How to Fail at Parenting: Slice Off Your Finger

On Friday, we purchased a kitchen utensil that I’ve been eyeballing for MONTHS now…a mandoline.


This…with an “e.”

Not this.

Not this.

We watch an unhealthy amount of Food Network in our house.  Our fave shows are Chopped, Cutthroat Kitchen and Food Network Star.  Sometimes we’ll catch Iron Chef.  I love Alton Brown so much, I’d consider naming our fifth son after him.  One of the tools they use frequently on these shows is a mandoline.  It slices, it juliennes, it cuts with ridges, it even folds your laundry.  It’s awesome.  I’ve never used one before, but I knew we needed one.  I wanted to make zucchini noodles and sweet potato chips.

I decided to try our new toy on Saturday night, which is pizza night in our house.  I just knew the mandoline would make it super easy to slice the bell pepper, tomato and onion.  Also, my fingers.  You saw this coming, right?

We spent a few minutes figuring out how to change the blades and adjust the slicing width.  While changing blades, I cut myself.  TWICE.  Some of you may call this foreshadowing; I called it a teachable moment, and continued.

First up: bell pepper.  Slowly and carefully I sliced.   I used the hand tool designed to hold your fruit or veggie, so you can avoid injury.  This hand tool was frustrating me, so I tossed it to the side…hello, they do it on Chopped all the time.  I continued slicing, talking to Evan and Miles as we prepped dinner, when something went wrong.  And by something going wrong, I mean I sliced the tip of my middle finger off.

I knew what had happened before I felt what had happened.  My words sounded something like, “fingerfingerfinger” and I ran to the sink to rinse it in warm water (BAD IDEA).  Then, the bleeding started.  I looked at my finger, now missing four layers of skin and gushing blood, and I started to feel lightheaded.  I sat on the kitchen floor.  Evan gave me a towel, told me to apply pressure, reminded me to keep my finger above my heartbeat and put my head between my knees.  And Miles laughed.  I looked up at him, sitting in his highchair, oblivious to the murder scene that was my kitchen sink, and I just lost it.

No one brought me post-injury ice cream.

Too dramatic?

I cried tears of anger and sadness, because in the course of a few minutes, I’d managed to mangle myself in such a fashion that would make it difficult to do things like change a poopie diaper, bathe my son, and wash dishes.  I was mad that I had been so careless.  I was also glad that I hadn’t managed to injure myself more severely.  Yes, sitting on the kitchen floor, finger throbbing, I felt like I’d failed as a parent through my careless behavior.  What if I’d lost an arm?  What would I do then?  I am responsible for this tiny person’s life, and holy cow, that’s a big damn responsibility.

I’ve sworn off the mandoline, mostly out of sheer terror.  That tool is the spawn of the Devil.  Have you seen how often they lose fingertips on Chopped?  But those chefs, highly trained and the best in their field, put on a latex glove and keep right on cooking.  Probably because there’s $10,000 on the line.  But still; I couldn’t even stand up after lopping off my finger(tip).

We still ate the pizza.  We didn’t find the fingertip…so, extra protein?  Evan is in charge of slicing the sweet potatoes for tonight’s dinner.  And I’m working on my lefty skills.

For funsies.

For funsies.

Meatless Mondays

Over the past 9+ years, I’ve found ways to improve the way we eat in the Coke House.  I’ve replaced ground beef with ground turkey,white pasta with whole wheat pasta, white bread with whole grain, and white potatoes with sweet potatoes.  I add vegetables to things like my turkey meat loaf, to sneak in extra servings of those wonderful vitamins and minerals.  We don’t buy potato chips, candy or cookies; we don’t drink soda or caffeine (save for my daily cup of joe), and I no longer sweeten our iced tea.  Instead of ice cream, it’s frozen yogurt…and instead of regular, fruit on the bottom yogurt, it’s Greek.
Right now, you’re probably thinking there’s no possible way I could make this any more fun than it already is.  Well, guess what you’ve forgotten about?
That’s right…nearly every Monday, dinner is meat-free.  And, because it’s been such a success (seriously), I thought I’d share two of my all-time fave Meatless Monday recipes with you.  Both are delicious, easy to prepare, and will leave you with enough leftovers for a second meal.  Perfect, right?
Before I share these coveted recipes, let me preface with this statement: we are not vegan, vegetarian, or ovo-lacto-whateverarians.  This is one meal a week with no meat.  Trust me; if Publix puts New York strips on sale, I’m going to by an 18oz. package and we’re going to spend Saturday night eating delicious, grilled cow flesh, which I’ll most likely pair with a giant baked potato loaded with butter, Colby Jack cheese, sour cream and bacon bits.  Oh, and a salad.  You see, it’s okay to splurge…if it’s just that, an occasional treat.  Besides, Meatless Monday makes it totally okay for me to have a steak, or make a pizza, or eat an Oreo Brownie Explosion Sundae from Dairy Queen over the weekend.
The Cokes could never, ever, ever give up meat entirely.  As my wise cousin Wally once said, “If God didn’t want us to eat cows, why would He make them so delicious?!”  And so, with that in mind, here are my top two meatless meals…enjoy!
Roasted Spaghetti Squash Lasagna
One 3lb.+ spaghetti squash
2+ cups tomato sauce
Ricotta cheese
Mozzarella cheese
Salt and Pepper
Olive Oil
*Yes, I realize there are missing “measurements” in my ingredients.  I don’t conform to The Man’s request of tablespoons and cups all the time.

Directions: Roast your spaghetti squash.  Oh, how do you do that, you ask?  Cut the squash in half lengthwise (tip: it’ll be really hilarious and challenging the first time you try it) brush it with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and black pepper, then roast it face up at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes.  Once your squash is roasted, let it cool a few minutes, then remove the flesh with a fork.  You’ll find the flesh pulls apart in spaghetti-like strings; hence the name.
In an 8×8 baking dish, place your first layer of spaghetti squash.  Pour some tomato sauce over it, sprinkle on some mozzarella cheese, dollop some ricotta, and repeat the process one more time.  Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes and voila – dinner is served!  
Mozzarella: I buy Sargento whole milk mozzarella in the block, because it’s gooey and delicious.  But you can use pre-shredded out of a bag, too.  I normally shred half the block (16oz.) and end up shredding more, to completely cover the top of the lasagna.  I also top the lasagna with some chopped, fresh parsley.
Sauce: If I haven’t had time to make my own sauce (see earlier post on sauces), I buy Barilla Arrabiatta.  It’s a spicy marinara, and it’s awesome in this dish.  It lends well to the sweetness of the spaghetti squash.  If I’m using jarred sauce, I’ll use the entire jar.
Polenta and Bean Casserole
This is a modified Weight Watchers recipe.
One can black beans, rinsed and drained
One can Ro-Tel tomatoes
16 oz. frozen corn kernals
16 oz. frozen lima beans
1 yellow squash, chopped
1 zucchini squash, chopped
1 cup salsa
Chili Powder
Ground Cumin
16 oz. tube polenta, sliced (available in produce section)
Shredded cheese (we prefer Colby Jack)
Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Combine all ingredients except the polenta and cheese in a large Dutch oven, bringing to a low boil.  Reduce heat to low, and simmer while covered 10 minutes.  Transfer to a large baking dish (9×13 pan) then arrange polenta slices on top.  Bake 25 minutes; remove, sprinkle with cheese, bake an additional 3 minutes.  Allow to stand 10 minutes before serving.
We add sour cream and chopped green onion to ours.  It’s like a Tex-Mex Bean Fiesta in a bowl!  Really yummy, easy to put together, and perfect for a busy weeknight. 

Getting Sauced

Getting sauced in the kitchen is one of my favorite things to do (insert wine joke here).  Very much like myself, sauces add flavor, spice, zest, personality and pizzazz to just about any boring dish.  

I’m going to share a few of my favorite sauces with you, and how I use them…but before I do that, I’m going to tell you a saucy story about my wonderful hubby.  Rated PG, of course.
A while back, I told you about pizza night.  Years ago, and sometimes even now when I’m not feeling incredibly lazy, we make our own pizza sauce.  We’d just get the plain, canned tomato sauce, and add our own fresh herbs from our garden, along with a few spices, and some cayenne pepper, because we do like to keep things spicy in the Coke house (wink!).  Normally, I handle the sauce making.  I love my husband, and I appreciate his culinary efforts endlessly, but there are certain kitchen tasks I just cannot completely trust him with yet…and one of those tasks is anything involving cayenne pepper.
One night he insisted on handling the sauce, and I finally caved.  He poured the plain sauce into the pot on the stove, and dug into the spice cabinet, not allowing me to see anything he was adding (he does the same thing with his turkey burgers – “super secret” recipe, no one can know what goes in).  He stooped over the pot, sauce beginning to bubble, and began chopping herbs and shaking jars.  Pretty soon, my stove was covered in oregano and parsley, and Evan was a whirling dervish cloud of garlic powder.  Despite the mess (which is reason number two I prefer to handle tasks involving seasoning and spicing) the sauce was really smelling heavenly, so I let it go.
We sauced the crust, topped it with our cheese and veggies, and popped it into the oven.  A glass and a half of merlot later, the timer buzzed and we were ready to chow down.  And we were hungry.  Ev sliced up the pie, plopped the piping hot, gooey mess onto our plates, and grabbed some silverware.  A quick blessing, and it was time to TCOB (for the few BTO fans who may be reading this).

I cut the perfect bite – the edge of a corner piece, cheese bubbling and slightly browned, veggies cascading down the side, and plenty of sauce, since I’m an “extra sauce” kind of gal (not a surprise, I know).  Chomp!

Oh man, it was hot…boiling hot, lava hot, 100 yard barefoot walk across an asphalt parking lot in Florida in an August heatwave hot.  “Gee,” I thought, “I really should have let this cool down some before taking such a big bite.”  Against my better judgement, I continued chewing.  And the heat did not subside.
Now, instead of having a mouthful of blazing hot asphalt, I thought I may have inadvertently used jalapeno peppers as a topping.  Nope, hotter.  Habanero?  Hotter still.  Scotch Bonnet?!  The heat was causing my eyes to water; I could feel my throat closing up, my sinuses becoming an endless waterfall of snot, and the skin on my lips melting right off of my face.  I looked at Evan, and he looked at me…and for that brief moment we shared the same thought: CHEESE AND CRACKERS, WHAT ARE WE EATING?!
Some of you may have spit the food out, and that’s probably what I should have done, as it would have prevented the six hours of heartburn I suffered through later that night.  But, in an effort to support my husband’s attempt at saucing the pizza, I swallowed.  After swallowing, our shared thought became my very vocal outcry.  I immediately went to the kitchen for a glass of milk.  There was no stinkin’ way I could finish that pizza.
Evan knew it was too hot, and he profusely apologized.  But, lip skin be damned, he soldiered on and ate his pizza.  I distinctly remember him telling me, through huge mouthfuls of pizza and gulps of milk, “It’s not so hot if you just keep eating…you just can’t stop eating it.  Once you stop, the heat comes back.  Just keep chewing.”  No sir.  I value my lip skin; my lips are one of my best features, and I wasn’t going to have them marred by your “Cayenne Pepper SMD” – Sauce of Mass Destruction.
Since the Saucetastrophe of 2005, Evan has toned down his seasoning frenzy.  He likes to season with flare; grand sweeping gestures, sprinkling from high above the pan, just like they do on Food Network.  But, he’s learned that you can accomplish the same thing with a pinch that you can with a hearty shake of the can.  Those hearty shakes are for herbs, not cayenne.  Then, a few years ago, we discovered Barilla’s jarred Arrabiata sauce, and we’ve rarely made our own since then.  Arrabiata is a spicy marinara, and it’s fabulous, with the perfect amount of heat (and my stove top doesn’t even look like someone emptied their lawnmower bag all over it).
Sauces aren’t just Italian, and the aren’t just for pizza or pasta (although I will share my favorite quick Italian sauce for pasta).  A quick note on our recipes: we only use extra virgin olive oil; any sauce using chicken broth was made with fat free reduced sodium broth, and all sauces are made in a large sautee pan (with the exception of the first sauce).
So, without further ado, here are my top five sauces for busy weeknights…
Lemon Yogurt Sauce – Perfect for…fish, chicken, lean pork chops.
1/3 cup plain yogurt (we prefer Greek)
2 tablespoons honey (we prefer orange blossom)
Juice of one lemon (we prefer yellow…ha, just making sure you’re paying attention!)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste 
Directions: Whisk together in a bowl, then top your meat.  Simple, right?

Raspberry Balsamic Glaze – Perfect for…chicken or lean pork.
1/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves (you can use with seeds as well, just floss really well after dinner)
2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
Sprinkle of thyme
Salt and pepper
Minced red onion, sauteed (optional)
Directions: If using red onion, sautee until tender, approximately 2-3 minutes on medium-high heat.  Reduce heat to medium-low, and add all remaining ingredients, whisking until combined.  Pour over your meat.  You can also cube or slice your meat, and toss it in the sauce.

Fig and Marsala Sauce – Perfect for: pork loin or lean cuts of beef.
Medium Vidalia onion, sliced
10-12 figs, chopped
Three slices uncooked bacon, diced
8 oz. baby bella mushrooms, sliced
3/4 cup Marsala wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons butter
Olive oil
Directions: On medium-high heat, sautee the onion, figs, bacon and mushrooms together until onions begin to carmelize.  Add wine, and cook until liquid has reduced to half.  Add broth, continue cooking an additional 2-3 minutes.  Remove from heat, add butter.  Pour over meat (include onions, mushrooms and figs – super yummy).  We only get this one a few times a year, when figs are in season.  This is from an Apron’s recipe Publix had a couple years ago, they used a whole pork loin roasted with rosemary – superb!  We’ve found the sauce goes great with other cuts of meat as well.

Creamy Swiss Sauce – Perfect for: chicken, lean pork, or veggies.
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons minced Vidalia onion
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup skim or fat free milk
6 oz. Swiss cheese (we buy the block and shred it ourselves)
Splash of dry white wine (optional, but you can always just pour a glass for yourself)
Directions: Heat olive oil on medium heat, add onion and garlic, cook until onion is translucent.  Add flour, whisk until combined.  Add broth, milk and wine, bring to a boil, then remove from heat.  Add your cheese, stir until melted.  If serving over meat, pour.  If serving with veggies, add veggies to pan and stir to combine.  Great with broccoli, cauliflower and baby carrots.  This is from a Skinny Taste recipe for Chicken Divan, but we’ve found the sauce is great on its own or with veggies.

Lazy Pasta Sauce – Perfect for…pasta.  Use it with spaghetti, rotini, or as your lasagna sauce.
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes (we use Tuttorosso – get the green label, it’s the absolute best)
3 garlic cloves, smashed
4-6 plum tomatoes, chopped or sliced
1 pound hot Italian turkey sausage (we use Jennie-O)
16 oz. Ricotta cheese (you can use full fat, we go with part skim, and it’s still delish)
Fresh basil
Directions: Remove sausage from casing, and cook until brown.  Add garlic, cook an additional 2-3 minutes on medium-high heat.  Reduce to medium-low, add chopped tomatoes, crushed tomatoes and ricotta.  Combine well, allow to simmer 5 minutes.  Top with chopped fresh basil.  This is my husband’s all-time fave sauce, and it is beyond easy to throw together on a busy weeknight.  The Jennie-O sausage is so perfectly seasoned, we never have to add a thing to this sauce!
And there you have it…now you’re in on my saucy secrets.  Cheers!

Makin’ a Pizza!

The Cokes are pizza lovers; but, because I’m also super conscious about the food we eat (read: Weight Watchers brainwashed me forever…) we don’t indulge in pizza very often.  Twice a month, always on a Saturday night, we’ll make our own deep dish pizza at home.
I like eating out, but I love eating in.  I love eating in when it’s a meal we’ve spent time perfecting; when we’ve created something that we truly do love because it has our favorite spices, flavors, etc.  And after a few years of experimenting, we have become the Pizza Masters.
It started off as a basic supreme pizza on a hand-tossed crust, and evolved into the deep dish vegetarian monster we have today.  I’m going to share the foundation for our recipe with you, but first, I thought I’d share a funny pizza story.  That’s what you’re really here for anyway, right?
Now, there are two funny pizza stories I could tell you.  The first involves Evan making the sauce, and consequently causing all of our taste buds to melt in a Mount Vesuvius frenzy of cracked red pepper.  The second involves Evan…well…makin’ a pizza.  Because I have a few sauce recipes I’ll be sharing down the road, I think I’ll save the cracked red pepper tale, and go with what’s behind door number two (lifetime supply of Turtle Wax!) 🙂
Evan asked me to marry him in August 2004, and two months later, we went on our first vacation together to Bryson City, NC (a combo engagement-birthday-Kristin is FINALLY 21-trip)…and PS, the “Kristin is FINALLY 21” is also a story to share…maybe I’ll do a wine post one of these days.
I digress.  In this early-ish stage of our relationship, we weren’t living together yet (we became heathens the following year) but we did spend most of our time together, and had started cooking dinner together as well.  One of the meals we’d done was, in fact, pizza.  We get our pizza dough in the Publix bakery…their fresh dough is fabulous, and waaay easier than making it yourself.  Back then, we were still in our “hand-tossed” phase, which meant lots of stretching, pulling, rolling, and yes, tossing the pizza dough into the air.
Back to vacation.  We’d arrived at our cabin after a 12 hour drive.  We were definitely ready for some R&R.  Evan decided to take a shower while I unpacked.  I made a few trips to the truck, bringing in bags and cleaning out the remains of our road trip, and each time I came into the bedroom I could hear Evan talking.  Now, I talk to myself frequently, so I thought nothing of it to hear Ev in there, scrubbing away and yammering on.  I tuned him out.
Finally, I brought the last suitcase to the bedroom, and began putting clothes away in the armoire.  My ears perked up as I heard what I thought was a jolly Italian man – in our bathroom.  I slowly opened the door, and tiptoed inside.  I stood there, staring at the shower curtain, positive the noise I’d heard was coming from that direction.  All of a sudden, the washcloth came flying up into the air above the shower, then sailed back down.  “Well that’s a very strange way to shower”, I thought to myself.  It happened a couple more times in silence, and then, I heard my jolly Italian man…
“I’M-AH MAKIN-AH PIZZA!”  (washcloth up, washcloth down)
Excuse me?  Did you say what I think you said?
“I’M-AH MAKIN-AH PIZZA!!!”  (washcloth up, washcloth down)
Oh yes, he did.  He said exactly what I think he said.
I stood in the bathroom, in awe and disbelief, as my fiancee of two months tossed “pizza dough” into the air while he showered.  I was in love!
From that day forward, every single pizza night in our house has started with the phrase, “I’m-ah makin-ah pizza!”  It’s the kitchen equivalent of, “Gentlemen, start your engines!”
I’m sure my husband will be thrilled to know I’ve shared this story with you all.  Coincidentally, it was shared today in the same manner it’s been shared in the past – after two glasses of shiraz. 🙂 And now, because you’ve been so patient, here’s how the Cokes do pizza…
Deeeep Dish Pizza
Pizza dough (no recipe, I’m lazy – go to the Publix bakery)
One jar of Barilla Arrabiata pasta sauce (still lazy – also, sauce story and recipe to follow)
One 16 oz. block of Sorrento whole milk mozzarella
Olive Oil (no measuring)  Hint: I am in l-o-v-e with the Crisco Olive Oil spray (like Pam, but better)
Parmesan Cheese (no measuring)
Italian Seasoning (you get the idea…)
Preheat your oven according to the Publix directions.  Drizzle or spray your olive oil in a 9×9 pan.  Sprinkle parmesan cheese and Italian seasoning in the bottom of the pan, liberally.  Really liberally.  Then, when you think you have enough…add more parm.  Trust me, the crust will be fab.  Work your dough (punch, knead, stretch, whisper sweet nothings) into the pan, and bake for about 10 minutes.  While the dough is baking, prepare your toppings and shred the entire block of mozzarella cheese.
Once the dough is out (won’t be done, but this helps to ensure it won’t be raw in the middle) pour your sauce on top…all over, there’s no crust, so we don’t need to be polite.  Once the dough is sauced (like me – haha!) sprinkle one third of the cheese on top, then add all your toppings, and finish with the remainder of the cheese.  Sprinkle some parsley on top, and toss that puppy back in the oven for another 20-25 minutes.  You’ll know it’s done when it’s oozing over the side of the pan, sizzling in the bottom of your oven.  We always let our pizza rest about five minutes before slicing.
Vegeterian Monster Toppings
We don’t do sausage, pepperoni, ham, etc. on our pizza (anymore…sorry, Ev!).  We’re a veggie-only household now.  Our faves?  In no particular order…Roma tomatoes, green pepers, Vidalia onion, portabello mushrooms, black olives, zucchini, yellow squash, broccoli and cauliflower, along with some fresh basil.  And sometimes, some spinach.  You should see the mess in the bottom of my oven!

Cheers! 🙂