Wednesday, May 31, 2006

VRC: Food On A Stick

Well, I don't know about everyone else, but I had fun coming up with a few morsels for VRC: Food On A Stick. It was equally fun to see the entries pop up in my inbox. And all of them look really good. I mean, mouthwatering good. One of the best parts about hosting this month's VRC, is that I have "Met" several food bloggers that are new to me. I have added their blogs to my favorites, and I'm looking forward to seeing more from all of them. While I ideally would have liked more entries, this was fun anyways, and I appreciate everyone who participated. And if you're reading this and going "Oops!" It's okay, if you send me a late submission, I'll add it on to the round-up anyway.
Let's move on to this months entries for the Virtual Recipe Club, because I just can't wait to share the delicious looking recipes with the rest of the blogosphere. You will also see a recurring theme...

First up, we have a pair of kebab recipes from My Life As A Reluctant Housewife. Gabriella starts us off with her Lamb Kebabs With The Three C's. Oh my, they look tempting.

And if that's not enough for you, she also shares with us Steak Kebab With Pineapple Marinade. Thanks so much Gabriella!

Next we have Eliza from Notes From My Food Diary. Eliza brings Napoleon Beef On A Skewer- also called Thit Bo Lui. Doesn't this just make you want to run out and get some beef? Thank you for joining us this month Eliza!

Next we have Kalyn joining us from Kalyn's Kitchen. When I saw a submission from Kalyn, I knew I wouldn't be disappointed. And how could I be with Chicken and Veggie Kabobs with Garlic and Basil. Thanks a bunch for sharing Kalyn!

Joining us next is Haalo who hails to us from Cook (Almost) Anything At Least Once. Haalo shares two recipes with us today from the land Down Under. Just look at these Skewered Lemongrass Prawns!

Haalo also shares with us this rather unique recipe for Potato Skewers. I would have never thought to put potatoes on a skewer, but these babies sure have me planning on giving them a try. I don't know which looks better- the potato, or the clove of garlic on the end. Thank you Haalo for the new inspiration!

And last, but certainly not least, here are my two entries. First up, we have a Chicken Tikka.

Followed by my newly created Grilled Meatballs. And that is this month's round-up. Now comes the hard part- deciding which one of these precious "Foods On A Stick" to try first. Thank you to everyone for participating, it was so much fun to "meet" you all, and I'm looking forward to following more of your cooking adventures.

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Just One More...

I just HAD to come up with one more recipe to share for VRC:Food On A Stick. I decided to try something a little different. A while back, I was inspired by Cat Cora on Iron Chef: America. It was Battle:Hamburger, and she made these little burger patties on a stick, and I've thought about them since. So I thought there would be a way to do this, I just needed to get creative. I started by searching for a fairly easy meatball recipe. The one I ended up with as inspiration was a Rachael Ray recipe from a Meatball Hoagie Episode she did. Looking over the recipe, I thought the egg might make the burger meat a little soppy, and it wouldn't hold it's shape on a stick. So I thought and I thought, and then I remembered a meatloaf that Stephencooks made. Instead of the requisite breadcrumbs, he used panko in his meatloaf. I was intrigued, and filed that away in the large recesses of my brain. So I eliminated the egg, and added some Panko instead of breadcrumbs. I also added a pinch of lemon zest, as I've really been adding it to everything lately. We only had one minor problem with execution. The meatballs themselves stuck very nicely to the skewers, and held up well. But the spaces on the skewer where there was no meatball burned rather quickly. Next time I will make them with my metal BBQ skewers.

To accompany, I made spaghetti and a simple red sauce. Grilling the meatballs gave them such a wonderful flavor that you don't normally find in spaghetti and meatballs. The dish was slightly smokey, slightly salty from the Romano Cheese and had a brightness from the lemon zest. Overall it really was wonderful. And will definitely be repeated. Grilled Meatballs can be found in my Recipe Trove with the original inspiration recipe from Rachael Ray, as well as my modified version.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A very nice weekend/ VRC Reminder

Well, we had a very nice weekend in Minneapolis visiting my brother. Very nice. The whole weekend was pretty relaxing and fun. The kids had a complete blast, and Zander was very sad to learn that Uncle Ben would not be coming home with him in the van. Abigail, however, was very glad to leave the "number kruk" behind. ;-) While we were there, we spent plenty of time visiting and eating and playing with the kids. One of the highlights for the weekend was going to The Minnesota Zoo. We happen to have a season pass for our local zoo- and it's welcome at zoos all across the country. We expected a discount at the Minnesota Zoo- imagine our surprise when we got in for the cost of parking. All of us. It was great. One of our favorite things to do when we travel is visit the zoos, and we particularly like the Minnesota Zoo. It is very clean, nicely laid out, and it has a great shark and dolphin exhibit.

Here is a picture of Abigail and Zander sporting their zoo hats.

And here they are pretending to be Meerkats.

Here is the dolphin tank, we spent a lot of time there.

And the end of the day- happy to rest our little legs. The weekend wasn't entirely fun and games. After waiting a whole year for Andy to come out and take a look at their trees, Andy did a fine job pruning them out for them. They never knew they had a nice view from their house. :-) But it gave Andy and Ben a good chance to behave like real men and do some yard work. And despite the hard work Monday morning, we left that afternoon feeling like we rested and had a great time. Andy came home full of exciting new insight for things that he is involved with at church, so the weekend was a rousing success. We are already planning a return visit in the fall, so hopefully everything works out according to plan.

So after a day of not feeling like doing a whole heck of a lot, tomorrow will be a real return to normal. I'm feeling a little inspired in the kitchen, so I hope to have a delicious offering for tomorrow night's dinner. So until then...

***VRC Reminder!!! Tomorrow is your last day to get in your submissions for VRC:Food On A Stick. I have several delicious entries waiting in the wings, and I'm looking forward to seeing more submissions through tomorrow night. I will get the round-up posted sometime on Thursday- so take the opportunity to get me those last minute submissions tonight and tomorrow!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A Mini-Holiday

In this country, we call it a vacation. In the UK, it's called a holiday. I happen to prefer the British holiday. It sounds so much more fun and festive, and definitely much needed. Tomorrow we head out for a mini holiday to Minneapolis/St. Paul to see my brother and his wife. We haven't had a family vacation since our trip to Florida in March of 2005. It's been awhile. And likely, it will be awhile before we get another such break. With Andy being fairly new at this company, he's kind of the last guy to get vacation priority time. And we're also coming to find that taking time off of work is majorly frowned upon during construction season. Which is completely understandable, but it means that it's going to be awhile before we figure out a good time of the year to take a break. Andy works during the nice weather, and Abigail has school during the not nice weather. And she REALLY doesn't like to miss school. We'll figure it out eventually, it just may take some time. :-)

A few days ago I posted about Net Neutrality and the bill that is coming before congress. Today there was a major victory for the bill, and you can read about that right here. But what I found exciting about the whole process, is that my US representative actually listened to me. I sent him a brief e-mail explaining my thoughts on this bill, and he took the time to send a letter back. Partially form letter, but also partially personalized, and signed in ink. I haven't written to a member of government since my High School Civics class. So then today, I received an e-mail from the Save The Internet Coalition that a vote was taking place today, so I actually spent some time watching C-Span and watching the government at work. It was pretty interesting and neat to watch. I can't say that I will be watching on a regular basis, but it caught my attention today. Maybe I saw enough of The West Wing to get a little excited about politics.

Anyway, no worries, I'm not going to run out and become a lobbyist or anything, but it does strike me that most people are probably like me. We get out to vote when we think it matters, but don't think much about the inbetween times. Our elected officials are in their position to represent us. If there is an issue that is important to me, I should write or call my officials and let them know what I really think. If everyone took a few minutes to tell their Congressmen what was important to them, it could really change the face of politics. It would no longer be major corporations pulling the purse-strings. It would be the common people, which is how it used to be. And it really doesn't matter if the Olson's across the street have a different point of view than us, what matters is that we both get the same opportunity to voice that point of view. Something to think about.

No exciting dinner report tonight. Andy and Zander were in charge of dinner tonight, so it was simple and grilled, and perfect for dining al fresco. We're really looking forward to our weekend away, and I have plenty of packing to do, so I should get to it. I'll be back next Monday with tales to tell, I'm sure. Until then,scroll down, read about the VRC, and send me a Food On A Stick so I don't totally kill a food-blogging event. :-)

VRC: Food On A Stick

My contribution this month is a recipe for Chicken Tikka. I found this recipe in Rachael Ray's 30 Minute Meals 2. The recipe is definitely a 30 minute meal- unless you let the chicken marinate longer, which I defintely did. There are also other recipes with the Chicken Tikka Recipe for a Charred Tomato Chutney and Cumin Potatoes. I didn't do any of the go-withs this time around. In fact, I changed the context of the recipe entirely by threading my chicken tenders onto sticks instead of grilling and serving on flatbread. was REALLY good. The chicken was mosit and tender, and full of flavor. I couldn't stop eating the chicken, it was so good. Andy and I did find that we wished we had a dipping sauce or a raita though, so I took some plain yogurt and stirred in a drizzle of fresh orange juice and some black pepper. That worked pretty good, although next time I will make a cucumber raita for dipping in. The curry paste gives this dish plenty of flavor with just a hint of heat. I actually would have liked a little more heat to it, but it was good as it was.

And the best part? I found out Abigail and Zander love to eat chicken on a stick. The possibilities there are endless, so this recipe will be getting plenty of repeats, and most likely endless variations.

Do you have a recipe that is served on a stick? It's not too late! Send in your submissions for VRC: Food On A Stick to me at thewazsATnewDOTrrDOTcom. Be sure and put VRC In your subject line. Submissions will be accepted until May 31, so get them in. I have yet to receive an entry...please don't make me stoop to the level of Pirating posts on other food blogs...

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

I do try...

Honestly, I do try to eat healthier. I am always eager to try new foods and new combinations of foods in an effort to eat healthy and also have it be tasty. But lately I have discovered a few things that I guess I am just not going to be able to eat. The first of that being Tofu. I tried. I made up a peanut stir-fry that I knew would be good, and prepared some tofu to go with it. I took one bite, and immediately started gagging. Literally. Taste wise, the tofu was fine, it happily drank up my marinade and tasted okay. But that texture... I just couldn't do it. I can't do it, and I don't intend to try again. And before I get all the e-mails that I didn't prepare it properly, let me assure you, I did. I used White Wave Extra firm tofu which I pressed between paper towels for 30 minutes, and then I let it soak up the marinade for an additional 30. I pan seared it until it was golden brown on all sides, but it just isn't for me. And along those lines, I also reject Soy-Gurt. Ugh. And that's all I'll say about that one. I'm thinking that my dairy loving, meat eating self is just going to have to accept the fact that I don't care for soy products. Except for the Chocolate Silk. Mmm. Milkshake in a carton.

Tonight was another such example. I decided to try a new brand of frozen french fry. Alexia brand sweet potato fries caught my attention. They promise no trans-fats, and look great. And I will say, with all fairness, these are probably great sweet potato fries- if you like sweet potato fries. No matter how many ways I try them, I just am having a hard time eating sweet potatoes any way but sweet. Give em to me boiled and mashed with a drizzle of butter, or give em to me loaded with brown sugar and marshmallows. But please don't masquerade in something meant to be for a brown baking potato. Another ugh. However, I will be trying other versions of Alexia potatoes- just not the sweets again. No more savory sweet potatoes for me.

And that's it for tonight. I will sign off for the day with these pictures of Andy and Zander mowing the lawn.

Like father like son. =D

VRC Reminder!!

Food On A Stick!!

Here's my weekly reminder about VRC: Food On A Stick. We're coming up on the deadline with just one week to get your submissions in. As a reminder, VRC recipes do not need to be current, they can be something in your archives, or simply a recipe you've found. E-mail your submissions to me: thewazsATnewDOTrrDOTcom. Check out the details at VRC:Food On A Stick.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Signs of the Season

This is the time of year I spend smiling. I hate winter. I really loathe winter. I despise being cold, and no amount of bundling up can keep me from becoming cold. So I welcome spring wholeheartedly. From the moment The Great Thaw begins until the leaves start to bronze, I spend a lot of time smiling. I truly enjoy being outside in the spring/summer. There is nothing like sitting in your backyard with the sun on your face and the scent of flowers floating on the breeze. Ah. And in addition to asparagus, nothing makes me smile like the tart perennial vegetable, Rhubarb.

When I was young, the rhubarb itself was a treat to be savored. There is nothing like a freshly picked stalk of rhubarb dipped in a bowl of sugar. I remember all the women at church who grew rhubarb bringing it in by the bagful, begging for relief from the attack of the rhubarb plants. In fact, I didn't even know until recently that a person could actually BUY rhubarb in a supermarket. Much like the zucchini invasion in August, it seems like everyone around here has at least one rhubarb plant. What is great about rhubarb, is that as long as you continue pulling off the flower blossoms, those rhubarb plants will grow and grow. You can pick rhubarb to your heart's delight once you have an established plant. And rhubarb is one of those things that you can freeze it without a fancy preparation. Simply slice it and put in a freezer bag. No other adornments necessary. The frozen rhubarb can be pulled out year-round for pies, breads, and conserves.

But the single rhubarb dish that stands out in my family is the Rhubarb Custard Bars I discovered a few years ago. Featured in a Cooking Light "Lighten Up" article, this dessert is required as the first of the rhubarb harvest comes in. I have changed a few things, but the core of the recipe is still there, and it is delightful. The base of these bars is a shortbread crust. A light rhubarb custard is baked onto the shortbread, and after cooling, a cream cheese flavored topping gilds the lily. Over the course of a few days, Andy and I will happily eat an entire 9x13 pan ourselves. So simple to make, this dish also makes a great potluck or picnic contribution.

You can find my modified recipe for Rhubarb Custard Bars in the Recipe Trove. Enjoy.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

A Little Journey Through Albania

Albania is one of those little-known countries. I have always known OF it, I excelled in geography in school, but I never knew much about it. Sunday nights we have a group of friends who get together from our church. We always have a meal together, and right now we are studying countries around the world. So far it's been fun, but tonight I decided to tie our meal into the country we were looking at- Albania. What is Albanian cuisine? Hmm. Good question. Internet searches bring up very little, I have to say. But for the most part, since Albania borders Greece, it is very similar to Greek cuisine, but on a poorer level. The country of Albania is very poor as a whole. The have a lot of root vegetables and meats and eggs. Tonight I settled on two recipes that I thought embraced the culture of Albania.

The first recipe was Burger Steaks. Although probably not technically an original Albanian recipe, it did take Albanian flavors and put them in a hamburger. They were pretty good, actually. I likened them to a burger sized- meatloaf. Very flavorful, moist, and overall a very good burger. I swapped in parsley for the mint called for, since I'm not much of a mint person. But overall, they were quite good, and definitely worth a repeat at some time.

The second recipe Albanian Vegetable Pie was very good. Very similar to spanikopita, it was essentially a spinach pie in phyllo dough. The phyllo was crispy and light, and the spinach really shone. And it was much easier than you would expect. I always expect phyllo to be a pain to work with, but this pie came together quickly, and we really enjoyed it. My big change to the recipe as written was that I didn't use the fresh spinach called for. Instead I used two packages of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed. Worked perfectly. I also didn't use a cup of olive oil. I added a drizzle to the filling, and used Olive Oil spray for inbetween the layers. Tasted perfect.

Recipes for both can be found here in the Recipe Trove. The recipes are exactly as copied from the online source. I think both recipes would be very easy to tweak and adjust to your personal taste. As I did with the frozen spinach. I could very easily see adding some red peppers or mushrooms or maybe some cooked diced potato to the spinach pie. Overall I am very glad that I decided to delve into the food of Albania. I don't know that I would have tried either of these recipes had I come across them. It has me wondering what country we might visit next...

Saturday, May 20, 2006

To the Victor go the Spoils

After a busy Saturday, it was time to unwind and enjoy the pure fact that it was Saturday. Andy enjoyed a nice tenderloin and a glass of beer for dinner to celebrate the weekend. Dessert though was for the kids and I.

And here they are, learning the careful art of marshmallow toasting.

I think they did pretty darn good, don't you think?

Happy Saturday everyone. Come back tomorrow as we explore the cuisine of a foreign country.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Asparagus Aspirations

Kevin over at Seriously Good (newly added to the sidebar) recently came up with an event he is calling Asparagus Aspirations. Basically calling on the foodie world to indulge in the spring treat- asparagus. Check out his website for recipe upon recipe for asparagus- so many ideas, so little time with asparagus! I remember how asparagus was such a rare treat growing up. If we were lucky, we had it once or twice a year- and in a family of seven we each got just a taste so Dad could enjoy just a little more than a taste. We loved asparagus. The problem was always finding it. I recall driving and Mom and Dad pulling over and one of us (either them or my brothers) scrambling out to pick a few of the stalks that lurked in the ditch. My Uncle Rick was the one who made asparagus picking an event. He was always the victorious one- he would show up at the door with literally gallons and gallons of lovingly picked asparagus, offereing to share a few of his precious green gold. I often wondered just how far he drove in a given day to pick that much asparagus.

Now with local asparagus purveyors, you can purchase fresh aspargus just about everywhere. Gorcery stores have it not so local- but it is available. It may not be the free stalks gleaned from the ditches, but it is still asparagus. Yet... there are different qualities of asparagus. When you just can't wait anymore for spring, the grocery store asparagus is more than acceptable. A brief glimmer of the flavors to come, you've forgotten how wonderful home grown asparagus can be. And then you find your first bunch of purple-tinged asparagus, and the game is over. The plastic asparagus can no longer hold a candle. But what to do with such treasure?

Our absolute favorite way to eat asparagus is lightly grilled with simple olive oil, salt, and pepper. With a threat of rain, oven roasting occasonially will suffice, but we love it lightly grilled. But there are other applications for this wonderful vegetable, and on a windy day, nothing beats a light spring soup. Specifically, Cream of Asparagus Soup. Light, refreshing, and full of asparagus flavor. All it needs is some parmesan toasts to accompany, and you have a satisfying lunch. The recipe looks too simple to be true, but it is good. I made two minor changes for my taste, however. I added a healthy pinch of red pepper flake with the pepper, and I added a pinch of lemon zest to my bowl. It was perfect. I also skipped the step with the blender and used my immersion blender- much safer and easier.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Coffee Review #4: Late Night Log In

I am still plugging away at my Boca Java coffees. I hate to say it, but my supply is almost gone. I have had people ask me if I would purchase these coffees in the future. I mean, after all, I got free coffee- how could I not give it a favorable review. Well, let me assure you, I have every intention of placing an order with Boca Java as soon as I have run out. It is wonderful coffee. Ultimately comforting, and they have so many varietals and flavors, that I want to try almost all of them. I just love the concept of small batch roasted coffee. They roast it for me after I order it! It just can't get any better than that. And considering that Andy and I go through a serious lot of coffee in a short period of time, how could I not order from Boca Java. We went through a period of time where we were ordering from Gevalia. And yes, Gevalia does have good coffee, but they can't even hold a candle to the freshness and quality of the Boca Java. So if you have even an inkling that you might like to try some great coffee, click on the link over on my sidebar to let them know I sent you.

On to todays review. Late Night Log In is my absolute favorite so far. The package description says, "Blog on with a very bold, dark roasted blend of South American and Island coffees. This coffee is rich with flavor and has a smooth finish." And it is all that and then some. It is a dark coffee, which is how a prefer it, but it isn't harsh in the least. It still has that smoothness that simply rolls off the tongue and hits every taste bud on the way through. The aftertaste lingers for some time, but it isn't at all bitter, and really just makes you want another sip of wonderful coffee. Bold and rich is exactly the way to describe this coffee. Late Night Log In is a great pick-me-up. In addition to its remarkable flavors, it also has a bit of a kick. This is the perfect coffee to perk up your step so you can make it through that mid-afternoon slump. My only warning about this coffee is that it might not be the best choice for an after dinner coffee. Unless, of course, you like to be wide awake for those 2 a.m. infomercials.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

No Food Blogging Today

Rather than spout on about something that I don't know very well, I'm going to direct everyone to check out This Post at Accidental Hedonist. It's very important to us commoners who enjoy our right to use the internet. Then click on this link or the one provided on Hedonist to let your voice be heard.

Save the Internet: Click here

Monday, May 15, 2006

Cake Baking Tips

Someone sent me a nice e-mail asking for some tips to cake baking, construction, and decorating. I started to reply, but thought that it might make a good post for the blog. I've really been having fun with cake. It started a few months before my sister's wedding. I was asked if I wanted to do the wedding cake. Sure! Little did I know how much work a silly wedding cake would be. I now know that wedding cakes themselves are worth the hefty price tags associated with them. So for the person "T" who is considering an upcoming cake experience, I offer my meager knowledge of cakes.

Lets start with the basics. First of all, if you are planning a cake for an event, you must use a scratch cake. Sorry for fans of cake mix cakes, but it just doesn't work. In particular, cake mix cakes don't work for layering any further than a couple of 9-inch layers. The cakes mixes are too moist, and they have so much air, that layers compress each other, and you end up with squished cake- and it also starts falling apart when you cut into them. It's a fact. I've attempted my fair share of cake mix cake construction- and I daresay my Dad even has the photos to prove the demise of the stacked cake mix cake. So start with that. Start with a good scratch cake. And to find that perfect scratch cake- you must be willing to test cakes. I highly recommend reputable sources for the perfect cake layers- find a cookbook on baking and you will do fine. Joy of Cooking works well, and I've had a lot of success lately with Martha Stewart cake recipes. If someone needs recommendations- please let me know, but mostly have fun trying new cakes.

On to fillings. There are commercial fillings you can purchase, and they do work very well. Bakery supply stores frequently have long tubes of prepared fillings. Some of them are very good- some not so good. Ones I highly recommend are raspberry, strawberry, lemon, and chocolate bavarian cream. Ones I don't recommend are blueberry, vanilla bavarian cream, and apple. But you can also make your own fillings. Unless you are serving the cake immediately, I don't recommend fresh fruit at all. Even overnight in the fridge, fresh fruit between layers of cake turns mushy and kinda gross. If you are going to use a fruit filling, and you want to make it yourself, turn to a curd recipe. There are plenty of curds out there- lemon, lime, berry, pineapple, etc. Homemade does taste the best and most real- and it holds up very well to a few days in the fridge. You can also fill a cake with a whipped cream filling. The thing I warn about with a whipped cream (or even whipped topping) is that it won't last very long either. If you want a creamy layer, look for a mousse recipe. Different chocolates work here, as do fruity mousses- raspberry, lemon, orange, etc.

And for frostings- a simple buttercream works best. I have recently discovered a meringue buttercream. That uses a base of egg whites and sugar, cooked gently to kill bacteria, and then whipped to stiff peaks with butter. Oh does that spread nicely on a cake. Very nicely, actually. And it pipes out of a piping bag like you wouldn't believe. Buttercreams also hold up a little better to temperature. On a warm summer day I would choose a buttercream over a whipped cream frosting, simply because the whipped cream frosting will melt very quickly. Of course, on those scorching summer days, they will both get melty pretty quickly. For a chocolate fudgy cake, you can't go wrong with a ganache topping for a cake. And we all know what ganache is...

So on to construction. My favorite new tip is for filling a cake. I admit to having problems in the past with my filling oozing out from between the layers. How to prevent this? Super easy, I'm embarassed I didn't think of it. Pipe a layer of your buttercream icing around the perimeter of your layer. Then fill that in with your filling. The buttercream will hold the filling in for you. You can successfully stack about 4 layers of cake without support, but then you need some hardware any further than that. Wedding cakes are an example of that. Any higher than two tiers, your wedding cake had better have some sturdy dowels holding up the layers, or you will have a serious pile of mush. This is where I highly recommend a cake decorating book for instruction. Wilton publishes several, and you can get a simple wedding cake book for just a few dollars at a supply store. In there you will find detailed instruction for inserting the dowels properly.

And for frosting cakes, you really just need to practice. Purchase a real piping bag and an assortment of tips. And the best advice here is practice practice practice. After a while you will start to get the hang of different patterns and designs, and it doesn't take as long as you think to catch on. If you want to color your icing for decoration, I highly recommend paste food colorings- such as Wilton brand. They are of a very good quality and are easy to work with. One warning though. They dry much darker than they start out as. Imaging my horror when I spent about 8 hours carefully frosting and decorating a gorgeous straw-colored wedding cake and then waking up the next morning to find a goldenrod colored cake. And nothing I can do fix that the day of the wedding. (Thankfully the cake tasted fabulous anyway.) So just remember that. You want to tint your icing a pale shade of what you want your final color to be- and do test runs of the icing to make sure you get the color you want.

I used to pick on people like Martha Stewart for their use of "the crumb coat". A thin layer of frosting deisgned to hold the crumbs of the cake in place. Not anymore. I love the crumb coat. It does exactly what it's supposed to. It holds the cake in, and gives you a super smooth surface for smoothing onb the frosting- do invest in a good offset spatula, it makes a world of difference for frostings, and also- a turntable is indispensable- especially as you get into the more advanced piping and decorations.

So overall, my best advice to future cake bakers and decorators is to practice as much as possible. Practice every step from the baking of the cake to the final presentation. It will make a huge difference for you, and the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Cake supply stores are a wealth of knowledge and information- and don't be afraid to ask for help. That's what they are there for.

So what's next for me in the world of cakes? I have a few more cake flavors I want to add to my repertoir. Right now I have a very good chocolate, white, yellow, lemon, poppy seed, and coconut. Next I think I want to experiment with some more exotic flavors like pistachio, mocha, and raspberry. I don't have another special event cake lined up other than my sister's Bridal Shower cake. But we'll see. You never can tell when an occasion calls for cake.

Happy Mother's Day to me!

Yesterday was a very nice Mother's Day. I am not big into the whole "Mother's Day" experience. I cannot believe the greeting card and gift-giving extravanagnza it has become. I don't want that. I don't want extra recognition for being Mom. That's just silly. I love my Mom, but I hardly need just one day a year to recognize that fact. Every day should be Mother's Day. I like to think that I honor my mother every day simply by being the best mother I can be- after all, I learned from the best.

That being said though, I did have a nice Mother's Day. My day started with a cup of coffee before I even got out of bed. That's really all I wanted, I didn't even ask Andy for the opportunity to sleep in, I just wanted a nice cuppa and a nice day with my kids. And cake. :-) After Zander pulled Mommy from bed, I was greeted with big hugs from Abigail, followed by a homemade card and a marigold that she very carefully kept hidden all weekend. It was truly special. That marigold is going to have a place of honor guarding my vegetable garden this year (if it ever stops raining enough to plant a vegetable garden). After church I put the finishing touches on dinner to be had at Mom and Dad's later in the day. Andy was grilling a Maple Glazed Salmon, but I made the pair of salads to go with it. After that was done, I spent some time playing games with Abigail while Zander snoozed away. And then we spent a lazy afternoon watching the kids play with thier cousin and capped off the day with a luxurious meal. While the meal itself was wonderful, it was this beauty that really stole the show:

Martha's Lemon Layer Cake was all that AND a bag of chips. Lightly lemon cake layers are filled with lemon curd and then smothered with a Lemon Swiss Meringue Buttercream. The cake was perfect. A delicate balance of tart lemon and sweet cake. I am looking forward to another piece today. The recipe is quite lengthy, due to the additions of the homemade lemon curd and buttercreams, but if someone is interested in the cake recipe- please let me know, and then I will be happy to add it to the Recipe Trove.

We finished the day by saying goodbye to a faithful friend for seven years now, The West Wing. Last night was the series ender, and it definitely went out in style. It was a very well-done finale. The show will be missed by us, but we are looking forward to seeing what the cast members move on to. Bradley Whitford has already been advertising for his new drama- so that will be worth checking out, but I do hope many of the other talented cast members move on to great things.

All in all, it was a great Mother's Day. And now to go find that piece of cake...

**A reminder for VRC: Food on a Stick. Entries will be due by May 31st. A reminder that this does not have to be a new recipe. Archived posts make lovely entries for the VRC. So those lollipops you made for Christmas last year are perfectly acceptable entries. E-mail me your posts with VRC in the subject heading to thewazsATnewDOTrrDOTcom. I'm looking forward to seeing all kinds of sticks start to roll in.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Crime & Punishment

Today I'm rambling about kids. Every once in a while something gets under my skin, and I just feel so much better putting it "out there." And today is such a day. Lucky you. A few days back, while doing an online search for something totally random, I stumbled upon a message board where they were having an active discussion about children and punishment. I have never heard of this message board before, and will not share it because I really didn't like it. Punishment is a touchy subject for a lot of people, and for a lot of reasons. However, for the most part, there is one constant. Punishment is a necessary evil. I have been witness to children with no punishment whatsoever...that is a whole other ball game, and maybe worth discussing another time. But today's topic is punishment with food.

There are few things that really get my steam brewing, and that is one of them. Specifically, people who send their children to bed hungry. On purpose. As a form of punishment. Food is necessary. Food is sustenance for everyone, but it is ever so much more important for children who are always growing. They need that nourishment to keep their system moving, to maintain thier good health, and to help them stave off diseases that may be threatening their little bodies. But on this message board I stumbled on, there were people who were sending hungry children to bed as young as 1 year old!!!!! Their child didn't want to eat what was provided for dinner, so the punishment was going to bed hungry. Excuse me? Children have an ever-developing palate. They go through phases of likes and dislikes. What may be delicious to them one night will turn a stomach another. But to send a child so young away from the dinner table because she chose not to eat a bowl of chili... oh that burns me up.

We have our own set of rules about the dinner table. If I put a particular food on my childs plate, they are required to at least try it. We call it the two bite rule. If after two bites, the food still offends, it may remain untouched. But most often, it gets eaten. There are occasions where a food will bring immediate disgust. Abigail and brussel sprouts come to mind. She really doesn't like those guys, but then they don't get a repeat performance on her plate. Now most often, I do know what my kids like or don't like. But there are occasions where I will try something completely new, and they really don't like it. They always have the option to have a peanut butter sandwich or a bowl of cereal. Anytime. Those are their only options, but they do have options. No child in my house will ever go away hungry. Period. That includes company. I know it bothers some parents when I offer their child a peanut butter sandwich, but I will never be one to cause that belly-ache. Tastes vary so greatly, and I feel bad if my dinner is not appealing to a child.

Food should never be a form of punishment. Or a reward, for that matter. It really sends the wrong message about food. Food is vital, as is shelter and clothing. You would not tell your 3 year old that they have to sleep outside because they didn't take their shoes off before entering the house. Why would you tell that same child to go to bed hungry because the food they put in their mouth was offensive to them? You don't tell your child that they have to spend a day naked because they spilled paint on their pants. It's the same principle. That annoys me almost as much as the "clean your plate" and "drink all your milk" theory. Children's stomachs are roughly the size of their fist. Children, especially young ones 3 and under, are not going to overeat on purpose, and they also are not going to starve themselves. Forcing children to eat every bit and drink every bit can lead to a lifelong battle with weight problems.

So if you are a guilty party here- this post IS intended to make you feel bad. Shame on you. Look at your beautiful children. Understand that they have different tastes than you do. Understand that they are learning what they like and dislike. And understand, that just as you don't care for green bean casserole, they don't care for tacos, or spaghetti, or whatever it is that they are expressing distaste for. Suck it up and pull out the jar of peanut butter or the bowl of Cheerios. Understand that your childs taste may change every single day. While that may be annoying, it is your job to see that child is fed and clothed, and has a roof over their head. Do your job, you signed on for it the moment you decided to become a parent.

And with that, I leave a picture of my beautiful babes, enjoying a picnic snack.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Battle Ricotta: The Finish; Weigh In Wednesday

Let's start with breakfast, shall we? Today to finish up my Battle Ricotta I chose a recipe I found on Canyon Ranch Berry Fruit Crepes seemed simple enough for a fairly quick breakfast, I had all the ingredients on hand, and it featured Ricotta cheese. So I got to work. Everything came together very quickly. The ricotta filling took mere seconds to mix together, as did the whole wheat crepe batter. The only thing that really took any time was the berries- and that was because I used a frozen triple berry blend, and needed to thaw them slowly in the microwave. Crepes in general are extremely quick quicking, so overall I was pleased with the speed it all came together. To assemble, I laid a pair of crepes on a plate, and spooned a generous tablespoon of ricotta cream down the middle. The cream contained the ricotta, cinnamon, powdered sugar, and a little zest. The I spooned berries over the cream and rolled them up. For photography purposes I topped the pair with another small dollop of cream and a scoop of berries.

The result? Eh. I'm on the fence with these. The flavors aren't anything stellar that make you really want more. And the ricotta gave the filling a wierd texture. I'm unsure if I will make this exact recipe again, but I do like the concept. I love crepes, and this was my first attempt at whole wheat crepes. I would make those again, and berries are always good. But I think were I to make this again, I would use a different cream. Maybe some yogurt that has been drained for an hour or so. On the plus side though, I learned today that Zander loves berries. He had two bowls of the berries straight up with a spoon, and loved every bite. We will be exploiting that further with berries in the house more often.

So overall, the Ricotta Battle went well. I was pleasantly surprised with two of the three dishes, and with modifications to the third one, I think I have three repeater recipes. Ricotta cheese overall is an interesting creature. It's not quite cheese, but it's not quite anything else either. Will I continue to cook with it? Likely, I will. But I won't hunt it down or look for it to be a feature ingredient.

And as for Weigh-In Wednesday... I just don't know what to say. I pretty much suck these days. Other than overindulging in Coconut Cake this past weekend, I'm still in control of what I eat. And I think overall my whole family is eating better with the whole grain/lean protein/more veggies focus. But I just can't seem to find my exercise groove. I am all set to chalk it up to being the busy Mom, but that just doesn't seem to cut it. My problem is time. I just don't know when to fit it in. The ideal time for me is nap time. I don't like to do a workout when Zander is awake and busy because at any time he could desire my attention and need a diaper change or a snack, or help getting a train together, and that would produce a pause in the workout, and it could conceivably take all day to get a 30 minute workout in. And while nap time is ideal...I can use that time for so much more. I would much rather spend my morning playing with Zander and then use nap time to get the obligatory laundry and dishes out of the way. So... I'm not sure where Weigh-In Wednesday is going. I am still maintaining my teeny loss of 3 pounds, but it hardly seems motivational to me to load up the blog every Wednesday and go on about how I suck. So I am going to take the next week to think about where I want to take my regular Wednesday posts. There will still be something, but I'm thinking about changing my focus just slightly. But come back next Wednesday for that.

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Battle: Ricotta

Battle: Ricotta turned out to be more of a challenge than I anticipated. I had a hard time coming up with recipes that I wanted to try that weren't normal. And by normal I mean as a lasagna filling, or manicotti filling, or a stuffed shell filling. And when I searched my regular stomping grounds for recipes, I had a hard time finding recipes that featured ricotta. There were plenty that conatined ricotta, but in my opinion, when I do an Iron Chef Challenge, the featured ingredient needs to star. That was where the challenge lay. How to feature ricotta? Today the challenge began.

I started off the morning with a simple recipe from Nigella Lawson's Forever Summer. Ricotta Hotcakes proved to be very interesting. To start with, the batter is very dense. You can't just pour a pancake and move on. You have to spread the batter on your griddle in order for it to resemble a pancake. It didn't take long for the cakes to finish cooking, and I served them up to Zander and myself with a dollop of butter and a drizzle of syrup. They surprised me. First of all, their texture was different. It was almost cheesecake like. Reminiscent of a custard actually, instead of the cakey texture of a traditional pancake. The flavor was subtle, but nice. It did taste a little "cheezy" but a sweet cheese that worked well with the syrup and butter. These hotcakes also tasted good cold, which would give them other possibilities. I would certainly make these again for a brunch occasion, and I would serve them up with a fruit topping- apples or blueberries immediately come to mind. Course #1 is a success. And Zander gobbled them up too, so that is a big bonus there.

On a roll, I looked ahead towards the lunch hour. A second recipe I found from Cooking Light seemed too simple and basic to be good. Once again, though, I was proven wrong. Penne with Zucchini and Ricotta proved to be light, but also full of flavor and quite good. It was extremely interesting boiling the cloves of garlic with the pasta to infuse the pasta with garlic essence, and I had my doubts as to whether it would work, but it worked great. I did find my zucchini to be well on their way to soup, so I ended up swapping in some asparagus, which worked wonderfully. I also added some red pepper flake to give the whole dish a bite of heat, but other than that I stayed true to the recipe. The ricotta gave the pasta a delightful flavor and texture, and I'm only sorry I made this for lunch for myself instead of for the family. I suspect they would all enjoy it as well. Course #2 is also a rousing success.

And for course #3... I'm not sure yet. I am still searching for the perfect recipe to cap off Battle: Ricotta. I am thinking about a ricotta cheesecake or a custard, but I'm not through looking yet. I want to check out my reliable "House Italians" Mario and Giada and see if they have any suggestions for this interesting cheese treatment. So until then, check out the pair of ricotta recipes in the recipe trove. You won't be disappointed.

Monday, May 8, 2006

My Top 10 Pantry Staples.

Nothing exciting on the dinner report tonight. Just a soup and salad kind of night I guess. I was thinking about what I could post on today, and nothing really called to me. It's Monday, the beginning of the week, and it's been a nice quiet day. Zander and I really needed a day to just stay home and spend together, so it's been pretty nice. Tonight for our TV viewing pleasure we have The Apprentice and a day I've been dreading, the finale of 7th Heaven. I love that show. There are rumors that it has a slim chance of coming back next fall, but as far as we all know, tonight is the night. I will actually record that tonight and watch tomorrow at nap time, along with my guilty pleasure from tonight- Everwood. Another show on the potential WB/UPN merging into CW shopping block. But it has potential. In fact, rumor is that before this season is over one regular will lose their life- and there's only this week and next, so we'll see...

Anyway, for tonight I thought I'd pretend to be a real chef. Almost every cookbook I own starts with some kind of list. Some list of your pantry must haves, those things that are always in you rrefrigerator or freezer. So here I have compiled my list of my top 10 must-haves for my pantry. They are in no particular order.

1. Muir Glen Pizza Sauce. It's sweet, it's sassy, and it's very good. Homemade pizza is always possible if you have good pizza sauce on hand.

2. Garlic. This should be a no-brainer. I always have several bulbs of garlic in my pantry. Please, no pre-chopped garlic here.

3. Craisins. These guys are good for everything. The kids like to eat them straight up, they are great for baking quick breads or cookies, and they also add a great twist to salads. Move over raisins, we prefer the dried cranberries here.

4. Frozen tortellini or ravioli. Unexpected company? Stuffed pastas are always impressive and delicious. Whether they are tossed in marinara, pesto, or a simple garlic butter, everyone loves stuffed pasta. A little goes a long way with these guys.

5. Bottled Pesto. I have really come to love this stuff. Sure, homemade is good, but when you can buy a jar to have on hand at anytime- I love it! It takes ho-hum things and turns them into WOW things. Add some to a pasta salad or mix it up with some shredded cheese and you have a quick hot dip. Marinate a chicken breast and you have great beginning to a chicken salad.

6. Chocolate chips. These are a no-brainer on so many levels. They are good for munching when that chocolate demon strikes. They can be used to make cakes, cookies, brownies, etc. But what they're also good for is that extra wow factor. Melt some chocolate chips with some cream and you have an impressive topping for ice cream or a plain slice of pound cake. They are so versatile, they even jazz up a good pot of chili!

7. Plain Yogurt. Whether I've made it myself or bought some from the store, I really love plain yogurt. I like to eat it straight up, but if I'm in the mood I can stir in a spoonful of jam or preserves to custome mix a flavor. It also works as a double for sour cream, making great baked potatoes, and oh my mash up an avocado with some yogurt and salsa and I'm in heaven. And how can we forget Tzatziki and Raita! Two of my favorite condiments are made from plain yogurt. And that doesn't even scratch the possibilities as yogurt can also become yogurt cheese or the base for a smoothie.

8. Citrus fruit. A little goes a long way. I try to always have lemons and limes on hand. You never know when a squeeze of fresh juice is going to push a dish into perfection. And the zest! That zest perks up everything from marinades to icings, or acts a garnish for a perfect margarita. Yum!

9. Tortillas. Plain flour tortillas make my mouth happy. Whether I'm using them as a wrap at lunch time, or rolling up some enchilada fillings, the tortilla can be filled with literally anything. They can also be cut into chips and baked for a way healthier alternative to store ought tortilla chips. One of my favorite applications for tortillas is to smear peanut butter on one, cover with banana slices, mini marshmallows, and chocolate chips, and bake it for about 10 minutes. Makes a very yummy dessert style pizza.

10. Cheese. Many cheeses. I almost always have a cheddar, blue, and a mozarella on hand, but most often I have up to 10 different varieties of cheese in my fridge at all times. What can I say, we love our cheese. Whether it is sliced up to eat with fruit or used as a pizza topping, cheese is always great. Irish cheddar makes the single best grilled cheese sandwich I have ever eaten. Feta cheese makes a so-so shrimp dish a spectacular shrimp dish. And a great gorgonzola cream is the ultimate sin for topping a grilled tenderloin. Cheese. It's what's for dinner.

Sunday, May 7, 2006

Mmmm. Coconut. Good.

Only Homer Simpson could accurately describe Martha's Coconut Cake. It truly is something special. It truly is not something lite either. :-) But sometimes, you just need to indulge. This cake is everything a good cake should be. It's moist, packed with flavor, and has a very nice texture to it. The crumb is fairly dense, but not overly so. And it tastes like coconut. Real coconut. Sweetened coconut flakes are processed so they are a lot more fine, and then combined with the flour. Butter and sugar are creamed with eggs and egg whites before adding in the flour. And for a little liquid, Coconut milk fits the bill. It's perfect. The coconut flakes and th ecoconut milk combine to provide a rich coconut flavor that is the real deal. No coconut extract or fake flavors are added. I frosted it with the suggested 7-minute frosting. Now, I'm usually a buttercream girl, but I am so glad I went with the 7 minute. It added to the cake nicely without taking over in the least. And for a final touch, I sprinkled the cake with toasted coconut. Decadence at its finest. This cake was inhaled by all tonight, with multiple pieces passing across each and every plate. How could I not recommend this cake? The only person who would not like this cake would be the one who doesn't like coconut. And even then I have my doubts. While the coconut flavor is intense, it is pure. It isn't a cloying fake coconut flavor. Pure goodness. I can't wait to bake up another cake from Martha. But how to choose...

I have typed the recipe into the Recipe Trove, and you can check it out over there. The recipe is lengthy, but it really didn't take as long as you would think.

Saturday, May 6, 2006

Basil Shrimp with Feta and Orzo

A few weeks ago when I posted a fantastic recipe for shrimp, a few people chimed in about this particular recipe from Cooking Light Magazine. I hunted it down and thought it looked very similar, and pretty darn easy to boot. So I thought I would give it a whirl while the Everyday Food version was still fresh in my mind. Basil Shrimp with Feta and Orzo is actually fairly unique in how it prepares the shrimp. You bake it in a foil oven bag. That is not a preparation I've seen before, so I was looking forward to it. And of course, since it was so nice outside, I decided I would do so on the grill.

The orzo really contains the bulk of the work in this recipe. First you cook the orzo, and then add scallions, tomatoes, salt, pepper, lemon zest, lemon juice, and feta cheese. You pour this into your oven bag and top it with your peeled shrimp tossed with fresh basil. Close up the bag, and bake for 25 minutes or so. The only problem with this recipe is that I was really worried about overcooking the shrimp. And because it's in a bag, yoy can't really test it. Add to that the fact that I put this on the grill (indirectly) so I was slightly worried about everything burning to the bag, and I ended up with a bit of a deviation. I opened up the bag to check on the shrimp, and they, of course, still needed more time to cook. So I pulled them out and threw them directly on the heat to finish them up, which only took another minute. I took everything inside to serve alongside some lemony grilled asparagus.

Well, the orzo pilaf was really good. It was light and fresh tasting, and we really both enjoyed it. The shrimp was good also, but because I'd removed it from the bag, didn't get all those light and lemony flavors, and I felt they were missing. We did enjoy our dinner, and Andy requested this one over the previous one next time because he really liked the lightness of it. I had a little left over, so I thought I would see how it reheated for lunch the next day. Fast forward to lunch. I wanted to give the shrimp and orzo another try, but I was also in the mood for spinach, so I made a few changes. I sauteed some garlic in olive oil, and then wilted a couple handfuls of spinach on that. I used that as a bed for the remaining shrimp and orzo, and bingo! What I really felt was missing from the shrimp and orzo was garlic. The garlic spinach completely complimented the orzo, and when I make the shrimp again, I intend to wilt up a big ol' bag of spinach with some garlic to serve it on.

In the defense of the original recipe though, I didn't make it correctly the first time. I'm sure it was fantastic as written, but needed an extra shot because of my mistake. I can safely say that it would be well worth it to put this dish on your menu sometime soon. It's very good, and certainly company worthy. You can find a copy of the recipe right here in the Recipe Trove. And check back tomorrow to find out how my Coconut Cake and accompanying Caribbean Chicken make out.

Friday, May 5, 2006

I Wanna Be Like Martha

Today was package day. :-) Package day is always a fun day. Especially when I am expecting a cookbook to arrive. Today's package certainly provided a gem. Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook is so much more than I was expecting. So much more. After lunch today I curled up, cookbook in hand and started to digest. And I confess, I am madly in love. This book is incredible. Page after page has me saying "I want to make that!" Almost every single page! And this is a very hefty book.

Now I confess, in the past I have not been a huge fan of Martha Stewart cookbooks. While I think she is a phenomenal woman, I don't agree with her "celebration of procedure" as I call it. She is so precise and specific with her recipes, and in the past, many of her cookbooks and recipes have provided daunting displays of cookery. Hardly digestible material for a busy Mom. But this book... Yes, it is still very procedural, but the recipes themselves literally have me drooling. Every recipe has an accompanying photo. You can see what she is asking you to make. And by golly, every single recipe looks intoxicating! Ever since I saw the picture of her Coconut Cake around noon today, I have been thinking about it. And you can be sure that while I was out I picked up the necessary ingredients. I have decided to make it for Sunday's Company Dinner, and have planned the evening's entire menu around this cake. Just thinking about it raises my heart rate and has me thinking about achieving Coconut Nirvana. I certainly hope it doesn't disappoint.

This is a baking handbook. There are recipes for cakes and pies, cookies and quick breads, yeast breads and coffee cakes. The list could go on. There's even instructions for making your own puff pastry! How crazy is that! But the directions have pictures that show you exactly what the procedure is, and it appears easy to follow. And what is even better about this cookbook? I didn't pay a dime for it. Not even shipping. An overbilling dispute with a book club led me to a free book of my choice, plus their sincerest apologies to a faithful customer. You just can't beat that- even Andy can't complain about this addition to the library.

So even though I haven't made anything out of it yet (wait till Sunday for the cake review) this book is highly recommended. Of course, I'm likely the last person in foodie land to get my copy of this must-have. But hey, if you don't have it- do you hear it? It's calling your name! Go and get your copy quick! Because you sure as heck ain't getting mine.

Thursday, May 4, 2006

Virtual Recipe Club

Well, when Alysha at The Savory Notebook asked for help in hosting next month's VRC, my immediate thought was "I wonder who'll do it." After a few minutes it occurred to me that perhaps I could host, and I began to think of a few themes, which, I admit, were a little dorky. But I think I came up with a decent one, and e-mailed Alysha to offer my hosting services.

So here it is folks, and I must admit, I'm pretty excited to see what everyone can come up with. This month's theme will be VRC:Food on a Stick. Food on a Stick? What the heck is that? Well, it's whatever you want it to be. Do you have a favorite recipe for freezer pops that your kids love? So you have a recipe for carnival foods- like the mighty corn dog? Or does your cuisine favor one of the many versions of a kabob? I want to hear about it! I want to see pictures of glorious fun-to-eat "Food on a Stick". I want to see your recipes, and hear your little anecdotes. But most of all, I just want to see who can come up the most clever representation of "Food On A Stick."

In order to participate, you will need to e-mail me your links by May 31st, and I will do my best to get the round-up going on the 1st. And the beauty of the Virtual Recipe Club? If you are reading this, but don't have a blog to post such a recipe, you can simply e-mail me the recipe, and I will include it on my blog. How cool is that? Of course, you realize you would be way cooler if you had a blog...

So there it is. VRC:Food On A Stick is open for submissions. Just shoot me an e-mail of your link to thewazsATnewDOTrrDOTcom. Please put VRC somewhere in the subject line. I'm looking forward to seeing the entries this month!

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Weigh In Wednesday.

First the important stuff. While I won't technically declare another pound lost, the needle did move a smidge and landed halfway between two marks. That optimism has me thinking that I am securely down a half pound this week, although that is hard to say for sure because I don't have a digital scale. But I will be optimistic and say that I am down a total of 3 1/2 pounds. This whole process is going very slow. As I recall, my initial goal was 12 pounds by June. Well, it's already May, and I seriously doubt I will be shedding 9 pounds in four weeks. But that's okay. Slow and steady wins the race.

So today lets talk about tools. No, not hand tools, or power tools. But tools to aid in weight loss. Last week on a shopping trip, I picked up a little something that I wasn't really looking for. But once I saw it, I thought it might be helpful. A Pedometer. Remember when McDonald's was giving these little bugger away? It was a big deal, and people all over were discussing that 10,000 steps a day is best and the way to lose weight. Well, ever since then, I've been curious as to how many steps I actually take in one day. Well, for less than $4.00 I was able to satisfy my curiosity and learn a few things along the way. First thing, I had to figure out my stride length. So I took the required steps, measured, and then inputted my stride length into my new equipment. Then I started walking. I found my stride length to be a little off, so I adjusted, and then just wore the pedometer for an entire day.

So what exactly did I learn? A lot, actually. This particular pedometer is able to convert my steps into calories burned. And I learned that one walk to school and back to pick up Abigail actually burns up 150 calories! And I learned that on a really busy day where Zander and I take more than one walk, I can walk over 14,000 steps, and that is an equivalent of 700 calories. How exciting! I can honestly say that while I knew that my daily activities contributed to my weight loss, I wasn't aware how much. I definitely don't need to worry about making the 10,000 step mark. I do that on almost a daily basis. And yes, my pedometer is quite accurate, actually. I imagine the 10,000 steps was deisgned more for people who may work at a desk or computer, and don't get the movement I get all day. Yikes. No wonder my feet hurt a lot at the end of the day, I really should look into new shoes...

And in other news...

I know some of you are waiting on baited breath to see my choice for my Iron Chef challenge. I looked carefully over the suggetions given, and decided that there really was only one item on the list that hasn't been "featured" in my kitchen. And that is Ricotta Cheese. So over the next week or so, my challenge is going to be to find 3 different ways to use Ricotta Cheese. I admit that I have only ever used it to stuff pasta- including just the other night, so this will be an interesting challenge. If anyone has suggestions, please pass them along, otherwise, it will be a day or two before I get my thoughts wrapped around the Ricotta.

And finally, for this morning, a shout out for the Virtual Recipe Club. Alysha, over at the Savory Notebook, has posted this month's VRC roundup- which was themed Salads. Check out this month's round-up right here. And stay tuned for the next theme, maybe you would consider participating!