Sunday, February 27, 2011

Spicy Bow-tie Pasta

This recipe is too simple to taste so good.

My good friend, Heather, shared this recipe with me once.  Heather is an amazing cook.  I have received many delicious recipes from her.  This is one of my favorites. 

12 ounces bow-tie pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon Thai Chile Paste
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes

6-8 tablespoons basil pesto   
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
½ cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese
¼ cup toasted pine nuts

Boil water and cook pasta according to directions on package.  Drain and keep warm in a large bowl.

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet or wok.  Stir in chile paste and sauté for 30 seconds.  Add half of the chicken pieces at a time and cook until golden brown.  (See tip below.)  Transfer cooked chicken to a large bowl.  Mix in pesto, cilantro, Parmesan cheese, and pine nuts.  Toss until combined.

·   Chicken tastes the best when it is cooked fast on high heat.  Time and heat play a big factor in trapping the flavor and texture of chicken.  Avoid boiling the chicken in its own juices.  To do this, cook chicken in small batches (about 1 cup of chicken at a time).  If the chicken juices begin to collect while cooking, remove with a large spoon.

·   Thai Chili Paste can be found in the Asian section at most major supermarkets. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Never Say Never

I told myself and my husband that I would never buy a fixer upper house again.  It took us 10 years to finally finish our first home.  Someone once told me to beware when you finish fixing up your house; it means you will be selling it soon.  I just laughed, shaking my head, “No way.  We are going to be enjoying this house for many years.”   

We finished our back bathroom and a month later we sold the house.  We only used the enormous, beautiful bathtub 3 times. 

As we packed up the house, I reminded myself and Dan, we are going to buy a finished house.  We are going to buy a finished house.  We are going to buy a finished house!   

Our next house would be livable, beautiful, perfect.  We already put time, investment, and sacrifice in; now was the time to reap the rewards.  

So we began looking in my “dream” neighborhood for a house to buy.  As we drove around looking at different houses, I flipped through a stack of ‘for sale’ fliers advertising the homes for sale.  I knew that this neighborhood was high priced.  I just didn’t know how high.  I started to notice a pattern in all of the prices.  This was an unbelievably expensive neighborhood.  My husband and I looked at each other with disappointment in our eyes.   

Suddenly I felt a strong attraction to fixer uppers.

We drove up to a fixer.  Trying to be positive, I looked at the house before me.  With a lot of paint, new molding, new windows, new landscaping, new front door, this could be a beautiful house.  As we entered the front door that looked like a hobbit’s door from The Lord of the Rings, I looked around.  “Oh, no.  This is a lot.”  The house was huge.  It had good bones, but everything, I mean everything needed to be redone. Cottage cheese on the ceilings.  An empty pool with a couple of feet of green moldy water in it- a breeding cesspool for the West Nile virus.  Water damage and stains on the carpet throughout.  The kitchen had not been updated since the 50s.  And what was that smell?  I pulled out my Wet Ones and started bathing myself with them.  I hadn’t touched anything, but I was sure the germs were flying through the air sticking to me.  My husband began to look skittish.

“Come on, Honey,” I assured him, “We can do this.  It may be tight for a while, a really long while, maybe forever, but we can do it.”     

We looked down at the price on the flier.  It was way out of our price range.  Money would be so tight.  How and when could we ever fix it up?  Maybe I could get the carpet cleaned?  Spray it down with deodorizer? 

My husband Dan stood there quietly; his mind full of thought.  Then he finally spoke, “I can take on more hours at work, and maybe put out my application for some part time work on the side.”  Oh, good, he was still considering it.   

We left the house in silence, both of our minds were filled with deep thoughts.  His thoughts were of our future livelihood.  My thoughts were deeper than that; I was thinking about how I am going to keep my children from laying on the carpets.   

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

This soup is to die for, especially when you use homemade broth.  (See my Homemade Chicken Broth recipe.)

For those of you who are allergic or sensitive to dairy, just omit the heavy cream.  The soup tastes just as delicious without it.  

Enjoy!  My family sure does.

Photo: Matt  Food Stylist: Jason

2 teaspoons olive oil
3 shallots, finely chopped
½ cup celery, chopped
½ cup sliced mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup uncooked wild/brown rice blend
6 cups chicken broth
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon dried thyme
Pinch of dry ground mustard
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 uncooked boneless, skinless chicken breasts,
   sliced very thin, cut into 1 inch strips
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
¼ cup sherry cooking wine

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Sauté shallots, celery, and mushrooms until tender and lightly browned.  Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes longer.  Add rice, chicken broth, bay leaf, salt, pepper, thyme, dry mustard, and lime juice.  Cover and cook 35 minutes. Add chicken.  Cook 10 minutes uncovered, until chicken is fully cooked. Add the rest of ingredients and simmer uncovered for 10 more minutes until slightly thickened.

This is a shallot.  It is about half the size of a small onion, and on the inside it looks similar to a red onion.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Dream of Mine

Why the sudden move and agreement to sell our home?  It had been a dream of mine, for quite some time, to own a home in the neighborhood I grew up in.  It is a quaint neighborhood, as I remember it from years past.  Kids running through the streets.  Boys dressed in camouflage, playing G.I. Joe, building forts in the backyard, chasing me and my girl friends, tying us to trees and leaving us there.  Good memories.  Memories of being tied to benches and stop signs.  Memories of carrying scissors so the next time we were tied to something, we could free ourselves. 

Walking to the store by ourselves.  Finding loose change on the ground to buy a Thrifty ice cream- Black Cherry for me, Chocolate Malted Crunch for my side kick, and Rainbow Sherbet for her kid sister.  Enjoying our Thrifty ice cream until finishing it halfway through, then knocking it off so we could get another scoop for free.

Lemonade stands.  Wearing a whistle around my neck and my over cautious mom tying a rope around my ankle attaching me to the front yard tree just in case Chester the Molester tried to take me.  The rope around my ankle?  Not a  fabrication.    

Great schools.  Quaint.  Safe.

Life growing up in this hood was great.  Well, except for the being tied to trees bit.

This neighborhood is highly sought after especially by young families in the area, but it’s the luck of the financial draw that determines who really gets to live there. 

I have always wanted to raise my children in this perfect place. The only problem with my dream was that it was always expensively out of reach until....  with the sale of our home, we received some equity that made this dream a bit more attainable, but not without sacrifice.  

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Baked Stuffed Salmon, Brown Rice, and Easy Baked Asparagus

Are your ready?  Are you asking yourself, "What do I cook for Valentine's Day?"  No need to fret!  How about a delicious stuffed salmon?  Are you ready for him to be impressed? 

       Photo: Matt    Food Styling: Jason


Baked Stuffed Salmon

3 (6-ounce) salmon fillets
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Salt and ground black pepper to season
¼ cup butter or extra light olive oil
½ cup chopped celery
½ cup chopped onion
4 slices soft crust less bread,
   ripped into small pieces
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
teaspoon ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400o

To prepare fish, melt two tablespoons butter in a medium size bowl.  Dip salmon in butter and then lightly season with salt and pepper.   Slit an opening lengthwise down the side of each fish.  Make the opening deep enough for stuffing to be put inside.  Place in a baking dish and set aside. 

                                                                                Photo: Matt

In a skillet over medium-high heat, melt ¼ cup butter or heat olive oil.  Add celery and onion.  Sauté until tender.  Stir in all the remaining ingredients- bread, salt, thyme, and pepper.  Cook in skillet until bread has been moistened by butter or olive oil.  Let stuffing cool for a couple of minutes. 

Stuff each fish opening until fillets are evenly stuffed.  Do not worry about fitting stuffing completely into the fish opening.  Bake for 13-18 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork.

                                                                          Photo: Matt

Recommended Side dishes

Side Dish ~ Brown Rice

1 medium onion, chopped
½ cup sliced fresh mushrooms
1 tablespoon olive oil
1½ cups uncooked brown rice
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried parsley
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon salt

In a medium size saucepan, sauté onion and mushrooms in oil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until lightly browned.  Add rice to pan, and stir until rice begins to lightly brown.  Add remaining ingredients; bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 35-40 minutes or until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed.

Side Dish ~ Easy Baked Asparagus


1½ pounds asparagus spears
¼ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 450o.

Cut off and discard the woody base from the asparagus. 

Coat the bottom of an oven-safe baking dish or a cookie sheet with olive oil.  Roll asparagus on the bottom of the dish to coat with olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Bake for 15 minutes.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Simple Romance, Simple Pleasures

Since Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching, I thought it would be appropriate to put my simple life journey on hold to focus on a very special day. 

My husband and I were newlyweds.  He was in the master’s program, so many nights he would come home very late and slip into bed beside me without my knowing.  I wanted to do something special for him to keep the newlywed romance alive.  I put a few chocolate candies on his pillow to surprise him when he came to bed that night.  I could just imagine his delight when he found them. 

He would feel like a guest at an expensive hotel.  

He would feel warm and cozy inside.  

He would think that I was the sweetest wife in the whole world.  

Well, he never found the chocolate. 

Instead, he laid down his head upon them, and rolled around in them all night long.  So morning comes, and I awaken to this tall, dark, handsome, and hairy man covered in chocolate.  I was like, “Yum!”  “Rawrrrr!” 

Talk about dreams coming true. 


And then I was like, “Spit, spit, spit.”  I think I got a hairball.  Ughh!  Whoever came up with the idea of mixing food and love?  Oh, it is so gross. 

So this Valentine’s Day, I would suggest to you, leave the food in the cupboard, dim the lights, close the door, and do something simple with your husband. 

Enjoy simple pleasures without food.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Family Pizza Night

Photo: Matt   Food Styling: Jason

A few moms I know have Family Pizza Night every Friday night with their families.  They make delicious homemade pizza and throw in a movie to have a fun, relaxed night as a family.  I think the tradition is a great idea, and so I have jumped on the Family Pizza Night bandwagon.  Here is an enticing Pizza Margherita for you and yours to enjoy! 

Pizza Margherita

Homemade pizza dough (recipe below)                  ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
4 Roma tomatoes, thinly sliced                                2 Tablespoon parmesan cheese, divided
2 Tablespoons olive oil                                            1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
½ teaspoon garlic salt                                              ½ cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves

Preheat oven to 450.  Place your pizza stone in the oven to preheat for 10 minutes.

Roll dough out into 2 round crusts.  Place onto heated pizza stones.  Spread a light layer of olive oil over both.  Bake for 5-8 minutes (depending upon oven) until lightly browned.  Remove from the oven.    

Arrange tomatoes evenly onto the pizza crusts.  Drizzle olive oil over tomatoes; then evenly sprinkle garlic salt, pepper, and 1 Tbsp. parmesan cheese over pizza.  Bake pizza for 8-10 minutes.  Keep an eye on it.  Remove from oven.

Sprinkle each pizza with mozzarella, the remaining 1 Tbsp. parmesan, and basil leaves on top of pizza.  Bake for an additional 3-5 minutes, allowing the cheese to melt. 

Note:  All ovens are different, so just be sure to keep an eye on your pizzas to make sure they don't burn.

Homemade Pizza Crust (makes 2 pizza crusts)

cups lukewarm water
1 dry active yeast packet (¼ oz.)
½ teaspoon sugar
3 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
Olive oil

                Combine water, yeast, and sugar.  Let stand 10 minutes.  Add flour and salt.  Mix and knead for about 10 minutes.  Place in a greased bowl and cover.  Let dough rise for 30 minutes.  Roll out pizza dough into two thin crusts.  Place on heated pizza stones. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

On a Whim

I found myself living on the beach in Southern California, yards away from the sand.  How did I get there?  Strangely, I did not consider it my home.  We moved there on a whim.  Doing anything on a whim is the last thing in my character, but I am finding that people can change.  We lived in Long Beach, California in a nice neighborhood.  The house was perfect in every way.  My husband and I had bought a fixer of a house.  We practically gutted the entire thing.  The kitchen, bathrooms, master bedroom- all ripped out.  It took us years to complete, as we did the work ourselves- scraping cottage cheese off of ceilings, sanding, painting, constructing, etc.  The final product was a quaint, delightful home.  Everything was the way I had planned it.  It turned out exactly what I wished for.


The phone rang, my father on the other end of the line.  "Janna, if you want to sell your house, I have prequalified buyers who I think would be interested in buying it."  "What in the world?"  I thought to myself.  I would be crazy to want to sell something that we had put so much of our hearts and souls into completing.  What came out of my mouth surprised even me.  "Go ahead and send them over, Dad."

Within a week, my house was sold.  We were moving to the beach one month later.