Monday, January 31, 2011
I'm in love and I don't care who knows it!  I've fallen head over heals for marinades!  I've tried marinades in the past, picked up a few bottles of this and that at the grocery store then they would sit in my refrigerator for months until finally going bad and being thrown away.  Another dollar wasted.  Well, not this time!  Last night I made my own marinade following a recipe given to me by a friend.  It's very simple and oh my goodness was it delicious!  I loved the recipe so much I just have to share it with all of you!

2 chicken breast halves
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp fresh rosemary or 1 tsp dried rosemary
Salt to flavor

Combine the olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard and rosemary in a resealable bag.  Add the chicken and allow to sit for 15 minute - 2 hours.  Once ready to cook, set oven to 400°. Place chicken on non-stick pan and cook for 20 minutes (or until center of chicken is no longer pink).

If you don't want to bake the chicken, you can also cook it on the stove adding a little bit of water and covering the chicken.  The steam will help speed up the cooking time.  After the chicken is cooked, add a little white wine, salt and pepper to the left over juices and cook for 5 minutes.  This will make a great sauce to go with the chicken and a great way to bring out the flavor of the marinade too!

This dish was so easy to prepare.  Just throw everything in a bag, shack and that's it!  Just the kind of meal I like to make, quick and easy and full of flavor.  I wish all my meals were as successful as this!  I do have to hand it to my husband for baling me out of a somewhat sticky situation.  He could hear me fumbling around the kitchen and making more noise then necessary to cook chicken.  I was trying to find some way to cook my piece faster (since our daugher was feeling a little under the weather and crying for me to hold her, she's a real mama's girl when she's sick!) and he came in and took over so that I could take care of our sick child.  Thanks to him my yummy chicken had a delicious sauce to accompany it!  So I guess you could say that last night's meal was a joint effort...  Here's to tonight, Italian Cheese Stuffed Pork Chops and Homemade Stuffing.  I'll let you know how that goes if I every make it out of work tonight!
Saturday, January 29, 2011
I have to hand it to those women who have impeccable houses, who have dinner on the table every day at a certain time and look like utter perfection every time I see them!  How I would love to be one of you...

This new house has inspired me to better myself and I've been trying to document all the improvements I've been striving to make.  You have followed along on my culinary journey and I hope you're enjoying the ride so far.  Even with it's ups and downs, I'm having a great time learning to cook.  What I haven't been sharing as much is the other aspects of myself I'm trying to improve upon, like keeping a clean house.  Keeping a clean house is definitely a full time job, especially with a toddler and a husband who doesn't always clean up after himself.  I sometimes feel like if I clean this one area, but the time I turn around it's a mess again.  This has in the past deterred me from making any real effort in tidying up.  As a result, I never really had anyone over and if I did it would be a full day of cleaning before my guest was allowed over.

Now that I have this beautiful new house, I want to have it in order.  I'd love to be able to say to my friends, "stop by, anytime!" and actually mean it.  So for the past several weeks I've been trying to keep my home nice and tidy which usually means I get home from working 8 hours and start to clean up the living room, dining room, kitchen and downstairs bathroom.  Then once my daughter is home, she goes into her play room as I head upstairs to pick up the laundry, make the beds (which will just be made a mess of in a few hours, but what the heck) and head down to the laundry room to do a load of clothes.  I usually save the upstairs bathroom for bath time.  While my daughter splashes around and plays with her bath toys, I'm cleaning the toilet, sink and floor.  It's a never ending job I tell ya!

At first I thought the job would be a little daunting, but in actuality, it's much simpler than I thought.  As long as I keep the place fairly clean, it's really just a matter of a little dusting here, pick up a few things there...  It's not the back breaking work it used to be.  I was really starting to get the hang of things until my basement flooded!  Yes, water everywhere!  Thankfully, since our storage space is very limited in the new house, I had purchased several storage totes to store all the things that were going in the basement and there was no water damage to any of our things.  What the leak did cause was my laundry getting backed up, so now rather than having one full basket of clothes waiting to be wash, there are three and a full double basket upstairs that I haven't even bothered to take down yet!  It's like playing catch up all over again.

So tonight once I get home from a grueling day at the office I have a boat load of laundry to sort through and wash.  Who the heck do we even have so much clothes?  I thought I got rid of a lot before we moved, but I guess I'll have to take a closer look and see what really needs to stay and what can be donated/trashed!  Less loads is always a good thing!

Does anyone else out there feel like the work of a mom never ends?  How do you do it, get up day after day and
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Doesn't look half bad in the picture, but like I said in my pasta post, looks can be deceiving!  After last night's fiasco, I have to say I had much better luck with the pasta then I did with the pot roast!  Who would have thought?  Yes, the potatos were nice and tender and the carrots were beautifully cooked.  I even enjoyed the onions (never thought those words would ever go together *enjoy+onions*).  The veggies came out pretty good.  The meat... that's a different story!  No flavor and tough as all heck even after cooking for 4 hours!  In addition, no one told me I had to trim the fat on the outside so there was a lot more undissolvable fat that made the meat chowy and very difficult to eat.  Over all, the meal was a major flop!

I'm not sure if it was the recipe or just my lack of experience that made this meal so unsuccessful.  Maybe after a few more weeks of cooking I'll try it again, this time trimming the excess fat and adding lots more salt!  Flavor is key!

On a positive note, notice the cute little star shaped biscuits on the plate!  Those are curtousy of my darling daughter, Hayden!  I decided I wanted to try out these beer and mustard biscuits I heard someone talking about and Hayden was more than eager to help me out in the kitchen.  They came out a little under cooked, but a few more minutes in the oven and they were great!  We didn't have a biscuit cutter so we subsituted a cookie cutter instead.  Hayden had a blast cutting out the heart shaped biscuits.

One thing I am noticing as I try new recipes is how ill equiped my kitchen is!  I might have to do a little shopping some time in the near future!

And due to the blanket of snow that has covered the Philadelphia area yet again, my darling hubby will be home tonight.  So what's on the menu tonight, you ask?  Paella!  Nothing too crazy, just some chicken, spicy sausage, shrimp, rice... and with my hubby there to show me the way I'm sure tonight's meal will be much more of a success!  Wish me luck!
I had been so looking forward to making my roasted chicken on Friday but a devastating stomach bug had struck the Deininger household leaving my daughter and I completely unable to eat for 2 days straight!  Luckily, my darling hubby only got a very mild (if that) case of it the same day as my daughter and has shown no signs of it since then.  My baby got the worst of it and wasn't able to stomach anything, liquids included, for almost 3 days.  I, on the other hand, was incapacitated for 48 hours.

I'm happy to say that today I'm feeling much better and finally able to eat again!  Hooray!  So today I start back on my culinary track and prepare to make my first ever roasted chicken.  Unlike the pasta I made last week, I'm not a poultry virgin!  For the past 5 or so years, I have been the one responsible for making the Thanksgiving turkey at our family dinner.  You'd think the person with the most culinary experience, or at least someone who knows their way around a kitchen, would be the master of that task, but thanks to my talented husband who taught me how to properly cook a turkey about 6 years back, that task has been mine ever since.

Thankfully, the 5lb chicken I've chosen to roast was much simpler to prepare than the turkey, although similar in the preparation method.  I was more so concerned about the sauce more than anything else.  I've never made any kind of sauce myself.  This herb sauce seemed simple enough, so here goes nothing!

All together, the it's a very nice, simple recipe.  Great starter for a newbie cook and doesn't really take too long to make.  Just have a little patience with the sauce, and trust me, it's definitely worth the wait!  Interested in trying the recipe yourself?  Check out Classic Roasted Chicken with Herb Sauce here.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Yes, it may look appetizing, but looks can be deceiving!  I have to admit that pasta making was much more difficult that I had hoped...  My first attempt to make the pasta according to Mario's basic pasta recipe was a complete disaster.  I did exactly what the recipe said, laid out the flour on the wooden cutting board making a well in the center of the flour and added the eggs and olive oil.  They make it look so easy on TV, but for some reason I couldn't keep the wall of the well up enough to keep the egg from overflowing.  After 2 failed attempts at making the dough the "traditional" way, it hit me!  I have all the attachments to make the dough right on my stand-up KitchenAid mixer!  All this time I had been letting myself get frustrated and plastering my counter top with egg and flour, I could have had a perfect mixture in my mixer.

Well, by the time I had this figured out I was almost out of flour!  All I had left was about 1 1/2 cups of all purpose flour when the recipe required 3 1/2 cups.  The filling was already made and ready to go, so I couldn't just stop now.  I was determined to see this recipe through to the end.  I substituted the remaining necessary flour with whole wheat flour and increased the olive oil (since whole wheat flour requires more moisture than all purpose flour).  When it came time to rolling out the pasta (through my brand new pasta machine!) again, not as easy as they make it look on TV.  I guess I didn't roll it through enough times because in the end, although the filling was delicious, the pasta was too thick!  And since I substituted the whole wheat, it made the texture of the pasta much heavier than the all purpose flour would have been.  Add to it that instead of using unsalted butter for the sauce I used I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!, the sauce itself didn't taste right.  Note to self: stick to the recipe, don't make substitutions!!!

Although my first attempt at pasta wasn't a complete success, I'm not going to let that stop me!  I have every intention of reattempting this recipe tomorrow, cook a few ravioli just to make sure I got it right and then freeze the rest.

so what's on the menu for tonight?  Whole roasted chicken with fresh herbs and garlic in a red wine sauce!  I'm hungry just thinking about it!
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
If you were to ask me what was the best thing I ever ate, I wouldn't hesitate to respond.  The best thing I ever ate was at Babbo Ristorante in New York City.  If you ever go, you absolutely have to try their asparagus ravioli.  Just thinking about it makes my mouth water!  This isn't like any other ravioli you've ever eaten, I guarantee that.  It's light, fresh and full of flavor.  The creaminess of riccota paired with thinly sliced asparagus stuffed beautifully in their homemade pasta pillows is just the start.  What makes this pasta so mouthwatering is the sauce.  When you think of cream saunce, you usually think of something heavy like alfredo sauce, but not this cream sauce.  It's ultra light with a hint of citrusly goodness!

So what's for dinner tongiht?  Yup, you got it!  Asparagus ravioli!  I'm challenging myself with this meal, but it's a challenge worth taking.  If there's one chef I admire and adore above any other, it's the one and only Mario Batali!  So tonight I take delight in broadening my culinary horizons and testing my cooking abilities.  Wish me luck!
Friday, January 14, 2011
When it comes to my work, I'm always on my "A" game, but what I consider my "wifely" duties... let's just say this pictures is a pretty accurate description of how I feel.  When I'm at work I have complete control of everything.  My files are always neatly placed, my desk has order to it and I'm on top of every aspect of my work.  My home life, that's a whole other ball park.  For some reason, the moment I walk through that door all order and organization skills diminishes.  I can attribute this to three things- 1) I have a toddler who loves to play and make a mess, but that's expected at that age. 2) My husband, a former chef who is accustom to having someone else clean up after his mess and still thinks that I will follow him around the house picking up any dish, cup, trash, clothes, etc. that he leaves behind. 3) After working 40+ hours a week, I don't always have it in me to fight the uphill battle of trying to keep up with my toddler and husband and would rather just plop myself down on the couch and give in to the inevitable disorder that my house will become whether I clean it or not.

With that said, do I want to have a nice, clean, orderly house?  ABSOLUTELY!  I don't want to live in a mess, have to climb over things or make a walking path from one point to another.  Granted, that's not the situation we're living in (with the exception of a few stray boxes that still haven't been put away from the move), but i can sometimes be if I go too long without picking up after my "kids" (yes, hubby does get included in this since at times I feel like he needs so much taking care of that it's like having another child, just fully grown and 100% dependent on me).  Please, don't get me wrong, my husband is phenomenal and the hardest working guy I know.  He puts in more hours at work than I do and has to deal with more chaos in a day that I do in a week, but when it comes to our home life, he's not always as helpful as I'd like him to be.  If it were the other way around and I worked as much as he did and dealt with all the crap that he has to deal with, I'd expect him to take the load at home and I'm perfectly fine with that, but a little help would be nice!  Enough nagging on my end, my husband is great and I love him, flaws and all!

I've spent a lot of time talking about resolutions lately and I guess with it still being January and the new year still fresh on my mind, I can't help but want to make so many improvements in my life.  When I look at my mom, I see a woman who does it all.  Her house is always in perfect order even with 3 teenage kids and a grandchild running around, she still manages to have a perfect house.  There isn't a time when you walk into her home and the place isn't perfect.  Like me, she didn't know how to cook until after getting married and moving out on their own and now makes such delicious food.  In my eyes, she's the perfect mom and what I aspire to be.

I want to have an organized home.  I want to be able to cook.  I want to look my best not only for my husband or anyone else, but for myself.  I want to do it all, have it all and with a little work I think I can.  This year my resolution is to improve myself and be a better me.  I want to be a better mom, wife and homemaker.  I've already started working on my cooking skills by taking a new recipe a day and testing and expanding my culinary skills.  So what's next?  Mission:Organization!  This weekend we're hosting a birthday party for our daughter at our new house! Yikes, I have so much work to do.  I need to finish getting my house organized before the party.  This is actually a good thing, although I'm now feeling a bit rushed and out of time since I still have so much work to get done along with my other responsibilities like work and taking care of a child who demands constant attention.  But I'm good under pressure, I thrive under pressure!  And having an absolute deadline that can't be moved is one of the greatest things for me.  I can't procrastinate and weasel my way out of this, I have 50 people coming over in less that 3 days and no time to spare.  Add to that having to make the birthday cake, and you can say I'm definitely feeling the pressure.

As for the cake, I'm not really too worried.  As I said in my previous post, I'm pretty decent at baking, it's cooking I struggle with.  With cooking, it's more of an art- a little bit of this and some of that... things don't have to be measured exactly.  But baking is a whole other story.  Baking requires exact measurements and is more of a science.  A cake requires a certain amount of each ingredient.  Add too much or too little of one thing and you can end up with a cake that's too dry or too gooey.  I'm good with exact measurements and I'm good enough to know that when it's humid out (like it most often is in Philadelphia) you don't need to add as much water as the recipe requires because of all the moisture in the air!

I hate to admit this but I feel like my house is a reflection of me, a little disheveled and not very well put together.  I spend so much of my energy trying to make my daughter look her best and make sure my husband's clothes are clean and neatly pressed, but when it comes to me, I let myself go just like I let my house go.  My family is very important to me, but I tend to leave myself to the wayside and as I'm writing this, it's dawned on me... I'm always the one cleaning up everyone else's mess, but when it comes to doing something for myself (cleaning MY house, a house I've wanted for so long, or doing my hair/nails/makeup, things for me), I put that on the back burner because I just don't have the energy for it.  That's got to stop.  If you think about it, the mother really is the face of the family. Mother's are the glue to a family, the ones that keep everything together.  Shouldn't we do things for ourselves too, things that make us feel good which in turn makes everyone else happy?  Haven't you noticed that when you're in a good mood, you're whole family is in a good mood?  And when it's just not your day your whole family seems to suffer too?  Maybe that's why my life seems to be in such disarray.  I'm not happy with me and in turn my entire family suffers for it.  I dont' mean suffer in a horrible, life's coming to an end kind of way, but you can tell the mood is different.  I hope that make sense!

Now more than ever I want to improve me, make myself happy so my family can be happy.  I know my husband loves coming home to a home cooked meal, and I did enjoy cooking yesterday although it was a little nerve wrecking and I did cry for a few different reasons.  My daughter would benefit from having a clean home where she can play and I wouldn't worry about that toy that she picked up off the floor and is about to put in her mouth.  And I would love to see my husband's face when we're together and rather than being in sweats and a tee and having my hair pulled back in a pony tail, to have him see his wife the way I was a few years ago, my hair nicely set, a little makeup (some mascara and lip gloss, never really liked to cake on too much) and a cute outfit that didn't have stains or holes in it.

I know there's a lot of work to be done and all of it depends on me and only me, but I'm willing to put in the time and effort because in the end I feel my entire family will benefit from my changes.  I would do anything for my family, but this I'm doing more for me because when they're happy, I'm happy and if I'm happy, then so are they.  It's a never ending circle and I want to keep a positive momentum.  The circle starts and ends with me.
As much as I love food, cooking has never been my forte.  I've always been much better at consuming it than preparing it, hence the reason I am where I am right now - over weight and with zero cooking skills!  Yesterday I decided I needed to make a change.  It's about time I learn to cook at least a decent enough meal that my family would not only enjoy but also something healthy.  I vowed to rely less on fast food and take-out, a big source of my problem, and make more home cooked meals.

Last night was my first real attempt at cooking outside the box.  No prepackaged food (with the exception of some canned ingredients, but that doesn't really count as "prepackaged", right?).  I went shopping for all my ingredients to make creamy white chili, a recipe a friend had brought to a recipe swap I held a few years ago.  I have attempted to make this recipe before with some success.  I left out what I now know to be a key ingredient, onions!  For those of you who don't know my eating habits very well, I hate onions... correction, I LOATH onions!  I don't really know why, my dad hates them more than I do and I guess as a kid, I saw how much he hated them so in turn I hated them too.  I can spot an onion a mile away in my food.  I've picked them out in the past, refusing to eat food that contained onions.  It was bad, really bad!  As I read through the ingredient list at the market yesterday, I came to a sudden stop at the dreadful word, "onion".  I shuttered at the thought of having to cook with onions, but I was determined to use every ingredient this recipe called for.

By the time I got home and was ready to start cooking, it was already past 9:00.  The baby had already eaten, which was my intention.  I didn't really want her to eat the first real thing I've ever cooked.  I'd rather the hubs and I be the test dummies for this experiment.  I'll leave the safer foods for her to eat, at least until I get the hang of things or I make something that we both like.  I started by chopping up some garlic.  I was pretty surprised I still had some good chopping skills.  I had taken a cooking class back in high school in an attempt to learn to cook.  Baking was more my strong point, but my knife skills had impressed my cooking teacher enough to have me assist her in teaching a class on proper knife etiquette.  I still had it.  I was able to mince the 2 cloves of garlic to perfection!  Next came the dreaded ONION!  I had to brace myself for this one.  Even in my cooking class, I couldn't handle having to chop an onion.  I remember paying my partner to chop it for me, I didn't even want to touch the thing.  A little over exaggerated, but what can I say, I really didn't like onions.  So there I stood in the middle of my kitchen, knife in hand and my worst enemy placed front and center on the large white slab.  Before making any attempt to dismember my enemy, I had to prepare myself.  I moved the cutting board over by the sink and turned on the faucet.  Then I reached the highest shelf in my cabinet for a bag of lollipops I keep hidden for melt downs and bribes and stuck the sweet treat in my mouth.  I wasn't going to let my enemy overpower me!  I was determined to concur my fear and I'd use every trick in the book to do it!

To my surprise, it worked!  Well, until the very end.  By the last few chops my eyes couldn't take it anymore and I could feel the tears welling up.  But I had survived.  On my cutting board the onion lay perfectly peeled, diced and ready to cook.  After cubing the chicken, I threw the garlic, onions and chicken into a large sauce pan with a little vegetable oil and let it simmer until the chicken was no longer pink.  Once the chicken was ready, I threw in the broth, white beans, and spices and let that simmer some more while I chopped up a jalapeno.

Word of advice, after cutting a jalapeno, wash hands immediately!!!  I can't stress this enough!  Take it from me, scratching your nose after cutting a jalapeno is not a pleasant feeling!  And if you are like me and forget to wash your hands, rest assure that I now know the remedy.  Rubbing Alcohol!  Yes, you read that correctly, rubbing alcohol.  Thanks to google and my iPhone, I was able to find out a remedy in seconds and within a few short moments after applying the rubbing alcohol, the burning sensation had diminished and was soon gone.  (This is because the rubbing alcohol is able to dissolve the oils that cause the burning sensation!)

After adding the last ingredient, the jalapenos, I let the mixture come to a boil then set it to simmer for 30 minutes.  Once ready to eat, I added the whipping cream and sour cream and viola, dinner was served!  Here is the end result...

An absolute success!  Even the hubs loved it!  Yay me, I made an edible, tasty and enjoyable home cooked creamy white chili!  I have to say, I did pat myself on the back for this one.  Who knew that my first dish would be such a success, not me that's for sure!!!
For far too long now I've depended heavily on take-out, delivery, and frozen meals. Well, no more! At least not on a regular basis as we were doing before. It had gotten to the point where the delivery guys knew us by name, that's bad - real bad! All that junk food has played a big factor in why I am the way I am right now. I was doing so good last year too, eating healthy, making 3 good meals a day (with a few healthy snacks here and there), exercising regularly, taking walks with my daughter... then I got into a funk!

It all started with finding a convenient delivery service that picked up from numerous restaurants who didn't have a delivery service. We started ordering once or twice a week. Then I stopped going food shopping since I didn't really feel like taking the train to my hubby's work to pick up the car and then pick him up at the end of the night again. So our orders when from once or twice a week to almost every night! Not only was that so unhealthy for us in a nutritional way, but it was also depleting our bank account and putting us in the whole, all because I was just too lazy. I never liked to cook, it's always been more of a chore for me than something I actually looked forward to. When it was just me and Dan, it was simple, I'd run over to the market, which was literally across the parking lot from us, and pick up something quick to make. Now, I have to consider my daughter's appetite and my husband's pickiness in terms of food. When I say "pickiness" I don't mean that my hubby is a picky eater. On the contrary, he loves food even more than I do. My problem with him is that he's so accustom to good food that my food always seems to fall short.

This year, no more excuses! I'm going to learn how to cook and I'm going to cut out fast food and delivery as much as possible! I'll still save the occasional boxed/frozen meal for nights where there just isn't time for cooking, but my goal is to make a homemade meal at least 5 times a week. Monday nights are up in the air since Dan has off and we either go out to dinner or he cooks, so I'm pretty much off the hook unless he asks me to come help him make something. Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday I want home cooked food on my table. Wednesday nights are a bit of a problem. I usually don't get home from work until about 7 Wednesday nights, but I would love to get a nice crock pot, that would be a great solution to that problem!

I wouldn't mind doing crock pot meals a few nights a week. Get everything ready the night before, put it all together in the morning before leaving for work and then not worry about it until I get home. That sounds easy enough! I even have a crock pot recipe book at home that my mother-in-law gave me our first Christmas together. It was part of a whole slew of presents that were cooking related, including my very own crock pot. Since we lived at her house then and didn't move out on our own for another year, that crock pot was borrowed by my mother who has never given it back, so I am now crock pot-less. Great, just add on to the things I need to buy! Or I could just try and take my old crock pot back... :)

I've been looking through my collection recipes and one that keeps standing out to me is a creamy white chili that I've tried with success before. I think I might just make that tonight!

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