Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mothers Day: Part 1

Holidays in our family usually equate to hectic schedules, and Mothers Day was no exception.  Because my brother-in-law attends a college out of town, we had a very small window between church and the afternoon party to create the personalized gift we planned.  Somehow, we managed to take the photos, develop the prints, and purchase the frame and card without being more than 15 minutes late to meet my husband’s family – all 17 of them!

After enjoying the music of local artist Graham Pagano on a beautiful 78° afternoon at the open air Weingarten in Belleville, we returned home to host his immediate family for dinner.  We served Three Cheese Mostaccioli and Neiman Marcus Cake.

THREE CHEESE MOSTACCIOLI

*1 box mostaccioli rigate pasta
*1 jar Bertoli tomato basil sauce
*1 lbs. ground diet lean beef
*1(15 oz.) container large curd cottage cheese
*1 pkg. shredded mozzarella cheese
*1 pkg. shredded Italian cheese blend
*2 eggs
*2 tbsp. melted butter
*Minced onion flakes
*Salt and pepper to taste
*Grated parmesan cheese
*Parsley flakes (optional)

Bring a pot of water to boil for the pasta
Add pasta and cook for 8 or until tender
Drain pasta well
Brown the ground beef with minced onion flakes, salt and pepper
Meanwhile, combine ricotta, mozzarella, Italian cheese, eggs and melted butter
When pasta has drained, spread evenly over a greased 9x13" casserole dish
Layer the cheese mix on top of the pasta
Layer the ground beef on top of the cheese mix
Layer the sauce on top of the ground beef
Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350° for 30 minutes
Garnish with parmesan and parsley (optional)


The Neiman Marcus cake also doubled as a birthday cake for my mother-in-law!

NEIMAN MARCUS CAKE

*5 eggs
*1 stick of butter, softened
*1 box devils food cake mix (I prefer Betty Crocker)
*1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
*1 ½ cups pecan pieces (the nuts need to be smaller than the traditional “chopped” size)
*1 tsp. vanilla
*8 oz. cream cheese
*16 oz. powdered sugar

In a large bowl, mix 2 eggs and butter, then add cake mix
Spread into greased 9x3” casserole dish
Sprinkle with chocolate chips and 1 cup of pecans
In a separate bowl, mix 3 eggs, vanilla and cream cheese, then add powdered sugar
Stir in ½ cup of pecans with a wooden spoon
Spread over cake batter
Bake at 350° for 45 minutes

Because this cake doesn’t technically have icing, it’s also goes well with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Next weekend, we will be celebrating Mothers Day with my mom since my brother also attends college out of town.  I will be sure to share the other super-cute gifts we got for the moms then!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Simple Sustenance

Since I like to pretend that I people actually are following my blog, I will start this blog with a brief apology.  Life has been quite hectic since my last post, so my Week 15 submission is a little late…
Between me preparing for finals and my husband helping out after hours at the family business (along with various other obligations), our opportunities to cook have been very limited.  That’s why we decided to make an easy and nutritious meal: Bowtie Pasta Salad.

BOWTIE PASTA SALAD

*1 box farfalle pasta
*Approx 6-8 oz. sliced deli roast beef
*8 oz. baby carrots, julienned
*1 large head of broccoli, cut into florets
*1 pkg. shredded mozzarella cheese
*Grated parmesan cheese

Bring water to boil in a pot
Add pasta and cook for 8 minutes then drain
Prepare the vegetables and blanch or steam until tender
Stack the roast beef and cut into ½ inch squares
Spread the roast beef evenly into a greased deep skillet
Cook on medium heat for approximately 5 minutes, stirring frequently
Add the vegetables and cook for approximately 5 more minutes, stirring frequently
Add the pasta and cook for approximately 2 more minutes, stirring frequently
Add the mozzarella and gently fold into the other ingredients a few times (Don’t over mix)
Serve and garnish with parmesan cheese



This is truly one of the simplest “healthy” meals I’ve ever made, and it’s especially good for the hot summer months.  My husband sometimes likes to make this recipe a little bit richer by adding alfredo sauce.
Since this will be my last week of working evenings for the school year, I hope to start cooking dinners more frequently for our little family, but I plan to take advantage of similar quick recipes to allow me to enjoy my nights off with my husband!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Putting Your Best Face Forward

Part of being a woman in this culture is being concerned about youth and beauty.  Fortunately,  looking young has yet to be an issue for me.  However, I do agonize over looking good for my husband on almost a daily basis.  Maybe it’s the 25 lbs. I gained after we got married, but I never want to feel like I’ve gotten lazy when it comes to my appearance.  I want my hubby to always find me attractive.
When it comes to beauty regiments, there are two issues that daunt me: time and money.  There was a time when I would wake up an hour and a half early just to make sure that my hair and makeup were perfect and that my belt, bag, and shoes matched… then I graduated from high school.  Today, I am all about “low-maintenance”.
Let me preface the following information with this disclaimer: I am not and have never been a cosmetologist, makeup artist, or beauty consultant.  I am just a woman who likes to find simple ways to accentuate my best features while still looking natural.  So, without further ado, here are some of my favorite beauty products!
Preparation:
Recently, I experienced a breakout due to an allergic reaction which left me with acne that was worse than anything I experienced as a teen.  I tried everything to calm my irritated skin, and then I remembered how well Aveeno Clear Complexion Foaming Cleanser worked for me in the past.  Let me just say, this was a life saver!  For less than $8, it completely cleared my skin, and it leaves my skin feeling exceptionally soft!  I also love how well this product balances my combination skin. As an added bonus, I think it smells really nice. 


Another product I love is St. Ives Apricot Scrub.  It’s great to use in the winter for dry patches, but it also helps lighten acne scars.  I also like to use this product prior to getting a spray tan.  This product is less than $4.




If I had to splurge somewhere in this step, it would be the moisturizer.  I absolutely love Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Gel.  Again, this is a great product for balancing combination skin.  Even better, it leaves your skin feeling smooth instead of sticky!  My husband has even been known to grab this moisturizer in place of aloe to treat a peeling sunburn.  A small bottle will cost you $13, but a little goes a long way.  However, you could wait to buy this during Clinique “gift” time and walk away with a makeup bag filled with quality freebies (which is what I like to do)!


Base:
I am very particular about my foundation.  This is another beauty product I believe should be purchased with quality in mind.  I prefer Lancôme Teint Idole Ultra.  Not only does this product feel like you’re wearing nothing at all, but it has superior coverage to every other foundation I have ever tried.  It will cost you $44, but I promise it is worth every penny.  On the bright side, you really don’t need press powder with this product.  You can purchase the “Fresh Wear” version with SPF 15 for $34 though.   This is another product that you can save for “gift” time with Lancôme too! 


Color:
I love playing with makeup, and I have always felt that when it comes to color, you can afford to be cheap.  I will say that the more expensive the product, the more highly concentrated the pigment is, so you won’t need as much of it.  You can make the most of the pigment in a cheap product by purchasing a quality primer though. 
I have relatively sensitive eyes, and the best mascara I have found for my sensitivity that also lasts all day and is easy to remove is Avon Wash-Off Waterproof Mascara.  This will cost $6.50 when it’s not on sale.  If you don’t know an Avon representative, have no fear.  You can be matched with a representative in your area online, and many representatives are opening their own Avon stores.




My favorite drug store eyeliner is NYC (New York Color) Classic Brow/Liner Pencil for $1!  It applies very smoothly, and it is great for smudging into a smoky eye look.  It also removes very easily.
Eye shadow and lipstick are areas I like to experiment in.  My favorite brands of eye shadow are Avon and Cover Girl.  My favorite brands of lipstick are Avon and Wet ‘n Wild.
While I think blush is a necessary for a finished look, I’m not very picky about the brand.  However, I do normally buy Avon or Cover Girl for this product too.


Et Cetera:  
I highly recommend using Dove products for bathing, whether it be the bar soap, body wash, or hair care products.  Everything they say about Dove leaving no residue is completely true! 


When it comes to my nails, I refuse to buy anything but OPI nail polish anymore despite the $8.50 price tag.  Also, the trick to keeping your nails looking good for a long time is a good top coat.


Also, I love Curél Continuous Comfort lotion.  While this product is sold in limited locations, it will likely cost you less than $10 for a 16.25 Fl. Oz. container.  You could also try their Daily Moisture lotion as well.



You can also save yourself a few dollars by investing in a pedicure set with pumice stone and foot rasp instead of spending $20 or more every other week at a salon.

Additional Notes:
I am still looking for the perfect sunscreen, although I’ve been wanting to try Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock.

In addition, I am also trying to find the best hair products for my budget, although I've heard great things about Redken Water Wax 03 Shine Defining Pomade.



Lastly, your makeup is only as good as the tools you apply it with.  I have had my brush set for so long that I couldn't begin to guess what brand it is or which store it came from.  However, I can tell you that I have heard nothing but good things about ELF (Eyes Lips Face) brand brushes.  You can buy them for $1 each or the entire collection for $12.  That's a steal!  Otherwise, stick to natural hair brushes over synthetic.


I hope that you found some of these suggestions helpful.  Simplifying your beauty treatments and consolidating your cosmetic collection will be sure to improve your morning routine as well as boost your confidence... and may even give your man whiplash!


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Family First

This weekend I had the opportunity to spend some time with family members that I haven’t seen for a very long time.  In fact, I think that it’s been 4 years since we’d all been in the same room together last.  In honor of this landmark event, I made a new dessert of my own creation: Strawberry White Chocolate Tea Cakes.
Basically, I was just looking for a creative way to use a box of Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Strawberry Supreme Cake Mix.  I was inspired by a few posts I’d seen on Pinterest (one for tea cakes and one for candied strawberries), and I thought I would add my own personal twist.

STRAWBERRY WHITE CHOCOLATE TEA CAKES

*1 box strawberry cake mix and ingredients listed on box
*White chocolate chips or Hershey Bliss White Chocolate Meltaways
*Cupcake wrappers

*3 ½ cups powdered sugar
*1 stick butter, softened to room temperature
*4 tbsp. sweetened condensed milk
*1 tbsp. vanilla

*¼ light cup corn syrup
*2 cups sugar
*1 cup water
*Straw­ber­ries (about 12)
*Skew­ers
*Wax paper

Combine the ingredients for the cupcakes and either mix in ½ bag of white chocolate chips or stick 1 white chocolate meltaway in the center vertically.  Either way, only fill the cupcakes approximately – ¾ full.  Bake at 325° for 25 minutes.  An alternative to the strawberry cake mix would be using a white (not angel food) cake mix with 1 can of strawberry soda and 3 egg whites).
Meanwhile, combine powdered sugar, butter, condensed milk, and vanilla for the frosting. 
While the frosting is softening, rinse and dry the strawberries thoroughly.  Cut berries in half lengthwise.  Bring corn syrup, sugar, and water to boil over medium-high heat.  Have a cooking thermometer on hand that reads up to 300°.  Stir the mixture only until ingredients are dissolved (this will happen by the time you reach 100°).  Then, resist the urge to stir any more no matter how much it boils to avoid crystallization.  My stove only allowed me to bring the temperature up to 225°, but the optimal temperature is 295°.  When the mixture reaches your target heat, remove the pot from the burner immediately and begin dipping the strawberries individually with the skewers.  Lay out to cool on wax paper.  See http://secretlifeofachefswife.com/anthologie/desserts/candied-strawberries for the original recipe.
When your cupcakes have cooled completely, apply the frosting with a piping bag or use an all purpose spreader.  Place a candied strawberry half on top and secure with a toothpick if needed.
You may refrigerate prior to serving, but this is not necessary.  If the finished product looks like this, you can pat yourself on the back.
Since we went out to eat on Friday and my parents hosted dinner Saturday, I had to save the cooking at home for Sunday.  We opted for another meal with planned leftovers because it’s going to be a very busy week for us… Well, at least for me.  I decided to make Chicken & Rice Casserole.  This is another hybrid meal featuring a little of my mom and the mom-in-law.

CHICKEN & RICE CASSEROLE

*1 ½ lbs. chicken tenders or breasts
*1 can cream of chicken soup
*1 can cream of celery soup
*2 cups milk
*1 pkg. Lipton onion soup mix
*Salt and pepper to taste
*2 cups instant rice

Combine the canned soups, milk, salt and pepper.  You can choose to either use ½ of the dry soup packet, or you can sift the powdered portion into your sauce and discard the large pieces.  I prefer to use the powder for seasoning because the larger pieces don’t tend to get very tender with this method.
Place chicken in the bottom of a greased 9x13” casserole dish.  Spread sauce mixture over the top.  Bake covered at 350°for 45 minutes. 
When this time has elapsed, remove the chicken and add 2 cups of rice to the sauce.  I used 1 cup of each white and brown rice to try to be a little healthier.  Combine thoroughly as not to leave any dry rice.  Place the chicken back on top of the rice mixture and bake covered for 15 more minutes.
You should wind up with something like this.
An unfortunate result of having most of my extended family live almost 600 miles away is that their visits are few and far between.  I’ll gladly take any time I can get with them though, and I hope that we can rectify that issue in the near future.  It’s been entirely too long since I’ve gotten to see all of the people I love in the same place at the same time. 
But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the other highlight of our weekend.  Our Blues clinched the series against the Sharks!  I can’t begin to tell you how excited we are to see our other favorite St. Louis team earn their way to post season victory this year!  LET’S GO BLUUUES!!!
Image courtesy of http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150529698244936&set=a.434760314935.234188.326094984935&type=3&theater

Monday, April 16, 2012

Still Craving After All These Years…

This weekend marked 10 years with my husband (although we’ve only been married for 4).  We tried to spend our Friday tailgating the Cardinals home opener, but Mother Nature had other plans for us.  I suppose it being Friday the 13th didn’t help our case either.
Saturday was our official dating anniversary, and it turned out to be a much more successful day.  Not only did the Cardinals redeem themselves for the previous day’s performance, but we also watched the Blues first playoff victory of the year that evening with friends at D.S. Vespers Sports Pub and Eatery.
Yesterday was a big day for my husband; he completed his first half-marathon.  He finished in 2 hours 9 minutes!  (And yes, that is a mohawk he is sporting for the event…)

While he was recovering, I spent the afternoon as a panelist for a discussion on women’s relationships.  (See www.allineedisonemic.com for details.) 
To celebrate our joint milestone and my husband’s personal milestone, I splurged on a brisket and made my special beer brisket meat block sandwiches with au jus (otherwise known as “French dip”).  We also tried Turtle Island beer soup, and I made triple chocolate brownies (which we affectionately call “Megan brownies” after the friend who introduced us to them).

BEER BRISKET MEAT BLOCK SANDWICHES

*1 ½ - 2 lb. beef brisket (left side is best)
*32 oz. beef broth
*½ can beer (we used Stag, but we also like Budweiser)
*Minced onion flakes
* Salt and pepper to taste
*1 pkg. ciabatta rolls
*1 pkt. Au Jus gravy

Coat your crock pot with cooking spray and lay the brisket fat side down.
Cover liberally with pepper, and add about ½ as much salt and minced onion.
Pour broth and beer around the sides of the brisket.  (Eventually, the liquid will cover the brisket, so don’t be worried if it washes some of the seasoning off the top of the meat.)
Cook on low for 6-12 hours.  (I cooked it for 12 hours only because I was up super early, but this isn’t necessary.  It does help to make the meat incredibly tender though.)
When you are within 20 minutes of eating, preheat your oven for the rolls, and cook them according to the instructions on the package.
Meanwhile, bring the contents of the Au Jus packet to a boil with half the amount of water suggested on the packet.
Trim the remaining fat off of the brisket, and serve on the ciabatta rolls with between ¼ and ½ cup of Au Jus in a separate bowl per person.

You should wind up with something like this:
TRIPLE CHOCOLATE BROWNIES

*1 box devils food cake mix (I prefer Duncan Hines)
*1 small instant box chocolate fudge Jell-o pudding
*1 bag milk chocolate chips
*2 cups milk

Combine milk and pudding and milk with an electric mixer.
Add cake mix, but stir in by hand.  (DO NOT use a mixer for this step.  It will make your brownies deflate.)
Stir in chocolate chips.
Bake in a 9x13” greased casserole dish at 350° for 35 mins.

And viola!
While we weren’t very impressed by the soup, my husband was much more enthusiastic about the rest of the meal than he normally is.  If you’d like to add a side, I recommend preparing Russet potatoes your favorite way.  We usually just make mashed potatoes with butter and garlic and garnish with some Au Jus gravy.  If you’re concerned about having enough dipping sauce, prepare 2 packets.  (I don’t recommend using the residual broth mix though.  The beer doesn’t seem to mix well with the potatoes.)
Fortunately, my quality time with the hubby didn’t end last night.  We’re spending the evening together tonight as well and hoping that the Blues give another exciting performance!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Hamming it Up

The holiday weekend is over, and it’s back to reality.  This Easter was a little unusual for us.  My brother was unable to come home from college, so we’re going to celebrate further when my uncle comes to visit from Georgia in 2 weeks.  In the meantime, as is custom for most American (Christian) families this time of year, we ate our weight in ham… and then STILL had leftovers!
So what is a girl to do when she’s close to ham-overload?  Make Chicken Cordon Bleu.  I will add this disclaimer up front: I grew up eating my mom’s Chicken Cordon Bleu, and it is a non-breaded version of the surprisingly American dish.  If you want a good breading mixture to add to this recipe, I recommend referencing chef Tyler Florence’s recipe on foodnetwork.com.
I also chose to serve this with our friend Jenny’s Spinach Currant Salad.  Together, it makes a very simple but elegant meal! 

SPINACH CURRANT SALAD

*1 pkg. fresh spinach leaves
*2 oz. dried cranberries
*2 oz. sliced almonds
*2 oz. goat cheese
*¼ cup red wine vinegar
 *¼ cup EVOO
*¼ cup honey

Wash and drain the spinach leaves.
Garnish with dried cranberries, sliced almonds, and goat cheese.
In a separate bowl, whisk together red wine vinegar, EVOO, and honey.
Pour dressing over salad, toss well, and serve.

CHICKEN CORDON BLEU

*Approx. 5 large chicken breasts
*1 pkg. sliced Double G ham
*1 pkg. sliced Swiss cheese
*1 can cream of chicken soup
*1-8 oz. container sour cream
*Salt and pepper to taste
*Parsley for garnish
*Toothpicks!

Slice chicken breasts down the middle horizontally almost completely through.  (An alternative would be to flatten them with a kitchen mallet and roll them, but as Alton Brown says, you usually just wind up with meat mush.  I bought pre-sliced breasts and layered them like a sandwich.)
Stuff a slice of ham and a slice of cheese in the middle of the chicken breast.  Then, stick toothpicks in the top to hold the layers in place during cooking.  Place in a greased 9x13” casserole dish.
In a separate bowl, combine the cream of chicken soup and sour cream. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Then, spread this over the chicken.
Bake covered at 350° for a minimum of 45 minutes, or until chicken has reached 170° internally.

And for further cooking assistance, here is a handy temperature chart for cooking meat:
Image courtesy of http://www.ochef.com/418.htm.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Breakfast Before the Bunny

While the hubby and I have some time together, I thought I would make a special Saturday morning brunch (since we will be spending Easter brunch with his family).  I decided to introduce him to an old family favorite: Cinnamon Sugar Twists.  This is a very quick and simple recipe that can very easily feed a family of 6 for very little money.  (Since there are only 2 of us, I told my husband that he will have a portable breakfast for work this coming week.)

CINNAMON SUGAR TWISTS

*2 cans of Pillsbury Grands biscuits
*1 cup sugar
*1 tbsp. cinnamon
*¾ stick (6 tbsp.) butter, melted

Melt butter a bowl, and combine cinnamon and sugar in a separate bowl.
Take each biscuit out of the can and grab a side in each hand, twisting in opposite directions.
Dip the twist in the melted butter, then into the cinnamon sugar combination.
Place on a greased cookie sheet, and bake at 350° for 14 minutes.

And ta-da!
So now that we’ve eaten and I’ve caught up with some of the household chores, I’m off to buy my Easter dress!