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rockstar

I like to think that I am a rock star, on many different levels to be honest, but mostly on the “best wife ever” level. I mean, seriously! When it comes to being a wife, I get it right most of the time…Right honey? (She yells over her shoulder to her husband…he moans) Maybe I’m flattering myself?! All right, fine! I don’t always get it right. In fact just when I think I’m getting the hang of this business, and probably getting a little too cocky, I am reminded that I still have a lot of learning to do!

I’m sure, if you are a frequenter of this blog, you think that I am cooking up a storm in the kitchen every day, feeding my little family the best, home cooked, made from scratch meals that I can find from my stockpile of recipes on Pinterest (follow me) and Foodgawker. Well, you would be right! Okay…some of the time…but definitely not every day…and some weeks, not at all.

I don’t work a full time schedule all of the time and when I do, it is with great resistance.  It is too easy for me to lose my groove and become the “get home from work and sit on my butt the rest of the night because I’m too tired to think let alone cook a meal” kind of wife. Not that I’m proud to admit it but it does happen and this is what happened 2 weeks ago…ALL WEEK!  It was so bad that I am even embarrassed to admit to the kinds of things I “put together” for our meals that week. I think I blocked it out of my memory.

The good news is that I was able to acknowledge my shortcomings and use it as motivation for the next week, where I cooked 3 whole meals in a row! I know, I know, starting to gain some of that rock star status back. I made homemade pizzas one night (I use this recipe for my pizza dough and one of the pizzas was topped with Ricotta cheese and Spinach and was AMAZING!), the next night we had Lasagna Soup (a favorite recipe of mine that appeared in a previous blog post), and the third night I tried a new recipe: Quinoa Corn Edamame Salad (because, let’s face it, those last 2 meals were pretty heavy). Click on the links to find the recipes I used (all courtesy of Foodgawker)!

Quinoa Edamame Corn Salad...pretty, right?

Quinoa Corn Edamame Salad…pretty, right?

This week, I’m on a mission to cook EVERY NIGHT! (And yes, I am still working a full-time schedule…begrudgingly) That’s right, I’ve got a plan and so far I’m 2 for 2. Yesterday, I marinated some chicken in Cuties 100% Tangerine juice, then threw it in the crock pot with some BBQ sauce and a little bit of chicken broth, and then walked away from it for a few hours to watch a movie. My favorite way to cook! (It was delicious, in case you’re wondering.) Tonight I have my mom’s recipe for Mexican Cheese soup cooking up on the stove (you’ll have to ask her if you want the recipe)…yum! And here’s my plan for the rest of the week:

Gringo Tacos (as we affectionately call them in my house)

Spaghetti (it doesn’t matter if it’s easy, at least I’m cooking!)

Quinoa Edamame Corn Salad (because it was soooo good the first time)

And

Baked Fried Chicken (old school style from my Betty Crocker Cookbook)

Bam! That looks like 6 dinners in a row! Look out folks, this quasi homemaker is working on her rock star status! What are you eating for dinner this week?

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I’m not one for New Year’s Resolutions and I find myself nauseated by the onslaught of what seem to be overly dramatic New Year’s related posts as I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed. I don’t always enjoy all the “Best of 2012” articles or “My Year in Review” summaries, but maybe I’m just grumpy. However, on this first day of another year ahead, I can’t help but sit and reflect on where I am in my life, the things accomplished, and the dreams for the future. I can’t say that I know what to expect in this coming year but I do know that I am hopeful, optimistic, and excited about where my adventures are headed. This past year hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows, things didn’t always turn out as I had hoped, I have had some real lows and a few painful disappointments, but in the words of my father-in-law, “It’s life.” You get the good with the bad, it’s a package deal, and I don’t expect anything less in this coming year.

One thing I know for sure is that I am blessed. And I actually mean it. I’m not trying to be cliché or trite or grossly sentimental. I am a very lucky girl! I have so many things to be thankful for and so many things to rejoice about. My life is not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, but perfectly imperfect in so many ways and I am grateful. I do not wish to recap my whole year with you today nor do I want to give you a list of my accomplishments. I’m also not all that interested in sharing with you a bunch of resolutions I intend to keep in the new year. Instead, I want to share with you a few moments from the past few weeks that I am looking back on with a grateful heart…

Hard at work

Hard at work!

I spent an entire day in the kitchen, baking Christmas cookies with my mom. I love Christmastime, always have, always will, and nothing else marks the start of Christmas for me like holiday baking. My mom and I have always made Christmas goodies together, as far back as I can remember, and it’s one of my favorite traditions. We don’t always make the same recipes, it’s not always just the two of us, and sometimes scheduling can seem daunting but we always seem to work it out. This year especially, I cherished the quiet calm of just mom and me, baking dozens of cookies, trying to remember old recipes and looking up new ones (sampling as we went along), chatting about all the happenings of our lives, and sharing a moment in time together…then, watching my dad gobble up some of our bounty when he made it home from work!

Sweet Ashlyn Grace

Sweet Ashlyn Grace

I got to crawl around the floor, play in the snow, and chase my beautiful niece, Ashlyn, around my parents’ living room on Christmas day and for two days after! I don’t get to spend as much time with this sweet girl as I would like to and sometimes I get sad to think she doesn’t know her Auntie as well as she should. But for a few days, during my favorite time of year, we played together. She laughed and squealed and giggled, ran around in circles, had moments of total seriousness, played catch with my sweet puppy Nina, let me hug and kiss her, and I was in heaven.  She loved the little wagon we got her for Christmas and I watched her push it around with delight… it doesn’t get much cooler than that!

For New Year’s Eve this year, I spent the day doing some of my favorite things. I went up to Runyon Canyon with Eddie and Nina in the morning for some fresh air, exercise, and quality puppy time. Then, Eddie and I went to the movies and watched “This is 40” which made me literally laugh out loud (embarrassingly) more times than I can count. And instead of going out to some club or party for NYE festivities, we went to my in-laws’ house where we ate a home-cooked Mexican feast and then enjoyed our food coma, snuggled up by the fireplace. We “camped” with our nephews, sang at the top of our lungs, played the “quiet game” and “Simon says”, and laughed until we cried. At midnight, we shared big hugs and sent all the kids running to wish their parents a Happy New Year! Best. New Years. Ever!

NYE

These are the things I am remembering today, with a smile and a heart full or joy, and these are the things that will help me get through some of the harder moments. Like I said, I am a VERY lucky girl.

I think it is about time for another “favorite places” blog, don’t you? I have lots of favorite spots in Hollywood but this one, in particular, is long overdue for a little blogger’s love. We eat here often and every time we do I think to myself, “I have GOT to write about how much I love this place!” But you all should know by now how easily distracted I am. So here it is, a little shout-out to Crazy Rock’N Sushi.

Now, I’m new to sushi and I’m still a little tentative in my exploration but the thing I love about Crazy Rock’N is that I can try new things without it costing me a fortune. They have 50% off Happy Hour everyday all day after Noon which applies to a sizeable portion of their menu. This makes it SUPER affordable and makes me more willing to venture out and try new things. I do have my favorites, however, and do tend to order the same thing every time!

When Eddie and I go, just the two of us, we can usually get out of there at $20-$30, depending on how hungry we are and whether or not we order beer. We always get the Edamame to start, which is the only reason I even started going to sushi restaurants in the first place, and Eddie usually orders a miso soup. I started out just eating vegetable rolls as a way to find something I could eat when all of our friends wanted to do sushi and even now I will order the Vegetable roll most of the time. I just love it! Then, Eddie will order one of his favorites, like a Philadelphia Roll or Baked Salmon Roll. Sometimes we will mix it up and order something totally new to try and we are rarely disappointed at this spot. The one roll, however, that we always order and that we have not yet been able to top is the Gold Crunch Roll. Oh my gosh! My mouth waters just thinking about it! A crispy tempura shrimp, cucumber, avocado, and crab roll that is then rolled in crunchy tempura goodness and drizzled with eel sauce. So good, every time!

Gold Crunch Roll (with a Philadelphia roll in the background)

Crazy Rock’N is usually pretty busy and we most often have to wait a bit for a table but we don’t mind. If you can avoid peak rush hour times and the weekends, you won’t have to wait more than 15 minutes. But for half price sushi, it’s worth the wait if you have the time!

Last night, Eddie and I rode our bikes there because we both had GREAT parking near the apartment which meant we wouldn’t have to wake up early on our day off to move the cars (yes, this is another reality of living in Hollywood) but it was such a fun and easy ride. It made the night that much more of an adventure (plus it felt more like a date…don’t tell Eddie I said that)! I love being able to ride my bike around town, to all my favorite spots!

It’s easy to find parking for these beauties!

My mom would be so proud (or maybe just totally irritated, I can’t decide which)! As a kid, I was one of the pickiest eaters ON THE PLANET!! Okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, because I did eat, but it is closer to the truth than I would like to admit. I didn’t like sauces or condiments of any kind. No mayo, no mustard, no ketchup, no ranch dressing…gross! I ate my hot dogs plain, my cheeseburgers plain, my salads DRY, and I preferred my veggies raw and crispy. There were so many things I “didn’t like” and never wanted to try, I must have been a real pain in the “you-know-what”!

This carried on way too long into my young adulthood. I would like to say that I am completely recovered now and have reached a point in my life where I will try anything, but this is still not quite the case (I still prefer my hot dogs plain and don’t even talk to me about ketchup or mustard). HOWEVER, I have jumped a lot of hurtles in this battle with food and my eating habits have become much more mature (if I do say so myself).  Well…at least I can say I am more willing to try new things!

It has really only been in the last year or so that I have made the biggest strides conquering my food fears and I think it is directly related to my own adventures in the kitchen. The more I explore and take risks in my own kitchen, the more adventurous I become in other peoples kitchens. That and just the feeling of not wanting to be RUDE!

There are countless things my mom made when we were growing up that I would never touch. Recipes I wrote off as “things I didn’t like” and therefore never ate. Most of these dinners I hadn’t even tried in the first place but, once I got it into my head that I didn’t like them, it was over before it ever started. So when I tell her that I made Stuffed Pepper last night for dinner, she may freak out a little bit! I would never eat her Stuffed Peppers and to this day I don’t even know how she makes them! But Eddie came home with like 10 bell peppers the other day and I was trying to find a way to use them all before they go bad. So I thought, “What the heck?”

Yummmm

I didn’t really use or follow any recipe, I just worked with what I had and what I thought would taste good.  So here’s what I did. I cooked some couscous (another thing I never ate until recently) and then in another pan I fried up some turkey sausage, diced tomatillos, and crushed red peppers. I then mixed the couscous with the sausage mixture in a bowl and added half a can of yellow corn and half a can of some jalapeño black beans. I took my cored and halved bell peppers and placed a chunk of mozzarella cheese in the bottom before spooning my mixture into them. I placed the newly stuffed peppers in an oven pan before filling them to overflowing and sprinkling them with shredded cheddar cheese, oregano, salt, and pepper. Lastly, I slid them in the oven and cooked them at 400˚F for about 25 minutes.

They were delicious and so filling! One half of a large pepper was more than enough for dinner and it’s a good thing too because I had 2 unexpected, but very handsome, extra mouths to feed. Good food and good friends, two of my favorite things!

Well, my friends, the time has finally come “the Walrus said.” A time I knew was bound to get here and yet I secretly hoped never would. Suddenly everything I thought I knew has been thrown into turmoil and I am left uncertain about the future. Just when you think you have things figured out! The news came to me just a few days ago, through the mail, so haphazardly that I easily could have missed it. And yet, there it was, in black and white newsprint…

“Effective April 1, 2012, Manufacturer’s coupons will be accepted at face value.”

I’ll give you a moment to let the news sink in…

Ralphs announced its new coupon policy this week with the launch of their new savings program. No more doubled coupons. My 50¢ coupons will now only be worth 50¢. No more doubling up to a dollar and cashing in on some real savings. I remember a day when they used to double coupons up to $2! Then, they changed their policy… and now again…Like I said before, it was only a matter of time, but it still hurts.

The good news, for now, is that Vons/Pavilions is still doubling coupons and most of my best deals this past year have come from them, but for how long? How much longer do we have before they decide to follow suit and change THEIR policy? And worse yet, how long will it be before manufacturers decide it is no longer worthwhile to PRINT coupons? Will this be the end of extreme couponing? Are we destined to pay full price for groceries?

Stock up while you can!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I decided to make a farewell trip to Ralphs today and take advantage of some last deals before their policy change. They actually had a few good deals going on, in spite of their big announcement. Among other things, I picked up a couple more tubes of free toothpaste. Will this be the end? (I’ll be glad I stocked up if it is!) I made a remark about the policy change to the checker as I paid for my groceries. He assured me they were launching a whole new savings program that would bring lower prices into the stores than ever before and that I would still see HUGE savings. Clearly, I am skeptical. (Although, I did get a dozen eggs today for only 88 cents.) But I will watch the ads for the next few weeks before I write them off completely and hope to be pleasantly surprised.

In the meantime, I walked away from Ralphs today with a total savings of $37.09 and I only spent $16.52.  That makes it a total 69% savings for my trip! What does $16 worth of groceries look like?

1 bag of grapes, 1 bag pistachios, 3 packs of pantiliners, 1 dozen eggs, 1 Dulcinea personal watermelon, 2 containers of drink mix, 2 packages of whole wheat pasta, 2 toothbrushes, and 2 tubes of toothpaste

 

A fitting farewell. Thanks for the memories Ralphs; let’s hope this isn’t the end.

I think it is time for another food blog. And when I say food blog, I mean dessert blog because this weekend I made some of THE most amazing cupcakes I have ever tasted (if I do say so myself)! Though I can’t take credit for the recipe (because I found it through foodgawker), I will take credit for following the recipe and making one pretty and super delicious dessert. They just might be my best EVER! I’m not joking, this is serious.

My yummy creations!

I had been looking forward to making these grown-up cupcakes for about a month. I came across the recipe for Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes during one of my regular “foodgawking” sessions and was instantly excited. Not because I am the type of person to get super excited about St. Patrick’s Day but because last year two of my very dear friends were MARRIED on March 17th!! This event turned the whole day into a celebration and turned me into a fan of this bizarre green holiday.

Last year, Eddie and I joined our friends Luke and Sam at the Norwalk courthouse on a cool and foggy morning to witness their exchange of vows and commitment to love each other always. This was followed by a Champagne brunch with friends and later a fabulous dinner with MORE friends before we took to Hollywood Blvd for some St. Patrick’s Day festivities! We ended up in a crowded little bar, with an Improv show in the other room that none of us watched, and toasted to Luke and Sam over a couple (and maybe a few too many) Irish Car Bombs. In case you are not familiar, this is a yummy cocktail that consists of a shot of Irish whiskey and Bailey’s Irish Cream dropped into a half pint of Guinness. In know, right?!

So, what better way to honor their first year of marriage than with a batch of commemorative Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes!?! A chocolately Guinness infused cake with a bittersweet whiskey ganache filling and Bailey’s buttercream frosting… my mouth is still watering!I hope that they enjoyed the treats as much as I enjoyed making (and “tasting”) them. Who knows, maybe this will be the start of a new tradition! I certainly wouldn’t mind enjoying these decadent little cakes every year!

I’m not copying the whole recipe but click here to check it out (and the blog it came from).  I literally followed it step by step, iPhone in hand, with only one exception…

I used twice the amount of Bailey’s Irish Cream in the frosting!

I love cooking for my friends! Having everyone over to my place to enjoy some drinks and a good meal is honestly one of my favorite ways to spend an evening. The more, the merrier! And there is never any shortage of food…I tend to “over-cook” (not in the burnt food kind of way).  The way I see it, I would rather have leftovers than run out of something because an extra person shows up. Trust me… there is almost always an extra person. Especially when your “planning” involves calling your friends at around 5pm that day and saying, “Wanna come over for dinner tonight?”

This past Friday night was one of these perfectly impromptu nights. I told everyone, “Come over, I’m going to cook something!” And they came, and we ate.

Nothing fancy!

I had some shredded chicken left over from the night before and decided to make Chicken Taquitos. So easy! Just roll the chicken in some tortillas and fry. Sometimes I like to mix in a green chili sauce or some cheese with the chicken before stuffing the tortilla. I made a little rice to go with it (authentic Mexican style with Mama Ruiz’s recipe) while Eddie handled the homemade salsa and guacamole. 

Now all we needed were the chips!

There is nothing better than homemade tortilla trips.  They take time and can be a little messy but it’s totally worth it! Heat just enough oil in a pan to cover the tortillas and cut up your “chips” while you wait for the oil.  It has to be hot! 

Fry them until they are perfectly golden brown and then cool them on a paper towel lined plate.

Salt to taste and you are done! Simply delicious!

The only bad news?

We didn’t have any leftovers!

One of the best ways to save money in this town is to eat at home. With so many great and unique restaurants just walking distance from home, it is easy to end up spending all your money (and calories for that matter) eating out!  Don’t worry too much though, there are a lot of great deals to be had and I do intend to devote part of this blog to sharing some of these great dining out experiences with you. However, I also intend to share with you some of my favorite homemade recipes and  this weekend I made some of the BEST soup I have ever made.  It needs to be shared!

Before coming together with the cheesy yum!

I am going to say this right now, this recipe and probably every other one I share came from somewhere else.  I have fun looking through cookbooks and online recipes to find new things to try. I am by no means a master chef nor do I pretend to be! I LOVE foodgawker!!  If you do not have this app on your phone already or the website set as a favorite on your computer, you must do this now! I’m not joking…DO IT!

I found this recipe while “gawking” one afternoon and it sounded right up my ally. I enjoy a good bowl of soup now and then, but until recently I thought I only liked Chicken Noodle Soup.  (If you know me at all, you know that I have been a picky eater my whole life! I’m getting better though, don’t judge me!) When I came across this lasagna soup recipe I thought, “Hey, I like lasagna. There’s no reason I wouldn’t like it as a soup!”  Not to mention the AMAZING amount of cheese in the recipe! So I tried it.  The first time I made it, it came out as more of a pasta. Not enough broth and too much pasta.  It was still tasty, but the second time it was PERFECT!  Cheesy, yummy bliss!  The best part is that it is great left over! I had it for lunch for 2 days after making it! 🙂  Enjoy!

Here’s the recipe (with my adjustments, I cook with what I have!):

for the soup:

2 tsp. olive oil

1-1/2 lbs. Italian sausage  (I used a chicken and cheese sausage, yum!)

3 c. chopped onions  (This sounded like a lot of onion to me, so I just used about 1 cup)

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 tsp. dried oregano

1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes  (One packet of peppers left over from pizza delivery!)

2 T. tomato paste  (I didn’t have any tomato paste, so I used a small can of tomato sauce)

1 28-oz. can fire roasted diced tomatoes  (Yea, I skipped this ingredient! I don’t have that kind of stuff in the house!)

2 bay leaves  (Didn’t have any of these either, but we didn’t miss them)

6 c. chicken stock   (I added an extra 2 cups of stock)

8 oz. mafalda or fusilli pasta  (Use whatever pasta you have!  I used some whole wheat shells)

1/2 c. finely chopped fresh basil leaves

salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

for the cheesy yum: (OMG! This is the best part!)

8 oz. ricotta

1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 tsp. salt pinch of freshly ground pepper

2 c. shredded mozzarella cheese

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add sausage, breaking up into bite sized pieces, and brown for about 5 minutes. Add onions and cook until softened, about 6 minutes. Add garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Cook for 1 minute. Add tomato paste and stir well to incorporate. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the tomato paste turns a rusty brown color.

Add diced tomatoes, bay leaves, and chicken stock. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Add uncooked pasta and cook until al dente. Do not over cook or let soup simmer for a long period of time at this point, as the pasta will get mushy and absorb all the soup broth. You may even want to consider cooking the noodles separately, and then adding some to individual bowls before ladling the soup over them. This would be an especially smart move if you are anticipating any leftovers. Right before serving, stir in the basil and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

While the pasta is cooking, prepare the cheesy yum. In a small bowl, combine the ricotta, Parmesan, salt, and pepper.

To serve, place a dollop of the cheesy yum in each soup bowl, sprinkle some of the mozzarella on top and ladle the hot soup over the cheese.

Servings:  8

Source: http://www.afarmgirlsdabbles.com/2011/03/24/lasagna-soup/ adapted from 300 Sensational Soups by Carla Snyder and Meredith Deeds, as seen in the February-April 2011 edition of At Home with Kowalski’s magazine

Me

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