Monday, November 14, 2011

Mustard Bourbon Pork Chops and Balsamic Potatoes

At the request of a very lovely friend, I am posting these two recipes that I made recently and posted a picture of on Facebook.

Mustard Bourbon Pork Chops

First, let's talk about pork.  I love pork.  Chops, that is.  And butt.  And/or shoulder.  I don't like much else off the pig, including bacon.  I know that makes me some kind of sacrilege foodie, but that's how I roll.  But there's only so much you can do with pork chops.  Our stand-by recipe in our house is to sprinkle each side with Lawry's Seasoned Salt and bake.  Pretty unspecial, but that's how I grew up eating pork chops.

Until I found this recipe.

I'd like to thank the ever-delicious Tyler Florence for this one.  I wish I could say I've made it mine somehow, but I really haven't, except for making double the sauce every time because it's so finger-lickin' good.  Back when I first started watching Food Network, Tyler Florence had a show called How To Boil Water, in which he showed some semi-funny blonde girl how to cook.  She really was one of the most kitchen-dumb people I've ever seen.  So he really had to make easy recipes.  And this one is pretty darn easy.

Here's what you need:

  • 4 center cut pork chops
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup bourbon whiskey (if you are doubling the sauce recipe like I do, double from here down)
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon grainy mustard
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream

And here's what you do:

Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat, for about 1 minute or until the surface of the pan is uniformly hot.  Pat the chops dry, and season the chops on one side with salt and pepper.  Add the oil and heat until shimmering.  Add the chops seasoned-side down, and cook until the chops are browned, about 3-4 minutes.  Add the butter and cook for 1 minute more.  Season the top of the chops, and turn the chops over.

At this point, your chops should have a gorgeous crust on them, like this:

Continue cooking until firm and an instant-read thermometer reads 140 degrees F, about 4-5 minutes more.  Transfer the chops to a plate, tent with foil, and set aside to rest.

Pour off any fat remaining in the skillet.  Pull the pan from the heat and carefully add the bourbon.  Return the pan to the heat and tip the pan slightly to ignite the alcohol.

If you're a fraidy female like me, you might want to get a sexy man to do this part for you.

Yeah.  Like that!

Anyway.  Cook until reduced by half then add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.  Simmer for 3 minutes, then whisk in the mustard and the cream.

Mmmmmm.  Simmer until the sauce has thickened enough to coat the back of the spoon, a few minutes longer.  Simmer until it's as thick as you want... in my book, the thicker the sauce, the better.

This is also a fantastic opportunity to get your gorgeous child to help you out in the kitchen.  Stirring is pretty safe.

Season with salt and pepper and serve.  And enjoy.  :)

Now on to some 'taters.  Who doesn't love 'taters, right?  And who doesn't love balsamic vinegar?  If you don't like balsamic vinegar, we can't be friends anymore.  Much like people have a hard time being my friend after they find out I don't like bacon.  Well, I guess that makes us even.

Balsamic Potatoes

This recipe comes from one of those uber-fancy foodie magazines -- I can't remember which one, but probably Gourmet or Food + Wine or something equally snobby that I like to subscribe to because I think one day my tastes will mature enough to make things from those publications.  I rarely find anything in those magazines I actually either want to make or feel skilled enough to attempt.  But, the pictures are pretty.  And, I found this gem.

Similar to any other recipe I make that requires a sauce of some sort, you may want to make a little extra of the sauce or cut back on the potatoes a bit.  These are best when they are saucy, and not dry.  The night I made the ones pictured below, they were perfect.  This isn't a very photogenic dish, but trust me, your taste buds will be thanking you for days for this one.  And then begging you to make them there 'taters again.

Here's what you need:

  • 2/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 cup to a whole stick of butter, softened (I never said they were healthy)
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh time
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 pounds small red potatoes (I bought 9 potatoes for the night I made these but only used 6 or 7)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

Here's what you need to do:

I did make this recipe a little bit my own.  The original recipe called for adding the shallots freshly chopped to the cooked potatoes, but shallots are a little too oniony for me to do that (I can barely dice them without crying).  So I borrowed a technique I've used in other recipes in which I reduce the vinegar with the shallots in a pan.  This softens the shallots and you still have a strong onion flavor, without the tear-inducing tang.  So.  Without further ado...

Bring vinegar and shallots to a boil in a small saucepan; reduce heat, and simmer about 10 minutes to reduce.  Let cool for several minutes (or not, I never have time for that).  Add butter (start with 1/3 cup), thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and black pepper; whisk together to combine.

If you think the mixture is a little too balsamic-y for you, add the rest of that stick of butter.

Boil potatoes whole; reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes or until tender.  Drain, and cut the potatoes in half, or in wedges, depending on the size you buy.  Dump back into the pan you boiled them in, and pour your balsamic-y goodness over top.

Sprinkle with remaining salt and toss to coat.  They should be pretty saucy.  And this is another golden opportunity to let your gorgeous child help in the kitchen, too.  Tossing can be pretty safe.

Serve immediately!  And enjoy.  Your tongue can thank me later.

(Told you they weren't very photogenic.)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Philly Photo Day

Starting last year, the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center has been organizing what they call Philly Photo Day, which is a day that they designate for all interested photographers to go galavanting about the city, take pictures, and submit to their site.  You can only submit one photo.  A few weeks later they hold an exhibition displaying all the photographs taken on that one day, and it's really interesting to see who else was out and about and what people took pictures of.

Last year, I entered this shot:

This year, I took the day off with my friend Christina and we went all around Fairmount Park.  It was a gorgeous day.  We went up and down Kelly Drive and the Schuylkill River.  I had plenty more shots to choose from this year.  My favorites were the 5 below, but I entered the first one.  Tonight I go to the exhibit to see it displayed for all.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Mommy's Little Foodie

One of the first things that Rachael Ray* taught me about cooking (other than how to make some killer homemade nachos) was to get your kids involved in cooking the meal and helping out in the kitchen.  She always said that kids were more likely to want to eat that which they helped to prepare.  I felt that this concept made sense and for years couldn't wait to have a child of my own to share the experience of cooking with.

Maraea is finally reaching that age where she can help in the kitchen.  Or, "help", rather.  You saw in my enchilada post that she likes to stand on a chair on the other side of the counter from me, and, at the very least, watch and munch while I do the work.  I don't mind this at all, -- except for when she reaches for the knife block -- and she has shown more interest in tasting the things I have on my cutting board or the things I'm stirring around in bowls.  She says "Me?  Puh-leeeez?" when she wants to try something.  In recent months, she has tried things like queso fresco, prosciutto, ricotta cheese, pepper jack cheese, beef prepared for tacos, and country ham.  All of these delicacies were promptly followed by "MMMmmmm!"  This makes mama so very, very proud.

She is also starting to mock my behavior.  She has a little plastic knife from a kitchen play set I bought her months ago, and we let her use that with our smallest cutting board to pretend that she's dicing and chopping like me.  We'll put cheese or pretzels on her cutting board and she will cut them with her knife and then eat them.  She exhibited this copycat behavior while I was shooting my husband preparing chilaquiles for the cookbook project I'm working on.  I was so proud I nearly cried.  :)

Needs salt!!!
Maraea is a fabulous eater, and I firmly believe that she is so for two reasons.  First -- I prepared my own baby food for her when she graduated from rice cereal.  And second -- I let her help in the kitchen.  There have been numerous occasions where we will all sit down for dinner and she will ask to try or eat what's on our plates if we've prepared something different for her (we usually only do this if we're making something really spicy).  One night we ordered takeout and I ordered chicken fingers for me and her to share, a salad for me, and Aaron ordered a gyro.  I put the chicken fingers and some veggies from my salad on her plate, she pushed it away, turned to Aaron, and said "Me?" because she wanted to try his gyro.  She then helped him eat it -- beef and all.  We never deny her anything she wants to try, and always offer what we're having (unless we think it will burn her mouth off).  She eats pizza like a big girl -- by the slice.  I know plenty of kids even older than Maraea who won't eat pizza unless it's cut up into tiny little geometric shapes.  She eats corn on the cob like a big girl.  She dips, she licks her fingers, she licks her lips, and she enjoys food as much as we do.

I could not be any prouder of my Little Foodie.

Nomzing on one of Daddy's special homemade burgers

Helping Daddy!

* Rachael Ray was the first Food Network personality that I watched when I first got into cooking.  I still like her, though I know she gets a bum rap with the foodie community.  She is enthusiastic, and she's creative.  Though my cooking style and tastes have advanced more to the likes of Ina Garten, I still rely on Rachael's easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy recipes and ideas from time to time when cooking with and for a child.  Rachael Ray doesn't dumb down my foodiness, she adds a different element to it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


For anyone interested in having a conversation with my daughter, here are the translations you will likely need to know:

Please = Blee
Where is it? = Hurs-shit
What's that? = Wazaa
Cheese = Geeese
Juice = Douche
Can I have that? = Me
That's mine! = Mine
? = Gubba gubba guh!

Any attempts at translating the last one would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Last week Maraea started exhibiting symptoms of a UTI, so I brought her to the doctor.  They informed me that they would have to catheterize her to collect a urine sample, to test for bacteria.  The doctor assured me that "it doesn't hurt" and "they just don't like it" at this age.  Well, I've never heard of anyone actually liking a catheter, but, I digress.

The first attempt at catheterization was not successful.  Maraea screamed.  And kicked.  And cried.  And wailed.  For several minutes, till Dr. Dipshit decided that "it won't go in" and called it off.  So instead, they taped a plastic sterile bag to her poor baby girl anatomy, strapped her diaper back up, and sent us out into the waiting room to wait for her to pee.  About 45 minutes later they brought us back to check, and she had peed, but it missed the plastic bag and instead filled her diaper.  Which was awesome, because, you know, I left the diaper bag at home.  Since the bag didn't collect any urine, they decided to catheterize her again.  The second time was even more traumatic than the first.  It took three people to hold my baby down.  I had to hold her arms and try to comfort her and keep her calm -- yeah right.  Two nurses held her legs and her hips.

I have never heard a child scream like she did when they inserted the catheter.  I will never let anyone do that to my child, ever again, unless she's sedated.

She was inconsolable when it was over.  And covered in urine -- all up the back of her dress, all over the inside and outside of her diaper -- which again, was awesome, because I left the diaper bag at home.  I was crying right along with her and probably was of no help in calming her down.  All I could do was hold her and let her kick and let her scream and let her fight against me.  I had helped hold her down, after all.  I was one of the bad guys.

I got her calmed down enough to collect a doctor's note, hear that they had phoned in an Rx to Target, and leave the office, but then she screamed the entire 20 minute car ride home.  Right into the house, right through a diaper and clothes change.  She was utterly hysterical.  And her legs kept jerking as if she had shots of pain coursing through her body.  She was gasping for breath and breathing rapidly.  I held her and apologized to her over and over and stroked her hair and tried to calm her down, and finally she exhausted herself and fell asleep on me.

She was not the happiest camper when she woke up, but she was at least calm.  She wouldn't let me let her go.  Poor thing clung to me for the rest of the afternoon.

Today, the pediatrician's office called me and told me they are switching her antibiotics because the one they put her on was not strong enough to kill the bacteria growing in her urinary tract.  They also informed me that they recommend "that all children under 6 who've had a UTI" get an ultrasound of their bladder, and a VCUG.  I had no idea what a VCUG was so I Googled it as any good parent would and found out that it involves -- guess -- yes -- another catheter!  I practically started crying a that point, because there's no way on God's green earth that my daughter is gatting cathed again.  The site even said that "sedation is rarely used".  And really, is all this necessary for a child who's not yet potty trained who has only had ONE UTI?

I talked it over with my Motherboard Mamas (bestest friends in the universe) who all feel that it seems a little excessive.  My husband also thinks it's excessive and I think what we'll end up doing is taking her for an ultrasound but cancelling the VCUG.  We can revisit that procedure if she starts to have recurring UTIs but I really see no reason to traumatize her (or myself) again with catheters.  I suppose I could call and ask that they would please sedate her, but I would really just rather not go through with it at all.  She's had one UTI.  Not several.  And with potty training starting in a few months, maybe the risk will lessen as time goes on.

As a parent, what would you do?  Would you put your child through a medical procedure that you know would cause her pain and anguish, if it seemed useless to you?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Where IS a woman's place anyway?

I took a class this semester about gender issues.  It was a humanities class I needed to take to fulfill some requirements for my degree.  I read a lot about traditional gender roles and stereotypes and other boring stuff we all already know about and probably rail against.  Men are supposed to work and support their families and women are supposed to stay home and raise the children and take care of the home.  You know the story.

But something occurred to me when I was reading this anti-patriarchal, feminist diatribe of a textbook: the essayists that spoke so vehemently against patriarchy, so vehemently for women's rights to equality, so vehemently about the oppression of women not just here in the US but around the world.  There seemed to be such an angry undertone to some of the things I read.  So much anger about the injustices and unfairness that women face every day.  And while I don't deny that these things exist, I wondered, if a woman chose a traditional gender role as her life's path, what's so wrong with that?  And even more so, if I as a woman do not choose to fight the feminist, egalitarian fight, what's so wrong with that?

Reading this textbook, and applying the words to my life, it would appear that any outlying feminist would approve of what I've done.  I waited a while to have kids, I built myself a solid career, I am in school to further my education, and I'm not letting motherhood stand in my way of anything else I might want.  I am not the only person who handles household chores and duties, as things are quite evenly split with my husband, so on the outside looking in, it would appear that I've fought and quite possibly won that egalitarian fight that all women around the world should be fighting every single day of their lives.

But you know, not so far deep down is a pretty large piece of me that's largely unfulfilled.  Why?  Because I'm not home with my daughter.  Because I have to work to support the house.  Because my husband can't make enough money for me to stay at home and raise my daughter and not miss out on all her early years.  I suppose the economy might have already been heading in that direction anyway, where I'd be forced into the workforce.  But if it wasn't, I would trade my job any day to stay home with my daughter.  At least until she goes to school.  There's a part of me that's almost mad at these damn feminists for fighting that fight for me.  For assuming that ALL women SHOULD either want or have the ability to be equal to men.  Like hey ladies, thanks, now I will either suffer from Mommy Guilt (the guilt a mother feels for having to work) or Contributor Guilt (the guilt a mother feels for staying home with her kids and not financially contributing to the household) for the rest of my life.

I guess you can't please everyone.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Q:  When does a mother stop being so tired all the time?

A:  Never.

Admittedly, I have entirely too much on my plate.  I don't know what happened to me when I had a baby but it seemed like as soon as she came along, either I had so much more stuff to do, or I just gave myself so much more stuff to do.  Maybe it's a combination of both.  

I don't really know why I'm all that tired though.  Doing laundry doesn't exhaust me.  I just lay on the couch and deplete my DVR while I'm waiting for it to finish.  I haven't had a lot of homework keeping me up late at night this semester, since my classes have been embarrassingly easy.  Sigh.  

A nap sounds really good right about now.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ch-ch-ch-chicken Enchiladas

How's about a food post, eh?
Mexican is my absolute favorite cuisine.  I love the cheap stuff, I love the expensive stuff, and I love to make it at home.  I make some killer nachos, but enchiladas are probably my favorite dish.  Chicken enchiladas are actually really easy to make -- I had these done and on the table in under 40 minutes -- and if you find yourself a good prepared sauce, then you're set.

I'm a big fan of Rick Bayless' enchilada sauces.  He makes an enchilada sauce that comes in a pouch, and another one that comes in a tall jar.  Tonight I used the jarred one.  Now before I'm crucified for copping out on enchiladas by using a prepared sauce (it's practically the star of the dish), let me just say that I have tried so many different enchilada sauce recipes.  I have reconstituted so many dried peppers, pressed them through fine-mesh strainers, blended till my head was about to explode.  I just can't find a good one that I can make myself.  I'm still searching though.  I think if I find the right dried pepper combination, I will be set.  I have a method down for them.  But in the meantime -- especially on a weeknight -- a high-quality prepared sauce it is.

So here's my recipe for fast and easy chicken enchiladas.

First -- buy yourself a rotisserie chicken.  Or, if you have some time, poach a few chicken breasts in chicken stock in a slow cooker on high for 1 1/2 hours.  Toss in some garlic and onion for flavor if you want, but you could even do this with water if you didn't have chicken stock.  Figure about one chicken breast per person.

Then shred the chicken with two forks.

Chop up a small yellow onion (for one rotisserie chicken I use an onion a little bigger than a golf ball) and one jalapeno.

Squirt some vegetable or canola oil into a skillet, heat it up, and drop in the veggies.  Saute until they
are soft and the onion is translucent.

Next, shred some cheese.  I like monterey jack for chicken enchiladas.  I think cheddar can melt a little on the oily side, but if you like cheddar, well honey, shred some cheddar.

And what is Maraea doing while all this is going on, you might ask?  This:

That's my girl.

Next, dump your shredded chicken into the skillet with your veggies.  Spoon some of the enchilada sauce over top and mix it all up.  You want to sauce the chicken just enough to give it a coating.  You don't want your chicken swimming in sauce.  Make it look like this:

Oh, yum.

Next you want to take a tortilla (I prefer flour after many fail enchiladas made with corn), and put a little bit of the shredded cheese down first.

And then some of the chicken mixture on top of that.

Roll it up, and place it seam-side down in a baking dish.

Here's how much of a fail blogger I am -- I forgot to sauce the bottom of the dish with enchilada sauce.  These didn't turn out bad, but it definitely helps with the non-stickness.


Repeat until you're out of chicken and cheese stuffingy goodness.

Now, this next step is very important.  Spoon some sauce over the edges of the enchiladas.  Why?  If you don't, they will get crunchy in the oven.  No bueno, trust me.

Want an update on Maraea?  Here she is, mommy's little helper.

Ok, so now you've just got to finish saucing your enchiladas.  Then you want to top them with the rest of your cheese.  If you're a cheesehead, go ahead and go overboard.  But you really don't need to.  Simple is a good thing.  But, so is cheese.  So I digress.  Top as your heart desires.

Bake at 350 for about 15-20 minutes.  Or, until they look like this:

Yeah, baby.  Come to mama.

Time to eat!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mon Raison d'Etre

There it is, folks.  My reason for being.

Every afternoon at work I start to countdown the minutes to when I get to bust out of the office, get in my car, fight 95 North traffic for 40 minutes, and run through my front door to my daughter jumping off the couch and saying "HIIIIIEEEEEE!" to me.  She will wave at me, and say "Hi!  Hi!  Hi!", and stand at my legs and wrap her arms around them until I've unloaded all my stuff and I can scoop her up.  Then I will countdown through the nightly whinies and grumpiness and the nightly baptism of bathwater all over my back or legs, just to get to this very moment right here.  Just to get to the moment where I can sit in a rocking chair and snuggle with my baby and sing songs to her and listen to her jibber jabber along with me and all my daily troubles melt away as her chest moves up and down with slower and slower breaths.  Eventually she starts to drift off and I realize it's time to put her in her crib, but most of the time, I really don't want to.  Most of the time, I have to force myself to do it.

Honestly, I need those quiet moments just as much as she does.

A little bit after I put her to sleep, I start to miss her.  I start to wish she was awake and downstairs with me, even if she was whining or being grumpy.  So then I start the countdown to when I get to go to sleep so I can wake up to this.....

....and then I get to start my day with her all over again.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Irony of NO

Yesterday I discovered that my daughter is a lot like a grown man.  Sometimes, you have to let her think something was her idea, for her to think it's a good idea.

Just because mommy says so is not good enough.

Maraea is deep in the throes of the "NO!" stage.  Though if I'm honest, it's not always "NO!"  Sometimes it's more like "No."  Other times, it's more like "no."  And then others, it can be more like "No?"  If you've ever been a mother to a toddler, you know what I'm talking about.  Knowing the different "No's" is a lot like knowing the different cries.

You can't really ask a NoNo Toddler a question, because the answer will always be "no".  They don't really know how to say "yes" yet, though they may know how to nod their heads, but as is true in Maraea's case, she's been shaking her head "no" much longer than she's been nodding her head "yes".  So Aaron and I have really been trying to not ask her so many questions, and instead let her know how it's going to be.  You wanna take a bath?  What's that?  No?  Well too bad.  We shouldn't even really be asking her in the first place, because she doesn't have a choice -- she's stinky and will get a bath whether she wants to or not (and chances are, she'll enjoy it anyway).

Part of the frustration for both parents and child is that the child can't verbalize what they want or need just yet.  So the parents hear a lot of whining, and then try to figure out what the child needs by offering.... You hungry?  Want a snack?  Want some juice?  Is your diaper dirty?  Wanna go night-night?  ...but the answers to all questions are always NO -- even if the real answer is actually YES.  Sometimes being a parent requires that you see through the NO to the real YES that lies beyond.

Yesterday Maraea and I were driving along and she was whining, so I offered her juice ("no!"), a toy ("nooo!"), and her binky ("no!").  So I said "I'm sorry baby, I just don't have anything else right now, we'll be home in a little bit."  Then, in her perfect little baby girl voice, I hear her say:


Oh, did you want your binky?  You know, just because mommy offered it, doesn't mean it was good enough.

"Hahahha.... GEENKYYYYY!"

I hand her binky back to her and she lets out a relief-filled laugh, sticks it in her mouth, and she is once again happy.

But the irony of the word NO is this.  She knows enough to use it in the proper sense for the most part -- when she doesn't want something or doesn't want to do something, she simply says "No".  Listening to the word "No" is another story though.  She has a clear enough understanding of how to use it, but not a clear enough understanding of how to abide by it.

Because when mommy says No, it just isn't good enough.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sour Cream + Peas

My daughter loves to dip.

French fries in blue cheese dressing.
Hot dogs in ketchup.
Fingers in cheez whiz (makes mommy so proud).

And now?  Peas in sour cream.

I wish I could say she picked up this habit on her own, but frighteningly, she picked it up from me.  I, too, am a dipper.  I don't exactly dip my fingers in cheez whiz (or peas in sour cream, for that matter), but dipping is my thing.  Now the french fries in blue cheese dressing, yes, she got that from me.  I dip my steaks in sauce.  I dip my chips in, well, dip.  I dip my quesadillas in sour cream.  As you'll see below, my daughter does too.  Only she doesn't eat the quesadilla like any normal person would.  No.  She dips, and licks it all off, and dips again.

My daughter, the double dipper.

Tonight I gave her a small cheese quesadilla and some peas for dinner.  I set the sour cream on the table for me and my husband, and she looked at it and reached for it and then looked at me and said, "Me?"  This is how she asks for something.  She reaches for it and says "Me?"  Or, she'll reach for it, stomp her feet, and say "MINE!"  I think she says "Me?" when she thinks I'll normally say no.  But she's so cute, so I buckle and say yes.  Every time.

So she got a dollop of sour cream on her plate, and she proceeded to pinch between her tiny little fingers, a pea, and dip it into sour cream, and eat the pea.  She did this very carefully, precisely, over and over.

And then she was out of sour cream.


Well alright.  Here's another dollop.

By this point she must have decided that dipping one pea at a time just wasn't getting the job of Project Sour Cream Inhalation done fast enough, so she turned to her fingers.  Scooping up globs of sour cream, shoveling them into her mouth, she managed to plaster her lips in white.

And I beamed with pride.  My baby loves my favorite condiment.  She is a mama's girl after all.