10 Recipes Everyone Should Master-Recipe 1. Pot Roast

Nothing says homey quite like the smell of a long simmering pot roast with onions and carrots. This is not a dish that can be thrown together at a moment’s notice, nor is it a good idea for a weeknight meal, (unless you are referring to leftover pot roast, in which case, awesomeness abounds). But for your weekend dinner guests, the after church crowd, or just a bunch of friends over to watch the big game, it can be the highlight of the week.

PERFECTLY SIMPLE POT ROAST

    Shopping List

1 chuck roast, 3-4lbs.
(have the butcher tie it)
Salt and pepper
2-3T olive oil (have more on hand)
2 yellow onions; peel, quarter and slice into 1/2″ crescents
5-10 large carrots; peel and chop into 2″ pieces
3-4 whole cloves garlic, peeled
2T fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary), minced fine.
1-2 C braising liquid (red wine, stock)

    Directions

Set oven to 300 degrees.
In a large dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat.
While oil is heating, pat roast dry with clean paper towel. Generously salt and pepper surface (top and bottom).
When oil begins to shimmer, carefully lower roast into the pan. Brown on all sides for 2-4 minutes, including “thickness” sides.
Remove roast to large plate.
Toss in sliced onions, turn heat down a bit and toss in the oil and juices 3-4 minutes. Add more oil if it looks too dry. Be sure to scrape up any brown bits that stick to the bottom.
At 4 minutes, add carrots and continue to cook for another 4 minutes.
Add minced herbs.
Spread vegetables out over bottom of pan to form a flatish bed.
Put the roast back in on top of the vegetables.
Pour in your braising liquid just to the bottom of the roast.
Once this liquid starts to simmer, turn heat down and cover with lid.
Place lidded dutch oven in pre-heated oven.
Let cook for 30 minutes.
Reduce heat to 250 degrees.
Let cook for a full hour.
Pull dutch oven out and check liquid. There should be as much or more than when you put the roast into the oven; if not, add more braising liquid.
Reduce heat to 200 degrees.
Cook at this temperature until done.
A 3lb roast will take 3 hours total;
a 4lb roast will take 4 hours total.

Pull roast out and put on serving platter; let it rest for 10-20 minutes (tent with foil).
Don’t forget to remove string!
Re-cover pan to keep veggies hot. Put them onto the platter jut before serving.
Slice roast into serving size pieces and dig in!
If you want to pass the beef juice; skim the fat and put into gravy boat.

Side Suggestions (one or more): mashed potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, green beans with shallots, steamed broccoli, simple tossed salad, steamed white rice, fresh bread and butter, succotash, green peas, sauteed mushrooms, brussels sprouts. Since there are already vegetables in the dish, I usually pick one starch and one green vegetable, but really the pot roast veggies are enough.

Note1: I don’t cook potatoes in with the roast, I find that they are mushy with this long cooking time.
Note2: If kids are involved, I use beef stock; otherwise, I use red wine (malbec/syrah/cab sauv).

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The Floss Lecture

Every time I go to the dentist I get the floss lecture.  It’s because my front lower teeth are crammed together like New York City subway riders.  Now I dread the floss lecture, but what I dread even more is the scrape-ity scrape that the dental hygienist has to do to get the stuff out from between my crowded choppers.

So I finally decided to do something about it. I decided I’d get the lowers all sorted with braces of some sort.  I researched and decided I liked the idea of Invisalign.  I met with a highly recommended orthodontist for a consultation.

Invisalign is not for everyone.  There are some issues that traditional braces work better for, but in my case, I was deemed to be a good candidate for Invisalign.  After explaining how the treatment would work (including the rather surprising news that I would have to sacrifice a perfectly healthy front tooth to make room), I was sent home to think it over.

Two days later I called back for my appointment.

The first appointment involved making a mold of my teeth; uppers and lowers.  If you have ever had a night guard made, it’s a very similar process.  A wide plastic tray with dental “Play-doh” is inserted onto your teeth, allowed to harden and then removed.  The company that makes Invisalign uses this to make the clear braces (trays), that will serve to straighten my teeth.

The next step was to go to my regular dentist and have a tooth extracted.  If you have ever been to the dentist for a filling, let me tell you, this is way, way easier.  A couple of shots of Novacane and it’s out before you know it.  It took about 10 days to heal and required no effort on my part, except to rinse my mouth with salt water 2-3 times a day.

Six weeks later, and I am back in the good doctor’s chair.  He is putting attachments on my teeth.  The attachments help move certain teeth.  They are tooth colored and look like tiny ivory buttons.  The application process was fairly simple; my teeth were cleaned, a sour, slightly acidic solution was put on each tooth receiving an attachment, the attachment was, well, attached, and a heat lamp was used to dry it hard.  This process took about 45 minutes and was not painful at all.  The sour is very sour, though.

After the attachments were on, the hygienist took over and put my first set of trays on my teeth, explaining as she did so, how to put them in and care for them.  She then removed them, again with detailed explanations.  And then she watched me put them on and take them off myself before releasing me back into the universe.

I left with one set of trays in my mouth and two sets of follow up trays, with instructions to come back in six weeks.

Tray #1

The first tray was the most difficult for me, largely because of some unexpected issues that cropped up.  I had researched online and was prepared for some things, including the fact that the first few days of a new tray, there will be some achy-pain, which can be remedied by over the counter pain meds.  And that it would be challenging to remove the trays until I got the hang of it.  What I was not prepared for was…

DROOL.  Yes.  Like a Saint Bernard dog.  When I would reach into my mouth to remove the trays, pools of drool would exit my mouth.  Rivers, even.  It got to the point where I would need to put a wash cloth underneath my chin to catch the drool so it didn’t end up on my shirt.  I don’t think everyone drools, but boy I sure did!  As time wore on, the drool lessened significantly, but I still carry a clean washcloth with me, just in case.

CLAUSTROPHOBIC….TEETH????!!!  Okay, so this was a really weird one.  The first few days, my teeth felt trapped.  Well, I guess they were, weren’t they?  But I got a bit anxious about it and there were times I wanted to RIP the trays out of my mouth.  So, to get over that I allowed myself 10 minute breaks during the day, until I got used to wearing them.  The ironic thing is that two weeks later, my teeth feel naked without them and I cannot wait to put them back.

CINDY BRADY.  Yes, I now sound like good ole Cindy Brady.  ‘Thee thells thea thells by the thea thore…”  I am told it is ‘cute’, but I find it annoying.  Actually what I find annoying is that people think I am cute, but whatever.  I am willing to lisp for a year if it means no more floss lecture.

Cleaning the trays is a matter of many opinions.  Me?  I put them in a small plastic container filled with water and a squirt or two of dish soap; pop the lid on and shake them for about 30 seconds, then rinse thoroughly with a clean cloth.  I have found that this method keeps them fairly “funk free”, and does not discolor them.

My Invisalign kit goes everywhere I do; contains a small travel sized toothpaste, a manual tooth brush (I use an electric one at home), floss, a plastic cleaning container, travel sized mouthwash, my Invisalign case, and a clean washcloth/drool rag.  If I am traveling out of town I also take my last set of trays, just in case the current ones break or get lost.

By the end of the first two weeks, I had gotten into the Invisalign groove; remove trays, consume food and drink, brusha brusha, flossa flossa, swisha swisha, clean trays and pop them back into their rightful home.

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Me, showing off my bottom teeth, post sacrifice.

 

 

 

 

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Train Trainee Training

At fifty something years of age, I have a number of things on my bucket list.  This past week, two of them finally got checked off; the first was a trip into New York City and the second was traveling by train.  Up until this past trip, my travel options always revolved around fly or drive.  Any trip less than four hours was by car, anything more than four hours was by plane.  I do not know why train was never an option, except perhaps that I had seen Silver Streak one too many times.

This trip came about as the result of an unexpected, but much celebrated wedding announcement of two very dear friends who decided to tie the knot in New York City just before the Christmas holidays.  Driving to NYC was not an option because of the horror stories I have heard about going through the Washington/Baltimore/Philadelphia/New Jersey corridor.  And the flights were relatively inexpensive. But for some reason, this time I also checked out Amtrak.  As it turned out, I could travel by train for about half the airfare cost, and the travel time would be about the same as driving, without the headaches of major metropolitan area rush hours or overturned saltine cracker trucks on the Beltway.  So, I decided to try something new and bought myself a round trip ticket on Amtrack’s Northeastern Regional.

In short, I’d have to say it was one of the most enjoyable travel experiences I have ever had.  Of course, living in a city on the Northeast corridor might have made it easier for me personally than someone who lived, say, in Iowa, because I could get where I wanted to without changing trains or bunking down for the night.  But for the millions of us who live in BosNewYorPhilaBaltimorington, it’s a great option.

I rode up in coach and back in business class, largely because I wanted to see if there was an appreciable difference in the amenities versus the modest price difference.  One leg of the trip was an early morning ride, the next was on a Friday afternoon, just before Christmas.  Along the way, I discovered some tips and tricks that I hope will help new train travelers traverse the tracks without trepidation.

E-tickets:  If you have a smart phone, Amtrak will send you an e-ticket.  Use it.  You do not have to print out any boarding documents, simply save the *.pdf file they send you on your smart phone.  The conductor will scan it after you board.  No paper documents to hunt down through your luggage or handbag.  Easy. Peasy.

Luggage:  You can take more luggage on a train, another pleasant bonus!  This not only means full cans of styling mousse, but that you can also return with a boatload of souvenirs.  Next time, I will be taking an empty tote bag up with me, because my little airline carryall ended up looking like a pregnant hippopotamus ready to give birth at any moment.

Coach or Business?:  First off, the seats on a train are more spacious than on a plane, unless you do your air travel up front.  Each side of the train has two seats, one window and one aisle.  There is plenty of legroom, whether you are in coach or business.

Unlike most airlines, you do not get a specific seat number on a train.  A reserved seat merely means you are guaranteed a seat on that particular train, not that you have seat D13 in car 4, for example.  Where you sit is first come, first served.

I found business to be considerably less crowded on both trips, and most folks in business appeared to have empty seats beside them, unless they had a traveling companion.  I had no difficulties getting a window seat with an empty aisle seat beside me, even though I boarded later than most.

Coach, on the other hand was nearly completely sold out on both legs of the journey.  The coach cars were much noisier as well.  There is a “quiet car” in coach where cell phone usage is not allowed.  On the platform, people scrambled to get the best seats in coach, so if you are a solo traveler bogged down with a pregnant hippo sized carryon, you will likely get an aisle seat.

Take a camera: (phone or stand alone).  You may see amazing sights on your trip.  These are things you do not get to see from the air, or if you are busy watching rush hour brake lights on I-95.  Charming little towns, a body of water hosting thousands of migratory birds, national monuments, spectacular skylines, sunrises and sets, all can be seen from the window seat of your train.

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Sunset on Amtrak 125

Take a neck pillow/blanket: Had I taken my travel neck pillow with me, I probably could have slept on my journey.  The ride on the rails was much smoother than I had anticipated and I could have easily nodded off on my ride home after the sun went down.  Instead of a blanket I took a coat that was soft enough to serve as a bah-bah and it kept me nice and toasty on the train.

Take a refillable water bottle: Train water is really not very pleasant.  Fill it before your departure; replenish it on the way at designated longer stops if you can.  If you travel business class, the cafe car will give you complementary bottled water. I found vendors at most of the train stations would fill up my container with water for free.

To Cafe or not to Cafe?  That is the question:  The route I went on had a cafe car that served largely cold sandwiches, chips, and packaged snacks.  The prices were pretty outrageous, but not any different than most modern day flights.  I brought my own snacks because I didn’t want to waste calories on train food before I got to NYC; and then on the way home, I wanted to undo some of the caloric damage I had done whilst at the Chelsea Market.  But I interviewed passengers around me who had gotten a boxed meal from the Cafe Car and they all said it was quite decent.

Pack a busy box:  When I was little, my parents would pack each one of my sisters and I a ‘busy box’ to keep us occupied on the long road from Kansas to North Carolina.  It consisted of coloring books, crayons, blank paper, bingo boards and the like.  For my train trip I packed two hardback books, reading glasses, my iPod, headphones and a notepad.  Amtrak has wifi and electrical outlets with which to recharge your devices.  All Aboard Indeed.

Ask for help:  The conductors and train attendants are there to assist you.  I saw one elderly woman almost take a header down the steps trying to wrestle her suitcase down to the platform.  She didn’t need to do that. The Amtrak staff is exceedingly polite and friendly.  They helped me put my pregnant hippo of a suitcase in the overhead bin, take her down when we got home and took her all the way to the platform, where I easily wheeled her to my car for the short ride home.

Overall, I found train travel more appealing than I had anticipated and I plan to enjoy more trips up and down the Northeast corridor over the silver rails.  It was the antithesis of most of my normal travel experiences, much less stressful than either flying or driving.

If you have any tips or tricks for train travel I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading.

 

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The Long and Winding Road

In the back of my head lives this nagging little voice that said, “You’ve tried before, it won’t work.  Nope, it won’t work…you are fat. You have always been fat. You will always be fat.  Now, go get me a cookie…my one, my only, my PRECIOUS…

Yes, it’s my own personal Gollum. Only this one is female and she’s a bit on the hefty side.  And she loves cookies.  And french fries.  And icing, oh yes, precious, she loves icings, she does.

So, there and back again I went, playing the Frodo, trudging towards Mt. Doom.  Every other time I have gone on this quest, I have failed.  I start out excited at the prospect of changing my body, of saving my health and vitality from the forces of evil.  And every time, as I approached the one month mark, I found myself tired.  Tired of the endless walking.  Tired of listening to my Gollum nag me incessantly about cookies and buttercream frosted cupcakes.  Tired of getting on the scale to find that I had only dropped a half pound after two weeks of seriously hard work.

So, unlike brave Frodo, I’d quit.  At someplace along the road, I’d stick the ring back in the pocket of my waistcoat and waddle back to the Shire, where there were second breakfasts aplenty.  Where my big decision on the weekend was “red or white”?  And whether ribeye was on the menu for my Sunday night repast.  And I kept the ring.  And it grew heavier.  And heavier.  And so did I.

What I found in ZG, then, was my Samwise.  Someone who speaks truth to me.  Who tells me in week one, “This journey will not be an easy one.”  Who lifts my spirits during the grueling workouts with motivational music (Early Beatles!) and instructors who truly love their work.  Who gives me enough facts to make me understand why white pasta should be a side dish, or why artificial sweetener is really not such a great strategy.  Who tells me, “this is the right way.  You will get there.  Trust me.  Trust yourself.”

This journey feels different because of ZG.  And I think I might get there.

 

 

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Recipe-Caprese Salad

When I pack my lunch for the office, it needs to meet some rather specialized criteria.  It should not need refrigeration, since the refrigerator at my office is packed to the gills and frequently pilfered by the ‘hungry at 10:30′ thief. It should require minimal or no re-heating, since the microwaves in our kitchenette are wimpy.  And it should be delicious.

Caprese salad fills the bill nicely on all three fronts.  I pack the ingredients separately and assemble it at meal time.  This helps retain a fresh, light feel to the dish.  When I am at home, I use this as one of my  go-to quick summer meals.  I have even made this for unexpected dinner guests or for sharing a bottle of sauvignon blanc on a muggy August Friday with a neighbor.

Now this should go without saying, but in a dish where there are few ingredients, they should all be of impeccable quality.  This is a dish best eaten at the peak of the summer tomato season, with freshly picked basil and cheese just purchased from the market.  If you have access to heirloom tomatoes, such as Purple Cherokee, use them!

For one salad:

Four tomato slices, about 1/4th inch wide each.

2 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into four equal slices

2 tablespoons chiffonade* of basil

balsamic vinegar (not viniagrette), to taste

salt and pepper

Assemble the tomato slices on the bottom of a small salad plate.

Salt and pepper the tomato slices.

Top each tomato slice with one slice of the mozarella.

Sprinkle with the basil.

Drizzle with some balsamic viniagrette, to taste.

Whew, that was hard wasn’t it? :)

*Chiffonade is a cutting technique.  Stack the fresh basil leaves so that all the stem ends are pointed the same way.  Roll up the bundle, cigar style.  Using a knife, run through the bundle so that the knife blade is perpendicular to the stem end.  Slice about 1/8th to 1/16th of an inch wide.  Dispose of stem end.  Fluff them up.  You should have a lovely pile of long, thin strands of basil that will look beautiful on a salad, or topping any basil friendly dish.  If you don’t want to do chiffonade, finely chopped basil works great also.

For ZG friends, this meal is very carb and calorie friendly. I computed about 175 calories for the serving listed above, with negligible carb count.  Depending on your calorie allocation, this could be an entire meal, or you could add a side dish to get to your goal.

Here is my lunch today.  I hope you make this soon and enjoy it as much as I do.

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