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Breaking the Glow Stick

Do you remember the first time you saw a glow stick? One of those skinny, clear tubes that are popular at skating rinks, fairs, and rave parties?

When I got my first one, I was rather underwhelmed. I saw everyone else skating under the black lights with the sticks fastened around their necks and wrists; theirs sizzling shades of electric blue, neon green, and hot pink.

Mine was…kind of a light gray, really. Clearly, mine was defective. Now that I had this unremarkable piece of plastic, what was I supposed to do with it?

But just about that point, a couple of my friends came by with theirs, which they were shaking vigorously.

“Mine doesn’t work.” I complained.
“Well, no duh. You didn’t break yours yet. You gotta break and shake them before they’ll work.”
Oh. Like anyone knows that the first time.
So I (carefully) broke mine and began shaking. It was slow to respond at first; but finally, a brilliant purple flowed through the tube.

Under the darkness and glow of the black lights, I joined the party of swirling glowing streams on the skating rink.

We are like glow sticks. Unless we are properly (and carefully) broken and endure the shaking, we will never glow as we are made to.

I think as we do, we allow ourselves to find unique purpose and beauty, becoming part of something bigger; a stellar choreography. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Recipe of the Week: Asparagus Lasagna

Don’t be frightened by the title. It sounds weird, and possibly gross to some of you, but this is possibly the best non-original (to me) recipe I’ve ever used. When finished, this tastes like the best parts of lasagna, alfredo, chicken pot pie, and asparagus all at once.

I discovered this several years ago from Sarah Moulton’s (I believe, top chef at Gourmet Magazine) “Sara’s Secrets” show on, yep, The Food Network (I really was not kidding when I said they taught me how to cook). But I made a few changes: instead of goat cheese, I use a hard cheese like Parmesan or Asiago, add chicken, and I flavor my cream with garlic powder.

This recipe may sound complex at first blush, but I just made it again yesterday from memory, and had it in the oven in less than an hour. It really is easy to do.

To begin with, you’ll need:
1.5 – 2lbs fresh, preferrably young/thin asparagus. Ends trimmed, and cut into bite-sized pieces (if thick, 3/4 inch pieces, if thin, 1-1 1/4 inch). Keep tops divided from stalks.
Olive oil.
4-5 cups of chicken broth (preferably homemade, but box is fine)
2-3 Tbsp. butter
1/4 – 1/3 cup white flour
Salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, and garlic powder
2-3 cups cooked, shredded chicken
1, 8-oz box Barilla no-boil lasagna
2 cups heavy whipping cream
6-8 oz grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese (really a matter of personal taste)

Hardware:
2-3 quart sauce pan
1 or 2 cookie sheets
9 x 13 baking dish
Wisk
Mixing bowl
Spray grease, such as Pam.

Pre-heat your oven to 450*. Place all asparagus pieces on cookie sheet (you may need 2). Remember, tops are in a separate pile. Season and toss with salt, pepper, garlic, and olive oil. Place into oven and cook for 5 minutes. Stir, and cook for another 5 minutes, until asparagus is somewhat wilted, but still has a slight crisp (I like to keep an eye on this to make sure it does not over cook. Also, personal taste rules, here.). Remove asparagus from oven and set aside. Reduce oven heat to 400*.

Next, melt butter (and a drizzle of olive oil–helps prevent burning) in sauce pan. When butter bubbles and melts, add 1/4 cup flour. Wisking to prevent clumping (I sometimes use a small mesh strainer here). If needed, add more flour to make a paste. Stir roux, cooking it for a few minute, until it turns a light brown, and bubbles. Add chicken broth, wisking to blend well. Raise heat to high and wisk at intervals. Bring mixture to a boil. Chicken broth should resemble a gravy of medium thickness. If it looks too thick, add a bit of water or broth. If not thick enough, make a slurry to thicken further. Add salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste. Reduce heat to low and cover.

Next, take your 2 cups of whipping cream in mixing bowl, add 1/4 tsp. garlic powder (or, as much as you’d like), and begin to wisk. Wisk until mixture stiffens into whipped cream. Set aside in refrigerator until ready to use.

Assembly:
Spray 9 x 13 dish lightly with spray grease. Add 1-2 ladles of chicken sauce into bottom of dish, spreading around (this helps to prevent sticking).

Make a layer of no-boil noodles, overlapping them slightly. Sprinkle 1/3 or 1/4 of shredded chicken, then asparagus (reserving tips for top layer), then grated cheese. Top with 1-2 ladles of sauce.
Repeat for a total of 3 layers (if you can make four, that’s great). Use asparagus tips for the very top layer, and use all the sauce (you’ll need this for no boil noodles to turn out right). Sprinkle on remaining cheese, as desired. Finally, spread whipped cream on the top. (This helps to insulate during cooking, and melts into the sauce).

Cook for approximately 40-50 minutes, or until cream has dissolved and noodles are tender. Cool for 10 minutes, then serve.

One of my favorite albums of 2010 has got to be Florence and the Machine’s first album, Lungs.

The entire album is brilliant and breath-taking, and I highly recommend it.

But there is one song that I want to write about in particular. The track Cosmic Love speaks such volumes to me in a deeply personal way.

As the song begins, you’re immediately clued in on a love story between a celestial being and the singer, whom one can assume is either a frail human, or spiritual in nature. Looking up at the beauty of the sky’s expanse, a falling star falls from its heart (God’s perhaps?), so beautiful, but causing tragic, horrifying damage: it blinds the singer, leaving her hysterical and in pain, stumbling in darkness.

The stars, the moon, they have all been blown out
You left me in the dark
No dawn, nor day-I’m always in this Twilight
In the shadow of your heart

The singer can no longer see any heavenly markers to guide her way. She’s panicking, groping for guidance, to know her love has not left her alone. But she finds nothing. You left me in the dark.

And in the dark, I can hear your heartbeat
I tried to find the sound
But then, it stopped, and I was in the darkness
So darkness I became

So sure of her abandonment, she sinks into the darkness. She can’t even be guided by hearing, anymore.

I took the stars from my eyes and then I made I map
I knew that somehow I could find my way back
Then I heard your heart beating
You were in the darkness, too
So I stayed in the darkness with you

Somehow, the singer remembers the power of the very thing that blinded her. The object of her affliction actually gave her a way out: stars provide guidance and light. Whichย  she can use to return to happiness, where she wants to “go back to,” instead of moving forward.

At that point, our singer hears the heartbeat of her love. Suddenly, getting out of the darkness doesn’t seem so important. Rather, it’s not where she was, it was whom she was with that mattered.

God is this way. We are the frail human staring up at His other-worldly beauty, falling in love. And God does afflict us, but like the stars, those very objects are intended to ultimately guide us to a new place of faith and intimacy.

When we can realize, like our singer, that He has never left us, but has just gone silent, we learn that it isn’t important where we are, it’s Who we are with that matters. I don’t want to be in the light if He is in the dark. We’re never meant to bond with our environment, but bond with the One who placed us there.

 

Creme brulee has recently become one of my favorite desserts. It’s easy, inexpensive, and classic; though it’s still considered somewhat “fancy” in my crowd.

So I’d seen this recipe on the defunct Food Network show, Calling All Cooks, maybe 5 years ago. I’ve always wanted to try it, but never had. Until this week…

It’s no more difficult than regular creme brulee (maybe easier since you don’t need to boil the cream), and the apples are a fantastic addition.
I substituted apple cider for the water, which may make it too rich for you, but everyone enjoyed it.
I may serve this for Thanksgiving. ๐Ÿ™‚

So here’s the link. If you try it, let me know!
Calling All Cooks: Apple Cinnamon Creme Brulee

Pesto Roast Chicken

I decided to roast a chicken this week. As I placed it into the pan, considering my options, “Do I make the always-loved rosemary-lemon garlic chicken?” Or do I make something new and different?

In a moment of what I believe to be divine intervention, a stroke of heavenly genius, an idea came into my head: Pesto Chicken.

But I had both sun-dried tomato pesto and basil pesto. So I got a little crazy: I did half and half.

The important thing is to put the goo under the chicken skin. It really saturates the meat and keeps it moist. I also kept the dividing membrane between the two breasts intact, so the seasonings stayed on their own side. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Aside from the pesto, I only added a little pepper and a hint of cayenne. The pesto has enough salt by itself.

My husband raved, saying it was the “best chicken ever.” And the secret is, it’s so much easier than the hand-made rosemary goop I’d have usually labored over.

I cooked it on 375′ for a little over two hours, and turned the pan halfway through cooking so it would brown evenly.ย  Pretty much your average package directions.

If you try this, let me know what you think!

 

 

Recipe of the week: Chocolate Croissants

Remember I said I dislike baking? I really hate to measure while creating “edible art,” so whenever I bake, it’s usually from: 1) a mix, or 2) something I’ve memorized so well it no longer feels like work to make (such as cheesecake).

So, when I became addicted to Panera Bread’s chocolate pastry (aka, pain au chocolate), I knew I had to find a worthy substitute to have at home that didn’t have to spend 3 hours making.

Therefore, I went to the grocery store and bought, yep, Pillsbury crescent rolls.ย  Not the buttered kind, and not the BIG ones. I used the smaller can of 6.

Then for the chocolate. I just happened to have in my possession Scharffen Berger’s 62% semi-sweet baking chocolate.
Once whittled into smaller chunks, this made for the perfect filling in my croissants.

Just roll them out and space them on your baking sheet, fill with about a tablespoon of chocolate pieces, and trail a little “dust” down the tip, and roll. When finished, roll it down onto the point so it doesn’t fall apart when it bakes.

Bake per the package directions (10-12 minutes), until lightly golden. After a minute or two of cooling, you can enjoy a warm and gooey treat that doesn’t take all day.

I’ve made this recipe twice in the last month, so I figure that I know it well enough now pass it along. ๐Ÿ™‚

As many of you know, I don’t really measure anything. I think measuring sucks. It’s why I tend to avoid baking. Ratios are the most important thing, so I do try to be mindful of how much-to-how much I’m actually putting in. All measurements are really guesswork on my part.

Putting pepperoni on top of lasagna is not a stroke of genius I can claim as my own. I actually saw Guy Fieri do that on his show, Guy’s Big Bite. However, the rest of it was something I threw together. Enjoy!

To make this you’ll need
2 lbs ricotta cheese
About 1- 1 & 1/2 cup chopped, drained spinach (look through it for tough stems before using)
8-12 oz shredded mozzarella cheese (Kraft has a kind out now that incorporates a bit of Philly cream cheese. It’s super creamy and delicious)
1/4 lb thinly sliced sandwich pepperoni (the BIG pepperoni)
1 sleeve Jimmy Dean’s sage sausage (I know it may sound weird, but it’s perfect for this. And this is seriously the best all-purpose sausage I’ve seen out there. Of course, you could use Italian instead.)
1 lb lasagna noodles (I don’t use no-bake for this)
3-5 cups quality spaghetti sauce (homemade or good jar brand like Classico)
Garlic powder, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, oregano/Italian seasoning.
Wooden Spoon.
Wide bowl.
10-12″ frying pan.
1 Tbsp. Olive oil.
9x 13 baking dish.

To begin with, start a big pot (I use my largest, maybe 6-8 quart) of water for boiling. Add a good bit of salt (not too much). Set to high and cover. It’ll save time, but it will still take a while to come to a boil.

In a wide bowl, mix the ricotta cheese with about 2-4 ounces of the mozzarella. I like to do this because it gives the ricotta filling a stringy, cheesy texture which my husband likes. It’s kind of “something extra.” Add in the spinach, crumbling it into smaller clumps. Stir to make sure it’s well-incorporated. Add garlic powder, salt, pepper, cayenne, and oregano to taste (and I do mean taste…it’s one of my favorite parts of making lasagna!). Set aside.

In a wide (10-12″) pan, heat olive oil on medium-high heat. Add sage sausage (whole sleeve for the whole lasagna pan, or half for just half the pan. I usually do just half because I don’t like meat in my lasagna. My half is veggie.) With a wooden spoon or very stiff spatula, break up the sausage as much as possible during cooking, making the crumbles small so it doesn’t dominate your lasagna layers. Season as you like with garlic, oregano, cayenne, etc. I usually don’t use salt. When sausage is lightly browned and no longer pink, remove from heat and set aside (I just put the pan on a trivet and let it cool. There usually isn’t a lot of fat from this sausage, which is why I add olive oil. It won’t be swimming in grease.)

When water has come to a boil, add lasagna noodles, one at a time, inserting them on a clockwise rotation (12 o’clock, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.) to minimize sticking. Cook according to “al dente” package directions (you want it firm—otherwise it will be soggy after oven cooking), stirring VERY gently to insure proper flow and separation. When done, remove from heat and pour off majority of water. Fill pot back up with cold water. Pour off again. Repeat until noodles are cool enough to handle, and remaining water is minimal. I don’t like to use a colander here, as it can damage pasta.

You can transfer pasta from pot to an impeccably clean tea/dish towel to lay flat and dry. Just pat with towel to remove excess water.

This is when I like to preheat my oven to 400 degrees. If you have a convection oven, I’d recommend 375.

In a 9×12 baking dish, add about a cup of sauce to coat the bottom (this prevents tragic noodle stickage.) Add a layer of (patted dry) pasta, overlapping them slightly.
Cover with some of ricotta mixture. Add desired amount of sausage (approx 1/3 – 1/4 of pan). Add approx. 1/2 cup of sauce over pan (not too much or it will be runny. Think “dry.”).

Continue layering, up to 4 layers. Cover remaining layer with pasta, sauce, and remaining mozzarella cheese.

The final step is to layer pepperoni on top of lasagna.

Bake for approx. 35-40 minutes at 400. But if you have a convection oven, start lower and keep an eye on it (pepperoni cooks and curls quickly in convection ovens. Ask me how I know?) ๐Ÿ™‚

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ok, so this recipe is one my husband named. You can usually tell which dishes of mine he’s named because they “sound” like guy names. ๐Ÿ™‚

When I asked him which recipe I should post this week, he suggested this one.

Essentially, this is a shrimp alfredo with capers, bacon, and a large dose of citrus flavor.

I suggest you start with half a pound of medium shrimp (60-80lb count is good), a bottle of your favorite alfredo sauce, and a medium-sized shell pasta. Everything else is downhill from there. ๐Ÿ™‚

1/2 lb 60-80 sized-shrimp, peeled and de-veined.
1 oz aged rum (I prefer Cruzan brand to most else, though a stiff Bacardi is good).
1 tsp capers, rinsed.
2-3 strips bacon or bacon ends, fried and crumbled. (I like to use just the meaty portions, so I prefer bacon ends.)
1/2 Lime, juiced
1/2 Lemon, juiced
Cayenne Pepper
Salt
Garlic powder
2 Tbsp butter, plus some olive oil
Fresh parsley, chopped.
1 lb medium-sized shell pasta.

Cook pasta according to box directions. Set aside.

Start by melting the butter and a drizzle of olive oil in a wide saute pan.
When butter bubbles and shimmers, drop in the shrimp and saute until cooked and crispy. Add cayenne, salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and stir.
Deglaze pan with about an ounce of rum. Stir, and remove shrimp from pan. Squeeze on some of lemon and lime juice. Set aside.

In sauce pan, pour alfredo sauce, capers, a dash of cayenne, and crumbled bacon. Simmer for 3-4 minutes.

Combine ingredients together and toss. Squeeze on additional lemon and lime juice and serve.

Serves 4-5. Cook time: 15-20 min.

Vitriol and Venom

Ever wake up in the morning with a word in your spirit?

This morning, I did. I’d heard the word before in negative contexts, but I’d never had a definitive understanding of what the word meant.

Vitriol.

Coffee in-hand, I promptly googled the word and found this:

Noun 1. vitriol – (H2SO4) a highly corrosive acid made from sulfur dioxide; widely used in the chemical industry

acid – any of various water-soluble compounds having a sour taste and capable of turning litmus red and reacting with a base to form a salt
atomic number 16, sulfur, sulphur, S – an abundant tasteless odorless multivalent nonmetallic element; best known in yellow crystals; occurs in many sulphide and sulphate minerals and even in native form (especially in volcanic regions)
battery acid, electrolyte acid – dilute sulfuric acid used in storage batteries
2. vitriolvitriol – abusive or venomous language used to express blame or censure or bitter deep-seated ill will

contumely, insult, revilement, vilification, abuse – a rude expression intended to offend or hurt; “when a student made a stupid mistake he spared them no abuse”; “they yelled insults at the visiting team”
Verb 1. vitriol – expose to the effects of vitriol or injure with vitriol

subject – cause to experience or suffer or make liable or vulnerable to; “He subjected me to his awful poetry”; “The sergeant subjected the new recruits to many drills”; “People in Chernobyl were subjected to radiation”
2. vitriol – subject to bitter verbal abuse

lash out, attack, snipe, assail, assault, round – attack in speech or writing; “The editors of the left-leaning paper attacked the new House Speaker”

Yikes!! Not good at all!

I was even more shocked to see the picture of the angry snake to the right. A couple of months ago I had a dream about a snake in which I escaped unbitten. The dream, though ending well, concerns me to this day. Typically symbolic of lies and deception, snakes seldom mean good things, especially when angry. Coupled with the word “vitriol,” I can’t help but feel the two could be related.

A warning? I just might think so.

About what? I’m not too sure. Matt and I are in prayer about it, and if you feel led to pray, we’d appreciate it.

It really feels good to have God on our side, looking out for us. ๐Ÿ™‚

This is a dinner I made for a friend. He’d made the choice to eat more healthy, but I think needed a little inspiration asย  to how to do that but still enjoy what he was eating.

Fish is a very healthy protein for multiple reasons: it provides a lighter, easy-to-prepare “main dish” to build a meal around that still satisfies. It can be a great way to wean yourself off of beef, sausage, and other fattier proteins.

Most of my recipes are formulated off the cuff, meaning I didn’t measure anything. I give much greater care to remembering ratios because that’s really what’s important in cooking (baking, though, is another story).

I started with 5ย  squarish pieces of Mahi Mahi about 4-5 ouces each. If using a whole fish, cut filets in half short-wise and you’ll get the same result.ย  This is the right size to top the salad with when plating the dish.

My recipe serves 5, cooking time is less than an hour, active prep time is around 30 minutes, and inactive prep time (vinaigrette chill time) is 1-8 hours.ย  If you’re in a pinch though, you can serve the vinaigrette without chilling. The rest of the meal is so good I doubt you’ll get many complaints about the vinaigrette not being marinated enough.

Vinaigrette: (Make this first to allow flavors to meld. Recommended the night before, or 1-2 hrs before serving time.)
Juice of 2-3 lemons (about 1/4 – 1/3 cup).
1/2 – 2/3 cup of olive oil.
2 cloves garlic, pressed/minced.
1 Tbsp. Italian seasonings (Oregano)
Dash of cayenne.
Salt + pepper to taste.

Yields: 1 cup, more than you’ll need for this recipe, but extra is great to have as some folks like a lot of dressing. As it’s pure and healthy, you can indulge without too much guilt.)

In a medium-sized bowl or salad dressing maker, combine olive oil and lemon juice. Wisk to aerate. When mixture turns a cloudy yellow, stop to add remaining vinaigrette ingredients. Wisk again to combine, cover, and refrigerate.

Vegetables: To make this salad a “real meal,” I like to add roasted vegetables. This way, the meal is 60% cooked, and for some (my husband included), makes the meal feel more substantial and complete…without losing the health benefits.

Pre-heat oven to 425.

2-3 Tbsp. Olive oil
Salt
Pepper
8 oz. Asparagus, wooden ends trimmed off and discarded, the rest cut into 1-inch lengths.
8 oz. Cherry or Grape tomatoes, washed and cut in half.
1 med. Zucchini squash, cut into cubes.
1 med. Yellow squash, cubed.
1 Red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch cubes.
1/2 Of a small onion, cut into thin strips.

Put all vegetables into oven-safe 9×13 casserole pan and season with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Toss to coat (I use my impeccably-clean hands), and bake for 10-15 minutes. Toss and stir periodically for even cooking.

When the squash and asparagus are tender-crisp and tomatoes are wrinkling and distressed, remove from oven (carefully), and set aside. Don’t forget to turn off your oven. ๐Ÿ™‚

Mahi Mahi: Quick-thawing and quick-cooking, this fish only takes minutes to prepare (which is awesome). When preparing the dish to serve, this is the last step before assembly, so I’d recommend taking the salad dressing out of the refrigerator and into a serving dish at this point to get the chill off.

4 -4 or 5 oz. Mahi Mahi fillets, thawed.
1-2 Tbsp. lemon grill seasoning (I use McCormick. It’s very very good.)
1 Tbsp. Olive oil for sautรฉ (if using teflon, may use less)

Heat wide, shallow sautรฉ pan to medium-high. Add Olive oil to prevent sticking.
Season fish on both sides with lemon grill seasoning.
When Olive oil is shimmery, add fish to pan.
Cook fish 2/3 of way without turning (prevents sticking, creates a great sear), checking every now and again to be sure not to burn it.
When sides turn opaque, flip and finish cooking until center is flaky and opaque. (Total of about 8-10 minutes)
Cut the heat and remove fish from pan.

Assembly: On a large tray or bowl, add the following:
1 package (about 1 lb) of Fresh Baby Spinach. (May seem to0 little for 4 servings, but with veggies and fish, it works out perfectly).
Add roasted veggies (still warm, almost hot) on top of spinach.
Place fish on top of veggies.
Shake or wisk vinaigrette to thicken, pour desired amount over dish.

You can obviously plate this individually and serve dressing on the side (which is what I did), because dressing—like religion or politics—is a very personal choice many feel passionately about. Thus, it’s often better to leave to guests to decide. ๐Ÿ™‚