Friday, July 19, 2013

Tuscan White Beans

This week I have been reading A Thousand Days in Tuscany: A bittersweet adventure.

The jury is still out on the book for me.  It is very descriptively written...filling my mind with scenes and food imagery. At the end of every chapter, there is a recipe.

About a third of the way through, I found a recipe for some Tuscan white beans.  In the book and the subsequent recipe, they cook the beans in a bottle in the ashes of a wood fire all day.  However, that basically will never happen in my lifetime here.  I love to cook, but I'm not that dedicated to the authenticity of the whole thing.

But, after reading through it, I figured out a way that I could make it work with some changes to their recipe and some changes to the cooking method.

I made it today and the smell in the house was flat out amazing.  The beans were part of tonight's dinner and they frankly blew me away.  The ingredients were so simple, but the flavor was outstanding.  

I served the beans over some Italian bread...torn into chunks...and had some prosciutto to go with the whole Italian theme in my head. 

Tuscan White Beans
  • 1 lb dried beans
  • water
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • few grinds of pepper
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon sage
  • 4 cloves of garlic crushed
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1-1/2 cup white wine
Start by soaking the beans.  I use the quick-soak method ....cover with cold water, cover pot, bring to a boil, turn off, leave covered for 1 hour, drain, rinse.  Or, you could cover with water and soak overnight.

After the beans are presoaked, put in pan and cover with fresh water.  I use a pressure cooker for this.  With the pressure cooker, you lock the lid on, bring it to pressure, reduce heat, cook for 10 minutes, release the pressure, drain, and the beans are ready to season.  If you don't have a pressure cooker, you can put in any pan, cover with water and cook covered for an hour or so until the beans are tender.  Both ways work equally well, the pressure cooker is just super quick.

I then put the beans in my slow cooker; added the salt, pepper, rosemary, sage, garlic, white wine, and olive oil; and cooked on high for 4 hours. And done!!!!!

If you don't have a slow cooker, you could just drain the beans (again); add in the seasonings, wine, and olive oil; add in 2 cups of water (you'll need more moisture cooking on a stovetop); and cook covered on the stove top for 1-1/2 hours.

Simple ingredients.....amazing taste.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Homemade Chicken Stock in a Slow Cooker

I use my slow cooker for TONS of things. One of the really cool things I found is that you can use it to make homemade chicken stock.

It’s super easy to do and the difference is amazing. While I certainly don’t use homemade chicken stock for everything, it’s a really nice thing to be able to do with leftovers and it really ups the recipe results when I do.

Last week I made some using the leftovers from a store-bought rotisserie chicken that I had picked up for a quick dinner.

Clean most of the meat off the chicken. Save the bones. If you can’t/don’t want to do the stock right away, put the bones in a bag in the freezer until you are ready.

Put in slow cooker.  Add a peeled and quartered onion, 2 or 3 peeled carrots, and some peeled garlic cloves.  I can’t stand celery, so it’s never in my house, but you can add a few stalks of that too. Cover with water.  

Cover slow cooker and cook on low for 6—8 hours.  It will look something like the photo below. Note the difference in the deeper color to the liquid and the "cooked" look to the vegetables, etc.

When done, cool just until you can handle the crock insert. Strain the liquid. I line my colander with paper towels (see below) and slowly pour it through.

I stop occasionally to discard the solids that stop the liquid from flowing through. Replace the paper towels and re-strain a second time.

At this point, you can chill the whole container to skim the fat off the top, or just leave it in.  As you can see, there isn't a ton of fat in it. Just that small rim at the top.

Add salt to taste. Super important. Will taste horrible without adding salt.

The color of homemade stock is amazing.  Just look at that photo above and the one below.  It looks NOTHING like the watery yellow stuff that comes from the can, cube, or powder.  And the flavor is above compare.

I divide it up into small bags with 1 cup in each bag and freeze it. Then when I need some for a sauce or recipe, I just thaw it and use.

Try'll be impressed with your cooking prowess.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Local Fun Things to Do

In the last several weeks, school has ended.

This is the first year that my little guy was in school full-day…5 days a week.  I have MISSED him terribly. So, the last several weeks, we have been bonding again.  Snuggling, holding hands, playing games, etc.

But, I don’t want to just let his summer slip by without having a ton of fun.  To that end, I came up with a list of local free or low cost activities for us to do. After I did, I saw a list going around of 50 fun things to do in Philly.  There is some overlap between my own list and their….but I swear I didn't copy. I came up with more than 30 things on my own.

Some of the things I have chosen, are based on a few memberships that I have.  When I pick a membership, I look at the cost and what the reciprocal memberships are.  A perfect example of this is the Delaware Museum of Natural History.  They offer reciprocals at 4 VERY local places that we would have a good time at…including the “dinosaur” museum in Philly.  Make sure you read the fine print.  Does the reciprocal membership offer free admission or do you have to pay 50% of the entrance fee.  Are there any restrictions like day of the week or the distance from the reciprocal museum to the residence on your ID?  Are you limited to number of children you can bring?  Because I have an only child and I usually am watching one of my friend’s children, I always add a second child on when I fill out the membership.  That way I’m not charged for the favor I am doing my friend…but we’re still having fun.

All that said here’s the list that I came up with.  If you have any other suggestions, let me know.  I could use a few more!!!

Foot tour of Philly – pay what you want
Taylor Arboretum – let kids play in creek
Tyler Arboretum – treehouses and picnic (have membership)
Brandywine zoo – get in with Elmwood Park Zoo membership
Elmwood park zoo – have membership
Hagley Museum – get in with DMNH membership
Iron Hill Museum – get in with DMNH membership
Lego building competition
PJ/Movie day
Go to Statue of Liberty – request from the little guy
Day trip to the shore
Make s’mores
Catch fireflies
Scavenger Hunt/hike
Let kids pick a recipe and teach to make it
Learn to play piano
Go to Please Touch Museum (bought groupon)
Camp out in back yard
Academy of Natural Sciences - get in with DMNH membership
Have lunch at Philly food cart

Sunday, June 16, 2013

My Thoughts on Father's Day and Fatherhood

I have two sons.....ages 21 and 7.  They have different fathers.

I had my first son about 15 months after my mother died.  There is a definite correlation.

His father and I had very little to nothing in common.  I rebounded from my mother's death into the wrong relationship and I have a child.

I WOULD NOT CHANGE ONE THING about the whole situation.  But 21 years later, I'm able to see where I went and why.

My son was lucky and his father met his current wife when my son was 5.  They are still together and have been a positive situation for him for most of his life.

When my son was 8, I met the love of my life.

I never really let my son spend time with people I dated.  I didn't want him to have a string of men running through his life.

When I met "the one," I knew the difference right away.  Three months after we met, my now-husband met my son.  This morning we were smiling in remembrance of how the 8-year-old boy met the man that became his step father.  He first introduced himself....then his favorite character necklace he was wearing.  I still have the necklace and we all still have the memory.

That night....after the introduction, we ate pizza.....watched an episode of Double Dare that my husband was in when he was a teen...and went to see Christmas lights at a local arboretum.

From there on out, the rest is our family's history. My husband is a wise man and he allowed the relationship with my son to develop on its own.

We got engaged a year and 3 months later.....married a year after that.

A year and six months after we were married, we had another child....together.

Both my boys love each other.  Both of them love my husband endlessly.

Today, our grown boy called his step dad to wish him happy father's day.  I did not nudge.  I did not text.  I did not nag.  He did it on his own....because of the relationship they made together.

So, on Father's Day....maybe it's not all about biology.  Sometimes it's about chemistry and good old fashioned engineering and hard work.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Behind the curve

Somehow Holiday weekends always make me feel like I am behind the curve.  Kind of like a horse watching the race from the starting gate.....and the race is almost over.

So much of my mental well-being depends on me getting myself shopping.

If those aren't done, I feel incomplete and just plain behind.

So, Monday....we came home from a long weekend away with my sisters and their kids.  Had a wonderful time.  Wouldn't trade a moment for anything.  LOVED it all....nieces doing girl stuff....nephews doing boy stuff (at both ends of the range)....and my children mixing with their cousins the way my sisters and I did when we were kids.

Bonds made to span a lifetime.

Cannot wait for August when we get 2 whole weeks together....annoying each learning.

But, back to this week.  I optimistically started laundry when we got home Monday night.  There is currently a load in the washer and one in the dryer....with two more to start.  NOT my usual "get it done on Monday" groove.

I finally did my menu on Tuesday afternoon.  There is a heat wave coming this week....which means getting into "summer cooking"......trying to keep the extra heat in the house to a minimum when it's hotter (i.e., during dinner time).

And here I am on Thursday night/Friday morning finally getting my menu posted.  It's always there....even if it's not posted.

Tuesday - baseball (ended up getting rained good day for the stew)
Cranberry orange pork stew....I do it in the slow cooker.  Sear off the pork cubes in a pan.  Then make the sauce in the pan....bring to a boil and dump it over the pork in the slow cooker

Picnic all-star pasta salad with grilled chicken - new Cooking Light recipe.....with a homemade pasta salad dressing added (it was a hit) - it had pasta, red peppers, corn, red onion, bacon, avocado, chicken, fresh mozzarella, and a honey lime vinaigrette

Thursday – soccer practice
Thai steak salad – new Cooking Light recipe (also a hit)

Friday - baseball 
Spicy grilled shrimp with quinoa salad – also a new Cooking Light recipe

Saturday – baseball
New burgers with roasted potato salad

Grilled pork chops with avocado corn salsa and baked potatoes

Monday, May 20, 2013

Start of summer weekend!!!!! - Monday's menu

This week we are starting the little guy on a more advanced soccer team....and so begins the two-times a week practice.  I'd forgotten how it changes everything.  We are also headed "down the shore" with my sisters and their families...our house here will be fully occupied by our now-21-year-old and his friends.

Here's this week's menu....designed to make 14 people happy over the weekend....all with dietary issues and restrictions.  SIGH.

If you need ideas, check out

Black bean burritos – with queso fresco

Tuesday – soccer practice
Take grown man/boy out to dinner to celebrate his birthday


Thursday – soccer practice

Friday – heading to shore
BBQ chicken and rice - a meal my mom made for us when we were kids...she tore it out of a magazine ad for Kraft BBQ sauce in 1970-something

Saturday – beaching it
Spaghetti meatballs garlic bread and bag salad

Sunday - still hanging with the fam in the sand
Burgers, BP, garlic corn, and baked beans

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Beer braised sausage and onions

This is one of my husband's favorites.


  • 1 lb sausage (sweet or hot)
  • 1 large onion thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp oil (I always use olive oil)
  • 1 Tbsp brown 
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp hot sauce (I used sriracha)
  • 1 tsp worchestershire
  • 1 beer (almost anything on hand is fine)

Heat the oil in a pan and add the onions.  Cook the onions until they are translucent and just starting to caramelize.  They should look something like below.

Add in the salt, pepper, brown sugar, worcestershire, hot sauce, and sausage.

Add the beer and stir it all together.

Cover and cook 20 minutes.  Turn sausage about half-way through.

After the 20 minutes, remove cover and let the whole thing reduce a bit (about 5 minutes).

Can serve over mashed potatoes or in a roll.  YUM.