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Friday, July 30, 2010

Gnocchi with Spinach, Ham and Gorgonzola {Cooks Illustrated Challenge}

I did not fully do my challenge of making two new recipes this month because of some things that were going on for our family.  I don’t know that I will “officially” do it in August either (you’ll see why in a few days).  But I did want to share one dish that I did make.

At the store one day a couple of months ago, I saw a special edition of Cook’s Illustrated that was entitled 30-Minute Suppers.  Being the busy working outside of the home mom that I am, the idea of fresh and quick suppers appealed to me.  So I picked it up and thought I’d give it a try.  Some of the ideas don’t look like a fit for our family, but some of them do.  Here’s one that we tried recently.

Gnocchi with Spinach, Ham and Gorgonzola


This was exciting for me because I had never worked with Gnocchi before.  My family had never even had the opportunity to try it before. 

What makes it a quick meal is using store purchased vacuum-packed gnocchi.  It cooks quickly and clearly is less time consuming than making your own gnocchi (which I totally want to do sometime).  You’re also using deli ham so you aren’t waiting for raw meat to cook.  We used Boar’s Head ham and got it sliced just slightly thicker than we usually do for sandwiches. 

This, as with many of the other recipes in this book feel a little more like food assembly than cooking with the simplicity of techniques and ingredients.  And yet, the complexity of the flavors and textures just in this one dish make it taste like you spent an hour in the kitchen.


1 pound vacuum-packed gnocchi
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 slices deli ham, cut into 1/4-inch strips
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
3/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 ounces baby spinach
salt and pepper
1/2 cup white wine or chicken stock (optional)

You will also need:

Large non-stick skillet
Large pot for boiling gnocchi


1.  In a dry non-stick skillet, lightly toast the pine nuts over medium-high heat; constantly shake the skillet to turn the pine nuts over so that they don’t burn.  Set pine nuts aside in a small bowl and keep the skillet out for use in a minute.

2.  Bring 4 quarts water to boil in a large pot.  Add 1 tablespoon salt and gnocchi to boiling water and cook until tender and floating, about 4 minutes.  Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, drain gnocchi and transfer gnocchi to paper towel-lined plate.

3.  Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Add gnocchi to skillet and cook until browned, about 4 minutes.

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Stir in ham and cook until it begins to brown, 2 to 4 minutes.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

100_8642 4.  Add reserved cooking water (or wine or chicken stock – I think I may have replaced 1/2 the water with white wine here), pine nuts, cheese and lemon juice to skillet and stir until cheese starts to melt and sauce becomes creamy.  100_8643Add spinach and stir just until wilted, 1 to 2 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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And that’s it. 


We liked this dish pretty well.  I was surprised, but my daughter particularly liked the pine nuts in it.  However, the Gorgonzola is a strong flavored cheese.  Clearly it is a major player in this dish and if you don’t like it, you really won’t enjoy eating this dish.  It may have been a little strong for my kids’ palettes so I think next time I will go with some Asiago which would still have the salty flavor but be a little milder.  Feta might also work here.  I also think it could have used a little more spinach.

The great thing about this dish (and any recipe for that matter) is that it gives me a starting point with a new ingredient like gnocchi.  There are a million different combinations that you could put together with the concept of this dish.  Use turkey or chicken instead of ham.  Add a different vegetable or use a different cheese. 

The key is to know what your family likes and will eat while encouraging them to try new things.  My family had not tried gnocchi before.  Nor had they experienced whole pine nuts in a dish.  And now, after trying something new, I know that I could fix something like this again and feel confident that they will enjoy it.

So go out there and try something new with your family.  You never know.  They just might LOVE it.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I’m donating my locks

I decided early in 2009 that I was going to grow my hair out to donate it to be used for wigs.  I figured that someone with as much hair as I have should do it at least once.

I had originally planned to donate it to Locks of Love.  Recently, however, I became aware of Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths program which provides wigs for women whereas Locks of Love is for children.  With the amount of gray hair that I have these days, I’ve pretty much decided to go the Beautiful Lengths route. 

However, since the Beautiful Lengths site says that donations should be no more than 5% gray, this may be my one and only donation.  Let’s face it, there’s no turning back the hands of time here.

So, when I made this decision, I talked to my hair stylist and she told me to count on about a two year commitment.  That was probably in April of last year; not even a year and a half ago. 

I went to see my stylist a few months ago and she said, “Okay, are you ready?”  I wasn’t.  So I went home and started surfing the internets and looking at pictures of what kind of style I might want.  The one I kept coming back to was a medium/short style of Rachael Ray’s.  Knowing how thick my hair is, though, I knew that it would not turn out exactly like hers. 

I gave it a couple of more months just to make sure I had plenty of length.  And then last week I made my appointment.

Today, my stylist cut about 12 inches off my hair.



She had to cut at it for several minutes before she was able to completely cut through the ponytail.  My hair is just that thick.  To give you a reference point, at the top of the ponytail, it is three inches in circumference.  That, my friends, is a lot of hair.


Then came what I believe is every woman’s favorite part of a hair cut… washing.  Here’s an in-process shot.


And even after cutting about a foot of hair off in a ponytail, you wouldn’t believe the amount of hair that she still cut off after that.  If only it could be used.  It filled up her little dustpan thingy completely.


So then we were done.  I even sprung for her to dry and style it for me… I never do that.  I’m always the one that’s headed home with a wet head to dry it myself because it just takes so dang long.


Before and after pictures:



And one final shot. 

100_9038If you have the ability to grow out and then cut off and donate your hair, I highly recommend it.  It’s not hard.  It’s not painful.  It’s just hair.  At least to most of us it’s just hair.  To someone suffering from cancer or another illness that causes hair loss, it’s a chance for just a little bit of normal in their life.  And personally I think they deserve a chance at just a little bit of normal.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Ringling Bros. Ticket Giveaway Winner

I have chosen a winner using My random number was 6. So that means.....

Our winner is Cheryl Banks!!

*cue confetti and noisemakers*


Your tickets will be at will-call on Wednesday!

Thanks to all of y'all that entered.

If you want to go ahead and purchase tickets, don't forget that you can get 4 weekday tickets for $44 or $4 off weekend tickets through www. by using the code MOM. See details in my previous post.

FYI - I hid your comments to try to protect you from any spam with your email addresses.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Ringling Bros. Ticket Giveaway

*********** Giveaway is now closed **************

You may have noticed that I don’t do a lot of giveaways on this blog. I’m very selective of companies that I will partner with and do publicity for. I will say, however, that I have been pleased both last year and this year to have the privilege of giving away tickets to the Ringling Bros. circus that comes to the D/FW area about this time every year.

Because really, life just sometimes needs the silliness of the circus.

As you can see, last year’s show was an absolute blast and this year’s show, “Zing Zang Zoom,” promises to be just as exciting.

Ring Bros Zing Zang Zoom 2 copy

So, here is what I am giving away:

Four tickets to the opening night performance on Wednesday, July 28th at 7:30 pm at the American Airlines Center in Dallas. The value of these tickets is $120.

To enter: Please post a single comment on this blog post that includes your name and an email address where you can be reached. ONLY comments on this blog post will be considered as entries (i.e. I won’t consider you as entered if you just leave a comment on my Facebook page).

Comments will be closed and no entries will be accepted after noon on Friday, July 23rd. I will select a winner using (or a really scientific method like pulling a name out of a hat) and will notify you promptly. Tickets for the lucky winner will be waiting for you at will-call on the night of the performance.

Extra entries: You may leave an additional comment for extra chances at winning the tickets for each of the following…

Now, since I only have 1 four pack of tickets to give away, I know that there will be at least one other disappointed person. So, I have also been given the opportunity to offer you a coupon code for you to purchase tickets for either the Dallas show at the American Airlines Center (July 28-August 8) or the Fort Worth show at the Fort Worth Convention Center (August 11-15). Here are the details:

Get a four-pack of weekday tickets for $44 or save $4 on weekend tickets. Purchase tickets online at and use code MOM under “Advance or Promotion Ticket Selection or mention the code when ordering by phone at 1-800-745-3000

Feel free to email me (see the contact tab above) if you have any questions.

Good luck y’all. And have a circus kind of a day.

(In a good way, of course. Not in the “this place is like a circus today” kind of way.)

Please note: The comments on this post are for the giveaway only. This is not the forum to bag on the circus. I normally don’t delete comments that disagree with me, but I will this time for the sake of the contest.

Award winning Mocha Madness Ice Cream

We had our annual ice cream social at the kids’ school Tuesday evening.  Some people make homemade ice cream which is judged and some awards are given.  Others bring Blue Bell.  Which do you think I did?

Of course, I made some. 

I made two in fact.

One of them even came home a winner.  And here it is.

Mocha Madness Ice Cream
from the King Arthur Flour website and blog


1 cup cold whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons espresso powder
2 tablespoons dark or Dutch-process cocoa powder (sifted to remove lumps)
2 cups cold heavy/whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 chocolate filled Oreo cookies, broken into small pieces

You will also need:

Stand mixer with whisk attachment or bowl and whisk
Ice cream freezer
Freezer safe plastic canister or container


Either with a stand mixer with whisk attachment or with a bowl and whisk in hand, mix together the milk, sugar, espresso powder and cocoa.  The sugar should be dissolved, the espresso powder should be fully incorporated and there may be just a little cocoa powder that is still floating on top.  Mix in the heavy cream and vanilla and whisk until a little frothy and everything is fully incorporated.

Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Once it has reached “soft serve” consistency, add in the Oreo pieces and allow to mix until evenly distributed.  Immediately transfer to a freezer safe container (I like to use a plastic canister) and freeze for a minimum of 2-3 hours or overnight.


Attend Mocha Madness Anonymous meeting.


Do you notice the lack of pictures?  Yeah… it didn’t last long enough for pictures to be taken.  There are some posted over on the King Arthur Flour site if you’re interested.  They also include some instructions for if you don’t have an ice cream maker.

Oh, yes, I did say that I made two didn’t I.  Well, the other was Orange Sherbet.  It was good, but I’m not completely satisfied with it and would like to tweak it a little before sharing the recipe.  Soon, though.  Very soon.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

15 Things to do when you go camping at Turner Falls, OK

Instead of taking a big huge vacation this year, we opted to instead stay closer to home and save some money. We didn’t want to do a “stay-cation” because we really felt like we needed to get out of town. So when we thought of where we could easily go from the DFW area to get away from it all, we thought of Turner Falls (near Davis, OK).

We took the kids to Lake Murray a couple of years ago because of a gift certificate that my parents gave us. We went in the fall and had a wonderful time that included a day trip to both Arbuckle Wilderness and Turner Falls. So as we discussed going camping with some friends for our vacation this year, Turner Falls immediately came to mind.

So, if you’re looking for a close to home (for DFW) getaway that is full of family fun and pretty inexpensive, look toward Turner Falls and look for these fun things to do.

1. Swim in the river. Just be sure to wear water shoes.


2. Visit The Toy and Action Figure Museum in Paul’s Valley. This place was a hoot. It was totally nostalgic for us adults and the kids had a great time

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I guess I’ve seen Toy Story and Night at the Museum a few too many times because we walked in and I immediately wondered what went on in there after closing and who was “in charge.” I finally decided that it had to be this life sized Yoda.


3. Climb up a hill away from some of the lights, lie down and just take in the view of all the stars. You’ll be glad you did.

(There is no picture that I could take that would possibly do the night sky justice.)

4. Make s’mores and Jiffy Pop over a campfire. (Disclaimer: the Jiffy Pop container said to NOT do it over an uneven heat source like a campfire… but we tried it anyways.)


5. FRIED PIES. ‘Nuff said.


Find these delicious fried pies at the corner of 77 and I-35 (north of Turner Falls).


6. Swim in the pool close to the falls and get close enough to feel the spray of the water from the falls hitting the water below.


7. Go crawdad fishin’.


Just bring some extra bacon for this endeavor.


8. Explore the Castle.

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9. Eat at The Cliff. We knew we wanted to go out to eat one evening but had no idea of where we would go. We happened to see a billboard for this place and passed by it on our way to Paul’s Valley. We stopped in to just check it out and I have to say, we were pleasantly surprised by what we found. It’s a little bit of refined civilization in a very unrefined place. We ate at a folding table on the terrace but had beautiful and delicious food.


10. Enjoy some shaved ice. This is some of the best shaved ice I have ever had and the Arbuckle Rock flavor really does rock.


11. Hike around and explore the rocks and caves.


12. Go down the slide and dive off the board at the Blue Hole Pool.


13. Enjoy a Turner Falls “spa” treatment like a mud bath.


14. Visit Arbuckle Wilderness. We didn’t do it this trip, but we have been before and Arbuckle Wilderness is definitely worth a visit if you have time.

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15. And please, for the love of all that is good, please rent a cabin if you’re going in July. Seriously. “Camping” as in sleeping outside in 90 degree heat (at11 pm) and 200% humidity with not a breeze to be had in the entire state of Oklahoma… well, it’s for the birds… and the raccoons.

Have you been to the Arbuckle Mountain/Turner Falls area of Oklahoma? What are your favorite things?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Adventures in Tee-Ball

Nathan got to play tee-ball (t-ball? tea-ball? How, exactly do you spell it?) this year.  100_8243100_8244

Isn’t he cute?

He was on a 3 & 4 year old league (through the YMCA) since he was, in fact, four when the season started.  But I do think he may have been one of the older kids on the team. 

At this age the point is to just get them used to hitting the ball and, when out in the field, gaining control of it.  There are no outs and you bat through the whole line-up each time you are up to bat (which is twice and sometimes it does take an entire hour just to play two full innings).

The first couple of games were pretty hilarious to watch.  After having seen one practice, we knew it would be chaos on the field.  We just didn’t know how much chaos there would be.


We fully anticipated the tears that would ensue from the little girl would would run from left field to try to field a ball that was hit toward first base. 

We fully anticipated the kids that would run the bases and include the pitcher’s mound as they went.  I mean really.  We can’t have the pitcher’s mound left out.

We fully anticipated a lot of dirt kicking and playing and not paying attention to the game.  And you know, we need to make sure those bases are completely cleaned off.


What we did not anticipate, though, was when the ball was hit many times in those early games, the entire team on the field would run after the ball along with the base runners from the other team who had just hit the ball. 

It was pretty stinkin’ hilarious.

In the beginning, we were thankful that he was playing with the “Y” since their season started after Sarah’s softball season ended and we didn’t have overlap.  But it wasn’t long before we wished we had picked a different league.

For one thing, starting so much later, it was swelteringly HOT out there.  Practice was at 5:30 pm, which around here can be the hottest part of the day.  And the season didn’t end until the end of June.  By the end of June around here’s it’s a good 98-100 degrees every day.  That’s just too hot.  Period.

Then there was the issue of just the make-up of the team itself along with the parents.  I tell you what, if you have kids, you know:  There is some really good people watching to be done at kids’ sports games. 

We had the head coach who had never coached a thing in her life nor had she had the opportunity to have her kid be on a team before to be able to experience a good kids’ coach.  She was super sweet, but had no idea what she was doing and didn’t seem to know how to teach children nor would she have been able to organize a platoon of marines.  She also didn’t seem to know that she needed to wear a tank top under her see-through mesh jersey so that her black bra didn’t show.  Just sayin’

But there was the awesome assistant coach who is incredibly handsome to boot.


And there was the assistant coach’s wife who was a complete control freak and seemed to just want to take the whole thing over. *eyes glancing back and forth*

(Seriously, Mike did his best as an assistant coach, but it was frustrating.  He didn’t want to take on a head coaching position because of the uncertainty of his work schedule, but we really kind of wish he had.)

There was the dad of the just turned 3 year old boy (youngest child on the team) who would get frustrated that the boy wasn’t paying attention.  Really?  He’s 3!

Then there was the older dad who really wanted to be cool but was just a little off kilter.  He wore this to practice at least a couple of times and in a couple of different colors…. meaning he had more than one.

IMG_0691 It may sear your retinas, but here’s a closer look.  

the shirt

There are two problems with this.  A) The 1980’s called and they want their mesh shirt back.  And 2) you just can’t wear a shirt like that to a kid’s sports practice and not raise some suspicions and eyebrows.  You just can’t.

And even though he said he said he wanted to help coach, he rarely did anything while on the field besides take pictures of his precious daughter.  (Notice the knee-pads.)


It was an entertaining season to say the very least.  But, my little man had a good time and at least got a little bit of exposure to how the game is played.   I’ll leave you with my favorite action shot of him…