Day 20: Monday morning pep talk

slice-of-life

I am writing for the Two Writing Teachers March Writing Challengae

It rained last night.  Not the gentle soothe you to sleep kind of rain.  But the type of rain that tosses a floodie into a panic.  Streets were watched to be sure the water was draining down the sewer.  The radar was checked to see if the worst of it had passed.  We briefly chatted about how we really should have installed the new sump pump last week.  Fingers are crossed that there is no lake under the new house this morning.

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Day 17: St. Pat’s Party for 2

slice-of-life

I am writing for the Two Writing Teachers March Writing Challenge

We battled over her skirt this morning.  Who knew that an-almost-two-year-old could have such strong opinions about a skirt?  I chose the wrong one.  Her choice was much too short.  How is a too short skirt even an issue already?

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Day 16: snow

slice-of-life

I am writing for the Two Writing Teachers March Writing Challenge

It snowed the other day.  And although it is March, this is Chicago so it isn’t that unusual.  Snow happens and the world moves on.  I have always loved the snow, especially if I do not have to go anywhere.  Somehow the neighborhood seems quieter and warmer as if it is insulated.

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Birthdays PM

Mom's Birthday 2009 Wildfire:  Oakbrook, IL

Mom’s Birthday 2009 Wildfire: Oakbrook, IL

Birthdays PM (post mom) pretty much suck.  I had my 37th birthday a mere 3 weeks after my mom died.  I wasn’t exactly in a celebratory mood.  I remember my dad asking me if I wanted to go out to dinner.  I told him that I just wanted to make dinner like a regular Thursday and forget the day had some sort of significance.  Honestly, with exception of my wedding, honeymoon, and very few other joyous events, I would have liked to have forgotten that my 36th year even existed.  I wanted a redo.

Growing up, we never really had big birthday parties.  We celebrated with a specially chosen meal…cooked by mom…and maybe a tub-o-icecream or box-o-popsicles.  With so many kids running around, who had the time, money, or energy to put together an actual party.  As we grew older and the boys started spending time with my dad fishing, golfing, and doing whatever else boys do with their dads.  That’s when my mom realized the girls needed a little bonding time, as well.  That’s when our birthday outings came about.  Each year, on our birthdays, we would do something fun with just the girls.  We would go to the show or get mani/pedis.  We would have a nice lunch or go for massages.  Sometimes all of the above in one day if we were feeling ambitious.  Nothing crazy, but a little time to ourselves and a little treat to each other.  I have so many fun memories of those special days:  dinner at Wildfire, seeing Sex & the City, lunch at Cooper’s Hawk, shopping at Light House Mall, spa day at Nicole Richards and so many more days I cannot even begin to describe.  We always laughed:  usually at the expense of one of the sisters.  We always ate:  one of the things us girls did best together.  We always had fun.

My sister C’s birthday is tomorrow and I know how much that first birthday PM can really suck. I’m so glad we got to spend time together today downtown just like old times.  We lunched, we chatted, we shopped.  It was a little sliver from the past.  A bit of my mom’s celebration.  And although she wasn’t there with her extendo finger divvying out her little snippets of advice, no one could deny her presence.  She was all around in our shared laughs and knowing smiles.  She was digging into a slice of cheese cake and picking off our plates.  She was having passion fruit iced tea and a chicken salad sandwich.  She was with us.

MONDAY MEMORY: 35th Birthday REDO

Monday was my husband’s birthday.  Last year, just a few days before, the house flooded.  You can read about that day HERE.  We spent his special day emptying the house of all our personal belongings.  We sang Happy Birthday over a double cheeseburger from McDonald’s.  His gift was delivered to a house that was torn into pieces.  It was his 35th birthday.  By the way…it was a fantastic HD projector with a TEN FOOT screen for watching movies in the backyard.  The screen is in my brother’s garage the and projector is still in the box.

 

So this year I wanted to do something a special as a 35th birthday REDO.  Yesterday I wrote about the meal we had at Drury Lane to celebrate our first Valentine’s Day, our first anniversary, and my birthday.  It was an eventful weekend for sure!  The dish both of us sometimes still drool over was delicious braised short ribs in a mushroom ragu.  That’s what my dear hubby wanted for his birthday.  How on earth was I supposed to recreate THAT?!?  I scoured the internet and couldn’t find a single recipe that hit all the same flavor notes.  I did find something to work with though…THAT is why I love cooking and detest baking!  I used this recipe from Bobby Flay as a base.  After reading through it, I was certain that this would be the most complex flavor profile I had yet created.  What bubbled away on the stovetop was a rich, layered dish full of bold flavors and tender short ribs.  Do not let the ingredient list or number of steps deter you.  It was not nearly as difficult as I anticipated.  The work was well worth it!!  Of course, for dessert, we enjoyed cheesecake–my husband’s all time favorite treat.  As a non-baker, I purchased the cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory.  Someday I will tackle the baker’s pantry.  Just not today!

 

BRAISED SHORT RIBS WITH MUSHROOM RAGU OVER GNOCCHI

Total Time:
4 hr 15 min
Prep:  30 min
Cook:  3 hr 45 min
Yield: 6-8 servings

A rich deeply flavored sauce over fluffy potato pasta pillows--the perfect birthday dinner comfort food for a cool rainy night

a rich, deeply-flavored braised short rib ragu full of earthy mushrooms over fluffy potato pasta pillows–the perfect birthday dinner comfort food for a cool rainy night

Ingredients
2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
3 1/2 to 4 pounds short ribs, each about 2-inches long
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 package dry porcini  mushrooms
10 ounce Baby Bella mushrooms chopped
2 dried bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh rosemary chopped
5 sprigs fresh thyme chopped
2 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley chopped
4 small carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 small onions, diced
2 medium shallots, diced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 bottle red wine, such as cabernet
1/2 head garlic, cloves separated, peeled, and chopped
3 1/2 cups beef stock (I used boxed)
2 beef bouillon cubes
2 lbs gnocchi
2 tablespoons butter.
grated Pecorino Romano, for garnish
Directions
Heat oven to 325*
  1. In a medium sauce pan–reconstitute dried mushrooms in broth along with bouillon cubes until tender. 
  2. Remove mushrooms with slotted spoon and roughly chop reserving broth.
  3. Over medium heat, add oil a 5-quart casserole or Dutch oven until almost smoking.
  4. Season short ribs generously with salt and pepper and brown on both sides.
  5. Remove ribs from casserole, and transfer to a large bowl–set aside.
  6. Add carrots, celery, onion, fresh and reconstituted mushrooms, and shallots to oil in the casserole, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and golden, about 10 minutes.
  7. Add flour and tomato paste to the casserole, and stir to combine. 
  8. Add 1 cup of wine; stir with wooden spoon until all browned bits have been scraped from the pan and the bottom of the casserole is clean. 
  9. Add remainder of red wine, and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half. 
  10. Add garlic, beef-mushroom stock, chopped herbs, bay leaves, browned ribs to the casserole and bring the liquid to a simmer over medium-high heat. 
  11. Cover the casserole, and place it in the oven for 3 hours or until ribs are very tender.
  12. Remove the cooked ribs from the casserole. 
  13. Set the casserole on the stove top over medium heat, and simmer to thicken sauce just slightly. 
  14. As soon as the short ribs are cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones, and shred into small pieces. 
  15. Degrease the sauce and discard the bay leaved. 
  16. Return shredded meat to casserole and simmer until thickened.  
  17. Prepare the gnocchi according to package directions–being sure to add plenty of salt.
  18. After drained, add a couple pats of butter to the pan–allowing to melt completely.
  19. Add the drained gnocchi to the butter and saute until lightly golden brown.
  20. Add just a little ragu to the gnocchi to coat.
  21. Portion out and add additional ragu and cheese to the top.
  22. Serve with crusty bread.

 

 

MONDAY MEMORY: Easter Traditions

This Easter was the first holiday without my mom.  Although it was tough one, family traditions seemed to help comfort us with shared memories from Easter mornings past.

 

This year, each little sub-family had so many other things going on that we were separated on Easter Sunday itself.  Instead, on Saturday, we celebrated my nephew’s 9th birthday along with an early Easter party at the YMCA followed by a low key meal shared together afterward.  My sister is a fantastic cook who can put most people to shame.  So when she asked me to make my homemade mac and cheese, I was more than thrilled that she would want my dish to accompany her delicious concoctions!  It was a beautifully sunny day to share with family and friends…the kind of day that my mom loved.  Each year, she spent many hours gathering the perfect gifts for each grandchild’s Easter basket.  Rather then letting the tradition go, we modified it just a little.  Each godparent put together a basket for their godchild.  I had a blast choosing the perfect superhero bucket, PJs (a grandma special), candies, and a few Aunt KK originals like a new toothbrush, a jump rope, and some silly putty!  A HUGE Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup made my godson the happiest kid on the block.  I’m pretty sure that he had never even seen Silly Putty before…can you even believe that?!?!

 

Easter itself was a bit more low key.  My sisters spent the day with their little families since we were all together the day before.  I put together a simple brunch for my brothers, dad, husband, uncle, and our dear family friend at my dad’s house.  Of course, the famous party potatoes were on the menu along with a variation of my aunt’s stuffed French toast, a delicious eggs Benedict casserole, deviled eggs, fresh fruit, and Grandma O’s cream cheese coffee cake.  It is truly the PERFECT cake.  It is dense enough to enjoy as breakfast with a bold cup of coffee but light enough to add to brunch as a dessert.  It was one of my mom’s favorite treats…I must have made it a half dozen times in the weeks she was home recovering from her operations.  Now, those of you that know me, know that I am NO BAKER!  I actually despise baking.  It is too technical and leaves no room for error.  I prefer the freedom cooking offers me…a little of this and a little of that and a meal is served.  However, at the request of my mom, I made it a couple years ago.  It’s since been one of the few baked goods I have mastered.  I did make just a one tweak to it over the last few years…nothing that changes the perfect consistency of the cake, but just enough to make it my own.  I have to say, my mom loved my addition but always insisted that it needed the icing.  I never did add the icing preferring the buttery cinnamon strudel to shine on its own but feel free to add it for an extra sweet kick.  No fancy ingredients needed for this one.  I usually have pretty much everything on hand in the pantry and fridge.

 

As I sit and plan my Monday off {including a couple of surprises to help celebrate my husband’s birthday tonight} I am enjoying a slice of cream cheese coffee cake and a cup of tea enjoyed Mom’s way…with a little milk and sugar.  I am flooded with memories of past Easter mornings hunting for the SIX dozen brightly colored eggs (a dozen for each kid), ham glazed with 7-up, and of course Grandma O’s coffee cake.  Adding something so familiar made this holiday a little less bitter and an bit more sweet.

 

As for my husband’s birthday today, he asked if I could possibly recreate a meal we had our first Valentine’s Day together.  He had surprised me with a weekend full of fun activities to celebrate Valentine’s Day, my birthday, and our first anniversary.  At Drury Lane, before enjoying a super fun performance of Monty Python, I ordered braised short ribs with mushroom ragu over gnocchi.  I am making an attempt at this meal with complex flavors.  I am using this recipe from Bobby Flay as a base to build in the other flavors we both remember.  If all turns out, I’ll try to post the recipe with my additions soon.

 

Cream Cheese Coffee Cake–GRANDMA O’S ORIGINAL

350°
30-40 minutes–when toothpick comes out clean
CAKE:
1 large cream cheese–softened
1 stick margarine–softened
1¼ c sugar
2 eggs
1 t vanilla
2 c flour
2 t baking powder
½ t baking soda
½ t salt
½ c milk
TOPPING:
½ c butter​–chop while still cold
Coat with
   ½ c flour
   ½ c sugar​
ICING:
1 c powdered sugar
2 T warm milk
½ t vanilla
  1. Make the topping and put back in the fridge to keep cold.
  2. Cream margarine and cream cheese.  
  3. Add sugar and beat together.  
  4. Add eggs and vanilla and beat together.  
  5. Add flour, powder, soda, salt and milk and beat together.
  6. Pour batter into a greased 9×13 pan.  
  7. Sprinkle sugared/floured butter on top of coffee cake.
  8. Bake 30 minutes in 9×13.
  9. When cool, make icing by mixing ingredients until smooth.
  10. Drizzle on coffee cake and allow to harden.  
Cream Cheese Coffee Cake–FROM KARYN’S KITCHEN

350°
30-40 minutes–when toothpick comes out clean
CAKE:
1 large cream cheese–softened
1 stick margarine–softened
1¼ c sugar
2 eggs
1 t vanilla
2 c flour
2 t baking powder
½ t baking soda
½ t salt
½ c milk
TOPPING:
½ c butter​–chop while still cold
Coat with
   ½ c flour
   ½ c sugar​
   1 t cinnamon (my ONE change)
  1. Make the topping and put back in the fridge to keep cold.
  2. Cream margarine and cream cheese.
  3. Add sugar and beat together.
  4. Add eggs and vanilla and beat together.
  5. Add flour, powder, soda, salt and milk and beat together.
  6. Pour batter into a greased 9×13 pan.
  7. Sprinkle sugared/floured butter on top of coffee cake.
  8. Bake 30 minutes in 9×13.