Sunday, November 28, 2010

Our Miraculous Masterpiece: Evan James Leiser

My little perfect Babycakes is here!

Minutes after Baby Evan is born. Please keep your eyes on the baby, and not the hot mess that is me.

Hangin' with his grandmom, aka Nanny.

All dressed up and ready to leave the hospital. Thank freakin' God.

Asleep at last. Evan was not a fan of the car seat at first.

Tummy time with Daddy.

Mr. Gorgeous.

When I look at him, it still astounds me.

He is only the Cutest Baby Ever in the Whole Entire World. I say this 10,000 times a day.

Baby Evan arrived home on Wednesday, Nov. 17 after what seemed like a foreva eva stint in the hospital.

Induced labor kicked off at 10 a.m. Friday, Nov. 12, and progressed until the pushing began around 11 p.m. An hour later, the doctor declared that this babe was not coming out the old-fashioned way.

Hysterics on my part did ensue. The Jersey Girl wanted no parts of a C section. But, my crying could not put off the inevitable: We were going under the knife to get a happy and healthy baby out already.

Evan wriggled his button nose and flashed his dimples at us around 1 a.m. Saturday while “I’m Coming Out” serenaded his journey from womb to world. (Seriously. That song was on during the surgery.)

Our stay in the hospital was never ending, clouded by pain meds, yucky food and hormones. Fortunately, I had the most perfect little angel to look at when the hospital stay was wearing me down.

We made a valiant attempt to master breastfeeding. (I’m happy to report that this is going well. I think. Well, I’ve heard no complaints from the mouth being fed.)

And, we tried to get some rest. Of course, nurses and doctors and room service and other random peeps knocking on your door every 20 minutes make that a bit difficult.

Needless to say, we were SO FREAKING HAPPY to leave the hospital and come home. The Jersey Husband and Aunt Lorraine rocked out mad baby decorations. So cute!

And I’m just trying to get back to normal while having the best time ever with my little Evan. Or Babycakes. Or Pumpkin. It seems like he digs it here. He’s been meeting the fam and listening to Mozart and Debussy and catching up on General Hospital.

We had an amazing Thanksgiving. And, I am so very thankful for Baby Evan, and The Husband and for my super wonderful fam.

Hope you all had a great holiday.

Recipes and more regular posts will be back on track this week!



Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Waiting is the Hardest Part

Words of wisdom given to the Jersey Girl, who is patiently and at times not so patiently awaiting the arrival of her Jersey Baby, over the past two weeks include the following:

Go take a ride on a bumpy road.

Wash your windows.

Eat spicy food.

Take a long, brisk walk.

Keep moving.

Stop cleaning and go lay down.

Rest now because you will never rest again.

Observations made to the Jersey Girl regarding the fact that she is still insanely prego:

We thought for sure you’d go over the weekend.

You’re all baby.

The baby must be really comfy in there.

You must be due any day now.

You look lower.

You don’t look lower

You look ready.

You don’t look ready.

How do you feel?

Yes, pregnancy means the whole world is your own personal peanut gallery. I know all my fam, friends and that random lady in the grocery store mean well, but when your baby is past his due date, these conversations get old.

I guess you could say I’m just really ready for the Jersey Baby to get his cute bootie here. His lateness is driving me and his Daddy loco.

Each night we think this is The Night, and we’re always totally wrong. I’ve been rockin the Braxton Hicks contractions for a few weeks now. Awesome. But they never lead to much more than a tossing and turning and groaning and sometimes cursing Susan who wakes up every hour.

I am 2 centimeters dilated. Hurray!

But yeah. We have a Friday morning appointment to get our induced labor on. I’m sure I’m going to sleep so soundly Thursday night. Ha ha.

When trying to stay calm, I love to bake. I’m sharing with you a recipe I made in September or October. I don’t even remember, and I don’t know what I was trying to calm down about. Apples are the star of the show, so you can still make it now and get a super yum yum result.

Spiced Apple Coffee Cake is featured in “The Williams-Sonoma Baking Book.” I know, I know. You’re thinking, “This cookbook? Again? Really?”

Yes, I totally pimp out “The Williams-Sonoma Baking Book,” but I have to say it rocks. Seriously. If you have anyone near and dear to your heart who loves to bake, you should totally gift them this cookbook. Its awesomeness revolves around the gorgeous pictures, clear and concise recipe instructions and helpful baking tips. All the things I look for in a baking cookbook. So, that’s why it has the Jersey Girl’s heart.

The cake is very fall. I did substitute all-spice for the cardamom that was called for in the recipe. The reasons are as follows: 1. Cardamom was not to be found in my house. 2. I did locate the spice in a local grocery store, but that cat cost 20 smackaroos for a teeny, tiny container. No thanks, McCormick. I’m all for spending dollas dollas on good quality ingredients and cooking items, but for a spice that I’m going to use once, I don’t think so.

Anyways, all-spice works fab in spiced cakes and desserts, so that’s the way this cake went down in the Jersey Girl’s house.

Spiced Apple Coffee Cake
Makes one 9-inch (23-cm.) cake

1 ¼ cups (9oz/280 g) all-purpose (plain) flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1/3 cup (2 ½ oz/75 g) firmly packed light brown sugar
1 ½ tsp. cardamom
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 lb (500 g) tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped, then tossed in 2 Tbsp. lemon juice (pippin, Golden Delicious, Fuji, Granny Smith)
½ cup (4 oz/125 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
8 oz (250 g) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 ½ cups (12 oz/375 g) granulated sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
Vanilla Glaze (recipe follows cake recipe)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Grease and flour a 9-inch (230cm) round springform pan or square baking pan or baking dish. If using a glass baking dish, reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (165 degrees Celsius).

In a bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar, cardamom and cinnamon. Add the apples and toss to coat.

In another bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, cream together the butter, cream cheese, granulated sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Slowly add the flour mixture and beat well until smooth. Using a large spatula, gently fold in the apples just until incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly. Bake until the top is golden brown, 60-70 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center of the cake should come out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Remove the sides of the springform pan, if using, and place the cake on a wire rack set over a piece of waxed paper to catch any drips. Drizzle with the glaze Let the cake cool to room temperature. Cut into wedges or squares to serve.

Vanilla Glaze
To make the glaze, in a small bowl, whisk together ¾ cup (3 oz/90 g) confectioners’ (icing) sugar, sifted; 2 Tbsp condensed skim milk, warmed; and ½ tsp. pure vanilla extract until smooth and pourable. Adjust the consistency of the glaze by adding more milk, a few drops at a time, if necessary.

Please note: The Jersey Girl used all-spice instead of cardamom. She also bakes with extra large eggs. In the Vanilla Glaze, she used regular milk instead of condensed skim milk. She made the cake in a 9-inch square baking pan.

Monday, November 8, 2010

You are My Obsession

So, the final weeks of pregnancy can really bring out the OCD qualities in a gal.

The thing that’s making me extremely loco is that I stopped teaching the last week in October. Up until this point, I could focus on mentoring my budding maestros and worry if they’re practicing enough.

Consequently, for the past eight days all I can think about is the bun in the oven.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve filled up my hours with activities. But there’s only so much compulsive cleaning, organizing, early Christmas shopping and Suduko puzzle solving a girl can do. I’ve also been working diligently on two Mozart sonatas and cooking up a storm. Meanwhile, I over analyze every twinge and pang that takes over my achy bod by referring to books, Web sites, sisters, friends in the hopes that they will confirm that I am finally entering a major stage of labor.

And yesterday, I had The Husband take me to lunch and DSW, where I bought a fierce pair of flat boots that I will be rocking post-baby.

(Listen, my fashion is ALWAYS a priority, no matter how prego I am. And in a bit of divine intervention, my feet did not swell at all during my nine months. Yay!)

I’m well aware that the lesson learned here is: Good things come to those who wait. And we are over the moon that the Jersey Baby is thisclose to being here. But, he’s officially past his due date, which is today. Doesn’t he know that his Mom and Pop are two journalists. The Deadline is not to be toyed with.


Today, I’m sharing with you a delish chocolate muffin recipe courtesy of Anne Byrn, aka the Cake Mix Doctor.

These are called Triple-Chocolate To-Live-For Muffins.

They are super fabulous. They are great for bake sales because they pack up well. There’s no frosting involved. So, they are also your kind of treat if sweet, sugary icing is not your thang.

I made them to thank a friend for a favor. And, there were some left over for The Husband and moi.

So, back to the Cake Mix Doctor.

I dig this broad. Sure, she’s all about the boxed cake mix. But, I must admit, every thing I make from her cookbooks rocks. Her philosophy is: Take a cake mix, doctor it up with some fabulous baking ingredients, make a from-scratch frosting and the result is perfection on a cake stand.

If you’re a beginning baker, I highly recommend Anne Byrn’s books. She offers lots of tips on how to get the best cake performance. And she has tons of yum yum frosting recipes.

You can check out her Web site, by clicking here.

Triple-Chocolate To-Live-For Muffins
From “Chocolate from the Cake Mix Doctor”
By Anne Byrn

Makes 24 muffins (2 ½ inches each)

24 paper liners for muffin pans (2 1/2 –inch size)
1 package (18.25 ounces) plain devil’s food cake mix
1 package (3.9 ounces) chocolate instant pudding mix
1 cup sour cream
½ cup water
½ cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1 ½ cups semisweet chocolate chips
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (optional)

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners. Set the pans aside.

Place the cake mix, pudding mix, sour cream, water, oil and eggs in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for 1 minute. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat 2 minutes more, scraping the sides down again if needed. The batter should look thick and well combined. Fold in the chocolate chips, making sure they are well distributed throughout the batter. Spoon the batter into the lined muffin cups, filling each liner three quarters of the way full. Place the pans in the oven.

Bake the muffins until they spring back when lightly pressed with your finger and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 23 to 27 minutes. Remove the pans from the oven and place them on wire racks to cool for 5 minutes.

Run a dinner knife around the edges of the muffin liners, lift the muffins up from the bottom of the pan using the end of the knife, and pick them out of the cups carefully with your fingertips. Place them on a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes, before serving. Dust with confectioners’ sugar, if desired.

*Store the muffins, wrapped in aluminum foil or plastic wrap, or in a cake saver, at room temperature for up to 1 week. Or freeze them, wrapped in foil, for up to 6 months. Thaw muffins overnight on the counter before serving.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Waiting Game

Patience is a virtue that I usually have, but awaiting the arrival of the Jersey Baby is starting to drive me bananas.

I know, I know – he’s totally not due until Nov. 8. But based on last week’s doctor’s appointment, I was convinced he would be arriving early. So was the doctor. Unless, he was pulling me leg. Or propping up my delusional high hopes. I thought for sure when I was grabbing my belly in pain on Monday night, that the Jersey Baby would be arriving on Election Day. A fitting date, since his Daddy and I are news/politics junkies.

But alas, he’s still not here. And today, the doc started the labor induction talk. Oy.

While waiting, I’ve been getting my cleaning on. And I started Christmas shopping. And, I’ve totally been cooking up a storm. Of course, I had to slow my roll on my culinary concoctions since I only have one mouth to feed, and well, I hate to dispose of good food. There’s only so many leftovers The Husband can eat.

I love this time of year. Especially for cookery purposes. That’s because it’s all about comfort food. And since I’ve been stuck at home, the need to be comfy has taken over my being.

On a recent chilly willy night, I rocked out my Chicken and Dumplings. This dish reminds me of my childhood, when my Moms would make Chicken and Dumplings using Bisquick. I always loved it as a kid, but no offense, Mom, dumplings from scratch are way way way better than the Bisquick variety.

My Chicken and Dumplings dish is super easy to make. You do need cake flour for the dumplings.

This is perfect to eat on a cold dreary fall night. Hope you get a chance to do so!

Chicken and Dumplings
Makes 5 servings

For the soup:

2 lbs. chicken breast or tenders, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter
1 baking potato, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 dry bay leaf
½ tsp. onion powder
½ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. flour
4 cups chicken broth
2-3 cups water

In a large Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat, add oil and butter.

When butter melts and begins to bubble, add potatoes, carrots, celery, onion, bay leaf, onion and garlic powders, thyme and salt and pepper. Cook for 7 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add flour and cook for about 2 minutes. Stir in broth and bring to a boil. Add chicken to the broth. Lower heat to a simmer. Cover partially. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes. Chicken should be cooked through and vegetables should be tender.

At this stage you may add the dumpling batter.

Inspired by “The Joy of Cooking”

1 cup cake flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 extra large egg
Scant ½ cup milk

In a medium bowl, whisk together cake flour, baking powder and salt.

Whisk together milk and egg. Slowly pour into dry ingredients. Stir together with a spoon.

Return soup mixture to a simmer.

To cook, drop dumpling batter into simmering pot of soup using tablespoons so that the batter is scattered throughout the top of the soup. Once all the batter is in the pot, cover the pot with a tight lid. Simmer for 10 minutes.

You may serve at once, but be careful! The dumplings will be hot.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Lucky Seven

For seven years, I’ve felt like the Luckiest Girl in the World.

That’s because I’ve got The Husband.

He is totally my best friend and the love of my life.

God. This sounds like a Hallmark card.

Fitting, since today is our wedding anniversary. And all of the greeting cards I’ve perused in the past week to mark the occasion have been totally lame.

This year’s anniversary is particularly awesome because our baby is due for arrival any day now. And we have waited for him for what seems like an eternity.

Well, just about four years.

It’s funny how life works out sometimes. Back when Mark and I were engaged, we attended pre-Cana classes, as required by the Catholic church. During our classes we each confirmed that we wanted two children – preferably a boy and a girl. We decided we would have our first three years into the marriage. No. 2 would come a couple years later.

It’s safe to say that the plan was an epic fail. And despite our many years of crazy happiness and good times, our inability to have a baby brought us much stress and tears and worry and woe. But, we did learn that sometimes matters of life and love don’t work out based on a planned timetable.

No doubt, The Husband is going to make an amazing Daddy.

How do I know?

It’s evident each night when he talks to my belly and the biggest smile ever lights up his face. Or, when he practices his storybook reading skills while the bambino kicks me and I just laugh. Or when we patiently put together baby gear and install car seats whose instructions were written by crazy people. (No offense, if you write baby equipment manuals.) The signs of Awesome Daddy in Training are all over his face during my doctor’s appointments or when I’m folding freshly washed baby clothes or when he's planning for Junior's future finances.

And then there are those moments when I wake up in the middle of the night obsessing about having a happy and healthy baby. I toss and turn, then pace the house, peruse the Internets or play solitaire or clean a room or organize a pile of clutter. Inevitably, I will eat a bowl of cereal. Three hours later in an attempt to find sleep again, my jostling around sometimes will wake The Husband and he’ll hug me and say, “Don’t worry. Everything’s going to be OK.”

And with that, I can rest soundly.

I hope our baby inherits many of his Dad’s qualities: Gorgeous smile, charm, good humor, passion for life, patience, determination. Because, for reals, The Husband rocks.

And I really am the Luckiest Girl in the World. Happy anniversary, Baby Doll! You know I love you.

Today, I’m sharing with all of you one of The Husband’s hands down favorites: Gnocchi. I go by the Giada De Laurentiis recipe, but I do mix the dough with my Kitchenaid handmixer, rather than a fork as the recipe calls for.

I made gnocchi for The Husband a couple weeks ago. They were fab. Making homemade pasta is fun, and I envision my little boy helping me do this one day. Maybe they will be his fav, too.

I served the gnocchi with my Mean Marinara. For the recipe, please see below.


From “Everyday Pasta”
By Giada De Laaurentiis
Makes about 54 gnocchi

2 baking potatoes, such as russet (about 12 ounces each)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup all-purpose flour

Pierce the potatoes all over with a fork. Microwave the potatoes on high until tender, about 12 minutes. (You can also bake the potatoes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 50 minutes, or until tender. While the potatoes are still warm, cut them in half and scoop the flesh into a large bowl. Discard the skin. Using a fork, mash the potato well. Stir in the egg, salt and pepper. Sift the flour over the potato mixture and stir just until blended.

Scoop out a large spoonful of gnocchi dough.

Roll each scoop on the work surface into about a ½-inch-diameter rope.

Cut the dough into 1-inch pieces. Roll each piece of dough over a wooden paddle with ridges or over the tines or a fork to form grooves in the dough. Set the formed gnocchi on a baking sheet while you form the rest of the dough.

Working in two batches, cook the gnocchi in a large pot of boiling salted water until they have all risen to the surface, about 3 minutes. Scoop the gnocchi into a colander with a slotted spoon while you cook the second batch.

Serve gnocchi with your favorite sauce, warmed and top with grated cheese.

Please note: The Jersey Girl makes her dough using a KitchenAid handmixer, instead of a fork and spoon. The mixer leads to a smoother dough.  When rolling out the dough, lightly flour your surface so that the dough is easier to handle.

Mean Marinara

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion or half a medium/large onion, finely chopped
8 (yes 8) cloves of garlic, finely chopped
¾ tsp. red pepper flakes (you can cut back this)
1 can Cento pureed tomatoes (28. oz)
1 can Cento crushed tomatoes (28 oz.)
A little bit of water – probably half a cup
20 fresh basil leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and onion. Sweat the garlic and onion for five minutes. They should be very fragrant.

Push the garlic and onion to one side of the pan and toast the red pepper flakes for a minute. Mix into the garlic and onion.

Add the pureed and crushed tomatoes. Use a little bit of water to rinse off the tomato on the sides of the cans and pour into pot. (We Italians don’t like to waste food!) The water should measure to a half cup.

Add salt and pepper to taste. I did 20 grinds of my pepper mill and a scant 1/4 tsp. salt.

Snip basil leaves into pot with cooking shears.

Turn your heat down to low. Simmer partially covered for 45 minutes. Make sure you stir every 5 to 10 minutes.

Enjoy now or tomorrow or freeze for later on in your life.