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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

TASTY TUESDAY RECIPE EXCHANGE......#2.....


Hello again Tasty Tuesday fans!
These weeks whip by faster in December, don't they? 
If you are anything like me, you are up to your eye balls in ideas and things you want to do but you're also knee deep in things that just have to get done!   Although there's no law that says we have to have the picture-perfect holiday season that not only looks beautiful but also feels beautiful and smells beautiful....we all try to create it.  Or, maybe that's just me.....

As I was thinking about what recipes I would share this week, I realized that it's come to that point in the month that we are pressed for time!  These last days leading up the Christmas can be stressful.  The last thing you might want to hear about is some recipe that you have to add to your holiday plans.  So, I figured that maybe you would appreciate some quickie dishes that I am using to get me through this frantic countdown to the big day.  Here in Judiland, every weeknight and weekend beginning today is accounted for so actually putting dinner (or any meal!) on the table feels like an impossible fete.  Thankfully, I'm all about taking on the impossible and depending on ready-made products when it comes to menu planning. My big thing is that anything that's ready-made has to be good enough for me to lie that I made it myself!  It's just another crazy quirk of mine.  One of my criteria in deciding on what to have on hand was that I didn't want it to be anything similar to what we might be eating over the holidays.
 So, this past weekend--in between my regular Judi duties and  decking the halls and keeping the mall in business, I set aside a bit of time to figure out a few easy, good, ready-made products to have on hand so that no one starves in Judiland.....
Having a glass of wine while figuring this out helps tremendously.


RECIPE FOR
THE WEEK BEFORE CHRISTMAS

Ingredients
-Glass of wine
-Pen
-Paper

Directions:
-Sip wine
-Write down the following items to purchase
-Sip more wine
-Decide when you will shop for these things
-Sip more wine
-Pour more wine
-Drink up, you deserve it!
-After you have sobered up, go shopping for a few or all of these vital staples!

At TRADER JOE'S....
-Wine Country Chicken and Walnut Salad (great to have on hand for quick lunches)
-1 bag of Party-Size Meatballs and 1 jar of Basil Marinara--put both in the crockpot  on low before you leave the house.  Even if you aren't having a party!  A quick note: Rachel Ray raved over these meatballs in her magazine this month.  I could have told her they were rave-worthy....
-Frozen sweet potato gnocchi with sage and butter (buy 2 bags!!!). Quick, hearty and tastes so good!
-Frozen mac and cheese--this stuff is pretty darn good and great to have on hand for those times when you tell people to feed themselves!
-Frozen Mandarin Orange Chicken....it's good on it's own or over rice or pasta but it's a house favorite over greens for a Chinese Chicken Salad

At WILLIAMS SONOMA.....
-Balsamic and Carmelized Onion Braising Sauce (this is stunning to throw over bone-in chicken breasts and into the crock pot....it's as simple as that).  You can serve it with quick rice on the side....the sauce makes even the lowly Minute Rice taste like something super special
-Chunky Artichoke-Parmesean Spread...this stuff is the BOMB over cooked pasta or baked on flatbread.  Add a little extra cheese to either and it takes it up another notch.  It's also wonderful slathered on a cooked chicken breast! It's quick, it's delicious and it will win over your dining partners every time.  


At any GROCERY STORE...
-2 lbs of thinly sliced roast beef and 1 lb of sliced provolone from deli, Italian-style buns from bakery, 1 jar of beef gravy, 1 bottle of Italian Dressing.  Put beef, gravy and dressing in crockpot before you leave the house.  Everyone on their own with Italian beef sandwiches.
-Rotisserie chicken, taco shells, grated sharp cheddar cheese and desired taco fixings.  Everyone on their own chicken tacos!



What are your favorite stay-out-of-the-kitchen meals? 


I bet  you didn't see this coming....did you?
BONUS RECIPE (to put you back in the kitchen....so don't go too far!!):
So sorry blog friends but I just could NOT help myself.  I tried to hold back but my conscious would not let me me.  You need this recipe and you need it like now.  So, I will apologize upfront for sharing a recipe that might interupt your perfectly planned holiday meals.  But, honestly....and I say this with lots and lots of love and understanding....you need to make this recipe...even if you have to nix Aunt Dorothy's famous potato recipe, you must, must make this.   Aunt Dorothy will understand once she put this wonderfulness to her lips.   It's that menu item that will take you to mashed potato stardom and I am not kidding you.  No, I am NOT kidding you. Seriously.  What's not to love?  There's potatoes.  There's garlic.  There's sour cream.  There's GOAT CHEESE.  Did someone say GOAT CHEESE?  Oh, did I mention that it's easy and can be made the day before?  What's not to love?
Now...here's a link to some good notes on this----in fact it was this particular post from 2 of my favorite foodie bloggers that encouraged me to try out this recipe a few weeks back---on a Sunday when I was serving my famous Sunday roast (essentially, it's a rump roast slow cooked all day with crushed Italian tomatoes, garlic, basil, onions, carrots and celery, a deep red wine like zinfandel) for just Carmen and I and our daughter and her beau---I needed something to serve along side it when I hit upon this tantalizing post...the rest is history.  Yes, I took a risk serving it without taste testing it but I trusted these 2 foodie bloggers and I always trust the Barefoot Contessa....don't you?    Then, the other day, in a fit of what am I going to make with my prime rib (or sirloin rib roast or something like that) on Christmas day, I was transported back to this fabulous recipe and I just knew I couldn't keep it a secret from you......
So, anyway, when you are out there shopping for those "easy" meals that I suggested above, be sure to pick up what you need to make these Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes!  Seriously.  Make them.
Eat them.  

Friday, December 12, 2014

MERRY ME.......

I definitely need this coat......

TGIF!!!
Now, please excuse me while I attempt to get my merry on.....

Thursday, December 11, 2014

What my Christmas Tree and my Lap band have in common......

 Stay with me here folks. 
I promise this will make sense. 
Really. 

Christmas trees in my world were always.....the bigger the better.  
One of my favorite Christmas Trees....the BIG ONE at the skating rink at PPG Place

Until last year. 
That's when my humungus prelit tree de-lit completely right after all the ornaments were painstakingly placed on it.  
Yes, within moments of it's completion.  
As I stood there exhausted--with every bone in my body aching--checking out  my workmanship,.  each section of the tree went dark...as if it was on a magic timer.  I messed with cords, I shook the tree, I ran over to my sisters to get her doo-hicky that's supposed to fix these problems and then when I was still left with a prelit tree that would not light, I flung myself on the couch and pondered opening the front door and just tossing it out into the street. 
It was just another in a series of things that particular week that was making my holiday season pretty miserable.  Even my own Christmas tree was against me!
So, why not just throw out the tree and thus throw out Christmas all together? 
Not wanting to be an unmerry person and as someone who is impatient with misery and glumness (it's a bad look for me, ya know?), I decided I was going to take off all the lights and DIY a prelit tree all my myself.  I was feeling prickly and pissed off enough that I was going to show the world who was in charge...
Um. Yeah.  Wrestling lights off a pre-lit Christmas tree and then re-prelighting it would definitely show the world who was in charge.....
Let's just say that was the real misery.  Talk about a bad look for me.....
Many hours, many trips to the local hardware store and many tears later, my tree was stripped of it's prelit lights and restrung with thousands of newly purchased lights and then redecorated.
As I placed the final ornament on the tree for the second time in one week, I  gave the finished product a stern warning..."listen you little bastards, you better never go out again or I swear, you are outta here!" 
By December 26, about a fourth of the tree was unlit, by New Year's Eve, another fourth went out and then by January 1, only the top section was lit.
My husband informed me that I should have bought LED lights.  But, since he was already on my shit list last holiday season, his comment only made me hate the tree...and Christmas....even more. 
So, I held true to my warning--I tossed that Christmas tree out into the trash and vowed that I would never, ever, ever have a big, fat tree again. 
It was time for a SKINNY TREE.  
Aren't skinny things better?
I guess "slender" is a nicer word than "skinny"....even for Christmas trees....

Flash forward to a big, big after-Christmas sale on trees and my sister on one of her notorious bargain hunting excursions and before you know it....I was the proud recipient of a 9 1/2 foot SLENDER Christmas tree for my January birthday. 
So, last night, I decided to get my merry on and decorate my new tree. 
After it was all set up and I had my decoration boxes unpacked, I looked around and  realized-- I might not be a SLENDER TREE GIRL.
I might be a BIG TREE GIRL.
After all, I had a gazillion ornaments.   And, lots of garland.  Lots and lots and lots of everything.
I didn't want to give up any ornaments. 
They all meant so much to me.
I couldn't imagine living a Christmas without my ferris wheel ornament or my surf board ornament or even my bowling ornament or my......they were such a part of me....ya know....

I remembered feeling this way before.....almost 8 years ago.....after my first Lap Band information session.....I thought I couldn't live without Diet Coke or Big Macs or Lasagna or Tonic Water or straws.....
Amazingly, I was able to do it.
Maybe I could be a SLENDER TREE girl.....
I'm going to try it again tonight. 
Wish me luck. 








Wednesday, December 10, 2014

All I want for Christmas......

is peace, love and 10 less pounds.....
Okay, it's true, I added a few other things to my list too......


It's been awhile since I mentioned weight.  So, I figured I'd talk a little about what's happening here on my belly.   As I shared a few weeks back, I've been struggling with close to a 20 pound weight gain.  And, I'm pretty sure most of those pounds planted themselves firmly on my belly.  Thankfully, I've been able to erase about 8 of those pounds by refocusing myself on these Lap Band basics as much as I can  and by recommitting to a good but reasonable exercise program (mostly walking and some running).   And, I must give some credit to the craziness of the past few weeks with my husband's bout with illness, my uncle's passing and all of the comings and goings of visitors and house guests....in addition to the regular business of life here in my world.  
This bout with weight gain shouldn't have caught me by surprise but for some reason, it did.  I have to admit that I slacked off a little bit more than I should have for awhile and the results made themselves known in my pants, on the scale and how I felt about myself.   Even though I know better than to assume that my Lap band will save me from ever gaining weight, I still behaved like I didn't have to hold up my end of the bargain.  Maybe I just needed a break from the hard work of maintenance, maybe I just got tired or maybe I just didn't feel like thinking about it all so much. 
Looking back, I can see what happened....I'm not exactly sure why it happened and I may never really know.  But, it's a hard reminder that my Lap band is a tool.  It is not the magic bullet.  I have to do the work.  It is not the easy way out.  It is not a promise of thinness or a guarantee of never gaining weight.   Yet, I let myself fall into that trap for a little while. 
Fortunately, I caught myself before that 20 pounds turned into 50 and then into 100.  Therein lies the magic.  You see, I knew what it felt like to live for close to 7 years as someone who felt good about herself and her weight loss progress. I knew what it was like to fit into pants without struggle, to look in the mirror and not want to cry and to want to go out and enjoy life.  And, I knew that's how I wanted to live forever.   You see, feeling that way wasn't so far out of my reach---it wasn't  just a distant memory.....it was recent and it wasn't that many pounds ago. That's how and why I caught myself.  That's what helped me to refocus and recommit.  That's what helped me to get back on track and to turn the scale around.
This time of the year is notorious for destroying good eating habits and for packing on the pounds.  It doesn't have to be.  I proved that for 6 holiday seasons and I plan to prove it for 6 more and then 6 more after that and then 6 more.....
So, Santa, my dear.....now that I think about it.....just give me peace, love and all those other things.  
I got these 10 pounds....

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Drumroll please.....THE RETURN OF TASTY TUESDAY RECIPE EXCHANGE!

Yes, I know "tastey" is spelled wrong on Santa's but.  Hell, it's been spelled wrong for 7 years...why fix it now? 




THE SEVENTH ANNUAL TASTY RECIPE EXCHANGE BEGINS NOW.....

GET READY, GET SET.....START  YOUR OVENS!!!
Sorry that I'm a week late in getting us started! 
Welcome back Tasty Tuesday Recipe Exchange Fans!
I am so happy you are back for more recipe sharing!
And, a big HELLO THERE  to new Tasty Tuesday Recipe Exchange readers!
I am excited you are joining us.
I promise all of you 4 Tuesdays of  taste tested recipes that will surely make you the star of the holidays......!  I try not to repeat recipes from previous years or ones that I may have posted throughout the year.  But, I can't promise that for certain!  Some recipes are just worth repeating.....
Thankfully, it's been another year of good eating here in Judiland.
So, I'm armed with an arsenal of taste tested and fabulous recipes!
For those of you who are Tasty Tuesday veterans.....you know the drill.
For those of you new to the drill---here's how it goes:
Beginning today and each Tuesday in December I share a recipe or recipes from my ginormus pile of tasted and tested holiday-worthy recipes.   And, I ask you to do the same.....share a recipe in the comments section of the posting. It's a great way to help each other get ready for all the kitchen olympics that go on this time of the year and the perfect way to make you the FOODIE STAR of your holidays!
So, dig out your best recipes to share!  

Let's start out this season of recipe-sharing with a recipe that I made this past summer and then again over the Thanksgiving holidays.  It might be one of my most requested recipes of the year!  People love mushrooms....who knew?

Marsala-Dijon Mushrooms
(this version serves about 15 people as a side dish)
This recipe is super yummy.  There is a real richness to the sauce. I am not exactly sure how I came up with this recipe but I do recall that the first time I served it was way back in the summer.  At that time, I paired it with steaks on the grill and baked potatoes.  Over Thanksgiving, I served it along side the turkey and all the trimmings. It was equally adored both times.  Our vegetarian Thanksgiving guests really loved it.....

-5 lbs of mushrooms--cleaned and sliced thick.....I used a combo of baby bella, shitake and white
-1 1/2 sticks salted butter
-swirl of olive oil
-1 small onion--diced small
-handful of  coarsley chopped or juilliened) rosemary, sage or basil (rosemary is great for summer, sage is great for fall or winter and basil is great anytime)
-handful of Italian parsley
-4 cloves of garlic...smashed
-1/2 cup marsala wine (you might want to add more at the end, before serving)
-2 heaping tablespoons of dijon mustard
-Salt, pepper to taste

 In a large saute pan....on medium heat
-Saute onion, garlic in butter and olive oil (about 3-5 minutes)
-Add dijon mustard and stir well--until you have a "gravy-like" consistency
-Add mushrooms in small batches, stirring as you go....coating with liquid
-Once all the mushrooms have been added and reduced a bit, add the wine....stir well
-Add herbs
-Reduce heat to simmer, cover and let simmer for 5-8 minutes
Can be made ahead of time and reheated before serving
Add additional wine if needed
Toss with additional parsley is desired


This second recipe is one that I worked hard to recreate after having it at RPM in Chicago.   As a rabid polenta fan, I am always beyond thrilled when I see it on the menu.  This polenta did NOT disappoint.   It was probably the best version of soft polenta I have ever, ever had. I know you think you heard me say this before about several other polenta recipes but this time, I mean it!   From the moment this polenta hit my taste buds, I was on a mission to make my own version and let me tell you....I came pretty darn close.  If you love polenta as much as I love polenta, you will be doing back flips over this rendition of this godly food.  And, for those of you who don't have a penchant for polenta, I challenge you to make this and eat it and then tell me that it's not one of your top favorite foodie loves of the year! 

Polenta with Marscapone

This recipe can be served on it's own or alongside any main course. It serves 4 people as a main course or 6-8 as a side.   I tinkered with several recipes from so many different sources online that I can't really give credit where credit is due for this one. Let's just say it's the marriage of many recipes.  Please be warned that making polenta is a labor of love...there's lots of stirring involved!!!  You'll need this extra exercise.....butter and heavy cream warning!!! 
  • 8 cups  chicken broth 
  • 1 cup of heavy cream
  • 2.5 cups  Italian polenta(I purchase mine at a local Italian deli but there are good ones on the market)
  •  1 stick of salted butter, cut into cubes 
  •  3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1 cup  mascarpone cheese
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 4 basil leaves cut into strips

In a 4-quart (4-l) soup pot over high heat, bring the broth and cream to a boil. While stirring continuously with a wooden spoon, add the polenta in a thin, steady stream until incorporated, then continue stirring to prevent lumps from forming. Reduce the heat to medium-low so the mixture bubbles occasionally. Cook, stirring and scraping the bottom and sides of the pan, until the polenta is thick and starts to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 30 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the butter a few cubes at a time, then stir in the Parmigiano-Reggiano and mascarpone cheeses. Season the polenta with salt and pepper. Divide the polenta among warmed bowls, sprinkle with more grated cheese and a few strips of fresh basil and serve immediately.

Happy Cooking!!!  

Friday, December 5, 2014

JUDI DID NOT GET RUN OVER BY A REINDEER!!!!

I have hit a few detours but all is well....
Now, that I'm back.....fingers crossed that we can get on with December at Stories from the Road..... 

Time to deck the halls, shop and all that December jazz!! 


You know, life has a way of reminding me sometimes that I am not always in charge of how my time or my energy is spent. 
Let's start with where we left off....
-If you recall, I was heading into a weekend brimming with the excitement of a date night-- going to a new restaurant with some fun friends.  So, here we are at that wonderful restaurant overlooking our beautiful city..........
A great time was had by all......
-Within hours of that picture being taken--poor Carmen got very, very ill.  After a scarey few hours and a trip to the hospital, he was diagnosed with a pretty hefty strain of the flu and double pneumonia!  He was one very, very sick guy.  Needless to say, our home turned into Judiland Hospital with me as the head nurse.  I am not a nurse nor did I ever profess to be!  And, if truth be told--nursing is not my thing.  I am very impatient with illness.  Yet, somehow I became a nurse who had to develop patience.  There were moments when I am sure I could have been sued for malpractice or lose my nursing license.  But, I am happy to report that my husband and my marriage survived it all....
My recovering patient and me--his NURSE.... on Thanksgiving.....

-In the midst of Carmen's illness, my dear Uncle and Aunt needed my assistance.  My Uncle has been suffering with Alzheimer's for several years now and it was becoming obvious that the end was near.  With both of them being 93 and their children living out of town and me being incredibly close to them, I was called into service.  Thankfully,  they were blessed with the means to employ around-the-clock in-home care to attend to all of my Uncle's needs.  However, my Aunt was becoming increasingly anxious and in need of support and there were other issues that needed addressed during this difficult time.  So, I took on the role of making sure hospice was called in, directing all the comings and goings of the many medical team folks and making sure that my aunt was eating  properly and that there were friends or family with her throughout the day and evening when I couldn't be there.  
-Then came Thanksgiving.  House guests and cooking and more cooking and cleaning and more cleaning.  
Two of my Thanksgiving weekend houseguests---my Granddog Bandit and his friend from Denver--Breck
-Then, my dear Uncle Passed away......
This was the man we adored......
-And, you can probably guess the rest of the story.....with plans to be made, cousins coming in from around the country and everything else that goes with it.   Amid it all, we were reminded how blessed we all are to have  each other.  We come together in happy and sad times and share the gift of family.  Although the years go by and we all scatter....we are family.  

-And, now, I shall take the weekend to regroup and hopefully hang some holly......

Counting my blessings as  I embark on December......




Friday, November 14, 2014

IT'S HERE!!!! IT'S HERE!!!!

Yes, FRIDAY IS HERE......
I don't know why I am doing mental cartwheels and make-believe jumping jacks just because Friday is here.   Because I know all too well that my weekend is already burdened with an almost impossible to-do list that must be completed by the time the clock strikes 4:45 am Monday morning......
WORDS TO LIVE BY!!!!

So, for the moment, I am going to forget completely about all of that and focus on the weekend plans that will take the edge off that ridiculous to-do list....
 So.....TO-DO-LISTS should be abolished!!! 
*My sister and I are going with a bunch of other groupies to see a singer that we really like at a comfy and fun little local pub.  Music and martinis can cure lots of things. 
*My spirited gal pals and our lucky-to-have-us husbands are going to a much-buzzed-about  new restaurant that we have waited quite some time to get into.  This particular restaurant opened in the old Georgetown restaurant where Carmen and I had many dressed-up date nights in the early days of dating and marriage...oh so many years ago.  So, I'm super excited to see the transformation....I hear it's spectacular!  And, we are huge fans of the chef since she is also very involved in the creative menu and cooking at a wonderful little place in my neighborhood where we go quite often.  Good friends+Good food+Good wine+ A view of our GRAND city=HAPPY.  
*My forever friend and I will be attending the 3rd installment of our Thanksgiving cooking technique classes....it's our annual November tradition.  Old friends and traditions are the best.


Sometimes all I need is a reminder that even though it feels like it's all work and no play.....I really do play. 

Hello Friday......