Thursday, February 24, 2011

Caprese Salad

I mentioned some new toys that I have, one of them the camera, I look around at some of my friends posts and I see these beautiful pictures of their meals or cutting boards adorned with mouthwatering ingredients.  Mine well...

I do get a little jealous... My old camera was about done, once you are holding something like that together with duct tape and worrying every time that  you turn it on it is about time to look for a new one.   Luckily Kris got me the new camera for Christmas, another Kodak Easyshare but the NEW version, and with a whopping 15 megapixels I get the option of taking a step back and then cropping to the size that I want and maybe a little bit of play with Photoshop (or Photoshop's inexpensive cousin) to finish it off.

The picture above is one of those pictures, me trying to get one that I like, where the colors pop and it just looks good the one below is a more practical version of the same dish.  Along with our other activities on our anniversary weekend we had a "pot luck" at church on that Saturday night.  I threw together a couple of salads, this one is a Caprese Salad.  It isn't as elegant looking as the one above but it goes farther, isn't as fussy and it looks really good in its own way.

Big bowl of Caprese
2 Balls of fresh mozzarella cheese
2 Containers of grape tomatoes 
1/2 Cup pesto sauce 
5-6 Basil leaves cut in a chiffonade
Some shredded Mozzarella to garnish

Put your Mozzarella cheese in the freezer for about five minutes to firm it up a bit then chop into small bite sized pieces put those in a bowl.  Cut cherry tomatoes in half lengthwise add them to the same bowl then add the pesto sauce, I usually make my own but just bought some this time.  Toss them all together pour the salad into a fancy pants bowl (or one that you picked up from the dollar store) then add the fresh basil and the bit of mozzarella cheese to the top.  There you have it a bright refreshing salad that is just a little different.

Friday, February 18, 2011

French Onion Soup

Today is kind of a special day in my life... Five years ago today,  the coldest day of the year in 2006 by the way, Kris and I were both dressed and getting ready to go.  She looked beautiful, me well I looked like me.  All of our kids were there, dressed in their finest.  We loaded them into Kris' van on the way out the door I kind of sheepishly I asked if I could drive.  She smiled at handed me her keys, she was wearing her wedding dress after all and it just seemed right for me to drive.

Yes folks today my beautiful wife and I celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary!  We had a very small wedding if you include the bride and groom I think we were about 18 in total.  After the ceremony we came to our house for a reception catered mostly by me and my friend (and best man) Scott.  We didn't have a honeymoon either we just fell into our lives together.  After Kris and I were together for really only a few days I (I think we both) knew that we were going to be together and like my adopting Miss Lu really the ceremony was just a formality. 

So you ask, What are Bryan and his beautiful wife doing to celibate their special night?  See if you can guess...
  1. Get a sitter and make reservations at a great Chicago area restaurant where we will be pampered and have a wonderful romantic meal.
  2. Get a sitter and have a romantic dinner at home followed by... well you know... before we pick the kids up.
  3. Get a sitter for one of the kids and spend the evening at our church attending first communion class with Miss Lu then eating Domino's pizza with a bunch of people that we don't really know.
Bet you guessed ;-)

Well maybe we will get a chance for that night out sometime soon.

This recipe is completely unrelated to the rest of this post but I know that I have been slacking in the blog world lately, I'll talk about that in the next few days.  I have been working on one of Kris' favorites for a while, French Onion soup, this week I think I got it!

1 Large onion
3 Medium yellow onions
3 or 4 Shallots
1/2 Stick Butter
2 Bay leaves
1 TBS Flour
Some chopped fresh thyme (I had some and it sounded good)
2 TBS white wine
1 Quart Beef Broth
8-10 slices of Ciabatta sliced and toasted
several slices of Swiss cheese

The choice of onions may or may not be the ideal flavor combination but they are what I had in the house.  Start by melting the butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat, peel the onions and cut them in half and slice them thin.  Put the sliced onions, shallots and bay leaves in the pan and saute until translucent and very soft, about 40 minutes (yes really 40 minutes).  Add the flour thyme and wine, cook until the liquid is mostly gone (3-4 minutes) then add the beef broth.

Stir together and simmer for about another 20-25 minutes.  While that is cooking I painted a little olive oil on my sliced ciabatta and toasted those.  When it is time to serve, dish the soup into oven safe bowls then float the toast and top with Swiss cheese and put under the broiler for a few minutes until you have what you want.  This really is a great comfort food on those cold winter evenings.  Kris and I were both surprised by how sweet this was when we finished.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Chicago Blizzard Part II

No food at all in this one (unless food coloring counts) but I said I would tell you all how it went...  After my entry yesterday Miss Lu and I went out to make our igloo.  We had started the day before by digging the hose up out of the snow and bringing it in to thaw (yes, I left the hose out too, right next to the lawn chairs if you must know). While that was sitting in the laundry sink we added to the already large pile of snow then hosed it down to make an ice shell.

Yesterday we hollowed it out, we worked for a little more than an hour then took naps.

Then we hollowed it out some more...

When we thought we had the inside as big as we could we looked at each other and said "this is cool! what do we do now." 

So we added some color, to give you an idea of size I am at the back of the igloo, Miss Lu is between me and the only doorway.

and here is what the neighbors see.  I think that I have said before that we are a bit infamous for our snow antics.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Chicago Blizzard

this pic is for you tkw
A little bit of a story to start with... When the blizzard hit I was at work in the city, Most of us ended up staying there for several reasons so I worked from 5:00am Tuesday morning until 7:00pm Wednesday evening, about 38 hours...

Here is what I learned
  1. A double shot of espresso with half and half on ice gives you an nice jolt and goes down easily.
  2. Eight of them makes you a little jumpy.
  3. My cellphone shaped flask does not hold enough bourbon.
  4. Though there are probably less comfortable ways to sleep than propped between two office chairs I am hard pressed to name any.
  5. The guy in the office next to mine snores
  6. A Toyota Rav4 in the middle of a blizzard is more comfortable than the office chair set-up.
  7. I can still pull an all-nighter and survive.

Kris was trapped at home with the kiddie pops while I was trapped in the city.  My beautiful wife had to shovel the drive which took her most of the day... I had to feed a bunch of crabby people that had sleeping situations similar to mine.

After all that I have today off, Miss Lu and I are going to try making an igloo... I'll let you know how it went.

    Tuesday, February 1, 2011

    Maple Walnut Brittle

    I remember it, I would be at the "Autumn fest" at our church or the grade school bake sale looking at those bizarre dolls made from rotten, er excuse me, dried apples (can you say "creepy"?) or the toilet paper roll cover doilies.  My grandmother would muss my hair and offer me a little treat.  "Mrs. Butterfield made peanut brittle, I saved some for you kids." I hated peanut brittle, you remember it, tooth cracking hard and made with those awful Spanish peanuts. I would eat my obligatory bit, sure that I would never be able to get the last bit of burned Sugar out of my teeth.

    This recipe would be peanut brittle's yummy cousin... it started late last week I received a cookbook in the mail, it was a free on that one of my blogger (Phoo-d) friends linked for me.  I was flipping through it and came upon the Maple Walnut Brittle.  I thought "Hey Kris likes maple and walnuts... This could work out well"

    So I made a batch

    I think that I have mentioned before that candy isn't really my thing, first there is the measuring, then the thermometer then the taking things off the heat at the "hard crack" stage whatever that means.  The first batch didn't turn out so well I think that I may have heated it too much or stirred it too often.  I poured it out on my silicone pad and as soon as it started to harden I thought, Mrs. Butterfield would be embarrassed by this mess, she would probably send me home from the church bake sale if I came with this in hand.  I started to look for enough to make a second batch luckily I found it all.  I halved the recipe the second time and this time I vowed to FOLLOW the instructions...

    3 TBS Maple Syrup (the real stuff)
    1/2 cup granulated sugar
    1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
    1 stick butter
    2 TBS water
    1 cup chopped Walnuts

    In a saucepan over medium heat stir together syrup, sugar, cayenne, butter and water until melted.  Continue to gently boil and DO NOT STIR until a candy thermometer reaches 300F "hard crack."  Immediately stir in walnuts then pour onto an un-greased cookie sheet or silicone mat.  Spread into a thin layer with a wooden spoon and let cool.

    The directions then have you melt white and dark chocolate and drizzle but we couldn't wait to the "cool completely" part.  Kris was ready to run off before the pictures were even done.  This turned out really good, crunchy without being too hard and the subtle maple flavor really made it .  Now what to do with the first batch... I did the same thing I did with the gingerbread houses a couple of weeks earlier.  I won't spell it out but if you ever find yourself driving through the Northwest suburbs of Chicago and start to wonder "why are the squirls in this neighborhood so FAT?"  Well, you might be by my house.

    Oh and the website where I found this cookbook and recipe