Sunday, February 23, 2014

February; Weekend Cooking

We went out of town this weekend to attend a Bluegrass Festival in Des Moines.  I do love to travel and going anywhere requires finding a few good restaurants to try.  On this trip our main foodie experience was Gusto's Pizza near downtown.  This place does not have just your average pizzas plus they do gluten-free crusts for any of their pizzas.  I didn't snap any photos because I was too busy eating.  With names like Buffalo Springfield, Vincent Van Goat, Francesco, and the Fromage A'Trois it was very hard to make a choice. With all the menu choices we somehow missed the special of the day which was a spicy Thai pizza.

{Gusto's Pizza-just NOT the pizza we ordered}

After much deliberation we voted to get the Francesca which featured an Alfredo sauce, mozzarella, Roma tomato, artichokes, cremini mushrooms, and spinach.  It was divine.  We ate almost the whole thing.  There is one lonely piece waiting for me in the refrigerator for lunch or dinner.  Groovy Girl got to design her own small pizza; shrimp, fresh basil, Roma tomatoes, and extra mozzarella.  She was in pizza heaven and she had a wonderful cream soda to make her smile.  

My friend and I both tried 2 different salads from the menu as well.  Mine was the Fromage Bleu featuring apples, spiced walnuts, mixed greens, red onion and balsamic vinaigrette.  I wished for more bleu cheese crumbled on top-after all the name features bleu!  My friend ordered the quinoa continental and it was by far the winner!  A small amount of quinoa mixed with mixed greens, goat cheese, roasted butternut squash, dried cranberries, and balsamic vinaigrette.  I am going to re-create this salad at home!  All in all it was an amazing trip to Des Moines.  Oh, and the Bluegrass Festival; it was fantastic as well.  

We made it safely back yesterday afternoon just in time for Groovy Girl's school fundraiser.  Last night at about my bedtime I realized I needed to make something for our church potluck.  I whipped this vegan curry dish (from in about 40 minutes and it was a huge hit.  The bowl was scraped clean. Surprising as it was pretty spicy. No leftovers.  I'll have to make more.  It's been a good food weekend for me!

This post is linked to Beth Fish Reads weekly foodie meme.  Click her link to find many other food-related posts.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Baby, It's Cold Outside...

It is snowy and oh, so cold.  I do love the snow when you can go out and play in it but when it is 16 degrees outside.  When it's cold outside I turn to my dear friend hot chocolate and add a little zip to it.  In the spirit of making things from scratch I found a recipe for homemade hot chocolate mix and it is delicious.  Steaming mug with either fresh whipped cream or marshmallows, take your pick.  I don't care.

The mug of warmth does make you forget about how cold it is outside especially if you've laced your cup with a little peppermint schnapps or Bailey's.  Grown up hot chocolate.  I'm making some right now.  Our house is old and drafty and this is a necessity I tell you.  This post is linked to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking meme.  Click her link to find many other food-related posts.  
Stay warm out there!

My recipe:

Hot Chocolate Powder

2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup cocoa
pinch of sea salt

Triple it in jar and  shake to mix.  Scoop 1-2 tablespoons into mug and pour in hot milk mixture.  I use a combination of water/milk or even soy/coconut milk warmed in a small saucepan on the stovetop.  Add freshly whipped cream or a marshmallows.
Serve immediately.  

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Seven Wild Sisters by Charles De Lint

This charming fairy tale will make a perfect way to introduce young readers to a good fantasy story.  Sarah Jane and her sisters live very near Tanglewood Forest and she's curious about what resides there as her elderly neighbor Aunt Lillian shares stories of the forest creatures with her as they do chores.  

The stories come alive for Sarah Jane when she rescues an injured tiny man by bringing him to Aunt Lillian.  The two attempt to return him through Lillian's old friend, the Apple Tree Man.  Once Sarah Jane is involved the fighting fairy realm kidnap her six sisters to hold as ransom.  None of the girls are capable of using or performing magic but use their heads and hearts to help them out of their trouble.  While they witness creatures they never thought real their biggest thought is to get back to mama before she misses them.

Told in 260 pages this is an easy read and will hopefully help many of my beginning fantasy readers transition from the Rainbow Magic series to this as I plan to order several of Charles De Lint books for my school library.  I love fantasy yet this was my first introduction to his writing.  I've already downloaded to my kindle The Cats of Tanglewood Forest which is set several decades before this one.  I hope Mr. De Lint has plans to write many adventures with this lively and adventuresome set of sisters.

A quote:

He came out from the far side of the tree and if it hadn't been for the 'sangman I'd found, I'd have said he was the strangest man I'd ever seen.  He was as gnarled and twisty as the limbs of his tree, long and lanky, a raggedy man with tattered clothes, bird's next hair, and a stooped walk.  It was hard to make out his features in the moonlight, but I got the sense that there wasn't a mean bone in his body-don't ask me why.  I guess he just radiated a kind of goodness and charm.  He acted like it was a chore, having to come out and talk to us, but I could tell he liked Aunt Lillian.  Maybe missed her as much as she surely missed him.  (69)

And now you've met the Apple Tree Man and you probably want to keep reading...
I received this ARC from Little, Brown and Company which in no way influenced my honest review of this delightful tale.  Publication date: February 2014, just in time for a sweet little Valentine gift.
I look forward to checking out a published copy as this copy had only little sketches.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Weekend Cooking; Chicken Tortilla Soup

It's already a week into February and I haven't blogged once.  I think my fingers are too frozen to type.   I did make a lovely treat for last weekend's miserable SuperBowl game.  I saw a crock-pot recipe for a chicken tortilla soup that sounded delicious-hot, spicy, and filled with goodness-everything I was looking for while the weather outside is still bitter cold.

Some soups are easy to whip together and those are good for those days when you need something fast. My chicken soup didn't come together quite that fast but it was so well-worth the wait.  It makes any recipe more difficult when you have to search out the right meat.  I did have a frozen whole chicken that had already been cut into parts via my farmer friend, John.  After that unthawed I baked it in the oven with drizzled with olive oil and a sprinkling of spices.  Mine had the skin on it but that peeled off easy after I baked the pieces.  My dogs loved that little treat.

I baked the chicken pieces at the beginning of the week and waited until Sunday to actual put the soup together.  I meant to make it on Saturday so it could have a day to sit (always the best) yet I don't know really where Saturday went.  The soup still tasted great and it was a perfect for lunch several times during the week.

Chicken Tortillas Soup {PW Cooks}


  • 2 whole Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon Cumin
  • 1 teaspoon Chili Powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon Garlic Powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 cup Diced Onion
  • 1/4 cup Diced Green Bell Pepper
  • 1/4 cup Red Bell Pepper
  • 3 cloves Garlic, Minced
  • 1 can (10 Oz. Can) Rotel Tomatoes And Green Chilies
  • 32 ounces, fluid Low Sodium Chicken Stock
  • 3 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
  • 4 cups Hot Water
  • 2 cans (15 Oz. Can) Black Beans, Drained
  • 3 Tablespoons Cornmeal Or Masa
  • 5 whole Corn Tortillas, Cut Into Uniform Strips Around 2 To 3 Inches
  •  _____
  •  Sour Cream
  •  Diced Avocado
  •  Diced Red Onion
  •  Salsa Or Pico De Gallo
  •  Grated Monterey Jack Cheese
  •  Cilantro

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix cumin, chili pepper, garlic powder, and salt. Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil on chicken breasts, then sprinkle a small amount of spice mix on both sides. Set aside the rest of the spice mix.

Place chicken breasts on a baking sheet. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until chicken is done. Use two forks to shred chicken. Set aside. {I had to cook mine for  much longer-bigger pieces.}
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a pot over medium high heat. Add onions, red pepper, green pepper, and minced garlic. Stir and begin cooking, then add the rest of the spice mix. Stir to combine, then add shredded chicken and stir.
Pour in Rotel, chicken stock, tomato paste, water, and black beans. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for 45 minutes, uncovered.
Mix cornmeal with a small amount of water. Pour into the soup, then simmer for an additional 30 minutes. Check seasonings, adding more if needed---add more chili powder if it needs more spice. Turn off heat and allow to sit for 15 to 20 minutes before serving. Five minutes before serving, gently stir in tortilla strips.
Ladle into bowls, then top with sour cream, diced red onion, diced avocado, pico de gallo, and grated cheese, if you have it! (The garnishes really make the soup delicious.)

I did do the cornmeal step of which I was leery yet I thought it added a certain Southern complexity.  I used my regular can of diced tomatoes instead of Rotel.  I happened to have a full can of dark enchilada sauce that I bought by mistake {I use green when I made regular enchiladas} so I dumped that in there instead of the paste.  I wanted the soup to be authentically spicy and didn't worry about Groovy Girl's taste buds.  

{Lots of garnish}

I love the garnishes; we added sliced avocado, diced red onion, cilantro, cheese, and sour cream.  It was tasty.  

Here is the link to PW's original recipe.

This post is linked to Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads.  Click the link to find many other food-related posts.