Friday, December 19, 2008

Extreme Holiday Cookie Baking

(Jam Thumbprints)

I noticed that I am my at my happiest when I am able to be in my kitchen, cooking without interruptions. Alone with my thoughts and my hands rolling the dough, no sounds except the whir of the mixer and the hiss of the gas oven. Don't get me wrong, I love teaching my children and having them help on occasion, that is, when they are invited. So, since Tuesday was a school day for both of them, I decided to take some time for myself and indulge in softened butter and teaspoons of vanilla. Here are the fruits or I should say, the confections of my labor. Many of the following recipes can be found on as they are almost all Val's recipes. The one that is not posted there, can be found below. I wish you Merry Baking!

(Pecan Balls)

(Chocolate Walnut Crumb Bars, this time without nuts)

(Frosted Sugar Cookies)

(Coco Loco Brownies)

Adapted from Everyday with Rachael Ray, November 2008


1 2/3 cups sugar

1 stick (4 oz.) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 large eggs

1 cup flour

1 1/2 cups roasted almonds, chopped

3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

2 cups shredded coconut

1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk (about 1/2 a can)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9"x13" baking dish and line crosswise with parchment paper allowing ends to hang over the edge.

In a large saucepan, cook the sugar and the butter over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until bubbling. Remove from heat and stir in the cocoa powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Let cool for 10 minutes. Whisk in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the flour, then the almonds. Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish and spread evenly with a spatula. Top with the remaining 1/2 cup almonds and the chocolate chips.

In a medium bowl, combine the coconut, sweetened condensed milk and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Spoon the coconut mixture in dollops over the surface of the batter. Bake until the coconut is golden brown and the brownie layer is just set in the center, about 35 minutes. Let cool completely before cutting. Makes about 16 bars.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Ode to Kathy

Hostess extraordinaire, beer bully, travel agent, tour guide, translator.
I think this only explains a small facet of Kathy. To truly understand how she made our trip to Europe fantastic, here it is in a nutshell:
First off, there were the emails. Back and forth about what we might like to do once we got to her apartment in Luxembourg which would serve as our home base for six days. Ultimately, she came up with a great plan that included wine tasting in France, a tour of Bastogne, Belgium and a quick trip to Trier, Germany. Not to mention all the other fun stuff peppered in between.
Kathy met us in Pisa, Italy where we all melted from the heat. After visiting the cathedral next to the leaning tower, she claimed it was "Time for a beer and a gelato!" This may seem benign but it was 10:00am! Lunch and dinner included lots of wine ordered and translated by Kathy complete with hand signals to illustrate the requested size " Una grande Picher de vino"...numerous ones. Needless to say, I woke up with a bit of a headache. I needed to learn how to pace myself.
Once we arrived in Luxembourg for the next leg of our trip, "Shall we get a drink before we go out?" or "Let's stop for a beer." Thankfully there were two sizes available. Kathy and Rob always ordering "Grande" and I got what looked like a kid's size in comparison.
After a delicious meal at a local Asian restaurant and numerous "GRAND pichers de vin rouge" (by the way, even if she doesn't speak the language, and she doesn't, she still manages to get anyone to understand that she wants wine and lots of it) and a sake in a rated "x" shot glass, I tumbled into a very comfortable bed after cleaning up in my own bathroom. Pure Luxury.
Sleeping late in the morning and waking up to coffee and an offer to go to the local pastry shop for breakfast, this is my kind of vacation. We were off on a car trip chauffeured by Kathy and her GPS. The car was already set up with snacks, wine, water, soda, napkins, you name it. Like I said before, hostess extraordinaire.
The Thomases mini bagels and the People Magazine with the Clay Aiken coming out story that we brought will never be enough to thank her for the wonderful memories and great times we spent in Europe together. Thanks, Kathy. You made our vacation!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Smitty's For Dinner

Most people know that Val always ran a pretty tight ship. Bedtimes were almost always respected. You made your bed in the morning and did your "list" of jobs before going to the beach, Don't even question it. But when it comes to ice cream and "sweets", that's when she still bends the rules and often.
It wasn't until I lived in Boston in my early twenties that I learned of her weakness. I would arrive home on every day off I had during the summer months with dirty laundry in had. Usually, I went to the beach and then out to the bars until all hours with my friends. Sometimes I opted to stay in at night after a long day in the sun. I enjoyed an evening of having my parents all to myself since I grew up as the middle child with someone older or younger constantly vying for their attention. We ate dinner at the picnic table in the back yard and lingered until dark or at least until the mosquitoes came out. But it was on the nights my father worked late that the truth came out. Val would say,
"I don't feel like cooking, let's go to Smitty's for dinner."
Music to my ears. I salivated in anticipation and thought about the ice cream flavors I would choose.
"You drive and I'll treat." She grabbed her purse and we were out the door.
We dined al fresco, sitting under the tall oak trees at a weather worn picnic table. There was enough of a breeze off the pond next door to keep the bugs away. I indulged in two scoops. Coffee Oreo so rich in coffee flavor you swear it will keep you up all night and amaretto cherry chip with huge chunks of semi-sweet chocolate chips and dried cherries set in almond flavored ice cream. Val had her usual: a hot fudge sundae with thick fudge over chocolate chip ice cream and topped with fresh, homemade whipped cream, chopped walnuts and a cherry, of course. Smitty's Homemade Ice Cream in East Falmouth,MA is hands down, her favorite.
I now live only four miles away from my parents in East Falmouth. Instead of having Val cook for me, on numerous occasions I have taken over and cooked the barbecue chicken or another one of my mother's famous recipes while she and my father pay a visit to my house. But there are some nights when my husband works late and I am feeling too tired to make dinner after chasing after my two young children on the beach all day. That's when Val rescues me by saying,
"Get the kids in the car. You drive and I'll treat."

Here's a yummy alternative if you can't get to Smitty's. You will need an ice cream maker. I bought one at Wal Mart.

Coffee Ice Cream With Heath Bar and Honey Roasted Peanuts
5 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups cold heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons instant coffee
3 smashed Heath bars
1 cup honey roasted peanuts

In a double boiler over simmering water, mix the egg yolks, milk and sugar. Stir and cook until the mixture coats the back of a metal spoon and becomes the thickness of custard. Transfer mixture to a bowl and refrigerate for up to eight hours until it is completely cold.
Start up ice cream maker. Quickly mix together cold custard, cold cream, vanilla and instant coffee. Add to ice cream maker and mix according to manufacturer's directions (about 25 minutes) until ice cream is formed. Manually mix in Heath bar and peanuts. Immediately transfer ice cream into an air tight container, cover with plastic wrap and seal with top (to prevent freezer burn). Chill for up to eight hours until solidified.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Andrea Norris a.k.a. Sarah Vallely or Who's Ribbon Is It, Anyway?

Here's how it began: A couple of weeks ago,Sarah and I were chatting on the phone when I told her that I was entering my Banana Trail Mix Muffins (which is an official blue ribbon winner this year, by the way)and my Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies (which did not get the recognition they deserve)in the Barnstable County Fair. She said,
"Oh you should enter my peanut butter balls. They are so good, they are like 'crack', you can't stop eating them."
Considering I didn't feel right about entering someone else's recipe, I offered to make them and enter them under her name. She emailed me the recipe and was specific about the type of cornflakes and chocolate to be used.
I bought the exact ingredients and set out to make the peanut butter balls with ample time for hardening in the refrigerator. After dipping half the balls in the approved chocolate, I ran out and had to use another brand I had on hand. The night before, I taste tested to choose the best flavor, it was indeed the ones with chocolate Sarah had recommended. Thursday morning, the day to deliver the entries, I chose 6 of the most delicious looking and uniform balls, displayed them on a plate an wrote out the recipe embellishing the name to:"Chocolate Covered Crispy Peanut Butter Balls". My mother, Val and I delivered all of our entries to the fairgrounds for judging.
Val reported the winners on Sunday evening as she stood in the adult exhibit hall. Sarah's balls had won a blue ribbon! I was happy and annoyed. What the heck, my efforts delivered a blue ribbon to my friend. It's a good thing my muffins also won, or I would have definitely been a sore loser.
I refused to tell Sarah the news on a voicemail and made her play phone tag with me for a few days to get the info. The suspense was killing her. I had to make her suffer somehow.
"You won a blue ribbon, you bitch!"
"I'm sending out emails to everyone I know!!!!"
And she did. She copied me on all of them.
Those of you who know Sarah, probably do not know one of her deepest, darkest secrets. You all know her as a superstar runner and athlete. What you probably don't know is that she won the school home economics award her senior year in high school.
I've never seen her cook and I've never seen her drive (another Sarah mystery). I'm not sure she can do either one. However, I can attest to something for sure, those balls taste like 'crack'.

Chocolate Covered Crispy Peanut Butter Balls or
Sarah's Crack Balls

1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 cups organic cornflakes
2 cups creamy peanut butter (not organic,Skippy or Jiff works best)
2 cups dry milk powder
2 cups powdered sugar
15 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips (Nestle only)

Line two baking sheets with foil. Melt butter. Cool slightly. Combine cereal, peanut butter, dry milk, and powdered sugar in a large bowl. Mix in butter. Moisten hands and roll 1 tablespoon of mixture into a ball. Place on baking sheet. Continue with rest of mixture. Chill overnight.
The next day, melt semi-sweet chips in a double boiler over low heat. Stir occasionally. Remove from heat and roll peanut butter balls to coat using a fork or a spoon. Place chocolate covered balls back on foil lined sheets and refrigerate until hardened. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Enjoy your 'crack'!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

City Guys At The Beach

Relaxing on the beach is one of my favorite summer pastimes. On Sunday afternoons, I often get together with some friends and we hang out on the Heights Beach in Falmouth, MA to enjoy the sun, surf and conversation. That is, until the "City Guys" show up.
A posse of 4-6 young men in their 20's-30's tossing a football and lugging large coolers always park themselves close to us, behind the lifeguard chair that sits about 10 feet away. They announce themselves in loud voices as if projecting on stage so that the rest of the beach going population can "enjoy" the performance. In a matter of minutes, we all know their silly nicknames and which one of them drank to much last night. That's about when "Sully", "Cheese", Whitey", "Fitzie" and "Dopey" started throwing the football around. Anyone else would have noticed the large sign mounted on the back of the adjacent lifeguard chair that listed the rules of the beach. Especially since the ball missed its intended target a few times and bounced off the sign. Maybe such rules don't apply to them. It's still a mystery to me. Anyway, for as long as I can remember, the sign has stated: NO BALL PLAYING. After the third errant pass that almost hit the lifeguard....

"Hey guys, no ball playing on the beach"
"We can't just toss it around?"
"NO. No ball playing."

Now the fun has to end. The entertainment is over. All seems quiet and we resume the conversation we started before this special presentation. But wait...
One of the city guys has climbed onto the jetty right in front of us. He is bear walking along the rocks that are covered in slimy seaweed. This is a dangerous act. One could slip and fall off bleeding with jagged cuts into the water below. We whisper and motion to each other to watch. Was the lifeguard going to...

"TWEEEEET!!!" a piercing whistle blew through the air.

Everyone on the beach looks over to the guard who is motioning for Fitzie or maybe it is Dopey (yes, it's definitely Dopey) to get off the rocks. Everyone that is, except Dopey. As the guard continues whistling and motioning, it is obvious that Dopey has not seen the sign that clearly reads: "DANGER:KEEP OFF THE ROCKS". Finally, as the guard jumps down from the chair and walks over to address the offense, Dopey realizes all the commotion is directed at him.

"Uh, sorry, man."

Once all his friends finish clapping him on the back, it's time for some refreshment. The city guys pull beers from their coolers and take a rest for now. Please don't make me tell the rest of the story. I sincerely hope all of you are smart enough to know. The sun, the ocean and alcohol make for a very unpleasant mix.

P.S. These events are all true but names have been changed to protect the not so innocent. To all of you "City Folks", please don't be offended. I know you are not all bad. I married a guy from Dorchester.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Summer Fun From Moths to Margaritas

I'm half asleep on my 60's style daisy printed lounge chair as I watch Ava flinging her brother's toy rake while she sits in my original seat (which she stole), the Adirondack chair complete with comfy pillow. I wonder what she is thinking about. She's either singing a made up song or muttering something under her breath...I'm to far away to hear exactly but the perfect distance for observation without being noticed. She is clearly in her own world as she bounces the plastic rake up and down on her knees. I find myself drifting off into a memory: I remember the summer Jenny and I spent most evenings on Val's back porch. We were about 14, to old to go to bed early, to young to go "out". One of us sat in the wicker rocker with the flowered cushion and the other in an old director's chair rescued long before from the "Island Queen" ferry boat. We talked forever on those nights. Who knows what the topics were but it was important stuff and it often sent us into fits of laughter until we were reprimanded and told to quiet down. (My father, Dick went to bed very early and the windows were all open.)
That's when it was time for the moths. Once we started to get a little bored, Jenny took my brother Ethan's fishing pole, handily resting against one of the walls of the porch, and pried one of the many moths who made their home around the porch light, loose from the dark chestnut colored wood. It fluttered awake, disoriented and annoyed. The winged thing was usually large with great spots and horny growths and it inevitably would fly into one of our faces and get caught up in some one's hair. Of course, this caused us to shriek, freak out and do it again, choosing another icky looking moth for our next "victim".
"MaaaaaMaaaaa! Aya Top It!" Suddenly, I am ripped from my own day dream as Ava has abandoned her throne and bored herself, has started to harass her little brother. Here we go again. Back to reality. I think Jenny would agree, by 4:00pm after a full day with "The Fighting Irish", it's time for:

Mommy's Favorite Margarita
(Makes 1 16 oz. drink)
Ice cubes
1 1/2 oz. gold or silver tequila (I like Sauza Tequila)
1/2 oz. triple sec
1/2 oz. Chambord
3 small lime wedges
1 cup sour or margarita mix
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
Fill a pint glass to the top with ice. Add tequila, triple sec and Chambord. Squeeze the juice from 2 lime wedges into the mixture. Top off with sour mix or margarita mix leaving 1/4 inch at top of glass. Shake until mixed thoroughly or our back and forth into another glass to mix ingredients well.
Spread salt onto a small plate. Using the last wedge of lime, rim the margarita glass and place glass upside down in salt so it coats the edges of the glass. Pour mixed drink into margarita glass and enjoy!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Stubbed Toes and a Fractured Metatarsal

Last week, for school vacation, we couldn't have had better weather. It was a bit of a tease-bright sunshine, warm and balmy everyday. Instead of the usual middle of April weather, we were transported, briefly to the end of May.

This is the kind of weather that makes young children (and some grown ups eager for summer to arrive) take off most of their clothes. One afternoon while playing outside at Gramma Val's house, Ava decided she didn't need her shoes. No sooner did I warn her of the dangers of bare feet and concrete ("Get your shoes back on before you hurt yourself!"), did she trip and tare the skin from the top of both of her big toes. According to Ava, there was lots of "bleed". Thankfully, there were not lots of tears, at least until we got home. She screamed bloody murder when I put her in the tub to soak her injured "tootsies". ScoobyDoo bandaids helped to sooth the wounds.

Ava's "condition" improved after a few days. Which means the drama ended, or so I thought.

Ava's new bed with its thick, mattresses making it just shy of 3 feet high seems to be very enticing to her two year old brother, Declan who stands at about the same height. The problem isn't that he wants to climb up and lay on it. It's the flying leaps off the bed that pose the problem. If you don't properly "stick" the landing, you may get injured. Declan learned this when he landed and planted his big toe into the carpet with the rest of his body weight on top. Considering he was only wearing a diaper and no other "protective" clothing, his bare foot took quite a beating. Of course, all of this happened while I was trying to make myself look presentable for the day. My goal was to get to the supermarket before going to work and I was more focused on what I wanted to accomplish than what my children were doing in the next room. I was just relieved that they weren't torturing each other.

After a lot of screaming, crying and rolling around on the floor in pain, I finally figured out the injury was to his foot. I really didn't think it was to bad so I tried to put his shoe on. Declan's screams let me know this was not a good idea. Still convinced that my agenda was in the plan for the day, I went to find his sandals. I put Declan down. My plans clearly changed when he let out a howl and refused to walk or put any weight on his foot. You can imagine the rest: pediatrician's office, xrays at hospital, diagnosis: fractured 1st metatarsal.

Believe it or not, the trip to the hospital wasn't so bad. We scored some free frozen yogurt in the cafeteria. ( I must have looked pretty pathetic juggling a 25 pound toddler, a tote bag full of toys and diapers with my only helper a precocious 4 year old who kept dropping all of our snacks on the floor.) And Ava got to "look at Declan's bones on the puter" when they took the xrays. Hey, I'll take my week of foot injuries any day compared to someone I know whose kid had diarrhea the whole vacation.

Ticks And The City

Do they even have ticks in the city?

Last night, my husband, Rob had me look at a small growth on the back of the dog's neck. It looked like a whitish, yellow large kernel of corn.

I gagged and told him it was a tick, swollen with blood. The expression on his face showed his disbelief.

You see, he's been a city dweller (Dorchester to be exact and if you know Bostonians, this is important!) his whole life until his move to Cape Cod. He seems to know what a tick is supposed to look like: small and brown, the size of a nail head. However, I guess his boyhood dog never spent most of its days exploring wooded areas.

Which brings me to my gripe. Our dog, Stella enjoys most of her days outside. Although we don't live in the "woods", we do have grass and trees. Thankfully there is a product called Frontline that keeps the fleas and ticks away...provided you (Rob), as the human in charge, remember to apply it to your "best friend".

Admittedly, I spazzed out when he came up from the cellar with and empty box, having used the last of the Frontline probably at some point last fall. (Leaving empty boxes and not writing things on the shopping list are criminal offenses in my mind.)

"Oh, you're awesome!" I proclaimed in a tone that was both sarcastic and degrading, while I was on the phone with my mother.

This was not nice, I admit and Rob was rightfully mad at me. However, here is my defense:

I don't believe he has ever accidentally stepped on a swollen wood tick with his bare feet.

This entry is dedicated to my brother, Ethan. As a teenager, it was his job to spend summer evenings on the back porch deticking our dog, Spock.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Greetings from New Hampshire!

Last week was what is becoming our annual family vacation. We went to New Hampshire, Attitash Mountain. Let me answer the first question:
"No, we didn't ski."
Do you honestly think skiing with these two would be fun?
Our days consisted of mainly waking up at the same insanely early hour, trying to keep the children occupied until the indoor pool is open while wishing we were still sleeping and trying our best to enjoy a cup of hot coffee.
Once the pool opens (9:00am), it's time to help them "swim" for about 45 minutes. Even though I absolutely hate the thought of putting on my bathing suit, it's all worth it when they are so tired out that Declan will nap and Ava will actually chill out for an hour or two while I read a book!

After the pool and a big snack, it's time to explore the town. Which really entails me scouting out good places to eat. You may be surprised but the little village of North Conway,NH has a lot to offer.
Super fabulous bakery, off the beaten track and located next to a barber shop full of dogs. (Yes, dogs.)

Old Village Bakery, 50 Seavey Street, North Conway, NH. Incredibly delicious and fresh baguettes (among other types of breads) as they make them in house, daily. No place to sit, but definitely worth the stop. Be sure to get some of their other treats that are big enough to share.
The Red Fox Bar and Grill in neighboring Jackson, NH practically saved our lives, but not for the reasons you think! They have a play room adjacent to the booths in the back. This was by far the most relaxing night for me and Rob as the kids played while we ate and had a few. (Thanks for the tip, Deb!)

Chef's Market, Main Street, N. Conway, NH is not what I thought it was going to be: a place to buy a few things to take a market. No, it's better! A funky sandwich and gourmet take out place with comfy chairs, great music and beer and wine. That's my kind of sandwich shop! Our best meal and coolest place award goes to Moat Mountain Smoke House &Brewing Co., N. Conway, NH. We were actually on our way to Horse Feathers on Main Street when we happened to stop in at the Bavarian Chocolate Haus, Rt 16, N. Conway, NH. Not only did we get some delectable hand-dipped chocolates but we got a great recommendation from the very informative and chatty 20 something chocolate man to check out Moat. It seems he just recently had a great steak there.
Not much to look at from the outside. (This is why we drove by every day, sometimes twice a day and never stopped until our last night in NH.) Super cool old farmhouse with neat murals on the walls inside and big tables all around. Nice looking bar, too. I'd like to check that out sometime!
Anyway, killer fries, great beers and super attitude. Rob had a flavorful steak with some kind of buttery shallot sauce and I had barbecued beef nachos. Mucho delicioso! (Bet you didn't know I speak Spanglish.)
We decided to bring a souvenir home to share with the gang. It went pretty quickly. I think we have some converts!
This trip was short but relaxing. Lots of good places still left to explore. Who knows? We may end up here again next year. Rob thinks we might do some skiing!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

March 27, 2008:Pizza Diet

My recent birthday as reminded me that although at times I still think of myself as twenty five, the harsh reality reveals forty looming on the horizon. The twenty plus pounds of baby weight that has taken up residence on my small frame needs to go to prevent a list of potential health issues (physical and mental) including the anguish I feel when summer arrives and I have to wear the required Cape Cod uniform. My dreaded bathing suit emerges from the back of the bottom drawer where it has been out of sight and out of mind for the better part of nine months and dares me to try it on my winter pale post baby (of two years, way to long!) flabby body. I'm ready to throw in a tent sized towel.

You may be thinking that I shouldn't be complaining. Based on my articles, it appears that I am constantly indulging. Yes, I recall the doughnut article (Falmouth Bulletin 3/20/08 and and yes, I do sample all of my recipes. (What kind of food writer do you think I am?) My behavior does not make it easy to shed the extra flesh. However the birthday mentioned before reminds me that now is the time to take another stab at it. But how? My love for all things fatty and naughty (extra butter, anyone?) as well as my work on the cook book and the column present challenges like brick walls I must hurl my Rubenesque body over.

A stack of mocking magazines showing gorgeous, super slim women in bikinis with uber abs on the covers litter my bedroom floor. Headlines scream, "Get Fit in 10 Days!", "Super Abs in 5 Minutes!" and (my favorite) "Eat Your Way to Thin!". The list goes on and they suck me in every time. The most annoying to me have to be the fashion magazines featuring the latest celebrity mom on the front photographed 2 days after giving birth and fitting perfectly into a size subzero designer gown. (Don't even get me started on the article inside where she is quoted about motherhood. That's a subject for another diatribe.) Obviously, for me, this magazine reading technique will not work.

Since my taste buds have a detrimental love affair with all things decadent, a touch of willpower is required. I must control myself at least a little bit and try not to dive in with such reckless abandon. Breakfast and lunch do not present a problem as I am at home with the "fighting Irish". My two year old and four year old make it nearly impossible to eat anything while it is hot or before the bread on my sandwich gets hard and stale. No, my friend, the witching hour for me arrives at 5:00pm when the wild ones are splashing in the tub and I give myself permission for the first glass of wine. It all starts innocently enough: I begin to cook dinner, nibble a few bites, drink a few sips, imagine, create, nibble, sip some more, create and taste again. By the time my husband gets home and "helps" by finding something for the children to watch on television, I've already had an entire meal consisting of tiny bites here and there accompanied by some glistening Merlot with nice legs. Now I'm ready to sit down and enjoy the meal I've made (this time on a plate) as well as another glass of wine. Let's not forget dessert.

Revamping my favorite recipes as well as developing new ones with less caloric ingredients is my only hope. (That along with counting calories, portion control and a stepped up exercise program, all way to boring to mention here.) Of course, reworking a recipe holds its own host of problems. I recently attempted a low fat version of cheesecake. The author of the article and recipe promised, "Once you have this one, you won't miss the real thing."

Liar, liar, pants on fire.

Woman cannot live on celery sticks alone. So, here's the dilemma: find real food that satisfies which will also pass when doing the dreaded calorie count for the day. I'm talking about cookies made with real sugar, not some substitute, sandwiches put together with 2 pieces of bread and even PIZZA! Yes, I said, "PIZZA!" There must be a way to make a diet friendly yet flavorful version of the famous, so called, "junk food".

While I'm still searching for the ultimate guilt free cookie and I continue to ration slices of bread, I've managed to come up with a pizza recipe that will keep me from gaining 10 pounds by merely inhaling its cheesy aroma. It make not make the list of "Top 5 Diet Foods You Must Eat NOW!", but this recipe rocks. This is not a miracle pizza that has zero calories but tastes like 1000. However, you can eat a few small slices and have a glass of wine. If you have been really good for the day, eat a Dove Chocolate for dessert (only 42 calories for one). Just don't claim I gave you permission to eat the whole pie. I haven't yet lost enough weight to walk on water.

Basic Pizza Dough
makes 3 12" medium crust pizzas

I think King Arthur Flour for all types of flour mentioned below is the best brand.

A Kitchen Aid fitted with a dough hook is my favorite tool for this recipe.

2-3 cups all purpose flour, divided

1 teaspoon sugar

2 packages dry yeast (4 1/2 teaspoons)

2 cups warm water, divided

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup self rising flour (substitute: 1 cup ap flour, 1/2 tsp salt and 1 1/2 tsp baking powder)

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons olive oil

cooking spray

for brushing edges:

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 cup all purpose flour, sugar, yeast and 1 cup warm water. Let rest for 15 minutes until bubbles form in mixture. Add remaining cup of warm water, whole wheat flour, self rising flour , salt, olive oil and 1 cup of all purpose flour. Mix well. Add enough remaining all purpose flour, one tablespoon at a time, until dough pulls away from sides of bowl. Transfer dough to lightly greased bowl (use cooking spray) and cover with greased wax paper and kitchen towel. Place in warm area to rise to double its size for 30-45 minutes.

Place pizza stone on middle rack in oven and preheat to 500 degrees. Flour hands and punch down dough. Remove dough from bowl onto floured board and knead to remove air bubbles. Divide dough into 3 equal portions. Roll out into 12" rounds.

Using a pizza peel, place well floured dough round onto pizza stone and partially cook for 3 minutes until dough is just firm enough to hold its shape. Remove from oven. Keeping it on pizza peel, brush edge with olive oil, salt and pepper mixture. Continue with other desired toppings (see recipes). Place back in oven for 8-10 minutes until pizza crust is golden brown on edges and cheese is bubbling. Remove from oven and place onto cutting board. Let pizza rest for 5 minutes and cut into desired pieces.

Zoomin' Shroomin' Pizza

topping for one 12" pizza

2 lbs mixed mushrooms (I use white and bably bella)

6 slices turkey bacon

1 teaspoon butter

2 teaspoons olive oil

6 green onions

juice from 1/2 lemon

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

5 oz. Monterey Jack cheese, grated

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Slice mushrooms to 1/4" thick and set aside. Chop bacon into 1/2" pieces. Heat medium sized pan on medium high. Add bacon and cook until just started to crisp, about 5-8 minutes. Add butter and olive oil. Add mushrooms and stir once to coat. Let cook for 5 minutes and stir again. Add green onions and cook for 3 minutes. Season with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Remove from heat.

Using a slotted spoon (to drain any juices), arrange mushroom mixture over prepared pizza crust (partially cooked and oiled on edge, resting on pizza peel.) Sprinkle with Monterey Jack cheese. Cook in preheated 500 degree oven, on pizza stone for 8-10 minutes until cheese is bubbling and crust is golden brown.

Remove from oven, let rest on cutting board for 5 minutes and cut into desired pieces.

Mexicali Masterpiece (or, Debbie's favorite)

Topping for one 12" pizza

1 chicken breast

2 tablespoons tequila

juice from 1/2 lime

1/4 teaspoon garlic salt

1 teaspoon honey

pinch of cayenne pepper

1 cup salsa (I like Stop & Shop Simply Enjoy Black Bean and Corn Salsa)

5 oz. extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated

1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped


sour cream

chopped black olives

chopped pickled jalapeno peppers

Place chicken between two sheets of plastic wrap. Using rolling pin, pound until chicken is 1" thick all over. In a small bowl, combine tequila-cayenne pepper. Heat a grill pan to high. Brush chicken on both sides with tequila mixture and grill for 3 minutes on each side to sear. Turn down heat to medium and continue cooking until chicken is cooked through. Remove from heat and let rest on plate for 5 minutes. Remove to cutting board and shred into small pieces. Pour any juices from plate over shredded chicken. Set aside.

Top prepared pizza crust (partially cooked, brushed with oil and resting on pizza peel) with salsa , chopped chicken and cheddar cheese. Cook in 500 degree oven on pizza stone until cheese is bubbling and crust is golden brown (8-10 minutes). Remove from oven to cutting board. Sprinkle with cilantro. Let rest for 5 minutes then cut into desired pieces. Serve with list of toppings.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

March 13, 2008

The name says it all. Behold the birthday gift from my brother, Ethan. He's known me through the best of times and the worst of times (sorry, Charlie). Drunk in ecstasy over espresso martinis. (Really, the best of both worlds in my opinion.) Horribly hungover and jonesing for a strong, black coffee after a night of revelry that somehow got out of control. (It happens.) Caffeine: both a blessing and a curse. To little and your head throbs all day, to much and you are schizo, out of control.

In the immortal words of one of my dearest friends:

"Let's drink coffee until we shake."

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

March 12, 2008

So, I just turned 39. Yesterday. Nothing exciting planned as I am the mother of 2 beautiful and unruly toddlers. I like to call them, "the fighting Irish" when they act the way they did all day on my birthday.

My sister, Karyn and I share the same birthday even though there is a four year difference. Now that we are adults, we like to celebrate together. (Sometimes we like to include our husbands and sometimes we don't like to even look at them.) This year, was no exception and we planned (or so I thought) to get together at her house with her family and mine.

Since she would be working all day, I offered to make dinner and bring it. O.K. settled.

The only problem, Karyn left and obscure message on my machine at about 9:30pm the night before stating "I can't stand my family and I really don't know what is going on for tomorrow night." (If you know her, this could really mean anything.) I thought it best to let it rest for the night and call her early in the morning.

Starting at 7:15am, I began calling and leaving messages on her cell phone. Unfortunately, even though I left about 4 throughout the course of the day, I never heard back from her. This could have meant a few things:

1. She forgot her cell phone (likely)

2. She forgot how to pick up her messages (highly likely)

3. She thinks the plan is in place and all is well. (also likely)

What would you do? Here I am essentially in charge of the birthday celebration so that all of our children (she has two) could feel that they had done something nice for their mother(s). I kept the faith and moved forward with the plan.

In an effort to simplify our lives at the "witching" hour (about 5:00pm when most children are ready to come completely unraveled and Mommy really needs a glass of wine), I prepared as much in advance as possible. This included baking chocolate cupcakes and mixing butter cream frosting so the children could decorate them. I proofed the pizza dough and partially cooked 3 large pizza crusts. While this was happening, I grated the cheese, cooked off some turkey sausage, caramelized onions and sauteed a gourmet mix of hamburger and spices. Once all was complete, it was packaged up and ready for travel. I continued to wait for the return call from my sister.

At 4:45pm, when I had decided to throw in the towel and have dinner at home, her call finally came:


(Car alarm honking in the background.)


So, I'm thinking dinner is off:

"Why don't you call me later?"

Fast forward to the rest of the evening:
My children eat pizza and have baths as if it was any typical night at our house. My husband arrives home with the spatula I wanted as a gift from the kids. I open it.

Karyn calls as I am on glass #2 of wine:

"I don't know what happened?!"

Now everyone at her house is bummed out that there is no celebration.

"Operation Crazy Bitch" goes into motion:

We get the Norris children into the car, cupcakes, frosting, sprinkles, remaining ice cream from Declan's party, hot fudge from the pantry...oh and a bottle of wine thrown into my purse (I have a big one...purse that is.) We arrive at Karyn's as the cleanup is happening for the coffee grounds that were spilled all over her kitchen. Don't ask.

Finally the wine is poured, the ice cream and cupcakes decorated and being eaten, we are relaxing with our make shift celebration.....

Wham! Blind sided again! One lone, full glass of RED wine not only gets knocked over and spilled down the front and inside the white cabinets, it shatters into a million shards of tiny knives. We spent the rest of the time, cleaning crevices in the kitchen, vacuuming up, comforting the hapless victim "No the birthday was not ruined, blah, blah, blah."

Oh, let's just go home and go to bed.