30 Minute 30 Rock and Ravioli Casserole

Every time we get another snowstorm, it’s like a stab through my heart. I am so over winter, but it can never seem to get enough of me.¬†I was fortunate enough to be able to leave work before the worst of the snow hit us today. Now hopefully the roads will be spic and span by the time I’m out on them again at 4:30 tomorrow morning. I don’t care how much I drive like an old grandma in bad weather; my motto has always been “better late than dead.” (Dave’s is “Get off the road slow people–I’m driving here! It’s just snow!”). ūüėÄ

Another downside to long winters (besides scary driving): no playing outside! I am so tired of my workout videos and would much rather be walking or running in the sunshine with my IPod. I finally cheered myself up with the idea of doing my own 30 minute workout to an episode of 30 Rock.

Since I needed a lighthearted book to cheer me up after reading The Casual Vacancy, I immediately bought the highly praised Bossypants by Tina Fey for my Kindle.

I haven’t read too many memoirs, but I adore David Sedaris and, so far, Fey is living up to my expectations. I love how she reacts to the notion that women aren’t as funny as men, and her correspondence with people who call her such things as ¬†an “ugly, pear-shaped, bitchy overrated troll” are friggin’ hilarious. ¬†I am always way behind on popular TV shows, but her memoir obviously deals a lot with 30 Rock (which she created and stars in) so I decided to try it out. So far…so good! Much more fun to do my workout today.

Since cold weather = comfort food, I decided to try a Last-Minute Lasagna recipe I happened upon from Real Simple using ravioli for dinner. When I explained it to Dave, he said, “It’s really more of a ravioli casserole, isn’t it?” Um, yeah.

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Ravioli Casserole

  • 1 24 oz bag frozen ravioli, partially thawed (I used broccoli and cheese ravioli)
  • 26 oz pasta sauce (I made my own from crushed tomatoes, garlic, onion, and herbs)
  • 5 oz fresh spinach
  • 4 oz fresh sliced mushrooms
  • 8 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, shredded

003Heat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 13 x 9 inch pan with nonstick cooking spray. Spoon a thin layer of sauce over the bottom of the pan. Top with ravioli.

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Top with mozzarella, spinach, and mushrooms. Repeat. Complete by sprinkling the top with Parmesan.

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Cover with foil and bake for 35 minutes. Remove foil and let cook another 10 minutes. Let cool at least 10 minutes before serving.

Recipe adapted from: Real Simple

*****

Now I’m off to bed to read some more Bossypants, with which I’m almost finished. Sigh.¬†I have expensive habits.

Mix & Match

Wonderful things happen when you mix and match sweet & savory, crunchy & tender, smooth & tangy. Wonderfully delicious things.

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I took another page from Food Network Magazine tonight and made Soy-Maple Salmon. A quick scan of my blog tells me that I had actually come up with this concoction by myself last year but whereas I used it as a glaze, FN suggested it as a marinade.

Soy-Maple Salmon

  • 2 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tbsp fresh orange juice
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 4 5-oz salmon fillets

Mix the soy sauce, maple syrup, orange juice, garlic cloves, and 2 tbsp of water in a large bowl; add the salmon and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate 20 minutes.

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Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray. Drain the fish, season with salt and pepper, and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until slightly golden around the edges, 8 to 10 minutes.

Adapted from: Food Network

*****

Um, why had I not thought to add garlic? Brilliant! Thanks, Food Network.

Since FN handled my entree, I took on the side dish. What crazy weird stuff could I add to my brussels sprouts during roasting? Olive oil, of course. Balsamic vinegar…yeah, that’s good. And dried cranberries–I have a bag of them to make granola, which we all know I shouldn’t really do. It would be gone in five seconds. What about some nuts…almonds, maybe. Wait, pecans!

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Roasted at 400 degrees for 12 minutes with the olive oil, balsamic, and salt, then tossed in the pecans for another 10 minutes. Stirred in dried cranberries, added some pepper.

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I think I have another veggie side dish for Thanksgiving. The only thing that could have brought this even more over the top would have been bleu cheese crumbles. Noted.

*****

Workout today: Bob Harper’s Body Rev Cardio Conditioning

Book Review: The Casual Vacancy

If I had to sum up my feelings about The Casual Vacancy in one sentence, I’d say: I think J.K. Rowling was trying so hard not to write Harry Potter that she overcompensated terribly.

Believe me, I really did not want to read Harry Potter again nor was I expecting to.¬†I wanted to love something¬†Rowling wrote that was completely different and, even though I’d heard very mixed reviews about the book, I went into it with¬†an open mind.

Had I only read the first half of the book, I would have given it two stars. Since I pushed myself to finish and actually did find the book more intriguing during the second half, I give it three out of five stars.

My main issue with this novel were the characters’ lack of redeeming qualities. One of the main pointers I learned when I took creative writing in college was that every character has to be well-rounded; no one is just a bad guy. Maybe he’s a bad guy with a soft spot for puppies. Or she’s a huge bitch but takes care of her disabled sister with more love than you thought she possessed. Now it’s true that not all novels have to involve characters with redeeming qualities, but in that instance, I would hope the book spotlights on one person and all their misdeeds as sort of a shocking precautionary tale. For instance, I don’t care if you write a book about Hitler and don’t focus on his soft spot for puppies (although I think that actually make the book more shocking).

Instead the book skates through the lives of dozens of unhappy characters: husbands and wives who hate each other, mothers who do drugs and ignore their children, fathers who beat and verbally abuse their children, children who bully, steal, and get raped. Certainly it’s well written; Rowling has not lost her knack for vivid descriptions and allowing characters personalities to unfold gradually. It simply wasn’t a story worth telling.

I’m unsure whether the character whom all the others dance around the entire book, the newly deceased Barry Fairbrother, would have been my favorite, but that’s what I’m desperately hoping. The most intriguing parts of the book were when the adults who try to fill his vacant seat on the council are taken down a peg by their children posting their misdeeds on a council website under the pseudonym “The Ghost of Barry Fairbrother.”

The characters whom I root for most in this novel were the children. because I had to have hope that this entire town wasn’t completely devoid of goodwill. Much like the red-coated girl in Schindler’s List, a three year old from the slums acts as a beacon of hope. Robbie is neither a good kid nor a bad kid; just a child who has seen his mother prostitute herself, do drugs, ignore and forget about him and yet…I dared to hope he would have a better life in the future. But no matter how hard his sister Krystal fights for him, it was all for naught. The book left me feeling depressed, overwhelmed, and almost believing there’s no decency left in the world.

If you want to see what J.K. Rowling is capable of, read this book. But I strongly advise borrowing it from the library.

I’m Never Drinking Again….

I had waaaay too much fun last night, and I spent all day paying for it. Pretty rotten, considering Sunday was my only day off this week. Note to self: set a drink cap. Ugh.

The evening started off nicely. I worked at the cafe yesterday and had a few hours of relaxing time before Dave and I headed out to Applebee’s for dinner. I had a gift card from Christmas to use up–yay for free food!

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Since it was busy, Dave and I opted to sit at the bar. We each ordered a Long Island Iced Tea. I rarely ever order these, but Applebee’s has them for $2 and they’re pretty tasty.¬†They are basically one-sip “Hello, I’m drunk” drinks, but too cheap and delicious to pass up.

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A couple across the bar saw me snapping a picture, and I overheard them talking to each other about me. Sometimes I get embarrassed taking food photos, but I’m getting pretty used to it now.

I really wanted a veggie burger with fries, but the waitress said they don’t serve veggie burgers. Weird! Almost every chain restaurant I know now offers a veggie burger swap. I wasn’t feeling flexitarian and there weren’t any vegetarian options on the menu, so I went for the Grilled Jalapeno-Lime Shrimp. I’m getting a little tired of ordering seafood out–why don’t places know how to cook good vegetarian dishes yet? Sheesh.

The Grilled Jalapeno-Lime Shrimp is part of Applebee’s Weight Watchers Menu and is described as “A hearty portion of grilled chipotle-lime shrimp and black bean corn salsa tossed with lime juice and chopped cilantro. Served on a mix of grilled zucchini, marinated tomatoes, onions & red peppers with steamed white rice.”

003A lot of places skimp on shrimp, but I found the portion to be pretty good here. The entree was chain-restaurant-good; it wasn’t super fresh tasting, but it had quite a bit of flavor, even if it wasn’t nearly as spicy as I thought it would be. I finished all the shrimp and vegetables but left half the rice, which wasn’t seasoned at all. Unless it’s sushi rice or risotto, it usually just isn’t worth it.

After we paid for our drinks, Dave and I headed out to Archie’s, a pub and eatery where my brother recently started working. By the time we got there at nine, the kitchen had already closed for the night, so we couldn’t order scads of hard-to-cook things for Ty. Maybe next time. ūüėÄ

Fortunately, that meant he could join us and a few other friends for a drink. And another drink. And another drink. Which somehow led to Tyler and I belting out ‘Jackson’ on karaoke night.

Karaoke

Photo courtesy of my friend Nicole

I woke up this morning barely remembering the last half of the night, which was probably a good thing. I’m getting too old for this.

 

 

Lonely Friday

I spent Friday night sipping martinis and watching Sex and the City before passing out on the couch at 9:30. I can already predict that Fridays are not going to be my ‘Hot Child in the City’ nights.

At least I had the girls to keep me company, but this cabin fever has me ready to run out in the parking lot screaming, all while my early set-in tiredness and fresh blankets of snow warn me to stay in. Here’s hoping Saturdays get me out a little bit more.

I worked a ten hour shift yesterday, then stopped at the grocery store for more Diet Ginger Ale and my favorite martini gin: Tanqueray.

I changed into my workout clothes as soon as I got home so I wouldn’t be tempted not to exercise. But then I pondered 30 Day Shred, Pure Burn Super Strength, and those available on YouTube and was bored by the thought of all of them. Instead I dusted off the DVD shelves for a video I don’t use very often: Ripped in 30.

I don’t know why I don’t use this more often. I love that she follows the same 3-2-1 interval system as in 30 Day Shred, but she splits the three minutes of strength training into three exercises vs two, so it goes by much quicker. I was in and out in thirty minutes and ready for a shower and a martini.

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Complete with one feta-stuffed olive and one sundried-tomato stuffed olive. Delightful. Even though Fridays have generally been no-cook Fridays recently, I’m trying to use more of the groceries instead of being lazy all weekend.

Thus, I made myself a quick, easy, healthy, and delicious (holy adjectives, Batman) black bean quesadilla.

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I used two whole wheat tortillas (clocking in at 80 calories each) and topped one with refried black beans with chiles, spinach, diced roasted red peppers, diced grape tomatoes, and a handful of cheddar and monterey jack cheeses.

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Sandwiched and into the skillet sprayed with nonstick cooking spray (I love the olive oil stuff!), and cooked on each side for about three minutes.

003I cut my quesadilla into four pieces (although it would have been much more manageable in six or eight) and topped it with some chopped avocado, salsa, and Greek yogurt.

Who needs to order in Mexican food on a Friday night when you can force yourself off the couch and tipsily make a quesadilla yourself? Not this girl.

Adventures with Jicama and Tofu

It has been colder than ice lately. Case in point: the ice has started creeping into our apartment.

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My body has succumbed to the weather with icky cold symptoms: scratchy sore throat, cough, sneezing, runny nose, blah feeling. But since I don’t have a fever or feel half dead, I have no reason not to exercise (just a reason to make it shorter!), so I did Chris Freytag’s Upper Body Workout.

I used a recipe from this month’s Food Network Magazine to make dinner tonight. When we were buying groceries last week I already had it in mind, so Dave and I meandered through the produce aisle at Woodman’s¬†looking for¬†one of the¬†ingredients: jicama.

Even foodies can be stupid about food. The bins were not properly labeled and, having no prior experience with jicamas, I could not pick it out from the yucca root or cuchacote (?). Dave and I finally narrowed it down to two and ended up with these strange looking things:

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A quick search on the internet at home confirmed the former to be jicama, the latter to be yucca root. While I peeled it last night (very aggressively, I might add), the jicama gave off a salted-peanut-in-shell aroma. A quick bite revealed the taste to be like the combination of an apple and potato. Not bad nor good. Just…different.

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Much like the tofu.

The main entree was Tofu Cuban Sandwiches which consisted of wheat hoagie rolls, marinated and pan-fried tofu, mustard, roasted red pepper, pickles, cheese, and an onion garlic sauce.

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The sandwiches were certainly very colorful.

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And the jicama sticks tossed in orange juice and chili powder looked just like french fries.

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But my overall verdict was…meh. The sandwiches were actually quite tasty, but I think they actually would have better without the tofu. And I still couldn’t decide if I liked the jicama. I think next time I might have to try another cooking method…I wonder if they can be roasted?

This is the recipe I used: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchens/tofu-cuban-sandwiches-with-jicama-sticks-recipe/index.html

Now to decide what to do with that yucca root…

 

Cold as Ice

As my car and I chattered our way to the hospital yesterday morning at 4:30am, Foreigner’s “Cold as Ice” fittingly played on the radio, serenading us on the 0 degree drive.

The sun deceivingly promised a warmer trek home, but it was equally chilly and that, combined with a feeling of a cold coming on and a bad day behind me, left me less than eager to work out. I compromised on a short 22 minute workout courtesy of Chris Freytag’s 10¬†Pound Slimdown.

Now that Exercise TV no longer exists, I use Youtube to find the ones I used frequently. This short interval workout is set up similar to Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred and is perfect for when I don’t have a ton of energy. After it was over, I thought, “That was it?”

It’s hard to talk myself into a workout when I don’t feel like it, but I always feel better by the end.

Though it was a perfect day for soup, I had designs on a salad for dinner to battle my cold. I remembered a recipe I had used years ago that was very tasty and did my best to recreate it tonight.

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Mandarin Sesame Chicken Salad

Dressing:

  • 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp orange juice
  • 1 tbsp stevia (or 2 tbsp sugar)
  • 1¬†tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper

Combine dressing with:

  • 8 cups lettuce (I used Spinach & Arugula)
  • 1 lb cooked and diced chicken
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions
  • 1¬†cup pea pods
  • 1 can of mandarin oranges, drained

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I love the taste of sesame oil and sesame seeds, so this dressing was absolutely perfect. I stir fried the pea pods and added the chicken hot for a warm salad, but it is just as delicious cold.

Sunday Funday and the White Dog Black Cat Cafe

Brunch always sounds like a great idea on Saturday at midnight, but somehow, when Sunday morning rolls around, the thought of exerting the effort to shower, dress, and meet people early in the day¬†proves to be too much. Solution: plan to do brunch on Sunday and don’t hang out Saturday night. Whatever works.

white-dog-black-cat-cafe

Dave and I were the first to arrive at White Dog Black Cat Cafe at noon on Sunday. A couple of my friends had recommended the place as having great brunch food and the best bloodies in town. The atmosphere was a little cozy, a little funky, and the crowd ranged from hipster to post-church attendees.

Though I really wasn’t in the mood for a¬†Bloody Mary¬†when we arrived, there was an implied understanding that to go to WDBC and not order¬†one on a Sunday was like going to Red Lobster and ordering the chicken. It simply isn’t done.

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I usually have a love-hate relationship with Bloody Mary’s. I love eating the fixings and drinking the first half, then I get tired of it by the second half and end up wasting it. But after my first sip of the Hometown (which inclued a pickled egg, onion, mushroom, and brussels sprout), I was sold. This was the best Bloody Mary I’ve ever had; the perfect combination of tomato and spiciness.

I finished it and ordered another.

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Dave was intrigued by the Pot O’ Gold, which sported a boiled potato and bacon and was made with Jameson instead of vodka.

008He wisely ordered a chaser to tamper down this very strong and spicy drink.

It took about an hour for the whole gang to arrive and to scrounge up a table for eight. The menu was a great mix of the familiar: Stuffed French Toast, and the not so familiar: Pulled Pork Eggs Benedict. Though I really wanted the Huevos Rancheros, the waitress informed me they no longer served it. Scumped again! Instead, I ordered the regular Eggs Benedict.

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This was served with a side of ‘cafe potatoes’, which were¬†basically small hashbrown patties.

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The presentation was great, and the food was delicious. Dave seemed to enjoy his steak and eggs very much, as well.

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The food prices were very reasonable and the drink prices standard for Green Bay ($7 each for the Bloody Mary’s). We both agreed that we would return.

After brunch came the age-old question “What do we do now?” After much hemming and hawing, Dave and I finally invited the gang back to our apartment for some board games and coffee.

We played Wits & Wagers and poker and spent some time with this lovely (crawling) lady.

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As with most Sunday Fundays, Dave and I stayed up much later than we should have given our work schedules. Eh. You only live once.

Trip Down Memory Lane

As you may have already guessed, I love photographs. I minored in Fine Arts in college with an emphasis in photography, which was purely due to interest and not a career choice. I had no interest in being a professional photographer; I simply love the history of photography, the act of photographing, the memories that a photograph brings out.

I absolutely loved the hours I spent in the darkroom in college, drawing out images from a blank piece of paper. It’s magical. I am rarely anywhere without a camera, and even though my brother wants to deep fry my camera sometimes, I feel a little lost without it.

In addition to taking photos, I love looking at old photos, even when they’re not mine. I will gladly go through my friends albums of them growing up on Facebook, and the first thing I look at it in someone’s home are the photos they have chosen to display, a reflection of their lives.

Dave is in the process of moving all the items on our current hard drive to a much larger 1 terabyte hard drive and asked “Do you want everything that’s on there? Or are you going to delete your pictures?”

“Delete my pictures?!”

I think not. ¬†If my parents and Dave’s parents had thrown away their pictures after taking them, we wouldn’t have these treasures.

Ali & Dave

Dave and Ali.Ali & Dave 2 I think this is my favorite baby photo of Dave. I really want to go back in time and kiss his cheek.img048

I’ll probably never meet another person who is as big of a fan of Ghostbusters as Dave. His parents told me he used to run around the house saying “I’m bustin’ ghosts!”

Note: Dave’s father was a professional photographer, and all these photos are owned by Barry Dowe Photography.

My parents were not professional photographers, but they did pretty well, anyway.

 

002Knowing very little about the growth rate of babies, except Aurelia, I’m guessing this was my first birthday. Pay no attention to the details: I promise my family is not white trash.

001Washing clothes with Grandma Leahy at the cabin at the pump. I promise my family is not white trash.

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A diaper wrapped around my burned hand on my second birthday. I promise my family is not…oh, never mind.

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Hey, look at that cake my Mom made. See how fancy we are? It only took a few years.

 

 

 

Perfect Saturday Afternoon

One of my favorite things to do in an afternoon—grocery shop at Woodman’s.

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The store is even happy to see us, too!

Even though I hate the set-up of the produce selection, their prices and selection have made them my top pick for a big grocery shopping spree. Dave and I filled our cart to the brim with fresh veggies, cheese, canned beans, apples, and various snacks to last us the next few weeks.

After we unloaded at home, we headed off for a few more errands: Fleet Farm for more birdseed and lamp oil, Petco for a Drinkwell reservoir and replacement filters, and Target for all the things that we don’t need but just like to have. That’s Target in a nutshell.

Holding up with most weekend nights and grocery shopping days, neither Dave nor I felt like cooking, and he wasn’t in the mood to go out. We compromised on take & bake pizza from Papa Murphy’s…pretty much the only place we ever get take & bake pizza (unless we happen to buy a frozen Archer Farms pizza from Target).

Dave and I usually each pick one pizza and then revel in the leftovers for the next few days. My favorite is the Gourmet Vegetarian with the tomato sauce instead of the creamy garlic sauce. Dave loves the stuffed ones with plenty of meat. Two peas in a pod. I haven’t yet caved in to the S’mores Dessert Pizza.

But I really want to some day.

Dave brought home three pizzas this time: Gourmet Vegetarian (with tomato sauce instead of garlic sauce). Hawaiian (with added green peppers and red onions).

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And a Chicago-Style Stuffed.
002We finished Season 5 of the Big Bang Theory while eating our pizza. ūüė¶ ¬†Now we have to find a new ‘funny’ show to watch together until Season 6 is all out on DVD. I made it until 11pm tonight!