vitamins and early bedtime: its vbs week again!

     Next week is VBS at our church. For the second year in a row, we will be feeding anyone involved in our VBS before it begins each night.
     Last year, during a week of western themed fun, we fed around five hundred people for five nights, plus a snack room for teachers and an end of the week Family Night reception.
     Needless to say, I'm preparing early this year. My menu is made. Volunteers are on standby. I am taking my wellness formula and resting up for the big event.
     There's only one little glitch in my plan... On Friday prior to the start of VBS, Kayla is hosting a bridal brunch, (with me as the caterer.) That evening, I am directing the wedding rehersal and the wedding on Saturday. This should prove to be an interesting week. Monday is my aunt's eightieth birthday celebration... I'm squeezing that in as well.
Just call me Supergirl!

margaret's wreath redux

      Many moons ago, my friend Margaret had a garage sale. One of the items I brought home was a lovely wreath, decorated in sort of an English style, grapevines combined with fruit and flowers. That was a long, long time ago in Memphis. It has seen much better days. I think it is time for a little facelift... showing the wreath some love.
     Even though we reside in a humid, southern climate, seasonal decorating is paramount. In very last days of summer, preparing for fall, a rustic vine wreath wrapped in bittersweet branches replaces the summer floral. During the holidays, a fluffy pine wreath stuffed with red oak leaf hydrangeas is hung. Sometimes a starfish or two are tucked into the seasonal branches... a nod to our coastal proximity.
     I removed all of the old, faded flowers. Some of the fruit had melted in the hot attic. I bought a couple of red tulips and a pale yellow peony with a bud attached. A few fresh leaves and some blackberries with tiny white flowers were thrown into the mix.
I couldn't bear to part with the little faded bird. I left him perched in his nest until I find a suitable replacement.
I pulled some wild grapevine out of the woods at the edge of our yard and added it along with a bit of vintage ribbon for an untamed look.
     Here is my spring and summer wreath, fresh from the wreath doctor... I love the contrast of rustic grapevine paired with elegant, ruffle-y flowers.

summer blues... and greens

     When I was downtown for our Mama Mia sleepover, I saw these in One Fish, Two Fish on the corner of Whitaker and Jones... I want them. Or something LIKE them.
     I'm thinking it is time for  summer project... after or in between finishing my garden project. Oh, well. I can multi-task.
     I have an old buffet in my dining room. It secretly wants to be turquoise. I just know it does...
     Directly across Whitaker, they have another store... appropriately called The Annex. I saw this dresser and the pillows there.
      Kayla has an old dresser in her room. It is much more chubby and ornate than this one. I think it would look great in gray.
Someday, maybe I'll be the sort who has white, slip-covered furniture... that is always clean. Well, I can dream.

pasta all'-amatraciana: a tutorial and a workout

      What can you make for dinner in fifteen? Pasta with homemade tomato sauce, that's what! 
      Put on your running shoes and jog over to the pantry. Most of the stuff you need is in there. Grab it and GO! Jog back to the stove. With back straight, inhale and bend your knees. Now, open the drawer or cabinet and pick out two pots... Remember to breathe through your nose.
     Fill your deep, pasta-cooking pot with water while running in place. Put covered pot on high heat. While it is getting ready to boil, take out the following ingredients and prep everything. Open a large can of diced, fire-roasted tomatoes. Chop up half of a thick slice of pancetta.
     Dice these three things and set aside: a small onion, two cloves of garlic and a handful of pitted kalamata olives. Keep your back straight as you chop the onion and garlic. And breathe! Tear up a few leaves of fresh herbs, whatever you've got, whatever you like... basil, rosemary, oregano, thyme.
     Throw a pound of any kind of pasta, besides angel hair, (too skinny,) into the boiling, salted water. Stir it well before you get distracted making the sauce.
      Now, standing with legs at shoulder width and back straight, start with a large flat-bottom saute pan. Drizzle in one fourth cup of olive oil. When it gets hot, throw in the pancetta, a few red pepper flakes and the onion.
     Cook it until the onion begins to brown. Put in the garlic, don't let it burn. Stir ten strokes in a circular motion, using your entire arm. Add the chopped olives. Stir ten strokes with the other arm. Deglaze the pan with about a half cup of dry white wine.
      Pour in the can of tomatoes. Toss in your herbs and give it a stir. Add salt and pepper, then taste. If the sauce is too tomato-y tasting, you can correct it with a pinch of sugar or a dash of worchestershire sauce... or both. Simmer for another five minutes or so.
     In the meantime, using the other part of your brain or the assistance of a nearby family member, remember to check the pasta. Don't let it get to the mushy stage. Remove it while it is still a little chewy and drain, reserving about a cup of pasta water... just in case.
     Dump the whole thing into the sauce, mixing it together. The pasta will continue to cook. Taste for seasoning. If you need to loosen it up, add a little of that wonderful, starchy pasta water. Jog in place while the flavors in the pot get to know one another. Throw on some parmesan cheese, drizzle a little olive oil over and serve.
Whew, that was fast... You feel good and you look good! 
And so does that pasta;)

pasta al tonno e limone

     One of the first things I learned to cook in Home Economics at Seabreeze Junior High was Tuna Noodle Casserole. You remember the one... canned tuna, cream of mushroom soup, egg noodles and crushed potato chips. I have very fond memories of making this for my parents and siblings. So fond was my aging memory, I made it again a few years ago. I didn't love it the way I used to... it was okay, but kind of bland.
     You probably have guessed by now that I love almost all things Italian. I have so many simple pasta recipes scribbled down, that it would take me a hundred years to share them with you... but I'll try to post the best ones, one at a time.
     The following recipe may sound strange, but trust me. I would never steer you wrong when it comes to food. I have been making lemon tuna pasta for over a decade. It is the girls' all time fave. It is fast. It is simple... and way better than the old tuna noodle version from junior high. It combines the fresh flavors of garlic, herbs, lemon, olive oil. Anyone can make Pasta al Tonno e Limone.
      Even if you're not a fan of canned tuna, you will love this fresh, lemon-y, pasta. It is so very cheap to make. You can enjoy it hot, eaten immediately after making, or cold, like a pasta salad. It apparently is especially tasty when eaten with a fork while standing in the doorway of the open refrigerator... at least that's what I've caught my kids doing.
     I have used plain old, chunk light tuna in water to make this, but switch to the olive oil packed Italian tuna when I find it on sale. When I do buy regular tuna, I buy a few in oil. This way, when you add it to the garlic and oil in your pan, it won't splatter and pop the way the water packed tuna does... even if it is well drained.
     My favorite pasta for this dish is orrechiette. It means little ears, in Italian. It is like a spoon, holding the tuna and lemon sauce. Whatever you're serving with dinner, like salad, or soup and bread, needs to be prepared earlier. This is NOT a make ahead thing... its one of those whip it up and eat immediately meals. Everyone should be on standby........ ready, set, GO!
1 pound pasta
1/4 c. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 cans, Italian tuna, packed in olive oil, drained
zest of 2 lemons
1/2 c. fresh lemon juice
little dribble of Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. kosher salt or coarse sea salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 c. fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
1/2 c. pasta cooking water
1/2 c. Parmesan cheese, shaved
Put a large pot of water on high, for the pasta. I get all of the ingredients ready beside the stove before moving on. This sauce will be ready by the time pasta is done! Mince the garlic and parsley, zest and squeeze the lemons and drain the tuna. Now you're ready to begin.
Throw the pasta into the generously salted water. Give it a stir. Begin the sauce by heating oil in a large flat saute pan. Toss in garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until they begin to sizzle. Next, add the tuna. Remove from heat for a moment if you're using water packed tuna. Stir it into the oil, breaking up any large chunks. 
Add lemon juice and zest, a dribble of Worcestershire, salt and pepper, the pasta cooking water and half of the parsley.
Turn the heat to low and let it simmer for about five minutes, then remove from heat. Drain the pasta. Don't rinse it. Dump it straight into the sauce and add the remaining parsley. Stir it around and let it cook for about three minutes. Toss with cheese and serve immediately. 
What? Did you say I'm killing you? I understand completely... This was last night's dinner.
I've got to run claim the leftovers before Kayla gets them;)

fast fish tacos

     I was in Sam's Club the other day, picking up stuff for a Wednesday Night Supper at church. You know how they have ladies handing out samples everywhere? This is what they were making:
     They sell wild caught Alaskan Cod fillets encrusted in tortilla crumbs. You bake them in the oven. The crust on the fish has a little zing to it. They come out of the oven crunchy and ready to go. A lady was placing them in a flour tortilla, then topping with Mango Salsa found in the specialty cheese section, near the meat. I bought both items, immediately.
     I doctored up my store bought salsa a bit by adding a squeeze of lime, a handful of chopped cilantro and a pinch of cumin. When I made them for dinner the first night, I didn't have anything else in the fridge but some baby spinach. It was fine in a pinch.
      The next time I served these fish tacos, I made slaw. I bought broccoli slaw instead of cabbage, just to keep the dish healthy as possible. I took light ranch dressing, which I abhor on its own, poured it into the food processor and added some smoky, chipotle chilies to it. Thin it with a little lime and you have a great slaw dressing! I hate to tell you this, but you can buy southwestern or spicy ranch if you're in a hurry and just toss as is with the broccoli slaw.

Chipotle Ranch Slaw
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1/2 c. light ranch dressing
1 T honey
1 T freshly squeezed lime juice
half of a bunch of cilantro, chopped
pinch of salt
plenty of freshly ground black pepper
1 package broccoli slaw
Combine the chipotle, ranch and honey in a blender or food processor. Puree until smooth. Add lime juice and mix thoroughly. Toss with broccoli slaw and adjust seasonings to taste. Add a pinch of salt and lots of black pepper. Allow to sit for about 1/2 hour before serving.
Pile the broccoli slaw in a warm tortilla. Top with fish and mango salsa.

let's review: Leoci's Trattoria

     We went to Leoci's Trattoria to celebrate our anniversary. We sat outside on the large deck. The evening air was hovering between cool and humid, like a kid trying to decide between two flavors of gelato. One moment a breeze would pass by. The next, I was asking for the giant fan to be swung my way.
     The atmosphere was lovely. Groups of fellow diners talked softly to each other. Lights twinkled in the huge oak tree overhead. A young lady and a little boy played bocce ball in the yard as their party watched from the deck. I think I could live in the apartment upstairs. The smell of garlic alone would make it worthwhile.
     We spent quite a long time looking over the menu and had narrowed down our choices for dinner when our server, Beth came by with the list of specials. The decision making quickly ground to a halt. How in the world would a person choose? The regular menu was so descriptive...this was going to be harder than we thought. We ordered the Beef Carpaccio appetizer and a couple of glasses of red wine to stall for time.
     We finally settled on the Mushroom Lasagna for me and a pan seared fish, Corvina, for Chris. WE both loved what we chose. Our carpaccio appetizer was tender and delicious. The lemon and capers, plus a little added black pepper made the flavor of the beef burst in the mouth.
     My lasagna was very light and fresh, making the mushrooms the star of the dish. I liked that it was not heavy and over sauced. It had a tiny amount of pesto and a little bechemel. The mushrooms were locally grown at Flat Creek Lodge in Swainsboro, Georgia... just a few miles away. Chris' Corvina was crispy on the outside, but delicate on the inside. The orzo had a great flavor and the compote gave it a real complexity.
leoci's dining room (photo, fotoccini)
     We had a very nice evening punctuated by good food in a relaxed, upscale atmosphere. We would definitely go back. I noticed that they are open for lunch. I'm making a note to take my mom next time she's here. The dining room is small, so reservations are suggested. The outdoor deck, where we sat was wonderful. Half of it is covered by a large tent lined with tiny twinkle lights.
cannoli (photo, william torillo)

Here is what we had, followed by the price:
Mushroom Lasagna 18
Handmade lasagna noodles layered with wild local mushrooms, bechemel and basil pesto.
Beef Carpaccio 10
Thinly sliced beef, crispy capers, lemon dressing
Corvina 26
Pan Seared Corvina accompanied by Cherry Tomato and Asparagus Orzo topped with Fig and Golden Raisin Compote with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Balsamic Drizzle

Cannoli 6
Filled with sweet ricotta cream and chocolate shavings

Leoci's Trattoria on Urbanspoon

hot doughnuts HOW? jelly-doughnut bread pudding

     A while back, I was tweeted, (@thefoodmaven) by Tommy, (@tdbrinson) our music man at church. He, being a fellow foodie, requested a bread pudding made out of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Crazy idea? Um, heck yeah... Crazy good!
     The next day, at work, we tossed around ideas until we came up with incorporating jelly, just like the KK raspberry-filled, jelly doughnuts. I felt like I was on an episode of Chopped or Throwdown! A challenge had been issued.
     I found some day old glazed doughnuts at the store. They worked really well because they were drier than freshly baked doughnuts... Try to find those. My version is a happy result of total trial and error. It came out of the oven hot, gooey and delicious.
     I topped it with a little whipped cream and passed it out to the church staff... a nice afternoon snack. Someone remarked that they could not believe I had made it as a result of a twitter challenge. But hey, why not? I have another crazy friend who made campfire s'mores out of leftover Marshmallow Peeps.
     Creative ideas, crazy foodie friends and good clean fun... (except for that dab of jelly in the corner of your mouth.) I couldn't ask for much more! Here's what I did:
2 dozen old glazed doughnuts, torn into chunks
6 eggs
2 c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
pinch of salt
1 can mixed berry pie filling
1/2 of a small jar of seedless, raspberry jelly
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a large baking dish or pan, the deeper the better. In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs, milk,vanilla and salt. Tear up doughnuts into the egg mixtrue. Let it soak up the custard for about 10 minutes. Pour into prepared baking dish. Spoon jelly filling throughout... in, under, around and though. Make sure to get it everywhere!
Bake for about 45 minutes or until the bread pudding is set, not wiggly. It should be brown and crispy on the top. Serve piping-hot, right out of the oven or let it cool a bit. Top with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Don't forget to turn on the Hot Doughnuts NOW sign!

family dinner night: all hands on dough

     It is family dinner night... hmmm. What should we have? It has to be something everyone likes... How about homemade pizza? It's a great way to get everyone involved.
     When it comes to pizza toppings, everyone has an opinion! Sauce, no sauce. Meat, no meat. Mozzarella, provolone, parmesan or goat cheeses. Mushrooms, well, that's a given;)
     Prepare ahead of time by picking up toppings and making the pizza dough. If your life is crazy, like most people's, buy some fresh dough at your local food store. We are lucky enough to have a Publix. Their pizza dough is around two dollars and change. It makes a fairly large pie. Some pizza places will sell you the dough, as will Sam's Club.
To begin:
Wash your hands. Get out the dough, some olive oil, kosher salt and your pepper mill. Place dough in a well oiled bowl to rest for an hour or so. When it has risen, punch it down a bit, then after rubbing your hands with olive oil, begin to slowly and gently stretch the dough. Continue working it. Make sure you don't puncture the dough. It is hard to get it back together. Place on a pizza pan or peel sprinkled with cornmeal. Let it rest a few more minutes.
Set out toppings in small dishes on the table or kitchen counter. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. If you have a pizza stone, the preheating will take nearly a half hour. If you want, cut pizza dough in two to four pieces and make pizzettes... everyone can style their pizza their own way. 
Start topping the dough. Don't overload it. Be creative. Have fun! Bake in the oven about ten minutes.
There won't be many leftovers, but there will be many great memories!

a french omelette... mine & julia's way

     I just watched a video on YouTube of Julia making the perfect French omelette. It seems simple enough... I think I'm going to give it a try. 
     Right off the bat, I realize I don't own the right pan. I have a very large one, around twelve inches and a very small one, probably five or six inches. Julia says to use one that is between seven or eight inches in diameter for a two or three egg omelet... which is for one person. 
     So, I'm going to make a four egg omelet in my big pan and share it with my husband. (He is in favor of that idea.) I love to add things to eggs, sort of a way to disguise the eggi-ness. I'm not a huge fan of the flavor of plain eggs, but love the way the fluffy texture wraps around the veggies and the cheese. Mmm! 
     Take a peek into your fridge and pull out things you have left over. I came up with a handful of cooked, french beans, a slightly dried up scallion, a small container of goat cheese and six spinach leaves on the verge of wilting.
What? You were expecting Martha? What can I say... I'm just keeping it real.
  Mine is much browner than Julia would have approved of.
Here is the procedure I followed this time. Next time, it may be completely different... isn't that great?
Ingredients  (makes two omelets)
4 eggs, beaten to blend
pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper
2 T. unsalted butter
1 scallion, chopped
1/2 cup leftover, cooked french beans, roughly chopped
a few spinach leaves
crumbled goat cheese
thyme leaves (and flowers)
Heat non-stick skillet to medium high. Beat eggs. Season with salt and pepper, then set aside. Place half of the butter in skillet, swirling to coat. Toss in scallions and cook until they begin to brown a bit.
Throw in beans and spinach to warm them through. Turn all of the filling out onto a plate.
Add the rest of the butter to the pan and pour in the eggs. Let them sit for a couple of seconds, then shake the pan a little. You want the runny part to get onto the bottom. Do this until the majority of the egg is solid.
Reduce heat. You don't want the outside to get too brown, Julia says. Sprinkle the filling and crumbled goat cheese over. Fold omelet by sliding and flipping it over. Did you watch the video? I filled mine first. Julia did not.
I threw on some fresh, lemony thyme leaves and flowers... because they were in the yard and because I love them. It isn't a deal breaker if you don't have any.
This one was delicious... The crunch of the green beans and scallions played against the fluffy eggs and soft, creamy goat cheese. My husband pronounced it, "Really, really good!"   
The thyme is flowering... so pretty and spring-y looking!