Great Dessert from Giada’s Feel Good Food

Here at home, I have my very own recipe for eggplant lasagna that my family simply drools over. It’s a great dish because it caters to the needs of both my daughter’s vegetarian diet and my gluten intolerance. Everyone here at home is looking forward to the dinner tonight! Since I’m making my own dinner, I had to find the perfect dessert to pair with it! Flipping through Giada’s Feel Good Foods, I found chocolate blueberry brownies on page 246, a recipe inspired after Giada had a visit at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. It was actually my daughter who pointed them out and requested that I bake them for tonight! She is quite the blueberry fiend.

As any baker knows, baking can be quite labor intensive. Giada always says that perfect baking comes from perfect measuring. So, be sure to follow the recipe (exactly)! Perhaps that’s why Rachel Ray doesn’t enjoy baking; I know she’s quite like me and just adds a pinch of this and a dash of that, which isn’t a good baking strategy at all! 

For years, I have been making my own vanilla for my baked goods. It’s as easy as filling up a mason jar! I purchase my dried split vanilla beans at either World Market or The Spice and Tea Exchange (which is my go-to shop for any herbs and spices that I can’t grow here at home). I then let them soak in vodka or bourbon for about six to eight weeks. The vanilla is fresh, preservative free, and just as good as anything that comes from the store! I love it! 

The brownies are in the oven right now, and already beginning to smell delish! My daughter, Katie, and just tasted the batter…quite a treat! It’s definitely as brownie as you can get, and the blueberries and agave add just the right amount of sweetness. I am eager to try one of them out…but first I’m gonna have my favorite lasagna.

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A Few Thoughts on Cool Summer Nights and Warm BBQ Chicken

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Tonight I changed a few things from Giada’s cookbook.  Sorry Giada and sorry Giada’s editors.  The recipe that I had chosen to create for this evening was sliced grilled tenderloin and citrus slaw from page 192 in Feel Good Food.  However, I decided to BBQ some chicken instead of the pork tender.  It’s not that I don’t love the juicy succulence of a pork tender; as a matter of fact, it is one of my favorite things! But, I was checking Facebook today and stumbled across Ree Drummond’s BBQ chicken.

Well, it got my mouth watering and my mind wondering.  Ree is from Oklahoma; I am from Oklahoma.  Ree is the wife of a rancher in Oklahoma who happens to be a relative of a good friend of mine.  Isn’t that how it always works?  We all know someone who knows someone.  I call these connections your red threads.  Anyway, Ree got me thinking of my daddy.  He was a farm boy during the depression in Okmulgee, Oklahoma.  He grew up threw the war and went to college, then to med school at The University of Oklahoma.  He became one of Oklahoma City’s finest doctors.  Well, I like to brag and say he is one our countries best doctors, but he would tell me, “Now Molly Sue, you’ve gone too far.”

Not only was he a great doctor, but my daddy makes the best BBQ chicken this side of anywhere. As a matter of fact, the last time he went to visit my sister, she made him make it right there in Spring, Texas! Ree should have a taste of that deliciousness.  She would probably have him on her show! So, with my daddy in mind, I decided that I just had to make that for dinner. Still, I did stick in Giada’s slaw, and it was amazing.  As we took a bite of the chicken we scooped the slaw on the fork and the combination of flavors was a symphony in my mouth.  Giada hit this slaw out of the park. It will now become my go to summer slaw, especially when I hit the grill to BBQ the way my daddy taught me.

 

 

Potluck Ideas for Your Summer Party

Though I had to spend this beautiful Saturday morning at work, I took full advantage of the rest of my weekend by visiting the Lake Anna with a group of my husband’s coworkers. The lake party is a potluck, so I chose to make two dishes, one from Giada’s Feel Good Food and one from my own noggin. It was a hot day, so I had to plan accordingly, avoiding any dairy or eggs in the dishes that would spoil quickly. I considered making my mom’s famous slaw, which is oil based, but chose to go my own way instead. I’ll have to make the slaw another day; she is such a fabulous cook!

After pouring through the pages of Giada’s book, I landed on a potato salad pg. 89 which looked like a delicious dish. The marinade used to roast the potatoes was absolutely delicious, and I just loved how the walnuts gave it an extra crunch. Only Giada would have thought of that! It was a simple salad because I already had all the ingredients. I’m sure it’s safe to bet you’ll have most of them as well.

What really shone in the day, though, was my watermelon caprese salad! I’ve included the recipe at the bottom of this post. When we tried it for ourselves at home, we wanted more and more! I knew that I had to save it, though, so we were limited to a taste. It’s an easy, festive, colorful dish which might make the perfect addition to your July 4th barbecue. I definitely suggest trying it out for yourself.

When you make the salad, you will want to cut the rind off of the watermelon without wasting any of the meat. Below, I have a few photos describing how I do this at home! You want to begin by cutting the watermelon on both ends so that it may stand while you carefully cut the rind off in strips, as shown below.

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Once the rind is off, cut it in half length-wise, then again so that you have four quarters.

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You’ll then want to cut the quarters into thin slices, each about a half inch wide. Now, you’ll have perfect, delicious watermelon slices, sans that pesky rind. Don’t forget to check below for the recipe now that your watermelon is all cut up.

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Watermelon Caprese Salad

1 whole seedless watermelon

1 four ounce box of feta cheese

fresh basil

fresh mint

1/4 cup balsamic vinaigrette

Begin by cutting your watermelon into slices, as shown above. Arrange them on a tray so that they only slightly overlap. Roll all of your herbs together (like you’re rolling a cigar) and chop. Sprinkle the herbs and the feta cheese over the watermelon. Drizzle the balsamic vinaigrette over the entire salad, and you’re done! Easy, right? Check out the beautiful end result!

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Take Time for Tuna and Jazz (and a Cocktail)

When I got home from work today, I was starving! I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and it was almost three in the afternoon. I opened the refrigerator to grab an apple, I found a Tupperware bowl with an unfamiliar grey goop inside. I always know what’s in my fridge, so this was a surprise. I pulled it out, opened it up, and found some very fresh tuna salad. My daughter had made it, and left me half. Though she prepared it with yogurt, and I really shouldn’t have dairy, I couldn’t help but have a taste…and another…and another. I ended up all but licking the bowl; it was that good! She never, ever, cooks, so having something prepared for me when I got home from work was a special treat, and I was shocked that she had made something so delicious. The recipe can be found at the end of this post. Please run out right now, grab the ingredients, and whip this up. You will fall instantly in love.

Tonight is the DC Jazz Festival’s opening at The Yard Park, so my husband and I are going out to eat. It was nice to have this lunch at home before going out for food. I’m following Giada’s advice on pages 176 and 177 of Feel Good Food in order to make sure I get the best dining experience for both my mind and body. I plan to either indulge in only appetizers or to order half of my entree to go so that I don’t eat the entire large dish all in one sitting. I will definitely be having a cocktail! The cocktails at Giada’s restaurant in Las Vegas are to die for; while I was there, she and I had a chat about how they don’t really count against you. So, to the liquor I turn for my sweet indulgence tonight with my hub! I love my life!

 

Tuna Salad with a Twist

2 cans (5 oz) tuna in water

1/4 cup plain yogurt

2 tbsp relish

1 tbsp shredded parmesan cheese

2 tsp dill

2 tsp curry

1/2 tsp garlic powder

Strain the water from the tuna until it is dry and chunky. Place it in a bowl, and separate it with a fork. Once it is in small pieces, add the yogurt and relish, stir together until well mixed. Add the cheese and spices and fold into the tuna mix. And you’re done! I like to enjoy my tuna salad with apples or hard boiled eggs, but it’s also very good with crackers, carrots, and celery. We always use relish with no high fructose corn syrup, which isn’t an easy find, but you can always get it at Whole Foods.

The Art of Knowing When to Put Your Foot Down

Have you ever found yourself thinking, ‘Man, everyone else is getting what they want! When is it going to be my turn?’ I know that I have! I’ve thought it numerous times…about my coworkers, about my neighbors, even about my own family. ‘They get time to lounge around and read a book. When am going to have that kind of free time?’ Then, I figured it out. I wasn’t ever going to have that kind of free time, not as long as I was letting myself be the grunt of everything. So, I decided to change, and you can, too.

I know it’s difficult to stand up and tell the people you love that ‘No, I will not cook the dinner again tonight because, yes, Grey’s Anatomy is on and Cristina is leaving the practice!’ It’s difficult to ask things of other people, especially if you know it’s going to be putting them out. But when you spend year after year after agonizing year allowing yourself to be the one put out by everyone else, a line needs to be drawn. Let’s say you’ve been working the same job for ten years, making the schedules and managing the personnel. Your birthday is coming up, and you need a week off; it will be your first vacation in three years. But as the day approaches, you come to realize that your company is short staffed and one of your coworkers, who has been with the company for less than a year, wants the same week off. What do you do?

No! You don’t give her the week off! I know it’s super important that she gets the time off because she hasn’t has a vacation since she started this job and it’s really stressful and her niece’s sixth birthday party is that week in Nevada, but you haven’t had a vacation in three years! It might be the kind thing to do, letting her go to her niece’s birthday party, but sometimes it’s far more important, for the sake of your own mental well being, for you to just take a big deep breath, confront her, and say “No.” Sometimes, in our lives, we just need to learn the power of the word No. 

I’m not saying that it needs to become a regular part of your vocabulary. There is something absolutely graceful, refreshing, and just lovely about a woman who says “Yes.” However, if life has taught me anything, it’s that in order to be a Yes Woman 90% of the time, I need to decide when to say “No.” And not “No! Absolutely not! How dare you ask?” But, rather, “No, I’m so sorry. It’s really important to me that I take care of myself right now, but perhaps I can help you out next week. I hope you understand.” There is always something refreshing about a yes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be lovely when you say “No.”

So, be strong. Be independent. Do you for a change. Just learn to say “No.”

Vegeterian Chili Verde for Cool Summer Days

The storm blew through Alexandria last night, and cooled our entire area by a couple of degrees. I spent the night inside of the basement with my sickie daughter, Katie, and it gave us quite the chills. So, we decided that it was the perfect night for Giada’s vegetarian chili verde (page 185 of Feel Good Food) to warm us up while we watched Netflix’s best drama, Orange is the New Black. (We’re addicted, by the way!) I know I was just ranting about what a great idea it is to avoid the stove, but on cool days like this, I am willing to make exceptions.

This was by far the best thing that I have cooked from the book. Well, at least that’s what I think. My husband was not here to weigh in, and I have yet to ask my daughters. Perhaps because of my southwest roots, I love the spice! Anything with cumin can win my heart. It was certainly not lacking on the heat, but we did note that the sugary sweet potatoes were a great addition to cut back on some of that bold flavor.

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I start all my chilis in my favorite heavy stockpot. After chopping all my veggies, I couldn’t resist taking a photo of the beautiful summer bounty that goes into this pot. Notice that I keep my chopping board close to the stove for easy transfer. It’s a big time saver, and far more convenient than moving the chopped ingredients across the counter.

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Since I live in a small townhouse, I don’t have a very big kitchen, so making room for everything isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Yet, as an everyday cook, I have lots of yummy ingredients for my meals, so I have to get clever with my organization. I keep my spices all together right next to the stove on my own magnetic spice rack (i.e. the side of my fridge). You can get your own at World Market for $9.95 for five or Ikea for $7.99 for three. It makes it easy for me to just grab that cumin while I’m mixing the pot!

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Now, don’t forget that any town-home dwellers can also keep live herbs around their home, too. I keep all of my herbs in pots outside, making sure they get just the right amount of sun and shade right on my porch behind the house. They make my little back nook look so much prettier (live plants always do), and they smell great when we’re sitting back there on summer days. Tonight, I had to head back there for the oregano for the chili.

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All together, it made for a beautiful, colorful pot, and a delicious chili that I will sure to make again when it’s not too hot outside!