Friday, October 29, 2010

Hot Chocolate Love

My sister treated us to a cup of hot chocolate last night.  Mmmm....  Don't you just love hot cocoa?  That first sip just makes you melt into your couch.  There's nothing like it.

Sipping in my reverie, I got to some productive thinking.  Since Mr. Mig and I are in a state of purging and realizing we just have way too many posessions and the holiday gift-giving season is approaching very quickly, why don't we give gifts this year that are consumable instead of collectable.  Who needs more "things" to take care of?

What would be a gift then?  Hot Cocoa Mix.  Homemade, of course.

It's so simple.  This is all you need:
10 cups (an 8-quart package) nonfat dry milk powder
1 16-oz package (about 4 3/4 cups) sifted powdered sugar
1 3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 6-oz jar (1 3/4 cups) powdered nondairy creamer
Marshmallows or whipped cream (optional)

Thoroughly combine nonfat dry milk powder, powdered sugar, unsweetened cocoa powder, and nondairy creamer in large mixing bowl.  Store mixture in an airtight container.  Makes about 15 cups or enough for 45 8-oz servings.

For 1 serving, place 1/3 cup cocoa mixture in mug.  Add 3/4 cup boiling water.  Stir to dissolve and top with a dollop of whipped cream or some marshmallows.

Special treat: If you a Mocha Mix, add 1/2 cup instant coffee crystals into the dry ingredients.

It's a gift made with love and given with love.  Oooh, l'amour.

Photo captured with love by Pausestill.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Breakfast with favorite people

A terrific lady and her sweetheart had us over for breakfast.  They made the frittata and we brought the orange juice and champagne.  Can't go wrong with mimosas.

Since my husband loves champagne and I was given the task of purchasing it, I was a little nervous.  So, off to the local Binny's I went.

Luckily, they are always really nice and helpful.  We looked at some cava, checked out some champagne, and decided upon some sparkling wine because it came with a good story.  And who doesn't like stories?

Gruet Winery.  She said they are a transplant from France.  The vine or the vintners, I asked.
It turns out, Le Famille Gruet was en vacances in New Mexico and saw that "the land was inexpensive and the opportunity golden". Et voila!  Their Gruet et Fils champagne brand is still produced in Bethon, France.

We had great company, great conversation, and great food and mimosas.  If you haven't gotten together with dear friends in a while you should.  You will be very welcomed with a bottle of Gruet and some OJ.  Cheers to you.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Go-To Dinner: Shrimp and Pasta

Do you have a go-to dinner?  You know, the dish you make when you're tired and hungry at the end of your day?  I do.  And it was an accident.

It's the easiest thing to make and when you sit down to eat, you don't feel like you compromised.

This dish was created out of desperation.  I cooked what I had on-hand: shrimp, can of diced tomatoes, frozen asparagus, zucchini, capers, onions, olives, mushrooms, and Parmesan cheese.  And always red pepper flakes.  Throw it all in one pan, et voila, you're done.  Toss on the cheese with a flourish and then serve with a smile.  It pairs great with either white or red wine.  So, drink what you have on-hand too.
I don't know about my husband, but I feel a little bit decadent eating this for dinner.  Go ahead, try it for yourself.  You'll be so surprised at how easy it is to make.  We all should have a go-to.  So, please have mine if you need one.  Cheers to you.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pumpkin Picking

I haven't shopped for a pumpkin in years.  Add a baby into the mix and your habits certainly change.

Recently, we got together with my sisters and their girls to start the pickin' tradition.  And it turns out, that nearly 1000 people already had the same idea.

When we arrived at the pumpkin farm there were police directing traffic.  Oh boy.  There were parking attendants.  OOHH BOY.

To say the least, it was a little nutty.  Throw on top of that: The Petting Zoo.  Now, I don't know much about natural history of the Midwest, but I'm fairly confident that giraffes and camels are not indigenous species.  The crowd of people and kids went crazy for all the exotic animals.  It wasn't what I expected at a pumpkin farm.

I imagine that when you head to your neighborhood pumpkin patch (ours was an hour drive and 1/2 dozen towns later), you have your sights on finding the perfect orange pumpkin.  Noble.  I, however, have my sights on something else: Apple Cider Doughnuts.
Have you had them?  What do you think makes them so yummy? The cinnamon and sugar crunch when you bite in? The special taste when you eat them with hot apple cider? Are they so wonderful because they are only available for a few weeks a year?  Yes, yes, and yes.

The crowd at the pumpkin farm was nutty, but I will certainly fight my way through to secure myself a baker's dozen of those doughnuts.  Without a doubt.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Mr. Dependable. A Wine Review: Rioja

Do you have a go-to wine?  I've had a long relationship with my grape.  It started in college (doesn't everything?).  I received a bottle of Rioja from my undergraduate advisor (That, my dear, is story for another time.)  The Marques de Caceres was my first kiss of red wine.  C'etait l'amour.
I've only ever drank the Marques de Caceres Rioja and I've loved it every time.  It's always been so reasonably priced and it pairs well with pasta, burgers, even salads.  This, darling, I will drink with just a wine glass.

Go ahead, get yourself a bottle and meet my Mr. Dependable.

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Bite of Heaven

It felt like time had stood still.  I couldn't help but close my eyes.  I think I heard angels singing in the background. I was holding heaven in my hands.  For brief seconds it was there and then...gone.

This happened at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Normally, I'm more disciplined (at least a little) and have something sensible for breakfast.  But, its pull was too much for me to fight without sufficient sleep.

Let me show you.  I know you'll understand.  Can I introduce you to the Peanut Butter and Nutella Ice Cream Sandwich?
 It started as a delectable Nutella Peanut Butter cookie dreamed up by Amanda.
Then, to make Mr. Mig weak in the knees, we hugged a scoop of Baskin-Robbins Peanut Butter 'n Chocolate ice cream with two of the chewy cookies.

After taking his first bite, he confessed his love for me. But I think I heard him say Amanda softly.  It's ok.  I think I love her too.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Comfort Food: Mac & Cheese

I don't know about you, but when the mornings are crisp and the evening are cool, I find myself wanting to bake.  So, over the last couple of weeks, I've been a bakin'.

While greasing the skids, if you will, I warmed up with a classic comfort food: Mac & Cheese.

I'll show you what I originally did, but I think next time I'm going to make some changes and grow-up this classic.

This is what you'll need:
1# pasta (I used Elbows)
4T butter
4T flour
2c milk
1/2t salt
some pepper
2c shredded cheese (I used combo of cheddar and Monterrey jack)
1/2c bread crumbs

Next time I'm adding:
1c chopped onion and butter to saute
pinch pepper flakes
1/2 c white wine

In large saucepan, saute onions in some butter with pepper flakes.  Deglaze pan with wine when onions are browned a bit.  When wine has reduced, add the 4T butter.  When that's melted, add flour, salt and pepper and stir with whisk until well blended.  Pour in milk gradually; stirring constantly.  Bring to a boil point and boil for 2 min while stirring constantly. Reduce heat and cook for 10 minutes while continually stirring.  Gradually add shredded cheese and simmer an additional 5 minutes or until cheese melts.  Remove from heat and stir in cooked pasta.  Transfer to a greased baking dish when pasta is well coated with the cheese.  Sprinkle with bread crumbs and pop into a 400 degree oven and cook for about 20 minutes until the top is golden.

It's oooy and goooy and just perfect when you want to curl up on the couch with your sweetheart after a busy day and relax - warm bowl in hand.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Little Magic Tricks

My wee one just turned 6 months old.  It's like the little plum grew up overnight.  (Please, no eye rolling.)  It's both thrilling and a little heart breaking.  I want her to stay little forever.  It's a bit early, I know, but she's already decided not listen to me.

So, to pull me out of my reverie, she showed me her latest magic trick.

Ta daaaaaa!
I asked her how she did it.  She's not revealing her secrets.  I wonder what trick she's planning next.  I should probably keep track of the dogs.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Surprise Visit

While drinking tea on the balcony, some unexpected visitors stopped by for a quick visit on their trip down south to winter.  They didn't stay long as they have a lot of travels ahead.
I would love to have gone with them.  January, February, and March are some difficult times in Chicagoland.  But, they will probably say hello when popping by in the spring.  Bon voyage.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Kitchen Helpers

Don't you feel like your days are in segments?  Or blocks of time?  Do a little work then get interrupted.  Pick something up and then put it down again to start something else?  Ah, c'est la vie, n'est pas?

But, at some point I always find myself in the kitchen.  One of my favorite places to be.  I don't know about you but I really enjoy cooking with company.  Stirring a bubbly pot, glass of red wine in hand, and catching up with my husband is the perfect ending to any day. Some days, however, it doesn't work out like that. But, I always have help in the kitchen.  Enter Dudley and Cricket.

Dudley has been a part of our pack for a little over a year now. He's going to be 12 years old in December.  He comes with some baggage.  A lot.  But, we are charmed by his cataract-y eyes and his little pink tongue that holds court on the right side of his nose.

We think he's seen some street time since he eats everything: animal, vegetable, mineral, and unidentifiable. Apparently, dust bunnies are tasty. 

It doesn't matter who's house he's in, if you enter the kitchen, Dudley will rise out of a deep slumber and trot in right behind you. He's always a willing taste-tester.
May I present to you, Cricket.  She's more of a lady.  Or as my husband calls her: HRP (her royal princess)

She's a bit more of a picky eater.  But, don't let the name fool you.  She may not eat everything, but she's willing to roll her cute self in some surprising substances.  She's been the pack leader for 8.5 years and will be turning 10 in November.

As far as kitchen help, she likes to be impressed.  She only makes an appearance in the cantina if called or if cheddar cheese is being sliced.

Whether it's sharing a glass of wine with my husband or cheese with my pups, it's always nice to have company in the kitchen when relaxing next to a simmering pot after a long, busy day.  Cheers to you and your helpers.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Acorn Squash

Nana's family has a garden.  You can do that when you're living in the country.

Watermelons and tomatoes just taste better when they sunbathe until they are ripe. It's practically decadent.

This weekend, Nana gifted us with five home-grown acorn squashes. She prefers hers baked with slices of bacon. Grandpa adds brown sugar. Simplicity is key for me: pinch of salt and pepper and a pat of butter.

No matter which way you lean, savory or sweet, acorn squashes are in season.  Mmmm...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Apple Picking

I bet you haven't done this in years.  Apple picking.  While we spent the weekend at Nana's and Grandpa's house, my sisters took their girls to the apple orchard.  Pony rides, pumpkins, apple cider, and those wonderful apple cider doughnuts.  Oh, and apples.

What does one do with a bushel of sweet pommes? Well, if you're lucky, they'll make you some apple crisp.

Now, my mom is by no means a good cook.  Actually, she's terrible.  But apple crisp?  The Best.  We used to jump off the school bus and run inside and she would have hot apple crisp waiting for us to snack on.  That's love.

My youngest sister put her baking skills to the test this weekend.  She let me have a mini loaf.
Was it just like Mom's?  Well, a little bit more practice is in order.  I'll be the happy taste-tester.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Warming up with Soup

And so it begins. Autumn. That time of year were everything seems to hunker down in preparation for a long winter that's right around the corner. The air is crisp when you greet the morning. And in the evening...soup.

It simmers on the stove all day and the spices are the first to welcome you home from work.  "It's so nice to see you.  We missed you."

Each warm sip drains away the work day and relaxes your muscles. A nice night in and the perfect way to wrap up a Monday.  Good night, my love.