Where’s Waldo?

Where's Wally scene

A favorite book series to many, the story of Waldo (known to the rest of the world as “Wally”), lost in a sea of people & things.  Your challenge, is to find him.  Always dressed in a red & white striped shirt, with goofy glasses & hat.  Can you find him?

I’ve been feeling a bit like Waldo this past month.  This time of year always kicks my a**.  It’s the end of the school year and I am gearing up for a manageable summer with the kids & two jobs.  It’s a juggling act for three months, but, I am looking forward to spending more time with my kids.  Last summer, I was still working at the hotel so they were on their own for the better part of the day, four days a week.  It broke my heart everyday, leaving them.  I want to get them out this summer; to the park, museums, the beach etc. but know I have to balance that with work.  And this blog!  I am super excited to share my two summer blog series with you; “Summer of Salads” #summerofsalads & “Summer Sippers” #summersippers, hopefully both will begin this week!  Today, I just wanted to share some delicious & fun things I have squeezed in the past month or so.  Enjoy!

Tucci Benecch  Homemade Ricotta in the making!

Homemade Ricotta with Balsamic Syrup  Chef Donald & Chef J.D.

Oh my gosh, people, have you ever made your own Ricotta Cheese?  It’s ridiculous!!!!  Both in taste & ease!  (see top right pic) I’ve been seeing posts for the past year about homemade Ricotta cheese and kept telling myself to try it.  Then one night, after watching Chef Donald Gonzalez (shown bottom row, right, with JD Fratzke of the Strip Club in St. Paul) from Forepaugh’s Restaurant, (owned by the company my hubby works for, Taher Inc.) win the Minnesota Monthly Local Chef Challenge (and the $10k prize!), we decided to get dinner at our favorite MOA restaurant, Tucci Benucch.  We had this Ricotta cheese appetizer that was TO DIE FOR.  (see pic top left) It had lemon & fried Rosemary (um, yum!) and was served with these delicious little toast points.  Sadly, it was a seasonal appetizer, so don’t get mad at me when you go and they don’t have it.  But keep an eye out for it and be sure to go on a Sunday or Monday night, for  half-priced bottles of wine!  Yea!  And then go home and make your own Ricotta cheese!  Do you want me to post a recipe/how-to on it?  It’s super easy, but I certainly can, along with some great ideas of how to use your fresh Ricotta.  Tell me in the comments below!

Hummus!  Hummus Kawarma2

Speaking of my husbands employer, every year, they send the Taher Chef Council, (a group of chefs from within the company) on a trip somewhere in the world.  Yes, he’s very lucky, and no, I don’t get to go along.  This year was Jerusalem and he came back eager to make Hummus & this incredible dish shown on the right, Hummus Kawarma.  O M G…make it!!!  Find the recipe in the cookbook Jerusalem.  I checked out a copy at my local library but you can buy one here on Amazon.  Do you like to make your own Hummus?

Treats from Cat  Cat Cora cooking demo

And speaking of chefs, I was excited to meet Iron Chef Cat Cora at Byerly’s earlier this month.  (she was so tiny & awesome!) I joined my blogging lovelies, Kate from Kate in the Kitchen and Rachel and her very own adorable Cora, from The Realistic Housewife. Chef Cora did a cooking demo, highlighting her new product line called Cat Cora’s Kitchen.  Hey Byerly’s, where’s that recipe for her Olive Oil cake?  I did bring home some of her olive tapenade, in addition to her new cookbook and had that one day on my homemade Ricotta, obviously. (see picture above with Ricotta) YUM!  🙂

Stuffing for Pork Chops  Stuffed Pork Chops

I have been obsessing about Pine Nuts lately.  Yeah, why can’t it be with a less expensive nut…anyway, I’ve been bored with our typical Pork Chop preparations lately so one day, I decided to stuff them.  The recipe has herbs, cheese, zest, garlic, pine nuts & golden raisins in it, and was from Fine Cooking.  You can find the recipe here.  Have a good Pork Chop recipe?  Share it below!

Chai BellaVitano  Radisson Blu Social Media event  Turkey Tetrazzini

A few other random fun things…I finally found the Chai BellaVitano cheese from Sartori.  I LOVE Sartori cheeses, especially the BellaVitano line and this one was as good as the rest!  A new food blogger friend Chris,  who writes the blog, Wedge in the Round,  just returned from cheese-making with Sartori.  LUCKY!  Read about his adventure here.  My favorite Sartori cheese is a tie between the MontAmoré and the Espresso BellaVitano, but this Chai variety had such a great flavor of the spice blends in Chai.  Find it!  Try it!  Also shown above, some delicious nosh I enjoyed at the Radisson Blu Mall of America recently.  I was invited to attend a Social Media special event there and in addition to the delicious food & drinks.  Those little new potatoes were stuffed with creme fraiche and topped with caviar!  I was also given a great tour of this incredible new hotel.  The rooms are amazing & they even have a salt water pool!  I am staying there at the end of the month, for my first board retreat with MPI MN.  Can’t wait!  And last, I made Turkey (Mushroom) Tetrazzini.  Yep.  Never made it before.  Super easy, super delish!

Bacon Pancakes!

And last, I made Bacon Pancakes on Mother’s day.  With chocolate chips.  For myself.  Then later, the hubby made me Eggs Benedict for dinner.  It was all about breakfast that day!  YUM!  If you are a Mom, I hope you had a delicious day as well.  My kids made me the CUTEST things as well.  I have to share!

Dominic - Mother's Day 2013

This was from my son…please note that I am “Fabulous” and that he likes my hair because “it’s curly & fresh” OMG, I died!

Gabby - Mother's Day 2013

And my daughter made me a video, which I posted on my Vine account.  You can watch here.  Again, the cuteness!

Until next time,

Cheers!  Shawn

Mediterranean Stuffed Chicken & my #straycat Beatrice….

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The days of January, started slow enough, but as the month wains, the days are seeming to go by quicker & quicker.  I have been up to my elbows in paperwork, getting ready for tax time & trying to get organized.  I love the fresh new year…I love the feeling of a clean slate…I get all fired up to clean out closets, organize drawers & cupboards!  It’s a great way to kick off a new year, isn’t it?  I have been trying to get my food blogging calendar in order as well, but have been cooking in more of a knee-jerk reaction state lately.  I had some chicken breasts pulled out a week or so ago and was wracking my brain with what to do with them.  I am not a big fan of chicken breast.  They are always dry to me, unless swimming in sauce or dressing.  The real flavor lies in the thigh meat!  Anyway, I started my search on Pinterest, where I’ve been playing around lately with my boards and my new business account.  I did a basic search for chicken breast and came up with a million different options.  Then I saw one that was a stuffed breast…oh ya, I have a can of artichoke hearts I have been wanting to use…so I did a new search for “stuffed chicken breasts”.

Sartori Romano Cheese

I saw a few others and then started to think about what I have in my cupboard…sundried tomatoes, kalamata olives, a whole bunch of delicious Sartori cheese that I won last month…so I decided to make something a little Mediterranean of sorts!  I didn’t really measure this one…so I will give you a list of what I used, and how I made it, and  you can wing it as well!  It’s a little putzy, so give yourself enough time to put it all together & then bake it before dinner.  Might be a better weekend meal, or get it ready on Sunday, to bake on Monday!  This would serve four hungry humans! 🙂

Mediterranean Stuffed Chicken Breast:

~four skinless, boneless chicken breasts-pounded thin

~a half a pint of white mushrooms, finely diced

~a half an onion, finely diced

~artichoke hearts (I used a half of a can), sliced thinly

~sun-dried tomatoes (I used a jar version, that was already minced), finely sliced

~a small handful (or more) of kalamata (or green) olives, finely sliced

~two good handfuls of fresh spinach/kale

~Pine nuts- as much as you’d like, whole or chopped as you wish

~Sartori Cheese (Romano, Asiago, Parmesan) grated-as much as a half cup or more

~salt, pepper, granulated & chopped garlic, olive oil & butter

~Panko (japanese bread crumbs), 2 eggs-whisked, 1/2 cup flour (seasoned if you choose)

Equipment you’ll need: meat mallet, baking sheet, plastic wrap, sauté pan, big bowl, knife, cutting board, three plates (or pie plates work great) and about 20 toothpicks.

First thing you’ll want to do, is to take your chicken breasts and pat them dry with paper towels and place between plastic wrap, on a clean countertop.  Take a meat mallet, using the smooth side, flatten each breast as much as it will take.  Set the chicken aside on a baking sheet, which makes it easier come rolling time.  Be sure to thoroughly wash your hands and the countertop and any surface that came in contact with the chicken.  Okay, PSA over. 🙂

Preheat a sauté pan and add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil & butter.  Then add the onions and sauté for a few minutes alone, then add the mushrooms. I like to season as I go along, so feel free to add salt & pepper to taste.  Once both have nicely browned, scrape onto plate and set aside.  Add a bit more olive oil to your pan, keeping the heat at a nice medium temperature and throw in the spinach/kale and sauté until either wilted (spinach 2-3 minutes) or until the kale has developed a nice green color and is somewhat tender to the bite.  Just before removing from heat, add a tablespoon or so of the fresh chopped garlic and a bit more salt & pepper to taste.  Remove from heat and place on the plate with the mushrooms & onions to cool slightly.

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Using a large bowl, mix together the artichoke, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, pine nuts, cheese (save a bit for sprinkling on the chicken & pasta when it comes out of the oven!) and then the mushroom/onion mixture and finally the kale or spinach.  Set aside.  Take out three (pie) plates, add the flour to one, the Panko bread crumbs to another & the last, add the two eggs and whisk to combine the yolk & whites.  You can certainly season any/all of the three with a little salt & pepper.

Here is when, you are gonna want to be organized; preheat your oven to about 325 degrees.  Start by placing the baking sheet with the chicken next to the filling mixture and then flour/egg/Panko to the right of those.  Starting with the chicken, take a good handful of the filling mixture and place in the middle of each breast.  Carefully & tightly wrap/roll each chicken breast together, encasing the mixture in the middle.  Use toothpicks to secure the breast from un-rolling after you finish.  You may need as many as five toothpicks to keep it all together.  Finish the same with all chicken breasts.

Move to the flour/egg/Panko; starting with the flour, dip each stuffed breast in the flour, coating as much of the chicken as possible.  Then move to the egg, doing the same.  Finally coat each stuffed breast fully with the Panko and place back on the baking sheet.

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Place the baking sheet in the oven and you’ll want to keep an eye on it, that the temperature isn’t too high.  You’ll need to cook them for close to an hour, but at about 45 minutes, take them out and temp them, carefully not to go all the way through them, but insert the temperature stick in the widest part of the stuffed chicken.  They’ll need to be at 165 degrees to be safe.  Like with any meat, let it rest a bit once you pull it out of the oven before slicing.  (don’t forget to remove the toothpicks!)

We had these with spaghetti-style pasta, but you can do whatever.  It would be great with polenta or even couscous!  To make a great lemon butter sauce for the pasta and to drizzle a bit on the chicken, in a sauté pan, melt a half a stick (yes, I said that) of butter and once melted, whisk in three (+/-) tablespoons of lemon juice.  Add more pine nuts at the end if you’d like and even a bit of fresh parsley if you have some.  I would even reserve a bit of the pasta water in case you need it to loosen the pasta up a bit.  Sprinkle both the stuffed chicken & pasta with more cheese!  Enjoy!

Beatrice

World, meet Beatrice.  Almost a year old, Beatrice has been living in the woods behind our house.  She came to visit me a little over a week ago, for a few days in a row, just sitting outside my patio door looking in.  Then one day, she showed up, covered in snow, shivering and meowing incessantly.  It was at the moment I knew I had to take action.  So for those of you that don’t know me very well, I am a certified (crazy) cat lady.  Currently, I only have two sweet (boy) cats, Indy & Augie.  But given the opportunity (and space) I would have alot more.  About two years ago, one morning I looked out at my front walkway after it had snowed overnight and saw cat prints.  My first reaction was “oh no, that poor thing, it’s freezing out!”  The next day, they were there again.  So I decided I needed put a bowl of food out.  No, I didn’t think that through very well.  The next morning, the food was gone!  Yea!  So, I started putting out food around the same time every night and watched.  I saw the cat pretty much right away!  The next night, I saw another one.  And then another…and another…eventually I realized I was feeding five cats.  What have I gotten myself into?  So, I continued to feed them until Spring arrived and then cut them off.  Over the summer sometime I was talking to a neighbor about them and he mentioned he was feeding one of them.  Ha!  So, I was off the hook.  Last winter as we all know, was pretty nice, so I didn’t feel so guilty about not putting anything out for them.  And then, in early Spring of last year, I was doing dishes at my kitchen window and saw one of the cats jump up on the deck of my neighbors house who was feeding them.  And then slowly, I see tiny little cat bodies jumping up after the Mama.  Yep, kittens….I think there were five total.  Beatrice is one of those.  Last summer the neighbors down that way, took up a collection and had a mobile unit come out and spay & neuter the kittens.

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So, back to Beatrice.  The neighbor who had been feeding them was on vacation, and other neighbors had been tending to them, but maybe not on the same schedule, so I think that’s why she ventured my direction.  When she showed up that afternoon all shivering, I thought (in my crazy cat lady head) I had to get her inside.  But how to do that, without harming her, myself or my other two cats?  Then I remembered last summer I bought a cat carrier and decided to put some delicious wet cat food in it and see what happens.  Well, she walked right in, obviously, because she was apparently starving.  She then spent the next night in the kennel, in my basement. When I went down there the next morning, reality hit me and I realized I couldn’t just keep her in the box forever.  So I rearranged & cleaned an area in my basement just for her.  I even put up a baby gate (there isn’t a door to that room) thinking that would keep her in and my two out.  Ha!  Apparently feral cats can jump really high…and are stronger than they appear….

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That night, she knocked down a couple of huge closet doors I had propped up against the baby gate.  So, I gave her free reign of the entire basement.  Each day, she’s gotten more & more comfortable with us.  We’ve been letting her come upstairs to roam a bit, putting the other two cats in a room and closing all the doors to bedrooms etc.  She definitely wants to go back outside.  She has this cry that as a mother, makes me want to weep.  I’ve had to continuously remind myself that even though she doesn’t know it, I am trying to help her.  And with the temperatures outside below zero (this morning was -17) I feel much better knowing she’s inside than out there.  I called my neighbor last night who had the Daddy-cat and was trying to get Mama-cat inside as we spoke.  She looks very much like Beatrice & is as afraid of humans as she is!  He said he hadn’t seen the other two siblings, so I offered up my kennel & some wet food to see if he could grab them that night.  Haven’t heard back from him today…fingers crossed!

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So, I am at the point of not knowing what to do.  I need to get her to the vet this week, just to be checked out.  And I had a long talk with my husband, and my gut is telling me she won’t be happy here with us.  She (if staying inside) should be somewhere that is less noisy and maybe without any other animals.  Or, in an environment where she can be outside mostly, but has maybe a barn or something she can go into when it gets really cold.  So, once I have her checked out, I will begin the search to find her a permanent home.  If you, or someone you know, would be interested, let me know.  She’s scared but not mean.  She’s been letting me pet her, but will probably take awhile to get really comfortable with touch.  She actually tenses up when I touch her….poor thing.  Wish me luck getting her back in the kennel for the trip to the vet.  You can follow my updated pictures on Instagram here.  Oh, and last night….she purr’d!  Progress! 🙂

Anyway friends, I hope your year is off to to a great start!  I have more recipes I want to share with you, so I will check back in later this week or next.

Until then, cheers!

Shawn

Whew…well that was fun!

Gotta love the Charlie...

Today is 12-21-12 and I am thankful to be alive.  Not just because I woke up today…(Mayan Calendar and all) but because I have survived the past two weeks!  For those of you that don’t know, my “day job” finds me running, the White Bear Gift Basket Company.  As you can imagine, I’ve been busy with holiday basket orders.  And not just busy, but so busy I barely had time to eat, shower, breathe most days this past week.  I’m not complaining (very much) don’t get me wrong, I am THANKFUL for every single order I had this year!  I just got my butt kicked…in the nicest way possible 🙂  So this post isn’t really food-related, but more of a peek inside my world the past couple of weeks, with a sprinkling of food throughout!

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A little background on the past two months of my life; previous to November 28th, I was working a part time job at a hotel in St. Paul as a Sales Manager.  This part time job was to become full time in the New Year, which I wasn’t able to do, so I decided it was time to quit & plunge myself back into full time baskets.  I’ve been promoting my business quite a bit these past 6+ months so I think that helped with my holiday business levels.  At the time I left that job, I was preparing for holiday orders…ordering product, getting organized etc. I decided to set a sales goal for myself.  I set this goal pretty high, because what’s the point of setting a goal that’s easy to achieve, right?  So, needless to say, (secretly), even I didn’t believe it to be possible.

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Boy was I wrong!  In the past two and a half weeks, I have shipped out (at least 100+ gift packages this year!) and locally delivered 261 total baskets, of every shape, size & cost, to destinations like Canada, Germany, the Netherlands…and many states in the good ol’ USA.

A little taste of Minneasota(1)

Our most popular design this holiday, surprisingly, was our most popular gift year-round, the Little Taste of Minnesota.  Popular add-on’s to that gift were Minnesota themed playing cards, our Minnesota Passport & several “UFF DA” themed gift items!

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We had fun with lots of custom designs this holiday, including a few that ordered custom logo ribbon which always add a great look to any gift!

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And basket-making craziness aside, who can’t forget the snowstorm we got this month…15.5 inches of the gorgeous white stuff came to our house!  It definitely made getting product from my vendors a bit delayed, and getting to and from the Post Office & my courier’s warehouse a bit more tricky.  But we all wanted a white Christmas!  Enjoy it Minnesotans!  😉

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I did manage to continue to eat (and obviously drink) pretty well, although I admit I might have sampled a few too many Knudsen Caramels, Pearson’s Nut Goodies and other treats in a desperate attempt to stave off hunger for a couple hours.  Living for a couple weeks on mass quantities of sugar & caffeine is okay once in awhile, isn’t it?  Thank goodness I had stock-piled leftovers in the freezer for quick lunches and my darling husband made his way into the kitchen many nights to create nourishing & comforting food to keep me fueled.  And we treated ourselves to a Carpet Picnic night last weekend…Pate, SalamiCaramelized Onions, roasted Tomatoes, roasted Garlic etc….always a favorite night at our house!  I managed to relax a little while watching a movie (Elf of course!) with the family.  (not pictured-gobs of cheese, Brie & Camembert and a giant loaf of Ciabatta!)

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A couple other fun things that happened during the past couple of weeks…I got a new iPhone 4S…it was totally on sale and no, I didn’t think the iPhone 5 was worth the extra money and my hubby had just bought me a really cool Pad & Quill iPhone holder that I wanted to use for awhile.  Seriously though, what ever did I do without Siri & navigation!!!  Love that phone.

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And, I won CHEESE!!  Yea, perfect for us, right!?!  Sartori Cheese had a contest (during their 12 days of Christmas Facebook promo) one night and I won nine different cheeses!  My husband insisted I stop what I was doing and enter.  So, we can thank him for that!  I love Sartori Cheese and if you haven’t had it yet, GO!

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My favorite has always been the BellaVitano® Espresso, but I got a sample of the MontAmore when I was at Kowalski’s buying the BellaVitano® Cognac I’ve been dying to try, and I really like that!  Speaking of the BellaVitano® Cognac, it’s just a mear $75 a pound that cheese….and they only make a very limited amount each year.  It’s aged for at least 18 months and then soaked for 7-10 days in Rémy Martin Cognac.  Who would have thought…Cognac & Cheese…a decadent & delicious splurge indeed!

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And we won’t ever forget the horrible tragedy the families & our nation faced last week in Connecticut…

That day, I was so consumed with myself and getting my work done.  I had to cancel the kids piano lessons because I was stuck in Minneapolis at a client’s office helping get her holiday order shipped out.  I was annoyed about having to drive home, the third day in a row, in rush hour traffic.  And then, on my way home, my husband on the phone told me what had been unfolding that day…it was almost too terrible to believe.  I got home, turned on the TV and sat there, crying.  So sick & senseless.  I am sure I am not alone, when I say that I took a close look that weekend at my family & how I treat each day I have with them.  I have always tried to live each day to the fullest, letting everyone I care about know how much they mean to me.  Life is a gift.  But, as I settle down on Christmas Eve with my family, I will remember those who have presents under a tree that won’t be opened by their child this year, or any, ever again.  My heart goes out to them…may they be surrounded by friends, family, love & support and know as a nation, we mourn with them.

Holiday Tree

Happiest of Holidays to all of you!  This weekend I will get my Christmas on, by baking….& wrapping…watching some White Christmas and listening to some Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole and maybe a little Jimmy Buffett’s Christmas Island.  I will be sleeping in, wearing my pj’s maybe all day if I want to…drinking egg nog…and even possibly enjoying a cocktail during the day…just straight up kickin’ it with my family is all I wish for this weekend!  I wish for you to have a delicious & wonderful Holiday as well!  I will check back in before the New Year….

Cheers,

Shawn