Monday, June 30, 2014

Menu Plan: Week of June 30

Last Week

On Monday we went to our credit union and started the paperwork to switch to a 12-year mortgage. It would be so great to have all of the house payments taken care of sooner than our original 30-year mortgage.

On Wednesday we had our friend Chuck over to make grilled pizza. Each person got a own pizza crust and put their toppings on.

On Friday Husband Jeff and I tried to go out to a '70s disco dance night, but we were so tired after a long week that we didn't make it too long.  We had a couple drinks, danced for a bit, and were home by about 11:00.

On Saturday morning Husband Jeff and Sonny D went out in the canoe while I was at Core Fusion class.  Husband Jeff was excited to try out his new roof rack for his car he had gotten the day before, he said it made the canoe transporting process so much easier since Sonny D is going to be too small to help for several more years.

On Saturday afternoon I met up with my best friend at the town half way between our houses.  Our kids played at the park and we had a picnic dinner in the park gazebo.  I loved how quiet the town was, not many cars drove past.  Afterwards we treated the kids to frozen custard at Culver's.

On Sunday Sonny D and I went to the farmers' market.  I bought spring rolls, orange-carrot-ginger juice, snap peas, eggs, strawberries, and raspberries.  I've found that Sonny D likes fruit with chocolate, so that's my latest strategy to get more fruits into him.  For the strawberries I drizzle on some chocolate syrup, for the raspberries I tuck a small chocolate chunk inside. In the afternoon we went to our friends' baby shower, it was a cute fiesta Mexican theme, which is always a great idea for the food. 

This Week

  • Monday - On Sunday evening I cooked up a pork shoulder in the pressure cooker and so we're going to have BBQ pulled pork sandwiches with caramelized onions, along with salads, cherries, and strawberries.  Maybe after dinner we'll head over for the weekly concert at the nearby park or take Sonny D out on his little scoot/balance bike. 
  • Tuesday - We'll have more BBQ pulled pork sandwiches and then after dinner I've got Zumba.
  • Wednesday - Cheesy Canadian bacon egg casserole with sweet potatoes.  I'm not sure how I'm going to cook the sweet potatoes yet, shredded hashbrowns? roasted chunks with seasoning? incorporated into the egg bake or on the side?
  • Thursday - Tonight we'll have fish, either frozen Trader Joe's fish Vera Cruz or if Husband Jeff goes out with his dad that night, or Sonny D and I will share a smaller frozen Trader Joe's hake en papillote entree.
  • Friday - For the Fourth of July we're having dinner with both sets of our parents over at my in-laws house.  I'm bringing lemon-basil chickpea salad or massaged kale salad and completely homemade baked beans. 
  • Saturday - Core fusion might be cancelled since there are Fourth of July festivities going on in the same park so Zumba is my fallback plan.  The Fourth of July celebration at the park includes parade, activities, games, music, food. Then in the afternoon I'm having a Mary Kay party.  Thinking about making chocolate banana eclair cake, also known as icebox cake.  This version would be banana pudding mixed with Cool Whip and then layered between graham crackers with chocolate sauce. It'll be a busy day so dinner will be quick and easy -- pasta with red sauce and garlic bread.
  • Sunday - We'll hit the farmers' market like usual in the morning. For dinner I'm totally skipping anything homemade and pulling out a frozen entree, Newman's Own broccoli and beef with rice, along with any leftovers we've got

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Monday, June 23, 2014

Menu Plan: Week of June 23

Last week 

On Monday we went to the summer concert series and saw a neat mariachi band.  Sonny D was really tired that night, so we went home early. 

I attended another delicious chocolate tasting at Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier, led by Gail herself.  She always does a great job of making it interesting and I learned something new even though it was my second time.  And who can turn down great samples!
Gail explaining chocolate. 
We had a windy and chilly pontoon boat ride to breakfast but it turned out really good.  Sonny D did great, he asked questions and was well behaved.  The breakfast itself was only ok, but it was about the boat ride anyway. 
Pontoon boat ride down the river and across two lakes. 
On Sunday morning we met up with friends at the farmers' market.  I think I've gotten them hooked on my favorite spring rolls.  And then later in the day, Sonny D was really patient while a friend and I browsed all over the Viet Hoa Asian market and even ate lunch there. 

This Week

It seems like this week will be pretty quiet, which is always nice. Last week I was really busy and was gone three nights in a row.  
  • Monday - Taco salads and then down to the park for the weekly summer concert, this week it's Ladies Must Swing.  As you can guess, they're a swing group.  Sonny D said he was interested in going, but said he didn't want to dance. 
  • Tuesday - If I'm feeling ambitious on Monday night, I'm going to make BBQ pork in the pressure cooker and caramelized onions in the slow cooker.  I need to make it the night before because it takes a full hour of cooking.  If I end up being lazy, I'll make us French toast for dinner instead.  Then I've got Zumba afterwards.
  • Wednesday - Our friend Chuck is coming over for salads and grilled pizza.  
  • Thursday - I've got Zumba right after work and the guys will eat leftovers of the BBQ pork but maybe some pizza too. 
  • Friday - Maybe we'll have a simple meal for dinner, hot dogs and a veggie.  This is our weekly Me & D night, but I don't have any plans so far.  We're also talking about going out dancing at an event called The Disco Ball that night if we can find a babysitter.  Husband Jeff and I will have to brush up on our dance moves before we go. 
  • Saturday - I've got Core Fusion in the morning and then in the afternoon Sonny D and I are meeting up with my best friend and her 8-year-old twins for playing at the park and a picnic dinner.  I think I'm going to bring tuna salad sandwiches, fruit, a packaged Asian snack (I buy all sorts of things at the Asian market like cuttlefish snacks and flavored seaweed), and a juice box for Sonny D. 
  • Sunday -  Our regular weekly visit to the Northside farmers' market and then in the afternoon a baby shower for our friends Brian & Kristen. We might get enough to eat at the baby shower that dinner won't be much, maybe a can of soup and sandwiches or leftovers if we've got them. 

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Saturday, June 21, 2014


Big pink peonies outside my kitchen window.
Happy first official day of Summer! Summer to me is...
  • Dogs sticking their heads out of car windows, their faces look so joyful about all the smells.
  • The song "Jump" by Van Halen.
  • The smell of spilled stale beer.
  • Not being allowed to bake or cook on the stove.  Husband Jeff complains it heats up the house too much, so we try to grill a lot or use a little propane burner on the deck.  We even put our little electric steamer in the garage or on the deck. 
  • A leafy archway on our tree-lined street greeting me as I come and go from our house.
  • Awesome local produce at the farmers' markets, especially the one only a few blocks from our house.
  • Peonies out my kitchen window.
  • Freezing in buildings because of so much air conditioning.  I actually need to remember more layers in summer than spring or fall.  Summer at my office definitely doesn't mean cute summer clothes at work, I always end up wearing pants and ensuring I have a sweater or something to cover up with. 
  • Harvesting ultra-fresh vegetables from our garden.
  • Fresh corn on the cob loaded up with butter and salt.
  • Exploring construction vehicles for Sonny D and Husband Jeff.
  • Cute polish colors for pedicures because people will actually see your feet!
  • Willingly going to the basement to hang out and enjoy the cold air.  
  • Iced coffee... that I have to end up sharing with Sonny D.  He loves a sweet & creamy coffee, hot or cold.  Luckily I always drink decaf.
  • Choosing lunch spots based on outdoor seating.  
  • The constant annoying whine of lawn implements from our neighbors, blowers, mowers, string trimmers, etc.  Sometimes I grumble about it and wish that it was hot enough that we need to turn on the air conditioning so we can close up the windows to avoid hearing it as much.
  • Needing to worry about the mosquitoes as soon as I leave the house. Oh, and the threat of ticks.  Yuck! 
  • Browsing through other people's things at rummage sales.  I love discovering things I recognize from my childhood or things I kind of wish I had but don't really need. 
  • Delicious tomatoes that you can only get this time of year.
  • An overloaded schedule because you're trying to take advantage of the nice weather and see all your friends.
  • Early sunrise and late sunset.
  • The smell of campfires.
What does summer mean to you?  What are your favorite signs of summer?

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Friday, June 20, 2014

Marinated and Grilled Mushrooms

This recipe didn't come from my stash of bookmarks, it was something I looked up on the spur of the moment and I'm so glad I found it!  It was seriously so good! I made this recipe just for myself since nobody in my family eats mushrooms, but as I was eating the leftovers I offered a mushroom to Sonny D.  He didn't want one but he changed his mind once they were all gone.  Too bad, buddy, should have moved quicker. 

The big tip for this recipe is starting the skewers to soak ahead of time if you've got bamboo ones.  I put mine in a 2-quart pitcher of water and put the lid on to keep them submerged.  And luckily mushrooms don't need a ton of cooking so if you don't get a super long soak they should still be fine since they won't be on the grill long enough to get super charred. 


Natasha's Kitchen grilled mushrooms on skewers

I skipped the parsley and the instructions to whiz it up.  And I substituted Korean red pepper flakes (gochujaru) for the cayenne pepper. 


  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • small handful of parsley (I skipped this)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper  (I replaced this with a sprinkle of gochujaru)
  • 1-2 garlic cloves (mine was minced from a jar)
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 16 oz button or baby bella mushrooms


Put together all of the marinade ingredients and the mushrooms in a bowl or zippered bag and marinate for at least 30 minutes.  I put my mushrooms in the marinade over lunch and grilled them up for dinner, so mine marinated for several hours.

Soak your skewers now too if you've got bamboo ones. 
Mushrooms marinating
Preheat your grill to medium-low heat, about 300 degrees.  Thread the mushrooms onto the skewers and grill for about 3 minutes per side. 
After grilling.  Not attractive, but sooo tasty!


So incredibly good!  I had to exercise my amazing willpower to not eat the whole pound at once and save half for the next day.  I love how simple the marinade is, it's things you

I ran out of lemon juice making this recipe so I couldn't make this same marinade, so a few days later I made an Asian marinade for another batch of mushrooms.  While the second one was quite good, it wasn't as amazing as this one.  We bought another bottle of lemon juice, but now I'm running low on balsamic vinegar.  I definitely need to make sure I'm well stocks on all the ingredients because I'm pretty sure I'm going to make this recipe all summer!

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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Our Garden's Progress: June Update

Here's our garden progress for the last three weeks. First I'll show you the same pictures you saw from Memorial Day and then the pictures from last night.  When we've got cooler days that aren't too sunny, we keep the plastic film up over the white PVC ribs and that keeps the plants nice and warm and humid.  If the day is sunny and hot, Husband Jeff goes out and uncovers it and makes sure to water the plants so they don't dry out. 

Monday, May 26 (Memorial Day)

"Front" of the garden.
The freshly dug area at the edge is for carrot seeds.

Three Weeks Later: Monday, June 16

I couldn't spend much time outside because the sun was going down and the sky was cloudy, which allowed the mosquitoes to be in full "attack" mode.  I don't go out there often since the garden is Husband Jeff's domain, so I don't remember what plants are where. 
"Front" of the garden. I think that's Brussels sprouts
on the right. Dill is the tall feathery stuff in the middle.
Back side with little carrot seedlings that need to be thinned out.
Big basil behind it, asparagus to the left.
Big fabric pot with zucchini(?) flowers in front, tomato plants in back.
Head of cauliflower with my finger to show size.  The stuff on
the right is chocolate mint, it might take over the garden!  Smells wonderful.
Runaway vine spilling over the side, maybe cantaloupe?
A petite head of broccoli.

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Monday, June 16, 2014

Menu Plan: Week of June 16

What Happened Last Week

On Monday we went to the Jet Room to celebrate Sonny D's last week of school. I had such a huge Mexican omelet (add spinach and mushrooms) with an English muffin that I didn't even have lunch that day. 
Monday's breakfast at the Jet Room.

Tuesday we had a landscape designer come from a local nursery to sketch up an idea for an area of our front yard.  A couple weeks ago Husband Jeff tore out a bunch of old bushes that the previous owners seemed to neglect and let get overgrown. We liked the idea the designer came up with and told him to create a full plan for us with specifics.  The cost of his services are included in the price of the plants we'll buy from the nursery, so we figured it was worth it.  Sometimes it pays to have professional help. 

For our Me & D night, we went to the newly renovated public library downtown.  It's been open for probably a year now, but this was my first time going there.  We ended up having to pay $5 to park in the nearby ramp because it was a special event night (Grr!  Wish I had known that before I suggested going downtown!).  Aside from totally overpaying to park, we had a nice time at the library.  He played on a Lego table for a while, we found some more Elmer the Patchwork Elephant books to check out, and he loved the games in the iPad center.  One activity app (Endless Alphabet) he enjoyed was one where the letters from a word get scattered around the screen and you have to drag the letters back to their correct spot in the word.  He was really good at it and I'm considering buying it, but a bit hesitant since it's $7.  I'm sure I'll spring for it if we need to entertain him for a long time, like we're talking about flying somewhere for vacation.  Near the parking ramp we walked through a road under construction, which Sonny D loved since I told him this is where the excavators work during they day.  He loves construction equipment, he calls all of them generically "tractors" but will call them by name if you tell him what they are. 

I took Thursday afternoon off to hang out with Sonny D since his preschool was closed for the transition from the regular school year to "summer camp".  We ran errands downtown and ate lunch at the Fried & Fabulous food truck.   Next time I'll look for something a little healthier, but it was fun to eat outside on a bench on The Square and watch the electric company replacing street lights. 

And we took Friday off to drive up to Minneapolis for a family gathering at Husband Jeff's brother's house.  We had good weather on Friday, but it rained all day Saturday and Sunday.  We somehow successfully went out to lunch with 13 people (three were children under 7), had a great meal at my brother-in-law's house, and managed to get Sonny D into the hotel pool twice. 

This Week

  • Monday - We're going to a concert at the local park near our house and grabbing takeout pizza.
  • Tuesday - I've got Zumba at 6:30, so I'm going with my usual quick-meal fallback, breakfast-for-dinner.  This time I'm making scrambled egg quesadillas and sausage.
  • Wednesday - I'm going to a Moms' Night Out event at K Peppers Korean restaurant.  I'm happy to be going without Sonny D so I can get the bibimbop, which I like served in a ultra-hot rock bowl.  I've always been afraid of him touching it and burning himself.  Husband Jeff is on his own with Sonny D for dinner.  He said he didn't want me to plan out a meal for them, but I will give them food ideas.
  • Thursday - I'm going out for a family birthday dinner at Manna Cafe (newly serving dinner so I'm excited to try it, their lunch items are great) and then to a chocolate tasting at Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier.  Husband Jeff is responsible again for dinner. 
  • Friday - It's Me & D night but later I'm also going out to an Arbonne skin care and cosmetics party at a friend's house.  We'll have to do our activities early so I can head out for the party.  For dinner I was planning on more grilled pizza, this time with chicken, pesto sauce, and artichoke hearts.
  • Saturday - I've got Zumba at 8 a.m. and then afterwards we're going out for a special breakfast.  The community rec program is having a pontoon breakfast, you ride a pontoon boat across the lake, go have breakfast/brunch at the restaurant they drop you off at, and then afterwards ride back across the lake.  I promised Sonny D I'd get him on a boat this summer, so this was my solution.  I hope we have a lot of fun.  We're still trying to determine what activity we'll do for the rest of the day, either the dragon boat races at Capital Lakes DragonFest or Strawberry Fest. I didn't plan dinner because it'll depend on what we do for the day. 
  • Sunday - I'm excited for our usual Northside farmers' market visit, it'll be neat to see what new produce is available at the market since we missed it last week. For dinner I was thinking something Mexican, either tacos or maybe Mexican beef over polenta.  It's usually pretty easy to throw Mexican food together. 

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Sweet And Spicy: Baked Coconut Shrimp With Marmalade Dipping Sauce

I use the Google Bookmarks website for all of my online bookmarks, I don't depend on the browser itself to store my bookmarks because I use so many different devices (work computer, home computer, iPhone, iPad) that I wouldn't be able to transfer them or keep them up to date.  So I use the online service and it's great.  One great feature is that instead of filing a bookmark in a single folder, you can give each one multiple tags.  My general tagging concept for recipes is the protein (beef, chicken, shrimp, vegetarian, etc.), type of dish (main dish, appetizer/snack, dessert, breakfast, etc.), and then an extra tag if it's a light/healthy/low-calorie recipe.  For my weekly meal planning, I check the freezer inventory for the available proteins and then browse my recipes for that protein.  So a few weeks ago I looked through my shrimp recipes and found this recipe for baked coconut shrimp.  Once I rediscovered it, I decided I had to use up the partial bag of shrimp (half a pound) for this and I wouldn't be swayed.  I have liked coconut shrimp in the past, but haven't had it in a long time, so I really wanted to try it. 


You could easily make this gluten-free by using a gluten-free flour for your first breading station.  

Even though I was making only half a batch, I made the full amount of the breading ingredients because I hate running out in the middle of breading and needing to make more while you've got goopy hands.  The only thing I didn't use the full amount on was the coconut because I only had a little bit in the freezer.


serves 2
  • 1/2 pound large shrimp (I buy the Target Market Pantry 41/50 count per pound tail-off, peeled, and deveined)
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

I only had about half a cup of shredded coconut, but I thought it was fine for the half batch and I even had a tiny bit leftover at the end (which promptly went in the trash!). 


I started by brining my defrosted shrimp to marinade them.  Mix together 1 tablespoon of salt with 1/2 pound of shrimp and cover with water (double the amount of salt for a full pound of shrimp).  Let sit for 30 minutes.  Drain and rinse and dry them off a bit by scooping them out onto a couple sheets of paper towel.  

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (not sure it's necessary but it certainly couldn't hurt.)

The breading process.
Meanwhile, mix together the flour, paprika, and garlic powder in one bowl. 

Crack the eggs and put them in another bowl.  Beat with a fork until yellow.

Mix the coconut and salt together in yet another bowl. 

Individually dip each shrimp in the flour mixture, then the beaten eggs, and then dip in the coconut.  Place on the prepared baking sheet.  Bake for 10-12 minutes.  Serve with the dipping sauce. 
Baked coconut shrimp.


Spicy-Sweet Dipping Sauce

For the sauce I looked at a variety of different recipes but I either didn't have all the ingredients or didn't think it was what we were looking for, so I made up my own sauce based on some ideas I saw.  I started by grabbing the new jar of marmalade from the pantry and pulling out all of our spicy condiments from the fridge.  I immediately nixed the Mexican hot sauces, they had too much vinegar. I settled on chili garlic sauce. 
sauce ingredients - chili garlic sauce and orange marmalade. 
other contenders in the background.
I mixed together 2 Tablespoons orange marmalade with 1 Tablespoon chili garlic sauce.  This was the perfect amount for our half pound of shrimp, but if you were making a full batch, I would double the sauce. 
spicy-sweet dipping sauce.

Milder Version
It was pretty spicy, so if you want a milder sauce, go with 3 Tablespoons marmalade and 1/2 tablespoon chili garlic sauce. Or if you're really wussy, try 3 Tablespoons marmalade with 1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce. 


This dish was a little sweeter than I'm used to, but that was because of the dipping sauce.  It was quite good though!  Maybe next time I would add some Dijon mustard to the sauce and reduce the amount of marmalade to get a less-sweet sauce. 

The recipe wasn't too fussy, so you could make this dish as an appetizer for a small dinner party. 

The shrimp weren't exactly crunchy by the end of dinner, so next time I would use half coconut flakes and half panko breadcrumbs for the final breading to ensure it was extra crunchy.  Also the coconut could have been more toasted but I didn't want to bake the shrimp any longer or they might get overcooked.  So I would toast the coconut a tiny bit first, maybe for 3-4 minutes in the oven or until it's barely light golden colored before mixing it in the breading bowl.   

I also felt like there could have been more spice on the shrimp themselves but I'm not sure what, maybe some Old Bay seasoning in the flour mixture?  I don't have any of that but I've been looking to get some.  I actually have no idea what it even tastes like. 

Husband Jeff wasn't really into the whole coconut shrimp idea, but said I could make it anyway.  I'm glad he indulges my cooking plans. He loved the sauce a lot.  It would probably be really good as a spicy-sweet glaze for grilled chicken legs. 

Sonny D had fish sticks for dinner because he hasn't been interested in shrimp in the past.  He wouldn't even try the shrimp. He would have probably enjoyed the sweet sauce but it would have definitely been too hot for him.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A Good Long Soak: Soaked & Fermented Oatmeal

The whole reason I created a sourdough starter was to use it to ferment my oatmeal rather than using a dairy product like yogurt since I've found that I really don't care for milk/dairy.  Some say soaking grains increases nutrient content and makes whole grains more digestible.  I figured I would give it a shot to see if I noticed a difference. And the sourdough starter has been a fun experiment and a reason to make some new things like sourdough crackers and pizza dough. 

It took a while for my sourdough starter to actually be a full-grown starter and then it took me even longer to actually feel comfortable enough to try it out on my oatmeal.  I'm not sure what I was afraid of, but I was generally hesitant.

The Process

I typically cook up a 5-serving batch of my oatmeal overnight in my small slow cooker so I can have oatmeal for a few days.  The day before I want to cook my oatmeal, I measure out the amount of rolled oats and steel-cut oats and put them in the in the slow cooker with the right amount of water.  My current recipe is 1 cup rolled oats, 1/2 cup steel-cut oats, and 3 cups of water.  Then I pull Billy Jean (sourdough starter) out of the fridge to add a spoonful and let the batch sit out on the counter until I'm ready to cook it.

It doesn't really look much different than a normal batch, you wouldn't be able to tell it was different other than a milky look to the water from the flour. There's a slight smell from the fermented sourness, but it's pretty similar to the smell of fresh bread dough.  Kinda yeasty and warm.
Adding a spoonful of gloppy sourdough starter.

Spoonful of oats. 
Let it soak for the desired amount of time. And this is where things can get different.  The first time I tried it, I soaked it for about two days, mainly because I wasn't paying attention and I didn't think it would be a big deal. Well, it totally was a big deal, the resulting oatmeal was so sour! It was as if I had made it with a huge dose of tangy buttermilk. Not enjoyable. I still ate it, but I made a note to never soak it that long again. Bleh.

The next time I soaked it for about 24 hours.  That was fine, a tiny bit sour but barely noticeable after I add fruit and cinnamon and whatever else to my bowl of oatmeal. 

I think I've finally got it adjusted down to where I like it.  I soak it for about 12 hours before cooking, so the morning that I finish up my last serving of oatmeal from the fridge, I set up a batch to soak and then cook it that night. 


Is it worth it?  I don't know.  I don't think I feel any different after eating it.  I'll keep soaking/fermenting my oatmeal for a while and then if I feel lazy I'll skip the soaking for a batch to see if I feel a difference.

Wanna Chat?

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Monday, June 9, 2014

Menu Plan: Week of June 9

Week in Review

On Thursday we went to Sonny D's preschool picnic and sing-along in the school backyard.  It was a gorgeous night and we brought crackers & hummus, grapes, granola bars, and picked up an order of fried chicken at our favorite meat market.  The chicken was great.  Sonny D's not really into participating, so he sat on one of his teacher's laps while everybody around him sang.

We had our lawn dug up by an excavator on Thursday morning.  Sonny D was in heaven watching from the front window.
Local mushrooms soaking up the marinade.
I discovered an awesome marinade for mushrooms.  I had to restrain myself from eating the whole batch all at once and making myself sick from too much food. I mixed up a second batch of the marinade and wanted to use it for chicken and my big portobello mushrooms I got at the Sunday farmers' market, but I ended up using it only for the chicken and making an Asian marinade for my portobellos. 
Part of my rummage sale haul.
I went out shopping at our neighborhood rummage sales on Friday and Saturday.  I had a great score on Friday when Husband Jeff and I were out together.  My best score was a brand-new set of wide-mouth canning jars that I'll use to ferment up some sauerkraut.  I was also so excited about finding a vintage bandage tin to put all our Bandaids in.  When I combined everything I found that we had four partially-used boxes of adhesive bandages!  

We went to a B-Boy contest on Saturday evening, it was so super cool. Lots of very talented young men (and my husband said a young lady but I didn't see her) with impressive physical moves. I had no idea until we went, but "b-boy" is the proper term for breakdancing.   

We failed at taking care of our friends' dog while they're on vacation.  Sonny D was so freaked out by their dog that by the third day we had to take him back to his house for the night and then to a pet resort (boarding).  We told Sonny D it was a doggie hotel. 
Farmers' market haul.
At our usual Sunday morning farmers' market visit I spent a good chunk of money.  I got two spring rolls ($5), asparagus ($4), ground lamb ($8), eggs ($4), strawberries ($5, this lady was charging $1 more than everybody else, but hers looked the best), and a couple big portobello mushrooms (I think $5.35).

On Sunday morning I picked up a Moroccan-inspired stencil to paint a design on the wooden bedroom valences Jeff made a couple years ago.  This is the second thing I'm doing as part of the interior decorator spruce-up I've got going on.  The first thing I did was to take everything off the top of our kitchen chalkboard.  I need to take some photos to show the "before" look and my "after" progress.

This Week

  • Monday -This is Sonny D's last week of the regular school year, so we went out for breakfast at The Jet Room.  Things were pretty quiet and I thought we might end up without seeing any action, but we eventually saw about four planes take off or land.  For dinner we're having salads along with baked coconut shrimp with spicy orange marmalade dipping sauce, fish sticks for Sonny D. 
  • Tuesday -  I wanted an interesting breakfast-for-dinner meal like savory French toast, French toast bananas (using bananas instead of bread), or Canadian bacon breakfast sandwiches, etc. Not sure what we'll actually end up with. 
  • Wednesday - The weather forecast says it'll be a slightly cooler night so I'm going to make slow cooker pizza stew. It's supposed to be topped with biscuit dough cooked up like dumplings, but I've made a similar recipe in the past and found that it was better to just make the biscuits as regular biscuits in the oven. 
  • Thursday - I've got my usual Latin hip-hop cardio class right after work so Husband Jeff is on his own to cook up the feta-stuffed lamb burgers with cucumber yogurt dipping sauce.   I'm going to prep them so all he needs to do is grill them.
  • Friday - We're hanging with family all weekend.  I'm responsible for making the side dish for Friday night dinner.  Husband Jeff suggested pizza pasta salad or antipasto salad while I'm thinking about the lemon-basil chickpea salad I made a couple times last year.  The pizza pasta salad might go over well with the kids though.  Maybe we'll make both. 
  • Saturday - I have no idea what the day will bring.  We're talking about grilling out again for dinner or maybe going out to a restaurant.
  • Sunday - I'm sad we won't be able to walk over to our usual farmers' market visit since we're not going to be around. How will I survive without my weekly spring roll?  Or Sonny D's new weekly ritual of kettle corn?  Oh well.  I think for dinner we'll have something easy, like sandwiches or soup. 

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Thursday, June 5, 2014

Grilled Homemade Pizza

This was some heavy-duty pizza making but I had fun rising to the challenge.  Over lunch I made my own pizza dough using part of my sourdough starter.  I enjoyed kneading the dough while I watched a TV show on my iPad.  Then after work I mixed up my own pizza sauce, not because I'm aiming for a "super cook of the year" award, but out of necessity since we didn't have any canned pizza sauce in the pantry and Husband Jeff declares there's a huge difference between spaghetti/marinara/pasta sauce and pizza sauce.  But the sauce was really easy, it's pretty much just tomato paste and spices.

Once all of the toppings were ready, we preliminarily grilled the crust, topped it, and then put it back on to finish cooking and heat up the toppings. I'm glad I didn't make the sausage or the cheese, but rest assured, I do have two mozzarella cheese making kits, so it's possible! 
Messy homemade pizza sauce. Should have used a bigger bowl.
Of course you don't have to make your own crust, you could use one of those pre-cooked Boboli crusts (use medium heat since you're just warming it) or buy some Trader Joe's premade refrigerated dough.  But if you want pizza tonight and don't want to go to the store, here's a quick 10-minute, four ingredient pizza dough recipe. It doesn't require a lot of kneading and uses a bottle of beer instead of yeast.  I've made it before and it's quite good.

I'm going to cover the general grilling part of the pizza so you understand the concept, but also included the recipes for the pizza crust and the sauce in case you want to try those as well.  


I put only half of the pizza sauce on the pizza since the grilling instructions said not to load it up with sauce or it would get soggy.  I heated up some of the remaining sauce for Husband Jeff so he could dip his pizza since he likes a lot of sauce.

You can make this vegetarian by using your favorite vegetarian pizza toppings.  It can also be dairy-free if you leave off the cheese.  Once upon a time I had an awesome tuna and artichoke pizza that didn't have cheese or red sauce.  So incredibly good.  Maybe a hummus sauce and topped with tuna and artichoke hearts?   Or cheese-free pesto with chicken and tomato slices?


Set up your grill for medium-high heat. 

Pat/stretch the dough until you get the thickness you want.  For grilling I recommend a thinner crust to ensure it gets fully cooked in the middle.  This is not the time for a thick pizza. We have a wide gas grill, not a round kettle charcoal grill, so a long pizza worked out fine.  If you have a round grill, aim for a rounder crust. I'm terrible at rolling out baked goods in a desired shape, I just aim to get it the right thickness.

My dough wasn't sticky, so I was able to roll it out with my rolling pin on my big baking sheet.  I sprinkled the baking sheet with a bit of flour to ensure we could slide it off when the time was right. 
Rolling out the dough.

While the grill was getting up to temperature and Husband Jeff cleaned it off and oiled the grate, I cut two Trader Joe's sweet Italian sausages into rounds.  The sausages are already cooked, but I heated them them in a pan to ensure they got a little brown.   I also chopped up some green olives and pulled out the frozen shredded cheese to let it defrost a bit. 
cooked up the pre-cooked sausage
When the grill is ready, transfer the crust to the grill and cook for about 2 minutes. Thee crust stuck to the baking sheet a tiny bit on one side, but we were able to get it on the grill without any real issues.  After the two minutes, use a pair of tongs to turn the crust 90 degrees and cook it for another minute to get pretty cross-hatch grill marks. Our grill was quite hot and we had to pull it off before the time was up to ensure it didn't burn. 
First grilling of the crust.  A tiny bit darker than I like.
The instructions said to spread the browned side of the crust with olive oil, but I don't know what good that did.  I followed it anyway.  Butter would be good too.
Husband Jeff enjoying wine on the deck while the grill heats up.
After a slathering of olive oil on the grilled side of the crust, add the sauce and toppings on the grilled side as well.  The ungrilled side will go down on the grill so it gets some color (ours got a lot, almost burned that side too!) and close the lid to ensure the toppings get warmed up and the cheese melts.
Finished pizza.  No green olives on Sonny D's side.


Next time we'll turn the grill down, it was really hot.  I would also like to season the crust more, maybe with some herbs and spices but possibly also more salt.  I wish we had a charcoal grill to add that awesome charcoal flavor, but I do like the quickness and ease of lighting up a gas grill.

The instructions I followed for grilling the pizza were kind of confusing and I had to check them several times to make sure I understood what was going on.  It's actually really simple:
  1. Put the raw crust on the grill, cook for about 2 minutes.
  2. Take crust off the grill, flip it so the grilled side is up and cover with sauce and toppings. 
  3. Put the pizza back on the grill and cook for 2-3 more minutes. Slice and enjoy.
I thought the pizza was fine, but I'm not a huge pizza fan.  Husband Jeff loved it and said it was almost as good as his favorite frozen pizza, Jack's rising crust. Sonny D ate several slices, so I think it was a hit with him too. Since I'm the cook, I used my choice of Trader Joe's sweet Italian sausage (love it!) rather than our usual pepperoni topping, but I would have also loved a bunch of mushrooms on it.  My guys are against mushrooms, so I chose to skip them for family harmony. 

Next time I would also look up how to make a chewy Neapolitan pizza crust.  I think that is allowed to rise and rest for at least two days, which I would hope would make it chewier. And probably adding some bread flour rather than all-purpose. 

Maybe next time I would go with smaller rounds of dough so we could each have our own pizza and it would be easier to manage on the grill.  The guys are pretty traditional with their toppings and I want different things, like maybe an Indian pizza with palak paneer, or eggplant and zucchini with mushrooms.  Or a Mexican pizza with enchilada sauce, beans, cheese, tomato, taco meat, and sauteed spinach. 

Wanna Chat?

I turned off the 'leave a comment' feature, so if you want to share what you're thinking about this or anything else, drop me an email at jhk1013 (at) It's so much more cozy than a comment, plus we can have a real conversation!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Made In The Pressure Cooker: Ginger-Vanilla Syrup

I saw this recipe mentioned in a pressure cooker newsletter a couple weeks ago and was immediately smitten with the idea.  I felt it was urgent to get some ginger immediately to I sent Husband Jeff a quick text message in case he went to the grocery store that day (he didn't).  It was right around Memorial Day weekend and I knew we were too busy to even deal with making this recipe, so I didn't push to go to the grocery store that night.  I ended up buying ginger a few days later and made it on Monday night. I was particularly inspired to make this recipe as soon as I could to show my friend Jessica since she bought her husband a SodaStream carbonated beverage machine but they've only used it a few times to make sparkling water but that's about it.  I'm guessing they don't know what to do with it other than using the pre-made flavorings that you can buy that go with the machine, so here's an idea.

This recipe originally called for 4 cups of water, but that version cooks for an hour to reduce down the liquid.  My version is made in the pressure cooker, where the water doesn't evaporate away much, so I started with the end amount of water. My pressure cooker needs only a minimum of 1/2 cup of water to reach pressure, so I had no problem reducing the water down to half the original recipe. 

The recipe didn't include vanilla, but this was the perfect reason to use up my remaining vanilla bean, it was a bit shriveled up and dried out.  I was saving it for making a special jelly, but I don't think I'm going to make any jelly this year, so I might as well use it here.

You can make this recipe without a pressure cooker, just cook it in an uncovered pot for 45 minutes to 1 hour, as described in the original recipe.  



  • 8oz ginger
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 vanilla bean, split (optional)


Wash and rinse the ginger. Slice the ginger into rounds and then chop some more into rough pieces. 

Add the ginger, water, sugar, salt, and optional vanilla bean to the pressure cooker.  Go ahead and turn the burner on now while you're stirring it all up.  Might as well save time if you can! 
Sugar, water, salt, and ginger all in the pot. 
Added a vanilla bean and stirred.

Lock the pressure cooker and set it to high pressure if you have that option.  Since it was such a small amount of water, it got hot pretty quickly for me.  Cook at high pressure for 22 minutes and adjust the temperature to keep it at high pressure.  In the first five minutes of cooking the awesome pungent smell of ginger filled our kitchen, but as it continued to cook it wasn't as fragrant. 
Pressure cooking. 
After 22 minutes, take the pressure cooker off the burner and do a natural pressure release, which is easy since you let it sit and don't do anything.  I let mine sit for a while to cool since I was off doing other things in the house. Remove the lid and take a look at the chopped bits of ginger.  Huh, not much different than when you put it in, just a little darker because you left the skin on. 
After cooking, this is what it looked like.
I poured the syrup through a strainer and funnel combo (strainer put in a funnel) to get it into Sonny D's little glass pitcher. 


I mixed up a La Croix sparkling lime water with two tablespoons of the syrup so I could try it out before I went to bed.  I love it!  It's definitely got some ginger bite.  The next day I had another version with coconut sparkling water and it was great, too.   The vanilla bean flecks sink to the bottom of the syrup so you might want to stir it before pouring, but that's no big deal. 
Sparkling water + ginger-vanilla syrup = tasty drink!
I don't drink alcoholic beverages much, but I'm trying to come up with a recipe that would use this.  I would love a riff on the Dark & Stormy (ginger beer and rum).  I need to check out what alcohols we've got in the pantry to see what I can whip up.  
I've got some chocolate mint growing in the garden and no plans on what to do with it yet, so I think I'll probably end up making a chocolate mint syrup. That version won't need as much cooking, the recipes I'm finding say only 3-5 minutes of cooking on the stovetop.  You can also make fruit versions, which I'll probably try out this summer too.

Wanna Chat?

I turned off the 'leave a comment' feature, so if you want to share what you're thinking about this or anything else, drop me an email at jhk1013 (at) It's so much more cozy than a comment, plus we can have a real conversation!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Menu Plan: Week of June 2

Last Week

This past week I discovered I don't like rhubarb and strawberry together.  I made another batch of roasted rhubarb compote and picked up a package of strawberries since they were on sale and figured I'd combine them for that classic flavor combo in my oatmeal. I finished it, but did not like it at all.   I ended up eating the rhubarb in my oatmeal and ate the strawberries separate by slicing them and pouring non-dairy creamer on top. 
Friday's Sushi for me and Sonny D.

On Friday for Me & D night I took Sonny D out for sushi at Takumi.  He was excited about it since he likes seaweed, fish, and rice, but it ended up he wasn't exactly ga-ga for it.  He did like some of the fish, loved the avocado, and chowed the tempura shrimp from one of the rolls but didn't care for all of it together.   So I ended up pulling a lot of things apart so he could eat his favorite parts. I was proud that he tasted pretty much everything.  My new favorite thing was the spinach rolls (at the end of my chopsticks in the photo) simple but good.  We had a good time though going out for a meal by ourselves, we haven't done that in a long time.

For dinners during the week I ended up not making several of the dishes I was planning, mainly the grilled pizza and the coconut shrimp.  Our plans changed and luckily they were both dishes that could easily be switched up, no meat was defrosted or any other planning ahead. 
Spicy ranch dressing on my lunch salad.
I created a new salad dressing creation, light ranch dressing with Taco Bell hot sauce. This is my version of the Bolthouse salsa ranch yogurt dressing I've been looking for at the grocery store.  Our store only has four of the Bolthouse yogurt dressings and salsa ranch isn't one of them. I also love the Trader Joe's healthy 8 chopped veggie mix.  It's a tub of pre-chopped veggies that are great to add to salads. 

Burgers & Brew event, I filled in at one of the booths for a bit.  Fun and fast-paced.
I had a great time working at the Burgers and Brew event on Saturday.  I was there mainly to put up the signs, but I ended up doing a whole lot of other things like putting up tents, filling the napkins for each booth, setting up the information table, folding tee shirts, cutting apart a roll of stickers, filling in for a booth volunteer, etc.  Once the event started, my husband and friends showed up and we all chowed down on burgers.  Some of the burgers are so big, there's a minimum of 1/4 pound of meat but some are definitely bigger than that.  I'm glad I got my friends to bring a knife so we could cut them in half and share them for maximum tasting.  My second favorite was a vegetarian spinach Florentine patty with roasted red pepper sauce and my top favorite was the a Mexican burger with a lot of spicy flavors.  A lot of the burgers were rather bland and all about the same concept, a cheeseburger. Next time we'll share the three burgers rather than each getting our own tickets since it's so much food.  But I'll definitely buy more drink tickets, I loved the three flavors of local soda from WiscoPop.  I would rank them the ginger beer as my favorite, it tasted like real ginger.  The cherry bomb was #2, it's made with real Door County cherries and you can definitely tell.  The root beer was a bit much for my friends (two of them agreed that it reminds them of root beer barrel candies) but I loved how it was a different root beer flavor since it's made with all real ingredients. 

Husband Jeff and I at Ride the Drive, trying to keep up with Sonny D.
On Sunday we took Sonny D downtown for Ride the Drive where they close down some major streets to cars and trucks and allow pedestrians and bicyclists.  Sonny D rode his scoot bike (no pedals, helps them learn balance) and he had a great time.  He got a lot of "thumbs up" from other cyclists who thought he was so adorable.  His favorite part was when we went into the big tunnel underneath the Monona Terrace community and convention center. He loves tunnels

On Sunday afternoon my new interior decorator lady came over, Sarah Helf. She was so awesome! She's my age, not stuffy, and really seemed to understand what I'm looking for -- accessorizing with colorful items and not expensive.  We chatted straight for 2.5 hours and we came up with a lot of awesome ideas that have really inspired me.  

This Week

  • Monday - Grilled pizza made with homemade crust (using part of Billy Jean, my sourdough starter) and topped with Trader Joe's Italian chicken sausage, a frozen bag of garden veggie medley, grilled asparagus, and salads
  • Tuesday - I've got my regular Latin hip-hop cardio class (Zumba) after work so I'm going to cheat a bit on dinner by opening some packets of Indian food and serve it with rice and naan bread. I love the packets of Indian food and we need to eat them or stop buying them. 
  • Wednesday - I want to see if I can make Singapore rice noodles, but I need to check if I even have rice noodles at home!
  • Thursday - We're taking care of our friends' dog Fuller for a week, so this will be an adventure for us.  Sonny D has been asking for us to get a dog again (ours died last year) but he also seems really hesitant about dogs, so I'm hoping he'll get comfortable with him.  For dinner we're going to Sonny D's preschool for a picnic and sing-along.  For the picnic we're going to pick up fried chicken from our favorite meat market, Jim's Meat Market. It works out well since the meat market is on the way to the school.   I'm sure I can scrounge around the house to find some other picnic food. 
  • Friday - It's Me & D night again, I have no idea what we're going to do for entertainment.  Husband Jeff wants to grill burgers so we'll pick those up at the meat market the night before when we're getting the fried chicken. 
  • Saturday - In the morning I've got my last Core Fusion class of the semester.  During the day there are many things to do, but I'm mainly excited to hit the neighborhood rummage sales. Around dinner time we're going to a B-Boy battle at the local high school.  I have no idea what to expect, but I'm interested to check it out and try new things. I'm not sure how we'll handle dinner since the event will be from 5-7 p.m, maybe they'll have things to eat there? 
  • Sunday - We're doing our regular visit to the northside farmers' market in the morning.  And I know it's not seasonally appropriate, but I want to pull out some frozen chili for dinner.  Maybe we'll have it on hot dogs to make chili dogs

Wanna Chat?

I turned off the 'leave a comment' feature, so if you want to share what you're thinking about this or anything else, drop me an email at jhk1013 (at) It's so much more cozy than a comment, plus we can have a real conversation!