Saturday, June 25, 2011

"What Can You Make from the Dregs of Your Fridge?" Round Two (Double Jeopardy)

Friday night, and I just couldn't face another delivery of pizza. So once again, I found myself peering into the fridge, wondering what gourmet meal might be hidden in there, disguised in plastic containers and half-empty jars of God-knows-what. I had bought a large package of fresh chicken and rosemary tortellini (Buitoni--I had only tried the three cheese before this) that had been in the fridge for a few days and needed to be cooked--or frozen. But what to put on it? Alfredo sounded perfect, especially since I had several cheeses on hand (cream cheese, parmesan and sharp provolone). Here's my favorite Alfredo recipe, tweaked a bit:

Alfredo Sauce

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
1 tablespoon cream cheese (I used two this time!)
1 cup half-and-half (I probably used 1 1/4 cups to thin out this extra cheesy sauce)
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, freshly-grated
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
*I also added a half cup of finely-shredded aged provolone, a good bit of black pepper, and a generous tablespoon of chopped parsley.

In a saucepan, melt butter. When butter is melted, add the cream cheese. When the cream cheese is softened, add half-and-half and the parmesan (and provolone) cheese(s). Add garlic powder (and black pepper) and stir well. Simmer this for 15-20 minutes on low. Then stir in the chopped fresh parsley before serving.

Since the tortellini already had chicken in it, I forewent any additional protein(s), but I did want something "meaty" on top. In the fridge, I found an eight-ounce package of sliced baby bella mushrooms that was slightly past its prime, along with half a jar of roasted red peppers that I chopped up (probably should have sliced them instead...oh well). I sauteed the mushrooms in a large frying pan in a little butter and olive oil, a pinch of red pepper flakes, some black pepper, and then added the red peppers and a couple of cloves' worth of minced garlic. When the mushrooms were tender, I finished them off with a generous tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, and then let it all reduce a bit while I prepared the pasta according to the package directions.

I must say, this hodge-podge dish was so easy and SO TASTY and certainly ran circles around our typical Friday night pizza delivery!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Another rainy day? MAKE COOKIES!

The weather this year has been unbelievable! After all of my posts this winter about the overwhelming amount of snow, I bet you can guess what the spring brought: RECORD FLOODS! Lake Champlain hasn't been this high in a century or something, and many people I know in the area have been bailing out their basements or worse, filling sandbags by night to keep the rising waters (literally) at bay. You would think since the calendar says "summer," that we would finally get a break from all the rain, but nooooooo. We have had but a handful of days in May and June when the shiny disk in the sky managed to break through the nimbus clouds and let us bask in its warmth. Annnnnd....back to the rain.

However, as I grew up in Washington and Oregon, AND as I am still trying to fill up a swimming pool, I say, BRING IT! Plus, when it rains, you have an excuse to ignore the yard work and other outdoor projects, and you can stay inside and bake cookies. Tee hee. I find myself becoming rather domestic on Fridays in the summer, as I don't have classes to teach. Since my poor roomie does have to work, when she requested that I make her some homemade peanut butter cookies, I couldn't help but oblige. And I think I made some DARN GOOD ONES, too! I found the recipe on Smitten Kitchen (as I often do), and she adapted the recipe from The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook. The next rainy day--or even for the next sunny picnic--you should make these easy and luscious cookies.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
(Adapted from The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook)

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup peanut butter at room temperature (smooth or chunky)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar (I used dark)
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup peanut butter chips (I swapped out chopped peanuts as I hate PB--and butterscotch--chips, GACK!)
1/2 cup chocolate chips

For sprinkling: 1/4 cup sugar, regular or superfine

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the flour, the baking soda, the baking powder, and the salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and the peanut butter together until fluffy. Add the sugars and beat until smooth. Add the egg and mix well. Add the milk and the vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture and beat thoroughly. Stir in the peanut butter chips (or peanuts) and chocolate chips. Place sprinkling sugar — the remaining tablespoon — on a plate. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls into the sugar, then onto ungreased cookie sheets, leaving several inches between for expansion. Using a fork, lightly indent with a crisss-cross pattern, but do not overly flatten cookies.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes* (until just a pale golden color). Do not overbake. Cookies may appear to be underdone, but they are not. Cool the cookies on the sheets for one minute, then remove to a rack to cool completely.

Gina's Note: I found that they took 9-10 minutes if the dough was room temperature and 11-12 if the dough was chilled. Using a standard cookie scoop, I got 35 cookies out of this one batch!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Let's play, "What Can You Make with the Dregs of Your Fridge?"

So...we have a problem in my household. My poor roommate has a job that requires her to get up at a truly ungodly hour of the morning, which consequently compels her to go to bed somewhat early (by 10pm). But as I have shared many times, I am totally nocturnal, and it only gets worse when I have a relaxed work schedule during the summer. The other factor is the long days; I don't really even think about cooking dinner until the sun has gone down, and that's not until after 9pm these days! So my roommate tends to make a sandwich and then shuffle up the stairs just about the time I begin cooking up a storm in the kitchen.

Last night, we had spent all evening working outside--Cyd mowed the back forty while I cleaned the pool. (Yeah, yeah, I know! It should have been opened a month ago. But it's still in the 60's and rainy, so what's the rush?) We were so pooped by the time we came inside, that Cyd went to bed without supper, and I considered doing the same. But around 10pm, I found myself staring into the fridge, trying to conceive of what I could make without too much actual cooking. I found greens (a tiny head of leaf lettuce and some baby spinach), some leftover bacon, several slices of multigrain bread that had become a bit dry, and a dozen farm-fresh eggs. So I snipped a handful of thyme from the herb garden, whisked up a dijon vinaigrette, toasted some croutons, basted a couple of eggs, and ended up with a salad that nearly brought me to tears of joy! I thought myself a genius for inventing such a deliciously savory salad, but as it turns out, this a classic combination of flavors that the Frenchies call Salade Lyonnaise. Of course, it's usually made with frisee or other such bitter greens, but I am a mild, buttery lettuce type of gal.

The croutons were fashioned from four pieces of stale Milton's multigrain bread cut into chunks and tossed with a couple of tablespoons of melted butter, salt, pepper, and granulated garlic, then toasted in the oven at 400 degrees until deep golden brown. Sidebar: I got a Facebook response from Milton's, and they apparently had a recent crouton-off in their office, and the winning combination was triangle-shaped croutons with thyme, olive oil, garlic and parmesan. So next time, I'll have to try cutting them into that shape (for even toasting and maximum crunchiness) and adding parmesan! But I was pleased to read that my instincts were confirmed at the source, "The flavors of the thyme and the subtle sweetness of Milton’s bread really worked well together to make a truly delicious crouton."

For the vinaigrette, I whisked together two shallots and two cloves of garlic (finely minced), a generous tablespoon of whole-grain Dijon mustard, a scant tablespoon of honey, a pinch of salt, a good bit of black pepper, maybe 1/4 to 1/3 cup of white wine vinegar and perhaps 1/3 to 1/2 cup of olive oil, and a couple of teaspoons of fresh thyme leaves, roughly chopped.

Then you wash up some greens of your choice, fry up a few pieces of bacon, poach or baste a couple of eggs (try to keep the yolks a little runny so that they mix with the dressing and sumptuously coat the lettuce leaves), assemble, and DEVOUR!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Strawberry Social

I have a friend at work who is retiring this year, and she threw a HUGE backyard bash yesterday to celebrate! And--miracle of miracles--the rain let up for a few hours, and it was a truly GORGEOUS day for a garden party! There were tents and tables set up, two bands that took turns playing (she has a very musical family!), and all the bottled beverages the revelers could consume! For the food, the hostess made Italian beef sandwiches and meatballs and a three-bean salad, and of course, there was a big congratulatory cake. The rest of us were encouraged to bring either a salad or other side dish OR a dessert. But my friend, June, goaded me by reporting that she would be bringing both a pasta salad AND some delectable brownies a la Alton Brown (Alton Brownies?) So I felt like an underachiever if I didn't prepare one savory and one sweet item, too. But what to bring?

I always like to be inspired by local, fresh, seasonal food, so my first thought was: STRAWBERRIES! But it's been so cool and wet this year, our local u-picks weren't officially open for business yet. Therefore, as has become my custom, I made my way to Quebec to acquire THESE beauties! They are somewhat smaller, but sweeter and gorgeously red all the way through. Now...what to do with them?

For my savory side, I made a ginormous salad with mixed greens, sliced strawberries, crumbled blue cheese, slivered red onions, and my new favorite crouton substitute--pepitas! And I found the perfect bottled dressing to accompany a strawberry salad, Brianna's Blush Wine Vinaigrette. SO YUMMY!

That just left dessert. The most obvious strawberry dessert is shortcake, but I didn't think that it would hold up well at an outdoor potluck. I also considered strawberry cheesecake, but again, I thought it might melt in the sun. So I settled on strawberry pie. Everyone loves strawberry pie, but no one (with a shred of taste or dignity) enjoys that nasty red goo that you buy in the produce department--the one that's corn syrup-based and of a hue not occuring in nature. So I went trolling for a recipe where you make a homemade glaze for the berries. In doing so, I ran across a pie that had a cream cheese layer, and that settled that! It's like strawberry pie and cheesecake put together! YUM!

I made a couple of substantive changes, of course. The main ones were that the glaze recipe calls for grenadine syrup, and the store that I stopped at was out, so I used Pom Wonderful's fresh pomegranate juice (which worked great, and I would always make this swap in the future--it just tastes better and without the added corn syrup in grenadine). And since my herb garden is overrun with thyme right now, I decided to infuse the glaze with a bundle of the fragrant stuff. I thought it turned out delicious, cutting the fruity sweetness with those fresh, herbal notes. I would do that again, too. I was a little worried about the cream cheese layer sitting around outside, so I brought a bag of ice to sit the pie on (clever, non?), and knowing how the strawberries would start to make everything runny in short order, I waited until I got to the party to add the strawberry topping to the pie. I am pleased to report that I took home a clean pie plate!

If strawberries have started (or are still going) where you live, you should try making this lovely pie. And if you're preparing it to take to an event, you will be pleased to know that you can bake the crust and fill it with the cream cheese layer ahead of time. Wrap it with plastic, and just let it chill overnight. You may also make the glaze the day before, and let that chill, too. Before you head to your party, slice your berries and toss with the glaze. Then take the pie and the berry mixture separately, and combine immediately before serving. (This is not a pie that holds over well, so be prepared to eat the whole thing in one sitting; it's a great way to make new friends!)

Strawberry Cheesecake Pie with Pomegranate-Thyme Glaze
(adapted from Allrecipes)

1 deep-dish pie shell, baked and thoroughly cooled

1 cup heavy cream
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2/3 cup Pom Wonderful pomegranate juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
bundle of fresh thyme (tied with string), optional
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

4 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and halved

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Transfer to another bowl. Then mix together cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar and vanilla until smooth and creamy. Fold whipped cream (by hand) into cream cheese mixture. Spread over bottom of baked and cooled pie shell. Chill. (You can do all of this the day before.)

2. In a saucepan, mix together sugar and cornstarch. Whisk in the pomegranate and lemon juices. Toss in the thyme bundle (if using). Bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook five minutes, stirring constantly, or until thickened. Remove thyme bundle. Allow glaze to cool, then chill. (This can also be done a day ahead.)

3. Just before serving, stir together strawberries and cooled cornstarch mixture until evenly coated. Spread over cream cheese layer.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

God loves Mormons and He wants some more!

Other than a large population of New York City dwellers, I know I'm pretty much the only other (heterosexual) person who so eagerly anticipates the Tony Award telecast each year. And this time around, I was particularly excited to see how my new FAVORITE musical, the profane and hilarious, "Book of Mormon" would fare. As anticipated, the irreverent gem from the guys who brought us "South Park" (and the other guy who brought us "Avenue Q") won a bunch of the awards given out tonight (eight altogether), including Best Musical. (Shocker. As Chris Rock said before opening the envelope, "We know that the best musical is. This is such a waste of time--like taking a hooker to dinner." LOL!)

Still, I felt that I should root for the horse that I was betting on by preparing a proper Mormon dinner to enhance our viewing experience. Now I lived in Salt Lake City, Utah for five years, so I believe that I am quite knowledgeable about LDS culture. Thus, I knew that it had to be a comforting casserole that would feed a small army followed, naturally, by ice cream for dessert (as Utah is the larger consumer per capita of that frozen confection). Below is the entree "recipe" that I came up with, which my roommate promptly dubbed "Spooky Mormon Hot Dish." However, it should be noted that she had seconds! And YES, this is the same sort of dish that you might find at a 70's church potluck of any faith, and/or on the Duggar Family table. ;-)

Spooky Mormon Hot Dish (aka Chicken and Rice Casserole)

2 boxes chicken-flavored Rice-a-Roni
1/2 cup slivered or sliced almonds
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or four thighs=about three cups of chicken), cut into chunks
1 medium onion, chopped
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
1 tablespoon minced garlic (a few cloves)
1 can cream of chicken (or mushroom or celery) soup
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon ground celery (feel free to add fresh celery to the veggie saute instead)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup shredded cheese (cheddar or co-jack)

about a cup of french fried onions

Prepare the rice according to package directions. Toast the almonds in a dry skillet then remove. Add olive oil and cook the chicken pieces until no longer pink. Remove chicken from the pan and set aside. Saute the onions and mushrooms until tender. Add the minced garlic and cook for about another minute.

In a large bowl, combine the rice, chicken, veggie mixture, cream of whatever soup, mayo, spices, and cheese. Dump into a large glass casserole dish that has been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray, even out, and top with french fried onions. Bake at 325 for about 30 minutes or until monochromatically golden brown.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

I feel a little CORNY...

...but I am going to post a picture and a recipe for something that many of you have probably made before, whether you call it corn pudding, corn casserole or corn souffle'. I can't believe I've never made this version until now, because it's so easy and so luscious.  But in my (southern) family, our corn pudding recipe is entirely custard (egg)-based.  In any case, if this one is old news to you, it still bears repeating, because it's so yummy alongside soups or stews or chili or what have you. It's also very versatile, because you could include any number of tasty add-ins. Here's the basic "recipe," if you can even call it that:

Mix together a package of cornbread mix (I used Martha White Sweet Yellow), a can of creamed corn, a can of (drained) whole kernel corn, a cup of sour cream, and a stick of melted butter (I cut this to HALF a stick, and that was plenty--though you could probably could skip the butter altogether with all of that sour cream, and especially if you choose to add cheese). You could stop there and proceed to baking, but I added a cup of shredded cheddar, about a half cup of chopped chives (or scallions), and a good pinch of both salt and pepper. Bake in a sprayed 8x8 pan at 325 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until set.

*Another delicious and spicy adaptation would be to add a small can of (drained) mild green chiles, switch out Mexi-corn for the regular kernel corn, and maybe pepper jack in place of the cheddar.

Thursday, June 09, 2011


As has become my custom, during the week between the end of spring semester and the beginning of the first summer session, I attend SUNY's Conference on Instructional Technologies. This year, it was hosted by SUNY Oneonta, a lovely rolling, lush green campus halfway between Schenectady and Binghamton and about a four-hour drive from Plattsburgh. Other than the aptly-named "City of the Hills" almost doing me in--our dorm and the building where the sessions were held were almost a MILE apart!--it was a great conference as always, and it got me excited about trying out some high-tech toys and cutting-edge programs in my classroom. (My summer students should be on notice, as I plan to use them as guinea pigs! Tee hee.)

As for as food goes, it was basic conference/college cafeteria fare, but the last night, they had a luau theme, and a couple of the dinner items were well above par. One was a steamed swordfish with a delicious fresh mango salsa, and the other was part of the dessert bar that was near where we had a fun board game/Wii/karaoke set-up. It was a macadamia nut pie that was SO good, I stole an extra couple of pieces to take home with me and share with my long-suffering housemate who took care of all of the animals while I was away. Also, I wanted to try and replicate the pie at home.

In the end, I decided not to duplicate the standard pecan pie filling, but attempted more of a hybrid buttermilk filling instead. I really liked the tanginess of the buttermilk against the sweet toastiness of the macadamias. The only problem I had was that the bottom crust didn't get cooked through properly, so I would strongly advise blind-baking your crust for 15-20 minutes at 400 degrees covered with parchment and pie weights before continuing on with the following recipe:

Macadamia Nut Pie

1 9-inch refrigerator pie crust (or better yet, homemade!)
3 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups macadamia pieces
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup light corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons buttermilk
3 eggs

Form the pie shell into a deep dish pan or tin. Crimp or fork the edges. Keep in the refrigerator until ready to fill and bake. (Better yet, blind bake it first!)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a frying pan over medium heat, melt the butter with the macadamia pieces until both are light golden brown. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, salt, flour, buttermilk, and eggs. Once the butter and nuts have cooled from hot to warm, add them to the sugar mix and blend well. Pour filling into the chilled (or partially pre-baked!) pie crust and bake for about 55 minutes. (You may wish to cover the pie with aluminum foil at about the 40 minute mark.)

*If I were making this pie for a party (especially one with a Hawaiian theme), I might swap out the vanilla for a tablespoon of dark spiced rum, and I would add about a cup of toasted coconut to the filling.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Nigella Feasts...therefore, so do I!

Okay, I am being dead serious when I tell you that I recently made the BEST MEAL, thanks to an old Nigella rerun entitled, "Weekend Wonders." In fact, it was SO good, that I have already made the One-Pan Sage-and-Onion Chicken and Sausage TWICE before I've even had a chance to post about it. Other than the fact that it feeds a small army, I don't really know why Nigella presents it as a weekend meal. If you throw the chicken in the marinade the night before or even in the morning before work, it makes an easy weeknight meal. It does take an hour and fifteen minutes to bake, but it needs little tending. Just pop it in the oven, turn the sausages over halfway through, and that's it! SO GOOD! To take it over the top, make her Garlic Roast Potatoes and Petits Pois a la Francaise. I guarantee you, this menu will become a regular part of your supper repertoire!

One-Pan Sage-and-Onion Chicken and Sausage
(Source: Nigella Feasts)

1 large onion or 2 small onions
1/2 cup olive oil (I would reduce this to 1/3 cup)
2 teaspoons English mustard (I used one tablespoon whole-grain Dijon)
1 tablespoon dried sage
freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 lemon
1 (4-pound) chicken, jointed into 10 pieces (I've also used all thighs)
12 sausages (5 or 6 large sausages, cut in half, I've used both pork and chicken sausages)
1 head garlic, separated into cloves
2 tablespoons fresh sage leaves, chopped

Peel and cut the onion into eighths, and put into a freezer bag with the oil, mustard, dried sage, a good grinding of pepper, and Worcestershire sauce. Cut lemon in half, squeeze juice into bag, and then cut the halves into eighths and add them. Squidge everything around to mix (the mustard needs help to combine) and then add the chicken pieces. Leave to marinade in the refrigerator overnight, or for up to two days.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Allow the chicken to come to room temperature in its marinade.

Arrange the chicken pieces in a roasting tin skin side up with the marinade, including all the bits and pieces, and tuck the sausages and garlic cloves around them. Sprinkle the fresh sage leaves over the chicken and sausages and then put the tin into the oven to cook for one hour and fifteen minutes*. Turn the sausages over half way through to color them evenly.

Arrange the chicken and sausages on a large platter and serve.

*As you can see from my pictures, the chicken got a bit too dark on top. The second time I made this, I covered the pan with foil for the first 40 minutes, then baked it for the rest of the time uncovered. Worked like a charm--food perfectly browned, and breast meat was very moist!

Garlic Roast Potatoes
(Source: Nigella Feasts)

3 pounds maincrop potatoes (I like large whites)
1/3 cup olive oil
1 head garlic

kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Wash and dry the potatoes, but don't bother to peel them, and cut them into about 3/4-inch dice. Toss in a large oven tray and pour over the oil, smulching around with your hands to mix well. Separate the head of garlic into cloves adding them to the tray, and roast for about one hour, turning once or twice during that time, until crispy and golden but still soft on the inside. When they're done, remove to a large plate and sprinkle with salt.

Petits Pois a la Francaise
(Source: Nigella Feasts)

3 small or 2 fat scallions, finely sliced
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 drop garlic-infused oil (or any oil really)
1 Little Gem (Butterhead) lettuce, shredded (I omitted this as hot lettuce skeeves me out--added some slivered shallots instead)
2 cups frozen petits pois
1/2 cup hot chicken stock (concentrate or cube and hot water is fine)

Cook the scallions (and shallots, if using) in the butter and oil until soft. Stir in the shredded lettuce, and when it is wilted add the frozen peas and stock.

Cook at a robust simmer, uncovered, until everything is tender and the liquid flavorful and reduced.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Big Girl Bed!

Hey, here's a non-food post for a change. But I am SO excited, I have to share!

I believe I bought a new mattresses in the year of our Lord two thousand...or perhaps it was even 1999 (sing it!). I could only afford the no-name mattress and box springs at the time (well, not even that--had to pay it off in installments), and I put it on a used set of rails. When I moved into my new house, the first priority was to replace the old, ripped, stained, pet-hairy living room furniture. We just got that paid off last month, so it was finally time to turn attention to a new mattress AND head and footboards!  TWELVE LONG YEARS I slept on that tired old saggy mattress, and I wanted to acquire the best sleep experience that I could afford (ok, on a 12-month-same-as-cash payment plan, tee hee). 

Choosing a mattress is a daunting task. There are so many choices and differences of opinion, and it's practically impossible to compare models because every retailer calls them by different brand names. So what guided me was two hotel experiences that I had. One was in 2004 at a Crowne Plaza where I slept in the most heavenly bed (I think a lot of it had to do with the many layers of luxurious bedclothes and the lovely lavender linen spray), and then just this past April where I had another wonderful few nights' sleep at a Sheraton. Somehow the bed there was both soft and fluffy but firm as well. I made it my business to figure out how they achieved that effect.

Some internet research yielded a Travel and Leisure article from 2005 that revealed that the Crowne Plaza beds were Serta Perfect Sleepers with 800 coils and a foam topper. Hilton and some Marriotts also favor the Serta Perfect Sleeper. Sheratons use Sealy Posturepedic plush tops with 899 coils. I confirmed that the bed I slept on in Charlotte in April was a Sealy Posturepedic by pulling back the covers and inspecting the label. There was also a mattress topper on that bed, hence, the fluffy-yet-firm feeling. Sealy Posturepedic is also used by Four Seasons, Hyatt, and Ritz-Carlton. And as a sidebar, for those folks who swear by the "W Heavenly Bed" (as SO many do!), they use a 900 coil count Simmons. So it would seem that Sealy slightly beat out Serta in this sampling of hotel beds, but that the Westin beds garnered the most religious fervor among travellers.

Armed with this knowledge, I headed to the furniture store to lie on some sample mattresses. As predicted, I liked the higher coil count plush models, and then salesperson told me about the newest addition to the Sealy Posturepedic line (that is, of course, middle of the road between regular Sealy and Stearns and Foster, which Sealy recently bought out). The Ashley Furniture brand name was Britta, but you'll no doubt see it called by other monikers. The new twist is, like Simmons mattresses, this model has the individually-wrapped coils for more support and less transfer of motion. I remembered that the "W Heavenly Bed" that everybody swears by is a Simmons (though I have never slept at that fancy hotel myself!). So that pretty much sealed the deal for me. Of course, there were other choices that friends of mine who have recently purchased mattresses raved about, i.e. the Sleep Number Bed (WAY out of my price range!) and Tempurpedic (also beyond my budget, plus I don't like the feel of it, it sleeps too hot for me, and I've read complaints about mold if you don't wipe it down with a bleach solution every so often--no thanks). So the best plush Sealy Posturepedic on the market was my pick.

With the help of my roommate, I chose a lovely modern headboard and footboard (called "Tasha"), and then I set about acquiring the linens. I actually bought a new comforter, cotton knit blankets, and sheets last summer, but as I was healing from major abdominal surgery and had a huge open wound, I didn't want to mess up the new bedding. Plus, I couldn't climb stairs for awhile, so I just slept on the couch for three months, and the new linens remained unopened in the closet. The sheet sets I bought--one dark purple and one lavender--are 400 thread-count cotton sateen (the Sonoma line from Kohl's--wait for a BOGO sale!), and the comforter is something I have coveted since I saw the first "Twilight" movie. Recognize Bella's bedding? It's available at Target! It was sold out for ages, but it finally came back in stock, and I snapped one up. I love the colors and the pattern. Isn't it gorgeous?? TA-DAH! My new big girl bed!

Of course, I bought a new microfiber/waterproof/antimicrobial mattress pad to protect my investment (and comply with the terms of the warranty), but I wanted some kind of mattress topper that would give that soft, fluffy feeling with the supportive mattress underneath. I considered a featherbed, but not only are the good ones terribly expensive, I was worried that it would be too hot for my preferences, plus, I think my dogs are provoked by the animal scents. (They did unmentionable things once in awhile to my old down duvet which couldn't be washed. Ugh!) Furthermore, I wasn't sure that the mattress pad and fitted sheet would go over it (doesn't that go against the purpose of a featherbed anyway, if you mush it down?), and if it went on top, I'd have to buy yet another duvet cover for it that would match everything else. SHEESH! So I decided to go with a down alternative topper. I didn't choose a mattress with a built-in topper because I read that they eventually smash down and that your body creates valleys that don't fluff back up. So I reasoned that it was better to get a separate topper that could be replaced when necessary. Also, the down alternative (polyfill) can be laundered. I found a great deal on ebay, of all places, from a store called Linensmart--$72 for the king with free shipping--and I kid you not, I ordered it online at 2am one night, and had it the next day (technically, the same day)! It is just perfect--like sleeping on a cloud, but the mattress pad and my new sheets still fit over it. WHEW!

Last but not least, I acquired some new Ralph Lauren pillows from T.J. Maxx, and I was good to go (to sleep). Actually, I'd still like a couple of decorative pillows, maybe some big square ones, and when fall rolls around, I will be looking for a down-alternative blanket or duvet of some sort to amp up the warmth factor (on top of the lightweight woven cotton one that I have on there at present), as I basically live in the arctic tundra. But I'm satisfied for now. So there you have it! Waaaaaayyyy too much information, unless you are in the market for a new bed, too. If so, I hope my journey to a better night's sleep helps you in some way. And on that note, I'm off to Bedfordshire. (Name the movie.) Sleep tight, y'all!

P.S. I found this cute little doggy bed for 17 bucks when I was shopping for pillows at T.J. Maxx, and I couldn't resist. EVERYBODY gets a new bed! ;-)

Thursday, June 02, 2011

YEE-HAW for Rancho Gordo and Cowboy Beans!

I received a big shipment from my beloved Rancho Gordo recently (YAY!), and on the very day that the package arrived, Rancho Gordo posted a link on Facebook to a yummy-sounding recipe for "Cowboy Beans" made with their incredibly gorgeous black and white Vaquero beans. Unfortunately, though I seemed to have ordered one of nearly ever other variety that they sell, I forgot to add that one to my purchase. Oh well, next time.

But did that deter me from making the Cowboy Beans? Of course not! I just swapped out some Good Mother Stallards instead. Then I served them over cornbread with a side of smoked sausage. DELISH! Seriously, dear readers, if you have yet to get on board with the Rancho Gordo heirloom beans, you are truly missing out!

Cowgirl Beans
(Source: Adapted from

1 lb. Rancho Gordo Heirloom Beans (the recipe calls for Vaqueros, but I used Good Mother Stallards, soaked for a couple/few hours)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 lb. bacon, diced (the smokier the better)
2 medium onions, diced
2 long hot peppers, seeded and diced (or a couple/few jalapenos)
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon dark chile powder (ancho would be good, too)
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons beef base (I like Better Than Bouillon)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 cup strong brewed coffee

You probably don't need to soak the beans ahead of time, but I did for awhile. I like to do it for a few hours (covered by an inch of water) if I think of it, but if not, I just cook them longer. No biggie.

In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, heat the olive oil, and cook the bacon until crispy. Add the onions and peppers and cook until tender. Stir in the garlic, bay leaves, cumin, chile, paprika, oregano, and black pepper, and cook for another minute or two. Add the beans and their soaking liquid, then stir in the beef bouillon, brown sugar, and the coffee.

Bring to a boil, and boil for ten minutes, then cover and put in the oven on 200 degrees for eight hours or until tender. (Of course, you could also do this in a crockpot on low.) I like to put them back on the stove when they are done cooking and simmer with the lid off to reduce the pot liquor a little. (I just let it gently do its thing while I'm getting on with the rest of dinner.) Check to see if the beans need a bit of salt, and then devour in the manner of your choosing. Good stuff!

P.S. The cornbread was a mix (Martha White) and the smoked sausage was Hillshire Farms. I also added a little homemade corn relish (not pictured) on top of the beans before serving to make a very satisfying supper!
P.P.S. Leftover beans and cornbread are GREAT for breakfast with a fried egg on top!