Saturday, March 29, 2008

#9: Weekly Dinner

My most recent weeknight dinner was Giada's Italian Baked Chicken & Pastina. I've come to realize that I can pretty much do no wrong in DH's eyes with a Giada recipe, haha! Thankfully, her recipes that I've chosen so far have been both delicious and easy.

I did make a few minor changes to the recipe (in italics), and I also doubled it and froze half. That's my biggest time saver when I make casseroles or similar dishes--takes a tiny bit longer when I'm cooking it for the first time, but save a lot of time when I'm able to just stick it in the oven straight from the freezer another night. As usual, I steamed some frozen veggies (peas in individual servings from Bird's Eye) for our side.

Italian Baked Chicken & Pastina
(Giada De Laurentiis)
(photo courtesy
1 cup pastina pasta (or any small pasta) (I used mini-penne, since that's what I had)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup cubed chicken breast (1-inch cubes) (I used about a half pound of cubed chicken breast)
1/2 cup diced onion (about 1/2 a small onion)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (I used fresh basil, because I love it)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (I left this out, and added 1/4 teaspoon extra pepper)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup bread crumbs (I used italian bread crumbs, since I had those)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon butter, plus more for buttering the baking dish

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until just tender, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Drain pasta into a large mixing bowl. (I went ahead and added the tomatoes at this point so the pasta wouldn't become a big sticky lump.)

Meanwhile, put the olive oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook for 3 minutes. Add the onions and garlic, stirring to combine, and cook until the onions are soft and the chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes more. Put the chicken mixture into the bowl with the cooked pasta. Add the canned tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, parsley, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. Place the mixture in a buttered 8 by 8 by 2-inch baking dish.

In a small bowl mix together the bread crumbs and the Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle over the top of the pasta mixture. Dot the top with small bits of butter. Bake until the top is golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Win an iTouch?!

Confession: I am addicted to cooking blogs. I like to look at the pictures, I like to drool over the recipes, and I even occasionally make a recipe from one of them. Sadly, the amount of time I spend looking at them doesn't translate directly into my culinarly expertise!

Maybe my secret obsession will pay off another way--Cooking by the Seat of My Pants is giving away a free iTouch! Find all the details here, and tell all your friends. Even if you don't win the iTouch, at least you'll be able to enjoy a great blog.

Monday, March 24, 2008

#64: Visit Churches

I grew up going to St. Theresa's Catholic Church in Austin, although my attendance started to lag in high school and dropped off almost completely in college--apart from holidays when I'd attend with my family. I've still considered myself Catholic, though, and have been wanting to start going back to church regularly, especially since K and I got married.

Living in Round Rock, the closest church to our house (literally about 10 minutes away) is St. William's. Just before Christmas, I decided to try it out, but ended up at their old church in an empty parking lot minutes before mass was scheduled to begin. Whoops! I knew they had built a new church, I just thought I'd googled the correct new address.

This past weekend, I knew my dad was singing in the choir at St.. Theresa's Saturday night mass, so we didn't make plans to attend there on Sunday. K suggested we give St. William's another try. Naturally, we were running a little later than planned. One of the things I liked about St. William's is a mass scheduled a little later on Sunday mornings, at 11:30. The later time should give us plenty of time to have a little bit of a lazy Sunday morning but also get out the door to church. We arrived at the church pretty close to 11:30, and sure enough, there was a person standing at the driveway with a "Church Full" sign. Luckily, K remembered that they were having additional services at their Parish Hall. . .which I was all too familiar with from my December church search adventure. The old church now serves as the Parish Hall. We arrived there to a mostly empty room--we were now almost 30 minutes early for service. At least we were able to find seats! I was also pleased to see a lot of younger people in the congregation, and many young families with adorable little ones in their Easter outfits. The crowd seemed very similar to St. Theresa's, which I liked.

However. I noticed a few things during the service, and K did, too--we talked through our concerns afterwards and decided to give them another try next week, in case a non-holiday service feels more comfortable for us. In short, the Pastor was not exactly our style. When he opened the mass, he seemed very friendly and made a couple of humorous comments. But, his sermon was very long (30+ minutes) and seemed a little rambly and un-focused. I just couldn't relate to many of the things he was saying. Some of them were interesting to me, and I appreciated his thoughts, but I found my mind wandering more than once. K was irritated by the way he seemed to cut off the congregation in the prayers where the priest says something, the congregation responds, and the priest says something else. Before the congregation was finished, he was already beginning the next thing. (This didn't really bother me, but K thought it was disrespectful towards the congregation.)

But, something that bothered both of us were the comments he made just before communion began. He mentioned that communion was for Catholics only, but others were welcome to come up for a blessing with their arms folded. I have seen/heard this before in other churches, and I remembered seeing people (especially kids) go up for blessings when everyone else is taking communion. The priest went on to say that people taking communion should be prepared to receive it, so if they have not gone to confession in over a year, they should use the time to pray and settle their minds. I haven't been to confession in over a year (in fact, it's been many years), but I felt like I was prepared to receive it and was comfortable with my decision to do so. But the real kicker was the announcement that if people were not members of the church, and just guests, they were welcome to come up for a blessing, but should not take communion. I was totally surprised by this. I have never been a guest at a Catholic Church where I was told that I was not welcome to take communion. I thought I may have mis-heard, and in my confusion assumed that he was still talking about non-Catholic guests. So when time came for our row to stand, I stood. K remained seated and told me he wasn't going. I went, I took communion, and returned to my seat, feeling suddenly uncomfortable. K explained to me afterwards why he didn't take communion, and as we talked, I realized that my initial reaction was correct: as a non-member of that church, I was not welcome to take communion and should have abstained. I still don't understand why. I believe that if I am willing to request and accept communion, I should be allowed to receive it.

Apparently, K & I were spoiled by the churches we grew up attending. Both were very welcoming to all. At various times in our lives, we and our families enjoyed close relationships with our church leaders. We want to feel welcome, even if we aren't able to be there every Sunday. We are planning to give St. William's another try (or two), and I do hope it works out there. It's hard to be ready to renew our commitment to our church, find one seemingly so convenient and close, only to feel discouraged that it didn't work out right away.

Friday, March 21, 2008

#33 Weight Loss

As part of my weight loss goal, I thought keeping weekly track on my progress here on the ol' blog would be helpful to keep me accountable and help me remember what's working and what isn't.

This Friday was my third weigh-in since I really started focusing on getting fitter, and I'm down two pounds. Last week, I maintained--I lost 1.5 pounds the first week. I'm no too disappointed by this week's showing; in fact, I thought I might've gained. Last weekend K and I were traveling to the Houston area for a wedding, so I knew my food intake wasn't likely to be very healthy. This week, K has had the flu, so we haven't worked out together. But, I did the core master on my own on Tuesday & Thursday, so I felt proud of myself for that.

Last week (when I maintained) was the week of Starbucks. I had a delicious tall non-fat no-water chai latte on Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday again. I don't need to be drinking all my calories! This week, I was trying to cut way back on that, and today (Friday) was my first Starbucks treat. I need to continue to keep an eye on that.

I also need to watch my chip intake. If I get a sandwich at lunch during work, my typical choice is a bag of cheddar harvest grain (or whatever they're called) and I have such a weakness for any chip K is snacking on. But now that I'm aware of it, I've been on about a two week break from chips and feel better for it.

Until next Friday, my goals are to work out at least 4 out of the 7 days. I will keep away from chips and try to avoid Starbucks completely. I hope to lose at least a pound this week.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

#31 Reading

I'm closer to the bottom of my new book pile than I thought; several of the "to be reads" are book club books I bought at Half Price Books during their last big sale. This week I had a couple of days off, so naturally I turned to books rather than laundry and other chores.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn was a quick read (I think it was about 200 pages), and a twist on the usual detective/mysetery story I usually enjoy. In the book, Camille is a Chicago journalist whose editor sends her back to her Missouri home town to look into two recents murders in case they are related and the editor can scoop larger papers with a serial killer story. Seemed contrived to me, but I'm no expert in newspaper journalism, so I went with it. But. . .a few other instances in the story something happened to move the plot along and I thought "Wait. . .what?? Would this actually really happen?" For example, perhaps I'm naive, but I don't believe that the main character would take drugs with her 13 year old half-sister, despite her own issues. Aside from those minor complaints, I thought the book was well written & very descriptive. I think that I just wasn't really in the mood for the subjects discussed. Often, if there's not a character in the story that I don't idenitify with--at least a little bit--I can't get into it, and that was definitely the case here. But, I do think the author intended for her readers to feel uncomfortable with the story. I just don't enjoy feeling uncomfortable when I'm reading for pleasure.

I'm not sure why I bought the book. I often add books to my amazon wishlist and forget about them. When I go to the book store, I print my list and take it with me, and usually don't think twice about buying something on the list. I must have been interested in it at one point, right? This book was very well reviewed, and there's a blurb on it from Stephen King, so that may be why I thought I'd like it more.

From Publisher's Weekly: (A review of the audiobook)
Flynn's debut novel focuses on an emotionally fragile young woman whose sanity is being severely tested by family dysfunction, smalltown incivility and murder. It is a mesmerizing psychological thriller that is also quite disturbing and, at times almost unbearably so. Camille Preaker, a novice reporter with a history of self-mutilation, is sent to her hometown in Missouri to cover the murder of one teenage girl and the disappearance of another. There, she must face a variety of monsters from the past and the present, including her aloof and patronizing mother, her obnoxiously precocious 13-year-old stepsister who dabbles in drugs, sex and humiliation, and an unknown serial killer whose mutilated victims bring back haunting memories. Lee's interpretation of mom enhances the character's detachment and airy state of denial to an infuriating degree. And her abrupt change of pace when Camille suddenly begins chanting the words carved on her body is hair-raising. But the voice Lee gives to the stepsister—tinged with a sarcastic, cynical and downright evil girly singsong—makes one's blood run cold.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

#31 Reading

I'm still working my way through my holiday book splurge, and this week finished Chasing the Devil's Tail by David Fulmer. This book falls under my favorite genre: historical mystery. Books like this make me feel like I'm learning while still having fun--whether the story is historically accurate isn't as important to me. I like to research parts of the story that peak my interest, and this book had a lot of those.

The story takes place at the turn of the century in New Orleans, and the main character is a former policeman/private detective. Prostitutes at several different bordellos are being murdered, and the detective is called in to investigate. A few of the characters are jazz musicians, and the so-called "Father of Jazz" is the main suspect. There were several twists, and I was surprised at how well all the loose ends were tied up. I'm looking forward to reading Fulmer's next book.

Reading about New Orleans also made me nostalgic for the city, even though the New Orleans in the book is very different from present-day. I've only visited once; it was the first trip I took after college with a group of girlfriends I grew up with. We began our yearly girl trip tradition in New Orleans, years before Hurricane Katrina, and I have such fun memories there. During the day, we'd walk and shop and chat around the French Quarter and surrounding areas. At night, we sampled the nightlife and a spooky ghost tour. The five of us shared a huge hotel room in the French Quarter--it had one big bed on the main level, and spiral stairs up to a little loft with 2 more beds. It was so hot up in that loft, but we had such a blast being crammed in together. I almost don't want to go back to New Orleans now, because I know how much it has changed since the storm. I do think I'd like to go back with K some time--he made a couple of college trips to the Big Easy, but we've never been together.

Anyway, I have no idea how this book made it on to my list--I think amazon recommended it to me based on me liking The Alienist by Caleb Carr. I read that book several years ago, but still remember how much I enjoyed it.

From Publisher's Weekly:
Storyville, New Orleans, the most historic red-light district in the United States, where the music of Jelly Roll Morton and "King" Buddy Bolden is ushering in the jazz age, provides the stage for this riveting and provocative debut mystery of sex, alcohol, drugs, insanity and murder. When two prostitutes are found murdered and marked with a black rose, Tom Anderson, political boss and the "King of Storyville," calls in Creole detective Valentin St. Cyr. While the death toll mounts, St. Cyr doesn't want to believe that all indications point to his childhood friend, Buddy Bolden. Bolden, who has risen to fame with the "jass" music of his horn, has become more than erratic in his behavior. As St. Cyr watches his friend self-destruct, he wonders if Buddy is indeed the killer. The author vividly describes early 20th-century New Orleans, from the large and elegant houses of the madams to the infested rooms of the crib girls that reflect the distinct and rigid caste system of the day. After a frustrating investigation, the pieces of the puzzle come together in a surprising and satisfying conclusion. Fulmer's use of historical figures such as Tom Anderson, Buddy Bolden, piano player Ferdinand LeMenthe (who would later be known as Jelly Roll Morton), E.J. Bellocq, the photographer of New Orleans whores, and the famous madam Lulu White authenticate an already believable and spellbinding story, which will echo in the reader's mind like the mournful notes of good blues.

Monday, March 3, 2008

#9: Weeknight Dinner

Last week was bacon week, so I cooked up BLTs for dinner. It's funny; the monthly bacon delivery comes with a recipe, but I've never used the recipe. In fact, I've only made BLTs or breakfast for dinner (eggs or omlette w/ bacon on the side) with our Bacon of the Month. I know DH really likes to eat the bacon in a way that maximizes the particular bacon flavor (for him this means not a lot of other ingredients), but we usually eat two meals with the BOM. I've been collecting the recipes, though, so maybe I'll start using one of them for one of our two bacon-based monthly meals.

Since I'm talking about bacon, I wanted to share one of my new favorite recipes. K & I had dinner a couple of weeks ago with a small group of my life-long friends and their husbands, and I drew the appetizer card. I always stick to vegetarian appetizer recipes for my book club (or take a dessert), so I took this chance to make something with meat. Everyone loved the Bacon & Tomato Cups I made. (recipe from I made them a little bit different from the online recipe, and have been thinking about other ways to kick them up a notch. Here's the way I made them for this past weekend's extended family GTG:

Bacon & Tomato Cups

8 slices bacon
1 tomato, chopped (I used roma, since I had that on hand)
1/2 cup sweet onion, chopped
3 ounces shredded cheddar cheese (I don't like swiss, which the recipe calls for)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon dried basil (I used fresh, because I love it)
1 (16 ounce) can refrigerated buttermilk biscuit dough

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a mini muffin pan.

In a skillet over medium heat, cook bacon until evenly brown. Drain on paper towels. Crumble bacon into a medium mixing bowl, and mix with tomato, onion, cheese, mayonnaise and basil. (I sauted the onions very briefly--about a minute--in the bacon pan, because I don't like a lot of onion flavor. I patted them dry & added them as directed.)

Separate biscuits into halves horizontally. Place each half into cups of the prepared mini muffin pan. Fill each biscuit half with the bacon mixture.

Bake for 10 - 12 minutes in the preheated oven, or until golden brown.