Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Mom's Cranberry Sauce

Simply put, I cannot deal with that canned crap that passes for cranberry sauce or it's ribbed cousin, cranberry jelly. Yuck and yuck.

Cranberry sauce is just too easy to make yourself. There are lots of variations out there, but we like ours with a hint of orange and cinnamon. This is what I use:

1 package fresh cranberries
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 naval orange - reserve the zest and juice separately
1 t. ground cinnamon

In a large saucepan, over medium-high heat, dissolve the sugar in water and orange juice. Add cranberries and let it bubble away, stirring occasionally. When it has thickened and most of the berries have burst, after about 8 minutes, remove from heat. Stir in orange zest and cinnamon, then allow to cool to room temperature. Transfer to a covered container and refrigerate at least a few hours - I leave it overnight.

In the event you have Thanksgiving leftovers, this chunky sauce is good on Black Friday brunch French toast or waffles. Served with mimosas, of course.

Happy Thanksgiving!

- MomNextDoor

Friday, September 28, 2012

Face First

Hey there neighbors, it's been a while. The past month or so has proven to be rather craptastic here at The HaciendaNextDoor. You know how DadNextDoor & I like to ride bicycles? Well we loaded everything up & headed out to the Hotter'N Hell Hundred again the last weekend in August. That's where it all went wrong.

Somewhere around mile 25 we were both cruising along at a nice 18 mph pace & feeling good to go the whole 100 mile route. Suddenly, just in front of us, some reflector-wheeled noob was overlapping wheels with the guy in front of him and ended up laying out all across the road. Dad's bicycle ninja skills came in handy & he dodged the wreck. I am generally a hot mess to begin with but this time I didn't have as much response time since the dude wiped out right in front of me so it was even messier.

In my mind I did some kind of bad-ass Charlie's Angels trick riding flip. That delusional image I keep in my mind is comforting since I didn't have to look at the ugly disaster. In reality, my front tire rode right over the guy but I couldn't keep my big ass down. When I felt my back end start to flip, I rolled it to the left. Unfortunately I was just going too fast & couldn't roll fast enough.

Face first friends, into the road at 18 mph. Actually most of my face was okay, thanks to my helmet & sunglasses. I ended up with somewhere around 40 stitches inside & outside the left side of my mouth. One bottom tooth came completely out, one top tooth was broken badly enough it will be replaced with a snazzy new implant and two were crunched enough to earn root canals & crowns. These are all my front teeth by the way. Even better - the alveolar bone holding those top teeth in my head was busted. I know everyone is jealous of the metal bling I get to wear in there holding my teeth in for 6 weeks, crossing my fingers it heals enough I won't need a bone graft when they take the metal bar off.

I did also smash my left hand into the road as I pushed my handlebars down on that side. Miraculously, no other bones are broken though. Aside from my face, I had a minor abrasion to my shoulder & knee. Not too bad considering the other guys in the ER were heading home for orthopedic surgery.

What's been really super awesome is trying to eat mushy vomit-textured food so the bone can heal. It takes me like a hundred years to eat anything significant. Basically, if a toothless toddler can eat it so can I. Oh, and I pretty much drink like a stroke victim. I know, pretty sexy.

One super cool thing that happened though was this group of like four guys riding behind me stopped to help. One of them was either an ER or ICU nurse that was a total rockstar who took care of me right up until I was loaded into the ambulance (thank god it was an ambulance & not a helicopter - I hate flying almost more than smashing my face). I think he told me his name was Brad. I was looking at his bib numbers upside down & I had just plowed my head into the pavement so I'm not clear but I think it was either 2141 or 4121. The group was wearing some sort of United Methodist kits that I think were mostly burgundy. If you're out there somewhere Brad, you made an amazing difference - thank you. My recovery will be a months-long journey & I still wear your bracelet on hard days.

It turned out I bent my frame so it's garbage. I actually cried more about that than I did my busted teeth. My bike's name was Sugar. She was a pink & white Dolce Elite with pink bling. I think she got broken so I didn't break any other bones. She hangs in the garage wearing my hospital bracelet.

The cool thing is that it's all fixable - a few more dental appointments & I'll be set. And now I know that I'm stronger than I ever thought I could be. I only took a week off of work & went right back to doing my thing. Dad bought me a new frame (it was a Dolce Sport that was only ridden like 10 times) & put all my components on it. It's a berry & white frame instead of pink & white so it's not just perfect but it looks nice. Sort of like me I think.

The very first rally I ever rode was the Cotton Patch Challenge in 2011 - I couldn't do the whole thing & Dad had to actually push me at the end. I had intended to ride again in 2012 as a personal milestone to see how far I'd come in a year & it was personally important to me. So 3 weeks after the wreck, 2 days after the root canals, I saddled up and rode the whole route ... without any pushing.

Life's short neighbors. Live like you mean it.


Why did I get back on a bike again after such an injury? Why did I do it so soon? Well ... I guess it's something you really have to live to understand. It's about learning to be a resilient person. It's about empowering yourself to be unbroken. I certainly won't participate in all the same events I might have before & I will do some things differently (better) than I did before, but I will still ride. I suppose I don't exactly have the words to tell you why. But I can tell you I am not the broken girl crying under the covers at the end of the day anymore.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Good Morning Sunshine!

The kids were up unusually early this fine summer morning. Likely due to the fact their band is performing on Saturday so the neighbors have been blessed with lots of rehearsal time. In any case, teenagers independently awake before noon calls for a special breakfast offering. Today it was cheddar polenta topped with a backyard-fresh, over-easy egg and accompanied by their favorite summertime fruit.

They loved the egg yolk stirred into this super easy polenta:

Bring 4 cups salted water to a boil. Whisk in 1 cup cornmeal very slowly and reduce heat. Continue to cook, stirring very frequently, for about 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper and stir in 1 tablespoon butter, 1/2 cup milk and a handful of grated cheddar cheese until everything is melted and creamy.

Next time we think we'll try it with sauteed mushrooms and spinach or something.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

How Mom Does Dinner: Stuffed Peppers

I used to sit down every Saturday morning and, with input from the whole fam, formulate a menu for our weekly meals. Then I would carefully make my grocery list based on the menu and any other depleted staples. Finally after all that I would head off to do my shopping. But I don't do that anymore because it just sucked.

The whole reason I gave it a go was that I kept hearing that it was a great strategy for minimizing grocery expenses. It made sense to me that if you had a well organized plan that you would be less apt to buy a lot of stuff you didn't really need. I reasoned that the time I invested would be rewarded with savings at the cash register and then I'd have more money to spend on fun family stuff. Time is important to me because I do work full-time, I have three school aged kids, I actively participate in their school and extracurricular activities, I have personal interests I like to pursue and Dad and I need time to nurture our relationship too.

As it turned out, I found that the more carefully I formulated my lists, the more I actually spent. So I ended up with less time and less money. I have since decided to just pick up general staples that I use all the time so there's always something I can put together for dinner. That's also the reason I am not such a recipe follower.

On any given night, I just sort of check out what protein I have thawed out and then build around it from whatever is on hand in the fridge and pantry. It's not always fancy pants, but it doesn't steal our family time either and that's a good thing.

Last night I had some ground sirloin that needed cooking and my pretty bell peppers were speaking to me so I decided to do a stuffed pepper variation. This is what I used because that's what was there - you use whatever you have:

  • 1 lb ground sirloin
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
  • 2 t cumin
  • salt
  • 6 oz tomato sauce, because I had no paste
  • 3 t chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 1/2 cups corn, I used a can because I had no fresh
  • 1 cup long grain rice
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cup grated cheese, I used 50/50 cheddar and mozzarella because I had no Monterey Jack
  • 3 bell peppers, halved lengthwise and seeded

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Brown meat in a large skillet. Add onions, garlic and jalapeno then cook until softened. Add cumin, salt and tomato sauce then simmer until the tomato reduces and the mixture tightens up. Add corn, oregano, rice and water then cover and simmer 15 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking time. Remove from heat and allow to sit for 5 minutes.

While that mixture is cooking, place peppers skin-side down in a baking dish. Add 1/4 cup water to bottom of the dish and bake for 15 minutes to soften peppers.

Stir cheese into stuffing mixture and fill peppers. Return to the oven and bake for 20 minutes.

Easy peasy. Stress-free shopping and cooking, kid friendly, healthy dinner.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Restaurant Week again? Oh hell no.

It's back. Again. The beat down that is KRLD Restaurant Week.

Today is reservation kick-off so y'all hop on over to OpenTable and get your name on the list if you must. We plan to send our donation on directly to the North Texas Food Bank, then enjoy our steaks and martinis in peace and quiet at the Hacienda in August.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Sake Toro Frisco Date Night

So we were in Frisco Saturday night to see a friend's artwork on display. Naturally, we were thirsty and in need of a tasty bite to eat somewhere without a lot of kids. Sake Toro in Frisco Square seemed to fit the bill so we headed over.

We slipped in and immediately admired what appeared to be some original artwork in the entry. This is a cute, intimate spot with a modern vibe. The music is a little on the loud side so bring some earplugs if you're uptight about that sort of thing. We were promptly greeted and repeatedly checked on throughout the visit by genuinely nice staff. Overall, it feels like a nice place to be and we never felt rushed.

The martinis were solid which is always a plus for us. We started with some gyoza and miso soup, this being date night and all. Again, solid soup - nothing extraordinary in our estimation but a tasty bowl nonetheless. The dumplings were nice and crispy on the bottom with a delicate dough that wasn't too thick. Of the rolls we chose, we were surprised to enjoy the Ultimate Veggie Roll the most. Really nice flavor and texture with the tempura asparagus.

Is it super cheap sushi? No, but it's not going to break the bank either. So we're puzzled why such a fun, cute place with nice food and drinks wasn't very busy on a Saturday night.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Mom's Chicken Enchiladas

If you're like us and end up with an entire beautifully roasted chicken left over from dinner because your kids' house-guests have an aversion to eating foodstuffs that don't come either prepackaged or out of a drive-thru window, you might need a re-purposing idea on occasion. Last night was one such occasion here at the Hacienda. After perusing the fridge, Mom decided it was enchilada night. 

Like most things around here, we work with what we have and go with the flow so there isn't so much of an exact recipe as an approach. There are two parts to our wannabe enchilada supper: the actual enchiladas and the corn relish.

For the enchiladas, we used:
  • one whole roasted chicken, deboned
  • one onion, chopped (we used purple since that's what was in the fridge)
  • couple of handfuls mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 5 handfuls fresh spinach
  • salt, crushed red pepper, cumin - put however much tastes good to you
  • 6 oz. goat cheese
  • corn tortillas
  • 32 oz green chile enchilada sauce
We sauteed the onions until nice and soft, then added in the mushrooms, garlic and seasoning. Once everything was soft and juicy, we piled on the spinach and cold chicken. When the spinach had begun to wilt, we turned off the heat and stirred in the cheese until it melted into creaminess.

We wrapped the filling in corn tortillas and crammed them into an oiled baking dish. After getting coated in the green chile sauce, the enchiladas baked uncovered at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes, until bubbly and browned.

While they were baking, we whipped up a corn relish. This is what we used:
  • 1 can of corn, drained (The Hacienda was plumb out of fresh corn today)
  • an equal volume of quartered cherry tomatoes
  • one jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
  • half an onion, chopped
  • the juice of one lime and a drizzle of olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

It would have been better with the addition of cilantro and avocado. This was just an ADD sort of cooking night so they got left out, oopsie. The relish chilled in the fridge until the enchiladas were baked and slightly cooled. They're easier to dish up if they aren't a hot sloppy mess.

And there you have it. Mom's enchiladas at TheHaciendaNextDoor.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

City Chicks

Invariably when we mention to anyone that we have chickens in our back yard, we're asked, "oh, so you live out in the country?" No, people. We're in the burbs and there's nothing weird about having hens up in here.

Both of us had grandparents who raised chickens when we were children. Not all of these were country folk either so we had the opportunity to experience backyard chickens as a normal part of home life. Reflecting on her time spent picking eggs at Chicken Granny's house, MomNextDoor decided last year that the time had come. She drew up a rough sketch of what the perfect hen house for our back yard might look like and the gentlemen of the house set to work. With about $250 and a lot of muscle, their masterpiece was completed in a weekend.

We headed over to North Haven Gardens to pick out a couple of young hens. Farmer Dan from Bageniece Farms was there with a selection of his finest. Talk about a knowledgeable, nice guy - Dan can answer any chicken question you throw at him, he's super supportive if you have any questions once you get home and he didn't even mind that a lady came to spend the day observing and taking notes to learn more about keeping chickens. Keep an eye on NHG calendar - Dan teaches lots of workshops as well.

We wanted hens than would be good layers and that would also be friendly with the kids. At Dan's suggestion, we chose a Barred Rock and a Buff Orpington.

The Buff is named Taco - trust us, you don't really want to know why. Her sister is named Paco. Because it rhymes with Taco and because it's a silly Pixies reference.

Our city ordinances only permit us to have two hens so our house is modest in size. It's designed to have great circulation but also to keep the girls safe and comfy inside through all seasons. We do have a small fenced-in run area for the ladies to stretch their legs but when we're home they have free run of the yard. This means they spend a great portion of each week munching on sunflower seeds the birds spilled from the birdfeeder, scratching up worms from the flowerbed and napping in the cool shade under the boxwoods. Then when the sun begins to set, they simply head inside and hop up on their roost for bedtime.

They started laying when they were close to 6 months old. We generally get about a dozen eggs a week, which is plenty for us. They have the most beautiful golden yolks and mild, buttery flavor. They're actually one of the kids' favorite after school snacks. We have teenagers so they're big enough to fend for themselves. They often come home in the afternoon, let the girls out into the yard, pick the day's eggs and bring them straight inside to wash and cook.

Of course you just can't beat a poached egg for weekend brunch. One our all-time favorites.

Are they expensive to keep? No, they're cheaper than the cats. Are they messy? A little, but less than a dog - especially easy since the poopy junk gets dumped into the compost bin right next to the hen house. Are they loud? No, we have hens only so they're WAY quieter than our neighbor's barking-ass dog. Do they get along with other pets? We wouldn't let them play with dogs if we had any but they hang out with our cats just fine - one of them even accidentally had a sleepover with them in the hen house one night. Are they friendly? Yes, they come running like puppies when we step outside and call them.

Any other questions?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Food Memories

I have these food memories that I associate with special people in my life. Every time I make a certain dish I remember those specific people and how they made me feel as a child. Is that strange or does everybody have that?

Without fail, when I make a brisket I think of my paternal grandmother's big family dinner table. The creamy lusciousness that is chicken tetrazzini will always remind me of my maternal grandmother's hugs. Roasted chicken makes me proud of the time and care my mother put into nourishing our growing bodies well.

For the past several days I've been thinking of my Aunt Debbi. Maybe she's been on my mind and I'm subconsciously choosing to make foods that remind me of her. Or maybe somewhere in there I just have a need to feel those things she makes me feel. She's one of those amazing people who you can trust with your life and your best secret. You always know you could tell her anything because no matter what, she loves you just for who you are.

Cold weather just sings "sweet potatoes" to me and I love few things more than a simple baked sweet potato. Deb shares my sweet potato adoration and for some reason I always just assume she'll be bringing them to any holiday dinner we have. I laughed about that as I nommed on one last night as the snow started to fall.

For as long as I can remember, Deb has always made the most amazing candies and cookies. In my mind, there just isn't a better confectioner to be found. I won't even pretend to attempt to make her pralines because there just isn't any way to do them justice. I also do not bake.

I've been tormented this past week trying to come up with some sort of sweet treat to take to the office Valentine's sweet buffet tomorrow. I simply cannot deal with the shame of showing up empty handed. So this weekend I closed my eyes and thought back to all the tasty things Deb made when I was growing up, trying to find something that I might possibly pull off with some degree of dignity. Suddenly it hit me. Those simple magic cookie bars always rocked!

They may not be trendy or extravagant but they're a damned tasty morsel of sweetness. My coworkers won't all appreciate the love and magic that's always gone into those treats, and mine certainly aren't as pretty as hers, but I'll have warm fuzzies at work tomorrow remembering Aunt Debbi's awesomeness.


Sunday, February 5, 2012

Dallas Bicycle Cafe

We heard the new Dallas Bicycle Cafe opened this weekend and decided to pay a visit since we were stopping by Dallas Bike Works anyhow and hadn't eaten.

While we can't say we'd likely stop by for dinner, this is a pretty cool little spot for a nice coffee and healthy breakfast, brunch or lunch. For our brunch this time, we each got a Slick Tire capuccino and we shared a chicken quinoa bowl.

This was really the perfect brunch for the two of us. We can't imagine one person eating this whole bowl without exploding. Can't beat 15 bucks either. We can't wait to try the tacos and French press coffee next time. Who knows, we might even decide to sit at the bar for beer and wine and nom on chips, salsa and guac instead.

As a matter of fact, we will probably ride White Rock Lake and park our bikes in the special bike parking out front. There are some really beautiful lockers and whatnot in the back but we don't generally roll like that.

Our only criticisms this visit were that the kitchen was a little too slow and sugar for the coffee was sort of hidden. We figure this was just because it was opening weekend though. If they can manage to pick up the pace it makes our favorites list. It's so refreshing to have a place serving something other than burgers and tacos.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Fajita Junkies Indeed *CLOSED*

There is a little hut in the middle of a shopping center parking lot not too far from our house. Ordinarily it wouldn't be someplace we'd bother trying. Somehow the name was just intriguing enough to draw us in - Fajita Junkies. (Updated 11/12/12 - Sadly, Fajita Junkies has closed.)

O.M.G. Tasty good meat was a great surprise. The seasoning on the steak plus the slow-cooked mesquite smokiness rocked, not to mention it's tender awesomeness. We had the steak tacos this time & cant wait to go back for the brisket. We went around 11-ish for an early lunch and the brisket just wasn't quite ready - it hadn't had enough smokey love just yet. The kids also enjoyed the chicken quesadillas.

Pricing includes two toppings, with additional toppings available at a small upcharge. They dished up a really nice salsa which we could only presume was made in house. Wonder if they sell it by the jar??? Not sure if they have corn tortillas or not. We're planning to ask next time since we prefer corn over flour for tacos and fajitas.

Three of us had a nice lunch for about $12 which you just can't beat. The only understandable excuse for choosing either the nearby Taco Bell or Fuzzy's over this place ever is if you happen to be brain dead.

Sign posted stated they were discontinuing breakfast & extending evening hours. We think that's a great thing. Of course, being a little hut and all, there is no seating. Take it home, whip up a pitcher of margaritas and pig out in privacy.

The owner was working the window the day we visited. He's a super nice guy sharing his gift for making addictive fajitas. We're definitely fans of local small business.

Unfortunately we were hungry and the aroma was too much to resist. We inhaled our lunch before we thought to take pictures for you. Ah well, guess we'll just have to go back!

Friday, January 6, 2012

New Date Night Fave - Restaurant AVA

We were shocked to find such a gem less than 15 minutes from home. How is it possible this was our first visit here after all these years?! Because we're snobs and we never really expected much in Rockwall apparently.

The parking situation is sort of a pain in the ass. As far as we could tell, we were supposed to park behind the restaurant. Since it was rather chilly NYE Eve, MomNextDoor was not hiking her happy self all the way around to the front door. Enetering through the back and passing the kitchen toward the hostess stand just felt a little intrusive. But we'd do it again.

This place has a really warm, cozy vibe while still maintaining a sense of upscale class. The dining room has a really intimate feel. Not wanting to disrupt that intimacy, we left our flashes off so these pictures are pretty crappy and don't do any justice to the care and attention put into presenting the dishes.

Our first measure of any restaurant is the martinis. We certainly found no fault with the AVA bar on this visit. To start, we were brought house made sourdough and cornbread. Both were tasty yummy but the cornbread was a little sweeter than we typically prefer and the sourdough a little less funky. Actually, we thought the breads would rock our socks as a dessert course since we don't typically eat sweets when we go out.

Clearly the chefs take great pride in choosing the best possible local, seasonal ingredients. In fact, they share information about their sources on the first page of the menu. For us, this isn't so much of a selling point as the house made items, creativity of the dishes and incredible taste.

So far as we can tell, it's darned near impossible to choose a bad dish at this place. This visit we enjoyed the calamari - loved the salty, thin slices but liked the leggy bits slightly less due to the clumpiness of the batter. The squash soup was fantastic as was the perfectly dressed pear salad.

We've never enjoyed a more tender pork chop as this.This bone-in chop was literally butter knife tender and juicy to perfection. The delicate smoky flavor went so well with the fruitiness of the garnish. That schmear of sauce is just the cherry on top.

The beef tenderloin was cooked and seasoned to perfection and was melt-in-your-mouth tender. The smashed potatoes and mushrooms were delish but incredibly rich and, when combined with the roasted cauliflower, were a little heavier than we prefer. We perhaps would have enjoyed the dish even more with some sort of fresh or acidic component.

Make no mistake about it folks, our plates were clean. We will certainly be back often.