Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My Burrito or I am really angry at myself for having to write this post twice

So I had a whole post written up to post with pictures I took at the Arboretum. Somehow I managed to delete the entire post. I love wasting my time. Cause I've just got so much of it to waste. Yeah.

Anyhow here are the pictures of My burrito:

Blockette loved to play in this fountain and throw the rocks to make a big splash. One of the other moms there gave me the lemon face because her and her precious child got a few droplets of water on them. What a poopy pants. It wasn't hot, but breezy and sunny. A soaking child would have dried in 10 minutes. I know this because Blockette got soaked playing with the fountain in the picture below.

This fountain was a huge marble ball that had water under it that made the ball spin perpetually. Kids would stand on the base and either try to get it to stop spinning or make it spin faster. My lovely child thought it was great to lay on the ball. When I thought she was near becoming a prune I told her it was time to go and eat lunch. It took us 1o min to go back to the car, get our picnic lunch and walk to the picnic area. She was bone dry by the time we sat down. Take that lemon face lady!

After we finished eating Blockette saw this girl jumping off this large rock. Blockette is far from being a dare devil but this girl was enjoying herself so much that lil miss scaredy cat wanted in on the fun too. Blockette only jumped from the lower parts of the rock. She was too leery to try the highest part. She'd get up there and then change her mind and walk back down to the other side.

Turns out the other girl just started kindergarten as well. Dontcha love their crazy faces they are making for the camera. After the fun of lunch and not breaking any bones, we headed out to check out the Steel roots sculpture display. On the way, we came across this hedge garden.

I guess it's one of the oldest hedges on public display in the U.S. Blockette thought it was cool enough to snap a picture of. Although, I think she was more interested in the flowers than the hedge itself.

Below is one of the Steel roots sculptures. Blockette's pictures of this turned out much better than mine. I wanted to post this one because Blockette gives a good sense of scale.

This was the last sculpture we looked at. I had to beg her to let me take her picture under it. The only was I could convince her to let me take her picture, was to let her take mine. Oh that picture won't be seeing the light of day. It was way too special for the general public. (insert eye roll here.)

After we looked, and photographed all the sculptures, I decided it was time to call it a day. We were both exhausted. On the way out I had to take a pic of this flower. It's just a happy vibrant pink. A perfect end to a fun day. I'm really looking forward to our next "burrito" trip.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Our Burrito

Last Wednesday, Blockette and I went to the Morton Arboretum. I figured it would be a fun thing for us to do together on her last day of summer vacation. I had told her Tuesday night that we were going to a huge garden place to have some fun. The next morning at breakfast she asked, "Mommy when are we going to Our Burrito? Art Burrito? Oh, what is it called again?" It had been 7 or 8 years since I'd been there and a lot had changed. They have this huge children's garden and maze that they didn't have before. (Yes, we did get lost in the maze, but Blockette was able to get us out the way we came. Seriously, I could get lost in a wet paper bag.)

I used to pass by the Arboretum every day on my way to and from work, back in the day. I never realized that the Morton referred to the Mortons, of Morton brand Salt. Duh. I guess the whole Arboretum used to be one of the Morton estates. This place is huge. I cannot imagine living somewhere where you have such an enormous back yard!!!!
Blockette and I only covered a tiny portion of the grounds. Our plans are to go back at various points of the year to see how the area changes with the seasons. There is so much to see that I think by the time we saw everything they would have changed what was planted so we'd have to go back and see everything all over again!I feared Blockette might get bored, so I let her use Mrblocko's little digital camera he bought for work ages ago. He has since changed jobs and doesn't need it. I figured, he never uses it, why not let Blockette have some fun with it. Turns out, his camera is way better than mine. It has some sort of stabilizing feature which is great for a girl who can't sit still for more than 2 seconds.All the pictures on this post were taken by Blockette. She took a ton and most of them were in focus and had awesome composition. These were my favorites.(This last one is my absolute favorite. I love how the flowers in the distance are in focus and the ones up close are blurry.)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Thankful Thursday 25

I missed posting yesterday because it was a VERY busy and important day. The First Day of School, doncha know. Yesterday was Kindergarten Roundup. Blockette had her orientation, and I had mine. Two hours of sitting through listening to various school officials talk about the school may seem boring, but the time went by very quickly.

Today is her first complete day of kindergarten. She will be riding the bus home for the first time ever.

I screwed up this morning and did not allow for enough time to get to school. Halfway there I realized I forgot the name tag she was supposed to have. So I ran back like some crazy woman. We got there just as the late bell was ringing. I felt like a horrible mother.

So today I am thankful-
1.) I didn't have to check her into the office to get a late pass.
2.) Mrblocko was there with me
3.) I waited until Blockette was inside the building before I had my hysterical crying fit.
4.) All the other parents had left and didn't see us arriving late and my subsequent waterworks.
5.) I will know for Monday to leave earlier, and not forget the stupid name tag.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Basic Hamburgers

We've been making lots and lots of burgers this summer, thanks to having a grill that actually cooks the food without burning it. What a difference that makes. I like charred food, but charred is different from burnt and over cooked.

When we had my in-laws over for Blockette's birthday Mrblocko wanted to have burgers for dinner. Since we've had so many different types of burgers this summer, I told him he needed to be a bit more specific.

He asked, "Can we just have plain burgers?"

I said, "Just plain hamburgers? Meat with nothing else? Won't that taste a bit bland?"

Mrblocko replied, "Well, look on the internet and find something, that has a bit of seasoning, but is really basic."

So I did a search and came up with 10 different possiblities. Mrblocko found something wrong with all of them, until he came to the last one, which I call the no frills tasty hamburger.

Here is the recipe:
1 1/4 lb ground beef ( 20% fat)
3 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp montreal steak seasoning

mix, form into patties, and cook to your desired doneness.

They were exactly what we were looking for. Personally, I prefer burgers to have more seasoning, but they were very tasty and moist. I'll be making these again when Mrblocko gets a craving for plain old hamburgers.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Banana Split Cake

Sometimes, baking two cakes in August gets to be overwhelming, especially with the excessive heat we've been having this year. Last year, I baked Blockette an enormous 6 layer rainbow cake, and myself a No bake cookie dough pie. This year, I used the oven to make the stargazer pie for my birthday, so it was Blockette's turn to have a no bake dessert.

I remembered seeing a recipe for a Banana Split Ice Cream Cake on Our Best Bites earlier this summer. I thought this would be the perfect dessert for the little munchkin. I told her about it and she was not impressed. Then, I showed her the step by step pictures on the Our Best Bites website, and used my Jedi mind tricks. That did it. She was convinced.

The cake was easy enough to make that Blockette could help me. Although, I think her favorite part was sneaking the strawberry and banana slices. (One for the cake, one for her mouth.)
The cake was a huge hit with everyone. I made only one minor mistake. I was worried the cake would be too hard to cut, so I let it thaw out in the fridge for a few hours. I must have let it thaw for a bit too long because the ice cream was more soupy than solid.

My in-laws really raved about the dessert. My father-in-law, who is notoriously picky, even had a second piece. You know it's good if he wants more!

The in-laws tried to get it out of me how I made the cake. I told them it was a secret. None of them are internet savvy, so they don't ever read this blog. I wanted them to be amazed with my culinary genius.

Then Blockette piped up, "Oh it is easy, you just look at the recipe on the Internet. What's the name of the website you used again?" Way to go and blow my cover kiddo! I suppose I'll let her get away with something like that. It was, after all, her birthday. If you can't get away with being a stinker on your birthday, when can you?

Frozen Banana Split Squares from Our Best Bites
12 3.5 oz. ice cream sandwiches
3-4 medium bananas
1/2-1 c. hot fudge sauce
1/2-1 c. caramel sauce
1 c. chopped maraschino cherries or sliced strawberries (more or less depending on personal taste)
8 oz. frozen whipped topping (like Cool Whip), thawed
1 small can crushed pineapple, undrained
2 Butterfinger bars, crushed (or 1/2 c. chocolate-covered toffee bits, nuts, etc.)

Line the bottom of a 9×13″ baking dish with the ice cream sandwiches, cutting them to fit as necessary. Slice the bananas into pieces about 1/4″ thick and arrange over the sandwiches. Spread the hot fudge and caramel sauces over the bananas. Sprinkle with cherries or strawberries (or both, if desired). Combine the thawed frozen whipped topping with the can of undrained pineapple and spread over everything. Sprinkle with crushed candy bars and freeze for at least 4 hours. When ready to serve, cut into 12 pieces and serve immediately, freezing any leftovers.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Things I Didn't Know Five Years Ago

Today is Blockette's birthday. Five years ago I had no idea of all thing things that motherhood would bring. Here are a few of the things I have come to discover:

1. When I was pregnant, the smell of bananas triggered morning sickness. The smell still makes me feel green.
2. I'm stuck with these stretch marks.
3. Green yogurt can never be completely washed off the ceiling.
4. I may be back to my pre pregnancy weight, but it has redistributed itself in a way that is less aesthetically pleasing.
5.All that sleep I got when I was pregnant was not because I was tired, it was my body stockpiling for the lack of sleep in the years to come.
6. I will never be able to sleep through the night without having to go to the bathroom.
7. I'll never be able to sneeze without having to go to the bathroom.
8. Those "Hallmark" commercials that made me weep while I was pregnant, still make me cry just as hard.
9. I'd still be experiencing that same helpless "I don't think I can do this" feeling I did when Blockette was a newborn.
10. Just how embarrassing public tantrums are.
11. I thought parenting would get easier with more experience. It would if the rules of the game didn't keep changing.
12. I used to think "Things will get easier when she (insert random milestone here...IE could talk, feed herself, doesn't need diapers)" This is a lie. All you do is trade one difficult thing for another. (IE once they talk they start to mouth off, once they are potty trained they need to use every bathroom they come across.)
13. I foolishly thought the sassy mouth wouldn't start until elementary school.
14. I know the parent's curse works. Whatever you do to your parents, your children will do to you. What I wasn't aware of was that I'd get the joy of experiencing what my husband did to his parents as well.
15. The spontaneous "I love you" makes you feel like your heart is so full it will burst.
16. The "I hate you" makes your heart feel empty, even though you know they don't mean it.
17. When your kid has a 102 fever and they throw up all over you, you won't care.
18. The only time I'd get to go into the bathroom by myself is when Blockette is a sleep.
19. It is impossible to have an uninterrupted phone conversation.
20. The things you hate the most about yourself you will see magnified in your child.
21. My mother is the smartest person in the world.
22. My mother should be nominated for sainthood.
23. Blockette is not a mini me.
24. I function much better than I thought when sleep deprived.
25. I have to work much harder to control my temper.
26. There is always room for Jello.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Thankful Thursday 24

It's been a rough week, a battle of wills between Blockette and I. I've been doing my bestest to not wish away the days because I've heard it said many times, once your kid starts elementary school, you blink and they are headed off to college. That being said, the thing that keeps repeating in my head is thank God school starts in one week. I love my little monkey, but a few hours apart will do us both a world of good.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

You say it's your Birthday...

Do you know that a lot of companies give you free stuff on or around your birthday??? It's really great since Blockette and I have birthdays so close together. We get to do lots of free things together. Here are a few of the things Blockette and I have gotten on our latest "free spree."

My mom came to visit last weekend so Mrblocko and I got a chance to go out for dinner by ourselves. I chose to eat at Houlihans. If you sign up for their email club, you get a free entree on your birthday.

After we go out to eat, Mrblocko and I like to hang out at the book store. He reads graphic novels/comic books while I check out what ever magazines strike my fancy. We usually get some sort of drink while we peruse, so it was great that I got a free coupon for a small coffee or tea from Borders Rewards. This works out great for me because the peppermint tea at the cafe is one of the only things they carry that is decaffeinated and sugar free.

Blockette just got her shots for Kindergarten the other day. I told her if she was good we'd go out afterwards and do a bunch of fun things, including eat out for lunch! Well, she was as well as can be expected for little miss dramatic. So we headed over to the mall. Signing up for Orange Julius' Quench Club gets you a free small smoothie.

After our palate was "quenched" we headed on over to Toys R Us. Blockette is signed up for Geoffrey's Birthday Club. This club gets you a $3 off coupon when you spend $3 or more. You can also get a paper crown and a balloon. Blockette for some odd reason did not want her balloon. I was sure Blockette was going to pick a Lego mini figurine for her treat. (I told her she had to keep the cost around $5.) Instead, she chose 2 hot wheels cars and a container of mini M&M's. This was pretty awesome as I only paid around $0.70 out of pocket.

By this time, we were starved so we went down the street to Noodles & Company. Last year I signed up to get Noodlegrams and they sent me a coupon for a free large bowl of noodles with any one add in. I was hoping I'd get a similar coupon this year, and I was not disappointed. The small noodle bowls are a perfect lunch size for both Blockette and I. A large noodle bowl is exactly double the amount of food as the small bowl, so this works out awesome for us. We both like the Pad Thai with Chicken so we don't mind sharing.

Right down the street from the Noodles we ate at is Cost Plus World Market. If you sign up for their Email list they will send you an email with a coupon for $10 off when you buy $10 or more. I got some soba (Japanese buckwheat noodles), a pair of earrings, and some Ginger chews from a company called the Ginger People. (Seriously addictive if you are a fan of ginger. Even Blockette thought they were spicy, but tasty.) I went over my $10 by $0.17.

By the time we got done at Cost Plus, Blockette and I were tired so we headed home. We still have coupons for each of us to get a bowl of ice cream plus one add in at Cold Stone Creamery, an ice cream cone at Baskin-Robbins, a free breakfast at IHOP.

Some other email clubs that provide freebies are:
Club Veg at Sweet Tomatoes/Souplantation- buy one get one free coupon on your birthday. (This one isn't as big of a deal as signing up for this list gets you a BOGO coupon every month.

P.I.G. Club at Famous Dave's - mystery coupon for your birthday that you don't find out exactly what it is until you get to the restaurant.

CPKids at California Pizza Kitchen- Free kids meal around your kid's birthday

Blizzard Fan Club at Dairy Queen- Birthday Coupon for Buy one get one free Blizzard

Club Mongo at BD's Mongolian Grill (I can't remember what they sent this year, but they do send some sort of coupon via email for your birthday.)

Register A Gift Card at Starbucks. If you have a gift card from Starbucks, register it to their website. You'll get a snail mail coupon for free drink on your birthday.

Birthday Club Kmart- Coupon for your child. $5 off when you spend $5.

Do you know any more great Freebie sites? Leave me a comment and let me know! I love free stuff.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Stargazer Pie

Dude...I made an entire pie. You would think with all the bajillions of servings and slices I got from this one pie, I would have managed to take at least one picture of the darn thing. Nope. El Dork-a-rino! Everytime I dished up servings this weekend, I realized as we were all eating our slices that I hadn't taken a picture of it. I told myself that was ok because it was a big cake and I would have plenty of opportunities to take a picture. Apparently not.

Last night as we were all halfway through our pieces I said, um these are the last pieces of the cake and I didn't get a picture of any of it. Bah.

The cake was very very good and rich and sweet and chocolatly and rich. Did I mention it was rich? The base was chocolate chip cookie, topped with a cocoa boosted double chocolate brownie. Then there was a layer of chocolate. Then, a chocolate ganache layer, topped off with whipped cream.

You could consider this cake to be a cheater recipe. The base is premade cookie dough, and the brownie is from a box. I figured if we are being cheater cheaters then why not cheat completely and use cool whip. So I did. This was my birthday cake so I is the boss. And I said it too! So check it out!

I liked this cake, but I'm not so sure I would make it again. The first time I ate a piece, I gave myself too big of a slice. I felt sick all night from the uber rich chocolatey sweetness. I think 15 years (or more)ago , this would have been my favorite dessert. Now, I think it is just too much.

If you like chocolate-y sweet rich desserts, head on over to Dozen Flours for the recipe (and pictures) for Glenn's Stargazer Pie.

Glenn's Stargazer Pie From Dozen Flours
1 16.5 oz tube of refrigerated chocolate chip cookie dough, softened

Brownie Layer
1 box of Betty Crocker Triple Chunk Brownie Mix (my preference)
1/2 cup of cocoa powder, sifted
3 tablespoons of lukewarm water
1/2 cup of vegetable oil
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon of almond extract or vanilla if that's all you have

Cream Cheese Truffle Layer
1 cup of milk semisweet chips
4 oz of cream cheese, softened
1/2 stick of unsalted butter

Whipped Cream Layer
2 cups of whipping cream
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/4 cup of powdered sugar, sifted
1/3 cup (give or take) of chocolate curls or other garnish, optional

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9 or 9 1/2" springform pan with butter. Spread cookie dough into bottom of pan, making one big even cookie. It will be a little on the thin side, but don't worry, there will be enough. Use a fork to tamp it down. Stick it in the freezer.

Mix brownie mix and cocoa powder in big bowl. Add water, oil, eggs, and almond extract *just* til dry ingredients absorbed. Be careful not to over mix! The batter will be somewhat lumpy.

Remove springform pan from freezer and add brownie batter right over top. Bake 34-38 min til toothpick inserted into center of brownie comes out *almost* clean -- just a few bits of brownie sticking to the toothpick is okay. You want it to where it's not raw in the center and doesn't jiggle when you shake the pan a bit. You want it just a tad bit less baked than you would a normal brownie. Remove from oven and promptly sprinkle about a 1/3 c chocolate chips over top. Let it sit for a minute or two and once chocolate chips are soft, evenly spread over top of brownie's surface. Cool on counter.

While pie cooling, microwave remaining chips on low power on 30 sec intervals til chips melted, stirring well each time. Set aside. Cream butter, and cream cheese together for 1 min. Add vanilla and stir again. Add melted chocolate, one big t at a time til totally incorporated into cream cheese. Spread cream cheese mix over top of pie and store it uncovered in refrigerator for an hour.

About an hour or two before serve pie (or when totally cooled off), whisk whipping cream on high til soft peaks form. Add vanilla and powdered sugar and mix again til combined. Spread evenly over top of pie. Grate chocolate directly over top , sprinkle chocolate curls, or embellish with chocolate sprinkles. Cover and put it back in the refrigerator for at least 1/2 hour.

When ready to serve, run thin knife/spatula around edge of pan to free from outside ring. Gently remove ring and serve. Let it come to room temperature at least 1/2 hour before serving. You'll know it's ready to serve when you're able to cut it from the center fairly easily.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Korean Skewered Chicken

I actually made this about a week ago. I am just that disorganized lately that it takes me a full week to get a recipe posted. I'm proud that I even remembered to take a picture. This recipe for Dakkochi, or Korean Skewered Chicken comes from the blog of Kevin over at Closet Cooking.

This dish was a big hit with all of us. I anticipated it would taste a whole lot like yakitori, so I served it up with some soba (Japanese Buckwheat noodles) on the side. They made a great pair. Of course Mrblocko had to go and ruin it by putting soy sauce on his noodles. Bleck. At least it wasn't hot sauce. This dish tastes like I always imagine yakitori to taste like. I always get excited when I see it on a menu when we are out to eat, and am always disappointed with the outcome. The chicken is always fatty, too salty and greasy. This was most definitely not the case with this recipe for dakkochi. It was perfectly sweet and salty and umami-y.

Naturally, I had to alter the recipe. I couldn't justify buying a whole bunch of green onions when I'd only be using one. So I just left out the green onion. The recipe already calls for half a small onion so I didn't feel like the marinade would be missing much by leaving out one tiny green onion.

The recipe also calls for an Asian pear. In case you hadn't noticed, Asian pears are not in season. Good luck finding one in August. If you ask your grocer where they are, he will laugh at you...or at least he will try to hide his face from you as he tries to hide his laughter. No? Maybe that only ever happens to me. Anyhow I bought a regular old pear and that worked just fine. I don't remember what type of pear it was because it was way back in olden times...you know...last week. I do remember it had light brown skin. Why that color? Cause Asian pears are that color of course. Duh. And we all know that color substitution works in recipes.

All substitutions aside, the recipe was awesome. I can't wait to try it when Asian pears are in season.

Dakkochi from Closet Cooking
1 pound chicken breast (cut into bite sized pieces)
3 cloves garlic (grated)
1 inch ginger (grated)
1/2 small onion (grated)
1/2 Asian pear (grated)
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 green onions (chopped)
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Mix everything in a freezer bag and marinate for at least an hour. Skewer the chicken on wet skewers and set aside. Strain the solids from the marinade and simmer the marinade until it thickens and becomes saucy, about 5-10 minutes. Grill the chicken until cooked, about 5 minutes per side basting it with the marinade as you go.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Thankful Thursday 23

1. today is the last day of Blockette's swim class
2. Summer is almost over.
3. My mom's coming to visit
4. Blockette's poems
5. teaching Blockette about the "piano a-b-c's"
6. Blockette putting hair pretties in my hair
7. Family game nights
8. Finding a great deal on fancy dresses for blockette
9. There have only been 2 bug hives on the house so far this summer.
10. Blockette's love of reading and writing
11. Mrblocko finally thinks processed food is too salty. (He used to put salt on everything when we first met.)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Five Minute Fudge

This summer has been so terribly awfully hot. I know other areas in the country are feeling the heat more than we are in Chicagoland. Even in down state Illinois there have been plenty of days when their temp has been ten degrees higher than here.

So what do you do when you have a craving for something sweet and it's just too hot to turn on the oven to make cookies? There are tons of no bake cookie recipes out there and things like Rice Krispie Treats that you can "bake" in the microwave. I didn't have all the necessary ingredients, and no way was I leaving the comforts of my air conditioned home for a sweltering meltiness of my car. Enter Easy Peanut Butter Chocolate Fudge from Momma Hen's Kitchen.

This fudge only has FIVE ingredients: Sugar, milk, cocoa, peanut butter and vanilla. Score, I always have that stuff on hand. Even better than that, this type of fudge does not need a candy thermometer.

I don't know if I've mentioned on here before. The candy thermometer and I are not friends. The last few attempts at making candies as resulted in disaster and horror. I fear that thermometer like campers lost in an abandoned summer camp that is situated over an Indian Burial ground right next to the old insane asylum that is also right next to the maximum security prison where people frequently get abducted by aliens.There is nothing to fear about this fudge though. The picture above was taken right after I poured it into the pan. You can see that it starts to set up right away. My fudge never set up as well as I wanted it to, even after storing it overnight in the fridge. This was probably due to the excessive humidity and that I don't think I let the fudge boil for long enough.

The directions say that once the milk, cocoa and sugar comes to a rolling boil, let the mixture boil for one minute. I started timing at the point I thought was a rolling boil, but at one point the mixture bubbled up even more rapidly than what I thought was a rolling boil. The next time I make this I'm going to start the timer once the mixture reaches bubble insanity.

Even though it was hot out, the time I spent in front of the stove was minimal, less than 5 minutes. I can stand 5 minutes of extra hot for a pan of fudge. It's worth the suffering for the reward you will reap.

I was impressed that the consistency of the fudge was quite smooth. That meant to me that I didn't screw it up. It's easy to crystallize your fudge and get a grainy texture. I think I can improve the fudge's texture the next time I make it. I read that you will get a smoother fudge if you don't scrape the sides while you are boiling it. I will give that a try the next time I make these guys.

Please beware when you make this fudge. It is definitely crack for people. It's not just called five minute fudge because you can make it in five minutes. You can also eat the whole batch in five minutes. I probably could have eaten the entire pan in one sitting. However, I had restraint. I only ate one row instead. I should get some sort of medal...or even better...another pan of fudge.

Easy Peanut Butter Chocolate Fudge from Mamma Hen's Kitchen
2 cups sugar
2 heaping tbs cocoa powder
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cup peanut butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Butter an 8" x 8" baking dish. Place peanut butter and vanilla extract in a large bowl. Bring sugar, cocoa powder, and milk to a rolling boil. Boil for one minute. Pour mixture over peanut butter and vanilla. Beat for one minute, until thick. Pour into greased baking dish. Allow to cool before slicing.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Faux Sweet Tomatoes Broccoli Salad

I love me some Sweet Tomatoes. No, not the actual tomatoes, the restaurant called Sweet Tomatoes. In some areas it's called Souplantation. Why do I love this restaurant? It's a soup and salad buffet, and you can't go wrong with that combo in my book. Mrblocko and Blockette enjoy going there. I usually dine there when I'm out on a girl's night though. My friend's husbands are pure carnivores and would squeal like a stuck pig if someone suggested that a vegetable pass their lips.

Anyhow, Sweet Tomatoes carries this awesome broccoli salad. Last spring I came across a recipe for Mock Sweet Tomatoes Broccoli Salad from The Homesteading Housewife. Somehow it migrated to the back of my recipe binder. It resurfaced and I am so sad that I didn't try it sooner! The combo from the crunch of the broccoli and cashews, paired with the sweetness of the raisins and red onion and the saltiness of the bacon was just what I was craving!
As I was making this salad I wondered if there was an actual recipe for this salad put out by Sweet Tomatoes itself. I did a search and found Joan's Broccoli Madness Salad on Sweet tomatoes blog. The recipes are nearly identical. The "Real" recipe contains more sugar. I think I like the fake one better. The next time I make this I'm going to tweak the recipe and use a bit less mayo. There was just a tad bit too much. Oh, I also used more bacon. You can never have too much bacon.

I'm wondering how this salad would taste with pecans and craisins in place of the cashews and raisins. The craisins might be just a bit too tart for the combination. Maybe the next time I get a wild hair I'll test that idea out. Right now I'm content with the current ingredients.

There is one caveat to this salad, after day 2, the cashews loose their crunch. This is a sad sad thing. There are 2 solutions to this problem:
1. Gobble the salad up before this happens.
2. Put the cashews on your individual portion before consumption.

Dana's Best Broccoli Salad (inspired by Sweet Tomato) from the Homesteading Housewife
3-4 heads worth of broccoli florets , cut into bite-sized pieces
1 medium red onion, diced finely
3/4 cup salted cashew halves, broken
3/4 cup raisins
6 slices bacon, crisp-cooked & crumbled

1 cup mayonnaise (or 1/2 cup mayo & 1/2 cup plain yogurt)
5 Tablespoons vinegar (I like salad vinegar)
3 Tablespoons sugar
Dash of freshly ground black pepper

Combine all the salad ingredients together in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients. Pour dressing over salad, mix to coat. Refrigerate for a few hours to develop flavors. It's best when made the day before!

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Fairy Good Weekend

Friday, I was talking to a friend, over email, and discussing our plans for the weekend. She said she was thinking of taking her kids to the Field Museum in Chicago and going to a park that had a Japanese Tea Garden. Well, I thought all that sounded like a lot more fun than the wicked exciting plans that consisted of... Laundry. So I did a bit of Googling and found out that there was a Fairy Festival going on about a hour from where we live. And it was el cheapo too. ($20 for the 3 of us.)

Blockette had so much fun. There was someone blowing huge bubbles. Bubbles as big as Blockette. (It was so sunny out there was a huge glare on the view screen of the camera. I couldn't tell exactly what I was taking a picture of. So, sadly I didn't get any pictures of the actual bubbles, just Blockette running around like a fairy on fire.)

They had a living statue. Blockette was scared of her first. We told her that her fairy magic made the statue come alive! Then she didn't want to leave the statue alone.

Driving to the Fairy Festival, we pretty much followed the Fox River. We decided that we'd have a picnic dinner at one of the parks along the river. Guess what one of the parks we passed was???! The same park with the Japanese Tea Garden in it. What luck!

The park had this cool ivy covered walkway. The whole thing was teaming with butterflies and bumblebees. I mean they weren't really butterflies, they were fairies that were enchanted to look like butterflies to us clumsies (humans.) We couldn't walk through the tea garden. It's only open on Wednesdays and Sundays. This garden is closed most of the time because people like to reserve it for special photo shoots. In fact, as we were leaving we saw a wedding party walking toward the garden with a photographer. We debated watching them get their pictures taken, but we thought Blockette might be upset she wasn't in the pictures, so we decided against it. I did snap this cool shot through the fence.
The part itself is on both sides of the river. On the other side of the river is this windmill. There are tours for the windmill, but they weren't going on when we were there. Why was there a windmill? I have no idea, but it was pretty cool to see one in the middle of no where for no apparent reason.
I guess there is a Frank Lloyd Wright house in the park as well, but we were tired and decided to call it a night. Blockette was very tired from her fliteriffic day of fairy fun.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Thankful Thursday 22

I realized this morning that I had completely forgotten to keep track of the things I've been thankful for during the week. It hasn't been the best week. Nothing majorly awful has happened, it's just the everyday grind that is bringing me down. (You know like paying bills and dealing with a sassy, almost 5 year old mouth, etc. etc) When I sat down to think of what I was thankful for all that kept repeating in my head were these four things:
1. A roof over my head
2. Food in my belly
3. A healthy, happy little girl
4. A family that loves me

Maybe they are overly basic and hokey, but I really am very thankful for these things. I don't think I stop and recognize that nearly often enough.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


The other day I came across this Chinese poem. I played it for Blockette and she got the biggest kick out of it. I'm pretty sure that she is going to talk in Shhh's for the rest of the day.

In case you are wondering, here is the English translation (per Wiki):

Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den
In a stone den was a poet Shi, who was a lion addict, and had resolved to eat ten.
He often went to the market to look for lions.
At ten o'clock, ten lions had just arrived at the market.
At that time, Shi had just arrived at the market.
He saw those ten lions, and using his trusty arrows, caused the ten lions to die.
He brought the corpses of the ten lions to the stone den.
The stone den was damp. He asked his servants to wipe it.
After the stone den was wiped, he tried to eat those ten lions.
When he ate, he realized that these ten lions were in fact ten stone lion corpses.
Try to explain this matter.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Firehall Marinade

This weekend I consumed...are you ready for it??? Steak. I haven't had steak in at least 10 years. I know it's been longer than that but my memory is only 10 years long. (If I've met you more than 10 years ago and I haven't seen you in the mean time, I'm not ignoring you, I just have no idea who you are.)

Why so long with no steak? Steak and I have not gotten along. I enjoy not having digestive problems, so I just steered clear of it. (Sorry, I couldn't resist the pun.) I have never had any trouble with ground beef. Maybe since it was ground up, it was easier to digest.

Mrblocko has been begging and pleading to grill a steak on his fancy shmancy grill. Since he has not grilled steak in the time that I've known him, I got him a cheapo cut of meat. This was a boneless top round. I figured if he messed it up we wouldn't be throwing a bunch of money out the window. I bet some of you that know me are wondering why I risked it and tried the grilled beef. The answer is this marinade: Fire hall marinade from Tasty Kitchen. We tried it on grilled chicken and wowzers was it gooood. So good I was convinced it would be even more spectacular on a Steak. It was.Now, I only had the teeniest of pieces of the beef. Luckily, there were no negative side effects. I think this means the next cut of beef, which will be a higher quality one, I can have a slightly larger portion. Yay!

The only bad thing I have to say about the marinade itself is that it was quite salty, particularly with the chicken. (Even Mrblocko thought it was on the salty side and that is saying something!)My solution to this problem is to either use less steak seasoning, low sodium teriyaki sauce, or substitute half the teriyaki in the recipe for water.

Other than the salt, this marinade has a great balance of flavor: spicy, tart, sweet, tangy and even umami (if you believe in that sort of thing.) This is my favorite marinade to date. I like this, dare I say it...more than I like Peking sauce. Ok, maybe that's a bit of a stretch, but do I like it as much as a Peking sauce marinade.

Firehall Marinade from Tasty Kitchen
½ cups Olive Oil
¼ cups Brown Sugar
4 cloves Garlic, Peeled And Halved
3 Tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar
3 teaspoons Montreal Steak Spice
1 teaspoon Dried Mustard
1 teaspoon Fresh Ginger, Grated
½ cups Teriyaki Sauce (I Use Kikkoman)
4 whole Steaks (strip Loins, Flank Or Other)

Combine ingredients in a large Ziploc bag (don’t be like me—make sure there are no holes in the bag!), close bag and squeeze to mix the ingredients. Add 4 medium striploin steaks (or your choice of beef steak) to the bag and seal. Place in the refrigerator for 1 hour or even overnight to marinate and then grill the steaks as you normally would. Steaks can be frozen in the marinade as well, just defrost them in the refrigerator and grill. Recipe can also be doubled to increase the amount of marinade

Monday, August 2, 2010

Turkey Bean Taco Burgers

These burgers were delish. I thought they tasted just like a big burrito on a bun. I liked that they were so inexpensive to make too. Ground turkey is a $1 a pound on sale near me, and the meat gets stretched out further by adding rice and beans.
Blockette and Mrblocko didn't like this nearly as much as I did. That's ok. More for me! At one point Blockette started to pick the beans out of her burger, but once she realized she would have to eat the beans plain if she did that, the picking stopped. Surprisingly, she ate the rest of the burger without complaints. Ok. So it was not so surprisingly since we told her if she kept complaining about the beans she wouldn't get any ice cream for dessert.

We ate these burgers with salsa and sour cream on top. If I had guacamole or an avocado it would have been even tastier. The original recipe does in fact call for an avocado as a topping ingredient, but I forgot to pick one up at the store.

I made quite a few changes to the recipe so I'm going to post all my changes below. Here is a link to the original recipe for Black Bean Turkey Burrito Burgers from the Rachael Ray Show. One word of warning, don't put these guys on the grill. They will make a huge mess. They are meant to be cooked on a pan. Besides, if you cook them on the grill, the cheese in the patties will melt out. If the burgers are cooked on a pan, the cheese will get nice and crusty. Trust me, you want that. Your taste buds will thank you.

Turkey Bean Taco Burgers (Adapted from The Rachael Ray Show)
1 lb ground turkey
1 c cooked leftover rice
1 can black beans drained and rinsed
1 4oz chunk Colby jack, cut into 1/4 in dice
1/4 c cilantro, chopped
1 small red onion, minced
2 tablespoon chili powder
2 tablespoon grill seasoning
4 teaspoons ground cumin
2 tablespoon hot sauce (optional)
2 tablespoons EVOO – Extra Virgin Olive Oil

In a bowl, combine the ground turkey, cooked rice, beans, cheese, cilantro, red onion, chili powder, grill seasoning, cumin and hot sauce. I made my burgers into 7 regular sized patties, and 2 Kid size patties. Preheat a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat with 2 turns of the pan of EVOO, about 2 tablespoons. Cook patties 6-7 minutes on each side, until cooked through. Serve with salsa, sour cream, tomatoes and avocados.