Wintery Mushroom Stew/Soup (vegan)

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The Sinister Plan

As a flexitarian trying to be vegan, I’m in a constant search for non-animal related recipes. Pinterest is my best friend. Tonight’s recipe was a vegan win. How does one designate a Pinterest win (as opposed to the ever popular “fail”)? Well, in my house a wine win means that more than just my husband and I ate it and liked it. I was pretty unsure about the whole thing because it involved two of kids’ arch enemies- kale AND mushrooms. What?!? That’s right. I put together a recipe that included both of these devil ingredients and lived to tell the tale.

Disclaimers

To be completely transparent here, my 3 year old loves mushrooms (?!?) and was partially bribed with a post dinner “snack” (a banana) to finish her dinner. Our 8 year old gave all her mushrooms to me. Our (very, very) picky 10 year old was sick and didn’t eat with us. And the 14 year old would have probably eaten the legs off the table… so, you know, take this for what it’s worth!

I found the recipe on Pinterest at The First Mess. I doubled the recipe and with 5 people eating ended up with maybe one serving left over. I’m not expecting it to last past lunch tomorrow. It may not even make it into the leftover containers.

Modifications

Here’s the only modifications above and beyond doubling the recipe that I would recommend.

  • Quintuple the amount of soy sauce, salt and wine added to the whole thing (above and beyond just doubling from serving 4 to 8). Since I had a whole bottle of Yellow Tail Chardonnay at my discretion it was pretty much, “One for you, two for the doctor” sort of thing going on the whole time I was cooking.
  • If you have mushroom haters in your midst, reduce the mushrooms (I used 1 lb. for a doubled recipe which should have used 2 lbs.) and add quinoa to thicken the whole thing up. I used 1 cup (pre-cooked) of the Ancient Grains blend from Costco.

Parting Words

This is a relatively quick, hearty meal to feed to even the vegan-resistant in your midst. If you have some kale that is starting to wilt or prepared quinoa that needs to be used, this is a great option. Another easy soup/stew to throw together in your Dutch oven for a chilly night.**

** I live in San Diego so this means the temperature has dropped below 60 degrees. Brrrrr…

 

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Super Lemony Lemon Bars

 

There is never a shortage of food related occasions at my work and last week was no different EXCEPT that this time I decided that rather than making a last minute run to the store for Wheat Thins, I was going to make some delicious treats myself. And I can’t remember exactly why but I got lemon bars on the brain. It was one of those nagging urges that had to be fulfilled so I started googling, pinteresting and yahooing recipes. Lo and behold many people had my same issue with lemon bars- many are all sugar and no lemon. BLEH. So after some searching, I settled on a recipe I found on Pinterest from a blog called A Mingling of Tastes. With the title Lemon Lovers’ Lemon Bars, I knew I had a winner.

As many of you may well know, lemon bars are about the easiest thing in the world to make and take very standard ingredients you probably have sitting around the house. Somehow, I still managed to have some trials and tribulations on my first round but I attribute that mostly to my overly optimistic view of my blender as a food processor and my sister happening to call in the  middle of what can only be referred to as an all too critical “butter stage” of the crust making. More on that later.

The goods

So without further ado, here’s my first crack at lemon bars.

Ingredients For crust:
3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks and chilled (trust me, do not un-chill the butter)

For filling:
1 cup granulated sugar
zest of 3 lemons
1/4 cup plus 2 tbs. all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1/2 cup plus 1 tbs. lemon juice (3 to 4 lemons)

So I’m going to come clean right from the get-go and let you know that not only do I not currently have a food processor but I am also zester-less. Oh and and I did not make the lemon sugar the night before. Seriously, who has that kind of forethought?? If I want lemon bars, it’s not tomorrow that I want them it’sright now. So I had to make some improvisations and honestly, even though I had some hiccups along the way, they were no worse for the eating.

First things first. Put on some cooking music. I tend to go with Ella Fitzgerald At Her Best. If you screw something up, Ella is just crooning away the whole time so that even your mistakes feel somehow more elegant. Next I gathered my ingredients and set out to work. My helpful hubby graciously agreed to “zest” the lemons with our cheese grater while I cubed the butter. Once you have the zest, put it in your food processor (or in my case, blender) and really get it nice and finely chopped and blended into the sugar. If you are very organized and have a will of steel, you can just go ahead and stop here and cover and chill the sugar until tomorrow when all the flavors have had some time to mingle. Otherwise proceed with reckless abandon. [Sidenote: if I was not pregnant at this very moment, a lemon drop martini with some of that yummalicious lemon sugar around the rim would’ve been a nice lemony treat to indulge in whilst pulling together your lemon bar masterpiece.]

Getting ready to blend the lemon zest and sugar.

Next, set your oven to 350 degrees. Now take a glass baking dish and coat it in either cooking spray or butter. (I used butter and did a really nice thorough coat and the bars came out of the pan perfectly.)  Take all of your crust ingredients and dump them in your food procesoor and blend it until the butter is in little chunks the size of peas. Now, if you do not have a food processor, DO NOT use your blender. The butter just kind of jams up the blades. For me, my sister called at this point and thus I delayed the blending experiment while we chatted for a while. Well before I knew it, the butter was way to soft so I decided I’d put it in the freezer for a few minutes to harden it back up while I went and helped my husband with a puzzle. And yes, I realize that we probably sound very boring right now but in fairness, I’m pregnant and it was a week night.

After 15 minutes at the puzzle I went back to retrieve the butter, sugar, flour situation from the freezer and discovered it was, wait for it…frozen. *sigh* Perhaps I should’ve thrown in the towel at this point but the lemony lemon bars were calling my name so I pressed on. I thawed the mixture in 10 second increments and finally got it into a workable consistency such that I could use my pastry cutter to finish the job that the blender started. From this point, you just dump that in your glass dish, press it into the bottom evenly and bake it for about 15 to 17 minutes. It’ll be light brown around the edges but still pretty whitish everywhere else. At this stage, and this is key, LOWER THE TEMPERATURE to 325 degrees.

Now for the the filling. Whisk together the lemon sugar, flour and salt. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs, then whisk in the lemon juice. Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. You might look at your mixture and think that its seriously liquidy but don’t worry, its supposed to look like that. I double checked my recipe to make sure because I was expecting it to be thicker but it thickens up as it bakes. Pour the lemon mixture over the crust and bake for 28 to 33 minutes. The center should be set, but still gooey when poked with a toothpick. If you can control yourself, try to hold off any sampling for at least an hour. I burnt my fingertips trying to get a piece out of the pan right after I took it out and I don’t reccommend it.

Fresh out of the oven

After it’s cooled off, you just sprinkle your powdered sugar on there and call it a day. If you are lacking in the kitchen utensils department, as I clearly am, and don’t have a fancy pants sugar sprinkler/sifter thingee, just pour some powdered sugar in a glass, cover it with foil and poke holes in it. Done deal. Now it’s just eat and enjoy!

Ta da!

Crafty McCrafterson at Your Service!

I am happy to announce the completion of my first diaper cake and onesie project! A woman who works in my office is due 3 days before me and we had her shower today. After seeing diaper cakes on Pinterest several times and ooo-ing and ahhh-ing at their majesty, I decided that this baby shower was my chance to do it up. And I figured that while I was at it, I’d try to do something mildly creative with some onesies.

Here’s my process in case you should ever decide to undertake a diaper cake. It is actually pretty simple, it just takes some time investment. There are a million ways to decorate these things but the basics are pretty much the same. You’ll need

– between 70 to 80 diapers (for a three tier like the one I made)

– some sort of core to use as the middle of the whole thing. I used an upside down tin vase from Target.

– as many rubber bands as diapers

– a gift that will fit inside the upside down vase or other core of your choosing

– ribbon

– a cake topper of some sort (I just covered with fresh flowers)

– some sort of a base for the diaper cake (I used foam core from the 99 cent store)

– hot glue gun and one stick of glue

Directions:

1. Roll up all the diapers. I suggest doing this while watching tv so you aren’t overwhelmed by the sheer number of diapers in front of you. You begin the rolling with the open side and secure with a rubber band. You’ll end up with a pile like the one pictured below.

 2. Next get your gift and the core. I have seen people use a champagne bottle in the middle which to me seems like a pretty decent plan because then you’ve got the core AND a gift all in one! However, champagne bottles are pretty darn heavy so I opted for the upside down tin vase with a bath care kit tucked inside.

3. Place the core on the foam board or whatever you’re using for your base. Some people put doilies underneath to spruce it up but I opted for the plain, white (read: easy) option.

4. Surround the core with a layer of diapers and then surround that layer with another layer of diapers. Depending on how big you’re going to go with this thing, adjust your row amounts accordingly.

5. Get your ribbon and measure around the out layer of diapers. Keep the ribbon pretty snugly wrapped because it will look lame if it’s loose and won’t hold the diapers in place or cover up the rubber bands. Cut the ribbon to size and secure with some hot glue.

As a side note, I bought two different ribbons and hot glued them together to add a little more hitch to the giddity up. It’s not necessary, particularly if you’re going to decorate the heck out of it later with little gifts like pacifiers and toys on the outside but definitely nice if you’re keeping the overall look pretty simple.

6. Move on to your second row and repeat all of step 5, adjusting depth of rows to your liking. On my cake, I made the first and second rows two layers deep with the second row a little more snugly secured with the ribbon to give the cake the illusion of distinct tiers.

7. On this cake, I decided to make the third row only one layer deep to add some definition and plus, I was really running out of steam and diapers and another trip to Target was out of the question.

8. At this stage, I suggest you step back and admire your work. This is your first glimpse of your soon-to-be-masterpiece and it deserves some attention! After you have finished basking in the glow of your Pampers Palace, start contemplating your cake topper.

9. I decide to go with some fresh flowers on the top but have seen others use a stuffed animal or cutie patootie little baby shoes. The possibilities are limitless so get jiggy with it and get your craftiness on.

10. If you go with flowers, all you need is a little chunk of that green floral foam core stuff, some pins and some flowers. Arrange them on top in some sort of complimentary color to your ribbon or overall theme.

11. Lastly, place any other decorations you might have on to the cake. In my case, I used 3 packages of butterflies I found at the 99 cent store that had wire in them. I poked them around the cake and voila! Diaper cake complete.

As for the onesies, I’m not going to pretend that it was that difficult. I found some embroidered patches at Michael’s in a baby type of theme and ironed them on per the instructions. Kyle got a little more creative and cut out an “E” for Emalee from some scrap fabric to go on a onesie and it looked super cute. I used a little Stich Witchery to adhere it to the onesie. I think all his lawyer-ing is really holding him back from his other true creative callings!! Here are a few pics.

So there it is. My first craftiness in a years (unless you count Kyle’s Valentine’s Day card that did incorporate some peel and stick foam letters, construction paper and crayons). If you have any questions feel free to ask.

** All materials were bought at Target, Wal-mart, Michaels and the 99 cent store. I’d guesstimate the total cost of the diaper cake to be about $50 and if you were a super bargain hunter you could probably get that down to even less.

Here are a few other diaper cakes examples to provide some extra inspiration:

 

Some of Shelly’s Favorite Things- Part Two- 3 Blogs and a Website

In my misguided notion that other people care about things I’m interested in, I am moving forward with my “Shelly’s Favorite Things” series. I’ll wait for the cheering to subside… ok, let’s move on.

 As some of you may know I am a big time resource mongerer. I am the person you want to tell when you are looking for a new job, trying to find the perfect shoes to match your dress, or maybe you want to know a really great place to take your in-laws for dinner when they’re visiting from out of town. For some strange reason, I like to be the person with the answer or at least the best suggestion. And it helps that I do have an opinion on almost everything!

 Back in the day, I was that annoying kid in class whose hand was the first to shoot up in the air to every question the teacher asked. I sat impatiently making little “ooo, ooo I know this one!” type of noises while the teacher scanned the classroom praying that someone else would raise their hand. “Does anyone other than Shelly want to try and answer this one?” Yep. That was me. I imagine I looked a little something like the girl below but not quite as cute.

So why not use some of my inexplicable, overzealous need to have “the answer” (and obvious over-inflated sense of self-importance) for good?!? And so “Shelly’s Favorite Things” was born. Enjoy.

 Top Blogs/Websites (in no particular order)

The Bloggess– This blog consistently makes me LOL. This woman is incredibly witty, funny and undeniably odd and all in a really awesome way. I appreciate her weird sense of humor, potty mouth and candidness in terms of her struggles with her mental health. She’s entertaining and she’s real and it makes it a consistent go-to when I have a free moment. This specific post wiht excerpts from her upcoming book is HILARIOUS.

Young House Love– Another blog site that is mostly focused on DIY home improvement projects. This is a young couple who have apparently become quite famous for their site. They mix their DIY projects for the home with posts about their lives that are inspirational, funny and generally enjoyable to read.

A Cookie-Cutter Blog– This blog is written by San Diego local, Michelle Ana. She is the instructor at my prenatal yoga class and she happens to be an avid baker, seamstress and all around cool chick. Her blogs focus on cooking, mostly baking and sewing projects. I have been really interested lately in trying to learn to sew and love food so it’s a great match for me. Her recipe for the shamrock shake is dee-lish!

Good.Is– This is actually a website rather than a blog but equally enticing for those of you who, like myself, have a somewhat attention span. Essentially, it’s an online news source that is dedicated to social causes but in a cooler way than I can articulate here. Their tag line is, “For People Who Give a Damn.” Honestly, on any given day I really fluctuate on my “giving a damn” level but I always find the website entertaining- especially the infographics.

Anyone have a blog or website to share?? C’mon people, this is where you leave me little comments with cool website suggestions. There’s a whole web universe out there to be explored and I have to start somewhere. Help a girl out!

Some of Shelly’s Favorite Things: Part One- Helping Others

Some of you may be familiar with the Strengths Finder 2.0 book. (In fact, I have bought it for a number of people).  It is a book that has an online test that you take and it categorizes your top 5 strengths. It theorizes that you should stop trying to improve in your weak areas and focus on growing your strengths in order to get the best return on your investment so to speak.

In the spirit of that test, which identified my top strength as COMMAND (really just a fancy way of saying bossy), I decided I should write a blog on some of my favorite things. One of the essential characteristics of a COMMAND person is that, not only do they have strong opinions about everything, but they feel the need to share those strong opinions with everyone. It’s like they KNOW me! 🙂

My Top 5 Strengths certificate that I proudly display in my cubicle. If anyone ever indicates that I'm getting too bossy, talk too much, impatient etc. I just point to the certificate and remind them that the County of San Diego is a STRENGTHs-based organization. It's my supporting documentation.

So rather than provide a haphazard list of all kinds of random stuff, I decided to compile a somewhat organized list of random stuff broken into categories. I imagine that this could possibly take a few posts so I’ll start off with one of my favorite topics: Helping Others.

And PS: I’d LOVE to hear about ways that you like to help others so post in the comments and let me know. Whether it’s an organization you love or just a way to reach out and connect, I’m all ears!!

 Helping Others– All too often we say that we want to help others but due to lack of time, motivation, organization etc. we fall short of what we hope to do. The following list provides some of my favorite ways to help others.

Uptown Rotary– Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat- Yes, this is a shameless plug for my Rotary club. BUT, it is a shameless plug with a heart. Uptown Rotary is a great way to get involved in the community doing hands on community service projects in manageable chunks of time with amazing, funny people. Don’t forget I’M a member!! Even if you’re not ready to join up (btw- it’s only $69/quarter), we love to have people join us for service projects like our upcoming evening at Dreams for Change or at the San Diego Hospice’s 5k Walk and Fun Run. I mean don’t you walk anyway?!? Might as well come out and show your support for a great cause. Bring the kids! Show them that helping others can be fun.

KIVA– This is a great microcredit lending organization that allows individuals or groups to do person to person lending. For instance, last month, I, along with a bunch of other people, each lent $25 to a woman in New York who is working on expanding her pesto-making business. Food AND philanthropy together!! A match made in heaven. Now that she is fully funded, she starts paying the loan back and then my KIVA account (and everyone else’s) is repaid and I get to loan it out as many times as I want! Seriously, how cool is that?!? And it’s world-wide so you can lend money in just about any country you want. And speaking of kids again, it’s great to get them involved and have them help choose which individuals or groups you want to lend to. When you think about the difference $25 can make to someone in the third world who is maybe going to start selling some eggs and just needs a little money to buy hens, it’s hard to justify NOT doing it.

Kickstarter– This organization touts itself as “a new way to fund creative projects.” And honestly that really sums it up. The website provides descriptions of various projects that people need funding to implement. It’s an all-or-nothing model where you pledge money but will not be charged unless the entire project amount is funded. So for instance, my good friend Maria Sparks of Cork & Platter catering is launching a new venture called Gro Café in Balboa Park. She’s developed an innovative model that combines providing fresh, local food for visitors through the café while also harnessing the waste (food scraps, plates, etc.) to create a composting program that will then be used to feed the plants in Balboa Park. She’s calls it Keep it in the Park. Food, helping others and environmental responsibility- c’mon people! What’s not to like?!?

So that’s a few of my faves off the top of my head. Let me know what you think. Who’s on your list??

Food for the DIY-er in you. Subtitle: Grilling by Headlamp

Last week Kyle and I ventured out with our friends Steve and Jen for my first foray at Dae Jang Keum. For those of you uninitiated, Dang Jang Keum is a Korean bbq restaurant over in the Convoy area of San Diego on the corner of Engineer and Brinell. (PS: One of the main attractions for Korean bbq is that you grill your own meat at your table.)

I was very glad that I checked Yelp for photos of the outside before I made my way over because as is sometimes common in the area, not many of the signs were in English (see below).

But thanks to the pictures and my trusty iPhone, I made it on my first try and didn’t even have to make any u-turns! This was quite an accomplishment for me since I usually head out to new locations with what I refer to as a “cell phone and a dream” mentality.

Compared with other Korean bbq establishments I have been to, this place was very clean and even a little fancy. The most impressive part was that we were the only white people in the whole place- definitely a good sign. If Koreans are willing to eat here than I have a certain level of confidence in the quality. And happily, I wasn’t disappointed!

We ordered some sort of combination that can really only be properly identified as a meat fiesta. It contained all of the Korean bbq standbys like bulgogi, thin sliced brisket etc. and then we added an order of short ribs to round out the whole shebang. Communicating was not the easiest task but after some corrections and vigorous pointing, our order was placed. Oh yeah did I mention that the combo comes with a large Hite (beer) and soju (kind of like sake)?!? Sheer genius as far as I’m concerned. Any combo that includes beer/booze is a combo worth ordering. Of course given my preggers-ness I could only enjoy the concept but you can be sure I’ll be return post-pregnancy to enjoy some beer and sake-like substance with my bulgogi.

One of my absolutely favorite parts of the Korean bbq experience is that you get these little dishes of a variety of different kinds of yum yums pretty much right off the bat. This is really awesome on a few levels. Number one, I like any place that gives you something to eat within a few minutes of sitting down. I’m impatient (and these days usually starving) and this immediate access to food pleases me greatly. Number two, you can’t beat the variety. There’s a little something for everyone in those dishes. Every place has a little variation on what they bring out but it usually includes kimchee, sesame-ish greens, fishcake (way better than it sounds, I promise), broccoli, some sort of seaweed deal and a variety of other goodies to keep you busy while they assemble your dinner. And finally, number three, these items are refillable. So don’t worry that I ate all the kimchee! More is on the way! Even though we didn’t need a refill on our appetizer items on this particular trip, I was comforted by knowing that I could pig out with reckless abandon and I wouldn’t be leaving my tablemates in the lurch. And keep in mind, if you get a combo, you also get a salad and some soup! Here’s another photo courtesy of Yelpsters.

Now here’s where the excitement begins. As we’re nibbling away at our appetizers awaiting our giant plate of raw meat, the entire place goes dark. We lost power in the entire place! As iPhone lights started popping on and everyone was Facebooking our predicament a lovely glow surrounded us. You might think, well, I guess your night was over. But apparently Koreans laugh in the face of darkness and lack of electricity! They sprang into action and ran around placing candles on tables and a woman who appeared to be the owner came out with a headlamp and directed it at our table. So basically, it was “game on”. A few minutes later, out came the guy with the coals for our grill and we commenced to grilling by headlamp. About 10 minutes later when the lights came back on, we all agreed it was almost better with them out. It was a nice, calm, relaxing grill session while it lasted though. Below you can see Kyle and Jen working together to make the grill magic happen by shining the iPhone on the table. 

We finished off our meat fiesta and the waitress brought us a delicious cold, cinnamon tea that was amazing! I believe the intention is to settle your stomach after eating mass quantities of meat and stave off the need for Alka Seltzer later. Whatever the case it was the perfect ending to a delightful meal with good friends.

I highly recommend Dae Jang Keum and I even more highly recommend that you invite me (particularly after this baby gets here) so we can share some Hite.

Viva la Korean bbq!