Saturday, November 27, 2010

Hi-ho! hi-ho! It's off to work I go!

It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do.
--Jerome K. Jerome
 You know, I could get used to this not-going-to-work thing. My apartment is spotless and has stayed spotless for the first time in ages. I got all caught up on laundry. I tried two new recipes AND kept my kitchen clean. I went to three family events and brought delisciousness to each. I had a friend over and made her lunch . . . then played Donkey Kong Country (the oldschool super NES DK . . . Ooo ho I love it!).  I think all the cleaning even got the cats to stop making messes on the carpet (oh please! oh please! oh please!). I started my Christmas shopping. Golly, if I don't feel like the most efficient housewife since June Cleaver.
And, after this weekend, I'm afraid it all will end.
School starts back up, along with lesson-planning and parent-emails. I checked my in-box today and the stomach knots came back. Any time now, they'll begin again.
School vacation as a teacher is pretty much like school vacation as a student: it's beautiful, relaxing, energizing, and over waaaay too soon. The difference is that as a student, I wasn't worried about the pay-cut.

Today, I'm getting myself ready by updating my gradebook. And doing a self-evaluation survey. Is it just me, or does anyone else just HATE those?
"Tell us about your weakness."
If I do, you're not going to fire me, are you?
"Tell us about your strengths."
If I do . . . are you going to find me an arrogant jerk? Or hopeless?
"What can you do to improve?"
Aw, come on, I'm trying! I'm doing the work, man!
My comfort lies in the fact that my employers are awesome and want me to succeed. They've known me and my family for years and years, so they're cheering for me. I just hope I don't let any one down.
I wonder if I'd do better teaching an older grade--my passions are literature and history, the language arts. The discovery of the secret codes of words, the symbolism, discovering the human character and condition through a story. It's a treasure hunt! And I don't know if kids understand that, or if they can be shown that it's really fun and it's not rocket science. It's a thinking science, learning to look beyond appearance. But, if I am given first grade, I will do my best in first grade. Plus, the kiddos are so stinkin cute! I cannot tell you how many hugs and pictures covered in "I love Mrs. Bocchino" I receive. It's a wonderful thing! :]

Soon, I update on some of the "random" things going on around here . . . the Sushi/Sashimi night . . . the Christmas tree . . . the hair cut fiasco . . . the plague of cat puke . . . . the in-laws' flying squirrel . . . maybe all in one post. I dunno. We'll see if I survive the return to the classroom first. Dun-dun-DA-DUN!!!

Now, the question remains: Indiana Jones, Star Wars, or LOTR marathon? I can't do my gradebook in complete silence, you know ;]

What about you? How was your Thanksgiving? Did you go on vacation? OR how about your favorite old school video game?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Cream Cheese Rippled Pumpkin Bread

The mellow sweetness of pumpkin pie off a prison spoon is something you will never forget.
--Mitchell Burgess
It's funny . . . you grow up, and the cooking increases. By like a lot. Especially over fabulous family holidays like Thanksgiving. Oh gee and golly.

Before, holiday cooking was just clean-up duty after mom magically whipped up deliciousness with delightful ease.
Then some guy put a ring on my finger, and next thing I know I'm covered in flour, sugar, and unidentifiable stickiness. Oh, and there's no child to do clean-up duty. Instead, all I have are cats who want to get into the butter and a kitchen that looks like it survived a nuclear warhead. Yeah, no. Oh, and the best part? I have no idea what I'm making. Yup. It took me over a week to decide on what to cook for Thanksgiving.
Salad? Hm . . . No,  Mom will be bringing that . . .
Fruit dip?  . . . Nope, Chris's aunt always brings fruit dip . . .
Cupcakes? Julie has that covered . . . crap . . .
Green bean casserole? Aw crud, my aunt brings that . . .
Mashed taters? No . . . Chris's family doesn't usually do mashed taters for Thanksgiving (This was an alien concept to my poor sheltered little brain--I went into mild shock when I heard the news).

So what did I decide on? After all these days of bewilderment and googling?  Pumpkin bread. Yes, I know it doesn't sound exciting, but this not just any pumpkin bread, m'dears, oh no. Cream cheese rippled pumpkin bread. Um. Yum? If there was ever divine culinary matrimony, twas betwixt pumpkin bread and cream cheese, I kid you not.

Yes, I'm proud to say it was a hit. And it's pretty! I hardly ever make "pretty" food, but, golly, this was easy on the eyes and the tastebuds!


Cream Cheese Filling
  • 2 - 8 oz packages cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated white sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3 Tbsp all purpose flour
Pumpkin Bread
  • 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 heaping cup of granulated white sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 – 15 oz can pure pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup  water
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  1. For the Cream Cheese Filling:
    1. Beat the cream cheese just until smooth in a stand mixer or food processor. 
    2. Add the sugar and process just until smooth and creamy. 
    3. Add the eggs, one at a time, processing just until incorporated. Do not over process. 
    4. Stir in the flour. Set aside.
  2. For the Pumpkin Bread:
    1. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl and set aside. 
    2. In another large bowl, whisk together the eggs until lightly beaten. Whisk in the sugar and melted butter, then stir in the pumpkin, water, and vanilla extract.
    3. Stir the flour mixture into the pumpkin mixture, being careful not to overmix. A few streaks of flour are fine. 

    Now at this point, you, my dears, get to make a choice: Do you want LOAVES or do you want MUFFINS? I've made both, and I love both, but I do find muffins much easier and equally as attractive. Plus, let's face it, it's going to taste FANTASTIC either way.

    For loaves, follow these directions:
    1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
    2. Butter and flour or use nonstick spray in pans so the baked bread doesn't stick.
    3. Divide the batter in half. Take one half and divide it between the two pans. Pour half of the cream cheese filling into each pan, then top with the remaining half of batter. (These were the directions in the original recipe, but I just eyeballed it because I didn't have enough mixing bowls lol--most of my cream cheese filling ended up swirled at the top of the bread, which was fine, but, if you want it in the EXACT middle, follow the listed directions).
    4. Smooth the tops and bake an hour or until a toothpick comes out clean.
    5. Cool pans on a wire rack until room temperature then turn out.  
    • This recipe makes  two 9"x5" loaves 

    muffins, follow these directions:
    1.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit
      You can probably do it at 350 and cook it for longer, but I was in a hurry . . .
    2. Fill muffin pan with paper liners or use a nonstick spray so the muffins don't stick to the tin 
    3. In each muffin pocket, put a scoop of pumpkin, two scoops cream cheese mixture, and another scoop of pumpkin
      Scoop size to your discretion--I found that, starting with large bottom scoops of pumpkin, I was scraping every morsel of pumpkin from the bowl to properly fill the last tins. There was more than enough cream cheese mixture--I'm pretty sure its baked ratio to baked pumpkin was equal to if not greater than the pumpkin.  Don't skimp on the cream cheese--there' PLENTY.
    4.   Bake for 20-25 minutes until toothpick comes out clean OR you begin to notice the tops of your muffins turning a wee bit brown (don't want them burnt!)
    5. Remove muffins from tins and allow to cool before eating 
    • This recipe makes  roughly 24 LARGE muffins

    If you'd like to visit the original recipe, click here! It's a fantastic cooking blog called "17 and Baking." Check her out!

    Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

One Flew Over the Owl's Nest

I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven.
--Emily Dickinson

Yesterday, I took my first graders on a field trip to Birds of Prey center. If you're ever in the Orlando area and love nature, you must must MUST visit! Here, they nurture injured birds until they are back in shape to fly free or, if they cannot be healed, care for them until death. Absolutely fascinating and such beautiful creatures. Hawks, falcons, kestrels, and owls have always fascinated me--I still dream of being a falconer, but it's an expensive hobby, and money I do not have . . . or space . . . or a bird, for that matter. Sort of a vital piece of the puzzle, don't you think?

So, on this field trip, I've found my new personal favorite creature.
Ladies and gents, allow me to introduce, the screech owl:
. Yes, I think I need one . . . not want, but need.

Chris says I need multiple owl minions, and I should carry them all on my shoulders. Like this:

I feel a new obsession coming on.

On an unrelated note, as I sit here sipping my new favorite drink, I must add that I love vanilla almond milk.Chris likes it not so much, but I think it's a perfect treat.
And so are screech owls ^_^

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Pasta in a Creamy Tomato Asiago Sauce

My favorite thing to make is pasta.
No, really.
This isn't an "I love pasta" it's an "Oh, honey, I LOOOOOOOOOOOVE pasta! I don't know where I'd be without pasta! Pasta! Pasta! Pasta! Do not diss the pasta dish!" A good bowl of pasta can make a bad day practically perfect in every way.
"Hi, my name is Sarah and I am a pasta addict . . . "
"Hi, Sarah."

Anywho, last weekend, I was dining with a friend at Mimi's Cafe and stumbled upon their seafood pasta in an asiago sauce.
I went home on a desperate quest to recreate the awesome. Would you believe with all the cooking sites and all the "mimic Mimi's" recipes that this pasta wasn't one of them? I was shocked.

So I made my own. I don't think of recipes as rules . . . they're more like guidelines, if you will. So using these "guidelines" I combined a couple of pasta recipes and came out with deliciousness! Ta-da!

  • 14.5 oz can of tomato sauce
  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • 2 cups Asiago cheese
  • Grated Parmesan to taste (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch 
  • 1-1.5lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces (or, if you wanted, you could do shrimp like Mimi's, but, as Chris hates seafood pasta and we both love chicken, I used chicken)
  • 1 cup Baby Bella mushrooms (or more if you love them!)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup red onion
  • 5 green onions/scallions chopped
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup butter (half a stick)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 box bow-tie pasta . . . or any pasta. I just happened to have bow-tie in the pantry
  • 1 tsp chicken base (or 1 bouillon cube)
1. First, dice up the onions and the garlic. Toss them in a sauce pan with the butter and cook until tender and translucent.
2. Add chicken and oil.
3. When chicken is mostly cooked, add chicken base and mushrooms. Cook until mushrooms are dark and tender and chicken is no longer pink.
4. Add  wine and allow to evaporate (about 60 seconds)
5. Remove chicken and mushroom mixture and set aside. Do not clean the pan. Removing the chicken and shrooms allows you to concentrate strictly on the sauce, but not cleaning the pan will allow the essence of chicken and shrooms to enrich the sauce.
5. In same pan, add tomato sauce, whipping cream, cheese(s). Cook on medium-low and stir with whisk until cheese has completely dissolved.  I used a mix between shredded and the super grated. If you find the flavor is too strong, add a little bit of milk. This will thin the sauce, but it will also soften the flavor if needed.
6. Add cornstarch. This will thicken the sauce back up if you find it too thin (which can be a struggle--you want it to be a sauce, not a soup :] which is the trickiest thing I've found with pastas)
7. Once you are satisfied with the taste and consistency of your sauce, add the chicken and mushrooms again.
8. Prepare pasta according to the box directions. Once cooked and drained, add to sauce.
9. Open your mouth and take a great big bite ;]

I'm thinking next time I'll make it, I'll add fresh diced tomatoes, as well, just to give it a little extra zing.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Crazy Critters

You enter into a certain amount of madness when you marry a person with pets.  
--Nora Ephron

 So remember when I said that the cats had stopped leaving messes on the carpet? Guess what they started doing again immediately after I posted?  Oh sweet irony . . . Haha.
In fact, this morning, I woke up to the words, "Sarah, the cats pooped on the carpet again, and it's making me gag."
Nothing smells so strongly of romance as cat dung in the early morning . . .
It's one of the hazards of pet ownership. We love the fur-balls, so we clean the carpet and move on. I mean, seriously, who could stay angry at these sweet little faces?

Apparently, human females aren't the only species who love shopping

Monday, November 8, 2010

Strawberry-Orange Whipped Fruit Dip

Doesn't the title alone make your mouth water?
I brought this to a birthday party this weekend, and people were eating it straight out of the bowl. They put it on fruit, they put it on cake, they even put it on sweet potato bread. And you know what? It tasted AMAZING on anything. It's super easy, makes a ton, and everyone will kiss your feet after one taste.  Seriously, my dears, you will be crowned queen of the party.

  • 8 oz whipped cream (I made my own)
  • 8 oz strawberry-flavored creme cheese
  • 7 oz of marshmallow fluff
  • 3 Tbsp orange juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp berry fruit juice (optional)
Mix together until smooth.
If the mixture does not smooth, add a tiny bit more orange juice or the berry juice. I happened to have some V8 fruit juice in the fridge this weekend and tried it, just to give the mixture a tiny bit more color. It tastes FANTASTIC without the berry, and it tastes FANTASTIC with it. Choose your destiny and don't look back :]
Now, dig in and prepare to be worshiped!

P.S. Homemade Whipped Cream
  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 Tbsp confectioner's sugar
Mix with electric mixture, blender, or in food processor (or have your kids shake a tupperware container of the ingredients--they'll love it and the cream will still taste great! Two birds, one stone!). Add more sugar or vanilla as needed. I'm a big sweet tooth, so maybe my recipe is a little too sweet for some. Just play around with it. It's impossible to get wrong! :]