Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Adventures in Italy!

A few weeks ago I was in New York and crashed at my sister-in-law's sister's house.  We cracked open some red and watched Jersey Shore on DVR and realized that the Jersey cast is based in Florence, Italy this season.  Well, GUESS WHAT?  I'm going to Florence, Italy tomorrow!!  And then Orvieto, Italy, and then Positano, Italy, and then Rome (Italy).  I have a feeling the hubs and I will keep it (slightly) classier in Italy than the Jersey Shore folks do. 

Anyway, back to the Jersey Shore episode we watched...during said episode we discovered that the cast works in a pizzeria in downtown Florence.  And after 2 bottles of wine, we (my sister-in-law's sister and I) decided it was a necessary stop during my 10 days in Italy.  No matter that its probably the grossest, most American-ized pizza shop in the whole country...I bet it gets really crowded with American tourists who think the cast of Jersey Shore knows whats up when its comes to authentic Italian cuisine.  At the time, I was so convinced that this was a good idea that I made her rewind the DVR and then pause it during one of their taped shifts so I could see the name of the restaurant on the back of Snooki's (if you don't know who Snooki is, you're not cool) T-shirt.  I even made a note in my iPhone so I wouldn't forget the name.  But then, a couple of weeks later, I noticed the note and thought to myself, "this is stupid, we're not going to this awful restaurant", and deleted it.  So, I guess that's the end of THAT story.  I think it was the wine. 
ANYWAY, I leave for Italy tomorrow.  We'll be gone 10 days.  And then I travel for work for the next 3.  So this blog is going to be HURTING as far as updates and recipes go for the next 2 weeks.  I will, however, return with amazing photos and recipes and stories from the land that is home to many of my favorite things (wine, cheese, pasta, olive oil, and beautiful scenery. Oh, and limoncello). 

We've been planning this trip for a year.  If by "planning", you mean we bought our plane tickets a year ago.  As far as planning in my head goes....I've been dreaming of this trip for what feels like my entire adult existence.  I feel that I was BORN to travel to Italy with the love of my life before said life starts getting too hectic for us.  I can't wait....in 24 hours we'll be on a plane over the Atlantic, holding hands and dreaming of beautiful Italian countryside and the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean.  And we'll also have had some Ambien and maybe a cocktail or three.  So, that'll help some, too.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Football Finger Foods and "Voting" - Ann Style

So, I wouldn't consider myself particularly "sporty".  I did play basketball through middle and high school and even played on a club team in college for awhile (until Saturday morning practices interfered with my Friday evening frat parties trips to the library).  I was actually pretty decent, if I do say so myself.  But that is not because I'm a natural athlete...it was mostly because I'm very competitive and I hate to lose so I worked really hard to be good.  Plus, at my high school, jocks were the cool kids and got dibs on the Spades tables at lunch.  So it was important to play a sport and be good at it so I could partake in Spades at lunch.  And Study Hall.  So basically, when it comes down to it, I spent my high school years sweating my butt off at two-a-day practices and cried plenty of tears of blood in the weight room because I worked so hard I literally thought I couldn't go on living.  And for what?  So I could play Spades.  Logical, yes?  I think so too.

Anywho, despite my badass days on the basketball team, I'm still not very athletic.  I like shoes and makeup and my idea of something fun to watch on TV is The Real Housewives of Orange County and What Not To Wear.  My idea of something fun to watch in person is a Sommelier pouring wine tastings in my glass at a vineyard, while telling me about the deep flavor with hints of blackberry.  And then its fun to watch myself drink the wine and buy a case for later. 

Needless to say, football season wasn't something that got me very excited.  Until last year.  When my husband clued me in to the fact that you can BET on football.  Or VOTE on football, if you want to use Ann lingo. This means that even if you couldn't care less about either team that was playing, you can still win!  This is a whole new ballgame, if you will!  There is a world of internet madness out there that lets you pick which team you think will win or decide if they will score more or less of a certain number of points.  And you can do things like vote for two teams at once but they both have to win.  These things in sports speak are called "over/under, and parlay", but to me, its just more ways to win. 

So now, every Sunday morning, Andrew gets on his computer and asks me what I think about each of the games occurring that day.  Then I cast my "vote" for a team, usually based on if I like the quarterback or not, or if the coach is funny looking.  And I refer to a team not by its actual name, but by the name of a player I particularly like or hate.  Like this:

Andrew: "Okay honey, the night game is the Jets vs. the Cowboys.  Its Cowboys plus seven.  What do you think?"
Me: "Ohhhh, the Dirty Sanchez's (otherwise known as the New York Jets, with quarterback Mark Sanchez) against the Tony Romos (also knows as the Dallas Cowboys, led by quarterback Tony Romo)?!?!  Is Tony Romo still dating Jessica Simpson?"
Andrew: "What??? No.  The spread means that the Jets have to win by at least 7 points.  Do you think they can do that?"
Me: "Totally.  I like their coach because he's hilarious.  I saw it on that show you used to make me watch.  Let's vote for the Dirty Sanchez's."
Andrew: "I think the Cowboys have it.  We're betting $4 on them."
Me: "But Tony Romo is such a TOOL!!!!!"

During football season, this happens a few times every weekend.  But its a win/win!  I win because I feel involved in the process (sometimes my husband actually does what I say), and he wins because I'll watch football without complaining.  And we both win because we have bloody Mary's and delicious finger foods.

Speaking of finger foods, I actually have some recipes to share.  Made both of these little gems this past Sunday and they were delish.  I even tried to make them healthy, and I don't think anyone noticed!


Chicken Enchilada Stuffed Tortilla Rollups
Source: Adapted from Annie's Eats (If you haven't checked out Annie's blog, DO IT!  She's amazing.)

2 8-oz. packages cream cheese, softened (I used low fat cream cheese)
1 1/3 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese (I used 2% cheese)
1 teaspoon garlic, finely minced (I used 2 teaspoons)
1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
cayenne pepper to taste
1 teaspoon chipotle powder
salt to taste
1 cooked chicken breast, skinned and shredded
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
4 green onions, chopped
10-oz. can Rotel tomatoes (I used about half a can)
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
1 package jalapeno cheddar tortillas

Mix cheeses together until well blended.  Add all remaining ingredients and mix well.

Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Place one heaping spoonful onto tortilla.  Spread to edges using a metal spatula.  Roll and cut into slices.

Sausage/Pepperoni/Green Pepper Pizza Cups

Cooking spray
1 tube of refrigerator biscuits (I used reduced fat Grands)
Pizza sauce
Mozzarella cheese, diced or shredded (I used 2%)
Turkey pepperoni slices
1/2 package pre-packaged turkey sausage crumbles (can be found at the grocery store with the rest of the bacon and sausage)
Parmesan Cheese, shredded
Dried Basil
Garlic powder to taste
Red pepper flakes to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Coat a muffin tin with cooking spray.

Cut each biscuit in half then press the dough into of the bottom and sides of the muffin tin. Repeat with the remaining dough. Spoon sauce into each cup. Place some diced (or shredded) mozzarella cheese into the cups followed by a few slices of pepperoni. Finally add a bit more mozzarella if desired then sprinkle the tops with Parmesan cheese, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, and dried oregano.

Place into the oven and bake for 15 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the cheese has melted. Serve immediately with a bit of heated pizza sauce for dipping.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Day to Remember

Today, no recipes or silly stories.  Just a little reflection on how lucky we are to have what we have.  And a lot of love and prayers for those that lost their lives on September 11th all those years ago as well as those who know and loved someone who did.  I can't believe its been 10 years.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Edited to Add

Remember how like 5 minutes ago, I was trying to decide where to eat dinner tonight?  Well, that's been decided.  Because I've been sitting in my home airport for 4 hours now.  FOUR!  And I can't leave to go home, because US Airways tells me that its "probable" that I'll get to Boston "sometime tonight".  Or "early tomorrow morning, worst case".  Well.  I don't know about you, but I'm psyched.

Especially because my home airport has exactly 3 places to eat/drink.  They are: Sam Adams Pub (that serves cold sandwiches and chips in a bag.  And....Sam Adams), Applebee's (you KNOW how I feel about that), and the new Club Level Grill (that serves chicken fingers, but at least the wine comes from a bottle and not a box).  Its been a long, long afternoon.

I started writing this post 30 minutes ago.  In that 30 minutes, I have left my terminal, gone through security again, and promptly been told that my new flight is delayed.  If it takes off at the time they told me, I'll have been in this here airport for 6 hours.  Please try not to be jealous. 

Also, try not to be jealous of the dinner I was forced to decide on.  Its not downtown Boston Italian food.  Its not even Applebee's chicken fingers in the Boston burbs.  Its worse.  It was $9 and the cheese wasn't even melted. 

At least the wine came from a bottle.

Caprese Pasta Toss and Back to the Airport

If it seems like I've been spending a lot of time in airports lately, its because I have.  And really....if it seems like that to YOU, imagine what it seems like to ME.  This week is Boston.  Actually, not.  Its a suburb outside of Boston, that, to the best of my ability to comprehend, does not believe in non-chain restaurants.  Last time I went there, I asked the front desk lady at the Marriott if there were any good places to eat for dinner, and she told me there was a Quizno's right across the street.  Well, color me happy!  Quizno's is EXACTLY what I had in mind for a nice place to spend my per diem allowance for the night after a long day of traveling.  I was like, well....I was really looking for a sit-down type of place where I could get a nice glass of wine.  She nodded knowingly and said there was an Applebee's in the same shopping center.  Great, I couldn't wait to have some chicken fingers and a nice glass of Franzia.

This time, I got smarter and decided to stay and eat downtown and just drive to my meeting in the burbs for the day.  My plan was perfect except that my trip got extended by another day and the first night I'm forced into staying at the Marriott in the burbs across the street from Quizno's and Applebee's.  This is stressing me out, and I've spent the entire morning (and a ridiculous amount of time last night) trying to decide, when I land in Boston, whether to eat downtown and take a taxi to the burbs in order to avoid chicken fingers and Franzia.  Or, do the practical thing and rent a car, drive to my hotel in the burbs, and suck it up.  Maybe Franzia is better after a glass or three?  Probably not.

Anyway, I haven't decided yet, but I'll continue to ponder this very, VERY important culinary decision.  My dinner on the first night could make or break my trip...what if I get a Franzia hangover and fall asleep in my client meeting the next day?  Or get food poisoning from chicken fingers?  I think its safer to take a cab from the airport to downtown, eat a delicious dinner with non-Franzia wine, and THEN take a cab from downtown to the burbs.  Just to be safe.  Safety, and NOT practicality, is the issue here, people.

Okay, time to talk about food that I actually cooked!  Two of my favorite things to eat are pasta (not always good for the "try not to be so fat" diet), and tomato/fresh mozzarella salad.  So why not combine them?  I've seen tons of variations of this out there, both from Rachael Ray and some fellow food bloggers.  I took those as inspiration and just kind of made things up as I went along.  I used 100% whole wheat pasta for the protein and fiber, and cut WAY down on the amount of oil and cheese I used.  Still turned out great, and I served this with petite filets broiled in the oven.  Delish!

Caprese Pasta Toss
Source: inspired from Rachael Ray and the general interwebs

1/2 lb whole wheat penne
2 tbsp olive oil
2 small anchovy filets
1 tsp red pepper flakes
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup fresh mozzarella, diced into bite-sized pieces

Heat oven to 375 F.  Put halved grape tomatoes on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper.  Roast in oven for 20 minutes until tomatoes start to "burst.

While tomatoes are in the oven, boil pasta in well-salted water until al dente.  Drain, and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large pan.  Add anchovy filets, and stir, breaking up the filets and allowing them to "melt" into the oil.  Add red pepper flakes, garlic, and Italian seasoning.  Let garlic get soft, but make sure it doesn't burn.

Add cooked pasta to the oil/anchovy/garlic mixture.  Add tomatoes and diced mozzarella.  Toss to combine.  Serve.  Drool.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Honey Lime Chicken Enchiladas and the Mountain Goat Funny Farm

Remember the post I wrote back in April about when I was solely in charge of two 10-week old puppies for like 6 days straight?  And how I almost killed myself, brought myself back to life, and did it again just for the sheer relief of having another moment of (deathly) silence?

Well, I'm in charge of two puppies once again.  Except I'm not alone and they are now 6-months old.  Easy, right?  No, wrong.  WRONG!  The two little mongrels we affectionately call "The Mouth" (my puppy), and "The Curmudgeon" (my bro and sis in-law's puppy), can still wreak havoc with the best of them.  And its not a quiet havoc-wreaking, I'll tell you that much.

This is because the only activity that occurs when they are in the same room together is some strange move where they stand on their hind legs, hold onto each other with their front paws, and try to rip each other's ears off.  Sometimes they go for the jugular.  It looks like this:

Except that its in my house, next to my vases and (full) wine glass on my (glass) end table, and not in an open field like the above.  And it happens all day long.  ALL. DAY.  And there is no escape.  We call it Mountain Goat Fighting.  Because have you ever seen that Planet Earth documentary that Sigourney Weaver narrates?  And they show the mountain goats trying to kill each other on the side of a cliff?  Yeah, that's what's happening 24/7 in our household.  Two filthy animals going at it like mountain goats.  And driving the humans bat-shit crazy.  They sure are lucky they're cute.

Anywho, I'm looking forward to a relaxing (as relaxing as a Mountain Goat Funny Farm can be) weekend before heading to Boston next week and Austin the week after.  And Italy the week after that!  I see the Farmer's Market, the fall festival at a local winery, the first JMU football game of the season, and a cookout with friends in our future this weekend.  And a whole lot of naps.  If I need to drug the dogs, I will.  Count on it.

I'll also need to do some cooking since these here honey lime chicken enchiladas are the last thing I have in my archive of "things to blog that I actually cooked a long time ago".  They were awfully tasty, my friends.

Honey Lime Chicken Enchiladas
Source: The Girl Who Ate Everything

6 tbsp. honey
5 tbsp. lime juice, from 2-3 limes
1 tbsp. chili powder
1/2 tbsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. garlic powder

1 small can diced jalapeno peppers
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
8-10 flour tortillas (I used whole wheat)
1 lb Monterrey jack cheese, shredded (I used 1/2 low fat cheddar and 1/2 monteray jack)
16 oz. green enchilada sauce
1 cup heavy cream or half & half (I used fat free half and half)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and mix the first six ingredients together.  Toss with shredded chicken and refrigerate; allow to marinade for at least 1/2 hour.

Using 1/2 cup enchilada sauce, coat the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking pan. Fill flour tortillas with chicken and shredded cheese, then roll up the filled tortillas and place in bottom of pan, saving about 1 cup of cheese to sprinkle on top of enchiladas.

Mix the remaining enchilada sauce with the cream. Pour sauce on top of rolled enchiladas and sprinkle with cheese. Sprinkle a tablespoon or two of chopped jalapeno on top.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes.  Remove aluminum foil and continue to bake for 10 more minutes, until bubbly and brown on top.