Sunday, February 27, 2011

Waiting for Spring...

Last weekend, it got warm out and it looked like this:
and this:
and the sun was streaming in the window, making my houseplants look like this:
and this:
and this:
I put my Sarah Barellis Pandora station on the stereo, turned up the volume, cooked in the kitchen, and enjoyed the sunshine.  Ahh... thoughts of spring.

And then the storm came.  On Sunday evening a snowstorm hit.  Snow, snow mixed with rain, and ice.  We ended up with another snow day on Monday.  I am starting to NOT want any more snow days!  My students are behind (we have had four so far this semester) and I am getting tired of adjusting my lesson plans and trying to figure out what to cut and what to squeeze in.

Today is Sunday again.  I slept in until 8:30. Ahhh.... (Normally I have to get up at 5:30, so 8:30 feels like really sleeping in!) I came downstairs to make coffee and it looked like this:
At least my narcissus bulbs are almost in bloom and there is a wishbone on my windowsill.  Things could be worse, right?  I decided to make a pot roast, so I peeled some potatoes and carrots, cut them up, and threw them in the crock pot.  Then I browned a chuck roast in a little oil and threw that in.  Then I stirred two packages of Lipton Onion Soup Mix into a cup of water (the magic elixir for pot roast) and poured it over the top.  I had it all done by 9:00 am, and I set the crock pot to low.  Maybe this afternoon I will bake some bread to go with it.

I love Sunday mornings, because I am always the first one up.  I usually get up around 8:30, which gives me a little alone time before I have to start waking up the crew for church.  (Not an easy task with teenagers in the house...)  I enjoy my coffee and usually spend the time grading papers, or like today, blogging.  I absolutely adore my coffee mugs.  They make me so happy.  They are from Park City, Utah, where my parents have a vacation home.  I saw them at an artist's collective one time when I was out visiting, and my mom got them for me for my birthday years ago.  Each one is a little bit different, because they are handmade.  This one is my favorite:
I love its shape and the way the glaze drips down the sides.

Later today, I hope to go cross country skiing with the darling husband.  I need to get out of the house and get some exercise.  I am a little bleh, and I am hoping the exercise will help.  I have a big pile of essays to finish grading for my AP Literature kids.  I don't want to do it!  I am in the mood to sew today.  Maybe I can squeeze a little bit of that in later if I am lucky.  I'll keep you posted...

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Shhh... I have a secret

This morning I woke up (late!) and looked at my phone.  I had a Facebook post from my friend Kim that mentioned deviled eggs.  I don't know about you, but once I think about deviled eggs it's hard to think about anything else.  I tried to satisfy the craving by making a soft boiled egg for breakfast.  When my husband saw me boiling water for an egg he got all excited because he thought I was preparing to make deviled eggs.  So, that was it.  Time to make deviled eggs!  The first step in making deviled eggs is boiling the eggs.  The most foolproof method I have found is this.  Put the eggs in a pan. Cover with cold water. Put on the stove and turn on the heat.  Once the water boils (and I usually let it go for a minute or two), turn off the heat.  Let the eggs cool in the water.  Once cool, you can peel them.  This method works the best of any I have found and yields eggs that are generally easy to peel.  Once you have peeled the eggs, slice them in half and put the yolks in a bowl.
Put the whites on a plate.  My mom got me this deviled egg plate a few years ago. Isn't it cute?
Okay, now here's the secret.
It's Duke's.  Duke's is like no other mayonnaise you have ever tried or ever tasted.  Once you have used Duke's, you really won't be able to eat any other kind of mayonnaise.  It is not sold where we live - you have to get it down south.  So, if you are heading to Florida for spring break, stop by a Piggly Wiggly and get some.  You won't be sorry!  You can also order Duke's online from their website, which is how we get it. Today I boiled seven eggs, hoping to have twelve nice deviled eggs when I was finished.  Add about 1/4 cup Duke's.

You will also need some vinegar, dry mustard, and paprika.
Add about 1 tablespoon of vinegar and about 1/2 teaspoon of dry mustard.  My friend Kim's cookbook also said that the secret to great deviled eggs is butter.  I say it is Duke's, but I decided to try some butter this time as well.
I put about a tablespoon in the microwave to soften it and then stirred it in to the egg mixture.  Once it is smooth you can drop it by spoonfuls into the egg whites.  Sprinkle with a little paprika.
Now, I just need to hide these until dinnertime.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

More Slow Cooker Goodness

This weekend we invited our friends David and Kathy and their two boys over for dinner.  I decided to try another delicious slow cooker recipe from the February issue of Midwest Living.  This recipe is called Beef Short Ribs over Gorgonzola Polenta and it looked perfect for a wintery Saturday night dinner with friends.

I got the short ribs from the nicest butcher woman at Bob's Butcher Block.  Apparently (I didn't know this) short ribs are from the chuck roast.  They did not have any in the butcher case, but she happily cut some for me.  I used about three pounds of short ribs.  The recipe also calls for a fennel bulb, an onion, two medium carrots, a can of diced tomatoes, some tapioca, red wine, garlic, salt, pepper, and rosemary. 
First, slice up the onion.
Check out the Santoku knife I got for Christmas.  This is the most amazing knife I have ever used.  I swear, I would slice onions all afternoon with this thing if I could.  Then, slice up two carrots.
Next, core and slice up the fennel bulb.  Mmm... this smells so good.
Put all the veggies in the slow cooker.
Next, you are supposed to place the meat on top of the vegetables.  I decided to brown the short ribs a bit first.

While the short ribs were browning, I made the sauce.  Put the diced tomatoes, undrained in a bowl.

Then add some red wine.
And some tapioca, garlic, salt and pepper, and rosemary.
Place the meat on top of the vegetables in the slow cooker.
And pour the sauce over the top.
Then cook on low for 9 to10 hours or on high for 41/2 to 5 hours.  The three wonderful things about slow cooker meals are 1.) It was 2:00 in the afternoon, and my entree was done, 2.) I had time to clean up the kitchen before dinner, and 3.) It smells SO good in your house when everything starts to simmer.

I got some flowers at the grocery store and set the tables.

This is the kids' table.
This is the adults' table.
Kathy brought some delicious homemade bread.
Before serving, I made the Gorgonzola Polenta. (I added some Parmesan cheese as well.  More cheese is never a bad idea!)  I also made a simple green salad and some homemade rolls. 
It was delicious!  After dinner, the guys made a big fire in our fire pit and the kids ran around in the snow and had s'mores for dessert.  Then, when they came inside, the adults had gingerbread cake with fresh whipped cream.  I forgot how good gingerbread cake is.  Yummy!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Angel Chicken

The blizzard had been predicted for days, so I had gone to the grocery store on Sunday and stocked up on ingredients for some new recipes I wanted to try.  I bought the February 2011 issue of Midwest Living because the cover advertised it as a "Top Ten Issue" and I am a sucker for Top Ten lists.  It also featured "Top slow-cooker recipes" and I have been craving anything made in a slow cooker lately.  It is definitely the weather. We have had a very cold and snowy winter here, and the smell of something cooking in the slow cooker on a cold, snowy day just makes me feel happy.  I tried the recipe for Pulled Pork Sandwiches on Sunday, and I liked it pretty well.  The meat was really tender, but I wasn't crazy about the sauce.  Too much root beer taste.  I am going to do some tweaking on it, and I will post my recipe it if I think it is improved.  Yesterday, during the blizzard day grading marathon I decided to try the recipe for Angel Chicken.  I started around noon, and it took me about 30 minutes to get it all ready and in the pot.
The recipe calls for chicken breasts, button mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, dry Italian dressing mix, Golden Mushroom soup, Philly cream cheese with onions and chives, some dry white wine, and butter, salt, and pepper.  First, salt and pepper the chicken breasts and brown them in a pan with a little olive oil.
While the chicken is browning, put the sliced shiitake mushrooms in the slow cooker.  Clean the button mushrooms and quarter them.  Place them in the slow cooker too.
I used four large chicken breasts.  One change I made to the recipe is I cut the browned chicken breasts into chunks (about four pieces per breast).  I thought it would be easier to serve this way, and there is no way the younger kids would eat a whole large chicken breast.  I think this was a good move.  Place the chicken on top of the mushrooms in the slow cooker. (I forgot to take a picture of this step... I am no Pioneer Woman!)  Then, make the sauce by melting some butter, adding a package of Italian Dressing mix (I used Good Seasons), the Golden Mushroom soup, cream cheese, and white wine.  Melt and stir everything together and then pour over the mushrooms and chicken in the slow cooker.
The recipe says to cook on low for 4 to 5 hours.  About halfway through, I decided to turn it up to high to simmer the chicken a bit more (it was not cooked all the way through, just browned) and then after about an hour, I turned it back down to low.  I don't know if this was necessary or not, but the chicken and sauce turned out perfectly.  Just before dinner I made a green salad, heated up some crusty bread, and cooked some angel hair pasta.  I served the chicken mixture over the pasta, and it was delicious.  (Sorry I don't have a picture - by 6:30 when we eat dinner it is so dark around here that pictures don't turn out so well...)  Everyone loved it!  Yum, yum, happy, happy.


Oh my goodness, it has been so long since I last posted.  Let me fill you in on what's been going on in my life.  Well, for one, it was the end of the semester at my high school which means (for an English teacher) even more grading of essays on top of the already ridiculous amount of grading of essays we already do.  Every class I teach has an essay at the end of a unit, and the last unit must come at the end of the semester, and then every exam for every class I teach has an essay on the exam.  I have five classes and 127 students.  This means 2 x 127 or approximately 254 essays, give or take a few. (There are always a few kids who do not turn in their essays and I also accept late work at the end of the semester, so I have extra essays to grade on top of the new ones collected.)  I have honestly spent every waking minute of my life for the past two weeks grading papers.

Yesterday we were hit by the blizzard that hit much of the U.S.  Grades were also due yesterday (Wednesday).  I had all of my essays graded and my grades entered for four of my five classes by the time I left work at 5:30 on Tuesday.  However, I still had one whole set of compartive analysis essays (30) and one whole set of final reflective essays (30) to grade for my Advanced Writing class (a senior writing class).  I was worried I was going to have to pull an all-nighter, something I haven't done since grad school and something I was seriously doubting I still have the stamina to pull off!  The blizzard was knocking on our door, and I was hoping against hope that we would have a snow day so that I could finish my last batch of grading at a reasonable pace in the daylight hours.  I went home on Tuesday, got some dinner with the darling husband (kids were at their dad's house and mom's house respectively) and started grading.  School was cancelled by about 9:00 pm on Tuesday night for Wednesday.  Hooray!  I slowed down my pace, finished about fifteen comparative anlysis essays and went to bed.

When I awoke Wednesday morning at about 7:30, I headed downstairs to make coffee and hit the stack of work awaiting me.  My favorite place to grade is at the kitchen table and my favorite time to grade is in the morning, before the rest of the family is awake.  I have a beautiful view of the backyard and woods, the windows face east so I get nice morning light, and I can drink my coffee and make a lot of headway.  I often get up early on Sunday mornings to grade like this before church at 11:00. 
This was my view onto the back deck and of the backyard on Wednesday morning.
The picture of the deck doesn't really give you a very good perspective of how MUCH snow we got.  When the darling husband decided to go outside to dig us out of the blizzard I was able to get some better shots to show just how much snow there was.  (The darling husband works out of a home office AND just got a brand new snowblower.  He was very excited to go and try it out.)
I measured the actual snow in the driveway (not the snow drifts) and we had an honest 21" of snow at our house.  Holy cow, that is a lot of snow!
The darling husband was feeling pretty manly with his new snowblower!
These next two shots give you a good perspective of how deep the snow is.  The driveway and path were down to the pavement on Tuesday afternoon, so this is all from just 12 hours.

 This is our front path up to the front door.
By late afternoon on Wednesday I had graded all of the comparative anlaysis essays and made comments on them, graded all of the final reflective essays and portfolios and made comments on them, written each of my Advanced Writing students a personal note about their growth as writers over the course of the semester, entered and double-checked all of my grades and enterered comments for each of my 127 students.  Whew!  What a great feeling!