Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dinner Time... My Happy Place

I am so glad to be back in Montana, however I am already missing the fabulous southern food we ate in the great south. One night last week I decided to re-create my southern favorites!

I remade the ribs that I had created for my family in Florida that I posted on the Sharing Thyme and Space blog and I also made some Slow Cookin' Collard Greens varying the recipe and experimenting and I made my ultimate favorite.. Cheesey Grits! For dessert I picked a new recipe that I had just learned and created a delicious Rasberry Cream Cheese Layer Cake. I even tried my hand at videoing! But I couldn't figure out how to  to load it to the blog.. so maybe next time!
The trick to the mouth-watering aspect of this meal is that it is all cooked low and slow. I started the ribs at noon and started the greens at 2pm. By 3pm the house smelled so good that I could barely hold myself together to wait for my dinner guests.

This is one of those comfort meals that helps your loved ones forget the stresses of the day and immediately be transcended to a happy place. In my opinion that is what family dinner should be about. A safe place to take off you burdens and curl into a comforting delicious meal surrounded by people who love you no matter what. I might even say, love you because of your craziness! Dinner for me is about releasing the day and starting the transition into quality time, relaxation, and laughter.

That's why it is so important for me to share dinner around the table with my loved ones. I want to share in the joy of togetherness and delicious food with the people that mean the most to me. I hope you try these recipes out. You won't be dissapointed and let me know how it turns out!

Cheesey Grits.. Montana style

2 cups broth
1 cup half n half
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups polenta
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 can cream corn (14oz)
1 tbsp butter
1 cup shredded chedder cheese
1/4 cup diced fresh green onions

Combine all liquids with the polenta and salt then cook over medium high heat for 15 minutes stirring constantly.  After 15 minutes it should thicken up; add the can of cream corn which will thin it out some, then cook another 15 minutes on low heat, stirring periodically.  It should have the consistency of thick batter.  Mix in the chedder cheese and the chives.  When this tasty shiznit is ready, pour it in a baking pan, and then bake that mother fucker like it aint no thing, bitches.  Peace out.

Slow Cookin' Collards

2 lbs. fresh collard greens
1/4 cup white onion diced
6 strips bacon; sliced
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 cup chicken stock (you can substitue any kind of stock you have on hand here)

To clean the collard greens fill a large bowl with cold water. Next remove the stem from the collard greens with a knife all the way up the leaf and slice into large chunks. Repeat with all of the collard leaves and throw them into the cold water. Bathe swirling them around for a few minutes to make sure any dirt is removed. Strain them through a collander and set aside.

Place the olive oil in a large pot and heat over high heat. Once the pan is hot add the bacon and onions and brown until the bacon is crispy. About 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and add the collard greens and the chicken stock. Cook on low for 5 hours or longer. The longer you cook them the more flavorful they will become. You can't go wrong or overcook these. They just keep getting better and better!

Rasberry Cream Cheese Layer Cake

Crust:

1 cup graham cracker; crushed
4 tbsp. butter; melted

Combine and press into the bottom of a round baking dish. Bake in a 250 degree oven for 15 minutes. Allow to cool for 15 minutes while you prepare the filling.

Filling:

8 oz. frozen rasberries (you can substitute blueberries, blackberries, etc)
3 tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
8 oz. cream cheese
1/4 cup sugar (separated)
8 oz whipped topping

Combine cornstarch and 3 tbsp. of water. Then add the cornstarch, sugar, and fresh rasberries in a sauce pan and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes. The mixture will become thickened and glutenous and have the consistency of jelly. That is exactly what you are looking for. Set aside to cool while you prepare the cream cheese filling.

Combine the cream cheese and sugar using a mixer until creamy and smooth. If you don't have a mixer you can also use a large spatula to combine. Then gently fold in 4 oz of the whipped topping reserving the other half for the top layer.

To prepare, place the rasberry mixture on top of the graham cracker crust. Layer the cream cheese mixture next, then top with the remaining whipped topping. Sprinkle leftover graham cracker crumbs over the top if desired!

Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, but it could be overnight as well! This is a super easy, refreshing dessert that is sure to please a crowd or you! After all you are number one!

Mental Health Benefit: If you are in need of a little ego boost, try these easy recipes out. I guarantee that you will get praise from your loved ones for days following this meal! I also used the leftovers to create the best sandwich for lunch the next day. I toasted whole wheat bread and heated the greens and leftover rib meat and piled them on for the best sandwich EVER! Two meals in one and both were equally satisfying and mouth-watering!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Arriving Home... Back to BIG SKY Country!

We wake early in Santa, Fe and hit the hard road once again. We are dusting off our saddles and heading to Colorado. Boulder to be exact. We hope to get to Wyoming, but our dreams are shattered when my dad gets pulled over right after we head out of town and is rewarded with a $177 speeding ticket. He calls this a donation to the state of New Mexico, I call it the reason we opted for a free night's stay at my aunt and uncles in Boulder over driving farther down the road. When I tell my boyfriend the news his response is, "Would you give a priest a ticket?" The answer is... I guess so. My dad does appreciate the support though and during my dad's traffic stop my mom and I find a gift shop to browse. My parents end up spending the rest of the money we had for a hotel room, farther locking in the stay in Boulder.

When we arrive in Boulder, we are feeling a little more peppy than before and decide that since we have a kitchen, we are going to make something simple for dinner. We decide on eggs. What could be simpler than eggs and healthy too. Mom and I pick up eggs, spinach, and cheese and we head across the street to the bar. It is seriously passed cocktail hour and we decide to have a margarita. Hey, why break the tradition? When our drinks are finished we head home, to my aunt and uncle's house. They aren't there, but their neighbor graciously left a key for us to get in.

I whip up an egg scramble in about 15 minutes and we make toast and call it dinner. We have some white wine that we brought along and pop the cork. We are in a celebratory mood. I am only a half a day to Montana and my man, who I haven't seen in WAY too long! We hit the sack early and before I know it my alarm is waking me up telling me that today is the day! Montana here we come! We load up the car and hit the hard road for one more day!

My boyfriend has agreed to meet us in Bozeman and when we arrive, I am breathless! I can hardly wait to see him. It has been over a month. I see him pull up in his Ford pickup that has "Montana Guy" written all over it and I break into a huge smile as I meet him in the parking lot. We embrace, laugh, and he comments, "lookin' good honey. I missed you." To which I have no words other than, "Ditto."

Our first night back together just the two of us we decide to make my Famous Cheeseburgers on the grill with Grilled Potato 'Chips'. The sun is shining and it feels like summer and nothing says Man-tana (as I have heard it called) like a juicy burger on the grill.

I am definitley back in my Man-tana! Traveling is fun, but there is nothing better than the feeling of being back in the familiar folds of my own sheets! I am happily back in Montana and back in the kitchen. I have a lot of serious cookin' to do!

Abby's Famous Burgers

1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
1 package dried onion soup mix
2 tbsp. garlic; minced
1 tbsp. red pepper

Mix all ingredients listed above using your hands until all of the seasonings have been incorporated. For into 4 equal size patties. As my man points out, make sure they are thin and make an indent in the middle with your thumb to make for even cooking.

Heat the grill and grill for 3-5 minutes a side depending on how well done you like your burgers. Make sure not to mash the burgers, you will loose that juicy taste which makes these the best around.

For an added bonus, we sliced white onions and added 2 tbsp. garlic and 1 tbsp. olive oil. We placed this all in a foil package and grilled right next to the burgers. It was a perfect juicy topping to the grilled burgers.


Grilled Potato 'Chips'

3 potatoes; washed
1 package ranch dressing mix
2 tbsp. olive oil

Slice potatoes into 1 1/2 inch think circular rounds leaving the skins on. Place in a large zip lock bag and add the olive oil and ranch dressing mix. Shake the bag to incorporate all the oil and seasonings.

Heat the grill to medium-low heat and place the potato 'chips' on the grill. Reserve the leftover olive oil mixture for basting. Cook on 5 minutes a side continously flipping and basting for 30 minutes or until the potatoes squish easily with tongs.

Sprinkle with 1 tsp. sea salt and serve alongside the delicious cheeseburgers. Enjoy!

Mental Health Benefit: Nothing gets me in a relaxed mood than being outside. Every once and a while we deserve to step out of the kitchen and cook in the great outdoors. Take deep breaths and delight in the sweet aroma of grilled meat, onions, and ranch potato 'chips'! It is the perfect introduction to spring and a great way to entertain, reconnect with a loved one, or just relax on your own. Go ahead and step out (side)! You deserve to switch it up every once and a cook in the great outdoors!

Here's to cookin' in the great outdoors from my home to yours!

~ "Too Lovely" Hot Messes back in Montana

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Longest Road Trip EVER... from Texas and Santa Fe

We are on the road again. Or should I say still... I am becoming strangly intimate with the back seat of our Chevy Lumina. We have developed a rather sensual relationship where the seat belt holds me close, the head rest carresses my hair, and the seat firmly cups my bottom. Okay, either that or I am just going a little stir crazy. Let's just call it the latter shall we? My view out my left window is baggage. Things are getting a little squirley to say the least.

We drove about 10 hours to lovely San Antonio, Texas. I have never been and we arrive late and famished. I am pretty exhausted and haven't had a moment of solitude since about March 17th. Yeah, things are getting a little hairy for me and my crabby-ness is starting to bubble over into the dealings of the day. Not to mention I am running out of money. To be exact, I have $2.16 in cash at the moment. The last of my life savings. I'm being a little dramatic, but not much. I am running out of cash... quick. My emergency plan is buying lotto tickets at the moment. Seems like the right thing to do. I am feeling lucky afterall?

We head to the river walk and pass by the Alamo taking pictures and reading the signs. We get to the river walk and head down the stairs. It is spectacular and suddenly I am back in Venice eating squid ink pasta on the ocean licking olive oil off the plate and sipping house wine served in a jug. That is how cool this river walk is. There are no pictures that can really do it justice. It is gorgeious. We sit down to eat at The Original Mexican Restaurant and a mariachi band comes to our table and asks us if we want a song. Everyone turns to me. Why? I have no idea. It isn't like I have been calling the shots around here for the past month or anything?  My mom smiles at me as if she wants to hear something even though I know she hates these bands. They drive her nuts. I choke, not in my right mind (I'm not sure I even have a 'right' mind), and say yes. After he leaves to go get the band I look at my parents, "Why did you let me make the decision? And mom, you hate these bands, why were you smiling at me?" Oh, well it was too late he was there and played a song and I gave him my last $2. When they leave my mom says, "And now she is officially out of money."

Yes, this is a great example of being out of sorts. I spent my last $2 on song performed by a mariachi band. It's time to get me home, immediately. Don't pass go, don't collect $200 (although that would be nice). Nope, get me home. We have some margaritas to calm me down and I have shrimp quesadillas that are delicious while my parents eat enchiladas. Overall, the food is great and the next time the mariachi band comes by to ask if we want another song, I find my 'right' mind for an instant and say "No". For one moment, I have clarity. It's still time to get me home though.

The next morning we get up and pack everything back into the car and head to Santa Fe, NM. This is another long trip and by the time we arrive to the hotel it is past 8 o'clock and all I want is a sip of cheap white wine (literally) and a hot bath. After that, I put myself right to bed. I can't function and sleep is the only thing that sounds good. Santa Fe and I will have to wait until the morning for our rondezvous.

The morning comes, thankfully, and my date with Santa Fe begins. The sun is shining and I am revived. We have decided to spend the day here and we walk to the downtown after several arguments regarding which is the best way to go. Finally, we get down town do some walking around and pop into the church to look around at the stained glass. My mom finds a zylaphone and we end up having to drag her out of there before she starts playing it and we all get kicked out!

After the near fiasco in the church, we decide that what we need now is a bucket of beer. Pretty much. We find a great little cafe outside and have the most delicious BBQ duck quesadillas and smoked chicken enchiladas. It is just what the doctor ordered! We sit in the sunshine, soak up some fresh new mexican fare, and delight in our surroundings.

After that we walk around and do some minor shopping, but because I am broke it really is just pure torture. On the way back to the hotel we decide that it's margarita-thirty and stop at The Cowgirl Cafe for another drink. More sunshine and smiles ensue. We are happy, relaxed and enjoying ourselves.

We decide to head out of town into the mountains for dinner. It is time for a little scenic drive and some serious mountain time. We dine on fresh guacamole that they make right in front of us and share the best chili renillos known to man-kind and roasted pork fajitas.

It is also time for another margarita. We want to make sure we can recreate the "New Mexico Margarita" accurately when we get home, so we must do our share of sampling. It seems like the right thing to do given the 'research' we are doing. The evening ends with a sense of peace, but knowing that we will once again be on the road tomorrow for another long drive to Boulder, CO. Santa Fe has sufficiently re-fueled our spirits and refreshed our attitudes. I am happy to have spent the day and happy to be continueing on what I am now calling "The longest road trip EVER"!

Mental Health Travel Tip: The most important thing that I packed on this trip doesn't take up a lot of room, I can easily carry it around with me, and has turned out to be the essential ingredient to making this road trip a success. It is my sense of humor. Without this, things would be far more chaotic. I encourage you to bring yours, not just on road trips, but to the grocery store, to work, and especially at home. Don't take yourself so seriously. Remember, none of us get out of this alive anyway, so I take myself far less seriously now. I end up laughing a lot more and my friends laugh a lot more too! All in all, it is really working for me and I encourage you to join me in my "It isn't that serious" campaign!

Laughing and smiling on "The Longest Road Trip EVER!"

~ "Too Lovely" Hot Messes on the road (still)



Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Who Dat?

Mom, dad, and I woke up early and grabbed a bad-ass coffee (literally) and headed to N'Orleans. I have to correct myself, it has actually been more like 20 years since I have been to N'Orleans. I was eight then and would spend the evenings eating room service and playing truth or dare with my sister and cousins, while my parents and aunts and uncles were out on the town. Yeah, so basically, I haven't been to N'Orleans.

After a few hours in the car, we drove right into the heart of the French Quarter Festival. Let me tell you, it was exactly what I was thinking it would be. There were people all over, music blaring from every bar, and drinks flowing like water from a fountain. It was magical. After checking into one of our best finds, The Prince Conti Hotel, we plunged head first into the chaos.

We stopped at the first bar we could find and ordered our first drinks. We started walking and there were people carrying drinks and really good music everywhere. It was love at first sight for me. We landed at Jackson Square and I was put to work stirring cheese grits that was being served with shrimp. We had a margarita and soaked up the creole flavor.

A few cocktails later we ate lunch at a balcony cafe overlooking a live band and couples dancing in the street. I didn't have a dance partner, but I did my best dancing solo and later joined a zydaco band. My dad wanted to know if they wanted a record deal with me. Sadly, the answer is no.

We ate delicious Shrimp Rumelaude and crab cakes and gumbo as we watched the dancers and cheered on the band in the hot Louisiana sunshine.

Over lunch, I commented to my mom, "I really don't get the 'Who Dat' thing? What is is all about?" She responded, "It doesn't matter. Just go with it." And sort of waved me off. Okay, we had another drink and were off. We found a jazz club and before we knew it things were out of control. At least we were anyway.

We were drinking whatever happened our way, I was dancing to anything that I could come across and we stumbled on the gay district. My mom and I loved it! The day fell out of our hands and before we knew it it was way past dinner time. We selected a dinner joint and grabbed a bite. Had another drink and passed out back in our hotel room.

The next morning, we had lived through the French Quarter fest (barely) and my dad commented, "I tried to tell us that we were completely out of hand, but I was too drunk and couldn't keep it together long enough to to get it out." Exactly. There wasn't anything that better sums up New Orleans than that. With all that fun all around, it's hard to hold anything together. Which I guess is the point of a vacation right?

We took it a little slower the next day and started with beignets at Cafe Du Monde. You can't do New Orleans without their classic dougnuts. We also had to compare them to the ones that mom and I had created. They were slightly larger, just as delicious and had tons of powdered sugar just like I remembered as a kid!

Then shopped around and had a lovely 10 cent martini lunch at Bacco. The food was great, service was impeccable, and the martini's were 10 cents! It was a no brainer and a wonderful tip from my dear friend Mike. We finished lunch of delicate pastas and muscles with a ricotta cheesecake. Oh yes, I will be making this at home. It was light and airy laced with citrus and honey. Perfect end to a delicious lunch.

We wandered in and out of shops on the now what seemed like deserted streets of the French Quarter and without me realizing I started to sing "Who Dat!" and I found a baby onsie that said, "Poo Dat!" and fell in love with it. We had a casual meander through the French Quarter and ended up at the cooking school. They almost put me to work, but I told them I was really busy (okay that didn't really happen, but I wished it did. I was running out of money!

The next stop was the Spotted Cat (another tip from Mike) and listened to live music. Mom and I tried to start a band, but it seems we weren't up to par. So we moved on to dinner feeling a little more defeated, but still happy non the less.

We had classic southern food at The Praline Connection for dinner. We had ribs, mac n' cheese, ettouffe and fried pork chops before returning back to the Spotted Cat to see another great live jazz band. We danced until we couldn't handle it anymore and retired to our room.

We sufficiently witnessed everything that I thought I would when in New Orleans and I now get "Who Dat!" It isn't about making sense, nothing really is. It is about throwing caution to the wind and getting into the spirit of things. Really letting yourself be rediculous. I am very good at this by the way. If only I could find a way to make money at it?

On our way out of Louisiana we stopped at the Boiling Point. We had try try these boudin's and pistolettes. We kept seeing signs and had no idea what they were. We stopped at this local hot spot and weren't dissapointed. Boudin's are a combination of rice, sausage, peppers, onions, seasonings, and ground beef rolled in a ball and deep fried! Delicious.

Pistolettes are a type of sandwich. We tried the crawfish and the shrimp and crab. It is a creamy sauce stuffed into a deliciously light sourdough bread with seafood and deep fried again. It was delicious too! We also tried the fried catfish and they had delicious gumbo that my dad kept raving about. I think we have successfully had a true Louisiana style experience. I can't wait to come back! 


Mental Health Travel Tip:  My tip when traveling on a big road trip is to go big and then go home. Know when to say, "Okay, maybe I've had enough and it's time for bed" before end up making really rash unintelligent decisions. We managed to kept out of trouble, well, kind of. I also wasn't scared to try something new and step out of my comfort zone. That is what traveling is about. Discovering new things, learning about yourself along the way, and having new experiences that you can't have at home. So, step out, but know when to go home.

Next Stop... San Antonio, Texas! Come along!

Who Dat! From our long road trip to your trip through life. Everything is a trip.... Get into it! Who Dat!

~ "Too Hot" Messes still on the road.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Sharing Thyme and Space

Each day in Florida has been perfect. We have laughed together, shared, and have new memories to talk about next time we get together. A dear friend on mine said during this road trip that it is really hard to connect with someone and develop a great relationship if you don't share space and time. I have to agree. The family that is here in Florida used to live mere minutes from me and now I am several days away. Having the chance to spend this space and time with them has been the best part of this trip for me. In truth, space and time are the only things that really exist in this world. They are the only things that I really have in abundance. I have lots and lots of time, we actually all have exactly the same amount in one day. It is how we choose to use it that really counts.

This week I chose to use it to take longs walks with my sister, laugh with my aunt and uncle by the pool, and do cross word puzzles with my grandpa. Of course, I was also cooking and writing, but the most memorable parts of the trip haven't been the cooking or even the eating, but the conversations over dinner and after dinner. Talking about the state of the union with my grandpa, sharing recipe ideas with my aunt and catching up on who we are at this moment.

We are all changing with each breath and having the opportunity to share these changes and evolutions with those we love most are what really are important to me. Seeing my sister evolve and laughing at all her outragious jokes. Also, watching all of the teenagers and recognizing how far I have grown from being a teenager myself. I have never been happier to be out of those years than during this week watching how everyone at that age wants to be the same. I remember that, and am so glad that now it seems we are all defining our own unique qualities. We are finding what sets us apart and celebrating that instead of trying to fit a mold. Instead we are breaking the mold and I am proud to be apart of it.

As the week winds down, our enthusiasm for seafood goes with it. We crave a little meat and something different. We settle on making Slow Cooked Ribs, Sweet Potato Rounds with Cheddar Cheese, and of course a salad. I have really enjoyed getting to cook in my bikini too! This is really what a Hot Mess looks like!

Our last night we decide to step out of the kitchen and treat ourselves. We head to Mitchell's Fish Market and I dine on the most delicious shrimp and scallop dish while others eat blacked grouper, fried shrimp, and salmon. We go over the top and end up getting some serious dessert that almost took us out. But with the force with us we nearly completed the desserts and I am once again back off the wagon. Well, tomorrow is another day and my family is departing leaving just the three of us once again.

I am sad to see them go, but the memories of this week that we have shared time and space is priceless. Unforgettable, that is what it was... The next stop for us is New O'rleans; or the Big Easy during the annual French Quarter Fest. My first time to New O'rleans in 10 years! Come along for our next adventures in cajun/creole cuisine!


Slow Cooked Ribs

7 lb. ribs on the bone
4 tbsp. blackened cajun seasoning
1 jar of Stubby's barbeque sauce (This is the lowest sugar content and we love it!)

Rub the ribs with the blacked cajun seasoning on both sides of the ribs and wrap in foil. Place the ribs on a baking sheet and place in a 225 degree oven for 7 hours.

After 7 hours remove the ribs from the foil and cover with the barbeque sauce. Turn the oven up to 350 degrees and bake for one more hour. Cover the ribs with foil while they are baking the last hour.

Remove from the oven and cut and serve. The meat will fall right off the bone and into your mouth! This is so easy and delicious, it just requires that you start in the morning if you want to eat it by dinner time!

Sweet Potato Rounds

4 large sweet potatoes
2 sprigs fresh thyme; chopped
4 cloves garlic; minced
2 sprigs fresh rosemary; chopped
Olive oil cooking spray
1 cup cheddar cheese; shredded

Peel the sweet potatoes and slice into inch thick rounds. Spray a cooking sheet with olive oil and place the sweet potato rounds in one layer on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with the rosemary, thyme, and garlic and spray with more olive oil. If you are cooking along side the ribs they can be place in the 225 degree oven for the last 1 and a half hours. Then can remain in the oven for the last hour at 350 degrees right next to the ribs.

If you are doing this separate, cook for 1 hour and 30 minutes at 350.

Place the shredded cheddar cheese on top of the sweet potatoes for the last 5 minutes they are in the oven. The flavors in the sweet potatoes and ribs were the perfect blend and absolutley completemented each other great on the plate. They shared they perfect thyme and space together just as I did with my family!

We used the leftover potatoes and added garlic and chopped up tortillas and baked it in the oven for a cheesy potato bake that I served with fried eggs the next morning! Delicious and a great way to use the leftovers!

Mental Health Travel Tip: This one comes straight from my mom and she really wants you to take this seriously. Vacation is a time for relaxing, letting the stress of the world melt away, and laughing. What goes great with all those things... cocktails! And, we really want you to get this one. If you want to drink all day, you have to start in the morning.

Cheers!

We are sharing our thyme and space with you from our kitchen in Destin to yours!

~ "Too Lovely" Hot Messes headed to New O'rleans!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Sea Food and Eat It!

As you all know. I am here is sunny Florida and there is nothing better than fresh local seafood. Shrimp happens to be one of my favorite foods. Right next to scallops, lobster, crab, and just about anything else you find in the ocean. Other than jelly fish. Oh, by the way, there are jelly fish everywhere! People are playing with them, petting them, stacking them up, stabbing them with sticks. It is really disgusting. I know there are even kids trying to convince their parents to let them bring one home as a pet. I remember thinking that this made sense as a kid too. For me, I am completely grossed out. I mean seriously nasty! My sister had a brilliant idea yesterday to use them for breast implants. Just throw a little jelly fish in your bra and you are set to go. Instant implant. At least my sister thought that was a good idea and it would look and feel like a real breast, all giggly and soft. Not sure it would really work, but I commend her creativity. She really is the brilliant one out of the two of us.

We have spent the week laughing in the sunshine, drinking really good wine, and cooking really good dinners. There was a great seafood market right across the street that my aunt fell in love with and she secured all of our fresh shrimp the night we made our traditional Shrimp Boil with Baked Potatoes and salad. This is another extremely easy recipe and a tradition of ours each year when we spring break in Florida. It is healthy, clean, and really fun. I got to peel my own shrimp as the delicious juices ran down my arms while I was sitting on the floor in front of the television with my dad.

Yeah, I finally relented and joined the club. I realized that every dinner doesn't have to be spent around the table as long as we are all happy and enjoying a healthy meal together. It doesn't matter where it happens. If you can't beat them, join 'em. So I did! The shrimp was perfect served with a simple baked potato and a spinach salad. The great thing about this is you can use frozen shrimp, scallops, muscles, or whatever you like best and the cooking technique works the same and is sure to please.

The next night staying true to our seafood surroundings, we decided to make the Italian fish stew called Cioppino. It is similar to a bouillabaisse, but having made both, I think the Cioppino is far easier and just as delicious. We bought some crusty sourdough bread to serve with it and made some olive oil herbed dipping sauce and another green salad. In case you haven't picked it up we are salad freaks! We love salad with artichoke hearts, radishes, tomatoes, olives, feta cheese, red onion, you name it! A salad doesn't have to be boring. I usually don't make two salads alike. I try to add fresh ingredients that I have on hand and have been known to add fruit and nuts for fun too. Salads are only confined by the limits of your imagination.

And this fish stew brought everyone back to the table where we remained the rest of the vacation. Good food, better people, and lots of wine. What could possibly be better than that?

My aunt has recently gotten into growing her own yeast to make sourdough bread and has turned us on to it and this may be a new experiment in my future. The seafood here is so fresh it practically tastes like it jumped from the ocean to our plates. However, you can substitute fresh fish that you have at your local market or even frozen and it will still turn out delicious and healthy.

Between the sunshine, fresh salty air, delicious seafood, and the best company, I am feeling like I am back on track. I have been swimming, walking, and cooking again and I feel great. I hope you will share these healthy seafood recipes with your family this spring and get out in the sunshine and soak up a little vitamin D with me!

Bon Appetite!

Shrimp Boil

4 lb. shrimp
1 package Old Bay Shrimp Boil Seasonings
1 lemon; quartered
Pinch of salt

Bring a large pot of water to a boil with the seasoning packet, lemon, and salt.  Once a rapid bubble is reached, add the shrimp and cook for 3 minutes. The shrimp should be pink. It is that easy folks. Pretty much.

Cioppino

For Broth:

2 medium white onions, diced
4 cloves garlic; minced
3 tbsp. olive oil
2 cans stewed tomatoes (16 oz)
1 can fish stock (16 oz)
1 can lobster stock (16 oz)
2 bay leafs
3 tbsp. Italian Seasoning
2 tbsp. salt
1 tbsp. pepper
2 sprigs fresh rosemary; chopped
1 cup fresh vermouth
1 cup parsley; chopped
1/4 cup dry
1 1/2 cup dry white wine

For Stew:

1 lb. uncooked shrimp
1 lb. bay scallops
15 clams; scrubbed
15 muscles; scrubbed
8 oz. jumbo lump crabmeat

Saute the onion, garlic, and olive oil in a skillet over medium heat until the onions become transluscent. Transfer to a large cooking pot and add the additional ingredients. Cook all of the above ingredients on low heat for 1 hour to allow the flavors to really pop together.

When you are a few minutes from serving add the seafood. make sure the muscles and clams are scrubbed clean of the grit before you add them. I just soaked them in cold water and scrubbed the shells with my fingers. The seafood will cook in 5-7 minutes. The stew is done when the shrimp is pink and the clams and muscles have popped open.

We served this Italian seafood stew in bowls topped with freshly grated parmesean cheese alongside some crusty bread. I also made a great olive oil dipping sauce and a fresh green salad. It was the perfect end to a wonderful day on the beach!

Olive Oil Dipping sauce

4 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup parmesean cheese
1 tsp. pepper
1 tbsp. italian seasoning
1 spring fresh rosemary; minced

In a large boil, pour the olive oil in and top with the remaining ingredients. Serve on the table with fresh crusty bread alongside to dip in this delicious and healthy olive oil.

Mental Health Travel Tip: One of my favorite things about Destin, Florida besides hanging out with my fantastic family, is getting the opportunity to cook. One of the largest expences of travel is eating out. Not only is it not cost effective it is often calorie soaked and dripping with sodium. Like I said before, it can be terrible on your wallet and wasteline. Renting a condo with a full kitchen is one of the smartest things we do as a family. We get to cook together, eat healthy meals together, and share laughter in the privacy of our own intimate space. My tip however, is whoever cooks should let someone else do the dishes. This night my aunt volunteered and I am forever greatful! The great thing about sharing a kitchen is sharing the responsibilities! Everyone has a role and everyone gets involved that way. As a kid, my sister and I were always in charge of doing the dishes and putting away leftovers starting at a really young age. We also used to set the table too. I would like to think that it has helped me be a well rounded grown up (well I guess sort of oval if you want me to be honest!) So share responsibilities and meals as friends and family!

Here's to sharing a meal and cooking with your family!

~ "Too Lovely" Hot Messes from the beach