Middle Eastern Ful Mudammas With Tomatoes

This is one of my favorite ways to make and eat ful mudammas, a popular dish in the Middle East, most often eaten for breakfast, but enjoyed for other meals and snacks as well. If I eat ful mudammas, I'll be "full" most of the day.  It's also commonly spelled as "foul" but pronounced like "fool." The odd spelling variants are due to transliteration from Arabic to English. Mudammas may also be spelled mudamas, medammas, medamas, medames, and so on.

Ful mudammas are small fava beans that are typically smashed lightly as they cook, or even smashed into a puree much like refried beans.  In this recipe, the beans are not smashed at all, they are simmered down and left whole and intact.

Stove Top
Skillet or Sauce Pan
20-30 Minutes

1 Can Ful Mudammas, Undrained
1 Tomato
1/4 Lemon, Juice Only
Options: Garlic Powder, Cumin, Red Pepper
Olive Oil

  • Dice tomatoes and saute lightly in a pan with a small amount of hot cooking oil.

  • Season lightly with salt and pepper. Not too much salt, as there will be some in the can of beans.
  • Cook the tomatoes until they are soft and starting to turn almost to a paste.
  • Add the can of ful, undrained, and simmer for 10 to 20 minutes until the can juices and tomatoes have cooked down into a thick gravy and are no longer soupy. The ful, which are slightly tough in the can, will not have softened nicely.
  • Add your choice of spices, which are commonly either garlic, cumin or red pepper, or some combination of those. I usually use just garlic. 
  • Remove from heat and squeeze the lemon juice over the beans and stir to combine.
  • Place in a shallow serving dish or deep plate and top with a nice amount of good quality extra virgin olive oil.
Cook tomatoes until soft and thick.
After adding the beans, it will be very soupy.
Cook until the juice  is like a thick sauce or gravy.

With large pita, onions, lemon, cucumber slices and chai.
1. Serve with pita bread or flat bread. Ful is typically eaten with the bread as the utensil, by tearing off small pieces of bread and pinching the beans with the bread between the fingers.
2. Raw, sliced onions are a nice complement to the beans. They also go nicely with lemon wedges, cucumber slices, tomato slices and lemon wedges.

Ramadan Placemats

Ramadan Placemats 
I made these placemats to use for Iftar (breaking fast) during Ramadan and Eid. I used a pattern called "Bethlehem Placemat" from the pattern book "Art to Heart, Star of Wonder" by Nancy Halverson, which was a gift from my mom.
Set of 4 Placemats 
For the placemat, I followed her pattern with the exception of replacing the large star with a crescent moon and star that I designed myself.  I think the original star on its own would have worked as well, and I considered doing that, but ultimately decided to make them a little more distinctly Ramadan, as there are so few good designs for us to use for holiday decorating, while Christmas items are in abundance.
Right side close-up with crescent moon and star. 

This was my first time doing a major applique project. Before this project I'd only done simple applique designs on children's clothes. This pattern was easy to follow, but I made some slight adjustments on size, as I wanted my placemats to be a bit larger than those in the book, but it was easy to adapt laying out the pattern pieces to the new size.

Left side close-up of buildings. 
I didn't quilt the placemats, I only turned and top stitched them. I plan to make an additional set of four, which will give me eight place settings, and this time I'm going to do some free-motion quilting around the background sky, as well as go back and quilt the first set. That is what planned to do originally, but changed my mind at the last minute.

Bethlehem Placemat Pattern from Star of Wonder pattern book.
Background and backing fabric.
Small pieces of decorative fabric for applique.
Thread to match background fabric.
Thread for applique in coordinating or contrasting color.
Heat N Bond Iron-On Fusible Interfacing
Quilt Batting

Basic Instructions: Full instructions are included with the pattern. Here is a summary of the steps required to complete this project.

  • Trace the pattern pieces onto Heat N Bond or other iron-on fusible interfacing.
  • Iron on to the wrong side of the fabric.
  • Peel off backing and lay out pattern pieces on the right side of the background fabric.
  • Iron on the pieces, overlapping and layering as indicated on the pattern.
  • After ironing on the appliques, pin the background fabric, right side up, onto the quilt filling.
  • Machine quilt around all of the applique pieces. I used a blanket stitch around most of the pieces, and a straight stitch around the small pieces such as windows and doors. Use coordinating or contrasting thread.
  • Remove pins, and place the right side of the backing fabric to the right side of the now appliqued piece of fabric with batting.
  • Sew around the four placemat edges with indicated seam allowance and matching thread, leaving a small seam opening to turn inside-out.
  • Clip corners and turn inside out. Top stitch with matching thread, closing up the opening. 
  • Blind stitch the opening by hand if it is not caught in the topstitching.
  • Maching or hand quilt the background around the appliqued portions.

Nine Things I'd Do On A Perfect Day

10 Day Blog Challenge - Day 2 - Nine Things I'd Do On A Perfect Day

Nine things I'd do on a perfect day. It would be so easy to say things like, have a late morning snuggle in the bed with the whole family, a big breakfast, spending time with my honey and kids, and so on, but those all sound so typical and a bit trite.

So after giving this a bit of thought, I decided to make a list of nine places I'd like to go on a perfect day, though I'm going to play around with it, and just for the sake of this exercise, pretend that geography is not a factor. I'm also going to pretend that even if they were all close together, there would be time enough in the day to do all of them.

Of course, that means I could choose any nine places in the world, but I limited it to places that are within a few hours of each other in neighboring states where I've lived, and doing things I've actually done before and enjoyed. Oh, and I also have to pretend that money is no object and I could afford it all.

We could really call this nine places I'd go on a perfect day. Any of these on their own would make a great "One Tank Trip."

1. Breakfast at Big Boppers in Marblehead, Ohio, on Lake Erie. I'd get some homemade cinnamon French Toast (made with fresh, round cinnamon bread from the bakery down the street) and two or three cups of Douwe Egberts coffee.

2. Take a ferry over to Put In Bay, South Bass Island in Lake Erie, then rent a golf cart and tool around the island for a while.
3. Go shopping at Planktown Country Store in Shiloh, Ohio. A bulk foods store that is actually run by Mennonites, but affectionately referred to as "The Amish Store." This is close to my hometown in North Central Ohio, where there is a large community of Amish and Mennonite.
4. Stop down the road at Country Fabrics in Shiloh. A huge fabric shop in a barn with a pole barn addition out in the middle of the country. Yet they have designer fabrics and carry Moda, including charm packs and jelly rolls.
5. Head down to Mohican State Forest in Loudonville, Ohio, and hike to the Big Lyon Falls.
6. Once back in Michigan, I'd head to the Pinckney State Recreation Area near Hell, and take a boat ride around the several lakes.

7. In Northville, Michigan I'd stroll around downtown and hit the upscale resale stores for kids, the baby boutique/educational toy store, the historic Mill Race Village, and stop for lunch at a sidewalk cafe.
8. Then I'd head west to Holland, Michigan to see the tulips. Preferably during the tulip festival.
9. Lastly, I'd head to downtown Chicago for a romantic dinner at the Signature Room at the 95th in the Hancock Building.


10 Songs I'm Listening To Right Now

10 Day Blog Challenge - Day One - 10 Songs I'm Listening To Right Now

1. "Someone Like You" - Adele
2. "Rolling In the Deep" - Adele
3. "Fields of Gold" - Eva Cassidy
4. "Three Little Birds" - Bob Marley
5. "Amazing", - Janelle
6. "Lights" - Journey/Cover by Infinity, Live
7. "Don't Stop Believing" - Journey
8. "A Land Called  Paradise" - Kareem Salama
9. "A-R-A-B: The Rap" - GoRemy
10. "Just Like A Rock Star" - Fresh Beat Band

This is actually my play list from Saturday. It started with my favorite of the past several months, "Someone Like You" by Adele. I love her, and this is also the last song I heard before delivering my last baby, Noah, and it's still set on repeat several months later. Rosie also loves to get up on the step-stool and sing into a broom handle as it plays.

Then I went on to another by Adele, "Rolling In The Deep," which caused hubby to ask, "Hey, do you have any 'Eva' on there?"  That is, Eva Cassidy, who is one of his favorite singers, so I played him Fields of Gold, a Sting cover. This version is one of "our songs."

That prompted Rosie to make a request for one of our "morning songs" (we have several), so we chose Three Little Birds by Bob Marley. We also listened to another song called Amazing by Janelle, that is one of "her" songs because I used it as the background of a video montage I made with some of her baby pictures.  It's a beautiful song by a Christian singer about the birth of a child.
We need this book. Cuz every little thing is gonna be alright!
Later in the day I was talking to my friend Winona who was booking bands for her bar, and we began to reminisce about bands we used to follow back in the day, and the fact that our Rock Gods are now turning 50! Which made me want to watch a video of one of my fave bands in the world, Infinity, that I used to follow for years in the Chicago area. All these years later they're still playing out, only with some changes in the members. So I watched them perform a cover of Journey's "Lights."  Of course, that only made me have to go on to "Just a small town girl..." you all can finish this part :)

Another song I listened to, well, I actually watched the video on YouTube, was for a song by Kareem Salama named A Land Called Paradise. Kareem Salama is a country music singer born and raised in Oklahoma, who is of Egyptian heritage and a Muslim. This is one of my favorite videos:

Grand Prize Winner of the 2007 One Nation Film Contest.
In December 2007, over 2,000 American Muslims were asked what they would wish to say to the rest of the world. This is what they said. A music video for Kareem Salama's "A Land Called Paradise."

This video tends to make me a little teary-eyed, so to lighten up the mood a little bit, I played some comedy videos by the very talented Arab-American comedian Remy, also known as GoRemy. 

In the meantime, I listened to the Fresh Beat Band commercial for the song "Just Like A Rock Star" for the umteenth time. Children's music is infectious. I barely listen to any new releases anymore of "my" music, because I'm so busy listening to kid songs. I really, really, really dislike the Fresh Beat Band. Really. I won't let my kid watch the show because I find them so lame and annoying, but then they're on the commercials on Nick, and their damned songs are always getting stuck in my had anyway.


My Kitchen Nightmares - The Sink

No, not with Gordon Elliot revamping a restaurant suffering from an outdated menu, shabby decor and management resistant to change, but the kind of nightmare I face in my own kitchen every day. With only slightly less cussing.

I have a 'vintage' kitchen. That's how real estate agents say that the kitchen in my house didn't get updated at some point in the past five decades like every other kitchen in my neighborhood. That's how I delude myself that it's quaint and kitschy instead of inefficient and difficult to clean.

I have a love/hate relationship with my kitchen sink. I love that it's a double sink that's deep and wide, deep enough that I can completely submerge a dutch oven to soak and wash, but I hate that the finish is so damaged that it always looks stained and dirty.

 Most of these stains are caused by tea, so even if they weren't so porous, the tea would still stain, I've had that in the past with other sinks, but the difference is in the cleaning.  My other sinks would clean up easily by a quick scrubbing with scouring powder, but that just doesn't work with these sinks. It seems like no matter how much I let it soak, and how much elbow grease I use, it just doesn't penetrate into all the cracks and pores, so I just fill them up with hot water and bleach and let them soak for a few minutes. It's not really that hard, it doesn't take too much work, no scrubbing, just pouring bleach and filling, then letting them sit while I go do something else.  The problem is just trying to keep up with it every few days or so, or else it just looks terrible, and starts to look bad again just hours after I bleach it.

I also use this time to put other things in that need to be cleaned or bleached, from coffee cups to kid's toys.

Today it was tableware:

Then utensils and the Pampered Chef utensil merry-go-round: 

And finally, it's relatively stain free, if only for a little while:

I've been thinking about refinishing them, either DIY or professionally, as a temporary fix until a distant ktichen remodel, but both options seem to have mixed reviews, so I'm not sure if I might end up with a worse problem than I started out with.

When Bad Things Happen To Good Kitchens

 While cleaning the kitchen today, I happened upon a couple of interesting finds. The first was this clementine in a jar:

I've been saving glass jars for future crafts and projects.  I'd put a few into a bag and set them aside beneath the work table until I took them down to the basement to store them. When I picked up the bag, there was only one jar, and inside was this clementine.

It looked pretty, and interesting, but I didn't put it there. I was pretty sure this was the work of Rosie.

When I opened the jar, it let out a soft 'whoosh' -- it had been well sealed. It also let out a scent of mildew. I guess I thought it would smell like clementine. I was wrong.

It didn't look rotten at all. No visible mildew, no rotting, no weeping. No wrinkling or shriveling. It looked almost perfect, except for the smell.

I asked Rosie if she put it in the jar, and saw the hesitation and the lie forming on her face. She seemed at a loss for words, and since this was a pretty minor incident, I gave her a little help. I didn't want her to feel like she was in trouble, I was just interested in knowing what was going on in her mind.

So I asked her, "Were you doing an experiment or something?"  To which she replied, "No, I was just saving it. You said things last longer if we put them in jars."

Well, duh Mommy, you should have known!

Then there was this strangely squished water bottle  ? ? ?   I'm not sure who did this or why. Or why they felt the need to leave a squished up bottle 2/3 full of water under the work station. I didn't ask Rosie, because I have a feeling this was done by an adult male.

On to the dining room, and when I started to pick up this hat (a ladybug hat crocheted by my mom), I found the strings of this toy tied on to the side.  It's a little light up thing she got at the gift shop of the Hands On Museum in Ann Arbor a couple weeks ago. I have no idea why it's like this, and I didn't bother to ask.


Girl Scout Cookie Finder

It's Girl Scout Cookie Time! When I was a Girl Scout in the 1970's, we sold cookies door-to-door, and I'm so glad those days are over! Knowing what we know today, it seems so much safer!  I know many people ponder "what is wrong with the world these days" as if dangers to children are something new, but sadly, they're not.  We are just able to hear about them more easily in our newer technology based global lifestyles.  Luckily, we have for the most part learned from the past, and take better precautions with our children.

Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies
Gotta Have Thin Mints!
Image via Wikipedia
I really enjoy some of the new "Drive-Thru Cookie Stations" that have popped up in the past few years, at least in my area, I'm not sure if this is a national concept or not. In addition to setting up tables at stores, many troops now set up in the parking lot of a school or a community center, and stage it so that cars can drive into the parking lot, line up, then drive up to the tables to order and pay for their cookies. Yay! I've been in some lines that are so busy, the scouts make runs through the lines to take orders, deliver cookies and collect the money, something on the order of carhops. This method is convenient and much safer, and by the looks of it, very lucrative. It has to be much more effective than going door-to-door, or getting your parents to take your order forms to work.
COSI from across the Scioto River.
Image via Wikipedia

Growing up, Girl Scouts were a huge part of my life, starting as a Brownie when my mom and aunt were my troop leaders.  I participated in scouts on some level or another throughout school all the way until my senior year in high school.  I particularly loved going to big council meetings in the nearest large city, Columbus, Ohio, when we stayed at hotels downtown and got to choose the different seminars we took. Attending the big banquets and dances felt so grown up. I also enjoyed all the weekends that we volunteered at COSI, the Center of Science and Industry Museum. My favorite area to work in was always "The Streets of Yesteryear."  On those weekends, though, we usually slept in sleeping bags on the floors of community centers, school gymns and union halls, more on the order of a "Rally."

I'm really looking forward to Rosie starting Girl Scouts, and so is she. I'm also really looking forward to my yearly splurge on Thin Mints, there are no others that taste just quite the same.
Here is an online cookie locator. You can just pop in your zip code, and find all the locations in your area. Make sure to use the drop down menu to put in the mile radius that you'd like to search if you're not getting many results:


They've also released an app for the iPhone:

Girl Scout app finds nearest cookies in your neighborhood
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Boston Cream Fail

This may very well be the worst looking cake I've ever made in my life.  There are so many things that went wrong with it, it just seemed doomed.
I've been a sad, sad cake.
I used a yellow cake mix, and like I have many times before, I had planned to use it to make two standard Boston Cream Pies, by splitting them, filling with vanilla custard and topping with chocolate glaze.

I started out with everything going well, with my eggs at room temperature and everything ready to go, including Rosie's stool so she could help me.

Unfortunately, a number of things went wrong...

1. The cakes rose too much with super high domes. Probably from using cheap "disposable" aluminum pans (based on my research on what went wrong), but that's a whole 'nother story.

2. I used 9" pans instead of 8" pans, and my layers came out much thinner than I'd expected. Amazing how much difference in layers that little 1" in pan size can make.

3. I decided to trim off the domes and make a four layer cake with thin layers, but after trimming and splitting the first cake, it began to fall apart, so I decided to keep the second cake intact and make three layers with a curved top, nice and pretty for the glaze to drip off...

4. When filling the cake, the layers started falling apart, and I had to piece the middle layer back together, mushing into the pudding as I went, and even after getting it stacked, had pieces crumbling off the edge.  This may have been due to the over rising. Oh well, I put it in the refrigerator to chill.

5. I tried a new recipe for glaze, as I needed something simple made out of cocoa powder, as I didn't have any chocolate chips or baking chocolate as called for in many recipes. The glaze I made was good, but the directions said to pour over the cake while still warm. I did, but it slid right off and made a big moat on the plate around the edge.

6. So I chilled it again, and then grabbed a spoon and scooped the glaze from around the edge of the plate back over the top of the cake and popped it back in the fridge.

7. Some time later that night, after I'd gone to sleep, hubby must have jostled it while it was in the refrigerator, and gotten the plate slightly tilted, because the next morning the cake looked like the Leaning Tower of Boston. It looked even when I put it in, but all that pudding and glaze really made it lean.

8. At some point during the next day, my five year old had gotten into the cake (I don't even remember her being in the kitchen on her own that long) and eaten all of the chocolate glaze off the top. After all the gooping it back on top, it had made a thick layer that peeled off like ganache, so luckily the whole cake wasn't gouged up. I made a quick  half batch of glaze and then poured that over to recover it.

And again...this is the sad result:
The Great Leaning Tower of Boston
This is what it looked like inside:

It looked a little better. Except for the broken up middle layer. And the reaaaalllly tall top layer. In fact, all the filling was down towards the bottom between two thin layers, and then that one thick layer without filling. But that was OK, it had chocolate :)

All in all, though, despite how it looked, it tasted delicious. Really delicious. So I guess the big, take-home lesson here is that it doesn't have to look good to taste good. Or pretty is as pretty does.

Oh, and yes, that's my sofa in the background. Cuz I was eating my cake in the family room...isn't that where you eat yours?

Easy Homemade Beef or Chicken Italian Sausage

Spaghetti with meat sauce is one of my go-to meals in a hurry, made speedy by using prepared sauce in a jar. There are many good brands and varieties available. The thing is, I really like mine made with Italian Sausage instead of plain hamburger like many people use, but I don't eat pork, and it's difficult to find non-pork varieties at the store. 

Yes, there are some out there, as well as Boca Italian Sausage (expensive), but for one thing, I don't always know if they'll be available in a given store on a particular day, but for the other, my hubby only eats halal (kosher) meat, so I pretty much make most things like this myself when not available at the local halal meat markets and grocery stores. I just buy ground meat and season it myself at home.

I've found that what makes really good sausage is not the type of meat used as much as the amount of fat. You need a little bit of extra fat in the ground meat to get the same consistency and texture of traditional sausage, but if you're trying to eat healthier, you can use leaner meats. The flavors will still be there, thanks to the herbs, spices and resting time, but the texture will be a bit different.

Both ground beef and ground chicken have worked equally well for me, so I'm sure it would work with ground turkey, lamb, venison or other ground meats just as well. Some people have found success by blending different meats, but I haven't tried tkhat yet, though I sometimes think a blend of mostly chicken with just a little beef would give me the flavor and texture I'm looking for, as chicken on it's own seems a bit lacking in the flavor department.

I usually make this up just a pound at a time as I need it for recipes, but on occasion I've quadrupled the recipe, and then frozen it in 1 lb. packages. This is really helpful, but I'm not always that on track and working in advance! Plus, if I buy 4 lbs. of ground meat all at one time, I may plan for that to be made into four very differently flavored meals!

This recipe can be used in casings if you're daring, but I just use it as bulk meat to crumble and brown for adding to pasta recipes, or patty to fry and grill. You can also roll a portion of the meat into a sausage shape for grilling, and serving on a roll with peppers and onions for sausage sandwiches.

Most of the distinctive flavor in Italian Sausage comes from fennel seeds and red pepper flakes. If you're not familiar with fennel seeds, they are available in the spice section and look like this:

Easy Homemade Beef or Chicken Italian Sausage

1 lb. Ground Meat, Any Kind (Preferably not lean, but a little fatty)
1/4 - 1/2 tsp. Salt
1 Teaspoon (tsp.) Each:
~ Paprika
~ Garlic Powder
~ Fennel Seeds
1 Pinch Each:
~ Black Pepper
~ Red Pepper Flakes
~ Cayenne Pepper or Red Pepper
~1 tsp. Sugar for Sweet Italian Sausage
~ Extra Red Pepper Flakes for Spicy Italian Sausage


  • Let ground meat come to about room temperature for better mixing and flavoring. Add all the herbs and spices to the meat and mix until well combined. 
  • Cover and chill for several hours or, even better, overnight before using. You can use the spiced meat right away if you're in a hurry, but to get a really good sausage flavor and texture, it's best to let it chill for quite a while to let the flavors blend.


If My Grandma Blogged

. . . it would be kind of boring. When I read her journals for the first time a few years ago, I was surprised at her brevity. A typical day's entry might have read, "Washed 4 loads of laundry. Called Edna. Baked a cake." What made it so surprising was the fact that she had nine children, lived on a farm, and was a schoolteacher. Surely there must have been more exciting things to journalize.

My Grandma, in the 1950's.

I was reminded of a greeting card I once sent. The front cover depicted an older pioneer couple driving a covered wagon across the plains, and the caption said something like "Diary Entry #357." The inside read, "Ate again. It was good."

Listed in one of my Grandma's journal entries was this gem: "Took Bob to the emergency room." No further details, and we are left wondering what mysterious fate had befallen Bob. It's a good thing I knew the background story -- "The-Day-Your-Dad-Ran-Over-Uncle-Bob-With-The-Tractor" -- so I could place the entry in historical context.

One day in their early teens, my dad was driving the tractor when his older brother fell off. Since it was a freshly plowed field there were nice deep furrows of soft soil and luckily he fell into one, so that as the tractor rolled over him it didn't do any real damage. This story usually ends with the phrase, "Good thing there wasn't a 'disker' on there! An entry a few days later simply stated, "Bob's feeling better. His chest still hurts him some."

A couple weeks ago I had quite a busy day that started out in the morning with sewing a flannel blanket as a baby gift. My schedule had gotten a bit out of control over the course of the week, and  I was left with having to hurry up and sew it that morning so it would be ready for gift giving later that day. After I nursed my 5 month old baby,  I spread out my fabrics  to cut and pin as my husband cooked breakfast. I put the baby in the bouncer while I made the turned and top-stitched blanket. As we ate, I jostled the baby in one arm and placed the blanket and other presents into a gift bag in between bites. I handed the baby to hubby while I ran down to the basement and switched loads of laundry, then came back to play with the baby so he could get showered and dressed for the day.

After another hand-off, I was able to get myself ready to go, got the children dressed, nursed the baby again, then off we went to visit our friends and their newborn son. Afterward, hubby took a quick break to run us back home before he left to help his brother remodel his rental unit until late that night. I came in and put the baby down for a nap, then ran down to change the loads of laundry again. As I was putting the last couple items in the dryer, he woke u, so. I threw those items into the dryer, slammed the door shut, pressed the start button, and ran back upstairs to tend to the kids..

My day continued in this manner, doing one task here, another chore there; folding one shirt here, washing a sink full of dishes there – but leaving some dishes undone and a couple baskets of laundry unfolded.

Suddenly I realized it was late evening and that we hadn't eaten yet. I decided to make an Amy's Organic Pizza, and as I was heating up the oven and getting the pizza on the baking stone, I had one of my typical internal monologues:
"Hey, how do I know this is really organic anyway? Even if it is, there's no sense in feeling virtuous...it's still just processed food. Can anything mass-produced and sold in huge quantities at every grocery store really be organic? Hmmm, I need some meat on this, I think I'll cut up and add some Halal (Kosher) Smoked Turkey Breakfast Slices and put it on the pizza. HEY! How do I even know this is really halal? OK, so even if it weren't, and I bought it thinking it was, it wouldn't be my fault. But, dang it, if that's the case, it sure does suck going to a special market just for peace of mind. You know, I could really go for something sweet... ooooohh, I have an emergency box of brownie mix tucked away up in the cupboard, I could make those. No, no, you don't need them, and besides, those are for special PMS emergencies. But wait, the baby is almost six months old, and there haven't been any feminine cycle related emergencies yet, you may as well just go ahead and make them."
As I was having these random food thoughts, Winona, my best friend of over thirty-five years called, so I related all of the above to her. After our chat, we ate and I got the kids to sleep. As I finally sat down exhausted late Saturday night for some of my missed shows OnDemand, munching happily on my brownies, I realized something. I finally understood why my grandmother recorded things in her journal the way she did. How can you possibly record all the minutia of daily life, and even if you could, who really cares anyway?

That's why, if my Grandma had been blogging about my day, the post would probably read:

"Sewed a blanket. Did some laundry. Talked to Winona. Baked brownies."

Diary Entry #357: Ate again. It was good.

Sauteed Swiss Chard

One of my favorite vegetables, well even favorite foods, is Swiss Chard, and I frequently crave it. It's one of the healthiest vegetables you can eat, second only to spinach. This recipe has several other ingredients that make this a very healthy dish.

Chard is related to beet greens, and both should be boiled to release the oxalic acid. Rinsing the chard here and then steaming is enough to perform the chemical change necessary to reap the healthful benefits.

In the past, my understanding had been that the red stemmed chard was the variety known as "Swiss chard," and that the large, white stemmed variety was just "chard," however with more recent research I've learned that all varieties can be called "Swiss chard," originally to distinguish between this green and "French spinach."

Large Saute Pan
About 20 Minutes

2 Bunches Chard (Any Variety)
3-4 T. Olive Oil 4 Cloves Garlic, Large Dice
Pinch Red Pepper Flakes
1/2 Lemon Salt & Pepper

  • Heat the olive oil in a very large skillet over med. low heat and saute garlic until brown, and add a pinch of red pepper flakes. Rinse chard, cut off the large, tough, lower portion of the stems, then dice the leaves. 
  • Add to the pan and toss with the oil and garlic, raise the heat to med. high, then cover and let steam and collapse, tossing occasionally. You can serve the steamed chard immediately, or remove the lid and saute until it begins to brown a bit.
  • Season with salt & pepper, and squeeze the juice of half a lemon over. It turns the olive oil a great chartreuse green color.
Delicious on it's own, but I love to put it on top of brown rice.
Careful not to burn the garlic, it'll get bitter.

1. I usually use white chard, as that's what's typically available year round in my local grocery stores and produce markets, but in the summer, I can often pick up red or rainbow chard at the farmer's markets. Any will work.

2. Cut the chard into about 2 inch squares by stacking the leaves on top of each other, cutting lenthwise in several strips, then cutting cross-wise. As with cooking any leafy greens, it will initially seem like lots of chard, but will cook down quite a bit.

3. This may seem like quite a bit of garlic, but cooking slowly over a lower heat, it will mellow quite a bit like roasted garlic, and won't be too potent.

Braised Balsamic Chicken

Oven Braised, Crockpot or Stove Top:

Braised Balsamic Chicken

UPDATE 3/3/12:  I made this recipe again this week, and it was still just as easy and delicious! I've added some new pictures.

Tonight I tried a new recipe for oven braised Balsamic Chicken, that would work just as well in the Crockpot.  I developed this recipe by using a few other recipes as inspiration.  It's a little bit sour, a little bit sweet, and a little bit tangy.  It tastes a little bit like a dressed up barbecue chicken. Many of the elements of barbecue sauce are present: tomatoes, onions, vinegar, sugar and spice.  Kinda like a Southern vinegar barbecue chicken went on vacation in Italy, and came back with some new accessories.  With some fashion tips from her friend Swiss Steak.

I need a vacation.

The whole thing was demolished, with everyone having second helpings. The whole family enjoyed it, and it is definitely being added to the rotation.  We ate this with basmati rice which was delicious, as would be pasta, potatoes or polenta.

Oven 350
Dutch Oven
1 Hour

1 Chicken, Cut In Pieces
2-4 Onions
1 Can Stewed Tomatoes, Crushed
1/2 C. Balsamic Vinegar
2 T. Brown Sugar or Honey
3-4 T. Cooking Oil
Pinch Marjoram
Pinch Thyme
Pinch Basil
Garlic Powder

  • Rinse chicken and season as desired with salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprika. Rub lightly into chicken and set aside for about 30 minutes.
    Caramelizing the onions.
  • Caramelize the onions by slicing or dicing onions as desired. I like to "French cut" the onions. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and add a few tablespoons of oil. When the oil is hot, add the onions and sprinkle lightly with salt. I have recently learned this trick to help caramelize the onions, and found it really works. Cover the pan and let the onions sweat and begin to brown on the outside.
  • When the onions have started to brown, reduce the heat to medium low, cover, and continue to cook until the onions change color to golden brown, while stirring occasionally, then remove from pan and place in the bottom of a Dutch oven or Crockpot. Raise the temperature on the pan and add the chicken pieces to the oil remaining in the pan, and cook on both sides until lightly browned.
  • While the chicken is browning, lightly crush the stewed tomatoes as you add them to the onions and stir together. When the chicken has finished browning, place the pieces on top of the onion and tomato mixture.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and add the balsamic vinegar, 2 T. brown sugar, and a pinch each of marjoram, thyme and basil. Continue to cook for a couple minutes until sugar is dissolved, then pour over chicken.
  • Cover the chicken and bake at 350 for one hour. For the Crockpot, cook on high for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours or low for 5 to 6 hours. Remove chicken. Ladle the sauce onto a serving platter and top with chicken.

1. The quality of balsamic vinegar you use will influence the flavor of this dish.  A high quality vinegar will be thicker and sweeter - you may not need additional sweetener.  I used Pompeian Balsamic Vinegar, which is reasonably priced at regular grocery stores.
Fa caldo qui, o è perchè ci sei tu?

2. I like to use chicken pieces from a whole chicken. As the chicken cooks, the juices will mix with the vinegar and veggies to make a nice sauce. The bones add lots of flavor! If you decide to use boneless, skinless breasts instead, you should add about 1/2 C. of chicken broth to the sauce.

3. Seasoning the chicken while still wet from rinsing and then setting aside to rest gives chicken more flavor. This technique is known as "dry brining."

4. For this recipe, I don't actually cook the onions until they have fully caramelized like an onion jam, only until they are a nice golden brown all the way through, and nicely sweetened, but they should be more caramelized than just sauteed onions.

5. When using the Crockpot, it won't take the 3-4 hours on high that is suggested n many recipes, since it has already been partially cooked. The chicken pieces should stay intact, rather than falling off the bones. You don't want shredded chicken with bones in the sauce.

Saute the seasoned chicken until golden brown.

Place the chicken in the dutch oven over the onions and
 tomatoes. Pour the vinegar and herbs over all.

After baking at 350 for one hour.

Close-up of the onions and tomatoes on the serving platter.

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