Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Easy Summer Dinner Winners

I don't know about you, but I can't wait to get back to cooking on the grill, eating cold foods, and simplifying meals for the summer. As much as I love me a hearty casserole, throwing a slab of meat and some vegetables on the grill is a dinner winner in my book. Here are a few of my favorite summer recipes, both main meals and side dishes (most of which can also serve as main dishes, too).

Ina Garten's Asian Grilled Salmon
Salmon is a great fish to cook on the grill, since it has some body to it so it won't fall apart and it's very easy to tell when it's cooked just by looking. This recipe is very simple, without a lot of ingredients, but adds just enough flavor to not overwhelm the fish. It's great with a side of sticky rice and fresh green peas.

1 side fresh salmon, boned but skin on (about 3 pounds)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons good soy sauce
6 tablespoons good olive oil
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

Brush the grilling rack with oil and preheat. While the grill is heating, lay the salmon skin side down on a cutting board and cut it crosswise into 4 equal pieces. Whisk together the mustard, soy sauce, olive oil, and garlic in a small bowl. Drizzle half of the marinade onto the salmon and allow it to sit for 10 minutes.

Place the salmon skin side down on the hot grill; discard the marinade the fish was sitting in. Grill for 4 to 5 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. Turn carefully with a wide spatula and grill for another 4 to 5 minutes. The salmon will be slightly raw in the center, but it will keep cooking as it sits.

Transfer the fish to a flat plate, skin side down, and spoon the reserved marinade on top. Allow the fish to rest for 10 minutes. Remove the skin and serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled. 

Giada de Laurentiis' Lamb Sliders
This is probably the third or fourth time I've posted this recipe, but it really is just that good. Burgers are a fun summer meal, but these lamb sliders, with their delicious contrast of garlicky spiciness, sweet soft roll, and creamy cheesy centers brings burgers on the grill to a whole new level. 

5 tablespoons olive oil
2 large shallots, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound ground lamb
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ketchup
2 ounces Swiss or gruyere cheese, cut into eight 1/2-inch cubes (I used Havarti)
8 small hamburger or slider buns, such as King's Hawaiian, halved
Place a grill pan over medium-low heat or preheat a gas or charcoal grill. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in an 8-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallots, 1/2 teaspoon salt* and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook until the shallots are soft (about 3 minutes). Add the garlic and cook until aromatic (about 30 seconds). Remove the pan from the heat and cool slightly.

Combine the shallot mixture, lamb, cumin, ketchup, 1/4 teaspoon salt* and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl. Form the mixture into 8 patties each 2 1/2 inches in diameter and 1/2-inch thick. Press a cube of cheese into the middle of each patty and form the meat around the cheese to cover. Brush the patties with the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil and grill until cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes per side. Let the patties rest for 2 minutes. Place the patties in the buns and serve. 

*The amount of salt in the original recipe is 3/4 teaspoon in the shallot mixture and 1/2 teaspoon in the combined mixture, but I found this a bit too salty for my taste. The garlic and cumin provide a strong enough flavor that the salt isn't really needed. So feel free to adjust to your personal taste. 

Chickpea Sandwich Filling
I love steak in the summer, but sometimes I like to lighten it up with a vegetarian meal. This chickpea sandwich spread is great on a hearty bread or a soft, fluffy roll. I like it with just the filling and the bread, but you can add sliced tomatoes, onion, lettuce, or any other condiments you like. It's also great with a side of corn on the cob with a bit of dill sprinkled on it to tie in the flavors. 

1 (19 oz) can chickpeas
1 stalk celery, chopped
½ onion, chopped
1 tbsp mayo
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp dried dill weed
Salt & pepper

Drain and rinse chickpeas; mash in bowl with fork. Add remaining ingredients. Keep chilled. 

Balsamic Marinated Portobello Mushrooms
Another hearty vegetarian meal I love in the summer is marinated portobello mushrooms. You can make them into a burger, but I love eating them like a steak, with a side of potato or pasta salad to complete the meal.You can marinade them in just about anything, but I love the kick of balsamic vinegar, and this recipe is a favorite in my house. 

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive (or vegetable) oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced garlic (or 3 fresh cloves, minced)
1 teaspoon finely minced thyme leaves
1 teaspoon salt
4 portobello mushrooms, stems removed

In a small bowl, whisk together all ingredients except mushrooms. Place mushrooms in a large ziploc bag, pour marinade over, seal, and toss until well coated. Let marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes. Preheat oiled grill and grill for 3-4 minutes on each side, until tender. 

If desired, serve burger-style on buns with lettuce, onion, and tomato. 

Roasted Herb Potatoes
The type of herbs I use in these potatoes usually depends on what I have a lot of in my backyard herb garden at the time. Rosemary, thyme, sage, basil, oregano, parsley, chives - just toss it right in! Dried herbs are fine, too. I've yet to find a combination that doesn't taste great. 

2 lbs. small potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
several tablespoons of whatever fresh or dried herbs you have on hand
1/3 sweet onion, chopped (optional)

Scrub potatoes and cut into 1" chunks (skin on). If time allows, soak in cold water for 1 hour (this makes the potatoes nice and fluffy), then drain and dry well. Arrange on a large piece of non-stick foil. Add onions, if using. Sprinkle evenly with garlic powder, salt and pepper, and herbs. Drizzle with olive oil. Seal tightly into a packet, keeping the potatoes in a single layer. Roast on the grill over medium-high heat until tender (20-30 minutes), flipping packet over halfway through cooking. 

Rainbow Pasta Salad
There's nothing like cold pasta salad on a hot summer day, and this version is hearty enough to be a meal in itself - or a great appetizer or side dish. And this recipe is a fun base to play around with - experiment with adding onions, different types of cheese, and different dressings for variety. 

16 oz. tri-color rotini pasta
1/4 lb. pepperoni, cut into sliced or small chunks
1 cup fresh broccoli florets
1 (6 oz.) can black olives, drained and sliced
8 oz. shredded mozzarella
16 oz. Italian dressing

Cook pasta as directed. Drain and toss together with remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Chill for at least one hour before serving. 

Triple Threat Salad
This recipe is really called "Triple Treat Salad", but since I misread it initially, and since it's practically my trademark at summer parties and picnics with my theatre friends, I've renamed it. It's best made the night before so the dressing can really soak into the broccoli. 

3 medium heads broccoli, cut into bite-size pieces (florets only)
1 package bacon (I use precooked because I'm lazy), crisped and crumbled
2 cups shredded cheddar
1/2 cup mayonnaise (I use light)
4 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Toss together the broccoli florets, crumbled bacon, and shredded cheddar in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients and adjust to taste. Pour dressing over salad, mix well, and refrigerate several hours to overnight, tossing occasionally if possible.

Three-Bean Salad
This recipe is really just for the dressing, because the list of beans and other ingredients (like white or red onions) you can use is endless. I like it best with wax beans, kidney beans, and chickpeas, but you don't even have to limit yourself to three kinds of beans. Like the broccoli salad above, the longer it marinates, the better it tastes!

3 cups total of any combination of 3 kinds of beans, cooked and drained (kidney, green, lima, wax, chick peas, etc. - no need to cook if canned, but thaw if frozen) 
¾ c sugar
2/3 c cider vinegar
1/3 c vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

Combine all ingredients and marinate overnight or longer.

Caprese Salad
Juicy summer tomatoes fresh off the vine, fresh basil leaves right from your garden, and high-quality buffalo mozzarella give the best results, but pesto is fine if you don't have fresh basil, and any kind of mozzarella slices will do. Dress up this dish with yellow heirloom tomatoes to impress company, or cut the tomatoes and mozzarella into cubes on toothpicks for party appetizers. Plain balsamic vinegar is fine, but Costco carried a balsamic glaze with just a hint of sweetness that really ups the ante on this dish. 

Fresh tomatoes, sliced
Fresh mozzarella, sliced
Fresh basil leaves (or pesto)
Olive oil (I omit if using the balsamic glaze)
Balsamic vinegar (or glaze)

Lay the tomato slices on a plate; top each with a slice of mozzarella and a basil leaf or two (or spread with pesto - or both!). When ready to serve, drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, or balsamic glaze. 

 Happy Summer Eating!

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Friday, May 12, 2017

In Praise of Princesses

I think I've blogged on this topic before, but I overheard someone making a disparaging remark about all the "Disney princess stuff" marketed towards little girls and how horrible it is, and I felt a need to address the issue again.

I don't deny that Disney is a marketing machine, and that they create whatever will sell. And little girls do love the glamour of princesses. But I don't think that the stories of these princesses are completely without value, even the early Disney princess films which are often accused of depicting vapid, helpless women who live only to find and marry a prince. In fact, I think that nearly every Disney princess can teach a young girl a valuable lesson. Let's take a look at each of the princesses on the "official Disney princess" list, in the order that their movies were released.

Snow White is one of the youngest of the Disney princesses, and one with perhaps the most difficult story. Despite being a legitimate princess in her own right, she is forced to work like a servant, yet never complains, and in fact, actively seeks ways to be cheerful as she works. Her cheerful demeanor and sweet spirit endear her to all around her, which saves her life when her jealous stepmother's attempt to murder her is foiled because the huntsman cannot bring himself to kill her. Her life is saved again when she befriends the seven dwarves, willingly taking on a servant's role, and in return they protect her from the evil queen. Snow White teaches my daughter to be patient in the face of adversity, and not to be afraid of hard work. And that even princesses need to do hard work sometimes!

Next we have Cinderella. She is treated cruelly by her stepmother and stepsisters, but she continues to be kind and well-mannered towards them. She never returns cruelty for cruelty or unkindness for unkindness. Like Snow White, she isn't afraid of hard work, and she is appreciative when her friends help her, even if they are only mice and birds. In fact, she treats her little animal friends, her stepfamily, and Prince Charming all the same way, with politeness and kindness. And she never loses hope that her dreams will someday come true. Cinderella teaches little girls to be kind to everyone, from the least important to the most important, and to keep a positive attitude in the face of adversity.

Sleeping Beauty is an interesting Disney princess, because she spends most of her movie asleep. But even so, her story teaches some positive lessons. For example, her friends, the three good fairies and her little animal friends, all stand by her and help her when she is at her most helpless, so her story teaches us to trust in and rely on our friends. It is also significant that the Prince is only able to defeat the evil queen when he is armed with the Sword of Truth and the Shield of Virtue, reminding us that good can triumph over evil.

Ariel, the Little Mermaid, is somewhat different from the prior princesses in that she has a father - but one whom she rebels against, which results in her becoming entangled with the deceitful Sea Witch. In the end, her father sacrifices himself to save her, which teaches children that even when your parents make rules that you don't like, they're for your own good, and that even when you make mistakes, your parents will be there to help get you out of trouble. Ariel's curiosity about humans also teaches little girls that curiosity and learning are good things (and that ignorance will cause you to do silly things like combing your hair with a fork).

Belle from "Beauty and the Beast" is a more obvious role model than the previous princesses, in that she is clearly shown to be smart, curious, and self-sufficient. Her story begins when she sacrifices her own safety to protect her father. But like the princesses before her, her kindness and sweet spirit endears her to everyone, even the Beast, and this is what saves her in the end. Her lesson is that both learning and kindness will serve you well.

Princess Jasmine from "Aladdin" could easily be a spoiled princess waiting for a prince to come and rescue her, but instead, she fights against years of cultural oppression and refuses to marry at her father's will. She takes her fate into her own hands, refusing to be made into a "prize". The girl has a pet tiger, for heaven's sake - how is she not a strong-willed woman who makes her own choices and takes care of herself?? She teaches girls to stand up for themselves and what they think is right, even if everyone around them thinks otherwise.

One of the things I love most about Pocahontas is her physicality. She is strong and lithe, and has great endurance. She literally runs circles around John Smith. And she has remarkable knowledge about the world around her - the trees, the plants, the animals, the river. She cares for the world - and the people - around her with great devotion. She teaches girls the importance of conservation.

Mulan saves China, man. What more do we need to say about her? Seriously, she disguises herself as a man and fights in a WAR to save her father and her country. She works harder than everyone around her in order to be prepared for what she needs to do. Mulan is the rock star of the Disney princess canon, in my opinion.

Tiana, from "The Princess and the Frog", is another character who begins her story as a commoner but ends up marrying the prince - and, like Belle, she falls in love with the prince when he is in non-human form. Tiana differs from princesses like Snow White and Cinderella in that, although also dreaming about a better future, Tiana is actively working to fulfill her dream. An aspiring chef, she works as a waitress to earn money to buy herself a restaurant. Her relationship with her prince is more of a side effect of her following her dream rather than the dream itself. In fact, she only kisses the prince at the beginning because he offers her enough money to buy her restaurant in exchange for breaking the spell which has turned him into a frog. She's a smart businesswoman, a devoted friend, and a feisty, strong-willed, and independent woman. She may not be one of the most popular Disney princesses, but she's arguably one of the most admirable ones.

Rapunzel from "Tangled" is another princess who takes care of herself  and occasionally her prince, as well. She and Eugene are much more of a team than many previous princesses and princes. She boasts a long list of skills, from cooking, to sewing, to painting, to writing poetry, to wielding a mean frying pan. She teaches girls that they can do anything they want - or need - to do.

Merida is not only a princess, but a princess slated to become the queen of her clan. As such, she has been trained from a young age to be a fighter, a diplomat, and a lady. Much like Princess Jasmine, Merida rebels against the cultural norm of marrying her parents' choice. Merida is undeniably brave but also undeniably impetuous, a combination which gets her both into and out of some serious scrapes. She teaches young women to trust in their own strength and not to blindly obey, yet to listen to the wise advice of their elders. She also depicts a realistic relationship with her mother that is both difficult and devoted.

Finally, we have Anna and Elsa. They are not technically part of the official Disney princess roster, but I am including them due to their popularity. (And because my 5-year-old daughter would never forgive me.)

Anna and Elsa have different lessons to teach. Elsa is an example of the contrast between being afraid of your own potential and taking ownership of and mastering your own skills. Anna, on the other hand, jumps into everything impulsively and without thought, which often gets her into trouble. But when she does stop and think about her actions and how they affect other people, her relationships become mature, and her devotion to those she loves allows her to be self-sacrificing and generous.

So what has my daughter learned from these princesses? To be kind to all, to work hard but cheerfully, to be curious and learn all she can about the world around her, to fight against what is wrong and to fight for what is right, to trust her friends, and to work hard to achieve her dreams. I think those are all worthwhile lessons, don't you think?

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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Favorite Kid-Friendly Meals

Some families may be blessed with children who are adventurous eaters, but mine is not. I did all the things you're supposed to when they're little: offering lots of choices, encouraging them to try new foods more than once, not making them separate meals. But I was a picky child myself, so what goes around has indeed come around, and I've just learned to live with it. 

Over time, I have managed to expand their palates enough that I have a pretty good list of meals that they really enjoy. Here are a few of my family's favorites.

Costan Rican Dinner
I've blogged about this recipe before, but I think it's worth posting again because it's a delicious - and easy - meal that the kids like but it's definitely worthy of an adult palate. You can use any kind of flaky white fish, and adjust the herbs to your own taste preferences. It also has the added bonus of being a "one pot" meal, with protein, starch, and vegetables all built in. 
1-1/2 cups water
1 Tblsp butter or margarine
¾ cup long grain rice (uncooked)
Juice of 2 fresh limes (~3 Tblsp)
3 Tblsp olive oil, divided
4 Tblsp chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
4 tsp minced garlic, divided
kosher salt
¼ tsp sugar
2 to 6 haddock (or cod or tilapia) fillets
1 medium onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 (15 oz.) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
¼ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

Add ½ tsp salt and the butter to the water and bring to a boil. Add rice; reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, until water is fully absorbed. Keep warm until ready to use.
In a shallow dish large enough for all the fillets, combine lime juice, 1 Tblsp olive oil, 2 Tblsp parsely or cilantro, and 1 tsp minced garlic. Marinade fillets for 15-30 minutes, flipping over halfway through.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a large skillet. Saute onion, pepper, and remaining garlic for 5 minutes, until tender. Add black beans, oregano, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for an additional 5 minutes until heated through, stirring occasionally.
Place rice in baking dish large enough for fillets. Add bean mixture and blend together. Lay fillets on top and pour over excess marinade. Bake uncovered at 400 degrees for 16-20 minutes, until fish is fully cooked (thicker fillets may take a few extra minutes). 

Note: I used two half-pound fillets, which made two adult servings and two small children's servings, and there was enough rice left over for two additional servings. 

No Peek Beef Tips
My kids love steak but that's a bit pricy for everyday meals. This recipe takes a cheaper cut of beef and makes it as delicious and fork-tender as filet mignon (well, almost). You can leave out the mushrooms if the kids aren't fans (or make them pick them out themselves). Serve over a bed of mashed potatoes, rice, or noodles, and add a side of green salad, carrots, or whatever vegetable isn't on the "hate" list this week. 
2 lbs stew meat, cubed
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 10.5 oz can cream of golden mushroom soup (you can use regular mushroom soup, but it's really not nearly as good)
1/2 cup beef stock
1/2 cup sherry or other red wine
4 cubes beef bouillon, crumbled
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pint cremini mushrooms, halved (optional)
1 large shallot, chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped

Add cubed meat to a dutch oven. In a large bowl mix the remaining ingredients together and pour over the meat. Add mushrooms, shallot, garlic and thyme and stir to coat. Cover and bake at 300 degrees for 2-1/2 to 3 hours. Do not open the lid until done.

Serve over rice, mashed potatoes or egg noodles.

Mexican Lasagna
I was somewhat dubious the first time I made this - it just sounds like such a bizarre combination! But it was actually quite delicious, and a surprising hit with the whole family. And it's not only another one-pot meal, but it's in the crock pot so easy to make ahead and forget until dinner time. Leftovers heat up surprisingly well - and it's a pretty big recipe, so there will be leftovers, or you may want to halve the recipe, at least the first time you make it. Feel free to play around with the amounts and types of vegetables included. 
  • 2 16 oz jars salsa
  • 2 envelopes taco seasoning (8 tablespoons), divided
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened (I found this to be a little too rich, so you may want to use less)
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 14 oz can refried beans
  • 16 oz uncooked lasagna noodles
  • 2 lb ground beef, browned and drained
  • 1 cup water
  • 14 oz can mexicorn (or regular corn - can also use a generous cup of frozen corn)
  • 2 small cans olive slices, drained
  • 3 green onions, sliced
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar

  • Mix 1 tablespoon of taco seasoning mix with cream cheese, sour cream and beans. Set aside. Brown ground beef in a skillet and prepare with remaining taco seasoning and water. Set aside. Spoon just enough salsa on the bottom of the crock pot to keep the noodles from sticking. Cover the bottom of the crock with lasagna noodles. Break to fit if needed. Spread ⅓ of the bean mixture over the noodles and top with ⅓ of beef, ⅓ of corn and ¼ of olives. Mix cheeses together in a bowl and top lasagna layer with 1 cup of cheese. Top with ¼ of salsa and place noodles on top. Repeat layers two more times (beans, beef, corn, olive, cheese, salsa, noodles x 2), ending with noodles and then pour remaining salsa on top of noodles. Reserve remaining cheese, olives and green onions until the end. Place the lid on the crock and cook for 3½ to 4 hours on high. 15 minutes before serving, cover with remaining cheese, olives and green onions.

Orange Chicken
This is probably the easiest recipe in my whole collection, and it's also one that my kids request the most often. It's on the sweet side, so I like to pair it with sticky rice and stir-fried vegetables (bell peppers, onions, carrots, corn, water chestnuts, etc.). You can even use frozen chicken breasts without thawing first. 
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (can be frozen)
3/4 cup orange marmalade
3/4 cup Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce

Cook chicken in crockpot on high for 3 hours or on low for 6 hours. Drain juices from crockpot and cut chicken into chunks. Return to crock. Mix together remaining ingredients, pour over chicken, and stir until coated. Cook for an additional 30 minutes on high. Serve over rice. 

Salmon with Lemon-Dill Butter
It took some convincing to get my kids to try fish for the first time, but for some reason salmon appealed to them more than white fish. And once they tried it, they were hooked. This recipe cooks the salmon with only olive oil and salt, so kids can add the lemon-dill butter or not. The butter is also great on corn on the cob or any other vegetables you choose to serve with it. Rice is always a good side with salmon, whether sticky rice, wild rice, rice pilaf, or herb and butter rice. The salmon can be either grilled or baked. 
1/2 cup butter, softened slightly
1 lemon
2-3 tablespoons fresh dill, minced
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1-1/2 pounds salmon, skin on
kosher salt
olive oil

Zest the lemon and in a small bowl, combine zest with softened butter, dill, and pepper. Slice lemon in half and set aside. Mix the butter well and scoop into the center of a piece of plastic wrap. Use the wrap to form butter into a log shape, wrap tightly, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. 

Bring the salmon to room temperature for 20-30 minutes and divide into portions. Brush both sides with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt. If grilling, rub grates with olive oil and preheat to medium-high. Reduce heat to medium and grill salmon, skin side down, for 6 minutes, then flip and cook for 5-6 additional minutes. If baking, bake on a nonstick-foil-lined pan at 425 degrees for 12-15 minutes, skin side down. 

Top each serving with a slice of herbed butter and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. 

Fiesta Chicken
Another easy crockpot recipe with ingredients you can adjust to your own personal preferences. It's great served as a taco salad over romaine lettuce and topped with crumbled tortilla chips, wrapped in a soft tortilla like a burrito, or even stuffed in a baked potato. (It also makes fabulous nachos.)
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 (14 oz) cans diced tomatoes, undrained
2 (10 oz) cans corn, drained
1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 package taco seasoning mix

Combine all ingredients in slow cooker. Cook on high for 4-5 hours or on low for 8 hours. Shred chicken with a fork and stir to combine. Top with sour cream, guacamole, extra cheese, black olives, or whatever other toppings you like. 

Shepherd's Pie
Yeah, I know, it's really cottage pie, but it's been called "shepherd's pie" in my family for enough decades that the name has stuck. If you like ground lamb, make it with lamb and use garlic salt instead of regular salt. We always use corn, but feel free to substitute peas or mixed vegetables. All amounts are very forgiving so feel free to adjust based on what you have on hand and how many people you're feeding. I never measure, I just eyeball it. 
1 pound ground beef
salt and pepper to taste
6 servings instant mashed potatoes, prepared according to package directions
2 cups frozen corn
Shredded cheddar

Brown the ground beef, seasoning with salt and pepper. Drain fat and place beef in the bottom of a deep casserole dish. Top with corn (no need to thaw). Cover with mashed potatoes and then a generous layer of cheese. Cover with foil and bake at 375 for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional 5 minutes or until cheese is browned and crispy at the edges. 

Chicken Pot Pie
There are literally hundreds of chicken pot pie recipes out there, but this is one that my family really loves. It's easily adjustable to whatever you have on hand and whatever you prefer. 
2-3 boneless chicken breasts
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper
2-3 small potatoes
1 cup chicken broth
¾ light cream, half and half, or milk
1 medium onion, chopped (or ~1/4 cup frozen onion)
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups frozen mixed vegetables (corn, peas, carrots)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
salt and pepper to taste
dash poultry seasoning
1 package single-sheet crescent roll (or puff pastry) dough

Place chicken breasts in a pot with just enough water to cover and add salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Bring to a boil, turn off heat and cover. Let cool in the pot. Cut potatoes into bite size pieces and boil in salted water until almost fork tender. Drain and set aside. 

In a large heavy skillet over medium heat, saute onion with butter for 5 to 8 minutes. Add the frozen vegetables and cook another 5 minutes. Add flour and cook about 30 seconds. Add chicken broth and cream/milk and bring to a boil. Add potatoes when thickened. Remove chicken from pot and cut into bite-size pieces and add to vegetable mixture. Add salt and pepper and poultry seasoning to taste. 

Pour mixture into a 9 inch deep dish pie plate (or individual ramekins) and cover with crescent roll dough, crimping to seal the dough to the edge of the plate. bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until pastry is golden brown. 

Lamb Sliders
For some reason, my son determined early that he did NOT like hamburgers, yet he was willing to give sliders a shot. Regular hamburger sliders are good, but these lamb sliders are AMAZING. Be sure to use the Hawaiian rolls - the sweetness is just perfect with the spicy lamb. It's fun to make a dinner of appetizers by serving these alongside a caprese salad, spinach and artichoke dip, and/or Granny Smith apples slices topped with chicken salad and candied walnuts. 
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 large shallots, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound ground lamb
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ketchup
2 ounces Swiss or gruyere cheese, cut into eight 1/2-inch cubes (I used Havarti)
8 small hamburger or slider buns, such as King's Hawaiian, halved
Place a grill pan over medium-low heat or preheat a gas or charcoal grill.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in an 8-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallots, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook until the shallots are soft, 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until aromatic, 30 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat and cool slightly.

Combine the shallot mixture, lamb, cumin, ketchup, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl. Form the mixture into 8 patties each 2 1/2 inches in diameter and 1/2-inch thick. Press a cube of cheese into the middle of each patty and form the meat around the cheese to cover. Brush the patties with the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil and grill until cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes per side. Let the patties rest for 2 minutes. Place the patties in the buns and serve. 

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Monday, May 8, 2017

My Little People

Many of you may have noticed that lately I've been doing a lot more blogging about things like cocktails and red carpet fashion and pop culture and a lot less about motherhood. There's a reason for that: My little people have been turning into...well, people.

I've always tried to be sensitive about publishing anything that might be embarrassing to either of them later in life. I'm careful not to mock them, even as I'm laughing at their antics. I make a conscious effort to speak respectfully of them, no matter their age. But I'm reaching the point - or rather, they're reaching the point - where discussion of them is more about them than it is about me, because they have each become their own person. It's become much more difficult to write about myself in relation to them because it's as much writing about them as it is about me.

As a mom, it's a bittersweet moment when your kids become their own people. On one hand, that's kind of the point of parenting: to raise your children to become independent and self-sufficient and to not need you any more. But on the other hand, it's painful to realize that they don't, in fact, need you any more.

Now, at only ages 5 and 7, it's not really true that they don't need me any more. Of course they need me to feed them, and buy them clothes, and help them with their homework, and drive them to dance class and gymnastics and wherever else they need to go. But they don't need me for a lot of things that they used to, like tying their shoes, brushing their teeth, picking out their clothes, helping them make friends. Bit by bit, they are becoming independent. The list of things that they need me for is becoming shorter and shorter. Which is a little bit sad. But the list of things they can do entirely on their own is becoming longer and longer, and that's really exciting!

So please forgive me if I don't talk about my children in this blog as much as I used to. But hopefully it won't be long until they're writing about themselves in blogs of their own!

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Saturday, May 6, 2017

2017 Tony Awards Cocktails

I know that the Tony awards ceremony isn't until June 11th, but sometimes themed cocktails take some planning ahead (unlike my usual cocktail blogs, some of these recipes call for less familiar ingredients that you might not have on hand). You might even want to try out a few of these cocktails ahead of time to determine your favorite.

A Doll's House, Part 2
This show is a sequel to Henrik Ibsen's play, which ends with Nora walking out the door. Part 2 opens with her walking back in the same door. So what better cocktail to pair with it than Ibsen's Door? 
In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine 1-1/2 oz. gin, 3/4 oz. Amaro (or Campari), 1/2 oz. creme de cacao, and 1/2 oz. lemon juice. Shake well and strain into a chilled martini glass. 

Since this play is all about the signing of a treaty, its signature cocktail is named after a treaty: The Elysee Treaty. 
Combine 4 parts cognac or brandy, 2 parts Jagermeister, 1 part simple syrup, and a few dashes of Angostura orange bitters in a cocktail shaker over ice and shake until well chilled. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a twist of orange peel. 

Come From Away
This play takes place in Newfoundland and is associated with air travel, which always makes me think of coffee, so its designated cocktail is the Newfoundland Night Cap - most authentic when made with Newfie Screech rum, but I won't tell if you use whatever rum you have on hand.

Place 1-1/2 tsp brown sugar in a coffee cup and pour 1-1/4 oz. rum over it. Fill with black coffee and top with whipped cream.

Dear Evan Hansen
Since the characters in this show are mainly high-schoolers, the "cocktail" associated with it is actually a mocktail: Ginger Peach Soda. 
In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, bring 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger to a gentle simmer, stirring often, until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, cover, and allow to steep for half an hour, then strain through a fine sieve to remove ginger, pressing with the back of a spoon to extract flavor. Refrigerate in a covered container until ready to use. Cut half a peach into slices and muddle in a large glass. Pour half a tablespoon of ginger syrup over peaches. Add ice and top off with seltzer. Stir well and garnish with mint leaves. 

Groundhog Day the Musical
Believe it or not, there is actually a cocktail called the Groundhog Day, which was apparently inspired by the Bill Murray film which served as the basis for this show. It's just about the simplest cocktail you could ever find. 
Fill a tumbler with ice and sweet vermouth. Garnish with a lemon twist. That's it!

Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812
When I think of this musical, I think Russia, so I think vodka. But then I think comet, and I think Fireball. You really can't mix vodka and Fireball, since vodka is flavorless and will only serve to dilute the whiskey. So instead, we'll pair this show with a cocktail called the Devil's Advocate, which includes schnapps, which is nearly as apropos as vodka. (Note: There are a number of cocktails called the Devil's Advocate, but none with such appropriate ingredients as this one.)
Combine equal parts Fireball whiskey, spiced rum, and apple schnapps in a cocktail shaker over ice and strain into a lowball glass filled with ice, then top with 7-Up or Sprite. 

August Wilson's Jitney
There are plenty of "taxi" cocktails (Island Taxi, Tijuana taxi, etc.), but the "classic" Taxi seemed most appropriate here. 
In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine 5 parts gin, 5 parts dry vermouth, 1 part lime juice, and 1 part pastis (or Sambuca, or any other anise-flavored liqueur). Shake gently and strain into a cocktail glass. 

Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes
Southern equals bourbon, so when I found a recipe for a bourbon-based cocktail called the Fox River, I knew I'd found the right cocktail for this show. 
Combine 4 oz bourbon with 1/4 ounce dark creme de cacao and 5 (yes, 5!) dashes of Angostura bitters in a cocktail shaker over ice. Shake and strain into a chilled martini glass. 

There are lots of drinks with the word "false" in them: false whiskey sour, false king, false idol, false start. But somehow the False God seemed most appropriate for this show.
In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine 1/2 oz. rum, 1 oz. coconut rum, and 1 oz. blue curacao and shake gently. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and top with a splash of grenadine. 

Hello, Dolly!
There is a cocktail named for this show, created for a cocktail challenge in 2016: The Hello, Dolly. 
In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine 1-1/2 oz. gin, 1/2 cherry brandy, 1/3 oz. sweet vermouth, 2 dashes lemon bitters, and 2 dashes orange bitters. Shake gently and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist. 

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Friday, May 5, 2017

The Good, the Bad, and the Just Plain Weird: 2017 Met Gala Red Carpet Review

The Annual Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, more commonly referred to as simply "the Met Gala", is always red carpet event. It is definitely a place where designers and celebrities alike attempt to out-avant garde each other. In other words, the outfits can get extremely weird. And the 2017 Met Gala was no exception. There were some lovely looks. There were some less-than-successful looks. And there were some truly bizarre trainwrecks. Let's look at a few of them, shall we?

Cara Delevingne's silver and black pantsuit was one of the more successful weird looks. The flower pattern of the fabric was beautiful, and the tailoring of the slim but not skin-tight pants and the high-waisted, square-shouldered, silver-belted jacket/top was impeccable, crisp, and flattering. Even the silver, slicked down hair and severe, monochromatic makeup worked for me. This is the type of weirdness that I like to see at this kind of event.
Celine Dion, on the other hand, showed us the less successful side of weird. The concept wasn't bad, with a full, poufed and draped black skirt and beautifully pleated and swirled bodice accented with metallic gold strips - but then it appears to be worn over a gray terrycloth t-shirt with unhemmed sleeves. Wait, what? It's like she had this fabulous dress but then decided it was too revealing so she grabbed some random thing from her closet to wear underneath it. And the look was not helped by the Sharpie eyeliner and spiky sculpted hairdo (or maybe fascinator). Nope.

Chrissy Teigen took a glamorous look and edged it over to funkiness. The silhouette of the gown was very traditional, but it paired a sheer black sheath with silver lace and fluffy white feather shoulder and wrist accents, which were both repeated at the hem of the gown. The high neck was a fun contrast to the peekaboo effect and miles of visible legs. And having John Legend on her arm was a pretty nice accessory, too.
Hailee Steinfeld often takes risks on the red carpet, and usually they pay off, but not this time. This strangely-proportioned dress made it look like she was wearing a man's military jacket backwards and falling off her shoulders. The empire peplum was too high, the sleeves were too long, the train was stiff and oddly shaped, and the clunky platform boots were just plain ugly.

Halle Berry, on the other hand, channeled a beautiful black-and-gold peacock in this simple silhouette gown. The back and train were decorated with increasingly large curved pieces that created a feather-like effect that was also a bit reminiscent of vinyl records. I loved her hairstyle, pulled back into a low chignon held in place by a subtle gold band. Elegant and eye-catching.

Trainwreck time! I'm not exactly sure what Helen Lasichanh  was wearing, but it wasn't clothes. It reminded me of those inflatable sumo wrestler costumes. Maybe she's always cold and wanted to be able to put her hands in her pockets inside her outfit? Maybe she's always had a thing for Gumby and Poky so she decided to combine their looks? Maybe she lost 200 pounds since her outfit was designed? Whatever the reason, it wasn't a good enough one to justify appearing in public wearing this crazy getup.

Janelle Monae went back to her trademark black and white look for the Met Gala, and surprisingly, her look was rather restrained (for her, anyway). I really liked her fluffy tiered white skirt and the black detailing on the bodice. The black feather collar was just weird enough to give it a funky look without completely going off the rails, so I'm calling this one a win.

Jennifer Lopez wore a surprisingly demure - and somewhat bland - ice blue cascading chiffon gown. Pretty but forgettable.

I loved Jourdan Dunn's funky geometric deconstructed men's suit. The shirt was a wild riff on a man's white dress shirt, with oversized loose cuffs, and a collar creating an angular line at the top of the bodice, and the skirt was made of diagonal panels that appeared to be strips of a pin-striped suit. The tangled train even had pieces of fabric tied like neckties. It was clever, it was unique, it was flattering. A+ from this reviewer.

Julia Carey's glittery gold gown featured some lovely red and blue embroidery on the bodice, but was generally quite tame by Met Gala standards. Extra points for the cute red clutch, though.

It's not easy to tell, but that's Katy Perry underneath that voluminous, Eastern-inspired gown. It felt to me like it included elements of traditional Mongolian, Indian, and Middle Eastern clothing. The intricate beading was exquisite, and the double train of the gown and the headpiece made a gorgeous line. This look falls in the "weird but very beautiful" category for me, which is exactly what I like to see at this kind of event.

Kerry Washington's dress had a bit of a "country quilt" look to it at first glance, but details like the small cutouts, thigh-high slit, varied fabric textures, severe bowl cut hairdo, and diamond choker brought the overall look up a level. It took a bit of time to grow on me, but grow on me it did.

Lena Dunham makes many fashion missteps in my opinion, but this event is just perfect for her off-kilter style and non-model figure. Her tiered red-and-black-checked ballgown skirt was topped with a one-shouldered black bodice crossed with a huge ruffled sash from shoulder to waist, somewhat evocative of a Scottish tartan. It would have overwhelmed a more petite person, but Dunham carried it off beautifully. And I love that she reversed her more usual "foofy dress with minimal hair and makeup" to be a somewhat less frothy gown paired with lovely, feminine makeup and a really pretty updo. She really kills it with this look.

Lily Collins brought to mind a combination of Leslie Caron and Isabella Rossellini with her stark black pageboy with babydoll bangs, dark makeup, and frothy pink tulle ballgown skirt over a simple black bodice with a sweetheart neckline. The silhouette is striking, the color combination is terrific, and she pulls off this daring look amazingly well.

Madonna, on the other hand, fell flat in her satin camouflage sheath with olive drab boa and elbow-length black leather gloves. And I don't know what's going on with the hodge podge of necklaces around her neck and hanging from her belt, not to mention the weird grille she's been sporting lately. Oh, Madge. I never thought I'd be looking back fondly on the funnel-bra look.

Mandy Moore was strikingly out of character in this sleek black single-sleeved gown that flared slightly at the knee. She paired it with slicked-back hair, pink-toned makeup, and a single long glove. She looked as elegant and killer as Morticia Addams (and that is absolutely meant as a compliment).

Mary J. Blige opted for a semi-sheer black corset top that cascaded into a slim skirt that revealed plenty of leg. I loved the lace trim along the slit of the skirt and along the waist, and her zigzag diamond cuff was fabulous, as were her long diamond earrings. It wasn't weird or crazy or daring (at least not by the standards of this crowd), but it was beautiful and unusual and well-tailored and accessorized.

Nicki Minaj loves to dress a bit crazy, so this look wasn't entirely out of character for her. I loved the lines of her black and red...I'm not even sure what to call it. It wasn't not so much a gown as it was a short jumper with a double cape. But I loved the way the fabric came over her shoulders and tucked into the bodice, I loved the frothiness of the black underlining of the cape and the detailing along the edges of the red cape. I even loved the three-strapped platform sandals. This was a fun, weird, wonderful look.

Priyanka Chopra could look gorgeous wearing a paper bag, so it was no surprise that she looked gorgeous wearing a beige trenchcoat with an oversized collar and a large train. But although the woman was gorgeous, the outfit was just kind of meh. Pretty silhouette, but not much else going for it in terms of color, texture, or styling.
Rihanna's outfit made me laugh out loud. It seemed to be constructed of circles of fabric cut from 1980s bridesmaid dresses (possibly some were from 1960s wallpaper) and glue-gunned together by someone's mom as part of a school art project. it even looked like part of one of the bridesmaid dress the fabric came from was attached to her left hip. The red strappy sandals that laced all the way up her legs were stunning, and I even kind of liked the brightly pink makeup and super-high topknot. But that dress was a trainwreck.

Rita Ora knocked it out of the "weird but wonderful" park in this red satin concoction that appeared to be made of wide strips of fabric tied at the shoulder and then wrapped around ora's body, criss-crossing to form a skirt, with the strips cascading down from the knee over a tan tulle underlayer and train. The silhouette was gorgeous and the construction was fascinating.

Selena Gomez wore a simple white gown with a deep vee in front and a high center slit. The gown flared into an all-around train and was embroidered with delicate flowers along the neckline and scattered over the rest of the dress. Not exactly weird, but wonderful.

The color alone of Serena Williams' voluminous gown was enough to catch anyone's eye, but the sari-like swirl of embroidery from bodice to hem created a graceful line that delicately drew attention to her burgeoning baby bump - as if her glowing smile didn't already do that.

I'm pretty sure Solange was wearing what I would have come up with had my 7-year-old asked me to make him a costume for his school play in which he was playing a sleeping bag. Seriously, she was wearing a sleeping bag, with a second sleeping bag attached to the back as a train. And bandages on both her hands. And really weird shoes. Not good weird, just weird.
And to be sure we end on a "good weird" note, Zendaya's orange and yellow ballgown was printed with poppies and parrots and had a beautifully soft long train. The off-the shoulder bodice had a real Cinderella look to it, which was a fun contrast with the wild print and her long full hair. A nice youthful twist on weird and wonderful.

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