
carrots, chopped
olives, halved
mushrooms, sliced
*sausage [I've cooked it on stovetop before hand OR I just slice precooked chicken sausage links]

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Chop all veggies.  Slice polenta.
3. Layer in baking dish: polenta, spread a layer of spaghetti sauce on top of the polenta, a smattering of veggies (and sausage, if you choose), half of the cheese.  Repeat!
4. Bake covered, for 45-50 minutes.  Remove covering last 10-15 minutes.  Let stand for 5-10min before serving.

*Obviously don't include the sausage if you intend to make it vegetarian.
*Because of the water in the fresh veggies, there will be liquid in the bottom of the pan.  Use slotted spoon to serve.
*Other vegetables that turn out well are squash, zucchini, peppers and spinach.
*Polenta can be hard to track down.  I have found it at Trader Joe's and ethnic sections of the grocery store.
*Serve with warm bread dipped in olive oil and black pepper.

Step 3: Layering.

Step 3: Starting the 2nd layer with sliced polenta.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Health Nut Muffins

Health Nut Muffins
3/4 cup turbinado sugar
3/4 cup flax seed meal
5 ripe bananas
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 eggs
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp allspice

1. Heat oven to 350.  Grease large muffin tin or loaf pan.
2. In large bowl, mix sugar, flax seed, bananas, milk, yogurt and eggs.  In separate medium bowl, combine, flour, soda, salt and spices.  Gently stir dry mix into wet.
3. Bake 50 minutes.  Serve warm with black coffee.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Pad See Ew

WOAH!  This recipe is amazing, as in ahh-may-zing!  My friend, Lani, whipped this up at her house last week and it was better than any Thai Restaurant Pad See Ew I have ever tasted.   She gave me the recipe and I couldn't even wait a full week to make it for my little family.  It was a 100% hit tonight.

Lani's Pad See Ew
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 Tbs fish sauce
2 Tbs soy sauce
3 Tbs peanut butter (nutty or creamy)
1/2 cup lime juice
3 garlic gloves, minced
2 tsp fresh grated ginger (or 1 tsp dry ground ginger)
2 Tbs light brown sugar
1 tsp hot red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 cup cucumber, cut into matchstick size
1 med carrot, grated
1/4 cup sliced green onion
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
12 oz rice noodles, prepared as directed on package

1. Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper, both sides. Saute in skillet until thoroughly cooked.  Shred. Set aside.
2. While chicken is cooking, prepare rice noodles (usually cooking in boiling water 3-5 min., then rinsed with cold water).
3. Whisk together oil, fish & soy sauce, peanut butter, lime juice, garlic, ginger, sugar and pepper flakes in medium bowl.  Stir in onion, carrot and cilantro.
4. In large bowl, stir together noodles, chicken and sauce.  Serve room temperature or hot.   Top with hot chili sauce for added kick.

Serves 4, large helpings.