Sunday, November 30, 2008

Chew on this

I make it a point to rarely delve into issues outside of the kitchen, but I saw something this morning that moved me.

Please go and watch the video on the home page of

It is short, easy to watch, non-proselytizing and gives you something of substance to chew on as we begin Advent.

No matter what you believe, I think you will enjoy it.

Let me know what you think...I'll be back to kitchen blogging tomorrow.


Friday, November 28, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Can you hear it?

It's the sound of millions of home cooks preparing for the big day tomorrow. This year we are hosting about a dozen folks at Chez Sweet Pea, and our preparations began this past weekend, with us finishing the menu, checking our grocery lists and coming up with our game plan.

R, G and I will be whipping up some good eats this afternoon. Ours is a traditional North (yours truly) meets South (SPH) Thanksgiving:

Turkey with Stuffing and Gravy
Mashed Potatoes
Candied Sweet Potatoes
Green Bean Casserole
Scalloped Oysters
Relish Tray
Bread and Yeast Rolls
Pumpkin Pie
Apple Cobbler

As for the cranberries, we mix it up a bit. A long time ago I stumbled upon this recipe for cranberry salsa. You serve it atop Melba Toast, that has been slathered with cream cheese. Heaven.


We still have the obligatory cranberry sauce, but really, each of us at the table knows, the cranberry salsa is where it's at.

Cranberry Salsa Rounds*

3 c whole fresh cranberries (1 - 12oz bag) rinsed
3 green onions, chopped
1 medium jalepeno, seeded
1/2 c sugar
1/4 c fresh cilantro
2 T fresh ginger
2 T fresh lemon or lime juice
1 box of plain melba toast rounds
1 package of plain cream cheese

*The rounds are amazing; but also try using the salsa as a condiment with your dinner or on leftover turkey sandwiches.

Rinse the cranberries and pick out any ones that are green or mushy:
Place all the ingredients in a food processor (doesn't it just look like the holidays?)
Pulse it a few times until it looks like this:
Then serve on Melba Toast rounds that have about a teaspoon of cream cheese on top. I will post photos of the salsa rounds once we whip them up tomorrow.

Already finalized your menu for tomorrow and don't want to fight the crowds to pick up the ingredients for this recipe? Then make them during the Christmas season...they look so festive you won't be able to stand it.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Lunchtime bliss

When R was a baby, I had hours upon hours of nap time each day. Ahh...the memories. These days I am lucky if I get more than 45 minutes of shared nap/"quiet (or sometimes not so quiet)" time each day from the boys. R long ago stopped napping except when he is sick, so he does an hour of quiet time each day.

If I time it right, R's quiet time will coincide with G's nap time and I will have some time to relax and put up my feet. Yeah right. Usually this time is used picking up the house, prepping dinner, tinkering in the kitchen, blogging and sometimes, rarely, lounging. Regardless of what I do though, I cherish this time alone each day. It is my renewal. It is my sanity.

Sometimes, just sometimes, I actually use this precious down time to eat lunch like I did five years ago, which seems like an exotic memory: eating lunch, sitting down, without getting up until I am done with my meal.

This recipe-free recipe is a meal for such an occasion (sad that a leisurely lunch is an occasion, huh?). I would challenge anyone to tell me that their child would eat this salad. But for an adult, it is goo-ooo-ood. It is based on a recipe from Vino Vino, an amazing little wine bar in Grandview. They have a small plate called Asparagus Bruschetta, that a waiter once urged me to order. This recipe takes the components of the recipe and creates a just-for-you-not-for-the-kids salad.

One of the things I am most thankful for this week is those "just for me" lunches and down time during the boys' down time.

Asparagus Bruschetta, Deconstructed Salad
A bowl full of baby spinach greens
Thinly sliced red onion to taste
4-5 stems of steamed asparagus, cut into one inch pieces
A handful of croutons or toasted bread cubes
1-2 slices of prosciutto (or ham or bacon) diced
A small handful of cubed white cheese (I use fontina, but choose your favorite, since this is for you!)
A drizzle of balsamic (about a teaspoon or two)
A slightly bigger drizzle of olive oil (about a tablespoon)
pinch of salt and pepper

Mix well in a bowl. Eat. Relax. Get crazy and maybe even put your feet up.

It's the little things that keep life sweet,

Monday, November 24, 2008

I'm so excited, and I just can't hide it

Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who voted for my Golden Chili with Carmelized Onions and Sausage as your favorite comfort food recipe on Thank you especially to those of you who posted about the contest on your blog, sent an email to friends or listed it on your facebook page.

Again, in case you have short-term memory loss, "thank you."

The last time I won something I was about 9 years old. I guessed the correct amount of buttons in a jar at an antique store and won a "Paint the Town Red" mug. To this day, I have no clue why anyone would *want* to win this mug, but I did, and my very patient mother not only allowed me to enter such a fabulous contest, but then drove me back to pick up my prize. Thanks mom.

Perhaps the best part of this experience though was having so many friends and family support me through their voting and in many cases, phone calls and emails. On Thursday I realized that no matter what the outcome of the contest, the true blessing was feeling this groundswell of support.

I'll be back to my regular posting tomorrow, but for now, I am enjoying this moment--

Unofficial Results

I looked at the Comfort Food Recipe Contest Results and it looks, although I haven't gotten official word, that I may have won!

I'll post once I hear later today...

Have a great morning everyone,

Friday, November 21, 2008

A good weekend project

T minus 6 days and counting until Thanksgiving and the un-official start of the Christmas season. I say "un-official" because if it were up to Lowe's, Target, the local town center stores and Michael's to name a few, Christmas would begin revving up in September.

Each year I try and plan ahead so December is actually a season of peace and calm. Some years I succeed, some, not so much. This year, I decided to make some Christmas dough and freeze it so when the mood strikes, the cookies will be halfway done.

I chose two doughs that can be premade, my #1 all-time favorite Peanut Butter Kisses and our recent favorite addition, Spicy Gingerbread (and by "spicy" I mean ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, not cayenne and hot peppers) and whipped them up when the boys were away at preschool.

Once the dough is done, I shape it into mounds:
and then freeze them in wax paper, sealed in a freezer bag:
The gingerbread is in smaller, easier to roll out batches, the peanut butter in one big hunk of ooey gooey goodness.

Which begs the question...are you a dough eater? I know, I know, we aren't supposed to eat raw dough, but I know many chronic dough snatchers...are you one?

Have a sweet weekend,

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Shh, don't tell anyone it is so easy...

Since we are about to enter the busiest time of the year, how about a go-to entertaining dip that is delicious, addictive, reduced fat, and so easy to prepare, you won't believe it?

Sound good?

Looks and tastes even better...

Goat Cheese and Tapenade Spread

1 - 8oz package of reduced fat cream cheese
1 - 4oz package of goat cheese (I used the pepper flavor)
1/4 - 1/2 c of prepare tapenade* (Trader Joe's if you can find it)

Let the cheeses sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes to soften, or alternatively, remove from packaging and put in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave at 50% power for 30 seconds, and then stir, repeat if necessary, until cheese is soft.

Mix cheese and tapenade in a bowl. Place in the refrigerator until firm. Serve with crackers, vegetables or whatever you wish.

This recipe is going in my permanent "I need a quick, yet easy and upscale appetizer" file.

We made this for my a bridal shower recently and it was amaaaaaaazing. I used the leftovers for a sandwich the next day. Heaven.

Life is sweet,

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

We interrupt this week's blogging for a quick shameless "ask"

See the fancy schmancy logo to the right there? I am a finalist in a "Favorite Comfort Food" contest.

If you love this blog, or love me, or love chili, or just didn't get enough of voting two weeks ago...can I ask you to vote for my Golden Chili with Carmelized Onions and Sausage?

Voting ends this Sunday, November 23rd, so get crackin'!


What do you do?

Awhile back, Jersey Baby asked me what my thoughts were on vitamins. Hadn't really given vitamins that much thought, to be honest, until now...

Is it me or are there only are two options if you decide to go for kiddie vitamins?

A. Give them the traditional ones that give a basic balance of most important nutrients, but have artificial color and sweeteners
B. Give them natural vitamins, with large RDAs (recommended daily allowances) of certain components, far above 100%.

I am hoping that I have just somehow overlooked mystery option C that is a natural vitamin with basic levels of vitamins?

Also, what do you all think about gummy vitamins? I am somewhat weary of the gummy vitamins, thinking that if I accidentally leave them on the counter in my early morning haze, R and G will eat the whole jar, a la gummy bears. (Oh, you cannot appease me by telling me they have child safety lids...R once shimmied his hand through a child cabinet "lock," only to break the child safety seal on some ACT Kid's mouth rinse and drink 1/3 of the bottle.)

I am all ears...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Slow Cooker Goodness

Is there anything better than a good slow cooker recipe? Really tasty slow cooker recipes seem hard to find. Too many are bland, soggy or use funky unnatural ingredients.

When I find a new slow cooker recipe that rocks, I get very excited. It's the little things after all...

We tried this recipe last week that I tweaked and altered from a traditional soup recipe that my aunt shared with me. It can be made with sausage or ham, or alternatively, without to make it vegetarian.

Please, do yourself a favor and try this soup!

Italian Bean and Artichoke* Soup

3 cups of dried beans (use any combination you wish) -OR- 5 - 15oz cans of beans, drained and rinsed (such as canellini, lima, kidney, pinto, lentils, great northern, or navy)
1 -28oz jar of tomato marinara
1 quart broth
2 bay leaves
2 T dried minced onion
1 T dried parsley flakes
1 t dried minced garlic
1 t dried thyme leaves
1/2 t dried oregano
1/2 t black pepper
1/4 t red pepper flakes
optional: 8 ounces smoked sausage links, sliced or 8 ounces ham, diced
*optional: 1 - 15oz can of artichoke hearts, cut into quarters or smaller

If using dried beans, soak the beans to soften overnight as directed on the package.

Mix beans, marinara, broth, spices (from bay leaves through to the red pepper flakes) and sausage/ham (if using) in slow cooker. Cook on low for 8-10 hours, or high for 5-6 hours. About 15 minutes before you are ready to serve the soup, add the artichoke hearts, if desired.

Serve with some big crusty bread for the perfect cold weather meal.


Monday, November 17, 2008

No longer in denial

My weather denial has ended. This weekend I begrudgingly removed my summer plants from the earth and sadly retreated to the compost pile, where I deposited my once thriving plants.

I *love* having fresh produce at my fingertips. Sadly though, until we move south, or we build a greenhouse like my friend Noelle's mom had growing up, I am resigned to a winter of mealy tomatoes, pepper with a waxy film and small boxes of basil that go limp after one day in the fridge.

R and G helped me pull the last of the vegetables:

and for now, I can still enjoy the mint, parsley and cilantro:
and I am letting the cilantro go to seed, so I have some fresh coriander seeds:

We have a busy week, so I foresee some meals out of premade gnocchi, perhaps some leftovers stashed in the freezer and maybe a grilled cheese and soup night.

Other meals:
Corn Chowder
Less-Sloppy Joes
Cashew Chicken

Have a sweet week,

Friday, November 14, 2008

If green is not your thing...

Are your little ones not into green? No, I'm not trying to pin them as pro-global warming, I mean the other know, the literal one.

Since so many little ones turn their heads at anything green, here's one of our favorite easy, week night side dishes that won't automatically be rejected on the basis of its green-ness alone.

Yellow Beans
2-3 T diced onion (any type but green)
1 slice of bacon, thinly sliced (optional for all you vegetarians out there)
1 15 oz can wax beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz can butter beans, drained and rinsed
2 T water
pinch of thyme (but not too much, for fear of making the green noticeable)

In a sauce pan over medium high heat, cook the bacon and onion until they begin to brown a bit. Add the canned beans and water, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen all the yummy browned bits. Add the thyme and stir well. Cook for about 5 minutes.

Have a sweet weekend,

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Happy Birthday SPH!

Happy Birthday to my sweet, wonderful, supportive, understanding, loving are the reason I can blog so creatively today.

Before you I ate:
no seafood
mostly chicken, and always just boneless, skinless breasts
nothing too spicy
no sushi
basically, I hate to say it, typical Midwestern food

You've opened my eyes to so many culinary adventures during the past nearly 12 (!) years that I owe all my new food horizons to you!

I love you,

PS--Happy Birthday to SPH's mom too! This amazing woman helped make SPH who he is today AND she had to be in labor on her birthday. Kudos to you, I love you S.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Meatloaf, Part 2

Yesterday's post on the great meatloaf fake-out shows the meatloaf mixture going into muffin tins, instead of the typical loaf shape.


We were feeling all sorts of kooky in the Sweet Pea kitchen and decided to make meatloaf cupcakes:

Want to try this trick? We cooked the meat cupcakes for about 20-25 minutes at 375 degrees. The "frosting" is mashed potatoes using mostly light cream cheese to thin the potatoes, rather than butter or milk, which makes the potatoes hold their shape better. And the "candle?" Why an asparagus spear, of course!

This was a fun trick to try with R and G. They got a huge kick out of it and even ate the candle, which I think was the first time they willingly ate asparagus. Though, they didn't ask for seconds on the candle...

Playing with your food is fun,

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Black Beans + Beets + Ground Chicken = Meatloaf?

My mom has a great meatloaf recipe that we always turn to this time of year. A couple weeks ago I was halfway through preparing it when I realized that the ground beef I had purchased was past its prime and needed to be ditched.

Since the recipe was already half-executed, I decided to try a trick that a friend of mine Nicole O shared with me recently. I replaced about 1/3 of the meat with ground black beans.

The old recipe called for:

1 1/4 pounds lean ground beef, 1 1/4 pounds ground turkey and then the various other ingredients...

My variation:

2 pounds ground chicken and 1 15oz can of black beans, drained and pureed with...a few tablespoons of beet, yes beet.

Why beets? Well, red meat is, obviously, red. I felt it would make the meatloaf look more realistic. And guess what? SPH didn't even realize it was different.

The puree--looks gross, I know...
the ground chicken before the black beans and beets:
the meat mixture after:
into some muffin tins:
and the finished result, looking just like it was made with meat:

Black Bean and Chicken "Meat"loaf
2 pounds ground chicken
1 15 oz can of black beans, drained, rinsed and pureed
2-3 slices of beets (optional)
1 egg white
2 T milk
3/4 c panko or bread crumbs
1 large onion, minced
3-4 T horseradish
2 T fresh parsley (or 2 t dried)
1 t salt
1/2 t ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Mix all the ingredients except the meat. Add the chicken and mix with your hands and shape into a oval, almost like a football*. Cook on 375 degrees for 1 1/2 hours, or until the inside is no longer pink, or a meat thermometer reads 180 degrees.

*Obviously, we did something different with our meatloaf mixture...more on that tomorrow!

Thanks for the great black bean tip Nicole!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Leaf Jumpers

Here's R and G jumping in leaves last week:

And here they are from yesterday:
The weather is getting down right cold. It has been fun though, using our fireplace, cooking comfort food and bundling up in cozy warm sweaters. I am sure come February, I will be singing a different tune.

My "cold (of the other variety) that never leaves" went from the mildly running nose of the last two weeks to full blown, knock you on your rear-end, cold late last week. Unfortunately this coincided with my hosting a bridal shower for my cousin Jill. Fortunately, SPH and my mom majorly stepped up and the shower was saved.

The rest of the weekend was spent sort of just lounging around trying to take it easy. I am hopeful my Airborne, Zinc and plenty of rest will get me through this cold...but I am open to any and all home remedies...

Our meals for the week:
Italian Country Bean Soup (a new slow cooker recipe I am trying out...will post if it is worthy)
Taco Night
Teriyaki Chicken Thighs, Corn Casserole, Broccoli
and...the best part, Shannon is cooking tomorrow night!


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"Make It Better" Tortilla Chips

Another installment in my periodic "Make It Better" series...

I had a request from one of my BBF (that is, best blogging friends, not to be confused with a BFF) Whitney at Rookie Cookie for a recipe for homemade tortilla chips.

I started with:

I made a quick decision to focus on trying to make oven-baked, not fried chips. Three reasons for this:

1. You can throw almost anything in oil, deep fry it and generally speaking, it will be tasty.
2. I try to make food things better by making them tasty *and* healthy.
3. To be honest, I just didn't want to lug out the "Fry Daddy" deep fryer that is buried deep within my kitchen cabinet. It makes a mess every time, and as a mom of a toddler and preschooler, I clean up enough messes each day to fill my clean-up quota.

So, with that little explanation out of the way, we did a couple trial runs.

I tried an Alton Brown trick and rubbed lime and salt on each tortilla piece and then let it dry before cooking:
No one in the Sweet Pea family could taste much of a difference. It took a long time to try and it made the blue corn chips a really, really unappetizing color:Instead we used yellow and corn tortillas at varying oven temperatures. Here's our best result:

Make it Better Oven Baked Tortilla Chips

6 blue or yellow corn tortillas, cut in half, and then in third (to make 6 pieces, duh)
a couple tablespoons of canola oil
a few pinches of salt

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Coat a pizza or baking stone if available, or alternatively a cookie sheet, with a light coat of cooking oil. DO NOT use cooking spray.

Take each tortilla piece and brush the top with canola oil. Place on your baking surface. Repeat. Do not overlap the tortilla pieces. Once the stone or sheet is full, sprinkle a pinch of salt on top. Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes, or until the tortillas have curved slightly and have the slightest darkening on the edges.

I know what you might be thinking, "SPC, I have tried baked chips before and they are nasty." You are right. Baked chips are generally not good...but not these. Maybe it is the "fresh from the oven" taste vs. the "been in a bag for weeks" taste that makes these babies so darn tasty. I don't know. But I have been eating them for days now, loving every bite:


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Morning Oatmeal

Ever tried making "from scratch" oatmeal in the microwave? It couldn't be easier, is cost effective, is a healthy, less-sugary breakfast option and best of all, super duper tasty and easy to adjust to what you have on hand.

R and I made some oatmeal this morning, and getting into the bipartisan spirit, we made ours with red dried cranberries and blueberries (no the blueberries in the picture aren't moldy, just frozen...we buy tons of blueberries when they are in season and freeze them).Add ImageMicrowave Oatmeal

1/3 c old fashioned oats
2/3 c water
1/8 t ground cinnamon
2 t brown sugar (or sometimes we use maple syrup)
a couple tablespoons or more of "add-ins," we use dried cranberries, walnuts, cut up apple, blueberries, or whatever we have on hand.

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Microwave for about 2 minutes. Splash a bit of milk on top to cool it off once cooked, if desired.

Perfect for any morning, but particularly apropos for the big election day excitement.

Vote yet?

Monday, November 3, 2008

Monday Night Food

Shortly after we moved to Columbus, I was thrilled to find out one of my college roommates and good friend Shannon was moving here too. Her husband was coming to Ohio State to do a fellowship, so like SPH, he sometimes had a late night or two at school.

Last year at this time we realized that we were both flying solo for dinner on Monday nights. We decided to co-op the meals each Monday night, taking turns hosting the other mom and kids each Monday. Not only did Shannon and I get a chance to catch up while our combined 5 kids played, I didn't have to cook every other Monday night and I wasn't lonely at the end of a long day.

In fact, this autumn, even though SPH and Shannon's husband (let's call him SH) are both graduated, we decided to continue our tradition...SH can do a work commitment every Monday night and SPH has one night he can work a little later. Beautiful.

If you have anyone with which you can co-op dinner every now and then, I highly recommend it. I know some people even take it one step further, and include 3-4 families, so you only have to cook once or twice a week. Imagine!

Our meals for the week:

Stuffed Pork Tenderloin, Vegetable Latkes, Broccoli
Greek Chicken Burgers in a Pita, Mediterranean Salsa and Tzasiki
Pasta Carbonara
Mandarin Orange Chicken Stirfry with Tofu and Edamame, over Brown Rice

Have a sweet week,


Saturday, November 1, 2008

Let the sugar highs begin

R and G did a little trick or treating last night:
R went straight for the Butterfingers when we got home, apparently having developed a loyalty to the beauty of the chocolate/peanut butter concoction.

Instead of some late night (for him) candy, we gave G some of his Elmo crackers, and he was a happy camper. But I think he was wise to us because this morning, as I was pouring the cereal, I hear this little voice behind me say, "MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM" rather enthusiastically. I turn around and G hands me this:
He is nobody's fool.

He may look sweet and innocent, but inside this doggie costume lurks a candy snatcher!

Here are R and G before the festivities began:
and during the fun:

All in all, a great night,