Friday, April 30, 2010

Cheap Eats Part One

Thanks for all of the great responses to my last post. In light of my last post I thought I would do a little series on cheap yet delicious dinner options. Part One will feature one of my favorite cheap foods--the incredible edible egg! I love eggs, they are yummy, cheap, filling and very nourishing. While I can't eat chicken eggs right now I can eat goose or duck eggs. Right now I have goose eggs that I eat. Mr. P still eats chicken eggs. I highly recommend getting eggs from a local farm or trying to find organic eggs from grass fed chickens as this really does impact the nutrients in the egg. Even though organic eggs or farm fresh eggs are more expensive they are still much cheaper than meat. We buy our eggs from a local farmer for $3.50 a dozen. Considering there are 12 eggs in a dozen that's up to 6 servings of eggs.

When I moved into my first apartment in college I was really really poor. I had a part time job working 30 hours a week at the local news station (making minimum wage) and I had to pay all of my living expenses our of that measly pay check. One day I was whining to my Dad about how poor I was and how much it sucked and that I didn't have enough money for food. I was hoping he would offer to give me some money each month for food. Instead he went to St. Vincent De Paul's and bought me a cook book from the 30s. He said that people were really poor in the 30's and since I was poor maybe this cook book would provide options that fit into my budget. As much as I hated to admit it at the time he was right and the cook book ended up being a life saver. Besides being one of my first cook books it was full of cheap foods that have fallen out of the standard fare these days but are no less delicious. Perhaps the best thing about this cook book was it had an entire section on eggs. Not just your standard scrambled, fried, and poached eggs for breakfast, but entrees for dinner. This was especially wonderful because my room mate's parents had a farm with lots of chickens giving us an endless supply of free farm fresh eggs. Here is my favorite egg dish from that cook book:

Baked eggs and rice, serves 2

4 eggs
1 cup left over cooked rice
2 Tb flour
2 Tb butter
1 cup milk
1 cup grated cheese or 2 Tb tomato paste
salt and pepper
bread crumbs, optional

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
Heat butter in small sauce pan, when melted add flour. Cook together slowly for 2 minutes or so to make a roux. Slowly add milk stirring the whole time. Cook over med heat until the sauce begins to thicken. Once sauce is thick add either cheese or tomato paste to make either a cheese sauce or a tomato cream sauce. I think the cheese one is tastier but the tomato sauce is still good and is a lot cheaper. Season with salt and pepper. If you make tomato sauce you will need a little more salt and pepper. Set aside.

Divide the 1 cup rice into four sections of a muffin tin. Or into individual ramekins if you have them. Spoon some sauce over the rice. Note, the rice and sauce should not fill more than half the tin or the egg will overflow. Crack an egg into each cup directly over the rice. Season eggs with salt and pepper. Place in oven. How long you cook the eggs depends on how done you want your eggs. I think we usually cook them for 15-20 minutes. I'd cook them for 10 minutes and then check them. I usually pull mine out just when the whites are set and the yolks are still nice and runny. Gently lift egg and rice onto plates. Or if you do have ramekins you could just place two ramekins onto each plate. Top each egg with a generous helping of sauce. My husband loves these with roasted asparagus, especially if I wrap the asparagus in bacon first. They are also wonderful with sauteed fresh spinach, which is usually much cheaper than the asparagus. As a variation you can use marinara sauce instead of making a sauce. I have also used salsa. I would puree the salsa first it works better.

*adapted from Searchlight Recipes, 1930 edition

My favorite way to eat eggs for dinner:

Huevos Rancheros

4 eggs
1 cup masa
some water
cooked black beans, or canned
some really good salsa
hot sauce to serve

Place masa in bowl. Add some water while mixing with hands until you have a good dough consistency. I believe it's maybe 1/4 cup water but I just add a table spoon at a time until it feels right. When you have a nice dough roll about 2 Tb into ball and then flatten on counter with hands. Usually the palm of your hand pound to flatten into disk. Once you have a disk gently lift up with spatula. And place in hot dry pan. At least med-high heat but closer to high. Do not add oil to pan or you will ruin. Cast iron works best but a regular skillet will do. Cook tortilla for a few minutes then flip it should have blackened burn marks and be nicely toasted. Repeat to make 4 tortillas. Put two on each dinner plate. (If you want to skip this part you can and just buy corn tortillas. However homemade masa tortillas are really really good and totally worth it. Also masa flour is dirt cheap.)

Lower heat in skillet and add butter and eggs. Salt and pepper your eggs. While your eggs are cooking heat up your beans if needed. And place beans over tortillas. Cook your eggs to desired doneness either sunny side up or over easy works fine. Place an eggs over tortillas and beans. Top with a lot of salsa and serve with hot sauce.

*my recipe

Mr. P's favorite way to have eggs for dinner:

Chorizo Breakfast skillet

2 links of chorizo
1 Green bell pepper chopped
2 cloves garlic chopped
1/2 onion chopped
3 red potatoes or yukon gold potatoes chopped
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 40z can Green chilies
1 cup good fresh salsa
red or green Tabasco to taste
4 eggs beaten

Heat olive oil in skillet to med-high heat. Add potatoes salt and pepper. Cook stirring occasionally 5 minutes then lower to med heat. Cook another 5 min. While potato is cooking peel casing off chorizo and chop into small pieces. Add chorizo to potatoes cook another 5 minutes. Add onion and bell pepper cook another 5 minutes. Add salsa and green chilies bring heat back to med-high. cook a few minutes until most of liquid evaporates. Season to taste with salt, pepper and Tabasco. Beat eggs and pour over potato mixture. Cook stirring constantly until egg is cooked about 3 minutes. serve with warm corn tortillas and hot sauce.

*my recipe

I made this recipe last night and it was delicious. It is from a cook book called The Spanish Table.

Flaminco Eggs

4 eggs
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic chopped
1 onion chopped
4 tomatoes chopped
4 oz chorizo
4 oz pancetta (I left this out)
salt and pepper
cayenne pepper
fresh parsley chopped

Pre-heat oven to 350. In skillet cook chorizo until browned. Do not drain skillet. Add onion, garlic and cook a few minutes. Add bell peppers and tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cook over med heat until cooks down (about 25 minutes). Divide tomato mixture into baking dishes. I think the recipe means into 4 ramekins. I took 1/3 of the mixture out for my lunch the next day and then divided the remainder into two little bread pans I have. Top tomato mixture with fresh parsley. Crack eggs into each dish. Season egg with salt and cayenne pepper. Back until eggs are set. About 8-10 minutes. Garnish with more parsley.

I served these over some rice with some sauteed spinach. They would be good with some crusty bread or tortillas too.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Lunch Time Musings

As I eat my beans and rice and lament the lack of hot sauce in my office (I am mid move. The hot sauce is at my new office, I am at my old office. Bad planning on my part) I feel compelled to share something that has been on my mind a lot lately. That is Americas perception of financial success.

It seems in America that if you do not own a nice large house, well furnished and decorated, two newish cars and a certain status of clothes you have not reached an expected financial norm. Actual Financial success would be adding on a vacation house and yearly vacations to Hawaii, sending your children to their choice college and throwing your daughter a 30 thousand dollar wedding. At least this is what popular culture would tell you. And it is because of this, that all of us yet to achieve this "norm" either feel like failures for our lack, or overwhelmingly stressed about our ability to achieve this American goal. For the past couple weeks Mr. P and I have been feeling very discouraged about our financial situation. I thought I was going to get an amazing new job which would pay much more and allow us to buy a house very soon. Then the company decided at the 11th hour to not bring on any new staff at this time due to the economy.

That American dream of owning a home seemed so close I could almost touch it and fell far far away. After that I was feeling very discouraged, depressed, moody, grumpy... This was especially hard because Mr. P would really like to open his own immigration firm, something that needs capital to start and may not make any money for some time. Mr. P graduates in a few weeks and then come some harsh realities, namely in the form of law school loans.

In the midst of feeling sorry for ourselves Mr. P and I came to some really important conclusions for us, our marriage and our future.

1. First foremost we realized that being poor* for a while was going to be okay because at least we were together and we would help each other. Cheesy? Perhaps but no less true.
2. We have an amazing support system here in our family, friends, church and God.
3. That building a firm together would be something we could feel proud of, something that could create a future for us and that it would be worth sacrificing some material wealth for a while.
4. And lastly that in this economy maintaining a steady line, keeping our head above water, and not getting into more debt is something of an accomplishment.

I suppose I feel compelled to share all this for a couple of reasons. I imagine a lot of other people are going through similar things and I think knowing you aren't alone makes a world of difference. I know some of my closest friends are in similar places right now and it helps so much to know they understand. I think we help each other a lot just by sharing the same worries, fears and frustrations. I also feel like in the blog world it's easy to get the "I wants" and feel bad about yourself. I know I have avoided such topics in the past just for the pure embarrassment of not wanting others to realize my own situation. But the more I think about it the more I think that is a very wrong attitude. Maybe by sharing my situation I bring encouragement to someone else. Maybe by sharing affordable recipes (a post to come), and money saving decorating tips I give someone the motivation they need. I think the idea in our society that if you don't have enough money to do xyz or by xyz is fundamentally wrong and I am ashamed at how much it has influenced me. Mr. P and I live in a nice comfortable apartment, we have everything we need, 4 years of books to read, a reliable car, a job, an education, and we eat wholesome nourishing food that is very yummy. We have nothing to feel bad about and should be proud of the life we have built for ourselves. And that is the realization I hope more people can come to.

*I am using poor here for lack of better description. I recognize that we are not truly poor. Poor is not having enough food to eat, being cold, hungry, on the streets, sick without hope of medical care and so on.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A short walk to work...

I had such a nice weekend. I cleaned out our spare bedroom and storage closet and organized what is now our office. I also got a good start on spring cleaning and finished all of the laundry and ironing. For the first time in a long time I actually feel caught up on a Monday Morning.

As I was organizing the office I went through the books and counted all of the ones I haven't read. The grand total is 205 unread out of the 625 total. Yikes! This means I have a lot of reading to do. I was able to cross the first book off that long list this weekend. I finished The Joy Luck Club. It was a good book but I think The Bonesetters Daughter, also by Amy Tan, is my favorite of her books. Now I am starting West With the Night by Beryl Markham. This is a memoir and her life sounds pretty amazing. She was a female pilot who was raised by her father in Africa in the early 20th century.

My office is moving this week. Currently it is a 15 minute drive from my house and it is moving to a new building which is in walking distance from my house. I am very excited to start walking to work. I will save so much gas money and I can easily walk home for lunch.

I made a delicious easy soup on Friday. It is a vegetable beef soup that our Pastor's Wife, Beth, makes. It is quick, easy and cheap, always a good combination. Here is the recipe:

Vegetable Beef Soup

1 lb ground beef
1 Tb butter
1 Tb four, I used chickpea flour
1 quart beef broth, I used homemade
1 can tomatoes, I used ones with Italian seasoning
3 carrots peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic minced
about 1 cup of frozen Lima beans
about 1 cup frozen green beans
about 1 cup frozen peas
salt and pepper
bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon basil

Cook ground beef, drain and set aside. In soup pot melt butter and add flour. Cook for a minute or so to make a roux. Very Slowly add broth mixing into roux. Add browned beef to stock. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to boil. Simmer at least 20 minutes or so. I simmered for about an hour. Taste. Season with salt and pepper. You could add any veggies you want. These are just the ones we had. I also think beans might be good in this soup.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Books books and more books

Today marks one week since we canceled our TV and Internet and we are loving it! I feel like my time has tripled. Evenings feel longer and more relaxed, mornings are no longer rushed, our home is more relaxing and peaceful.

Now for my book challenge. I mentioned my book challenge to Mr. P and you know what his first response was, "That means you have to read War and Peace". He then preceded to name all the intensely long Russian novels we own (that he brought to the marriage) that I have not read. Not only is there War and Peace but there is Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov and something else I can't remember. While I very smartly remembered to exempt Kant from my list I forgot about Mr. P's Russian literature collection.

I will read War and Peace last, it will be my crowning glory to this whole project.

Last night I attempted to make a list of all the books I haven't read but I got bored and stopped at 22. It was the tip of the ice berg. I definitely have more research but I did count 625 book in our house that are not cook books, law books, or other reference books such as sewing, hiking, fishing and what not. Of those 625 a lot are the exempt philosophy. So at this point I'm not sure how many I have ahead of me. Further research is needed. Right now I am reading The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan and up next is a memoir called West With the Night.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

New Forms of Entertainment

Last week we canceled our Internet and cable at home. I have to say I am amazed at the transformation in our house. It feels quieter, simpler and more relaxing. Not that we always had the TV on, we didn't, but there was always the possibility of it. I love the simplicity and quite of coming home with to no computers or TV.

It does however create a new challenge of what to do with our time. I am ashamed to admit how much of our evenings were spent watching TV or spending time online. Mr. P and I have had many conversations about the change this has brought about and we think they are good changes. On Saturday while I was picking up the house, Mr. P did the dishes, took out the trash and recycle, and cleaned out the car. He said he was bored so he figured he might as well help clean up. This is definitely a change for the better!

Last night while dinner was cooking we both worked around the house. Mr. P worked on the re-organization of the office some while I did laundry. Then after dinner we went to Goodwill. We spent at least an hour wandering around Goodwill. First we looked at furniture because we need another book shelf for the office, then I looked at dishes because I'm hunting down some old dishes I saw and am obsessed with. Then we ended up in books. The book section at Goodwill is dangerous. First it is full of so many good books at extremely cheap prices. We left Goodwill with 6 books. Some new entertainment we decided. After our Goodwill adventure we went home and spent the rest of the evening reading.

After thinking further about our Goodwill trip I have decided to give myself a challenge. Because we need to save money, hence cutting the Internet and cable in the first place, buying books at Goodwill, even at good prices, is not really going to accomplish that. So my challenge to myself is this: I will not buy any new books until I have read all of the books in our house that I have never read before. Honestly I'm not sure how many books that is but I'm sure it's a lot. One, we have a lot of books. Two, many of those were Mr.P's and I have never read them. Three, I frequently buy book I want to read and then don't get around to reading all of them and then buy more. So you can see the cycle. Now I need to figure out how many books I have that I haven't read and start reading them.

*by books in our house I mean everything but philosophy that I don't want to read. Mr. P and I were both philosophy majors and we have a lot of philosophy books I know we have all of his wittgenstien and Kant and I don't want to read those
** we still have our small TV with DVD player so we can borrow movies and TV shows from the Library and watch those from time to time

Monday, April 19, 2010

Spring Cleaning

I survived our crazy weekend. The Rehearsal dinner went great although I don't think I have ever been so tired in my life. Now that it is over I am on to a new project: Spring Cleaning. As I have said on here before I HATE to clean. I do however like a clean house. I also like to organize things, although this may be because by organizing I am avoiding cleaning. Anyway, my sister and her friend found a wonderful apartment last week and so she moved out freeing our spare bedroom which I am going to convert into an office. Since a good deal of re-arranging and organizing will be involved I thought it would be an ideal time for a good thorough deep cleaning of our house. And to get into cleaning mode I am once again reading this book:

Have you heard of this book? If not I insist you go and buy it right now. I can not praise it enough. It is amazing and it's written by a female lawyer who also has a PHD in philosophy with a specialization in feminist philosophy. This makes the book much more exciting for me. You will begin reading the introduction and not only will you be hooked but you be overwhelmed with the urge to clean everything in sight. So if, like me, you have been dragging your feet a bit when it comes to spring cleaning get you hands on this book and you will become a cleaning machine!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Almost the Weekend

I have had a rocky week at work and am counting down the hours (3 more) until my freedom from 3.7 days. This is a big weekend because our dear friends Eric and Shelby are getting married on Saturday. Mr. P is an usher and one of the bachelor party planners/hosts, while our friend David and I are cooking and serving the rehearsal dinner tomorrow night. This is no joke my friends, we are making, plating and serving a 5 course meal for 30 some odd people. Here is our Menu:

Tomato Bruscetta

Cesar Salad

Cream of Asparagus soup

Naples style spaghetti and meat balls (my grandmother's secret recipe)

Double chocolate brownies and lemon bars

Tonight we are going grocery shopping and then setting the tables. Then tomorrow we begin our cooking marathon at 10am. Dinner is served at 7:30. It's going to be a long day but I think it will be a wonderful party. While we are doing prep work tonight the boys are having the bachelor party. Mr.P has to be in court at 8:30 am tomorrow morning. I am predicting a very grumpy husband on my hands tomorrow. Since the boys will be out getting into only God knows what kind of trouble I am going to take advantage of the calm before the storm to veg out with my sis and these fine people:

She just moved into her very first real apartment. And we need to christen it with a Dawson's Creek Marathon. You all know how much I adore the witty antics of Dawson Leery, Pacey Whitter and Joey Potter. Besides we are on Season three and getting close to the Pacey/Joey years which might be my favorite.

Happy weekend to everyone!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Beans, weenies and boys

The year after I graduated from college I lived across the street from Mr. P and his roommate Orren. I lived in a cute little apartment in a gorgeous old building built in the 20s. They lived in a Salmon and turquoise colored monstrosity called the Ming Tree. Over the course of that year we befriended Taylor who lived across the hall and Pat who lived in the building next door. At some point during that year, Ryan, Mr. P's best friend, returned from Japan and lived on their couch for some time. During this year Lauren was in Europe and the rest of my friends had left Eugene after college. I spent most of my time with all these boys.

Usually I cooked dinner for the crowd over at their house because they had a big kitchen. Often Ryan cooked with me and we would attempt to recreate recipes he'd learned in Japan. The other boys were 1L's so they just studied. But sometimes Taylor would bring over his famous beans and weenies. We'd gather various alcohol, beer, Meade, whatever and Taylor would cross the hall with a big pan of hot and spicy beans and weenies. They were never exactly the same but there was a general concept, canned beans, Hebrew National beef franks, lots of hot sauce, ketchup and pomegranate molasses.

Our friend Pat, who has replaced Mr. P in the bachelor pad when we got married has decided it's time to revive the beans and weenies traditions (Taylor is in Europe). And so he brings us Beans and WEenies 2010, The cook off.

That's right my friends. I will be participating in a beans and weenies cook off and I will win. My husband is also participating in the cook off. He will not win. He is very comically thinks he stands a chance at beating me. So funny Mr. P. Anyway, I need ideas, family secrets, random notions, send them my way. The only rules are they must have beans and weenies.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Splashes of Color

We had a fabulous time in Portland this weekend. Lots of girl time, food, shopping, and spa time. I found a wonderful dress at Anthropology which I am completely in love with. It is a great cut on me and the fabric is so gorgeous and colorful. I think it has a very American in Cuba in 1953 feeling.

I need a cardigan to match and some great sandals maybe something with a platform or a blockier heel. I must say a pedicure and new dress makes for a much nicer Monday!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Yay for Friday

It is sunny. It is Friday. I am headed to Portland this afternoon. This evening I will be eating sushi with friends. So wonderful!

This morning I had to have my blood taken, which I hate. The lady missed the first time and had to do it again which was obviously not fun. However, she had a lovely British accent and I loved how she said my name, Laura Potter. I think my name sounds much more interesting when said with a British accent. For a moment I felt like I was in a Harry Potter movie.

Well I'm off to plan outfits and pack. Happy Weekend Everyone!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Girls Weekend

I am so excited for this weekend because my friend Jessica and I are going up to Portland to have a girls weekend with our friend Melanie. We are going out for drinks and sushi Friday night. Then Saturday we are having some spa time at the Aveda Institute getting manicures and pedicures and such. Then we are going shopping! Could there be a more perfect girls weekend? I think not.

The shopping is actually needed dress shopping. Jessica needs a dress for our friends wedding and I need a dress for Mr. P's Law School graduation which is a mere 6 weeks away! So here is where I need your help. Dress shopping for me is a little bit of a nightmare. I don't really wear dresses. In fact I think I only own about 4. I would like to wear more but I have a horrible time finding dresses that fit me well. I'm really short, 5:3 and I have an extremely small chest so dresses usually feel too long on me or I can't fill them out. Here are some looks I like that I think might work on me:
These two are from Anthropology and I really like them both. The green one has beautiful detailing which you can't see in the picture. The blue one is nice because I can dress it up for graduation but dress it down for the rest of the summer and get a lot of wear out of it. Since I don't have a lot of dresses I would like to get something I can wear again in the future.
This is from Ann Taylor loft and I really like it but I don't know if it would work on my height very well.
Do you have any dress advise for me? Any great ideas of where to shop for a great dress?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Beans Beans Beans

I love beans. They are one of my all time favorite foods. Really they are kind of amazing. I mean they are dirt cheap, they are super healthy, they are low fat and they are so easy to cook. They also happen to pair beautifully with one of my other favorite foods—sausage.

Last night I made one of my favorite soups with garbanzo beans. It’s called Gypsy soup and it’s from the Moosewood cookbook

This soup is a great easy quick week night dinner. Recipe can be found here. You can use either canned or dried and cooked chickpeas. We use canned tomatoes. Last night we added left over cooked chicken. It’s also good with fresh fish added in toward the end.

Here are some of the other was I love to cook beans. On a cold Sunday afternoon:

Baked Black Beans and Chorizo

2 cups dried black beans, soaked 4 hours or overnight
2 links Spanish or Mexican chorizo, or linguica
One bell pepper chopped
3 cloves garlic minced
One onion
2 fresh tomatoes or one can whole tomatoes
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp paprika
Bay leaf
Salt and pepper
Tobasco or other hot sauce

Place soaked beans in oven safe pot or dutch oven. Add bell pepper, garlic, onion, tomatoes, spices, bell pepper and some salt and pepper. Add enough water to cover. Mix well. Slice sausage and lay over beans. Place tight fitting lid and cook in 350 degree oven for 3 hours or so until beans are tender. Check every hour and make sure there is still liquid. When beans are done stir sausage in and add some butter to taste about 2 TB. Taste for seasoning and add salt, pepper and hot sauce as needed. Serve with rice or tortillas or bread.

Simple Pork and Beans

2 cups dried pinto beans
1 onion
¼ pound salt pork
Bay leaf
Salt and pepper
Hot sauce

Place beans and coarsely chopped onion in pot. Cover with at least an inch of water. Boil 2 minutes. Place lid on pot and let soak for 1.5 hours or all day. Sometimes I do this step before work and then let them soak all day while I’m at work. Add some more water to cover. Add salt pork and bay leaf. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer and simmer 1.5 hours or until tender. Add 2 Tb butter. Taste add salt and pepper as needed and hot sauce to taste. I like to serve this with corn bread or tortillas and cooked greens, although you can also serve the beans with rice or plain bread. You can leave out the salt pork too and they are still good especially as a side to enchiladas or with tacos.

Ham and Beans on toast

2 cups dried white beans
One onion
¼ pound left over ham or a meaty ham bone
Bay leaf
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
3 cloves garlic
4 Tb butter
Salt and pepper
Good crusty bakery bread

Soak beans over night. Add beans to pot with lots a water, at least an inch over the beans. Add rosemary sprigs, garlic whole and in skin, onion finely chopped, ham chopped and bay leaf. Bring to boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook about 1.5-2 hours until done but not mushy. You want the beans to be brothy but not too much so. If you think there is too much liquid ladle some out. Remove garlic cloves. Peel and mash up garlic add back to pot. Add butter. Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary. Serve beans over toasted pieces of crusty bread along with a nice side salad for a lovely Sunday dinner.

And lastly my most favorite way to eat beans in the world:

Red Beans and Rice

2 cups dried red beans, soaked over night
Green bell pepper chopped
2 stalks celery chopped
One onion chopped
2 Tb fresh savory chopped (optional)
Ham hock (optional but it’s really good so I recommend it)
4 links andouille sausage or chorizo (make sure it’s spicy)
Bay leaf
1 TB plus more to taste Hot sauce such as crystal or Tabasco
Cooked rice to serve

There are a few methods to employ here. Normally I through in everything except the sausage add a lot of water, bring to boil and simmer for 2 hours. Taste for salt, pepper and hot sauce. Then fry up my sausage and serve it on top. I usually leave out the ham hock just to make it a more economical meal. My Mom on the other hand cooks hers with the ham hock and it really is much better and more decedent that way. I think of these as my special occasion red beans and rice versus my own cheaper version. She also fries up her sliced sausage first then adds everything to the pot on top and cooks it. This is nice because you have the added flavor of slow cooking everything in the sausage fat. Regardless of how you make them red beans and rice are so good. Actually I’m pretty sure they are my favorite meal, especially since I can’t eat tacos, my former favorite meal.

Do you eat beans? What is your favorite way to eat them?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Effortless Holiday Entertaining

Like many newly married couples we usually we spend holidays at our parent’s houses. This year we spent Thanksgiving at my Mom’s and Christmas with my in-laws in Portland. We really haven’t hosted many holidays at our house. I did host a father’s day luncheon last year and we occasionally have our parents and/or grandparents over for Sunday dinner and things like that.

But as I mentioned in yesterday’s post we have started an Easter tradition of having our friends from church over for a dinner party. Last year was the first year we did this and I can honestly day that the end of the day last Easter was the most tired I have ever been. I spent the entire day before Easter on my feet grocery shopping, cleaning house and making pies. The morning of Easter I woke up early to make scalloped potatoes for the Easter pot luck brunch at Church. Once we were home from that I cooked all afternoon for the dinner party. I also had to set the table. And since we had so many people we had to completely re-arrange the living room furniture in order to extend the table into the living room with card tables to seat the our 15 guests. When ever thing was finally ready it was eclectic to say the least. Miss-matched table clothes covered the table and were topped with miss-matched dishes, silverware and glasses. The apartment was crowded with people, chairs and generally chaotic, not exactly how I envisioned my first foray into holiday entertaining. The food was good and we were with wonderful friends so it was a good day despite the miss-matching and chaos.

When planning this years Easter festivities I new I did not want a repeat of last year. So I planned more carefully. Not only was there the rabbit dinner to plan and prepare for but this year I was elected to organize the church pot luck brunch. During the week prior to Easter I not only planned my menu for Sunday’s dinner but I made calls to the congregation to organize the church dinner. To ensure we were not short on food for the church brunch I planned to make a pie, mashed sweet potatoes, wild rice salad and pickled beets for the pot luck. Then I needed to make stewed rabbit, salad, dressing and a pie for our dinner party. All of the planning paid off because the day went smoothly and while I was definitely tired after many days of preparation I was able to relax and enjoy Easter and have a clean house by 9pm Sunday night.

The first thing I did was make my menu and grocery list early, as in Tuesday night. I also planned out what days I would do what things. Then I thought about what kind of short cuts I could take to save time. I had all day Friday and Saturday to prepare before Sunday’s festivities. My time table looked like this:

grocery shopping
iron napkins
clean house

Make pies
make wild rice salad
pickle beets
set table
set our serving dishes
arrange flowers
stew rabbit

make mashed sweet potatoes
pick up bread from bakery
make salad dressing
slice bread
re-heat rabbit on stove

To save time I took some shortcuts that really paid off. First, I bought pre-made pie crust. I normally like to make my own crust but I knew this would be a huge time saver and it was. I buy the Pillsbury crust that you unroll into your own pie plate. I also made two strawberry rubarb pies instead of two different types. This is a huge time saver because you can just mix up a double batch of filling and divide it into the two plates. While I did make homemade salad dressing because I love it, I saved time by buying pre washed and mixed salad greens. This way I didn’t have to buy an assortment of lettuces and wash and dry all of them. I simply dressed the greens with cider vinaigrette and called it good. Another huge time saver was using my everyday dishes rather than my good dishes since my good dishes can’t go in the dishwasher. Hand washing 10 dishes at the end of a dinner party is not fun. I also made sure the kitchen was clean before we served dinner and the dishwasher was empty. This way all I had to do was load the dinner dishes and wash a few serving dishes and wine glasses.

What are your tips for easy entertaining?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter and an odd tradition

I love Easter. I love how it is really more of a season beginning with Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent, then followed by Palm Sunday and Holy week, and finally Easter is here and it is truly a day of celebration. Unfortunately we had a very wet and rainy Easter. Tights were in order and soft spring skirts were not going to fly in the torrential down pour. Despite the weather it was a wonderful day. After church we had a pot luck brunch which was filled with wonderful food. The highlight was Gary Lane's delicious roast lamb. Amazing!

After brunch we went to my parents house to visit with my family and participate in our annual Easter egg hunt. My little sister had done her egg hunt in the morning before church so it was just us older kids. Given that fact my Dad decided to create the hardest egg hunt known to man. Seriously it took us 40 minutes to find our eggs. There were 4 of us and we each had 6 eggs to find, one of each color. The hunt was limited to the bonus room. The most ridiculous hiding place was underneath the slip cover of the arm chair. He also had them inside the spines of his work notebooks, behind storage boxes on the book shelf, wedged under the furniture in the corner where you can't see it if you lay on the floor and look underneath. Ridiculous! And the entire time we were tearing the room apart looking for our eggs he was sitting on the couch smirking he was so proud of himself. However, it was worth all the work because our eggs were not filled with candy but rather money. So our efforts were rewarded with a little spending money.

After our egg hunt we went home to put the finishing touches on our own Easter dinner with friends. When you get married you have to find the balance of participating in existing family traditions and creating your own traditions. Easter is where we have really branched out and created our own, albeit strange, traditions. Rather than participating in our family Easter dinner we have one at our house with our friends from church. We have a big dinner party featuring Easter Bunny Stew. I know, strange. It all started last year when our friend Eric mentioned an old girlfriends mother used to make Easter Bunny Stew and it was delicious. We all got to talking and somehow the conversation turned to the commercial appropriation of Easter and so on. We then decided to make Easter Bunny stew on Easter as a response to the commercial appropriation of Easter. Last year was are first attempt and it was a huge hit. We made French rabbit stew with red wine and potatoes. It was so yummy. We had all the young adults from church over and it was a wonderful party. So now its the Easter tradition. This year I decided to make an Italian stewed rabbit and again it was delicious. We served it with good crusty bread from a local bakery and a simple salad.

How was your Easter? What new traditions have you started as a family?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Summer time

Now that Spring is finally among us we can all start thinking about summer. This summer will bring some big news and big changes us. Mr. P graduates law school in May and takes the bar exam in July. I may have some big changes on the job front, more on that later. But perhaps most excitingly we are planning some internation travel as Chris likes to say. We are planning a trip to South America after Mr. P takes his bar exam at the end of July. Details are still in the works but its looking like we will go to Colombia and Brazil. This means of course that I need to start planning my summer travel wardrobe.

Most important is a swim suit. I am so in love with this classic piece at Lands End Canvas. Only with the hertitage hipster bottom instead.
Perfect for the beach in Rio de Janeiro with this tote.
Some other looks I am loving from Lands End Canvas right now.
I have to say I am extremely impressed with this store. It is such a great collection of essential classic pieces and cute summer trends at half the price as J Crew. Also the models are not sickly looking twigs unlike some catalogs.
Do you have any big travel plans for the summer? what travel fashion staples would you recommend?