The highs and lows of parenting and real estate.

Category Archives for ‘Food’

Gift-Giving Success Despite Procrastination and Feral Dogs

I’m assuming because you’re reading this you have survived Christmas. You weren’t trampled to death at Walmart at 10pm on the 24th attempting to snag the last bag of Ghirardelli peppermint bark or suffocated under a mountain of discarded wrapping paper. Whew. Glad to hear it; I was worried about you.

I also have survived. My big success is that I didn’t have a brain aneurysm while frantically brainstorming last minute Christmas gifts for impossible to buy for family members.

My mother is a compulsive shopper with really good taste. So when she sees something she wants, she researches how to buy it for 10% less than anyone else has before and obtains it. My poor, shopping disabled father has been trying to years to find things she hasn’t already bought for herself that she will like (let’s not speak of ‘the briefcase incident of 1989′, it will only cast a cloud of darkness over the holiday season).

This year I bought my mother a living succulent wreath:

Like anything else I ever do, the steps I took to get from, ‘I think my mom would love a living succulent wreath’ to ‘Here is your living succulent wreath, Mom!’ didn’t exactly proceed in a logical straight line.

Step 1: Determine I’m going to create wreath myself.

Step 2: Find a video online explaining the process of creating wreath.

Step 3: Get Jason to watch the video with me so we can figure out how to make the wreath.

Step 4: Have Jason look at me like I’m a lunatic and threaten to commit me if I even attempt to add this herculean task to my already undoable to-do list.

Step 5: Decide I’ll just wait until December 23rd and buy one somewhere (logic being: we live in Arizona where there are lots of succulents, it’s Christmas time and people make wreaths around Christmas, a living succulent wreath is a really awesome thing, they probably sell them in every nursery, right?).

Step 6: Drive around to 5 different nurseries (ranging from the charmingly rural to the feral dogs running around old oil drums covered in vines variety) become increasingly frantic with each confused shake of the head, “Naw, I don’t have any of those. I don’t know who would. Maybe try Cactus and More down the road two miles. They have weird stuff there.”

Step 7: Rush home and Google ‘living succulent wreath, Phoenix’ (no, Google, not ‘living successfully with screwed up people,’ we’ll discuss that tomorrow) and find this article.

Step 8: Make poor Patti Smith really sorry she gave Phoenix Magazine a phone number for contact by leaving her an 8 minute voicemail begging her to make me a wreath and let me come over on Christmas Eve to buy it from her.

Step 9: Get insanely lucky that Patti Smith doesn’t think I’m a deranged lunatic and change her phone number and instead calls me back to tell me she’ll make me a wreath and I can bring cash and pick it up (she did, however, call me a ‘crazy lady’ on the phone).

Step 10: Drive out to Apache Junction and pick up the stunning wreath from the super nice and clearly compulsively creative wreath artist.

As much as I curse the universe for regularly raining chaos down upon my life, it does occasionally reward my total procrastination and incompetence with insanely undeserved success. So I guess we’re even for now, Universe.

My other gift-giving success this year was a cookbook I made online and had printed out for my family. This year we did a bunch of food competitions and group dinners that were really fun, so I compiled some of my favorites of the recipes and added pictures and color commentary. It’s filled with family jokes, but here’s a link to check it out if you want to see it.

My favorite recipe is Todd, John and JT’s Smoked Meat (and Marinated Livers) on page 13.

I think I might make this book a yearly tradition. What were the favorite gifts you gave and received?

Asian Turkey Meatballs and an Explanation

Ha ha ha! Ha ha ha! Ha… *cough* So… remember on Monday how I promised the unveiling of my new website on Wednesday of this week or at the very latest, Thursday? Well there’s a funny story that goes along with that. That may have been a phenomenon we call Premature Excitement (or PE for short) and let me tell you, it’s just as embarrassing as the other type of PE (I would assume; since I’m a girl, I guess I don’t really know).

My website team has informed me that there’s been a setback with the importing of the HTML code as related to the radius of the internet multiplied by π. And something about the space-time continuum. It’s also possible sine and cosine were involved; I stopped listening after awhile.

Unfortunately, because my website team consists of my husband, a crap-load of coffee and a our 19 year-old cat who sleeps in the office next to him, putting on my scary Realtor pants and threatening litigation in an authoritative voice hasn’t produced any results besides the promise of a divorce if I don’t let the poor man sleep sometime soon. Also, Darling Husband Webmaster pointed out that if I hadn’t wanted that third child, we wouldn’t have spent four hours Tuesday night cleaning up this (ok, really he did all the cleaning. I thanked the heavens we had decided against upgrading the carpet when we bought this house two years ago):

That's an entire brand new container of liquid laundry detergent. Thrown over the railing upstairs by our youngest, soon-to-be-felon.

And he would have had lots more time to work on the website problem.

Beggars of awesome (and free) websites apparently cannot be choosers of the time-frame in which said websites are produced; is the lesson we have learned today. Also, the cure for PE is to keep your trap shut until the website is actually done.

I do, however, have a recipe for you as a peace offering. I made a new dinner last night that turned out really well and was healthy and easy. So… there’s that.

Asian Turkey Meatballs with Carrot Rice

(It tastes way better than it sounds. Swear. And not like the time where I promised I’d have a new website by 24 hours ago.)

Ingredients:
Package of ground turkey
¾ cup Italian bread crumbs
3 tablespoons water
1 pressed clove of garlic
Handful of chopped cilantro
3 green onions, white and green parts sliced separately
Pinch of salt
Veg oil
Tabasco sauce
White rice
2 carrots, grated
Limes

Prep:
Combine first seven ingredients (white parts of green onions only). Add a little Tabasco sauce if you don’t like spice or a lot if you do. Form mixture into smallish meatballs. Heat veg oil in a NONSTICK pan (I screamed that because I tried it first with a regular pan and it was a totally failure of sticky, crumbly proportions). Fry meatballs in batches until all sides are brown. When meatballs are fried, put them in the oven on a cookie sheet at 450 for 10 minutes to make sure they’re cooked through. Make white rice according to directions. When it’s done, toss the shredded carrot on top and put the top back on (it’s removed from heat now, but there’s still enough steam to lightly cook the carrot). Serve meatballs on the rice, topped with the green parts of the sliced green onions and lime juice.

How Meal-Planning Saved My Life

For my Wednesday food post this week, I would like to discuss: Meal Planning. If we are Facebook friends (and if not, WHY NOT? Is it because you’re talking about me behind my back? Because you know we can still be friends on Facebook and then when you want to make a status update that says, “Dude, did you see what Elizabeth Newlin is wearing today? Honey, Halloween is still five days away, put the sequined leggings back in your closet.” But you don’t want have some awkward confrontation where I comment, “Um, listen, Sweetheart, just because you don’t have the calves for sequined leggings and your mama didn’t teach you how to accessorize your way out of a paper bag doesn’t mean no one else can pull them off.” you can just hide that status from only me. I don’t actually know how to do it, but I totally have a friend whose mom is all, ‘How come you never post anything on the Facebook, Dear?’ even though this friend is Booking Face constantly. So friend me. Even if you like to make fun of how I dress. End Tangent.) you probably see my regular weekend status update about how I’m slogging through meal planning and think, “Oh, really? And now you’re scratching your ear? Thanks for the news flash. My life is now complete.” And you’re so right. It’s one of those things I feel compelled to share that is absolutely not interesting, informative or entertaining. I should stop. But instead I’m just going to do a whole blog post about it.

I’m not going to say meal planning is as fabulous as the cure for Polio or anything, but it’s maybe as good as the vaccine for chicken pox. Not very many people ever died from chicken pox, but it sure saves a whole lot of calamine lotion and parental PTO days now that kids don’t get it any more. Meal planning doesn’t make our family perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it does keep me from locking myself in a closet so I can curl into the fetal position without my kids pacing around me saying, ‘Oh no, did Mom forget to buy herself Diet Coke again?’ at 5:15pm every day. The end of the day, when I’m starving, frazzled and out of patience tends to be extra difficult for me, and planning out our family dinners a week at a time has been the key to my survival. Let me give you a little illustration of why I’m so into Meal Planning.

Nightly Internal Conversations Before I Meal-Planned:

Wow, today sucked even worse than yesterday, who knew that was possible? I’ve been on the phone with lenders and clients for the last 10 hours and I’m pretty sure the kids are in the backyard tunneling under the block fence. It’s 5:03pm and the last thing I ate was half a free jelly donut at the office meeting at 10am. I’m so ravenous the cat is starting to look delicious. There is no conceivable way I can convert the contents of our pantry (5 cans of diced tomatoes, microwave popcorn, a package of bunny shaped novelty pasta from last Easter and a packet of powdered Hollandaise sauce) into anything edible for dinner. There is also no way I can put the kids in the car, drive to the store, brain-storm what to buy that can be converted into dinner and get home without running over the teenager who puts away the carts from the parking lot in a hunger rage and then make dinner and eat before midnight. We’ll surely all die before then. The only option is to call Jason and beg him to stop and get Chinese takeout on the way home. Well, or I could drink a bottle of wine and eat the microwave popcorn and make Jason and the kids fend for themselves. That’s better parenting, isn’t it? I’m teaching them the art of survival. (2 hours and $45 in Chinese takeout later) I hate myself. That was gross and I’m bloated with salt, grease and MSG. And $45! What the hell? I’m a financial failure; that’s ridiculous. And I just practically fed my children poison. Sweet and sour pork with white rice and fortune cookies has zero nutritional value. I’m a parental failure too. I better still drink that bottle of wine to dull the shame of my shortcomings.

Nightly Internal Conversations After I Meal-Planned:

Huh, is it really possible I just showed 9 houses in four different cities to 3 different clients, burned $40 in gas, and I still don’t have a paycheck on the horizon in the next month? Oh and it’s 4:45pm and we all just shuffled through the door from the 3 sets of child pick-ups, but child #1 needs to be dropped off at soccer in 30 minutes. Is it wrong to hope I am skewered by a stray arrow in the next 3 minutes? There could be archers practicing nearby. I’m just saying it could happen. OK, but it says on the list here on the fridge that I have everything needed to make a quick baked spaghetti with mozzarella, fresh basil and garlic bread. That actually sounds kinda nice. I can drop child #1 at practice and come home and dice garlic and cut up chunks of mozzarella and have a nice cold glass of Pinot Grigio. It’s always socially acceptable to have a glass of wine while cooking. Jason will pick up kid #1 and be home just as the pasta is finished baking and then I won’t have to hang myself from the curtain rod upstairs. We can sit and have a nice dinner. One foot in front of the other. I can do this.

So I’m curious: How many people out there don’t do a weekly meal plan? If you don’t, how do you make life work? I’ve been doing it for over a year now and I don’t think I can ever go back, but I’d love to know if there are other systems I’m not considering, or maybe I’m just a giant 5pm baby. Have I morphed into a ridiculously rigid, unspontaneous, fun-sucker? It’s possible. I do like to go to bed early.

My Favorite Cupcakes, By Aunt

I’m sure you’ve heard that I’m an Aunt now (with a capital A, like the royal ‘We’). It’s a pretty prestigious title, I know. It carries some hefty responsibilities, too. I’m fully prepared to give romantic advice when he’s 14 and doesn’t want to talk to his parents. I’ll even help him get the window fixed in his parents’ house that his buddy broke out during that party he threw while they were in Europe. I’ll give him a stern lecture about being more responsible, but I’ll promise not to tell his mom. And then I’ll tell her when she gets home but make her promise not to tell him that I told her. That’s how being an Aunt works, right?

Anyway, one of my pre-Aunt duties was throwing a baby shower for my sister a couple of months ago before the little monkey made his (tardy) appearance. I made two sets of pretty fabulous (if I do say so myself) tiny cupcakes for the guests.

The first were Lemon Blossoms (recipe by Paula Dean, so you know they involve like 8 pounds of butter and 16 cups of sugar, but are delicious). I’d made these once before on father’s day for Jason and the kids and had literally made myself ill eating them for like 4 days after, so I knew they would be good. (I’m going to vomit… Maybe one more tiny lemon muffin will make it better…).

The second set I’d sampled at another baby shower earlier in the summer, so I asked that hostess (another Aunt. It’s like a really exclusive club, see? We all hang out together and trade recipes and tips to being cooler than our siblings in the eyes of their children) for the recipe. She pointed me to this fabulous website of inspired cupcakes and said it was number 25 (they’re all so awesome they don’t even need foofy names). Although she made them mini cupcakes instead and just used one raspberry pushed down in the middle of each one. I did this also and they turned out so amazing. I’m of the mind that all cupcakes should be of the ‘mini’ variety. Because eating them in one bite without crumbs and mess and deliciousness-wasting is really how Mother Nature intended it when She invented cupcakes. Plus you can eat like five and because they aren’t of a prescribed serving size it’s not as humiliating as eating two or three normal ‘single serving’ cupcakes. It’s like you can eat thirty tortilla chips with dip, but you’re a pig if you want to eat two hamburgers (unless you’re my husband and then you just have a particular zeal for food).

I didn’t take any pictures of the little muffins/cupcakes when I made them, which I’m a little sad about. To tell you the truth, the rest of the food at the shower was a little bit of a disaster and they were definitely the best part. I had this whole plan for only doing vegetarian food because my sister is a vegetarian, but then it turns out that vegetarian food is more time-consuming to make for some reason (must be straining all that meat out of the normal food. It just takes awhile) and also less filling. And I’d decided before sending out the invites that I hated when people throw showers from 2-4pm and have tons of food, so I always feel like I shouldn’t eat lunch because there’s going to be food there and then I have to wait till 2pm to eat and I’m starving to death. And that’s stupid. So I had everyone come at noon so they could eat lunch there. But then the cupcakes/muffins took three hours in the morning to make instead of the 30 minutes each of the recipes said and I didn’t have time to make like half of the other food so really I just invited everyone over at a lunch hour and then didn’t have anything but tiny cupcakes to feed them. It’s a wonder they didn’t roast me over a spit to serve with barbeque sauce. The whole thing was fairly horrifying. Whew, I’m glad to get that off my chest.

I maintain, however, that because this all happened before Colby was actually born, my perfect Aunt status remains unmarred. And the cupcakes and lemon blossoms were fabulous, at least.

How Do Soccer Moms Make Butternut Squash Soup? Very Carefully.

I’m so over soccer. The laundry involved alone might kill me. If we wake up one more Saturday morning and have to spend 43 minutes looking for the yellow soccer sock that matches the yellow jersey for Team Awesome that it turns out Gray took off in the car on the way home from the game last week and left it there so it never actually got washed for this week (and oh THAT’S the smell in the car… I totally thought one of the cheese sticks I bought in bulk on sale must have fallen out of the package and wedged under the seat) I’m probably going to commit myself.

And then there’s the endless (and endlessly changing) practice schedule. They’re SIX and TEN, Coaches. Do they really need to hone their ball to foot tapping down the field toward the netty-thing abilities (or whatever it’s called) 3-4 times a week right during the dinner hour? I seriously don’t know how people with more than 2 or 3 kids do it. Does that crazy woman on TV with babies constantly dripping from her womb (what are they up to now? 35?) do soccer? She can’t right? They’d have to own their own soccer complex; it just wouldn’t work.

Take last night, at our house, just for example. And keep in mind that I only have three children, and only two of them are old enough to participate in extra-curricular activities yet. When I did the round of pick-ups from school, Gray reminded me that it was ‘Bedtime Stories Night’ at this school and that he really super a whole bunch wanted to go. In fact, he didn’t even say that, he said, “Mom, we’re supposed to wear our jammies to Bedtime Stories tonight at school, so when we get home I’m going to put mine on so I’m ready.” (I think he took that class on marketing that I did a couple of years ago where they teach you if you don’t ask a question, they can’t tell you ‘No’. So if you just sign right here, Sir, we can get everything moving.) Suffice it to say it was hard to tell him he wasn’t going. And totally conveniently, this school activity was scheduled for 5:30PM. Which was exactly the same time Ben’s soccer practice started. Which was at least 30 minutes before Jason usually gets home from work. And also the time during which I usually make dinner (and Jonas likes to spend that time peeing on things he shouldn’t and pouring the dry cat food into the full cat water dish, so it totally messed up his plans for the day also).

To keep a long story fairly reasonably shortish; we did make it through and all of the kids eventually got around to each and everyone one of their activities (Jonas even managed to find time to shatter the power button on the one remaining TV we have he hadn’t yet destroyed, so it was a fairly productive day for him despite all), but getting through it did involve each of the following:

1. Me screaming at Jason that if he didn’t come home from work early our six year-old wouldn’t love us anymore.

2. Roughly 75 miles of driving racked up between our house and schools or soccer fields within 2 miles of us for the day.

3. Jason getting stuck in traffic and arriving home 15 minutes later than the scheduled time thus throwing THE ENTIRE PLAN out of wack and lots of crying (only from me, the boys handled it all fine).

4. A total lack of cell service between Jason’s and my phones while he was at the elementary school and I was at home resulting in an inability to coordinate Ben’s pick-up portion of his soccer practice, which I had completely forgotten about till then.

5. Me throwing an almost naked Jonas into the car (he stripped down for no reason, as usual) to rush to the soccer fields because I had concluded that probably if I couldn’t get a hold of him Jason wasn’t going to just remember to leave the school and go get Ben, and if I didn’t leave THAT SECOND, Ben would probably get kidnapped by a homeless pedophile.

6. Me carrying shoeless, shirtless Jonas the mile or so across the billions of soccer fields in front of the billions of parents who stared at me wondering, “When did they start letting hillbillies into this league? AYSO has really gone downhill out here…” to grab Ben and get him back to the car.

7. A decimating of all safe driving laws to get home as quickly as possible when I realized the timer on the oven for our dinner had started going off 5 minutes earlier and the good bet was on a return to a smoke-filled, alarm-going off house.

8. Gray getting a tummy ache from the damn chocolate milk and cookies the stupid school gave them at 5:45PM (hello? Were we supposed to feed him dinner at 4:45PM before he went to this activity? What about the ‘family dinnertime’ you authority figures are always preaching about?)

9. The family sitting down to dinner at 7:45PM, an hour and a half later than usual.

Yesterday’s debacle of scheduling and driving and kids and work almost ruined family dinner, but in the end, it was delicious. Because, of course, in addition to all of that insanity, I had also already made all of my quick and easy recipes for the week and all I had ingredients left for was the homemade soup I’d never made before. Luckily it wasn’t that complicated (unlike my life).

Roasted Chicken and Butternut Soup

Ingredients:

4 chicken thighs (with skin and bone)
1 medium butternut squash (peeled, seeded, chopped)
1 small yellow onion (diced)
4 cups chicken broth
1 lemon
Fresh cilantro
Salt
Cumin
Pepper
Olive oil

Preparation:

Bake chicken, butternut squash, yellow onion, salt and olive oil in a large flat baking dish (or cookie sheet) 30 minutes (ok, I baked ours 40 minutes and it was ok and didn’t burn the house down) at 425 degrees or until butternut squash is soft and chicken is cooked through. Boil chicken broth and toss in squash and onion mixture (mush the squash up with a spoon if you feel like it). Let chicken cool and de-skin and de-bone it and shred and toss in pot. Add more salt, cumin, pepper and lemon juice to taste. Serve with cilantro on top (and sour cream if you want).

Doppelgangers and Baked Potatoes

Before I get to the food portion of my Wednesday post, I would like to discuss something on my mind that is neither food nor real estate related. Yesterday was one of those ridiculously long days that started with a dash out the door at 7:12 AM in four inch heels and ended with a barefoot, purse dragging along the ground shuffle in (Jonas, sobbing and clawing at the bottom of my skirt to be carried) at 6:47 PM, and with an encore of 3.5 hours of laundry before I could pass out.

The laundry situation is what I would like your advice on. Have you seen that show Fringe? It has Pacey from Dawson’s Creek in it. You know which one I’m talking about. And the old guy in it is hilarious. It’s a pretty good show. This show deals with weird stuff like people moving from one dimension to another and doppelgangers and whatnot. This season I think there are two Olivias (one of the main characters) because both Olivias from the two dimensions are currently in the same dimension. I know, you’re wondering how this relates to my laundry. Ok, so here’s the thing: I’m starting to wonder if my family from the other dimension has somehow made it over here to our dimension and is living in our house and wearing our clothes and I just hadn’t noticed it yet because they’ve each managed to not ever be in the same place at the same time as their doppelganger. Except for the laundry. There’s just way too much of it and it’s beyond suspicious. I think that may have been the ‘other’ family’s fatal error; because now I’ve figured it out.

Exhibit A: The underwear piles – My laundry system (if you can call it that) is as such: I run laundry regularly and dump the clean loads on the floor in the master bedroom (so if anyone really needs something before it gets put away, they’re welcome to dig through the clean piles). Then once or twice a week I spend several hours folding and putting everything away. Last night was my big laundry night because the cleaning people were coming this morning and everything needed to be off the floor. After I spent about two hours folding everything and organizing it into piles so that it could all be put away properly, I stepped back and took a look at the sheer magnitude of each of these piles. And then I counted the number of pairs of underwear in my middle son’s stack. It totaled 16. SIXTEEN pairs of underwear in less than one week. Now I can understand this if I was counting my youngest son’s pile, because he is still in the final stages of potty training and therefore has a valid reason for wearing multiple pairs of underwear a day. But my middle son is six, and should only be wearing one a day, right? Do any of you change your underwear more than once a day? Because that’s weird, if you do.

Exhibit B: My husband’s t-shirts – OK, so I maintain that it’s been less than a week since I’ve laundered the household, but I was sick over the weekend and effectively lost two days, so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say it’s been just over a week since I’ve put away all of his shirts. We’ll say I was working with 10 days of shirts for him last night (although I guarantee you it wasn’t near that many). And let’s also take into consideration that probably 30% of the time I wear one of his shirts to bed. So we’ll even give him credit for 5 of the shirts I put away last night to be from my own usage. We need to also remember that he’s a sweaty guy, so he probably changes his shirt once a day (which is reasonable to understand). So doing that math (and everything has been healthily rounded up, please keep in mind) I could expect to put away about 25 shirts last night, right? In fact, when I asked him to guess how many I had just put in his closet, his first guess was 15. The actual number, however, was a whopping 43. FORTY-THREE shirts of his that I washed and put away. And ohmygod that doesn’t even include the white t-shirts he wears under his regular shirts to catch his man-sweatiness.

Obviously the only explanation for all of this is a doppelganger family wearing all of our clothes and depositing them into our dirty clothes hampers. Or that I have a boyfriend who wears my husband’s clothes that I’ve mentally blocked out because I’m morally opposed to cheating on my husband. But that wouldn’t explain Gray’s excessive underpants-usage. Must be the doppelgangers.

So what should I do about this? Any suggestions?

Anyway. Food. Last night we had this:

That’s Tyler Florence’s Ultimate Stuffed Potato. We watched the episode where he made it once and were sold. We make them pretty regularly because the kids love them. You can follow the recipe, but basically you just bake the potatoes, steam the broccoli, fry the bacon and then make the cheese sauce using a rue (equal parts flour and butter simmered into a creamy paste, constantly stirring), heavy cream and shredded white cheddar (although apparently when I was grocery shopping this week I grabbed a sharp New York yellow cheddar instead accidentally, and it was just as good in the sauce last night). So it’s a hearty, easy, throw together meal my whole family will eat. It is not low-fat. But hey, my unicorn chef didn’t make it either (he’s out of town visiting his mother who lives in Des Moines).

Game Changer Stir-Fry

I can regularly be caught trolling the internet for new recipes. This is usually when I’m avoiding a tedious computer task and I’ve already read all of the new entries on the Fug Girls’ website. Seeing as how my family has spent the last year or so cooking at home six nights a week, it’s been more than a challenge to keep everyone well fed and not bored with Meatloaf Monday and Taco Tuesday. My favorite places to find things are Food TV and Cooking Light, but I’ve been known to browse All Recipes as well.

The website All Recipes definitely has issues with consistent quality, but I’m pretty sure it’s because it allows anyone to post a recipe or write a review. So you kind of never know what you’re going to get. Take for instance this recipe I found the other day while looking for kid friendly easy dinners. I have to say, I don’t know who ‘Grandma’ was, but I feel pretty confident she is deceased and her death was not from old age. Anyone who can consume processed cheese slices melted in undiluted condensed tomato soup poured over pasta shells (PLUS salt!! Please feel free to add more salt if the sodium content of condensed soup and processed cheese isn’t high enough for you already.) and call it a meal must surely have perished in an Elvis Presley style heart attack on the toilet with 30 pounds of fecal matter lodged in her colon, right?

But anyway. I did find an article on All Recipes last week that I think may be my favorite food article ever. It’s not really a recipe; it’s more like a cooking technique, or kind of like a pattern for a dress. You pick the fabric and determine the size, and a dress pattern shows you the process of how to create it. Well, this article allows you to pick the protein, veggie and sauce, but explains just exactly how to make the perfect stir-fry.

I’ve made stir-fryish food before, and I love a good sauteed chicken and veggie over rice, but I hadn’t ever figured out how to really make it work consistently. After reading the article, I’m totally a stir-fry queen. I used it last week for a lemon chicken with frozen veggies stir fry and then again last night for the very best beef and broccoli I’ve ever produced. In fact, I’m going to institute an official Newlin Family weekly stir-fry night. You totally wish you were one of my kids now, don’t you? Sorry, my nest is full, I refuse to raise you.

I do, however, have one last secret to give you in consolation. You probably know that flank steak is the best type of beef for this kind of stir-fry (and if you didn’t know that, don’t feel bad, it took me years to understand, I find meat so very confusing). If you knew that, you are also probably aware that flank steak is totally pricey. The butcher at Bashas told me this is because there’s only one good flank steak per cow, which makes it rarer than other cuts that can produce a larger quantity per cow. This makes sense to me. The secret I’ve recently learned is the flat iron steak is just as good as flank steak and generally about $2/lb cheaper. I can consistently buy flat iron steak at Frys for $5.99/lb, while flank steak is always $7.99/lb or more. So there you go; excellent stir-fry on the cheap. You don’t even have to poison yourself with ‘Grandma’s Easy Shells’.

Ingredients for Beef and Broc:
2 lbs flat iron beef
2 lbs broccoli
½ white onion, chopped
4 cloves minced garlic
2 tablespoons minced ginger
And I used the recipe for the Soy-Sesame Sauce in the sidebar.

The Smoke Off (that's 'off', not 'out', People, keep it clean)

Whew! It’s been utter chaos around here for the Labor Day weekend. I showed properties for 11 million hours a day and then dashed home to attend various parties and BBQ events. Basically by the time Tuesday rolled around I had a raging food/party/work/no sleep hangover. But let me tell you, it was all worth it. Friday I’ll post some fun showing details, but today, I’d like to discuss the food. Mmmmm… food…

The various men in my family (minus my brother, who is currently a fancy-pants San Franciscan but plus our ‘brother from another mother’, Todd) have been debating lately who makes the best smoked meat. Clearly this is a man-thang. I like smokey meat as well as the next carnivore, but I really have no desire to spend 6 hours sitting in a lawn chair in 108 degree Arizona sun monitoring what is basically a cylindrical space heater full of meat. But in a room filled with my husband, my father, my brother-in-law-to-be and my brother-from-another-mother, I would be alone in this opinion. So they decided the only way to settle the ongoing debate would be to hold a Labor Day BBQ rib ‘smoke-off’. And that is what they did.

The Competitors - John, Todd, Jason and JT

Each man had to prepare a rack of babyback ribs and his own, homemade BBQ sauce. We all voted on best rib, best sauce, and best rib/sauce combo.

The Ribs

I was extremely impressed with the selection of meats. Each had different flavor and texture, and none was in any way unyummy. I told Todd after I found out that his was the rib with the crispy black crust and smokey-sweet flavor that I didn’t think I would like the black stuff, but I did, it was really fabulous. He replied, ‘That’s what they all say, Sweetheart, that’s what all the ladies say.’ Because he’s Todd.

Sarah, 36 or so months pregnant, explaining the rules.

We put my sister, Sarah, in charge of putting out the ribs and explaining the directions to everyone. This was because she’s a vegetarian and wasn’t participating in the tasting portion (so that it could remain blind) and because she’s a teacher and a mom-to-be and really good at bossing everyone around.

Wouldn't this be a cute picture of my sister and me if only my sister didn't have her eyes closed? That's why you always take at least two, MOM.

After everyone had voted the results came in as such:

Best Rib: Tie – JT and Todd
Best Sauce: Tie – Jason and John
Best Rib/Sauce Combo:

The Big Man won it! That's right, JT, my dad took home the big prize.

Which, you know, makes sense. He does have the most experience out of all of the competitors. In life. (Because he’s old, get it?) Nah, but really, his ribs and sauce were excellent and flawless. It was a tough win, but he deserved it.

Although, it is possible that my sister rigged the voting. It had a bit of a storybook outcome, you know. Everyone wins, no hurt feelings. She is flooded with mothering hormones and instincts right now, I’m just saying.

Eventually worn out from all of the bossing and vote-rigging, the head judge needed a nap.

My culinary contribution to the meal was a side of Smashed Potatoes. That’s right, ‘smashed’, not mashed. And I forgot to take a picture, but basically it goes like this:

Ingredients:
Small red potatoes
Butter
Salt
Vinegar
Fresh parsley
Garlic powder

Boil the potatoes, whole, until soft. Smash potatoes with the back of a spoon directly out of the water and toss into a large bowl with butter, salt and parsley and finish off with garlic powder and a couple of shakes of vinegar. It’s kind of a cross between mashed potatoes and a potato salad. And it’s all ‘to taste’. It’s super fast, easy and yum.

This is my youngest with my brother's wife's mother, Diane (so sort of a mother in-law?). Jonas has never looked so angelic or smiled so well for a picture before. This was immediately before he went and found my mother's favorite ceramic bell, snuck out the front door and threw it into the fountain in their front yard, shattering it. Demonic possession - sometimes it just happens, Mom, what can I say?

Baked Spaghetti Made By Jorge

My very favorite kinds of meals are quick, few ingredients and yum. Also, kids will eat, nutritious, not at all fattening, inexpensive to make and prepared by my unicorn private chef, Jorge (unicorns emigrated from Scotland to South America in the 1400s, did you not know that?) would be nice, but I will settle for four or five of those qualities.

Therefore, the baked spaghetti and mozzarella I made for pre-soccer practice dinner last week fit the bill. This one is also totally from Everyday Food Magazine.

Ingredients:

2 cans of whole tomatoes
Olive oil
Fresh garlic
3/4 package of spaghetti
Fresh basil
3/4 lb mozzarella (not shredded, in a ball)

Basically, all you do is boil the spaghetti to just past crunchy (so not quite done). Puree the tomatoes in a food processor. Dice or press as much garlic as you like and saute it in the olive oil until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and simmer sauce to thicken. Cut mozzarella into little 1/2 inch cubes. Toss together the sauce, the basil (just torn into medium to small pieces), the spaghetti and half of the mozzarella and transfer it to a large baking dish. Top with the rest of the mozzarella and bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes or so (until it’s bubbly).

Totally basic, but really clean, delicious flavors. Plus carbo-licious for the kids to have energy to burn at practice (and they actually ate it, which also doesn’t suck).

Pins and Noodles… or Just Noodles

Fall soccer season has just started and of course my business has exploded (yes, I’m officially feeling dopey for my summer slump panic and subsequent hand wringing/job searching). I suddenly have clients coming out of my ears and my schedule is starting to look like a battlefield. PTO meeting versus a listing appointment in Laveen versus soccer practice number 934 for the week: which will win the battle for supreme domination of my life and the Wednesday at 7pm time slot?

I’m back to dashing from appointment to appointment during the day and then slogging through computer work at night. I was starting to get used to only really working at all during the day, when my brain is at its peak of clarity. Now that I no longer have that luxury I’m sending emails to lenders berating them for lagging docs and using the phrase, ‘pins and noodles’. You know, that my poor buyers are waiting on. It’s a sad, wet, occasionally sharp, but mostly slimy situation.

So the point is, I’ve been searching for fast and easy family food fare so that my kids can still get a home cooked meal and I don’t just stick my head in the oven while I’m slaving over it due to the added stress. Thus, speaking of noodles:

Chicken Noodle Soup

I got this recipe from Everyday Food (which, yes, is where I get lots of my dinners). It was super easy and the kids loved it.

8 cups of water
8 cups of chicken broth
4 carrots, sliced
Bag of frozen peas
¾ lb of spaghetti
4 chicken breasts with bone and skin on
4 chicken thighs with bone and skin on
Salt and pepper

Boil the broth and water in a giant pot. Toss in the chicken and boil till chicken is cooked through (about 18 minutes did it for me). Tong out the chicken (yes, I just created a verb) and put it on a plate in the fridge for 10 minutes. Throw carrots in for 10 minutes. Break spaghetti into small pieces and toss it in for 8 more minutes. Take out the chicken and remove skin and bones and shred. Toss frozen peas and shredded into the pot and boil till everything is up to temp. Salt and pepper to taste.

I’m not even normally a fan of chicken noodle soup, but this homemade version was yum and a half. I even ate it for lunch the next day.