Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Food Snob I Am Not

So it's pretty obvious that I like food.  I like thinking about food, I like looking at food, I like cooking food, and I like eating food.  But I am actually not at all a food snob.  Actually, a part of me really likes crap food.  For example, I love Papa John's pizza and I luuurve McDonald's.  I think McDonald's has the best french fries in the world.  I don't eat at these places often (though I would at least once a week if health wasn't a concern), but last Saturday night at about 11:30 PM, Mark suggested we get McDonald's.  Mark is actually not a big fan of the golden arches so I wasn't going to let this opportunity go to waste!  Out we went...I ate a quarter pounder with cheese, french fries, and some chicken mcnuggets.  All delicious!!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Black Friday in NYC

Mark had to work on Black Friday, so I decided to take up my friends' offer to come in and hang out in NYC that day.  It was an unusually warm and beautiful day!  We walked around the city and in central park and had some good eats.  So nice to have a chill day hanging out with friends!

Central Park Skating Rink

Monday, November 28, 2011

Pear and Gruyere Strata

Happy Monday!  I had a relaxing holiday weekend and actually feel refreshed enough to go back to work today. 

We decided to have a non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner this year (in that we didn't have turkey).  I made a pear and gruyere strata from a recipe I found in Cooking Light.  It was pretty good and tasted even better the day after cooking it.  This recipe is nice because you are supposed to make it the night before you plan to bake it, so less work the day of an event.  The strata was pretty good--Mark liked it too.  I'm definitely going to keep the recipe around.  I forgot to bring my SLR camera so these pictures of the finished product were taken with Mark's cell phone. 

Pear and Gruyere Strata

4 cups sliced peeled Anjour or Concorde pear
2 teaspoons butter, melted
6 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
12 (1-oz) slices cinnamon swirl bread (such as Pepperidge Farm), cut in half diagonally
Cooking spray
1 cup (4 oz) shredded Gruyere cheese
1 1/2 cups 1% low-fat milk
4 eggs
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon brown sugar

1. Combine pear, butter, and 1 tablespoon sugar in a large bowl.  Toss gently.
2.  Arrange half of bread in an 11x7 glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray.  Spoon pear mixture evenly over bread; top evenly with cheese.  Arrange remaining bread over cheese.

3.  Combine the remaining 5 tablespoons granulated sugar, milk, eggs, and cinnamon, stirring with a whisk.  Pour milk mixture over bread, pressing down to submerge.  Cover and chill 8 hours or overnight.
4.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
5. Uncover dish.  Sprinkle brown sugar evenly over bread.  Bake at 350 degrees for 55 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let stand 10 minutes. 
My Thanksgiving Day Plate

Friday, November 25, 2011

Another NYC weekend--Day 2

This post is summing up the weekend that my dad and brother were here two weeks ago.  I had a really good time with them and we did a lot of things together!  I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving!  

On my family's last full day here, we had tickets to see the play "The Mountaintop" on Broadway.  The play stars Samuel L. Jackson as MLK and Angela Basset as a hotel maid...that's it.  Just the two of them.  It was awesome--Both of the actors were amazing!  The play takes place in a hotel room the night before MLK was shot.  It's definitely worth seeing.

I haven't gone to see a Broadway show in a long time--there's nothing out that particularly appeals to me, except for the Book of Mormon, but I don't want to pay a gajillion dollars to go see it.  I think "The Mountaintop" might be my 15th Broadway show that I've seen?  I'm not sure...I lost count somewhere along the way, but I think it's somewhere around 15.

After the show, we went to the heart of Times Square where they were having a Super Mario exhibit thingy.  It looked really neat!

My dad also wanted to get some gyros, so we stopped by a few food carts.

In the above picture, we bought some hats for my cousin's kids--I was just being silly and put one of them on.  They were soft and warm!
We had dinner at a pub and then got some slices of Junior's cheesecake before we left the city.  Mark and I got a slice of blueberry cheesecake and red velvet cake and my brother got pumpkin swirl cheesecake.  They were all delicious!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Another NYC weekend--Day 1

When my dad and brother were visiting, we went into NYC on Friday and Saturday.  On Friday, Mark had to work, so we took the train into the City.  We stopped and had lunch in Chinatown and then we went to see Ground Zero and the Freedom Towers.  I thought we could go to the new memorial they have there but it turns out you need to reserve tickets online in advance!  You can't buy the tickets there.  So that was a disappointment. 

From Ground Zero, we went to Rockefeller Center.  They just put up that tree that day (without lights or anything) so I was glad they were able to see it.  Good timing!  We also went into the Lego store that was just off the plaza.  Inside, they had a Lego display of Rockefeller center--it was pretty neat. 

After Rockefeller Center we went to Times Square, walked around for a little bit, then went into the Hard Rock Cafe for a drink and a small bite to eat.

It was a long day!  We finally made it back to Lyndhurst at about 7:30 PM and then Mark joined us for sushi at a restaurant not far from where we live.

All in all, we saw a lot of things and it was a good day!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Not Yo' Mama's Banana Pudding

Yep--Not Yo' Mama's Banana Pudding.  That is the official name of this recipe from Paula Deen.  I first tasted this when my friend April made it.  April and I met when we interned together at the VA hospital in Temple, TX.  She admitted that she was not a cook, but all year she kept telling me how she made the best banana pudding.  I didn't really believe her because come on, it's banana pudding.  I like pudding and all, but how good could it be?  She kept telling me "no, really, I make the best banana pudding.  I get compliments on it all the time."  Finally, toward the end of our internship year, she made it.  It was love at first bite.  This is some darn good banana pudding!  And the name of the recipe is right on.  This is banana pudding but it is also so much more.

I made this dessert at our pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving.  I know people like to have pie for dessert at Thanksgiving, but Mark has been asking me to make this pudding.  I have only made it once before and Mark has been asking for me to make it ever since.  He says it is his favorite thing that I make!  I refuse to make a whole tray of it for just the two of us though, so this was a good opportunity to make it and share it with others.

Not Yo' Mama's Banana Pudding

2 bags Pepperidge Farm Chessmen cookies
6 bananas, sliced
2 cups of milk
1 (5-oz) box instant French vanilla pudding
1 (14-oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (12-oz) container Cool Whip, thawed

Line the bottom of a 13 x 9 x 2 inch dish with 1  bag of cookies and layer bananas on top.

In a bowl, combine the milk and pudding mix and blend well using a handheld electric mixer.  Using another bowl, combine the cream cheese and condensed milk together and mix until smooth.

Fold the whipped topping into the cream cheese mixture.  Add the cream cheese mixer to the pudding mixture and stir until well blended.

Pour the mixture over the cookies and bananas and cover with remaining cookies.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  (You can make this all one day ahead of when you plan to serve it--it keeps overnight pretty well.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sourdough Bread Stuffing

Happy Monday everyone!  I'm glad this is going to be a short week! 

I'm continuing my posts about Thanksgiving recipes.  Maybe you'll give some of these a try this year. I decided to make my own stuffing for our pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving dinner.  I've never done this before but I was willing to try it.  I combined a few different recipes to make it and it was not too difficult and delicious.  It was definitely worth making your own rather than using Stove Top or something like that.  I made a sourdough bread stuffing with cremini mushrooms, bacon, dried cranberries, and Gruyere cheese.

Sourdough Bread Stuffing

1-pound loaf sourdough bread
6 tablespoons butter
10 oz cremini mushrooms
4 stalks celery with leaves, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
10 springs fresh thyme, leaves stripped from the stems
3.5 cups low-sodium chicken broth
8 oz. bacon, cooked and chopped
1/2 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
1/2 cup dried cranberries
3 tbsp chopped Italian parsley leaves

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 2 quart baking dish and set aside.

Cut or tear the bread into 1-inch cubes and spread it evenly on 2 baking sheets.  Toast the bread in the oven until completely dry and beginning to crisp and brown, about 20 minutes.  Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the mushrooms and a few pinches of salt and saute, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 6-8 minutes.  Add celery, onion, 2 tablespoons butter, and thyme.  Once the butter has melted, cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes.

Add remaining 2 tablespoons of butter.  Add chicken broth to skillet and stir to combine.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Pour the chicken broth mixture, bacon, Gruyere cheese, and dried cranberries over the bread cubes and toss to combine until the bread cubes absorb the liquid.  Pour the mixture into the greased baking dish and sprinkle with parsley.  Bake in the center of the oven until heated through and the top is golden brown, about 40 minutes.  Remove the stuffing from the oven and allow to cool about 15 minutes before serving.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Fully Loaded Mashed Potatoes

I love potatoes.  They would be my "desert island food," as in if I were stranded on a desert island and could only eat one type of food for the rest of my life, it would be potatoes.  No doubt.  I also saw on the Today show recently that potatoes have more potassium than a banana.  For our pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving meal, I made fully loaded mashed potatoes, which I'm sure are less healthy compared to a banana, but it tasted good.

Fully Loaded Mashed Potatoes

10 Yukon gold potatoes, washed
1/2 cup milk
3 tbsp butter
1/2 cup sour cream
8 oz. bacon, cooked and chopped
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup scallions, chopped

Fill a pot with cold water (enough to cover the potatoes) and add 2 tbsp. of salt.  When water boils, add potatoes and cook until you can easily pierce the potatoes with a fork.  Drain the cooked potatoes and return the potatoes to the pot.  Add the milk and butter.  You can use more or less milk depending on how thick you like your potatoes.  Use a potato masher to mash the potatoes and mix them with the milk and butter.  Once mashed to your desired consistency, add the sour cream, bacon, cheddar cheese, and scallions and mix well.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thanksgiving Turkey and pre-Thanksgiving celebrations

My dad and brother came to visit last week for a long weekend.  Since I haven't celebrated Thanksgiving with my family in 12 years or so, I wanted to celebrate it with them while they were here.  So I decided to make a pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving dinner.  Here's the menu I created:  Appetizer--cocktail shrimp with cocktail sauce; Main Course--Turkey (duh); Side Dishes--Green Bean Casserole, Sourdough Bread Stuffing, Cranberry Sauce, Loaded Mashed Potatoes; Dessert--Not Yo' Mama's Banana Pudding (recipes to follow in the coming days).

My Plate

I spent a total of about 5 hours cooking.  Everything went pretty smoothly except things didn't finish cooking at the same time.  So the food was more room temperature by the time we ate it.  My dad helped me with the cooking even though I was the one "in charge."  He was more of my assistant :)  It was really nice to have someone helping me out in the kitchen. 

My in-laws also came over for dinner and everyone seemed to enjoy the meal.  It was really nice to have Thanksgiving (sort of) with my family!

I'm going to post the recipes separately, but here's the recipe I used for the turkey (it's a modified recipe from Giada DeLaurentis I found on  Dinner was running late and people were hungry so I forgot to take a picture of my first cooked turkey...arghh! 

Turkey with Herbs and Citrus

1 (13 lb) turkey
1 orange, cut into wedges
1 lemon, cut into wedges
1 onion, cut into wedges
5 fresh rosemary sprigs
5 fresh sage sprigs
5 fresh thyme sprigs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
4 cups canned low-sodium chicken broth

Position the rack in the lowest third of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.

Rinse the turkey and pat it dry with paper towels.  Place the turkey on a rack set inside a large roasting pan.  Place the orange and lemon wedges, onion, and 2 sprigs of each fresh her in the main turkey cavity.

In a small bowl, combine 4 tablespoons of butter, salt, and pepper.  Rub the butter mixture all over the turkey and between the turkey breast meat and skin.

Cover the turkey breast with foil.  Roast for 20 minutes.  Pour 2 cups of broth into the pan and stir to scrape up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan.  Add the remaining sprigs of fresh herbs to the pan.  Roast the turkey for 40 minutes.  Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.  Remove the foil from the turkey.  Pour 1 more cup of broth in the pan.  Continue roasting the turkey until the meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 165 degrees to 175 degrees or until the juices run clear when the thickest part of the thigh is pierced with a skewer, basting occasionally with pan juices, about 1 hour and 30 minutes longer.  Transfer the turkey to a platter and tent with foil.  Let stand 30 minutes.

Before the Turkey went in the Oven

The Only Picture I Have of the Cooked Turkey

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


This lasagna recipe is from our friend TJ.  He made it for us when we visited him and his wife, Michele, in Wisconsin and was nice enough to pass on this delicious recipe to me.  I've made it twice so far and it's turned out perfectly delicious each time.  Thanks TJ!


1 lb ground sweet sausage
2 cloves garlic, minched
15 oz ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra
2 cups shredded Mozarella cheese
1 box lasagna noodles, no boil
2 eggs
Dried Oregano
Dried Basil
Garlic Powder
Black Pepper
28 oz. canned diced tomato, drained
15 oz canned tomato sauce
6 oz tomato paste
1/4 cup red wine

1. Brown meat with garlic and drain the fat.
2. Add the tomato sauce and tomato paste. Once the paste has incorporated into the sauce, add the diced tomatoes.  Season with dried oregano, dried basil, garlic powder, and black pepper.  Add the red wine. 
3. Simmer the sauce until thickened.  Work at med-low to low heat, and stir frequently, approximately 35-45 minutes.
Meat Sauce

4. Place ricotta in a bowl and add eggs.  Mix thoroughly.  Add in parmesan cheese and about 1 tablespoon of oregano.  Mix until it is consistent throughout.
5. Grease the bottom of a 9x13 pan with sauce. Place noodles in the bottom (I put 3 on the bottom--left, center, and right, with 2 others centered on the gaps between the first three.)
6. Evenly spread out entire ricotta mixture.
7. Sprinkle 1 cup mozzarella over ricotta.
8. Cover with half of meat sauce.
9. Add another layer of noodles.
10. Cover with the rest of the meat sauce.
11. Cover the sauce with the rest of the mozzarella.  Sprinkle top with extra parmesan.  Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Stovetop Chili Mac

I made this on a Sunday night (a few weeks ago).  It was relatively quick and easy and tasted good.  Mark and I both liked it and I've filed away the recipe as a keeper.  I got it out of Martha Stewart's Everyday Food magazine. 

Stovetop Chili Mac

Black Pepper
3/4 pound rigatoni or other tube-shaped pasta
1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 small yellow onion, diced small
1 pound ground beef chuck (85% lean)
1 3/4 tsp ground cumin
1 cup corn kernels, thawed if frozen
1 small zucchini, sliced medium
1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes
2 ounces cheddar, grated (3/4 cup)

1. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta according to package instructions.  Drain and return to pot.  Meanwhile, in a large skillet heat oil over medium.  Add garlic and onion and cook until onion is translucent, 3 minutes.

2. Increase heat to medium-high, add beef, and cook, breaking up meat with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes.  Add cumin and cook until fragrant, 1 minute.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add corn and zucchini and cook until zucchini is crisp-tender, 2 minutes.  Add tomatoes and juice, bring to a simmer, and cook until mixture is heated through, about 3 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Divide pasta among four bowls, top with meat sauce, and sprinkle with cheese. 

Side note:  I put a dollop of avocado dressing on top.  I made by this putting 4 tablespoons reduced-fat sour cream, the juice of 1 lime, 1/4 tsp of salt, 1 avocado, and 1/8 tsp of crushed red pepper into a food processor and processing until smooth.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Hudson River Dinner Cruise

The start of another week.  I can't believe next week is already Thanksgiving!  I had a really fun weekend--my dad and brother were visiting from Houston.  I cooked an early Thanksgiving dinner and we also spent some time in NYC.  They left yesterday afternoon and I miss them already!  I haven't had time to upload the pictures and blog about the weekend, but those posts will be  coming soon.  In the meantime, here's a post I wrote a little while ago:

Mark's company had their holiday party early this year, like really early, like in October.  Actually, it was nice to have it that early since November and December are usually so busy anyway.  They usually have their holiday party at a nice country club, but this year they decided to do something different.  They invited the employees and significant others on a dinner cruise on the Hudson River.  The boat left from Weehawken, NJ and it went south along the Hudson River, right past the Statue of Liberty.  Unfortunately, I didn't even think to bring my SLR camera, so my pictures came out super blurry.  (Point and shoot cameras don't take night time shots so well).  I think this was a great idea for a party and hopefully they will do it in future years. 
NYC skyline

NYC skyline and Empire State Building
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