Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Here's to Mushrooms!

One of my recipes is being featured by Mushroom Mondays.  I'm feeling very proud!

And hungry ~ don't these look good?  These babies are so photogenic!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

On the Shelf

In the world of salsas there is no doubt that fresh (either homemade or restaurant made) is always best.  I happen to think my homemade salsa is pretty killer, in fact.  But nobody has fresh-made salsa on hand every day, and when you eat Mexican food as much as I do you definitely need a backup plan.

I have started keeping jarred salsa on my shelf at all times.  It comes in very handy when I need a last minute snack to take somewhere ~ with chips, of course.  And I'm not above dressing a salsa up in a nice container and halfway pretending I made it myself.  (I would always tell the truth if asked, but it's fun to pretend in the meantime!) Jarred salsa is also great to have when the pantry is nearly empty and I'm hoping to feed my family yet another meal centered around rice and beans. With a little salsa and another ingredient or two, you can make a great burrito, taco, or even a casserole.  I also love salsa with eggs.

Since I moved to Austin last summer, I've been exploring the local selection of jarred salsas.  There are some good ones out there.  I'm definitely still exploring, but this is my current fave:

The jar says it's the winning recipe from a Texas salsa competition.

It's loaded with tomatillos and onions, and not too much else.  I would use all the same ingredients if I was making it myself at home.

 And it has a nice kick to it.

I can't promise that I won't change my mind a bunch more times as I explore the salsa aisle, but for now I'm hooked on this one.  Happy dipping!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Tropical Bliss

My oldest is turning eight this summer.  Anybody who's been with me for very long knows that I love, love, love planning parties.  So this year I came up with some party ideas in advance and proposed them to my daughter.  (Yes it's self-centered, but I actually "pre-planned" the party-planning by poking around pinterest to find themes and entertainment that would be relatively easy to pull off.  And pull off in style.  After all, it can be a lot of pressure on a mom to put these things together.)

Anyhoo, as you might imagine, my daughter rejected every single one of my proposals.  So we were back at square one and all I could do was wait until my little diva made up her mind.  So I put my pinterest-surfing to rest and waited. We negotiated, and then I waited some more. 

Eventually my munchkin settled on a pool party centered around the movie Rio.  We were both happy.  She got her swimming, and I found a place other than my house to host it.  I also love the tropical theme, and it's fun that it's something other than a luau.  Brazilian music is pretty great, too, so at least we've got that covered.

This has turned out to be a really fun party to plan, but I must say that I have some stiff competition.  Since there is no official Rio partyware or decorations available, people have had to get creative.  And WOW have there been some great Rio parties!  

Here are some glimpses of my two favorites from around the web:

{An Australian party that can be viewed here.}

{This party took place in Brooklyn and can be found here.}

At this point I should probably point out what is probably already pretty obvious.  The party that I will actually be throwing for my daughter will be ~ dare I say it? ~ pretty regular.  You know, the usual.  Swimming, pizza, cake, and some fun music.  But the party I will be throwing in my imagination?  Now THAT party will be glorious.  Absolutely top-notch.  Don't you just wish you could come?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Words To Live By

We should all follow this advice, don't you think?

~From my new playroom wall - more on that soon!~

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Meatless Monday: Three Go-To's for Great Flavor

Do you eat meatless on Mondays?  If you do, is it easy for you to pull off?  Or do you find yourself missing the meat in every meal?  

I have long had the assumption (and I have no idea how accurate it is) that meat-eaters feel deprived when they eat a vegetarian meal.  As a result, I have labored over every menu I have planned where the target audience included carnivores.  In the process I have developed some techniques for satisfying even the meat lovers out there.

The most important element to a phenomenal vegetarian meal is flavor.  In other words, don't skimp.  If you're using garlic, use a little extra.  If your recipe calls for herbs, pile them in.  And don't cut back on salt or oil either.

When I'm especially concerned with pleasing the palate of meat lovers, I usually go for some smokey heat to give it a little something extra.  Even when the smokiness is subtle, I find that it helps to round out the flavor of just about any dish. And it just might make your favorite meat eater feel more satisfied by mimicking the flavor of meat.

I have three secret weapons I often turn to for this purpose, and they are all in my spice cabinet.

Cumin, ground chipotle, and smoked paprika are my go-to ingredients when I want to add a little something extra to a dish.  Cumin is the mildest of the three.  I find that a couple dashes of cumin will add an earthiness that works well in almost any dish.  I even use cumin with pumpkin or other types of winter squash. (I worry that a more robust smokiness might overpower them.)

Both smoked paprika and chipotle are more intense.  They also have a lot of heat to them, so use sparingly.  I tend to choose either smoked paprika or chipotle as a flavor enhancer in dishes that are traditionally seasoned with meat.  For example, I add smoked paprika or chipotle to vegetables (such as greens) or beans that are often seasoned with ham or bacon.  I also use them to flavor sauces that traditionally include meat, such as an Italian ragu or chili.  My best advice is to have fun experimenting.  Regardless of how you decide to use them, these are great tools to have in your arsenal.

Do you have any tips for adding flavor to your favorite veggie dishes?  Please send them my way!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Things I Learned This Week

It's been both a great and a challenging week around here.  The week started off with my youngest catching a stomach bug, and it is ending with some great times with family and friends.  So here are a few things I learned this week that I hope to remember in the future:
  • Bowtie pasta makes any meal more fun for kids ~ even a meal that is basically just pasta with vegetables.
  • Melted butter does not perform the same way in baked goods as softened butter does.  As a result, America's Test Kitchen Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies are to die for.  Make these again!
  • My oldest daughter is "designing" a restaurant.  She originally called it the Leaky Cauldron (a Harry Potter reference), but now she has re-named it to The Horseshoe.  I can't wait to see where this leads.
And for a little eye candy, here's a snapshot of the cute little bouquet we gave our oldest after her ballet recital today.

Happy Weekend!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Where I am

Howdy, folks!  It's been a while, but I'm very pleased to be posting again.  The truth is I've really missed blogging.  I'm not entirely sure why it's been so hard to get back to it.  At first I felt pressure to catch up by blogging about all the things that had happened during my absence.  Then I felt like I had nothing to say at all.  Then of course there was the period when I had a newborn (and a not-so-new-born), and I just couldn't find the time.  And finally I felt like the momentum was gone and I probably would never to get back to blogging regularly.  Still, I always knew how much I enjoyed and missed blogging.

Despite all of those worries, here I am.  I finally pulled the trigger.  And I'm here because I want to be here.  Writing my thoughts down.  As they are right now.

So why blog after all this time?  Blogging is a creative outlet for me.  I have several creative outlets, but blogging feels far more concrete.  It's something I can build upon should I choose to do so.  And it's an activity that leads to other types of creativity ~ like improving my photography, unusual outings, party-planning, or especially fun (okay, I mean messy) activities with the kids.  We all need a little creative in our lives, right?  Plus, Blogging is my form of journaling.

So this is where I've been.

And this is where I am now.

I hope we can talk again soon.
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