Monday, March 25, 2019

Slow Cooker Beef & Barley Soup

This was a super easy but flavorful soup.  I even took some shortcuts and it was still great.  I didn't brown the meat on the stove first; I simply dumped that and everything into the crockpot and turned it on.  I think there's no need for searing first, but try it if you want to.  You can also make this on the stove. 

Beef Barley Soup
adapted from The Food Charlton
Serves 8 

2 pounds beef stew meat
salt and pepper
7-8 cups water
3 mounded tablespoons good quality beef base
3 stalks celery (about 2 cups), chopped
1-2 onions, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 large potato, peeled and cubed, about 2 cups
3-4 large carrots, peeled and sliced, about 2 cups
1 cup quick barley*

1.  Add the meat to a large crockpot.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper  Add the water, the beef base, celery, onions, garlic, potato, and carrot to the slow cooker and stir.  Cook about 8 hours.  Add the barley and cook for 20-30 minutes or so, until it is tender.

*If you want to use regular barley, just cook longer- at least one hour, or until tender.  Check before serving.
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Monday, March 4, 2019

Rome, Italy

We took a quick weekend trip to Rome two weeks ago.  We only really had one full day for sight-seeing, and since it was Sunday, we didn't bother seeing the Vatican because it was closed.  So we focused on everything else.  We stayed in the outskirts on the north, and took a bus straight into the center of the city.  We were able to walk and see everything we wanted to.  It was a great trip.
 First 3 pics, Colosseum.  We took a tour of the inside too.  By the way, for a less crowded Colosseum experience check out Pula, Croatia.

 Above and below: shots from our Roman Forum tour.  So much history to see everywhere you looked, not just here, but all over Rome!

 Great appetizers on our lunch stop.  Good pasta too.

 Above, Trevi Fountain.  Below, Parthenon.

View from our bus stop in Piazza Venezia, above.  Below, our breakfast the next day- we walked to a nearby pastry shop and brought this back to the Airbnb.
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Friday, February 15, 2019

Chicken Panang Curry

I LOVED this Chicken Panang Curry!! I've only ever made Beef Panang before, and it's one of my (and my fam's) favorite meals.   I was hesitant to even try it with chicken, because how could it be better?  But I did try it and I loved it so much.  With the chicken and peppers, the flavor is different enough from my beef version that it tastes like a whole different curry.  I made this twice in two weeks.  The leftovers are amazing, as well.  Thanks to Carlsbad Cravings for this recipe. I'm really wanting to try her other Thai recipes now. I order my Panang curry paste (Mae Ploy brand) off of  I recently got a package of Kaffir Lime leaves from they send a lot for your money.  They are not all whole leaves, but I think it's hard to find that.  They smell great and impart great flavor. 

By the way, this recipe calls for 3 bell peppers, which seems like too much.  But just use the largest skillet you have (or even a dutch oven) and they cook down enough to work perfectly.  Also, I've never used cornstarch in a curry before (that I remember) but I did use it here; the peppers release some liquid so it made the sauce thick despite that.  It would also be helpful if you decide to use lite coconut milk. 

Chicken Panang Curry
adapted from Carlsbad Cravings

1 tablespoon coconut/olive oil
1-2 tablespoons Panang curry paste (Mae Ploy brand is good)
2 pounds chicken breasts thinly sliced into 1/8” slices against the grain
3 red bell peppers, thinly sliced (I used 2 red; 1 yellow)
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
4 garlic cloves, minced
2, 14 oz. cans quality coconut milk
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon lime juice
4-5 dried Kaffir lime leaves*
1 cup loosely packed basil leaves, roughly chopped

Garnish (optional)
fresh basil
fresh lime juice
Sriracha sauce

1.  Heat oil over medium high heat in large nonstick skillet. Add curry paste and saute for 1 minute. Add sliced chicken and cook just until chicken is no longer pink. Add ginger and garlic and saute 30 seconds.

2. Add 1 1/2 cans coconut milk. Whisk cornstarch into remaining 1/2 can coconut milk then add to skillet. Stir in sugar, fish sauce, lime juice, kaffir lime leaves, and salt. Simmer for 5 minutes, then add red bell peppers and basil and simmer 2-3 minutes or until peppers are crisp tender. Discard Kaffir lime leaves.

3. Garnish with additional optional fresh basil, lime juice and Sriracha to taste. Serve with rice.
*If you can't get Kaffir lime leaves (but do try to!) you can use 1 bay leaf and 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme.  
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Thursday, February 14, 2019

Big Fat Sugar Cookies

Happy Valentine's Day! I made these cookies for my daughter's bake sale two days ago, and they were SUPER popular.  I almost wish I'd made them smaller so they would have gone farther.  But they were good this way.  I used my biggest cookie scoop which holds 3 Tablespoons.  They are so big and fat; so good.  People were really excited about them- lol!  Next time, if I made these for my fam, I'd use a regular cookie scoop and make them a little smaller- eating a big one was like a whole meal!!

Big Fat Sugar Cookies
adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

1 cup butter (8 ounces, 16 tablespoons), softened
3/4 cup neutral-flavored oil, like sunflower, avocado, or canola
1 1/4 cups (9.25 ounces) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (3 ounces) powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (see note)
5 1/2 cups (27.5 ounces) all-purpose flour (I use unbleached)
Granulated sugar for pressing the cookies

3/4 cup (6 ounces, 12 tablespoons) butter, softened
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 cups (24 ounces) powdered sugar
1-2 tablespoons cream or milk
1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (or 325 degrees F for convection bake) and line several half sheet pans with parchment paper.

2.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a bowl using a handheld electric mixer), add the butter, oil, granulated sugar and powdered sugar. Sprinkle the baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt across the top of the sugars (don't add the baking soda and cream of tartar in one lump or it might clump while mixing). Mix until well-combined and super creamy, 1-2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

3.  Add the sour cream, eggs and vanilla and mix until well-combined, 1-2 minutes, again scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.  Add the flour and mix until no dry streaks remain and the mixture is evenly combined; don't overmix.

4.  Scoop the dough into about 3-tablespoon sized portions (I use my biggest cookie scoop) and roll into balls. Place several inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Add about 1/3 cup granulated sugar to a shallow dish or bowl. Lightly spray the bottom of a flat-bottomed glass with cooking spray and dip the bottom of the glass into the sugar. Press each cookie into an even thickness dipping the bottom of the glass into the sugar between each press (no need to spray it again with cooking spray after the first time). The edges of the cookie will ruffle out a bit. Press them between 1/4- and 1/2-inch thick.

5.  Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes until just set. Try not to let them get golden on the edges or very much on the bottom - that means they've baked too long and they may be dry and crumbly.  

6.  Let the cookies cool for a few minutes on the baking sheets before removing to a cooling rack to cool completely.

7.  For the frosting, in a medium bowl (can use a handheld or stand mixer) combine the butter, sour cream and vanilla. Mix until thick and smooth and creamy, 1-2 minutes. Add the powdered sugar and cream (or milk) and mix until well-combined and creamy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add additional cream/milk, if needed, to adjust the consistency of the frosting so it is thick but still soft and spreadable.  Frost the cooled cookies and decorate with sprinkles, if desired.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Prague, Czech Republic

 After leaving Poland, we drove through the Czech Republic to stay in Prague for a few days.  Above is the colorful street where our Airbnb was.  (Parking was hard during this whole trip, lol!)  After the hardest parking job of my husbands life, we walked or took the tram everywhere and didn't get in the car again until we were ready to leave Prague.  Lol.  (It was the same in Budapest and Krakow). 

Our host recommended a restaurant and we walked to it for dinner on our first night.  It was such a friendly place, and we were astounded at how cheap everything was.  The food was really good, too.  I tried one of the national Czech dishes- svíčková na smetaně, which is marinated sirloin served with bread dumplings, a cream sauce, cranberries, and a dollop of sweetened whipped cream.  I loved all the cream sauces we had in these countries!  So good!! 

Pic above, cathedral.  Below, the changing of the guard.  Following pics, cathedral again, and stain-glass windows inside of it. 

My son celebrated his 7th birthday while we were in Prague, so we went to a nearby bakery and everyone picked out a slice of cake.  We had some presents for him and he loved his Prague birthday. 

After Prague, we drove home through Austria and stayed there one night.  I don't have any good pics but we loved our Airbnb and hope to return.  It was a great trip, we saw so much and visited countries we hadn't ever been to before. 

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Monday, February 11, 2019


After leaving Krakow, Poland, we made a short and sombering stop at Auschwitz.  I'll share just a few photos.  We mostly walked around and took everything in.  It was a very quiet and serious place, thinking of all of the atrocities that took place here.  We went to both Auschwitz 1 and 2.  Both are free to enter without a guide.  We chose to not get a guide so we could go at our own pace and leave early if needed. 

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Friday, February 8, 2019

Krakow, Poland

After leaving Budapest last summer, we headed North to Krakow, Poland.  On the way, we drove through the country of Slovakia.  It was beautiful with a lot of forests.  We stopped at a rustic log roadside restaurant to eat lunch.  A lot of other people had the same idea, so it was busy.  My daughter tried the noodle and cheese dish, pictured above.  It's Bryndzové halušky; a potato dumpling covered in sheep's cheese and topped with crispy bacon.  It was SO good.  I wish I'd gotten that, lol.  I ate quite a bit of hers.  Sadly I only have phone pics of this part.  Now, on to Krakow.
 Delish Polish pastries, above, the Vistula River, below.  
 Below, a monument dedicated to the Polish Jewish victims of WWII.  

 We went to a restaurant that only served Pierogi..... we ate a ton and they were SO good!  The plate below is meat-filled.  The pic below that is fruit-filled, for a dessert Pierogi. 

The name of the restaurant, below.  (Pierogi Mr. Vincent)  If you want to come here, make a reservation, because it's tiny, and very popular.  They will turn you away without emotion, lol.  It's super cheap, as well.  Everything was SO good! 

 Pic above- old tiles in the common area of the apt. building we were staying in.  

Walking through Krakow at night, so cozy and beautiful. (Pic above)  Pic below- the menu of the best Falafel restaurant I've ever been to!!  Sadly my pictures of the food turned out super bad, so I can't share them.  We got food from here twice.  Everything was so good, cheap, and fresh.  It's mostly take-out; only like 1 table.  
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