Friday, April 30, 2010

California, California, here we come!

The time has come. Eric and I have continued a tradition from my family of visiting Disneyland at least once a year and completely obsessing about it at all times when we are not there. Yes, it's true. My name is April, and I am a Disneyland addict. Not to be confused with a Disney addict, who covers their home in mickey mouse deco and wears their mickey ears to church (I have only been known to occasionally wear them to the grocery store... kidding! kind of). I love Disneyland. If you have never been, I am praying that God would allow you to visit that wonderland someday. If you have been, and you have anything childlike in your spirit at all, you know what I'm talking about. From the moment you step onto the ground, you feel it: magic. Not the "hocus pocus" kind that frightens home-schooler moms everywhere (no offense to some wonderful homeschooling mothers out there), but a a feeling of something ideal and nostalgic. No one hurts at Disneyland, everyone smiles - it's like a slice of heaven for me. Costco and Disneyland will surely be in heaven, I am convinced!

From Main Street USA, where everyone is dressed in period clothing, to The Pirates of the Caribbean what smells ever so slightly of mildew (honestly how does it not REAK of mildew? Props, Disney cleaning staff, props!), the presentation of perfection is... perfect. Even though you will inevitably spend more than half of your day in line, people of all ages, races and classes FLOCK there (don't believe me? Check out the attendance stats - crazy!). There's something about Disneyland that speaks to people's hearts, and mine especially.

So, this afternoon, Eric and I and our friend, Rachael (of mushroom Stuffed Shrimp and Lemon Garlic Grilled Artichoke fame) will bea leaving for 5 glorious days to SoCal and Disneyland! First we have the wonderful pleasure of visiting family that I wish Wish WISH lived closer to us. My Aunt Susan, Uncle Jon and their children all live in CA, and I always cherish our times together since they are significantly fewer than those I get with my family here. We even get to BBQ with them on Saturday night! (Hopefully I will be able to blog something about our dinner or the delicious beer my cousin Aaron and his wife Ami are bringing!!) After spending a day or so with our San Diego family, we jet up teh coast to see the Cylwik LA fam! Eric's grandparents and aunt, uncle and cousin live in the LA area, and I think we get to see everyone (including my in-laws who will be there visiting as well, woop woop!).

In short (unlike this post) I'm headed out for a few stress-free, blogging-free days (stress does not equal blogging, thank goodness!). Pray we stay safe on the road, and enjoy the heck out of the family we seldom see. (start sermon-ette here)I will tell you this, if you don't have a GREAT relationship with your family and you can salvage it, you should. Family is irreplaceable and demonstrates the love God has for us in such a tangible way (end sermon-ette here). OK, i'm feeling mushy right now, so I'd better stoop before i end up all weepy on the floor. Jk, that doesn't happen to me... very often.

So for the next few days you will have to wait in suspense to see what crosses our vacation table! I'll give you a taster though... Prepare for a recipe from the Blue Bayou inside the Pirates of the Caribbean!! =) Until next time, happy eating!!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Costco: Rice-Picker Hats and 10 year old couches...

Costco... home of bulk packs of bread, 57 paper-towel rolls smooshed together into one (still ginormous) package, rice in 10 lb. bags, and lets not forget, aisles and AISLES of samples, served by some sweet old man or woman named Eunice or Bernie...

Costco holds a special place in my heart. The Costco that Eric and I normally frequent has been a place of joy for me since childhood, or rather since the days that it used to be a "Price Club." I have always enjoyed roaming the aisles of the members-only, buy-in-bulk stores. That is, except when I was very small. The forklifts used so scare me with their highly intimidating back-up "beep beep" noises. Now that I've gotten over my machinery-phobia... I have been trying to think about why it is that I love Costco so very much.

I think it is because I have been so used to the store my whole life. We belonged to Price Club, then to Costco (when it switched over), and the to Sam's Club (Boo on all Walton companies!!!), which, thankfully was short-lived.

** Brief sidenote... did you know that most major government institutions who offer reimbursement plans (i.e. Universities, Schools, etc.) for clubs/organizations/teachers will not reimburse you on WalMart purchases because of their poor business practices?? I swear, Google it.

Mooooving on...
In the end, I'm back at Costco and happy as a clam (BTW, who came up with this? Was there a study done on clams and their positive emotions??). Eric's parents have a membership and share it with us (suh-weet!), so we get all the perks of the relationship; gotta love the 'rents. In fact, the first time I ever met my in-laws (ridiculous story about to begin...), we met at a Costco. Eric's big plan was to see how many samples we could trick the old ladies out of (i.e. make multiple rounds), with one catch: Each time you made the rounds you had to wear a ludicrous hat of some sort. We brought a sombrero and a trucker hat, Eric's parents brought an Asian Rice-Picker hat. We. Looked. Insane. But we had a blast and Betty, the Pot Sticker lady, gave us extra food for our (and I quote) "gumption." And now I'm related to these people =)

I also love the food court!! Hebrew National Hot Dog with soda for $1.50?! Welcome back to 1978 prices, people! The turkey wrap is a pretty healthy option at only 500ish calories (if you remove the cheese), and I usually can't even finish it all. It makes for a super-sweet date night! and super easy on the wallet region! We make the rounds for samples and catch a quick bite if we are still hungry.

Now we get to the meat (no pun intended... kinda) of the Costco deal - everything in the aisles! We have purchased the following from Costco since our marriage (that i immediately recall):

Living Room light fixture
Kitchen Sugar/Flour Jars
A Lifetime supply of Printer Paper and Paper Towels, and Toilet Paper, and CFL lightbulbs
2 Gym memberships (which we love Love LOVE!!)
A Wii and all associated games and system equipment
A few books
A table
A swimsuit for Eric
And of course.... tons and tons of FOOD!

We have triple checked the deals we are getting and no other retailer can compare. The food deals are rockin' - the meat I can afford to buy at Costco is such better quality than Fry's or even Safeway, plus I get more for my money - love it! Eric loves the 2 gallons of milk deal, as the jury is still out on whether he is part baby cow... (jk). I love the spices and healthy cereals, and the blu ray prices can't be beat.

Also, can we talk about the LIFETIME warranty on everything?!?! Holy wow, what a smokin' deal! We spoke with an associate and asked him the most ridiculous thing he had seen returned during its' lifetime warranty. His answer: a TEN YEAR OLD couch! Yes, friends, ten years ago, a Chandler family bought a couch, kept it until they moved and wanted a new one and returned it, for the same amount they paid ten years ago! What?! Is this illegal?? No, This. Is. Costco. A savvy-shopper's heaven, Costco offers amazing deals to those who are ballsy enough to return a ten year old couch.

And, it's hard not to love a place where people buy food on FLATS. Yes, just like the ones you use at home depot to buy wood, washing machines, showers, and entire backyards. American consumerism, (in Obama's words) yes we can!

I have a hard time imagining the day when my relationship with Costco will come to an end - I feel like that day would also include things like the mountains crashing int the sea or hell freezing over... I like to think God will have a Costco in heaven, just because it brings me so much joy. And on any given day, chances are something from Costco (i.e. food paradise) will be on our Kitchen Table for Two!

Lemon Garlic Grilled Artichokes

On the same adventurous Tuesday as Shrimp Stuffed Mushrooms (see previous post), I saw that my artichokes were on the verge of spoiling (this, by the way is a MORTAL SIN). Since we have been married, I have not once cooked artichokes, largely because they were not in season, but it left me thinking... how to prepare them?

For those of you who do not know, an artichoke is actually a large thistle. The plants look like giant weeds (mostly due to the fact that they ARE giant weeds), and the artichokes are the flowers of the plant. When you buy them in the store, what you a seeing is the bud of the flower. If you let an artichoke go too long without harvesting, it blooms into a lovely flower!

However, if you harvest them on time, they can be some of the most delicious veggies you'll ever have the pleasure eating. Life most veggies, artichokes are quite tough a fiberous, and thus require boiling, roasting, grilling etc. to bring out their softer side. After the artichoke is prepared, you peel off the leaves (you may or may not dip them in some sort of side sauce at this point), and then use your front teeth to scrape off the lower "meaty" part of the leaf. As disgusting/primitive as this sounds.... Artichokes. Are. Delicious. Here's how I prepared them...

2 large artichokes

1 lemon (or equivalent amount of lemon juice)

5 cloves of garlic, minced


2 tbsp butter (the real stuff, trust me on this one)


What I did:
1. Fill a large bowl with ice water and 1/4 of your lemon juice. Slice the artichokes in half (longways) and submerge in ice bath. This will not only help infuse them with lemon flavor, it also keeps them from turning an ugly baby-poo brown while you are cooking them (Food Rule 237: food that resembles baby poo is generally unattractive).

2. While the artichokes soak in their ice bath (always best to pamper the food before cooking), bring a large pot of water to boil on the stove, and begin heating your grill to med-hi. when the water is boiling, plop those suckers into the water and let 'em boil. Give it about 15 minutes.

3. During this time, you'll prepare your grill basting sauce (the extra of which will be your dipping sauce, yay!). In a bowl, mix a few tablespoons of EVOO with the remaining lemon juice and the minced garlic.

4. After 15 minutes, pull the artichokes out of the pot onto a plate and (I feel as though I'm stating the obvious here, but...) BE CAREFUL, they will be extremely hot. At this time you will need to use a spoon to scoop out the "choke." The choke is what would've been the pretty purple leaves and inner middle of the thistle flower, had you let it blossom. Scrape out all the little hairs and purple leaves that surround them.

5. Bast the chokes all over with your lemon garlic sauce, then - Throw them on the BBQ! You want to bbq them for as long as it takes to get the leaves a little singed (probably right around 10 mins). Make sure you rotate them frequently and baste them often, the more you do, the better the flavor.

6. Pull them off the grill and serve with the leftovers of your lemon garlic sauce for dipping. It can also be helpful to provide guests with individual dipping sauces and a bowl for their discarded leaves (otherwise you will end up with drippings on your nice new tablecloth....)

**Remember, when all the leaves are gone, you can still eat what's left! This is called the "heart" of the artichoke. It's just like the meat on the leaves, but without the hassle of all that scraping. Cut it up, dip it, and enjoy!

Eric LOVED them, and Rachael, who had never had one before (SHOCKING, I know!) said they were delish! My mom always boiled artichokes for us when we were younger, and I loved them (thanks, Mom!), but I think I'll be sticking with this recipe from now on; it's got more pizazz, and who doesn't love that??

Lemon Garlic Grilled Artichokes, that's what was on our Kitchen Table For Two on Tuesday!

Shrimp Stuffed Mushrooms

Now to my first recipe! This lovely dish graced our table on Tuesday, and I had the pleasure of getting not only one review of my cooking (Eric's, or course), but two! My lovely friend Rachael eats with us every Tuesday, prior to watching God's gift to television... The Biggest Loser (let the mocking begin!).

My relationship with cooking is largely love/hate. I find a recipe I like (usually online), look at all the ingredients, and then rip it apart (hence, the "hate") and put it back together in a way that better suits my tastes (usually resulting in the "love"). Sometimes I just need a title and I'm good to go! But usually, my lack of creativity forces me to steal a bit from others to make my creations... But really, whose recipes are truly original anymore? It's not like new ingredients are being invented daily! (This is what I tell myself so that I don't feel bad about my theft/destruction-of-others-recipes/lack of creativity problems)

Tuesday I was faced with a particular dilemma: lots of perishable foods in the fridge, and only 2.5 days in which to consume them (due to the impending Disneyland trip!). As a math teacher, I am reducing this to a logic problem: Food to serve about 10 people in my fridge, only 2 remaining dinners before departure... only one conclusion... better find a recipe that uses up a whole lot of the ingredients I have!

Solution: Shrimp Stuffed Mushrooms & Lemon Garlic Grilled Artichokes.

This post will feature what I consider to be the more original of the two - Shrimp Stuffed Mushrooms.

Clearly, this will be my husbands new favorite dish. The marriage of two foods, his love of both rivals his love for me, I am sure. And sadly, God has cursed me with a shellfish allergy (which I occasionally ignore with the usual disastrous consequences...), thus I will be unable to consume the dish, which makes for really difficult critiquing... but I shall press on! Below is how I made it (feel free to rip it apart and customize...).

15ish Shrimp, small, shelled and chopped into itty-bitty pieces

Mushroom Caps (the number will vary depending on the type of shrooms - I used 16 of the small
white ones, but Portabellos could be delish as well! ) <--- really should learn the real names...

EVOO (paying homage to Rachael Ray!)

1/3 cup chopped chives 1 cup Ricotta Cheese (I used the skim variety)

2 tbsp Italian Bread Crumbs 3 cloves Garlic (I literally use this in EVERY recipe, ok...maybe not pancakes... yet)

Various dashes of Salt, Pepper, Nutmeg, Ground Cloves, and Parsley Flakes

What'cha do:

1. Throw a little EVOO into a pan and lightly brown the shroom caps on both sides (bowl side and hat side, respectively). Get the oil a little hot first. You'll know when it's ready when it starts to ripple a bit. If it's popping and smoking, ya over-did it. Start over =)

2. Put toasted shroom caps aside. Add a bit more EVOO to the same skillet (want to retain all the yummy juices of the shrooms for our filling!), and mince the garlic into the skillet. let it sizzle for jut a bit - til you really start to smell the goodness (again, smoke = BAD, watch the heat!).

3. With the heat on medium, add some dashes of Cloves, Nutmeg, Salt, Pepper to the "garlicy" oil. Then add the chives and the shrimp. Toss to coat, and let the shrimp cook. You know when shrimp is done when it turns a nice pretty pinkish color. If it still looks a bit transparent, let 'em go a while longer.

**Sidenote: I feel that shellfish are a bit more difficult to cook than your standard meats. If you undercook them, prepare to spend the night "praying to the porcelain god." If you over cook them, plan on setting aside 3 hours just to chew them. Cooking shrimp well takes practice, so be patient! =)

4. While the shrimp is cooking, preheat the oven to 450. Grease a cookie sheet and prepare to stuff your shrooms with the filling.

5. When the shrimp are done, remove the skillet from the heat. Add your Bread Crumbs, and Ricotta Cheese to the skillet and mix thoroughly (the heat will help the ricotta to spread better). You now have your delicious filling - let the stuffing begin.

6. When your shrooms are stuffed nice and full (pack it in there, friends!), place them on the greased cookie sheet and toss 'em (gently!) into the oven. If you have extra topping or extra shrooms, don't worry! Just spread them on the cookie sheet and bake, somone'll eat 'em! Bake for 9-10 minutes or until tops are golden brown!

Make sure you serve while hot; no one likes a re-warmed mushroom!

If you're looking for a little more mushroom in your stuffed shrooms (you addict!), try chopping up the stems and cooking them with the shrimp in the skillet.

Eric loved them so much he couldn't even tell me because his mouth was continuously full. Rachael loved them too, but suggested I go lighter on the cloves next time. The amounts/types of spices are up to you; thankfully the recipe is super versatile and allows for tons of customization. What do you think? Any thoughts/tips/changes you would make?

Shrimp Stuffed Mushrooms; that's what was on our Table for Two (three!) on Tuesday!

Bang for your buck

After we were first married and I was I trying to create healthy meals for Eric and I, one thing became incredibly clear: healthy food, unlike it's overly-processed lifespan-shortening counterpart (otherwise known as Twinkies...), is EXPENSIVE! Now really America, we want our people healthy, even the first-lady is on a health mission, but we charge $5.00 for a head of cauliflower but you can buy Lay's potato chips 3/$1.00 on Super Bowl Sunday. I firmly believe in a grocery budget (I am a teacher, enough said), but I also firmly believe in living past 40. Hence my dilemma...

Enter the salvation of the fruit and veggie world (no offense to Jesus)... Bountiful Baskets. The most excellent food co-op in the WORLD (i.e. the western USA). Now, when I discovered BB, I was hesitant at first... Food Co-op, I thought? I think you have to live in Portland, wear Birkenstocks, drive a Subaru station-wagon and be one of those, Produce-So-Much-Energy-From-The-Solar-Panels-On-Your-Roof-That-Oregon-Buys-It-Back-From-You kind of people, to be involved in a food co-op... But, I decided to check out the website anyway.

WARNING: For those who are novices at internet surfing, give yourself at least 30 minutes to figure the BB website out on your first try. Or recruit an internet surfing expert (i.e. any 13 year old who you see texting and walking). Even though the program is EXCELLENT, the website is.... horrid, to put it nicely.

Here's the jist: There are people in your area (If you live in WA, OR, CA, ID, UT, or AZ) who are volunteers, and weekly purchase produce in bulk and then sell it for cost to people who sign up for the co-op (that's you!). You have the opportunity to buy produce on a weekly basis-you don't have to buy every week or set up a schedule, just buy on the weeks you choose (i do every other week, sometimes every 3 weeks). It's produce on your schedule- really this is the netflix of produce, if you think about it... For those who live in the areas they serve, they provide a list of pick up sites that you can browse. Find the one nearest your home (usually a park), and sign up. You MUST, (I repeat) MUST pick up your produce on the date/time listed for your pickup site (usually at some horrible hour on a Saturday morning - 7AMish), or it will be donated to a local fire house. You have the option of signing up every Tuesday and Wednesday for a Saturday pick up (see the site's FAQ page for more info), and what you get will amaze you!

You must bring your own container in which to take home your food (like a laundry basket), to your pick up location at the listed time, and you will receive a TON of fresh/delicious produce! You will get 1/2 fruit and 1/2 veggies and a whole lot of nutrition in one big basket! I was skeptical at first regarding the amount of food I would get for the price (basic basket runs $15, certified organic basket is $25), but I was a believer after my first pick up. I received the following in my basket, on my first week:

1 head of cabbage
12 red Russet potatoes
1 head of fennel (I KNOW! Amazing!)
1 head of red-leaf lettuce
1 head of romaine lettuce
1 small crate of grape tomatoes
6 yellow squash
10 (YES, 10!) zucchini stalks
1 bunch of celery
10 apples (Pink Ladies, my FAVE!)
1 bunch of 8 bananas
3 avocados
1 pineapple
2 small crates of blueberries (it just keeps getting better!)
4 pears
And... 3 cartons of strawberries!

And I repeat: ALL FOR $15!!!! Despite the fact that I despised myself a little for being up so early in the morning and not yet retirement age, I found myself thinking on the way home from my first pick-up... Alert the media! Call everyone! Shout it from the roof-tops.... I FOUND CHEAP, HEALTHY FOOD!

The reality is that many, many people were there that morning... all sleepy-eyed and droopy-faced (clearly the honeymoon phase of cheap produce has worn off for them...). BB is clearly no secret, but how do so, so, so many people not know about this service? Hence this post (since this brand new blog must reach so many, haha!).

Now that you are incredibly stoked about BB and you feel the warm happy feeling of bargain-finding/healthy-eating all rolled into one starting to rush over you... here are a few things you should know/tips for using BB.

1. I said it before, but the website SUCKS. Give yourself a while to figure it out - visit the FAQ page... a few times

2. Know that they generally offer additional options to their weekly baskets. These range from a 5 loaf pack of bread, to a Mexican meal pack (think jalapenos, cumin, etc.), to an entire flat (yes! a FLAT) of seasonal fruits. These options are extra, but extremely economical, and will change from week to week. It's a nice little surprise.

3. You don't choose what comes in your basket. What you get is what you get, but it has some perks... you will learn (because you have to) how to fix all kinds of obscure foods in different ways.

4. If, for some reason, you are unable to pick up your produce, it will be donated to the local firehouse. In other words: Be there or be square... and nobody likes a square.

5. Volunteer! The co-ops are run by people just like you, so they ask that you give an hour of service (usually directly before pick up time) every once in a while to say "thanks!"

6. Buy a bigger freezer. No, seriously. These veggies/fruits are an incredible bargain, but unless you are a veritable bottomless-pit, or your last name is Duggar, you will never (I repeat, NEVER) be able to finish them all before they spoil. Get creative... make apple preserves, boil your Swiss chard (Yes! Swiss Chard, hallelujah!) and freeze it as a spinach-substitute for later recipes. Bottom line, clear out the fridge/freezer and prepare for overwhelming awesomeness in veggie form.

7. Don't see a co-op in your area? Start one! Anyone can - just email Sally and Tanya (the founders) and they'll get ya all set up.

I have found that since becoming a convert to the BB religion (joking... kind of...), all I ever buy at the store is chicken, ground turkey, fish, quinoa (look out for a future post!), and brown rice. Unless I go to Costco (another future post coming!), which mandates spending at least $100 before leaving, churro-in-hand. Needless to say, BB and planning all meals in advance (another future post!), has cut my healthy grocery budget in HALF. Thank God, because it was getting outrageous (i.e. I could buy a lot, Lot, LOT of BCBG/JCrew clothing for myself... and for everyone else on earth).

And finally, what you've all been waiting for... the website!! *insert angels singing here*

Check it out (when you have a free 1/2 hour), and let me know what you think! All silliness aside, I hope it changes your life like it has mine. In a world where we are bombarded by garbage in every arena (terrible television, terrible food, terrible food being advertised terribly on television...), it was a little slice of purity for me.

And that's what's on our Table for Two today!

My First!

I have never before been interested in blogging. Those who know me will attest to the fact that I am the person who still types with only 5 of her 10 fingers (that's right, ladies and gentlemen...). As if that wasn't enough to discourage me from blogging, I had the unfortunate/fortunate experience of being forced to write over 200 essays in my high school career, and consequently... I. Hate. Writing. However, I find myself in a sort of dilemma. I have found myself developing a deep love of food-and my thought surrounding it. I'm not going to hide anything... I have little, if not NO ability to write creatively. And maybe this is more for my own use to document my recipes, successes, and failures alike.

Whatever the case may be, I am making the effort. I will do my very best to document everything that passes through my kitchen, and ends up in our bellies! =)
I am excited to see where the blog goes and I can't wait to log the recipes that graced our kitchen during this last week!