Three and a half weeks ago on June 14, Robert and I celebrated our first anniversary.  Robert planned a fantastic romantic weekend staycation in Fort Worth to celebrate the occasion.  The weekend began on Saturday at 1 when we pulled away from our townhouse and headed West to the Kimball Art Museum in Ft Worth to view the Art & Love in Rennaisance Italy exhibit. 

Having studied art history in Italy in the summer of 2004, I found the content of this exhibit particularly interesitng as it contained a far broader scope of artwork than one typically sees when discussing Italian Renaissance Art.  The exhibit displayed common pieces of furniture, dishware and other elements that would have been given to a husbamd or wife for one reason or another.  It was really neat to gain a deeper insight to some of the practices and traditions that existed in Italy during this time.

From the Kimball we headed to downtown Fort Worth to check into the Worthington Hotel where Robert had arranged a delivery of chocolate truffles to be delivered from a local chocolate factory.  They were positively delectable and our room had a stunning view of downtown.  At about 6:30pm we walked two blocks to have dinner at the Riata Steakhouse.   We had an excellent, quiet table in the corner that allowed us to really enjoy our dinner and conversation.  Here a few photos taken at dinner.

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After dinner we walked a few more blocks to the Bass Performance Hall for the Metropolitan Classical Ballet’s Summer Repertory performance.  I had not been to a ballet since I went to see the Nutcrakcer with my mom and grandparents when I was a child and Robert had never been to a ballet so it was a real treat for us.  There were three different performances, each with their own personality and flare.  The first ballet was traditional in nature and told the narrative of a troubled musician and composer who struggled between his muse and darkness to acheive greatness.  The second was a modern peice performed by a husband and wife duo that was quite spectacular albeit different.  The final was also traditional in nature although it was more of an exhibition peice rather than a narrative ballet.

And that conclude our celebration weekend.  I’d like to end this post with a few pictures from the past year.  As you can see, we’ve had a fantastic first year!

RobertandStaci

Overlooking the island of Virgin Gorda, BVI

Overlooking the island of Virgin Gorda, BVI

At Bitters End Yacht Club in Virgin Gorda, BVI

At Bitters End Yacht Club in Virgin Gorda, BVI

Dressed up as Cowboys for the 2nd Annual Thanksgiving Murder Mystery Dinner

Dressed up as Cowboys for the 2nd Annual Thanksgiving Murder Mystery Dinner

Robert get's his Aggie Ring!

Robert get's his Aggie Ring!

Happy New Year!!

Happy New Year!!

Skiing in Utah

Skiing in Utah

Well, it looks like that’s all the photos I have from this past year.  As you can tell, we’ve definately enjoyed ourselves!  And the years ahead are bound to provide even more great memories.

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Today’s recipe is another jewel from the Food Network’s Giada De Laurentis.  Before I begin, let me just say that I LOVE the food network.  How did people cook without being able to access fabulous recipes for FREE at the touch of a button??  I tell you, pretty soon kitchens will have a computer monitor with internet access mounted in the backslpash as a standard appliance for the kitchen.  Oh but I digress…

This recipe of Giada’s is called Baked Penne with Roasted Vegetables.  Robert and I have been trying to incorporate more fresh vegetables into our meals.  And when you come from a meat and potato family like I do, it’s not always easy finding exciting ways to incorporate vegetables beyond just canned green beans or steamed asparagus!  Needless to say it was the large volume of veggies that attracted me to this delicious meal.  I’ve left Giada’s recipe pretty much in tact outside of changing the way some of the veggies are cut and reducing the amount of salt and pepper.  So without further adieu, let’s get started.

Ingredients:
2 red bell peppers
2 zucchini
2 yellow squash
10 small cremini mushrooms
1 medium yellow onion
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp dried Italian Herb Mix
1 pound penne pasta
1 jar (about 3 cups) of marinara sauce (any kind from the store or homemade if you have it)
1 cup grated fontina cheese
1/2 cup grated smoked mozzarella cheese
1 1/2 cups frozen peas, thawed
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Core red bell peppers and cut into 1-2inch rectangles, peel the yellow onion and cut to the same size.  Cut the squash and zucchini in quarters lengthwise and cut into 1 inch cubes.  Cut the stems off the mushrooms and cut into quarters.  If you have two 9×13 baking dishes, use one for roasting the veggies and one for the pasta.  If you only have one, a regular cookie sheet will work, it just makes it a little trickier getting the veggies in and out of the oven.  Toss the bell peppers, zucchini, squash, mushrooms and onions along with the olive oil, salt, black pepper and dried herbs together in the pan or on the baking sheet until well coated.  Put in theoven and roast for 15 minutes.

Veggies ready for roasting in the oven

Veggies ready for roasting in the oven

While the veggies are roasting boil the water and cook the penne for about 6 minutes.  This will cook the pasta just enough so that it’s not overcooked once it’s done baking in the oven.  Drain and put aside. When the veggies are done roasting, toss the veggies, pasta, marinara sauce, fontina, mozzarella and peas gently mixing until pasta is coated with the sauce and all other ingredients are combined.

Pour the pasta mixture into a greased 9×13 inch pan and top with the 1/3 cup of parmesan cheese.  Bake in the oven until top is golden and cheese is melted, about 25 minutes.  When you’re done, here’s what it should look like.

Baked pasta fresh out of the oven

Baked pasta fresh out of the oven

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That’s it! Real easy and so tasty. Robert thinks it smells and tastes like pizza.  I just think it tastes great!  I love the veggies.  (as if you couldn’t tell)  I’d like to take this moment to promote my new favorite marinara sauce company.  For years I’ve used Ragu for all my marinara needs, not any more.  I’d like to introduce to you Cucina Antica.  Their sauce is great, you look at the ingredient list and it only contains about 7 items!  All of them what you would include if you were making it yourself.  No preservatives, no bad stuff! And it tastes great!  My favorite so far is the Spinach Marinara.  As you can tell from this photo of the jar, last night I used their Tomato Basil Marinara. 

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Many of you who have cooked with me, or watched me cook, know that I can tend to be a cooking purist, preferring to make my sauces and such rather than buy it premade.  I think this sauce has changed my tune, at least where mariniara sauce is concerned.  I get mine at Central Market, and I’m not sure how wide their distribution is, but if you can get it try it!

Ok, that’s all from me for now.  Ciao!

Today marks the first family originated recipe to be featured on Tasty Tuesdays.  Growing up my mom would make meatloaf with mashed potatoes and green beans about every other week or so.  My grandmother, Memaw, would also make it most times we headed up to Pampa for a visit.  Because Memaw and Mom were the only two people I ever saw make this recipe I, along with several of my other cousins, attributed the recipe to Memaw and referred to it as “Memaw’s Meatloaf”. 

It wasn’t until a few months ago when my Aunt Dee and Uncle Steve came to visit Robert and I in Dallas that I was informed that the recipe did not originate with Memaw at all.  It was a recipe that Aunt Dee and Mom got at a 4H club meeting and brought home to share.  I still like to call it Memaw’s Meatloaf.  To me, who first brought the recipe into the Holman family is less important than who I remember first making it for me.  That and it’s probably the only meal outside of stew or chili that I remember Memaw making and I feel like I honor her memory every time I make it.

I’ve made some changes to the recipe, mainly switching ground turkey for ground beef, to make it a bit healthier.  I hope you enjoy this family favorite as much as we do.  Also of note, this recipe makes 5-6 mini loaves instead of one large loaf.  Outside of the fact that this is the only way my mom and Memaw ever made it, I like that the mini loaves make it easy for packing a lunch out of leftovers the next way.  If you’re weirded out by the mini loaf idea then go ahead and make into one large loaf, it won’t affect the taste at all.  Also, if you have a family member that doesn’t do onions, then substitute 2 Tbsp dried minced onions from the spice section of the grocery store for the 1/2 cup fresh minced onion.  It leaves the flavor without being overbearing or the texture.  My dad hates onions and he doesn’t mind the dried minced onions in this meatloaf.

Ingredients:
For loaf:
1lb ground turkey
1/2 cup minced yellow onion
1 cup cracker crumbs
1 large egg
1 8 oz. can of tomato sauce
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
For sauce:
1 8 oz. can of tomato sauce
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp Worcheshire Sauce

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Combine in a large bowl all ingredients for the meat loaf.  

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Using hands mix the ingredients together until well blended.  Form into 6 mini loaves about the size of your fist and place onto a greased cookie sheet.  

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Place in oven and bake for 25 minutes.  In the meantime, combine tomato sauce, brown sugar and Worcheshire sauce in a small bowl and stir until well blended.  Remove mini loaves from oven and pour sauce over each loaf, leaving a little left over in case anyone wants extra while eating.  

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Replace mini loaves to oven and bake for 10 more minutes.  Remove from oven and serve with mashed potatoes and green beans.

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This weeks recipe is based on the Italian Baked Chicken and Pastina by Giada De Laurentis at the Food Network.  While I’ve kept the same ingredients as Giada, I’ve changed the quantities to help provide a heaftier meal.  Giada’s version was intended as a snack for kids and therefore produces a somewhat smaller meal.  What I love about this dish is that it reminds me of some of the cassoroles my mom used to make growing up, without all the fat and calories found in the cream of chicken and cream of mushroom soups.  This recipe has quickly become a favorite in our house.

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups small elbow pasta
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 pkg boneless skinless chicken breast tenders cubed (approx. 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 yellow onion diced
1 clove garlic minced
1 large can diced tomatoes with juice
1 cup shredded mozzarella (about 1 small ball of fresh mozz)
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1 Tbsp butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Bring a medium pot of water to boil over high heat.  Add the pasta and cook until just tender, stirring occasionaly for about 5 minutes.  Drain pasta into a large mixing bowl.

While waiting for the water to boil, cut the chicken into small cubes and dice up the onion. Heat up olive oil in a medium saute pan and cook chicken for about 3 minutes then add garlic and onions and cook until chicken is cooked through and onions are soft.  Add mixture to the pasta in the mixing bowl along with the mozzarella cheese, parsley, salt, pepper, and canned  tomatoes.  Stir to combine.

Spray an 8×8 baking dish with PAM and pour pasta mixture into dish.  In a separate bowl combine bread crumbs and parmesan cheese.  Sprinkle bread crumb mixture over pasta and dot with pieces of butter.  Bake in oven until top is golden brown, about 30 minutes.  When you’re done it should look like this.

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Can you tell this is one of Robert's favorite dishes??

Can you tell this is one of Robert's favorite dishes??

Bon Appetit!

Loving My Community

June 5, 2009

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About eight months ago I became the project lead in my office for the creation and implementation for a new City program entitled “Loving My Community Neighborhood Improvement Grant”.  My coworker Pamè La and I have taken what was once a very general concept for a program handed to us from the City Manager’s Office and turned it into a viable and, dare I say it, impressive grant program.  We’ve been through highs and lows the past 8 months facing potential cuts to our funding and complaints from various critics all the while diligently fine tuning the details of the program.

On Monday, May 11 I presented our program to the Dallas City Council Quality of Life Committee meeting as our first official “roll out” of the details of the program.  Council then voted to authorize the LMC Grant as a program on May 27, and as of this week we have launched our website and are no longer “in progress”. To check it out and get an idea as to what I’ve been working go to www.dallascityhall.com/scs/community.html.  I’ve even been interviewed by the local press http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/unfairpark/2009/06/how_much_do_you_love_your_comm.php to get my comment on the project.

A brief summary of the LMC program.  Loving My Community is designed to award financial assistance to neighborhood groups that present a vision, passion and a commitment to conduct a community operated project or program to address specific needs within their neighborhoods and help improve their quality of life.  We hope that this program will spark neighborhood creativity and involvement and ownership of local communities City-wide.  The LMC Grant will award selected projects up to $10,000 to implement their project idea.

I’m pretty excited about this program.  In my job I see tons of neighborhoods who have a need and desire to better their communities but either don’t know how to go about doing it, or don’t have the money to implement their idea.  I think this program has a chance to really make a difference in the City of Dallas.  And while we don’t know how long we can continue this program into the future with a tight and currently in the red City budget this year, we’re doing our best to do what we can with what we have now.  Hopefully we can get some outside sponsors for the program in the upcoming year to help keep it going.

Staci Tries Sushi

June 4, 2009

Those of you who have known me a long time know that I am not a big seafood fan.  In fact, many of you may have heard me say at one point in the past that “I don’t eat seafood.”  While I have become more adventurous in eating fish and fried shrimp, it’s still not quite on my favorite things to eat yet.  And I definately, until Tuesday night, did not eat sushi.

My best friend Jalah started trying to get me to go get sushi with her a few months ago.  She had recently become a sushi convert and was convinced that she could order some rolls for me to try that I would eventually enjoy.  I’ll admit, I was pretty doubtful that she would be able to succeed in her quest.  After all, I had tried sushi before, gave it the good ol college try and did not enjoy it.  But I love Jalah, and I love hanging out with Jalah, so I decided to let her try.  We agreed to meet at Pirhana Killer Sushi in North Arlington this past Tuesday night for dinner and I promised to try some sushi before ordering anything “safe”. 

During my drive to Arlington, I was so convinced that I wasn’t going to like the rolls served to me that I was getting excited about eating the crispy chicken and wonton vegetables I had eaten at the Fort Worth location of the same restaurant the year before.  Knowing that my friends and family would not believe that I ate, and liked, sushi, I thought I needed to get photographic proof of the experience.  Jalah was more than happy to oblige.

Are those orange things fish eggs?

Are those orange things fish eggs?

Prepping the roll before eating

Prepping the roll before eating

Here we go...

Here we go...

Hey that's pretty good

Hey that's pretty good

So I’ve completed the first hurdle in the road to becoming a sushi lover.  True both rolls we ate were shrimp tempura and not true raw fish suhsi, but I think it still counts!  Who wants to go eat sushi with me next?

joy-of-cooking

For my birthday a few years ago, Robert gave me a copy of The Joy of Cooking.  If you are new to cooking or are beginning to build your cooking library or just have never heard of this book you need to buy it.  It is the Bible for all things cooking related.  And like the Bible it is huge, but don’t let the size of the book scare you away.  It is chocked full of great information and recipes.  It goes into details about how to use the techniques described in each recipe and also provides tips about selecting ingredients and more.  I love it.

The recipe I use the most from this blessed cookbook is Mediterranean Chicken.  I love this recipe for several reasons.  One, it’s super easy to make and is done in about 35 minutes including prep and cooking time.  Two, as Robert and I have tried to eat healthier we tend to eat a lot of chicken and this recipe provides enough distinct flavor that it helps avoid monotony.  Three, it just tastes good.  I’ve changed some of the quantities of the ingredients some to match our tastes and preferences, feel free to do the same.

Ingredients:
4 chicken breasts
12 sun dried tomatoes (packed in oil in a jar), thinly sliced
5 kalamata olives, finely chopped
2 Tbsp fresh basil, thinly sliced
3 Tbsp of Olive Oil
Kosher salt
Black Pepper
Aluminum Foil

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Slice the tomatoes and basil into thin slivers and place in a small bowl.  Finely chop the olives and add to the bowl along with 3 Tbsp of olive oil.  Stir to blend.  When finished, your relish mixture should look like this:

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Tear aluminum foil into four 10-12 inch rectangular pieces (large enough to encompass one chicken breast into a foil packet) and spray one side of each foil piece with PAM or brush with olive oil.  Trim your chicken breasts as desired and salt and pepper both sides.  Place chicken breast in the middle on one of the foil sections.  Spoon about a quarter of the relish onto the top of the chicken breast.

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Then, take sides of foil piece and fold into a foil packet firmly sealing the edges of the packet but not suctioning in the chicken breast.  (Keep it a bit loose)  Repeat the process with all three remaining chicken breasts and place on a baking sheet.

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Place sheet into oven and bake for 20 minutes. (At this point foil packets should be “puffed” up)  Remove from oven and let sit, unopened for about 5 minutes to prevent being burned by steam when opening foil packets.  Remove chicken breasts from packets and serve with relish remaining on top.  I like to serve this with fresh green vegetables, usually asparagus or green beans, and either cous cous or wild rice.  I hope you enjoy this dish as much as we do!

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This is another recipe that I got from the Nordstrom Flavors Cookbook and it has quickly become a favorites of Robert’s and appears on the weekly menu multiple times a month.  It’s easy to make and includes a lot of fresh vegetables that I think sets it apart from other taco recipes.  And the cilantro lime vinaigrette is a unique and delicious addition to the palette of flavors contained in this dish.  So, without further adieu, let’s get on with the recipe.

Ingredients:
Vinaigrette:
1 T seasoned rice vinegar
2 T fresh lime juice
1 T honey
1 small garlic clove minced
1 t minced chipotle chili in adobo sauce (canned in Hispanic section of grocery store)
pinch of kosher salt
1/2 cup plus 1 T olive oil
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

 

Chicken Taco Filling:
2 T canola oil (olive oil can be substituted)
1 pound ground chicken (or turkey if chicken not available)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 cloves garlic minced
1 1/2t kosher salt
1/2 t pepper
2 T fresh lime juice
1 T soy sauce (I use reduced sodium and it works great)

 

Start with making the Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette.  Combine in a food processor the vinegar, lime juice, honey, garlic, chili and salt and blend until smooth.  Then with the machine running, pour the the oil in a small, steady stream to make a thick sauce.  Then gradually add the cilantro until the mixture is a dark green in color.

To make the taco filling, heat the oil in the skillet over medium-high heat and add the chicken, cilantro, garlic, salt and pepper.  Cook until the chicken is cooked through with no pink.  Reduce heat to medium-low and add lime juice and soy sauce to skillet and simmer until almost completely reduced.  Serve in soft flour tortillas with chopped yellow bell pepper, chopped cherry tomatoes, shredded romaine lettuce, queso fresco and vinaigrette.  We also add guacamole and salsa to the tacos for additional flavors.

Here is a picture of the taco meat with all the sides from our dinner the other night.  Hope you enjoy this favorite meal of ours!

The spread of taco filling and all the fixins

The spread of taco filling and all the fixins

Office Pranks

May 20, 2009

Robert and I are HUGE fans of the TV show “The Office”.  In fact we now own three seasons on DVD and watch them repeatedly.  One of our favorite parts of each episode is when Jim plays a prank on Dwight.  I’ve always been a big fan of pranks.  In fact, in college my roommates and I were involved in a prank war with another house of some of our guy friends.  It didn’t last that long (the guys chose not to respond to our final prank of flouring and q-tipping thier yard) but we had a blast all the same.

Today, my office in Dallas City Hall decided that the best way to wish our co-worker “Happy Birthday” was to pull a series of pranks on him.  First of all, you must know that we are probably one of the most light-hearted departments in all of City Hall.  We have office parties (think Party Planning Committee) and team lunches and all out goofing around from time to time.  Second, Corey is a huge self-promoter.  He started announcing his upcoming birthday three weeks ago and informed the office that we would be making a big to-do about it. 

So we decided to give him what he asked for and made a BIG deal about pulling pranks on him for his birthday.  It all started with wrapping his cubicle in yellow CAUTION tape from the Fire Department that I just happened to have in my car from a previous project.

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Corey's desk after being wrapped in Caution tape

Corey discovering his newly decorated cubicle

Corey discovering his newly decorated cubicle

As you may be able to tell from the photos, we succeeded in surprising Corey for his birthday.  I don’t Corey will ever make the mistake of over-publicizing a birthday of his ever again.

I love food.  I love the way various ingredients come together to make a culinary piece of art.  Initially, while I loved food, I did not enjoy cooking myself.  Until recently.  Now I find the art of cooking enjoyable and even, at times, relaxing.  A few months back my friend Rachel started posting some of her family’s favorite recipes on her blog to share with her blog readers.  Rachel and I used to cook a meal for our husbands together back when we were in grad school at A&M, so this element of her blog helps me feel like we’re cooking together again.  Following in her footsteps, I have decided to have a weekly installment of our favorite recipes and term it “Tasty Tuesdays”. 

The first installment of Tasty Tuesdays will be a Mocha Bread Pudding.  

I found this recipe in the Nordstrom Flavors Cookbook and it has become a staple for when we are asked to bring dessert to a dinner party.  It’s really simple to make but looks like it takes a whole lot more work than it actually does. (which makes you look like a fabulous cook!) Be forewarned, it is very rich but worth every bite.  The recipe makes a lot so for dinners with 5 or fewer people, I recommend halving the recipe and using an 8×8 pan.  Otherwise you will end up eating bread pudding for a week, which may not be a bad thing after all.

 Ingredients

Unsalted butter for baking dish

1 cup strong brewed coffee (I recommend using Cafe Du Monde Coffee and Chicory)

3 cups heavy whipping cream

1 cup whole milk

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

4 large eggs

6 large egg yolks

1 loaf french bread (1 pound) preferably a day old and cut into 1 inch squares

8 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I recommend Ghiradelli)

Powdered Sugar for dusting

 If your bread is not a day old, cut it into 1 inch pieces spread on a rimmed baking sheet and bake in a preheated oven at 300 degrees about 10 minutes.  Let cool completely before adding to the custard.

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly butter a 9×13 in baking dish.

 In a small saucepan over high heat, boil the coffee until reduced to 2 tablespoons.  Remove from heat at set aside.

 In a heavy-bottomed sauce-pan over medium heat, combine the cream, milk and granulated and brown sugars and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Remove from the heat and let cool completely.

 In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and egg yolks until blended.  Whisking constantly, gradually add the hot cream mixture.  Whisk in the reduced coffee.  Add the bread and stir gently to coat with the custard.  Let stand, stirring occasionally, until the bread has absorbed most of the custard (about 20 minutes).  Fold in the chocolate.  Spread in the prepared baking dish and cover with aluminum-foil.  (I have found that if you let it sit a little longer, say 20 minutes after the chocolate is mixed in, the pudding has a firmer and more full texture.  If you don’t have the 20 minutes to spare it definitely won’t hurt the flavor to cook it after folding in the chocolate.)

 Bake the pudding until it looks set around the edges, about 40 minutes.  Remove the foil and continue baking until a knife inserted in the center of the pudding comes out clean, about 15 minutes more.  Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes.

 Sprinkle powdered sugar on top for garnish if desired and serve.