Monthly Archives: September 2010

A New Career, Perhaps

My husband recently started an on-the-side job as a web writer.  He was presented the opportunity through work.  It’s something he’s always been interested in, so after mulling it over for a while, he decided to go for it.  He’ll keep his usual day job, and then on weekends or when he has downtime at work, he’ll edit and revamp the existing web pages (about 300 of them!).  This is something he’s been interested in, and an opportunity like this doesn’t come along every day.  If all goes well, it may lead to a possible permanent position as a web writer for him.  If nothing else, it’ll be a few extra dollars in time for Christmas!

This’ll be a bit of a change in our family life and downtime.  Previously, we had divvied our chores fair and square, worked about 40-50 hours a week each, and had plenty of free time to spend together or alone.  This adds quite a few hours to the work week for Paul, and actually for me, too.  Before taking the new job, we discussed the possibility sharing the workload, as we were certainly going to share in the profits.  (What’s mine is yours and all that jazz, right?)  While Paul’ll be doing the bulk of the work, I’ll throw my two cents in on each page before he begins it.  It’s small change compared to the hours he’ll be putting in, but it’s something!  In addition, I’m planning to let him slack on his household chores so he has more time for writing.  It’ll mean I have a few more dishes to wash, lawns to mow, bags of trash to take to the curb, and gas tanks to fill – those are traditionally Paul’s job.  (I stopped just short of cleaning the bathtub and taking permanent litter box duty.)  I don’t mind the extra work – it’s a temporary gig, lasting only through December.  I can handle several extra chores for a few months.

When January rolls around, a few things could happen.  Scenario 1 – Paul’s employer could decide to hire a web writer, and Paul could transition part or all of his work time into web writing.  Scenario 2 – A need for a web writer isn’t founded, so he could go back to working his regular job. Scenario 3 – A need for a web writer isn’t founded, but Paul loves the work so much that he decides to become a freelance web writer.

In the first two situations, our lives would revert back to “normal.”  The third scenario could shake things up a bit, but hopefully in a good way.  We’ve got our dream world all planned out, if Paul ends up liking web writing as much as he thinks he will.  I would stay home with the future babies and help Paul with minor editing work, perhaps teaching part time to carry insurance, while he worked from a home office as a freelance web writer.  He could come down from the office at noon and eat lunch with us, and his commute would be as long as it takes to climb up the staircase.  In my ultra dream world that ignores realities, I’d be able to forget that insurance costs money, be a full time home maker, and have the patience to homeschool our children.  In my ultra extra amazing dream world, Paul’s novel would be published, move straight to number once best seller, and neither of us would ever have to work again.

A girl can dream, can’t she?

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Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Shells

I don’t typically make pasta dishes, easy as they are.  My husband is a fan, though, and it’s nice to have a bit of variety in our meals, so when I saw a recipe for spinach and ricotta stuffed shells in Real Simple magazine, I decided to give it a go.

The recipe was easy.  I made the ricotta filling ahead of time.  Just before supper, I boiled the pasta, stuffed the shells, and stuck the entire thing in the oven.  The original recipe called for a lot of filling, there’s no way that amount would fit into 20 shells.  I used 30 shells and still had some left over.  The recipe below reflects that, but you could just as easily keep the original and use more shells (and a bigger pan!).

Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Shells

adapted from Real Simple magazine

Ingredients

  • 20 jumbo pasta shells
  • 12 oz marinara sauce
  • 1/2 package (5 oz) frozen chopped spinach, thawed, or 1 cup fresh spinach, chopped
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesean
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated mozzarella

Directions:

  1. Cook the pasta according to the package directions; drain and run under cold water until cool.
  2. Spread the marinara sauce in the bottom of a large broilerproof baking dish.
  3. Set an oven rack to the highest position and heat oven to 400° F.  In a bowl, combine the ricotta, spinach, Parmesan, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Spoon the mixture into the shells and place them on top of the sauce. Sprinkle with the mozzarella.
  4. Bake until the shells are heated through, 10 to 12 minutes.
  5. Increase heat to broil. Broil the shells until the cheese begins to brown, 2 to 5 minutes.

Ditch the Workout, Join the Party

I’ve started my weekly workout routine, and though I wouldn’t say I have a new-found love for exercise, I’m getting my workouts in.  My workout routine (if all goes as planned) is Zumba Mondays, Fitness Center Tuesdays, and 30-Minute Strength Wednesdays, plus weekend walks.  I probably should throw another day of sweat-inducing exercise in there, but I suppose I must start somewhere.

My favorite, favorite class is Zumba.  Why?  See the picture below.

Zumba is basically a dance party.  The instructor gives easy to follow moves that form a repeating pattern so you can quickly catch on, regardless of your dance ability.  (Side note: someone should remind the new Zumba instructor at my YMCA of this fact, as she is having trouble teaching in a pattern.  I’m going to the Y across town next week instead.)  Their catchphrase – ditch the workout, join the party – just about sums it up.

Two other Zumba experiences that I’m eager to try are Aqua Zumba and the Total Body Transformation System DVD Set.  I’m really excited for Aqua Zumba, though it’ll have to wait until a school holiday lines up with a Monday, Wednesday, or Thursday, as the classes are during the school day.  I have the DVD set on hold at the library, so as soon as it comes in I’ll be set.

I think the key for me is making my workout enjoyable, or I won’t do it.  I’ve now abandoned cycling class and any attempt at running, because they just don’t do it for me.  Zumba is a blast, and every time I’ve gone to the 30 Minute Strength class, it seems like it’s over before it started.  As an added bonus (and really the only reason I signed up), my husband is taking the strength class as well.

Baked Sweet Potato Fries with Chipotle Mayo

I enjoy french fries.  Who doesn’t?  Unfortunately, most fried foods don’t sit well with my stomach.  I suppose it’s a good thing — aside from taste, there’s no reason I should be eating fried food anyway.  That doesn’t take away my craving for french fries, though.  A happy substitute can be found, though.  Sweet potato fries hit the spot, and with loads of vitamin A, your body will thank you.

Unfortunately, at the present time, I don’t have a picture of the finished fries.  They were immediately devoured as soon as they came out of the oven!

Sweet Potato Fries

adapted from Paula Dean’s Baked Sweet Potato Fries

Ingredients

  • Olive Oil, for tossing
  • 5 sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch long slices, then 1/4-wide inch strips, using a crinkle cut knife
  • Oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.  Line a sheet tray with parchment.
  2. In a large bowl toss sweet potatoes with just enough oil to coat. Sprinkle with seasonings.
  3. Spread sweet potatoes in single layer on prepared baking sheet, being sure not to overcrowd. Bake until sweet potatoes are tender and golden brown, turning occasionally, about 20 minutes.
  4. Let cool 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Chipotle Mayo

Mix one part mayo with one part barbecue sauce.

Coconut Macaroons

With the macaron craze that’s hit the internet, I had a longing a very different cookie with a similar name – the macaroon.  A chocolate dipped coconut macaroon, to be exact.  I don’t know the history of macaroons and macarons, but I bet they’re related in some way, shape, or form.  The macaroon I’m familiar with seems a bit let pretentious than the formal sounding macaron.  My guess is that if a war were waged between the two, I’d fall solidly in the macaroon camp.   Never having tried a macaron, however, I can’t declare an all out winner.  I can declare the following recipe delicious, though.  Enjoy!

Coconut Dipped Macaroons

based on a recipe for coconut tuiles from Simply Recipes

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
  • 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sweetened shredded coconut, toasted lightly
  • semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the egg whites a little at a time, beating slowly after each addition until mixture is smooth.
  2. Sprinkle flour over the mixture and fold it in gently with the coconut. Spoon rounded teaspoons of the mixture 3 inches apart on to greased baking sheets.
  3. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 6 to 9 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned.  Let cool on a wire rack.
  4. Melt chocolate chips very slowly on the stovetop, being careful not to turn the heat too high.  Dip cookie bottoms into the melted chocolate and place on wax paper.  Refrigerate until chocolate is solid.

“Chicken Nuggets” With Spinach


In keeping up with my health goals for this month, I’ve been trying to incorporate more vegetables into our meals, mostly with success.  Sneaking in a few extra veggies here and there does nothing but help the cause, so I figured it was about time to pull out Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld.  The book had been sitting on my bookshelf for months, waiting patiently to be opened.  Its time finally came.  The chosen recipe?  Chicken nuggets with spinach.  The results?

Somehow, I don’t think my “chicken nuggets” turned out quite like Mrs. Seinfeld intended.  I’m not sure quite what happened.  They were tasty, but they were nothing like what I’d call a chicken nugget.  They were more like breaded chicken with spinach hunks clinging to the sides.  That sounds unappetizing, I realize.  But honestly?  Not that bad.  Especially when you try to forget that they’re “chicken nuggets” and eat them with a fork.  Then, they’re really very good.

I think I failed at the spinach puree step.  I used my food processor to puree the spinach, but it wasn’t exactly a liquid by the time I was finished.  Looking back on the directions, I now realize that I should have removed the stems of the spinach.  Anyway, what I ended up with was more like very tiny pieces of spinach.  If I would have just given it a few more pulses, maybe this would’ve been a better situation.  The tiny pieces of spinach didn’t want to cling to the sides of the chicken, so I had to glop as much on as I could, quickly put it in the breadcrumbs before any dripped off, and speed it over to the frying pan, hoping nothing dropped on the floor on the way there.  A slight disaster, but with tasty results after all the trouble.

Oh, and a tip… Do NOT feed these to children and claim they’re chicken nuggets.  I don’t think the kids would buy it.  Call them something else and you’d be fine, but don’t slander the name nugget like that.

Chicken Nuggets with Spinach

From Deceptively Delicious, as seen on Oprah

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup whole-wheat or white breadcrumbs or panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 1/2 cup flaxseed meal
  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 cup spinach puree (see below)
  • 1 large egg , lightly beaten
  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts or chicken tenders , rinsed, dried and cut into small chunks
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
Directions:
  1. In a bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, flaxseed meal, Parmesan, paprika, garlic and onion powder on the paper or foil and mix well with your fingers.
  2. In a shallow bowl, mix the vegetable puree and egg with a fork and set the bowl next to the breadcrumb mixture.
  3. Sprinkle the chicken chunks with the salt. Dip the chunks into the egg mixture and then toss them in the breadcrumbs until completely coated.
  4. Coat a large nonstick skillet with cooking spray and set over medium-high heat. When the skillet is hot, add the oil. Place the chicken nuggets in the skillet in a single layer, being careful not to crowd the pan, and cook until crisp and golden on one side, 3 to 4 minutes. Then turn and cook until the chicken is cooked through, golden brown and crisp all over, 4 to 5 minutes longer. (Cut through a piece to check that it’s cooked through.) Serve warm.
How to puree spinach:
PREP
No prep at all for baby spinach. For mature spinach, fold leaves in half lengthwise with the stem outside, then strip the stem off the leaf.COOK
Steam for 30 to 40 seconds, or cook in a skillet with 1 tablespoon of water for about 90 seconds, or just until wilted.

PUREE
In a food processor or blender for about 2 minutes, until smooth and creamy.

Wakey, Wakey, Eggs and Bakey

Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakey!  Yesterday was International Bacon Day.  Hope you enjoyed your day o’ fun.  We celebrated with BLT’s for dinner.  Okay, if we’re being honest here, we happened to have BLT’s for dinner, and then this morning I found out that yesterday was International Bacon Day.  A happy coincidence, though!