Monday, August 31, 2009

Menu Plan Monday for August 31st

Can you believe it's almost September already? I've been shopping for Baby's Halloween costume and finding it hard to believe that it's going to be fall soon. I can't wait - I will be so happy once the weather starts to change!

This will be a fun week, as Husband happens to be off, so we're having a super-fun staycation. He'll be coming with me to the Y this week, which should make for some fun work-out-related stories as the week progresses. As a result, I'm making a lot of his favorites this week, so enjoy the Husband-focused meal plan for the week!

Monday - Waffles
Tuesday - Meatloaf
Wednesday - Spaghetti and Garlic Bread
Thursday - Awesome Chicken Cutlets
Friday - Glazed Pork Chops
Saturday - Burgers on the Grill
Sunday - Pioneer Woman's Fried Chicken

By the way, we started watching "Arrested Development" on Hulu today, and wow, I guess we really missed some funny programming! We're only on the fourth episode of the first season, but I have a feeling by the end of the week, we'll have watched the whole thing. So far, I highly recommend it if you haven't seen it yet!

Ribs on the Barbie

For yesterday's dinner, I made country style boneless ribs on the barbie. I love barbecued pork. I would eat ribs for dinner every night if I could. By the way, when did pork get expensive? I don't remember it being so darn pricey! Made-at-home ribs really aren't very hard and really ought to be made very, very often. Here's a super easy recipe to follow:

Ribs on the Barbie
(No picture because they were too yummy!)
Printer-friendly recipe

1 bottle your favorite barbecue sauce
2 pounds country style pork ribs (boneless)

Put the ribs in a large pot with a lid, barely cover with water, cover and bring to a boil. Once they boil, turn the heat to low, put the lid back on, and leave them for an hour. Take the ribs out and dry them on some paper towels. Try not to look at them, they're kind of gross-looking when they're boiled. But, from what I've read, boiling ribs is what makes sure that they stay tender.

Next, heat up your grill nice and hot. The goal is to baste and flip the meat often, for about 20 minutes. The basting lets you build layers of flavor, and since barbecue sauce has a ton of sugar in it, the sauce can burn if you don't turn it frequently.

Then, polish off those ribs with whatever fixings you like with your barbecue. Definitely a yummy dinner!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

What's on Your Nighstand: August

I'm only marginally late this month, at least it's still August!

It's been a busy reading month. I've enjoyed a lot of books this month, but my To Be Read pile seems to keep growing, as usual.

Polished off this month:
1. This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
2. Escape by Carolyn Jessop
3. Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist's Wife by Irene Spencer
4. Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons: A Novel by Lorna Landvik (a re-read of an old favorite)
5. Lost Boy by Brent Jeffs

Still to be read:
1. Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer - Just started this last night. I used to read a lot of true crime, so hopefully it won't be too disturbing for me (the girl who hates scary movies).
2. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd - It's quite possible I'm the last person on the planet who hasn't read this. A friend loaned it to me and insisted I read it.
3. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger - I'm around page 50 and kind of stuck but people keep telling me it gets better. I hope so.
4. Stolen Innocence by Elissa Wall - I know, another book about the FLDS. For whatever reason, I'm fascinated by those people and can't get enough of them.
5. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult - This will be a re-read, as I read it when it first came out. Our book club selected it, and it's been a while, so I need to refresh my memory.

Don't forget - you must tell me what you're reading! I just love book recommendations.

My new obsession: Tastespotting

As you all know, I'm a glutton for recipes. Good ones, bad ones, I've got a three-inch three-ring binder full of recipes I've found that I want to try. I'm always on the lookout for new sources, and in the last few weeks I've come across what could very easily be described as food porn...a website called Tastespotting. I can't quite recall how I found it, but wow, I'm glad I did.

Basically, Tastespotting seems to be a collection of the best food-related photography on the web. That might sound ridiculously boring to you, but I love food photography. I'm trying (slowly) to improve my own snaps of the food I make, so Tastespotting is a good reference for me in that respect. It also seems to be laden with many, many desserts, which are of course my favorite kind of recipe. Some of the pictures link back to a blog that's kind enough to list the recipe they made, some just talk about what they made, but I've found several great new food blogs through Tastespotting, and over 50 recipes this week that I've printed to add to my infamous To Be Cooked binder. Seriously, I'm going to have to get another binder. Soon.

When you've got a few minutes to kill, I highly recommend you check out Tastespotting, just try to keep the drool off your keyboard.

P.S. - This was a totally unsolicited rave, I don't know who runs Tastespotting and they don't know me, I just wanted to share.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Spinning kind of least according to a first-timer

Today, I went to a beginning spin class. I was mildly relieved to learn that we would be spending some time to tweak the bikes appropriately, and that the entire class was only 30 minutes long. I've been on a spin bike for a few moments at a time previously, and every time, it was ridiculously uncomfortable. Today was no exception. Our instructor told us that it's perfectly normal to absolutely hate the "saddle," but that Target and Wal-Mart sell some kind of gel contraption you can put over the saddle to make it more comfortable. (I checked it out at Target, and it was $18. I'm not sure I need it that badly.) She also said that it should be something that either gets less uncomfortable with time or that our butts just get used to it. I'll believe it when I feel it.

After we all figured out how high our saddles should be and how far forward (or backward) the saddle should be, we hopped on the bikes to go through a quickie 10 or 15 minute class, learning some of the terminology of spin class and practicing some of the moves and hand holds. At first, it seemed easy. Then we did standing. And "jumping." Not so fun. At first, getting up off the saddle feels good, but then when you sit back down, it's like your body revolts against the concept of sitting back down.

I guess now I have the know-how to take an actual spin class. Here at our Y, they're done in the dark, so you can focus on just you and what you're doing, rather than trying to compete with your neighbor, which is something that's appealing to me. That and the idea that no one will see how pathetic I am at spinning. I mean, I loved bicycling when I was a kid. I enjoyed riding my bike all over the place, but I haven't owned a bike since I was about 15 or 16, so I'm more than a little rusty. That and spinning isn't a whole lot like bicycling - it's really a totally different kind of experience. I'm mildly afraid to take an actual class, because just the 10 or 15 minutes of spinning we did this morning seems to have done quite a number on me. I know it is a really good work out, though, so I'm sure I will drag my lazy butt to a spin class at some point...just not tomorrow. It's going to take some serious nerve and some coffee to get me in there.

Tell me, my faithful friends, have you ever done a spinning class? If so, was it so bad you thought you might die? Did the seat get more comfortable over time?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

Admittedly, I've heard a lot of people talk about Jonathan Tropper over the last few years, one of them being Jen Lancaster (of Bitter is the New Black : Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass,Or, Why You Should Never Carry A Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office fame). I should have immediately gone out and bought everything he ever wrote after Jen Lancaster sang his praises. She cracks me up - surely she wouldn't steer me wrong.

When my best friend and I spotted this book at Borders, we both had read a little bit about it, and thought it was worth reading. Boy, was it ever. A Tolstoy quote I have always loved sums this book up pretty well - all happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. The Foxman family is very many, many ways.

The Foxman family has just lost their patriarch and are gathering in the family home to sit shiva for seven days. In some families, this would be no big deal. Judd Foxman has enough going on in his life before his father passes away and he's called home, and the hits just keep on coming. This was just one of those books where the characters are so vivid and the complexities so interesting that you feel really invested in the book, and those are my favorite kind of books. Sure, some of the themes in the book might be old, but there's no crime in that. Families are often the most interesting subjects to read about.

In the week of shiva, the family members lives will change in various ways. Each of the twists feels authentic, and while I didn't want the story to come to an end, the title kind of told me that the end wasn't going to be neatly packaged with a bow or anything. Real life never is that way, and reality was one of the big things going for this book. I certainly wouldn't mind reading another book by Mr. Tropper in the future with this family at center stage.

There are several passages in the book that are positively laugh-out-loud, and several that are quite raunchy (reader beware, if that kind of thing bothers you). Overall, though, it was an amazing read and I was almost sad to finish it last night. I definitely will be keeping my eyes peeled for other books by Mr. Tropper. It's clear that he's got quite a gift. His writing style was fully absorbing and multifaceted. Fans of Nick Hornby and and Tom Perotta will feel right at home.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A very good chocolate chip cookie recipe

I came across this recipe, calling itself the end-all-be-all chocolate chip cookie recipe. I'm not sure I'd 100% agree with that, but they are definitely quite tasty. I've made a lot of chocolate chip cookies over the years, from the original Toll House recipe to Alton Brown's infamous Chewy recipe, and I think my favorite is still my recipe, but this one was a pretty good one, too. I was also able to scoop the cookies nice and small without them burning at the edges, which was nice.

Don't these cookies look yummy?

One thing I love about chocolate chip cookies is how easy they are (or ought to be) to make. I love a good, easy recipe! This one's no different. Keep in mind, though, this recipe makes a million of them! Well, not a million actually, but a ton. I haven't made them all yet, but I'd guess it'll make at least 6 dozen, if not more.

End of the Search Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from Dine and Dish
Printer-friendly recipe

1 1/2 cups butter
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 large eggs
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 12-oz bags of semisweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Mix butter, sugars, vanilla and eggs in large bowl.
3. Stir in the flour, baking soda and salt.
4. Stir in one bag of the chocolate chips.
5. Drop dough by rounded measuring tablespoons, about 2-inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheet.
6. Place several of the reserved chocolate chips on top of each cookie (This step is not necessary…you can mix them all in, but the presentation of the cookie is better with this step in place).
7. Bake 9-12 minutes or until light brown. (I baked my small cookies for 8 minutes.)
8. Cool slightly.
9. Remove from cookie sheet, cool on wire rack.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Martha's Honey-Soy Glazed Drumsticks

This was a ridiculously easy Martha recipe, but I think I might've gotten it officially from Everyday Food, which is where she usually posts her easier recipes. Silly me, I didn't type out where it came from at the bottom of the recipe, like I normally do. Oh well. I did at least type that Martha owned the recipe.

I love a good chicken drumstick, always have. Whenever my mom made fried chicken (bone-in), I always ate the drumsticks. Still do, actually, when I do it. Not sure why, but holding a drumstick is just kind of fun. Last night, we didn't hold any drumsticks, since we needed to cut up Baby's meat (and if we have something that looks different to him than what he has, sometimes chaos ensues). But it was still darn tasty. My only complaint was that my sauce ultimately burned, and I'm not too sure what I did wrong, but it makes sense to me, given how much honey is in the sauce and the high temp at which these drumsticks are roasted...

Martha's Honey-Soy Glazed Drumsticks
Printer-friendly recipe

1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/3 cup water
8 drumsticks
course salt and ground pepper

1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Line a shallow roasting pan or 9-by-13-inch baking dish with aluminum foil. In a large bowl, mix together honey, soy sauce, and 1/3 cup water. Add chicken, and toss to coat; season with salt and pepper. Transfer chicken and honey mixture to prepared roasting pan.
Bake chicken, basting with juices from edges of pan every 10 minutes, until well browned and an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of drumstick (avoiding bone) registers 165 degrees, 30 to 40 minutes. Serve chicken drizzled with pan juices.

The verdict? Super quick and easy, and pretty darn tasty with some broccoli and garlic mashed potatoes.

Menu Plan Monday for August 24th

I didn't do a super fantastic job sticking to my menu this past weekend - I was to make a new pork chop recipe on Saturday and fajitas on Sunday, but in reality, I made the fajitas on Saturday and a new Martha Stewart chicken recipe on Sunday. Oh well. I'll try to work the pork chop recipe into my menu in the next few weeks.

I was pleasantly surprised with yesterday's Martha recipe for honey-soy glazed chicken drumsticks. It was not only ridiculously easy, but it was quite tasty. So tasty that I didn't take a picture of it because we were too busy eating it. Especially Baby, which was a welcome change. He's in this phase now where he mostly rejects meat, although he ate all of the chicken I cut up for him last night, and a good bit of the steak I cut up for him on fajita night, as soon as Husband started dipping the steak in guacamole for him. I'll be posting both recipes later on today, so check back.

So here's this week's menu...

Monday - Waffles
Tuesday - Meatloaf
Wednesday - Spaghetti and garlic bread
Thursday - Easy BBQ Chicken Fajitas
Friday - Famous Homemade Pan Pizza
Saturday - Beef Stroganoff - a new recipe! (I've yet to find a stroganoff recipe as tasty as my mom used to make)
Sunday - Ribs on the Barbie - a new recipe!

What's on your menu this week? Don't forget to visit Org Junkie to find hundreds of different menus, many with recipes, to inspire you. Trust me, meal planning is worth the extra few minutes you spend on it a week - it saves me so much time!

Friday, August 21, 2009

VGNO: The Vacation Edition


I haven't been participating in the Virtual Girls' Night Outs that Ann's been doing the last few Fridays, honestly, because I've got less naptime on my hands over here. Baby is officially taking one nap a day now, so I've lost an hour to an hour and a half of "mom time" and I'm still trying to figure out how to get everything done in a shorter period of time. But I've been wanting to participate! I've missed you guys!

This week, Ann's talking about vacation time. I haven't taken a vacation in a long time. I'm not entirely sure that I miss that, because I wouldn't want a vacation without my kiddo, and that would be a lot of work, surely. On the bright side, though, Husband is taking a week off very soon, and we'll get to have a bit of a stay-cation with lots of family time. Hopefully we won't drive each other batty.

The best part of him taking some vacation time is that hopefully I can have some vacation time, too, and get some things done, try some new recipes and handle some projects I've put off (like dealing with my closet!). And I have a feeling I'll wind up baking some super yummy donuts for breakfast here and there!

Ann's got a fun little game for VGNO...

"The Name Game"

Use the first letter of your name to answer the questions. Your answers need to be real places, names and things. Nothing made up :-> (You cannot use your name for #3 boy/girl "name" question.)

1. What is your name: Elizabeth

2. A 4 Letter Word: Eats

3. A Boys Name: Edgar

4. A Girls Name: Elyse

5. An Occupation: Elephant handler

6. A Color: Emerald

7. Something you wear: Earrings

8. A Beverage: Egg nog (ewww - here's an egg nog true story: as a kid, one Christmas, I woke up in the middle of the night to have a glass of milk, go to the fridge and there's already a glass poured, so I take a sip, and ewww! It's egg nog! I spit it all over the floor and had to clean it up)

9. A Food: Eggplant

10. Something found in the bathroom: Excedrin

11. A place: Edinburgh, Scotland

12. A Reason for being late: Earache (this is pathetic!)

13. Something you shout: Errr!

Super Easy Donuts and Donut Holes

So the other thing I made for playgroup today was donuts. I love donuts. I am perhaps a donut connoisseur, in fact, I love them so much. My favorite kind of donut is the chocolate cake kind that's also glazed, those are awesome. I haven't found a recipe for those yet, but if I ever do, you guys will be the first to know.

These donuts are ridiculously easy to do because instead of making the dough from scratch, you use canned biscuit dough. How much easier can it get???? This is a recipe I originally saw from Paula Deen - I think it was on her Paula's Party show. I love that show. Paula Deen seems like a totally fun person to be around. She just seems to have so much fun with everything, food especially. When Husband and I were on our honeymoon in Savannah, I hadn't yet gotten into Paula Deen, so we didn't eat at the Lady & Sons, but boy, I wish we had.

Super Easy Donuts and Donut Holes
adapted from Paula Deen
Printer-friendly recipe

2 cans refridgerated biscuit dough (but not the flaky layers kind)
Peanut oil, for frying
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup sugar

2 cups confectioners' sugar, divided
5 tablespoons milk, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup cocoa powder
Colored sprinkles
Chocolate sprinkles

Heat 2 inches peanut oil in a large pot or Dutch oven to 350 degrees F.

In a shallow bowl, stir together the ground cinnamon and sugar and set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together 1 cup of confectioners' sugar, 2 tablespoons of milk and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, set aside. This is the vanilla icing. In another bowl, whisk together 1 cup of confectioners' sugar, 1/4 cup of cocoa powder and 3 tablespoons of milk and set aside. This is the chocolate icing.

Lay out the biscuits on a cutting board and with a 1 1/2-inch round cookie or biscuit cutter, cut out a hole from the middle of each biscuit. Fry them in the oil until golden (this doesn't take very long at all) and then flip with tongs to fry the other side. You can even fry the donut holes. (I did!) Drain on paper towels and then toss in the cinnamon-sugar or ice and decorate with sprinkles, as desired.

Homemade Soft Pretzels

Today, I hosted a playgroup for my mommy friends and their kiddos at my house. It was a ton of fun, the kids had a blast, and us moms had some very yummy things to eat! I decided to bake some homemade pretzels and donuts for us to snack on. This was my first time making pretzels, so the shapes weren't 100% perfect, but they sure did taste good. Not only that, but they were fairly easy to make. It didn't take a ton of elbow grease, really, although rolling out the pretzels was interesting. Thank goodness for my stand mixer! I didn't have to do any kneading of any kind, yay!

Homemade Soft Pretzels
adapted from Alton Brown
Printer-friendly recipe

1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 package active dry yeast
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil, for pan
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Pretzel salt

Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.

Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.

In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

A tiny teaser...

Stay tuned for a whopping TWO new recipes today! Maybe even three if the Munchkin sleeps well this afternoon. I am in the midst of making donuts and soft pretzels as we speak, and boy does my kitchen smell good!!

Oh - and if you happened to notice the MS Cupcakes Club logo that's appeared on my website, that's because I am now a part of the Martha Stewart's Cupcakes Club, hosted by Eat My Cupcake, and I'm super-excited. We'll be baking on the 15th of every month, so stay tuned for that too!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Escape by Carolyn Jessop

I just finished reading "Escape" by Carolyn Jessop this weekend, and wow, it was an amazing read. I happened to pick it up at the library, only to find the my dearest friend happened to have also read it and loved it, so with that vote of confidence, I started the book and could barely put it down.

The book is a first-hand account of life in the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints, by a woman who lived the majority of her life as a follower of the FLDS, until she escaped the cult with her eight children in tow. She's since worked with the authorities to help shape a case against the church's most recent leader, Warren Jeffs, who's currently in prison. She's also the first woman to have escaped the FLDS with all of her children.

While the book was written in somewhat of a tabloid-style, it definitely kept me interested. Between the complete lack of rights women had/have in this particular religion and the brainwashing performed on the followers, I was positively fascinated. At times, I found it hard to continue, as the descriptions of the things that both Carolyn and her children went through were just horrific, I pressed on. It's appalling that there is an entire sect of people in the U.S. that are continually performing these abuses. It's truly amazing that she was able to not only escape, but also to escape with her children and to build a new life for her family. Her husband has since become one of the most important people in the YFZ ranch in Texas, which was was raided in April 2008 and over 400 children were taken into protective custody. Mr. Jessop goes on trial in October for sexual abuse of a child.

I read at the end of the paperback edition that it is being made into a movie, which should be very interesting, but if you like memoirs, especially those that shine light on worlds that are entirely different from our own, you definitely ought to read this one. This definitely ranks as one of the best books I've read this year (although not better than The Help).

Tunnel of Fudge cake

Tonight is another meeting of my book club (we're discussing "Identical Strangers"), so that of course means that it's time to bake. I baked one of my favorite goodies, Tunnel of Fudge cake, for tonight's festivities, and boy, I can't wait to cut into it and enjoy it.

I've made a lot of different Tunnel of Fudge cakes over the years. Lots were boxed-cake-mix recipes, but none of them really delivered the actual tunnel of fudge. Until this recipe. This recipe has a real tunnel of fudge running through the center, and tastes awesome if you heat it up in the microwave for a few seconds before eating it. It tastes so yummy when it's warm. It also tastes awesome with a nice scoop of ice cream on top. Best part of all? It's totally an easy recipe to make. There's nothing complicated about it, except perhaps greasing a bundt pan perfectly (a skill that sometimes seems to elude me). If you like molten chocolate lava cake, you will love this cake! So on your way home tonight, pick up what you don't have in the pantry to make this cake. Your family will totally thank me.

Here's a snap of my cake, pre-glaze

Tunnel of Fudge cake
Adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book
Printer-friendly recipe

1/2 cup boiling water
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups confectioners' sugar
3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
5 large eggs, room temperature

1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 12-cup Bundt pan by fully greasing it.
2. Whisk the boiling water and chocolate together in a small bowl until melted and smooth; let the mixture cool slightly. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, confectioners' sugar, cocoa and salt together.
3. In a large bowl, beat the butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla together with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3-6 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, until combined, about 30 seconds. Beat in the chocolate mixture until combined, about 30 seconds. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly beat in the flour mixture until just incorporated, about 30 seconds.
4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and smooth the top. Wipe any drops of batter off the sides of the pan and gently tap the pan on the counter to settle the batter. Bake the cake until the edges begin to pull away from the sides of the pan and the top feels springy when pressed with a finger, about 45 minutes.
5. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then flip it out onto a wire rack. Let the cake cool completely, at last 2 hours. Drizzle the chocolate glaze (optional) over the top and sides of the cake. Let the glaze set, about 25 minutes, before serving.

Chocolate Glaze

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted
1/2 cup heavy cream, hot
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch salt

Whisk all of the glaze ingredients together in a medium bowl until smooth and let sit until thickened, about 25 minutes. Pour the glaze over the top of the cake after it has cooled completely, letting the glaze drip down the sides. Let the glaze set before serving, about 25 minutes.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Brown Sugar Chicken

So...I'm a recent convert to the whole concept of slow cookers - my mother never had one while I was growing up, so as an adult, I had no idea what to do with the darn things, so I had no interest in owning one. Until I learned you could make pulled pork in one. Pulled pork is one of my favorite things to eat if we go to a barbecue joint, so when slow cookers went on sale for the back-to-school season this year, I found myself wanting one. And getting one. Pulled pork was the first thing I made in it, and it was awesome (although it took forever to pull the pork), and the next thing I tried was something called Brown Sugar Chicken, which I found on the A Year of Slow Cooking blog, which has quite the multitude of slow cooker recipes.

I first tried to make this recipe two weeks ago, without noticing that it called for a 4-qt slow cooker. Mine is 6. By the time I realized what had happened, my chicken was burnt (although not to a crisp). When I made it a second time, I doubled the liquids to make sure the chicken was well covered in liquid, although I just read that the best solution when your slow cooker is too big for a recipe is to insert a smaller baking dish inside your large slow cooker. I must make a mental note...

What was my take on this recipe? It was tasty, but it needed way more soy sauce for my liking. It was easy, it was pretty tasty, and Baby even seemed to like it, so that works pretty darn well for me.

Brown Sugar Chicken for a slow cooker
adapted from A Year of Slow Cooking
Printer-friendly recipe

6 boneless, skinless breast halves
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup lemon-lime soda
1 1/3 cup vinegar
6 cloves smashed and chopped garlic
4 T soy sauce
2 tsp ground black pepper

1. Plop the chicken into your slow cooker. Cover with brown sugar, pepper, garlic, and soy sauce. Add the vinegar and pour in the soda. It will bubble.
2. Cover and cook on low for 6-9 hours, or high for 4-5. The chicken is done when it is cooked through and reached desired consistency. The longer you cook it, the more tender it will be.
3. Serve over a bowl of white rice with a ladle full of the broth (and some extra soy sauce).

Monday, August 17, 2009

Menu Plan Monday for August 17th

It's Monday again, how did that happen? This last week totally flew by, I can't get over the fact that it's already the middle of August! Wow. This year is positively flying by.

This week will be an interesting meal week - my husband is back in town, but he'll be working late most days this week, so I imagine that Baby and I will be eating on our own every night, and Husband will be reheating his dinner every night when he gets home. I hate doing that, but at the same time, I think Baby shouldn't be eating alone either.

Last week, for my crock pot meal, I wound up making something different - Brown Sugar Chicken. It wasn't a recipe that thrilled me, but I will be sharing it with you all later on today once I get a moment to type it up.

Monday - Waffles
Tuesday - A1/Dijon Steak (in the crock pot) - a new recipe!
Wednesday - Spaghetti
Thursday - Beef Teriyaki
Friday - Baked Ziti
Saturday - Mustard-Garlic Grilled Pork Chops - a new recipe!
Sunday - Skillet fajitas - a new recipe!

Wow, I'm full of lots of ideas this week with new recipes. Stay tuned to see if I manage to cook them all this week. And don't forget, if you need meal inspiration, visit Org Junkie on Mondays to view hundreds of meal plans for various bloggers!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cardio on Crack a.k.a. Step-n-Core

Today's session was by far the most killer so far. I'm still recovering, four hours later. I'm fighting a headache, which I suspect was brought on by all the bouncing, and I feel sore all over. I'm a little afraid to see how I'll feel tomorrow.

Today's class started innocently enough - we just were doing a basic step routine at first. Yes, it was a little fast, but it wasn't until the choreography started to get complicated that I really started to have a hard time. The music was so fast, and I would just get so behind, between how tricky the steps were and how totally exhausted I felt, even just fifteen minutes into the class. It was some seriously hardcore cardio, that's for sure. The instructor was the peppiest person I think I've ever come in contact with in reality, and yesterday's over-enthusiastic exerciser was in attendance, also, which was super fun.

We also spent a good bit of time working on our core, with various crunches, and some work on the balance ball. I have a hard time with those things. I'm always convinced that I'm going to fall off the damn thing. That even happened to someone in the class today! She just slid right off and landed on her butt. Poor thing.

We were doing these butt exercises, where we were supposed to slide off the ball and touch our butts to the ground and then push back up. It was really, seriously hard. Definitely a good butt workout.

Tomorrow, we're headed back to Salsa, which I'm looking forward to. That was the most fun workout so far, by a mile!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Yet Another New Class: Step and Sculpt

Today's form of exercise torture was supposed to be Step and Sculpt, but it turned out that the instructor is on vacation in Hawaii (must be nice!), so there was a fill-in instructor...the woman who taught the class I went to (and neglected to write about) on Friday - Circuit Training. She's a very perky lady, the typical kind of instructor you find on an exercise video, full of overly enthusiastic "Only four more! You can do anything four more times!" Don't get me wrong, I mostly like her as an instructor, her classes have been the most challenging and most burn-full for me so far. Today's class was no different.

There were weights. There were jumping jacks - lots of them. The pathetic thing about the jumping jacks was that I couldn't keep up. My feet just started to burn. Maybe I need different shoes for aerobic workouts, I don't know. There were crunches. There wasn't a muscle that wasn't burning by the end of the class, that's for sure.

The most obnoxious thing about class was the person exercising next to me, who was about seventy times more enthusiastic than the instructor. She kept shouting out "yeah!" and "uh" and counting down how many reps we had left of each exercise. At first, it was kind of cute, but as things continued to get harder, it just got to be really frustrating.

Then, just for fun, we stayed for the 30 minute class that followed, called Butts and Gluts. Or...for today, it was pilates.

I've never done pilates. I might never again. At least, not until I'm in seriously better shape. I'd heard from many people that it was like yoga, just more intense, and let me just say that it's way more intense. My muscles were often quaking from the length of time we would hold or pulse in certain poses, and there were lots of things I just plain couldn't do. It was almost depressing how much flexibility I've lost over the years as I've gotten older and heavier. I used to be a gymnast, a pretty darn good one, and I could, for instance, do a straddle and lay my stomach on the floor no problem. Today, I could barely even get my elbows to the floor. I'm sure it will get better with time, especially now that I'm exercising regularly. At least, I hope it will.

So, tomorrow we're trying another step class, so we'll see how that turns out. After all of our work with the box, I'm pretty sure that I can keep up in a step class. Stay tuned to hear all about it!

The most famous cake in my family: Brown Beauty Cake

As you probably know by now, I am a cake aficionado. Especially when it comes to chocolate cake. I like other flavors of cake, but chocolate is by far the best. In my family, there are several different chocolate cakes that we make, and each one kind of means something different. This particular cake is the cake that I grew up with as birthday cake or celebratory cake - if my mom didn't buy a Publix sheet cake (and those really are awesome), this was what we had for birthday cake. A Brown Beauty Cake.

I was shocked when I Googled the recipe, to see if it was out there in cyberspace already, and I found that it wasn't posted anywhere. Nope. There's a lot of recipes for Brown Beauty Icing, which comes from Betty Crocker, and is quite good, but not a single one for cake, so I'm excited to share this recipe with you all. It's been handed down in my family from my grandmother to my mom to me, though we're not too sure of its origins. But who cares - it's so yummy!!

It's a very dense, moist type of chocolate cake, topped with a sweet vanilla frosting. It's like having a little party in your mouth. To top it all off, it's super easy to make. Bake this cake tonight. Trust me. You won't be sorry. (The picture does NOT do it justice!)

Brown Beauty Cake
Printer-friendly recipe

1/2 cup boiling water
2 squares unsweetened chocolate
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup soft butter
1/4 milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 egg

1. Pour water over chopped up chocolate and stir until melted. Cool mixture slightly. Heat oven to 350 and grease a 9x9 square baking pan.
2. Mix dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Add cooled chocolate mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well. Put in butter, mix. Add egg and mix well, and finally add milk and vanilla. Beat for one minute.
3. Bake cake for 30-35 minutes, or until a cake tester is inserted and a dense crumb or two sticks.

1 stick butter
Powdered sugar
1/2 and 1/2

Mix soft butter with powdered sugar, to taste (I usually use about 2-3 cups). Add approximately 1-2 tsp of vanilla, 1 tbsp 1/2 and 1/2, and a shake of salt. Frost cake after it has fully cooled.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Another new fitness class: Muscle Up!

Today, my friends and I tried out the Muscle Up class at the Y. I got there first, and chatted with two women who were class regulars about the class, and they told me that the class was basically a muscle toning class, rather than cardio. This excited me, because the jumping jacks and rope jumping cardio from last week's circuit training class really killed me (I apparently need a more supportive sports bra).

This class was really tough. It worked my abs, for the first time in God-knows-when. My lovely little C-section tummy pouch kept getting in the way of my ab crunches, actually. Very odd sensation. There were tons of squats, not to mention squats that we would hold for obscenely long periods of time. There was some step work with weights, lots of curls and flys and other weight-lifting kinds of things.

It was a serious workout. There was a lot of sweat, but no tears - although I considered them once or twice during the evil squats. It was definitely tough, but I was able to walk out of there without falling over and I was able to pick up my munchkin afterward, so it must not have been quite as hard as I'm making it out to be. I have a feeling I'll be pretty sore tomorrow, but we'll see. Time will tell.

On the bright side (sort of), I have to buy some new capris - I have shrunk a size at this point (yay!) but my thinner clothes seem to skip a size, so I need something for the in-between time. The idea of having to buy smaller clothes is nice, but I hate having to buy something that I'm planning/hoping to not wear for long. Oh well.

And BTW, my bread smells freaking awesome!!

Menu Plan Monday for August 10th

Wow, I'm actually writing up my menu on Monday! I'm so proud of myself! I know I've been so behind these last several weeks, and it's made me crazy, so I'm really valiantly trying to get back on track around here.

This wee,k is going to be a bit boring, on the meal front at least, with my husband out of town all week. I'll just be making a lot of old standbys, with one exception - my new crock pot meal for the week: chicken teriyaki. Here's hoping that it's awesome. Last week's brown sugar chicken was a total failure, but it was positively my fault. The recipe was written for a smaller crock pot than mine, and I didn't notice and try to increase the amount of liquid in the crock pot. Oh well. I'll try it again next week, when my husband's home again.

Monday - Scrambled eggs and bacon (since Baby isn't eating much in the way of meat, I figured I need to start working more eggs into his diet to make up for the protein he's missing from meat)
Tuesday - Spaghetti
Wednesday - Meatloaf
Thursday - Crock Pot Chicken Teriyaki (stay tuned for the recipe!)
Friday - French Onion Soup (stay tuned for the recipe!)
Saturday - Famous Homemade Pizza
Sunday - Awesome Chicken Cutlets

I've borrowed a breadmaker from a good friend of mine, just to try out using one to see if I really would use one. It seems pretty easy, so I might just be tempted to get one of my own. We'll see how the bread turns out. Today I'm making easy, simple white bread. I'm looking forward to the smell of fresh bread in my house!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

What's on Your Nighstand: July

Yes, I realize that we are now one week into August, and it's no longer July, and that I'm ridiculously behind on posting this, so please accept my apologies. It's been a crazy busy July, and I'm sure August will be no different, I just need to get better with my time management. Seriously, what mom has it all together? If you know any, let me know, I'd love to pick their brains!

Anyway, so I've been reading a lot lately, although I still have quite a stack of books to read. July was a good reading month, I definitely read some good books...

Here's what left my nightstand:
1. The Help by Kathryn Stockett - This book will definitely be making an encore. Repeatedly. Quite possibly the best book I've read in a long time.
2. Identical Strangers by Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein - This was a book club selection for the month of August.
3. Julie and Julia by Julie Powell - Loved this book, and I'm looking forward to seeing the movie at some point. It might just inspire me to cook my way through an entire cookbook. Which one? I don't know. Maybe a dessert cookbook? I'm open to suggestion!
4. I'm drawing a blank - I know I read more than three books this month, especially since I tore through "The Help" in just a few days, but I'm positively drawing a blank. I'll have to come back to that...

And here's what's in the To Be Read pile:

1. All We Ever Wanted Was Everything: A Novel by Janelle Brown - I'm reading this now and it's gripping.
2. Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons (Ballantine Reader's Circle) by Lorna Landvik - One of my favorites that I'm re-reading at the moment. Just a fun book to get wrapped up in, and this is my first time reading it after becoming a mother, so I'm appreciating it in a new way, especially now that I seem to have developed my very own group of Angry Housewives.
3. Little Bee: A Novel by Chris Cleave - This book had me at the dust cover, which doesn't give away a single thread of the story. It just gives you a tiny bit of bait and tries to reel you in. My dearest friend is reading it right now and says it's quite good (though not as good as "The Help").
4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Vintage) by Steig Larsson - I like thrillers, and have heard good things about this one.
5. Baker Towers: A Novel by Jennifer Haigh - Just picked this up at Borders this week with a friend of mine in the dollar bin. I've heard good things about her books, and thought I'd give her a try.
6. How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely - His first book, written with a friend of his about a ridiculous travel challenge that played out like a real-life version of "The Amazing Race," (and so appropriately named The Ridiculous Race) was so darn hilarious, I'm excited to see what he's brewed up for his first work of fiction.
7. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier - This has sat on my to be read shelf for a very long time, but I recently saw that the Classics Bookclub on 5 Minutes for Books read it, so that's inspired me to give it a try.

So what are you reading? I just love book recommendations! And don't forget to go read "The Help" - you'll thank me for it!! Well, me and the 636 people on Amazon who gave it five stars, that is...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Salsa Class #1: Wow that was hard!

Wow. Today, I went to my very first group exercise class, a salsa class. I went with two good friends of mine, which made me chill out a little bit. So did the gaggle of older ladies who showed up just before the class started. I figured if they could keep up with the instructor, so could I.

I've tried aerobic videos, and I have a tough time following the choreography sometimes. Especially if the choreography is really challenging or fast. I was worried that today would be really hard, as a result, especially because salsa is not exactly an easy dance to do.

I can't remember that last time I laughed this hard (wait, yes, I can, when I went to see "The Hangover"). Between my friends and I cracking up at some of the silly moves we were doing or at how ridiculously lost we were in the choreography, it turned out to be a ton of fun. It was definitely a serious workout - we were all dripping by the end of the seventy-five minute long class. I definitely felt silly trying to wiggle my hips and shake it and all that jazz (or salsa, as the case may be), but it was a ton of fun. The choreography started out easy and got harder as we went along, but I was able to keep up a lot better than I thought I would. The instructor came up to us after class and said she was really impressed with how well we did for our first class. Then she invited my friends to join her bellydancing class. Oh my!

I think this class is definitely going to make it into our regular rotation of exercise classes. So...if your gym offers a salsa class, you definitely ought to give it a shot. You might just surprise yourself!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Personal Training Day Eleven: The Total Body Workout

Today was our last day of training for a few weeks - our trainer is going on vacation for a few weeks. It was exciting and scary at the same time. I really love the feeling of obligation to the get to the gym every Tuesday and Thursday at 10:30. Without my trainer around, I'm not sure how good I will be about going at least twice a week. I sure hope I do well. We're going to try to go to some fitness classes to get in some good cardio while our trainer's away, so stay tuned - we start with Salsa on Thursday!

Since it was our last day, our trainer made sure to work our whole body, and I hate to admit it, but it was almost easy, in a way. I had a much easier time with everything that we did. Definitely an easier time than the first session we had! I definitely feel stronger than I did before I got started, although I haven't lost a ton of weight. Our trainer keeps saying that muscle weighs more than fat. She keeps telling me that it looks like I've lost weight, but the scale sure doesn't seem to show it.

Have I mentioned the crazy idea my dearest friend has had? This is pretty darn funny. She's one of the girls I'm training with, and she mentioned to us some kind of mud obstacle course last week not too far away. In my head, I pictured the obstacle course from Ninja Warrior...have you ever seen that show? Hilarious.

Anyway, that's what I had in mind. So then, my friend sent out an email to all of us, along with a link to the information about it. It's called the Muddy Buddy race, and not only is it an obstacle course, but it's also 6.2 miles of running and biking! Seriously???!!! I mean, I am in better shape, but I'm not in triathlon shape yet! Yikes!

Menu Plan Monday (Tuesday) for August 3rd

Shame, shame on me! I've not been on my blog much lately, admittedly, and that's totally my bad. I've just gotten caught up in the things going on around me and I've left you guys hanging. I'm sorry about that. Certainly not my intention. But, it's time to get back on track! Even if it is already Tuesday...

So here's my menu plan for the week:

Monday - Famous Pancakes
Tuesday - Brown Sugar Chicken (stay tuned for the recipe!)
Wednesday - Dinner out with my dearest friend, Mac and cheese for the boys
Thursday - Beef Teriyaki
Friday - Spaghetti and garlic bread
Saturday - BBQ Chicken Fajitas
Sunday - Burgers on the grill

I finally caved in and purchased a slow cooker a week or so ago, and on Tuesdays, I plan to regularly use my slow cooker. I've never had one before, so I'm still learning how to use one, but I'm enjoying it so far. Stay tuned to hear about tonight's slow cooker recipe, brown sugar chicken, which sure does smell awesome so far!
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