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Monday, December 31, 2012

Old Friends and Storms

You know that friend you have, the one you've known since elementary school?  Well, my husband's longest time friend, his wife and the two of us all went out to dinner in the middle of a post-holiday snowstorm.  Luckily it was at the restaurant less than 2 miles from our home and we were fine in our 4 wheel drive truck staying well under 30 miles per hour.

We have seen each other during the lowest lows and the highest highs.  After a bit of turmoil and personal storms this year, I thought it would be grounding to reunite with them for a meal.  Unfortunately, my husband's friend recently witnessed the loss of another friend who had suffered and lost his battle with cancer.  Listening through the hard times are one way to show support.

I smile as the friend's wife orders for herself and her husband.  He trusts her implicitly.  They spend their days together at work and she is his number one fan in his recreational pursuits.  

While I do not order for my husband I very well could have predicted his choices.  French onion soup followed by Chicken Marsala.

He can certainly provide detailed reviews of area restaurants by their French Onion soup.  It should never be too salty, the cheese should be moderately stringy with a nice size serving of toasted bread at the top.  For him the onions should be a bit on the sweet side and it should always be molten lava hot.

The rest of us begin with salad.  Salads are quite personal I have learned.  One friend only likes lettuce and tomato while our male friend is disappointed by the limited amount of cucumbers and tomatoes.  I prefer my salad naked as I have mentioned in previous posts.  Growing up I remember my favorite tossed salads including the entire produce section; mushrooms, celery, broccoli, etc. and once I discovered salad bars I would try to heap a little bit of all the offerings onto one plate.

The prime rib topped with shrimp scampi served with a baked potato and broccoli for the gentleman.  His lovely wife mirrored his dinner but with the scampi on the side so her dear hubby could have the second portion as well.  I love a couple with a plan and a method.

I did offer assistance though (or butted in, depending on how you look at things) when my husband placed his order.  He asked for pasta with his Chicken Marsala but I have learned from the past that he does not mean he wants it under the chicken in the Marsala sauce, he wants it on the side with marinara.  I ensured this snafu was cleared up.

My plate was one of the specials.  Crispy chicken with creamy garlic risotto topped with roasted red peppers.  The chicken was an enormous portion of breaded and fried breast with melted mozzarella and the risotto was tender without being mush.  I also ate all of my broccoli.

I also must add, this restaurant does indeed serve the best Cosmopolitan and it is served the same way each and every time I order it.

The time passes quickly, our meals are cleared and dessert is ordered.  For our lady friend, a cheesecake while I follow our male friend's lead and have the chocolate molten cake with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream.

An evening with "old" friends - part of the holiday season, part of welcoming in the new year, part of life.

I bring home a to-go order of crispy chicken Cesar salad for our younger son and am happy to see it is indeed crisp and fresh.  All is well.  No, all are Fed Well.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Classics are Always in Style

Lunch with all four of us home becomes a bit more like a family dinner.  We all eat together and some foods are simply crowd pleasers.

Today, bacon is on the menu.  I decide to bake it.  Yes, bake it.   We were forced into this cooking method 2 years ago on a family beach vacation because the kitchen in our rental house did not provide proper pans to use the stove top.  

Sea Isle City, NJ

It was a great vacationThe four of us, my mother, his mother and the family dog as well as a few days with my sister and her sons.  The weather wasn't perfect, but we still had good food and fun.

The strips still require turning and once they are removed from the pan I drain the bacon fat into a glass measuring cup (it is later strained and reserved - I may use it to cook venison in) then the strips are placed on paper towels to drain.

The flavor doesn't change, the kitchen still smells like bacon, the crispness is still there, but the clean up is significantly easier.

Fresh lettuce leaves are rinsed, torn and placed on a plate.

Tomatoes are a bit of a challenge.  It is the dead of winter but the grocery store does carry hydroponic and other varieties.  The real issue?  I don't have any on hand but am not willing to change from BLT's to BL's so I slice our grape tomatoes in half and hope for the best.


White bread toast.  Sort of the black turtleneck equivalent of the dish - always classic.  Each component can be swapped out for a more modern or healthier ingredient of course, but for this family lunch we stick to the basics.  A bit like laying around in our old sweatpants.  I am enjoying my memories of the beach as I look out the window at the newly fallen snow.

 (This view is not right outside the window, but not far from home.)

We are a family and this classic comfort lunch, with little fuss but well prepared individual ingredients, leaves us feeling Fed Well.

Healthy Snack for the New Year

Here's a tough schedule:  3 consecutive days of holiday eating, one day of rest and then, the annual physical.

On the day of rest from holiday eating, I ate holiday left-overs but, I did manage to pull the treadmill into an operating position and trudge through two LOOOOOONNNNNG miles for a walk.

It felt ok.

At the physical, yes, the first stop is the scale.  I always offer to remove my shoes as if they will easily erase all evidence of my non-stop food fest since Thanksgiving.  Wrong.  The nurse actually laughed and said, "We just mark the chart that you weighed in fully dressed and allow for 2 pounds."

Two?  Only two?

Clearly my boots are two pounds on their own and everyone knows how HEAVY jeans are - right?


The day after the physical I face off with the treadmill again and log another two miles.  It is a bit easier and I throw in some inclines and faster speeds.  Problem is - I am starving afterward.

Healthy snack in preparation for the new year?  One slice of double protein bread topped with about a teaspoon of peanut butter and 1/2 sliced banana.

I believe I have managed to stay away from sweets for a full 24 hours.  No chocolate.  It seems a bit sad, but I will be back when I can be in control.  It is time to claim a healthier combination of activity and healthier eating in combination to keep me feeling Fed Well.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Teal Plate Special

A day off from work with my younger son and we have to go grocery shopping.  Not one of his favorite chores but he does see the advantage in picking out foods and items he will want if he goes with me.  Additionally, I offer lunch at the local diner as a further bribe.

One of my friends is a waitress at the diner and I ask that we are seated in her section.  She prides herself on knowing customers drink orders and other details.  I am brought an unsweetened iced tea.  Crisp, clean and certainly one of my favorites.

A diner menu can be intimidating to say the least.  They can be volumes of choices and most times all choices are available all day.  Do I want breakfast, lunch, an appetizer, a salad...

I leave the menu closed and force myself to chose from the single page of lunch specials.

My younger son opts for a classic Reuben.

I begin with the New England Clam Chowder.  I have to say the soup tasted far better than the photograph portrays it.  Even in person, the appearance did not match the flavor.  The broth was the right consistency with a garlic background, the clams were sweet and tender with soft potatoes.

My friend and I chat a bit when she can in between bringing orders, to-go boxes and drink refills.  We make a tentative plan to eat at a Mexican restaurant I have not yet tried.  

Fish and Chips - a blue plate special.  The three of us talk for a minute about Christmas and for my friend it was a crazy few days with her children and grandchildren that left her a little shell shocked between hearing, "Grandma," over and over to picking them up and playing and just the overall atmosphere of small children - holiday overload.  Our holiday was spread out over time with far less hustle and bustle than usual.  In fact, it took 4 different visits for us to be able to see most of our extended family and we are still making plans to finish seeing friends.

Back to the fish and chips - funny thing is all of the elements to make the meal just a bit better were certainly within reach.  I diced up the pickle and added it to my tartar sauce, I removed the lemon slice from my iced tea and squeezed the juice onto the fish, an extra shake or two of salt and I was happy.

Of course free dessert is included with the special, but I have to take my order of rice pudding to go.  I am off to the grocery store with a full belly and my younger son.  Hugs all around as we head off into the cold.  Living in and growing up in a fairly small town does indeed leave me feeling Fed Well.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Post-Holiday Leftovers - Mish Mosh and the Snow Storm

One last time we raid the fridge still brimming with holiday food.  I line everything up on the island in the kitchen with a stack of plates though I heat the soup in a pot on the stove.  Everyone can take what they like in the amount they prefer then top with a glass lid and into the microwave.

The snow falls and my older son's girlfriend calls from work at the end of her shift.  At first she believes she will be just fine driving home and so they hang up before his phone rings again a few minutes later.  Would he mind driving her home?  Both sons head out in the 4 wheel drive truck.  Older son will drive her car and younger son will follow behind before picking up his brother and they both return home.

With just a few hours sleep, older son leaves in the middle of the storm to report for work where he will clear snow for about 12 hours.  Yikes.

About those well done green beans - my mother-in-law does not like any crispness or crunch in her vegetables so on Christmas Eve I blasted a helping to ensure they would be soft.  When putting away leftovers, I combined the crispy and the well done but honestly, I don't mind mixing the two in my mish-mosh plate.

The Chicken Cordon Bleu, camera shy on the holiday, now makes an appearance for the camera.  Each of our four plates look very different but we all leave the table feeling Fed Well.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Final Act - Christmas Dinner

It's finally here.  Santa came.  It is Christmas.

The day begins with cinnamon buns (from the tube - I'm no baker) and we open gifts.  It is a fabulous morning that somehow gently slides into lunchtime in the blink of an eye.  My original plan was BLT's but with so many leftovers we raid the refrigerator and heat some of the prosciutto bread from Arthur Avenue bakery my brother-in-law brought over on Christmas Eve along with the faux paella.   

Later, we are off to my sister's house and she is also sick but everyone is bright and smiley - it is Christmas!

A few nibblers to start the celebration...

The fresh mozzarella is soft, tender and delicate - so creamy.

We progress to my contribution to the meal, the pasta e fagioli soup paired with the peppermint martinis my sister prepared.  The soup was simply softened carrots, celery and onion seasoned with rosemary, garlic, salt, pepper then simmered with cooked ditalini and I used cannellini beans in a chicken broth with pureed tomatoes. 

We have time to open gifts before the main course.  I was very excited to present my younger nephew with an ice cream maker because he had shown an interest in making his own frozen treat when he obtained a recipe and method for preparing ice cream in Ziploc bags.  I'm not sure if he was as excited to receive it as I was to give it...

My older nephew received an electronic gadget and when he added my contact information, I joked about being listed as "The Best Aunt Ever."  Guess what?  That is how I am entered.

Meaningful presents seemed to be a theme this year.  All of my mother's grandsons received red socks.  No one commented on this phenomenon but my mother simply does not do things like this randomly and so she explained.  "I noticed someone wears red socks, do any of you know who it is," she asked.

When no one could answer she told them, "Sherlock Holmes."

And so, from 24 down to almost 10 years old, her grandsons now belong to the Sherlock Holmes Red Sock Club. 

Dinner is served.  A lovely Prime Rib along with a spiral ham, olive bread, scalloped potatoes and steamed broccoli.  The beef and ham are absolutely fabulous - flavorful and tender.

We do hear a few jokes about what may happen if my younger nephew eats too much broccoli...

Desserts include the fruit salad, apple pie and an assortment of bakery cookies.  Something about those little boxes tied with red and white stripped string.

I select one of the half moon cookies with an edge dipped in chocolate and a cup of tea.  The holiday may be winding down, but I know the feeling of being Fed Well will remain.  For 3 days I have been with the most important people in my life and have an appreciation and love for them that they may never be able to fully realize, but I know.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Part Two of Three - Christmas Eve at Home

Sometimes I am the sole decision maker in the kitchen (ok, most times), but once in awhile I survey the family for ideas and thoughts.  The hard part for me is when I ask for input and am told, "It doesn't matter," or "Whatever you think."  So I was happy to take a few requests when planning the Christmas Eve menu and one of them was melon wrapped with prosciutto.  Thing is, in this house honeydew is not typically a favorite of the majority and so I am forced to substitute cantaloupe.

It is still a crowd pleaser.  Other starters include a tray of fresh mozzarella with sopressata, a platter of fresh tomato slices, a shrimp cocktail plate and of course, a soup.

Though none of us are from Georgia and the idea of a seafood based soup can be risky, I know this soup is fabulous and once it gets going, fairly simple.  My guests include a mix of family, long time friends and my older son's fairly new girlfriend and so we are a gathering of 10.

The soup is assembled, hot and ready immediately after appetizers since I really put it all together earlier in the afternoon.  This is what it looked like simmering in the pot:

I love finding out after the skeptics tried it that they did in fact love it. The soup does focus on the sweetness of the crab meat but the full body of flavors come from a variety of vegetables, seasonings and clam juice.

What dish would be "fancy" enough for a holiday meal without repeating anything from the previous night or duplicating any flavors my sister will be preparing for our Christmas dinner?  I opt for Chicken Cordon Bleu and since again I am not sure everyone will love my choice, I decide to simply bread and fry some of the cutlets.  

The Cordon Bleu was camera shy, but the chicken was pounded thin then rolled with ham and swiss cheese before baking.  Mashed potatoes and garlic green beans were served on the side.

I set up a bar in the foyer which includes flavored liquors from past holidays as well as a few standards but somehow the choices boil down to Riesling and Prosecco.  I add Creme de Cassis to my sparkling wine and I'm quite happy with my choice.

Stories are told, opinions are shared, laughter can be heard and the food is eaten.  A few gifts are exchanged and we pose for a group photo in front of the decorated tree.  I only use the tripod a few times a year, but each time I am so grateful I have one.

Somehow we make it to dessert.  In the past I would bake holiday cookies like a fiend, but this year in the spirit of less makes you less crazy, I only baked chocolate chip and brownies.  The platter is on the table with a lovely gift of various trail mixes from my mother-n-law and a decadent prepared cheesecake from the Fakery where my older son's girlfriend works.  The Fakery is her word for "fake" and "bakery" since the goods are typically all prebaked but the staff decorates and packages.

Regardless, sweets are sweet and I decide to add some packaged caramel syrup over an already over the top treat.  What a fabulous invention.

A few stories of shared memories, a couple of secrets revealed including the origin of my husband's first name.  Turns out every generation has "that book" all women may read and while I have yet to even hold "Fifty Shades of Gray" in my hands, my mother-in-law did find the name for her third child from "Forever Amber."  As a middle name, she selected the first name of her doctor.  In 25 years of marriage, I had never heard this story before and ordered my own copy of "Forever Amber" as soon as possible.

A blend of backgrounds, experiences, ages, tastes and yet we all come together for a wonderful winter night on the edge of a predicted white Christmas.  We are comfortably Fed Well.

Part One of Three - Christmas Meals as Acts in a Play

The key to holiday cooking feasting for me is simple - organization.  The hurdle to organization?  Time.  However, organization = better time management.  Quite a cycle.

For our first Christmas celebration this year we would be traveling just about one hour from home to be with my husband's side of the family.  Typically this meal includes fish, seafood and pasta and so to compliment the menu and keep with the theme a modified Paella was in order.

For this dish I used:

18 Littleneck Clams
1 lb. mussels
1 lb. jumbo shrimp
1 lb. bay scallops
1 lb. chorizo
1 each green and red bell peppers
1/2 onion
several cups of clam juice
6 cups of cooked rice
2 cups diced tomatoes
Old Bay
Salt and pepper
* a few splashes of chicken broth may be added if the dish looks dry

The recipe begins simply with sauteed peppers and onions...

and while the vegetable soften, the mussels and clams soak then they are scrubbed and rinsed.

In addition to staying organized, I try to multi-task and while the vegetables soften, and the shellfish are cleaned, I also lightly carmelize a pan of bay scallops then peel cooked and cleaned shrimp.

The shellfish is then steamed in a tight lidded pan with garlic, parsley, butter and a bit of clam juice.  Once the shells are open they are placed in the large pot with the vegetables.

Chorizo (other sausages may be used to taste - I have even used Kielbasa) was also lightly browned with the vegetables.  Once the meat is heated through, deglaze the pan with a bit more clam juice.  All ingredients eventually end up in one giant pot.

Simple seasonings in addition to salt, pepper, and fresh garlic are:

It's starting to really look like a festive holiday dish now!

The shrimp and approximately one cup of raw tomatoes are left in a separate container to be served on the buffet line.  I have seen jumbo shrimp overcook and look (and taste) like rubber toys and so to avoid a culinary catastrophe I opt for an unusual serving method.

Rice is added to the mix which has been seasoned with the powdered gold of spices - saffron.

Two trays of faux paella are ready to be included in the buffet line up.  To me the final dish has a nice depth and a range of tastes and textures that lend themselves nicely to a celebration of family and the first of a few holiday meals.

The family is large enough to break into small groups of conversation and activities including, of course, the opening of the gifts.  However, about 7 adults took turns to peek in on the youngest family member (she will be 2 in April) as she took her evening bath.  We crammed in the bathroom with cameras and cell phones to tastefully and modestly film this event.  Odd?  Nah, it was a family moment that simply added to the atmosphere of being Fed Well during the holidays.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays

Spend time away from electronic gadgets, get in the kitchen, be with friends and family and enjoy a day or two of simply being Fed Well.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Treats from England

Last month my older son went to England for just over a week.  It was a tourist/pleasure trip and he was lucky to go with a friend of ours who happens to have a son as well (our boys/men pretty much grew up together).

Thanksgiving night he showed the family a wonderful slideshow of pictures and talked about the places he had seen, the adventures he had and yes, the food he ate.

The first pictures I received while he was across the big ocean were of his first meals including an Indian plate that wasn't very well received.

Among the treasures we received as souveneirs from the excursion were Cadbury chocolates and some unfamiliar sweets.  Why does my mind wander off to Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka?

Of course I am fooled by the name of these candies and assume they are similar in some way to our version of Smarties (which I do not like), however, my son assures me they are more like our M & M's.

The cardboard tube is a lovely packaging idea and I notice it is designed to be opened and closed, not simply ripped off and tossed aside.  Ah, reading the package - the serving size is 2.  I'm sure most consumers here would simply tear into it and enjoy, but I like this idea very much.  Sometimes after a meal I simply want something a little sweet.  I blame it on being an ex-smoker and needing something to take on the job of those old after dinner cigarettes.

The candy seems to have a thinner, crisper, yet more flavorful shell.  Again, I think of Willy Wonka explaining the flavored, lickable wallpaper, "The snozzberries taste like snozzberries."  Why, the orange candy shell actually resembles a citrus taste, not just chocolate.  How wild.

Most readily available chocolate from the grocery store here has become somewhat flat and waxy tasting to me.  Not sure if the chocolate itself has changed or my palette, but either way, the Smarties have a deeper, richer taste that could almost be accused of having a better quality.  The nerve.

My son had a lovely adventure and a fabulous time.  He enjoyed the change of pace at breakfast with a table that included eggs, tomatoes and mushrooms as well as baked beans (which he doesn't eat) and yes, he had fish and chips.  It was not the culinary adventure that left him feeling Fed Well so much as the overall experience.  Back home, we were happy he shared some sweet bits with us and that we could enjoy his stories and photographs of a wonderful week in England.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Feliz Navidad Lunch on Apocalypse Eve

A small group of us headed out for one of our last lunches together for 2012 and we decided Mexican food was the way to go.  Coincidentally, it was also Apocalypse Eve but we paid no attention.

With drink orders placed we discuss wine.  What is every one's favorite?  One prefers reds and dry whites, one must have wine that is sulfate free while two of us love the sweet stuff including Riesling and for me Moscatto.  Wine has nothing to do with lunch but we do watch another group enjoy their Margarita's... we never indulge on a work day.

The complimentary chips and salsa arrive quickly and it is funny how childlike I feel waiting for them.  

The guacamole cart arrives shortly after and as the ingredients are mixed I can tell how creamy the avocado is and again can hardly contain myself when it is placed on the table.

The background music suddenly becomes our main focus as one of the group compares the song to a Polka.  A Mexican Polka?  Well, it was unusual and not very Mariachi nor Christmas so it was quite unexpected.

The guacamole is quite perfect.  I am the reason we do not have peppers in our order.

I have 2 shrimp tacos and they are more than enough since I prefer to load up on crunchy nachos.

My 3 companions all have shrimp quesadillas.

We are quite happy with the way the shrimp is prepared.  Fabulous.

I notice the festive decorations...

We aren't worried about the end of the world.  In fact, none of us even brought it up.  

The walk back to work is brisk, cold, and windy.

At the end of the day, we wish each other well and as one of my friends wishes me a Merry Christmas I return the sentiment then stop walking. "Oh," I said.  

I turned and walked to her desk, "Happy Birthday," I smiled.  Her birthday is December 25.

I know some of her stories surrounding the pitfalls of sharing your birthday with a major holiday and have decided to surprise her in some way this year to celebrate.  That is what friends do - they wish you well and do what they can to ensure you feel Fed Well.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

What Goes with Fried Frog Legs?

Meeting a friend for dinner at the restaurant less than five minutes from my house.

Hubby:  "Aren't you tired of going there?  You meet someone there once a week?"

Me:  "No.  I love it and I have something different all the time.  Why risk a new place?"

I also love not being far from home on a work night.  I am able to spend much more time with my girlfriend and concentrate on having a nice time instead of watching the time to make sure we both get home in time to get a good night's sleep.

So, I put  it out into the universe that I will try something new and when I scan the menu I am a little surprised to see "Fried Frog Legs with Horseradish Dip" as an appetizer.

I've never had frog.  I've never thought about having frog.  Tonight, I will try frog.

Did it taste like chicken?  Not exactly.  I understand why people give that answer though because the texture and appearance of the meat was very similar.  It was white flesh and could be peeled away from the bone.  It was soft and succulent but the actual flavor is a little hard to describe, maybe because other than the taste of the deliciously fried skin, it wasn't really all that "tasty."  Not that it was bad, just kind of non-distinct.  If you blindfolded me and offered me frog meat, I don't know that I could identify it.

My friend did not want to try it.  At all.  Not even a little.

We did agree on my favorite cocktail - The Cosmopolitan.

Love a well prepared Cosmo!

For a main course, my friend and I also agree on the Eggplant Tower.  It is listed as an appetizer, but  for us, it is plenty of food for an entree... well, ok, I added on to the order.

The Eggplant Tower is layers of eggplant with mozzarella cheese and roasted red peppers topped with fresh tomatoes.

I added one of my favorite sides - French Fries!

They are golden, crispy, salty and just plain delicious.

Somehow my friend starts to joke about suing people who have wronged her in the most minor of ways.  She runs into a friend and threatens to sue her for not sending her a Christmas card.  Though the friend doesn't understand where the threat is coming from, it makes it that much funnier and sillier for us.  

Laughter.  Frogs Legs.  French Fries.  A Cosmo.  Laughter.  Friends.  Fed Well.

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