Sunday, October 26, 2014

Five-Chip Cookies...and a BABY!

We welcomed little Charlie to our family on the 13th of October, and the last two weeks have come and gone in the blink of an eye. Josh and I felt like we were ready for a family and had always planned on it, but didn't realize just how ready we were until we held our 7 pound 5 ounce baby for the first time. I always knew Josh was meant to be a father, and I fell in love with him all over again seeing him hold and snuggle our boy.  
I didn't realize how HARD it was to have a newborn in the house, and I have a whole new respect for all the moms out there. It's one thing to read the baby books and conceptualize life with a newborn, and another to live it in real time. It's a 24/7 job, and most days just taking a shower and putting on a little makeup feels like a small victory. I also didn't realize how much joy a baby would bring to our lives. It's exhausted bliss. 
We are all doing great, our pediatrician described Charlie as "perfect" on our last visit and Josh and I are adjusting to the erratic sleep that comes with a newborn. I'm taking my own advice to focus on what really matters, and up until today the blog has been far from my mind. 
Last night Josh was telling me about a five-chip cookie he had years ago while hunting in Massachusetts, and it was served crumbled over vanilla bean ice cream drizzled with maple syrup. Since I haven't made a new cookie in awhile, I found this recipe and spent my "me hours" in the kitchen today baking these delicious treats. The combination of peanut butter and oats in the cookie along with all the chips is divine. 

Five-Chip Cookies
from Taste of Home magazine
Yield: 4 1/2 dozen

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup old fashioned oats
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup EACH milk chocolate chips, semisweet chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, white chocolate chips and butterscotch cups

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl cream the butter, peanut butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in the vanilla.

Combine flour, oats, baking soda and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well. Stir in chips. 

Drop rounded tablespoons two inches apart onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned. Cook before removing to wire racks. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

exchange Busy for Meaningful

As I was reading my book yesterday (the 7 habits) one sentence really stood out to me. 

It is possible for people to be busy - very busy - without being very effective. 

I'm not sure why we glorify busy in this country, as if staying constantly "busy" was a noble feat that we should all strive for. Have you heard the phrase "busy is the new happy"? I'm not buying it. Often, I think we stay busy doing things that don't really matter.  I love this print below from Emily Ley so much that I framed it over my desk. 
My goal this week (while waiting and waiting for baby Charlie) was to spend my time effectively, doing things that matter. What did I do? I made dinner for my husband and we ate at the table and talked during dinner (no phones allowed!). I read a chapter of the 7 habits every morning. I organized my office and craft closet. I had an afternoon coffee date with an amazing friend. I talked to my brother on the phone for awhile. I read up on infant portrait photography and dug out my tripod. 

Honestly, it's not that I did that much, I was by no means "busy", but I felt like I spent my time doing the things that mattered. Once you realize what is truly important to you, it becomes clear what activities are aligned with your priorities. If you value your friendships, plan coffee dates and girls nights. If you value your spouse, plan a weekly date night. If you value spending time outdoors, go for a hike or a bike ride.  Just decide what you value, and the rest becomes clear.  

Monday, October 6, 2014

Virtual Book Club

One of the best feelings is curling up on the couch under a soft blanket, with a mug of steaming chai tea and your favorite soft sheepskin house shoes, while its 38 degrees outside, listening to your boxers snore, and propping your kindle up on your 40 week pregnant belly to dive into a new novel! 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Skinny Chicken Parmesan

If I could only visit one blog every day, it would be Skinnytaste. While I love cooking recipes from Ina Garten and my family cookbook, I try to balance those with healthy recipes that I make for us most of the time.  When we splurge, we take off the brakes, but the truth is that we feel better when we eat more vegetables and lean proteins and less carbs and ice cream. AHEM. Says the 40 week hormonal pregnant lady. 
And then this BEAUTIFUL cookbook arrives at my doorstep. That's right, Gina of Skinnytaste has published a cookbook and the recipes and photographs are glorious! Tonight I made her Skinny Chicken Parmesan over spaghetti squash with my favorite sauteed kale with garlic. I already have three more recipes bookmarked! 
Skinny Chicken Parmesan 
from Skinnytaste cookbook
serves 6

Cooking spray or oil mister
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (8 ounces each), fat trimmed
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup seasoned whole wheat bread crumbs
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons melted unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups marinara sauce (homemade or store-bought)
9 tablespoons part-skim mozzarelle cheese

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Lightly spray a large baking sheet with oil.

Slice the chicken breasts in half horizontally to make 6 cutlets. Season both sides with salt.

In a shallow bowl, combine the bread crumbs and Parmesan. In a small bowl, combine the butter and olive oil. Brush the butter oil on both sides of the chicken, dredge the chicken in the bread crumb mixture, and put the chicken on the prepared baking sheet. Lightly spray oil on top of the chicken.

Bake until golden on the bottom, about 20 minutes. Turn the chicken over and bake until the center is cooked through, about 5 to 6 minutes. 

Meanwhile, in a large, deep covered skillet, cook the marinara sauce until heated through, 2 to 3 minutes.

Place the baked chicken in the skillet and top each piece with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the mozzarella. Cover the pan and cook until the cheese melts, 3 to 4 minutes. Serve hot.

*I served my chicken over spaghetti squash*

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Spicy Sausage, Potato & Kale Soup

I just so happened to be working last week on the lucky day that my colleague brought this soup in to work, with enough to share! Seriously, this is THE BEST soup I've had this year. Last year I was crazy about Hungarian mushroom soup, and this year I am crazy about this recipe. Bonkers. It's incredible, especially if you are a fan of kale. Kale has been my #1 favorite vegetable for some time, and I don't see that changing.
The best news: thirty minutes. That's how long it takes to make it, if you short cut and buy chicken broth and a bag of ready cleaned and stemmed kale. Subtract more time if you buy frozen diced onions. This afternoon I started from scratch, and enjoyed the time chopping onions, garlic, kale, and potatoes while listening to Sam Smith radio on spotify.  I'm feeling generous, so I'll let you in on a little secret. Roasted garlic triscuits are my new kryptonite, and are perfect with this recipe! Of course one can never go wrong with a crunchy baguette either. 

Spicy Sausage, Potato & Kale Soup
from The Candid Appetite

 - 1 pound spicy italian sausage (use regular or mild for a less spicy version)
 - 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
 - 1 large onion, chopped
 - 3 garlic cloves, minced
 - 1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
 - 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper, plus more to taste
 - 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
 - 2 large bunches of kale, stemmed and chopped, about 4 overflowing handfuls
 - 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
 - 4 medium or 2 large russet baking potatoes, sliced
 - 8 cups chicken broth or stock, 2 boxes
 - 1/2 cup heavy cream (can substitute milk)
  1. Heat a large heavy-duty pot over medium-high heat. Once the pot has heated through, add the sausage, which you removed from the casing. Using a wooden spoon, begin to break up the sausage and allow it to cook, stirring occasionally, until it has fully browned. Remove the crisped sausage from the pot and transfer it to a plate or bowl. Set aside.
  2. Lower the heat to medium, add the butter or oil and throw in the onions and garlic. Stir, scraping down the bottom of the pot picking up the browned bits of sausage with the back of a wooden spoon, and cook until soft and translucent about 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes, if using. Continue to sauté until the onions have caramelized. Add the chopped kale in batches, allowing it to wilt down as it cooks. It might seem like a lot of kale but it will cook down, just like spinach! Add the nutmeg and stir. Cook the kale for another 3 minutes until it has turned bright green and completely wilted down. Throw in the sliced potatoes and cooked sausage.
  3. Pour in the chicken stock or broth and bring it up to a boil. Lower the heat and allow the soup to simmer until the potatoes are cooked tender and soft. Taste the soup for seasoning, at this point you may add more salt, pepper or red pepper flakes, if desired. Once the potatoes are fully cooked, stir in the heavy cream. Serve right away with some bread on the side. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Carry Your Own Weather

I'm going to share a story today from years ago.  I swear my dad got personal amusement and pleasure in torturing my brother and me, though always with a higher purpose. We resisted, but he was the boss. I use the word torture loosely, but it was just not the fun stuff most parents did with their kids. Not the going to the ballpark kind of stuff. I think most parents try too hard to make their kids lives easy, to focus on fun and being friends. 

My dad adopted a different approach. The wake up early, get your tush out here and help me cut down trees and carry lumber kind of stuff. Sometimes physical labor, sometimes mentally challenging tasks like understanding how to balance a checkbook, or sometimes instances like I am about to share. On a family vacation we were driving to the Outer Banks, and dad decided we would start the vacation by listening to the audiotape version of  Steven Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. The book is now a sort of family joke yet also a book that has come to mean a lot to each of us individually. My brother and I can exchange a look in about 2 seconds that screams "seriously". Yep, seriously. You are going to listen to this book, and then we are going to talk about it. 
I love this image - posted on this blog with a great lesson! 

After working a challenging weekend in the ICU and dealing with a few personal things, I was reminded of my favorite tip from Steven Covey: Carry Your Own Weather. I may just have a little umbrella tattooed on my body, as I think if there is one thing I need to be reminded of every day, it's that. We get to choose our reactions, our moods, and set our own internal barometer each and every day. Put on negative glasses, and you will find negativity all around. I'm wearing my virtual sunnies today - and damn it, it feels good. Not because everything is good, but because I'm looking for and choosing to see the good today. 

With all that aside, Habit #1 is Be Proactive. We all have the inner power to choose how we feel and how we react to the various circumstances and instances in our lives.  Here is a paragraph from Steven Covey: 

“Your life doesn’t just “happen.” Whether you know it or not, it is carefully designed by you. The choices, after all, are yours. You choose happiness. You choose sadness. You choose decisiveness. You choose ambivalence. You choose success. You choose failure. You choose courage. You choose fear. Just remember that every moment, every situation, provides a new choice. And in doing so, it gives you a perfect opportunity to do things differently to produce more positive results.”

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Tortilla Dip

This is one of my Grandma Shirley's famous recipes which is in our McLean family cookbook. She would bring this dip to gatherings and parties, and it was always a crowd pleaser. 
The kitchen has slowly evolved into a sanctuary for me, a place where I can escape to recharge my batteries, find balance, and cook for the people I love. As I was in the kitchen today, I thought about how my grandma had a boy first (my dad) as did my mom, and I am just a few weeks away from joining them in being a mom myself to a little boy. While I am a little scared, I know that the overwhelming joy that comes from being a mom is going to amaze me.  I'm also going to bribe my girlfriends to come and play with me and Charlie by offering this dip along with large glasses of wine! 
You can layer this dip in a 13x9 pyrex glass dish, but I prefer my 15x7 ceramic serving dish I found at Marshall's to really show off the layers. 

Tortilla Dip
1 (1 ounce) package taco seasoning
1 (16 ounce) can refried beans (or 2 (9 ounce) cans jalapeno bean dip)
1 cup mayonnaise (can substitute cream cheese)
1 (8 ounce) container sour cream
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
1 (6 ounce) can sliced black olives, drained
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
3 avocados
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Tostitos scoops or pretzel chips for serving

Layers from bottom up:

1 - refried beans OR jalapeno bean dip
2 - sour cream and mayonnaise mixed with taco seasoning
3 - guacamole (avocados, salt and lime juice)
4 - scallions and tomato
5 - black olives and shredded cheddar cheese