The Rest of the Week

I’m linking up with Conversion Diary again today.

My seven quick takes are pretty much all about what we’ve been doing this week with Grandma and Grandpa, in addition to the horseback riding and scavenger hunt that I’ve already posted about this week. That’s because I’m in the middle of nowhere and I have nothing else to talk about. But I do have a fabulous recipe for you that I’ve been meaning to share. So I’ll start with that.

1. Cauliflower crust pizza. Dee. Lish. Us. It is a great way to eat pizza if you don’t eat gluten or grains. You start by making cauli-rice (which itself is a good substitute for rice):


Then add a few ingredients to make it into a crust (recipe here).

Before baking the crust:




It’s surprisingly easy, and my kids LOVE it. Get the recipe here. It really is good. You can even pick up a slice and eat it like regular pizza.


One tip – Don’t skimp on the step that stresses that you must get as much water out of the cauli-rice as possible before mixing in the other ingredients. I wrap it in a towel and squeeze the heck out of that stuff and still end up pressing a paper towel on it after shaping it into a crust (but before baking) to get out as much moisture as possible.

Try it. You’ll like it.

2. Okay, here’s where I’ll get into telling you all about what else we’ve been doing with G&G.


DSC_0553 DSC_0560

This pool sits on a hill in my parents’ yard. One corner of it has no water. The opposite one, the “deep end,” has only about 8 inches. Still, you’d think it was the best thing ever.

DSC_0575 DSC_0576

3. Another visit to the local nature center. This time we got to see all the animals.

IMG_2288 IMG_2294


The snakes were still the favorite though.

IMG_2306My big girls both chose $2 rubber snakes as their souvenirs. They have been sleeping with them. Are my kids the only ones who like to sleep with fake rubbery snake toys?

Lass has even named a new snake species for hers – “Jumping, Flying, Camouflage Snake.”

4. The beach:

IMG_2335 IMG_2354 IMG_2359Chasing butterflies:

IMG_2367 IMG_2371 IMG_2383The beach was awesome until a work crew of half a dozen adolescent boys showed up on their lunch break and decided to go for a swim. In their underwear.

We got out of the water at that point, but we had already had a great morning.

5. I was just informing my husband that we are going out to dinner tonight with my parents and the girls. The conversation went like this:

Me: “We’re going out to dinner again tonight”

Him: “Okay.”

Me: “We’re going to try to get there at about 5, because it’s a sit down place where they bring food.”

Him: “You mean a restaurant?”

Ah motherhood, where every conversation is affected by thoughts of your kids and you feel the need to clarify that the eating establishment you will be attending has wait staff who will bring the food to you instead of a buffet or order-at-the-counter arrangement.

6. Because you know you were dying to see pics of our parade yesterday:

DSC_0485 DSC_0487 DSC_0511

7. And the grand finale:

My parents have some friends who were kind enough to invite us to watch the fireworks at their great lakefront house, which just happens to be right across the bay from the spot where they launch the show.


No battling traffic. No porta potties. No crowds. Nice.

They even had some pre-show home fireworks in the yard.



We tried to catch some fireflies, but it was too windy. We could only see them in the woods, and it was too freaking dark for me to go very far into the woods, even for fireflies for my kids. Plus Lass heard a boom from some fireworks and she turned around and took off running willy nilly into the dark and toward the water, so we had to abandon Operation Firefly promptly.


But the girls forgot all about the fireflies when the big fireworks started.

DSC_0572DSC_0562 DSC_0560Have a great holiday weekend.

Easter. A Birthday. I. Am. Blessed.

We had a fun-filled Easter.

We woke up to yarn trails leading to Easter baskets and an egg hunt.

DSC_0485 DSC_0493 DSC_0502 DSC_0513 DSC_0518 DSC_0521

We tried a new recipe for Easter breakfast. I had seen “Resurrection Rolls” mentioned on other blogs and probably on Pinterest too. I didn’t really consider making them until a good friend suggested it, mentioning that it is a fun way for kids to get a visual/hands on learning experience of the whole Jesus-in-the-tomb-and-then-not-in-the-tomb/Resurrection thing. Though we read several books about it, I’m still not very good at explaining this stuff to my kids (this is all very new, here), so I decided to give it a try (and make our traditional Easter breakfast of creamed eggs for lunch or dinner).

The girls had a lot of fun rolling the marshmallow “Jesuses” in the butter and cinnamon sugar and wrapping them up in the crescent roll “tombs.”

DSC_0541 DSC_0525 DSC_0527 DSC_0532

Seriously, they were delicious (recipe here).


The girls got a huge kick out of breaking open the rolls looking for Jesus and finding them empty. Lass kept saying, “But Jesus isn’t in here!” each time she took a bite.

Thanks for the tip, C.


We got all dressed up in our Easter finery and went to church. We even got there 30 minutes early so we could get a seat. It was packed.

When we got home I insisted on a few photos of the girls in their Easter dresses before everyone changed and had lunch.

How many photos does it take to get a good one when a four-year-old decides she will. not. smile.?

DSC_0547 DSC_0549 DSC_0550

Not too many once we start telling her not to smile (but still several more than what you see here!).

DSC_0552 DSC_0556



It was a little easier to get a decent one of just the girls, since we didn’t have to coax smiles and just had to try to get them  all to be at least sort of facing in the direction of the camera. They were looking at me instead of at my husband with the camera, but I still love this photo.


After lunch and naps (I even had a wonderful, long nap myself), we watched some basketball (yay Michigan wins, boo Duke loses; I know, I went to U of L!) and I made creamed eggs.

Creamed eggs is the traditional Christmas and Easter morning breakfast from my childhood. I enjoyed having the Resurrection Rolls for breakfast this morning, but could not have Easter without creamed eggs, so we had them for dinner.


I’m even going to share our secret family recipe with you (now that I’m finally able to make it myself without calling my Mom to ask how).

Creamed eggs:

You need butter, flour, milk, hard boiled eggs, and salt and pepper (and bread for toast).

Melt a stick of butter over low – medium low heat. Add about 1/2 cup of flour (give or take), stirring it in gradually until you have a nice, paste-like roux. Then add milk a little at a time, stirring it until all lumps are gone with each pour, until you have a good creamy consistency for your base. Cut about 6 hard-boiled eggs into small chunks and add to base. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve over toast.


It doesn’t look that awesome, but it is so, so yummy. And it’s a good way to use up Easter eggs.

Miss and Lass weren’t all that into it tonight (though they loved it on Christmas), but I think that’s because they filled up on Easter candy at snack time. Sis went to town eating it up.


And finally, to top off a wonderful Easter, we had another birthday party.


Yep, I turned 37 today.


It was a really wonderful birthday with my favorite people. My little family of 5.


My big girls helped me to blow out my candles, open my cards, and open my birthday gift.


At bedtime, when I was chatting with my older girls I told them “thank you” for helping me to have a wonderful, happy birthday. Miss said, “Are you happy because you got a present?” I said, “I love my present. But the very best part of today was being with you girls and your Daddy. You are the best present I could ever have.” She smiled her big four-year-old smile at me and said, “Yeah, we are.”

Quick Paleo Pork Tenderloin with a Pan Sauce and Roasted Vegetables

Before I started trying to conform my eating habits to the paleo diet, I had plenty of “go-to” dishes I made regularly.  When I didn’t have much time to prepare or cook dinner, I’d throw together tuna melts, several different dishes involving a flour tortilla (tacos, burritos, tuna wraps, etc.), or any number of quick pasta dishes.  Some of these dishes have been revised to fit with the way I try to cook nowadays, like by making seasoned meat or tuna and using a piece of lettuce for wrapping instead of the tortilla, guacamole instead of sour cream and cheese.  Some have been discarded entirely.  We don’t eat pasta anymore, so most of those are out, though I occasionally use spaghetti squash as a vehicle for some good sauce.  I’ve had to come up with a few new “go-to” meals.  One of my favorites is pork tenderloin with a pan sauce and roasted vegetables.  So yummy and quick.  And it doesn’t get any easier than this.

For pork and pan sauce you’ll need:

1 pork tenderloin (or more if you need)

Salt and pepper

Coconut oil (or olive oil)

1/2 cup white wine

2-3 Tbsp butter (cold)

For roasted veggies:

Preheat your oven to 400.  Get about 1-2 lbs of a good roasting vegetable.  We like asparagus, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, butternut squash, and broccoli the most.  Cut into approximately evenly sized pieces.  Arrange on a big sheet pan, drizzle with a good olive oil, sprinkle with salt, toss to coat and put in the oven until done.  Usually about 20 minutes, depending on your vegetable.

While your veggies cook, trim the fat and silvery skin from the tenderloin.  Slice it into 1/2 – 3/4 inch thick medallions (try to make sure they’re all about the same thickness).  Use the side of your knife to press the medallions so they are about 1/4 – 1/2 inch thick.

Use a paper towel to pat the medallions dry on both sides.  Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and melt about 1 Tbsp of coconut oil in the pan.  Give the pan and the oil time to get hot before you put the meat in (it should sizzle when it hits the pan).  Put several medallions in without overcrowding.  Cook for 3-4 minutes, then flip with tongs and cook the other side until done, about another 3-4 minutes.  Remove to a plate to rest and repeat until all meat is cooked.

After you’ve cooked all the meat, pour the wine in the pan and let it reduce for a few minutes.  Use a wooden spoon to scrape up all the bits of meat from the bottom of the pan.

After the wine reduces a bit, turn off the heat and add the butter (cut it into Tbsp-sized chunks first).  Stir until melted, pour in any accumulated juices from the plate where your meat has been resting, and the spoon the sauce on your meat (and your veggies if you want).  This is a thin sauce, not a gravy.  But it is yummy and fast.  Dinner!

What’s your favorite “go-to” dinner?

Paleo Progress

We have been doing pretty well with our attempts to shift our eating habits to the Paleo diet.  Dinner has been easy.  We’ve eaten a Paleo friendly dinner every night for the past few weeks.  As I predicted, breakfast and lunch have been a bit more of a challenge.  In an attempt to get my girls to eat more Paleo friendly breakfasts and not spend a ton of time cooking in the mornings, I made these cheesy egg muffins using a recipe I found on a website my brother sent me.  Here’s the link to the recipe.  

I actually messed up the recipe because I doubled it, but forgot to double the amounts of any of the ingredients other than the eggs.  Duh.  They were still pretty good, but a bit dry for my taste.  I also used the same recipe (again, doubling only the eggs) to make another dozen egg muffins, but this time I used blueberries (I smashed them up a little bit when stirring them in) instead of cheese.  I thought my girls would be more likely to enjoy these, and I was right.  They were pretty good, though again, a touch dry for me.  I think next time I’ll skip the coconut flour, yogurt, and baking powder and make these more like mini frittata muffins, with just eggs, a little coconut milk, and whatever other ingredients I decide to add.

The girls did eat up the muffins, and they also enjoyed to smoothies I made to go with them.

My favorite smoothie recipe:

2 bananas
2 handfuls of blueberries
8-9 frozen peach slices
Approximately a cup of unsweetened coconut milk (I like So Delicious brand, it comes in a carton like milk, rather than in a can)
I half this recipe for a 3-year-old-sized smoothie.

So, we’ve had some success with breakfasts.  I also made these pancakes last weekend.  The girls loved them.  There were enough leftover for a quick breakfast on a school morning, but I think next time I’ll at least double the recipe and then have some to refrigerate and freeze.

Unfortunately, though I had plans for sausage, hard-boiled eggs and fruit, and a few other good breakfasts, Miss has been asking every morning since the pancakes have been gone for oatmeal.  I guess I just have to let the oatmeal run out and then get back into the good stuff.

Lunch has been similar.  We’ve had good days (chicken and corn today, ham and fruit the other day, etc) and not so good (PB&J, mac and cheese for a play date).  Surprisingly, I have learned that Miss really likes to eat “sandwiches” wrapped in lettuce.

This from the girl who really won’t eat a sandwich otherwise, unless the bread is stuck together by it’s contents (PB&J, grilled cheese).  If it’s not, she just takes it apart and eats each component separately, so we don’t do ham or turkey sandwiches here.  Unless they are wrapped in lettuce now.  I guess her lack of interest in bread sandwiches has turned out to be a good thing, since I don’t have to try to get her out of the habit of eating bread so much.

We’ve done well with snacks, mostly eating different types of fresh and dried fruit, and Miss has discovered a love for cashews.  We have only resorted to bunny crackers once or twice when at the store during snack time.
I even developed my own yummy recipe for Paleo friendly hash, which we had for dinner last night.
I had some huge daikon radishes that I thought would substitute nicely for the potatoes in a hash, so I chopped one of them up into pretty small cubes (about a quarter inch to half inch square), browned it up with some onion and combined it with some browned ground venison. 

And it worked!  The hash was very yummy.  My husband even said it reminded him of the yummy greasy corned beef hash breakfast he used to get at the hospital where he used to work and has craved since.  I’ll take that as a compliment, since the result of my efforts was actually not greasy at all.

Here’s the “recipe,” though I’ll warn you in advance it’s not terribly precise with measurements.
Paleo Daikon Radish Hash
One huge daikon radish, chopped into 1/4 to 1/2-inch cubes (it probably ended up being about 3-4 cups once chopped, if you’re using several smaller radishes. I included the photos above, so you could kind of see how much).
One pound ground venison or beef
One medium yellow onion, chopped
Low sodium chicken broth (about 1 cup)
2 Tbsp butter
S&P to taste
Brown your meat.  Remove it to a bowl but leave the fat behind.  The venison had very little fat, so if you are using beef you might need to drain some of this off.  I probably had about 2 Tbsp of fat left in the pan.  Add the radish and onion, along with about 1/2 tsp kosher salt.  Stir to coat with fat, add the butter, then cover and let soften.  After a bit I thought it started to look a bit dry, so I added about 1/2 cup of low-sodium chicken broth.  When the veggies start to soften, take the cover off and stir frequently until they begin to brown (you should have the pan on medium high or hotter).  It took about 20-30 minutes for things to get softened up enough and begin to brown (this might go faster if the lid of your pan has a good seal to keep in the steam, mine doesn’t).  Add the meat back into the pan along with another 1/2 cup or so of chicken broth.  Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the radish and onion are soft and nicely browned.  Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.

It was a great warm comfort-food dinner on a super cold night.

And speaking of super cold, I have not really been all that interested in taking the girls out for the past few days because it has just been so cold here.  Today it snowed as well, so we had a stay-in-the-house-and-in-our-jammies day.  It was nice, though I did start to feel a little bit cooped up after two days of not going anywhere.  I felt the need to spice things up a bit, so I brought out the play-dough.

I’ll be honest and just say that I really hate play-dough.  It’s just messy and I find it annoying.  What can I say?  It’s not the most frequent activity in our house.  Okay, it’s a very, very infrequent activity in our house.  But, that makes my girls love it all the more!!

 This was her very special creation – A fish!  She said she made it for Grandma.

And I’ll be honest, now that we have this little plastic picnic table that I can easily bring into the kitchen for them to play on, the play-dough really wasn’t that bad.  In fact, I could see us doing it a bit more often.  Maybe.  The girls loved it, so that made it worth it.

The girls also got creative with their dry erase crayons.  These things are awesome, BTW.  A friend of mine found these for her kids and got some for us too when she learned of my lack of enthusiasm for dry erase markers with a 17-month-old.  These are so easy to wipe off most surfaces and they don’t rub off nearly as easily as markers, so if you brush against the board you don’t wind up with crayon all over yourself.  But, they do clean up relatively easily with a wet cloth.

Miss kept asking me what I wanted her to draw with her blue (her favorite color).

This is the look she gave me when I asked her to draw a square.  She said, “I already drawed a square Mama.”

Well then.

It’s supposed to warm up a bit this weekend so we’ll be venturing out some.  Stay warm!

Rainy Day Ride and a Recipe

Today was rainy.  The girls were a little stir crazy after dinner tonight, so the Daddy brought in their wagon for a little ride.

They thought this was just about the coolest thing.  Then it broke, and they had fits.  But we colored and read books and did puzzles the rest of the night, and all was well.

On a totally unrelated note, several weeks ago I posted about my last “Chopped” ingredients.  If you recall, these were Duck breast, Avocado, and Gouda cheese.  I used the ingredients to make dinner a couple of weeks ago and have forgotten to post about it.  I made Duck and Gouda Hoagies with Avocado Spread.  I didn’t write down the recipe, thinking I would post about it while it was still fresh in my memory.  I have a pretty good memory, but this one might be a little fuzzy.

My ingredients:
4 duck breasts, skin removed
1 avocado
Gouda cheese, sliced
Salt and Pepper
Vegetable oil
1 Shallot, finely chopped
Maybe one or two cloves of garlic?
About a half cup of dry white wine
Hoagie Buns
One apple (optional)

I started by slicing the duck breasts crossways into about 1/2 inch-thick pieces.  Then I dried these, sprinkled them with salt and pepper on both sides, and coated them with flour.  I heated my pan over medium high heat, added about a tablespoon of oil, and put in the first batch of duck pieces.

I browned the duck pieces on both sides, then removed to a plate and continued with the other pieces in batches (adding a bit of oil with each batch).

After I got all the duck pieces cooked and set aside, I put the shallot in the pan to soften.  I can’t remember if I added a couple of pressed cloves of garlic after the shallot was soft.  I think I did.  If so, I would have waited until the shallot was soft, then added the pressed garlic and stirred it around until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Then I added the wine and scraped all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  I let this reduce a few minutes.  Then I put this mixture into the blender with the avocado, some mayo and some salt and pepper and tried to puree it to a really smooth texture.  I should have used my Magic Bullet, because the blender didn’t do a very good job of pureeing the small pieces of shallot.  So, the final outcome of this avocado-mayo spread was a little lumpy.  While I was working on this spread, I preheated the broiler, put some duck meat into a each of two hoagie buns, topped it with slices of gouda, and put it in the oven.  Once the cheese was melted, I pulled them out, put the avocado spread on the top of the bun, and it was done.  I should have used a lower heat to melt the cheese, because my buns ended up getting burned, but the result was still good.  I also should have toasted the buns beforehand, because the bottom bun was a bit soft relative to the super crispy top bun.  Oh well.  I was in a hurry…

On my hoagie I put slices of apple, which I thought added a crunch and sweetness that was very yummy.  My husband is not a fan of apples on sandwiches, so I left them off his.

This was a successful meal, if not the most dazzling thing I’ve created.  The best part was the way I cooked the duck.  I relied on a strategy learned partly from my dad and partly from my cooking class in coating the duck with flour.  This really helped to hold in some of the moisture and the result was very flavorful, tender, and moist duck meat.  Score.  The least successful part of the dish was the avocado spread.  It ended up a little bland, and the chunks of shallot didn’t do anything for it.  If I made this again I would probably skip the shallots and pan deglazing all together and just use the avocado, some mayo, and some fresh herbs, maybe a little lemon or lime juice to brighten the flavor of the spread and keep it smooth.  My apologies for the haphazard “recipe.”  This is the best I can recall, several weeks later.

My husband has been working nights for the past two weeks, so we have been neglecting to select the ingredients for my next challenge.  Tonight is his last night to work (hooray!!), and we finally remembered to choose the goodies.  What did I end up with?  Tuna (canned), Panko bread crumbs, and Tomato paste. I already have a good idea what I’m going to do.  If it works, I’ll try to bring you that recipe with a bit more precision.

Spaghetti Squash with Spinach Meat Sauce

I tackled my latest Chopped ingredients the other night: Spaghetti Squash, Spinach, and Merguez Sausage.  My husband made the merguez, and it was delicious.  I was correct in my belief that the sausage would be smoky, sweet, and have a little heat.  Honestly, it was probably the best sausage I’ve ever eaten.  I was pretty excited to create a yummy dish with these more reasonable, normal ingredients.  I decided to make a sort of “Spaghetti” with Meat Sauce, of course using the squash as the spaghetti and making the sauce using spinach instead of tomatoes.  It turned out great.
Here are my little sous chefs.

Spaghetti (Squash) with Spinach Meat Sauce
1 Large spaghetti squash
2 Merguez sausages (if you can’t find this type of sausage, you could use chorizo or Italian sausage)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 11-oz pkg spinach
1/2 cup heavy cream

Pierce the squash several times with a knife.  Put it in the microwave on high for 6 minutes.  Turn it over and microwave it for another six minutes.  Let it sit for a while to continue steaming.

Remove the sausage from the casing, crumble and brown it over medium high heat.  When it’s nice and browned, remove it to a paper-towel-lined plate. Leave the drippings and browned bits of sausage stuck to the bottom in the pan.  Cover it with foil to keep it warm.

Return the pan with drippings to medium high heat.  Add the onion and about 1/2 tsp of salt to the pan and cook until onion softens, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add wine.  If there are any browned bits of sausage or onion left on the bottom of the pan, scrape them up into the sauce.  Let the wine reduce for a minute or two.  Add 2 Tbsp butter and stir until it melts.  Add spinach and stir to coat with sauce.  Cook until it is nicely wilted (photo below is only partially wilted).

While spinach is cooking, slice open squash (you’ll probably need an oven mitt), scoop out seeds, and then pull out strands of squash with a fork or spoon and set aside.

Once spinach is wilted, put the entire contents of your pan into the blender.  When pan is empty, return it to medium low heat, add the remaining two Tbsp butter, let it melt, and put the squash strands in the pan.  Add about 1/2 Tsp salt.  Stir to coat with butter and cook for several minutes.  The main purpose of this is to try to evaporate some of the water that comes out with the squash so it’s not super wet when you put it on your plate, as well as adding a bit more flavor to it.  Puree the spinach mixture.  Add cream and continue to blend until smooth.  Add S&P to taste.  Put sauce, “spaghetti” and sausage on the plate!

This dish turned out really well.  The sauce was delicious.  The only thing I might have done differently was to use one more sausage, because there wasn’t quite enough for two servings plus what we gave to the girls.

Next up: Gouda Cheese, Avocado, and Duck Breast!

Tofu Chocolate Pudding

We went to PetSmart today to get some dog food and I happened to see some fancy “chocolate” dog treats. I got a package of them for our dog, and Miss immediately started saying, “I want some chocolate treats too!” I explained to her that the treats were only for dogs, but that wasn’t quite going to cut it with my chocolate-loving two year old. I remembered a recipe I have for chocolate pudding with tofu, so I told her we’d make that when we got home. She wasn’t happy about having to wait a while for it to chill after we got it made (though she was pacified a bit by being able to lick the leftover melted chocolate from the bowl), and it was the first thing she asked for when she woke up from her nap. It only took a few minutes to make, and it was fantastic.

I even let Lass try a little bite.
She had to think about it for a second.
She liked it.

Tofu pudding sounds kind of weird, but it really was delicious. I had never used soft tofu before (I’ve only ever used tofu once before, in fact). I ate a portion of it and so did my husband. He called it, “Ridonkulous” which means super-awesome fabulously yummy. Here’s the recipe, which I changed a little bit from a recipe in the July issue of Parenting magazine.
1 12-oz pkg shelf-stable soft silken tofu
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted
1/2 cup ultrafine granulated sugar (the recipe called for powdered sugar, but I didn’t have any)
2 tsp vanilla
a pinch of salt
Combine all ingredients in a blender and mix until creamy. Put it into small cups or bowls and put into the fridge to let it set up. Done.
I was really happy to give Miss a snack with nutritious, protein-packed tofu in it. Of course, this pudding is also sugar-packed, so it is certainly a treat. I’ll make it again, but only once in a while, and next time I’ll probably cut the amount of sugar in half. However, I am now convinced of the wonders of this soft tofu for use in puddings, smoothies, etc. I’m thinking of all sorts of other, less sugary things I can blend with it next time, like bananas, berries, orange juice, honey, and on and on.
And speaking of tofu, my next at home “Chopped” ingredients are plantains, bacon bits, and yes, tofu. It has taken me a while to get going on this one because I’ve not been able to find plantains in a store here, so I just ordered some and will get on it when they arrive. I think I know what I’m going to do. I have to redeem myself after my pickled herring failure. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Home Run

Raisins and cherry tomatoes were my at-home-“Chopped” ingredients this week. I thought and thought for a week about what to do with them. Initially I was going to cook them with some onions and broth and spices and then puree them into a sauce for some pork tenderloin medallions. Then I realized that the skin and seeds of the tomatoes would probably not work well in a pureed sauce, so I scratched that idea. I finally settled on making a pan sauce for pork tenderloin using the raisins and then doing a side dish by caramelizing some fennel bulb (my new favorite vegetable since I learned how to cook it in my cooking class) with some raisins and then adding in the tomatoes. I wanted to use caramelized onions and raisins in a sauce (topping might be a better word than sauce, because the raisins and onion made it chunky) for the pork but add in just a bit of heat to compliment, brighten, and balance the sweetness of these ingredients. Similarly, I thought the tomatoes would balance the sweetness of the caramelized fennel and raisins in the side dish. Yeah. I hit a home run with this one. Here are both of the recipes.
Pork Tenderloin with Spicy Raisins and Onions
1 Pork Tenderloin (about 1 lb)
Salt and Pepper
1 Tbsp Vegetable oil
1 Onion, halved and sliced thinly
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 cup chicken broth
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1 Tbsp pieces
Trim fat and silvery skin from the tenderloin. Slice it into 1-inch-thick medallions. Season with S&P on both sides. Then press the tenderloins (with your hands or the flat side of a knife) until it’s about 3/4 inch thick. Heat your pan over medium high heat. Put in the oil. When the oil is shimmering, add half of the pork pieces. Sear them on one side for 2 minutes, then flip them using tongs and sear the other side for about 2 minutes more (they should be firm around the sides). Remove to plate and cover with foil. Repeat with the rest of the pork. Add the onion and cook until it starts to get soft, stirring occasionally. Add the raisins. Let the onions and raisins cook together for a while so the onions get nicely caramelized. Add wine, cayenne and paprika. If you don’t like spicy, you can reduce the amounts of these, but I would recommend still adding them, maybe at about 1/2 of the amount I used. Let the wine reduce by about half. Pour in the chicken broth and any juice from the tenderloin pieces that has accumulated on the plate and continue to simmer for a few minutes longer. Off the heat, add the butter, 1 Tbsp at a time, swirling each Tbsp piece around until it melts. Serve the sauce over the pork medallions.
Fennel with Raisins and Cherry Tomatoes
1 tsp Vegetable oil
2 Fennel bulbs, julienned
1 Tbsp sugar
1/4 cup raisins, chopped
1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
Sprinkle of salt
Heat a pan over medium high heat. Add oil, then fennel. Stir fennel to coat with oil and add sugar. Stir, then add raisins. Cook for several minutes, stirring occasionally, to let the fennel soften and start to caramelize. I can’t remember how long this took, but the fennel will start to darken and get soft, but still have a little bit of bite to it. Add the tomatoes and stir them in. cook for a few more minutes to let the tomatoes start to soften, but don’t let them get too mushy. Sprinkle a little salt on, stir, serve.

I was so happy with the way these dishes turned out. Lots of flavor and great textures. The only thing I might have done differently would be to add more wine, chicken broth and butter to the pan sauce to have more of the liquid part of the sauce. It was yummy.
We have already decided to go to 3 ingredients this next week and I drew them from our spreadsheet. I do it like the old game Battleship, picking coordinates that my husband matches up the the spaces on his spreadsheet. The one way that we limit what comes up is that he makes sure at least one of the ingredients is a protein. So, next week? Sweet pickles. Bran cereal. And Pickled Herring. Yes, you read that right. Pickled Herring. My husband told me this and then said, “I hate pickled herring.” What?! This freaked me out a little, because I thought I was doomed from the start if he hates it (I’ve never had it, so I have no idea, though I can imagine, how vile it is). I was prepared to go ahead with it, but I think he felt bad for including such a horrendous ingredient on his list. He suggested we draw a different protein, and we did. The next one that came up was Canned tuna. But after thinking about it for a bit, I told him that I wanted to go ahead with the herring. That’s the challenge, right? Taking something crazy, and potentially kind of gross, and making it fabulous? *gulp* Hubby did point out that it’s actually a win-win situation for me though. If the dish I make is horrible, I can blame it on the herring. If it’s delicious, I become a cooking goddess. Score. I told him I can’t even begin to plan what I’m going to make though until I go to the store and get some herring and taste it. I have no idea what it’s texture or consistency or taste is like, so I can’t figure out what I’ll do until I know that. Wish me luck!!
In other exciting news from the weekend (and to get on to the cute pics), we got our swing set delivered on Friday! The Hubby and I started putting it together during nap time yesterday.

Naturally we couldn’t get it all done while the girls were sleeping, so they joined us outside while we continued to work on it.

We had to put in some more time this morning, though it was mostly the hubby getting it done today because the girls were awake the whole time. Finished product:
We have to trim up the landscaping and the dead stuff underneath a bit and put down some soft mulch, but the girls didn’t care about that. They went right to it after they woke from naps.

This one continues to amaze me with her climbing. My mom says she gets it from me.

And no, she didn’t actually climb all the way onto the platform by herself, but she did climb the ladder all the way to the top, until her hands reached the platform and she wasn’t sure what to do with them to keep climbing. I don’t have photos of that part of her performance, because I was hovering around her as spotter just in case. She never even faltered though!
I love this swing set and I know the girls will get so much fun out of it. According to my husband, who had to deal with most of the inevitable frustrations of putting such a contraption together, they’d better!
As a last note, please excuse the status of my header right now. I thought it was about time to change up the photos, but for some reason could not get the far left photo to fit in the header correctly. Also, some of the photos in this post have a bit of a foggy look to them. It’s because my camera lens fogged up when I took it from inside the air conditioning to the muggy outside. Sorry!

Shrimp and Grits

Ingredients for this week’s “Chopped” Challenge: Shrimp and Cheddar Cheese
My mind automatically went to Shrimp and Grits as the dish to make. I don’t really know why. I’ve only eaten one bite of shrimp and grits ever. It was at a restaurant in Charleston. My husband ordered it. I would never order such a thing. Surprisingly it was delicious. My version? Read on and see.
So okay, to be perfectly honest, I’m not even sure if traditional Shrimp and Grits has cheese in it, or if I’m confusing “Cheese Grits” and “Shrimp and Grits.” Either way, I made Shrimp and Grits and it had cheese in it. Here’s the recipe:
Shrimp and Grits
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
14 oz Andouille sausage sliced about 1/2 inch thick (you can use a bit less or more, this is just what size package I found at our clearly un-Southern grocery store)
1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 cloves garlic, pressed or finely minced
3/4 cup quick grits
1/2 tsp salt
1 12-oz can 2% evaporated milk
2 cups water
1-2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (I didn’t measure but I think I used closer to 2 cups)
1 tsp cornstarch
1/2 cup more water
2 tsp Paprika
1/4 tsp Cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat a large non stick pan with a lid over medium high heat. When the pan is hot, add the oil and heat until shimmering. Add sausage and brown on both sides. While sausage is cooking pat shrimp dry and season with S&P. When the sausage is browned, remove it from the pan and place on paper-towel-lined plate. Drain all but about 1 Tbsp of sausage drippings from pan. Add shrimp to pan in batches and brown on both sides. Only cook a minute or two on each side and just until the shrimp is opaque to avoid over cooking. Remove shrimp as it is cooked to another paper-towel-lined plate. If all the fat is taken out of the pan, add a bit more oil and let it get hot. Add garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Then add grits and stir to coat with oil and brown a bit. After a few minutes, add 1 cup of the condensed milk (reserve the remaining 1/2 cup in can) and two cups of water to grits, stir, scraping browned bits from sausage and shrimp from the bottom of the pan, bring to a boil and cover, cooking for about 5 minutes. While grits are cooking, add 1/2 cup water to the remaining 1/2 cup evaporated milk and whisk in the cornstarch. When grits are done, add cheese in handfuls, stirring to melt and alternating with adding the water/evaporated milk/cornstarch mixture. When the cornstarch liquid and cheese are added to your liking (you’ll probably need to add a bit of water to keep it from getting too thick, see note below), add in the paprika, cayenne pepper, shrimp, and sausage. Add S&P to taste. Cover and cook for a few minutes to let the shrimp and the sausage get warm again. Serve.

So, I stirred the shrimp and sausage into the grits to get them warmed up again, and the result was an extremely ugly dish of food. I probably should have tented the sausage and shrimp with foil, or perhaps placed them in a 200 degree oven to keep them warm, so I could just put them on top of the grits instead of needing to stir them in to warm them up again. Appearances aside, the dish had good flavor but it was too thick for my taste. I would either lessen the amount of cornstarch in the slurry or add more water or milk to adjust the consistency after all the slurry and cheese were added. I did manage to get the grits cooked better this time, as they were not “gritty.” In all honesty, this was not my favorite of the “Chopped” dishes I’ve done so far. Perhaps I shouldn’t have gone with the first dish that came to mind. I could have been a bit more creative. Maybe I could have done a chowder or some sort of play on a tuna melt or a Po’Boy. Whatev. The dish was good, but not delicious. I’ll do better next time!
We were supposed to have storms today. They missed us.
We were glad.
It was a good day.

Rock Soup or Flank Steak?

While we waited for our dinner to braise this afternoon, the girls and I went outside, where Miss proceeded to make her own dinner of Rock Soup. It all started with puddles this morning, which we used to “paint” the driveway with sticks and grass, and then sponges and sponge brushes. This afternoon, however, the puddles were all dried up, so I got Miss a bucket of water and she proceeded to “paint” some more.

Who knew that a bucket of water and some sponges could provide such entertainment?? Lass just loved being in the grass.

After a while, the painting stopped and Miss said, “I stiwing (stirring!)” so I asked her what she was making. “Wock soup!” was her answer.

Everyone had to taste some and we “oohed” and “aahed” over how delicious it was.
Lass especially enjoyed it.
Shortly after filling up on Rock Soup, I had to come inside to finish fixing our real dinner. Tonight was the night I used our most recent “Chopped” ingredient, flank steak. I decided to use what I learned in my cooking class on braising to make the flank steak, since it is a pretty tough cut of meat. The dish? Braised Flank Steak Stew with Fennel and Leeks. It was delicious. Even Miss gobbled it up. Here’s the recipe:
Braised Flank Steak Stew with Fennel and Leeks
1.5 lb (approx) flank steak, cut into 1 inch pieces
Olive oil
2 garlic cloves
1 Tbsp minced fresh lemon thyme (or regular thyme)
Salt and Pepper
1 cup chopped carrots (about two handfuls of baby carrots)
2 celery ribs chopped
1 medium onion chopped
1/2 cup red wine
zest from one lemon
beef stock
1.5 lbs Dutch baby potatoes
1/2 stick butter
vegetable oil
2 fennel bulbs, sliced
1 large leek, halved, rinsed, and sliced
4 tsp sugar
Put the cut up steak, thyme, and garlic in a bowl and add a few tablespoons of olive oil (enough to wet all the steak) and some salt and pepper. Mix to get the meat well coated. Put in refrigerator overnight.
Preheat your oven to 250 degrees. Heat a large saute pan over medium high heat. While your pan is heating, start flouring your meat (make sure you shake off the excess flour). Add about a tablespoon of olive oil and let it get hot, then add your meat in batches.
Get the meat pieces nicely browned. Then remove to a plate, add more oil, and do the next batch. Repeat if necessary.
I had to cook the meat in three batches to avoid overcrowding the pan. Lass woke up from her nap after the second batch and decided to help me out.
Once all the meat is browned, add another tablespoon of oil to the pan and put in the carrots, celery, and onion. Cook until they start to soften and brown.
Then pour in the red wine. Let it cook for a minute or two to reduce a bit. Then put the meat back in the pan, making sure to also get any accumulated juices on the plate poured into the pan. Add the lemon zest and enough beef stock to cover the meat half to two-thirds of the way. Cover the pan and put it in the oven for about 2 hours.
About a half hour before your meat is done, start cooking the rest of the stew. Cut the larger baby potatoes in half. Put them in a sauce pan with enough cold water to cover them. Bring to a boil and boil until tender, 10-12 minutes. Drain off water and add butter and salt to taste. Smash up the potatoes as you stir in the butter.
Once your potatoes start to cook, put another skillet or saute pan over medium high heat. Slice your fennel and leek. Blot them dry with a paper towel. Put about a tablespoon of vegetable oil in once your pan is hot. When the oil is hot, put in the fennel and leek and stir to coat. Stir them occasionally. You want them to start to brown and caramelize. Add sugar during this process (fennel has very little natural sugar in it, so adding sugar helps it to caramelize nicely). Cook until softened and browned.
Pull the meat out of the oven. Taste the sauce and check the consistency. When I took mine out the consistency was perfect, but the sauce needed more salt. Add S&P as necessary and adjust thickness of sauce as needed (to thicken whisk some cornstarch and beef stock together and add, or add more stock to thin). Put some potatoes in a bowl and top with beef mixture and then fennel/leek mixture. Makes about 4 servings.
I would not have done anything differently with this dish other than maybe skipping the leek and adding a third fennel bulb. The fennel added a delicious sweetness and crunchy texture, but the leek didn’t really seem to bring anything to the dish. My husband was wishing for more fennel, though I thought the ratio of fennel to the rest of the dish was okay, so maybe I would add more fennel, maybe not. I guess since the elements are put together after they’re cooked and each person can choose how much fennel to add on top, I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to cook another bulb and then each person can add as much as they want. Otherwise, I was extremely happy with the dish! Next week, two ingredients (in one dish)!