Cheesy Marsala-Glazed Meatloaf {recipe}

Marsala Glazed Meatloaf v2

When I was a kid, I loved ketchup-and-cheese sandwiches.  I’m not talking about grilled cheesy goodness dunked in ketchup, here; this was two pieces of Home Pride, a single slice of Kraft American, and a heavy-handed squiggle of Heinz 57.  I was obsessed with ketchup.  Ketchup made everything better.  Although both parents deny preparing said ketchup-and-cheese sandwiches for us kids and my sister says the thought of such a sandwich “makes her want to hurk,” there’s no denying that ketchup was the star ingredient in my mom’s meatloaf.  I was, of course, meatloaf’s number one fan.  Just the word “meatloaf” takes me back to those days, standing in the kitchen, watching my mom transform a mound of ground beef into a perfect oval with rapid two-handed pats before she iced the whole thing with ketchup and tossed it into the oven.  It killed me that meatloaf took so long to cook.  An hour?!  Really, Mom?  And then, as we (finally) sat down to eat, I’d silently start hoping for leftovers, because the only thing better than Mom’s meatloaf was a cold, leftover meatloaf-and-ketchup sandwich the next day.

Marsala Glazed Meatloaf

Now that I’m all old and mature, my ketchup-and-cheese sandwich has been upgraded to a crusty baguette with hunks of gooey brie, and a taste for wine has replaced my craving for all things ketchup.  And meatloaf?  Well, I still love it, and this cheesy Marsala-glazed meatloaf recipe puts a classy spin on the nostalgic meal.  It’s still got ketchup (as all good meatloaves do), but this one has hunks of gooey, white cheddar cheese and is dressed with a sweet wine glaze.  It tastes indulgent and traditional all at once, and it’s a dinner both kids and adults will enjoy.

Marsala Glazed Meatloaf - 3 v2

Dry Marsala wine is fantastic in this recipe (I used Colombo Fine Dry Marsala Wine, which has hints of vanilla and raisin).  The meatloaf can be prepared a day ahead and stored covered in the fridge for a hearty, low-stress meal the next day.

Marsala Glazed Meatloaf - 5

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Topical Taters {IFBC 2013}

I remember eating mashed potatoes on the sunporch at my friend Allison’s house.  We were sitting cross-legged on the floor, huddled around a wicker coffee table, our plates just inches from our mouths.  There was other food, I’m sure, chicken or maybe meatloaf or some other forgotten piece of protein I’d pushed to the side to make room for the Halasa family mashed potatoes.  I’d started with a mountain of them, yellow from the excessive butter content and so dense they required I carry the paper plate two-handed to our roost at the kids’ table.

Sitting there on the floor with my girlfriends, I momentarily admired the mass on my plate, eager and anxious, before bringing one mounding forkful of those creamy, lumpless potatoes to my mouth.  I delicately slid the fork mashed taters between my lips, twitterpated as my eyes squeezed closed and the warmth of the potatoes coated my tongue and throat.  After each bite, I’d drag the edge of my fork over the potatoes, smoothing out the craters, like a Zamboni methodically perfecting the surface of an ice rink.

Moderation was a mystery to me, and each swallow brought me simultaneous pleasure and nausea; I was powerless to the potatoes.  Forget meat sweats, I was fighting carb-induced hysteria.  As I battled my inner ever-present demons of gluttony, I placed my fork on the table, letting my fingers linger on the warm metal while the internal turmoil waged on.  Abruptly, I jerked my fingers away from the fork and scooped up the remaining mashed potatoes with a cupped right hand.  I brought them to my mouth, hesitating for just a moment at my lips, questioning and confused, when a brash flash of clarity zapped through my mind and I quickly and swiftly smeared the mashed potatoes across my right cheek, followed immediately by a scoopful slathered across the left.  It was fast, like an impatient father slapping sunscreen on a squirming toddler, and when I lifted my potato-masked face I found two silent, slightly horrified teenage girls staring at me.

Unlike most people, when I say something is so good, I want to smear it all over my face, I’m speaking from hands-on experience.  I know exactly what it takes to trigger that sort of primal action.  I know the complete lack of self-control delicious food can cause.  I know what potatoes can do to a girl.

Of all the sessions at the 2013 International Food Blogger Conference, my favorite was Kim O’Donnel’s interactive writing workshop, which focused on breaking through writer’s block by reminding us that we all have something to write about, the trick is starting small-scale.  We started with “I remember” and then rapidly jotted down as many memories as we could conjure over the course of three minutes.  “I remember eating mashed potatoes on the sunporch at my friend Allison’s house” was one of many memories on my list, and I’m so happy to finally have this specific memory written on the blog.

I would like to send one last HUGE thank you to Truly Good Foods for sponsoring my attendance at the IFBC!  Truly Good Foods specializes in premium snack mixes, raw and freshly roasted nuts and seeds, dried fruit, and hundreds of bulk and packaged candies, spices, grains and specialty foods. Truly Good Foods has an extensive line of retail branded products, including Grabeez®, Buffalo Nuts® and Dip & Devour Dipping Chocolates.

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Leaving, on a jet plane. {IFBC 2013}

On a whim, a whole eleven months ago, I bought a ticket to attend the 2013 International Food Blogger Conference in Seattle. The proofs right there, in black, size 10 Arial, in my 2012 budget spreadsheet, and when I look at that entry, sandwiched between an outrageous dry cleaning bill and a weekend trip to Trader Joe’s, I’m awestruck that I had the balls to buy the ticket.  Somehow in that moment, I knew the coming year would kick me so hard in the keister that I’d need a cross-country escapade, and now all that stands between me and the Emerald City is a couple of days and a mere 2,800 miles.  (Actually, it’s more like 5,000 miles, courtesy of my cheap plane ticket’s Texan layover… 12 hours of travel, totally worth it.)


Seattle has topped my travel wishlist since college, and not because of the sappy romance flicks filmed there—it’s deeper than that.  It’s in my bones and my gut.  It’s cosmic.  And it’s why I’m making this voyage alone.  Just me, a bag of snacks, a couple of books, and my big girl pants.  Much has been written about the personal discovery one experiences when traveling solo, and for a gal whose been running on E since April, I’m aching for it.  Maybe it’s just undiagnosed-ADD, but I have this insatiable craving for adventure.  I’m constantly seeking opportunities to grow and learn and see and do, and in this vein, here’s what I’m hoping will come of my trip:

photo (8)Grow.  The first, and most personal, of my hopes is to enjoy this uninhibited opportunity to experience a new city, new people, and new food without feeling the need to fill my time with productivity and networking.

Learn.  My creative brainwaves are desperate for stimulation, and of all the awesome seminars offered at the IFBC, I’m especially excited for those geared towards writing and photography.  The agenda includes sessions on increasing blog traffic and readership, but that’s not where my head or heart are right now.  Instead, I’ll be hanging out with Andrew Scrivani (photographer and food stylist for the New York Times) and listening to Dorie Greenspan speak (yes, that Dorie).

See.  Aimless, unscripted meandering will be my primary pastime.

Do.  In this context, “DO” loosely translates to “EAT.”  It wouldn’t be a food blogger conference without an exorbitant amount of food, not to mention the awesome Seattle restaurant scene I’ve read so much about.  My goal is to try new foods, especially those local and/or special to Seattle, and to eat my face off without eating myself sick… and maybe squeeze in a run or two.

I would like to send a HUGE thank you to Truly Good Foods for sponsoring my attendance at the IFBC!  Truly Good Foods specializes in premium snack mixes, raw and freshly roasted nuts and seeds, dried fruit, and hundreds of bulk and packaged candies, spices, grains and specialty foods. Truly Good Foods has an extensive line of retail branded products, including Grabeez®, Buffalo Nuts® and Dip & Devour Dipping Chocolates.  For those attending the IFBC, be sure to check out the Truly Good Foods goodies in the gift suite!

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My first roast chicken

I thought about doing it for months.  It’s just one of those things — a kitchen right of passage of sorts — that everyone has to do (at least once).  Of course, I didn’t want to do it just to do it–I wanted it to be the juiciest most flavorful chicken EVER.  So, I researched.  To truss or not to truss?  Butter on the skin or under?  Which herbs?  Breast side up or breast side down?  I had this feeling in my gut that I was on the road to cosmic alignment—that somehow I’d channel the kitchen gods and miraculously stumble upon the “secret” to the perfect bird that I could then share with my friends and family and all those other folks on the interweb.

my first roast chicken

In actuality, the fact that I’d mustered the courage to even attempt roasting a whole chicken was somewhat of a miracle.  Of all the meat phobias I’ve fostered over the years, chicken is the one animal that consistently causes me to question being a carnivore.  Just the words “chicken skin” make my upper lip curl.  So when I picked up the whole bird at Whole Foods, one handed, like I was palming a basketball, and felt the bird’s ribs, solid under a squishy layer of skin and flesh, I nearly gave up on the whole idea.  I nearly gave up on eating meat, for that matter.  Yes, my resolve was tested at the meat case and again, later that day, when it was time to give the bird its last bath.  I used tongs to discard the white bag of parts-that-shall-not-be-named, but I had no kitchen contraption large enough to hold the carcass under the cold running water, that is, of course, except for my hands.  As I rinsed the cavity out, I waited for the water to fill the bird to the tippy top, like a drinking glass does when you’re washing it, and it took me a minute or two to realize my approach was faulty due to the GIANT HOLE in the other end where the animal’s head and neck once were.  I had a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza.  A hole in my bucket, dear Liza, a hole.

I put the buttered bird in the oven, lemon rind and rosemary peeking out between the legs, and got to washing my hands (and arms) for the 57th time.  my first roasted chicken

When all was said and done, the chicken turned out ok.  Not miraculous, but glistening brown and cooked all the way through.  (Success.)  And I realized, as I was eating it, that perhaps the reason I’d never roasted a whole chicken wasn’t because of my kitchen inferiority complex;  I just don’t like chicken.

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Shitty mussels with a spicy tomato sauce.

People often think that as a food blogger and eager eater I must be an awesome cook. Truth is my cooking adventures seem to flop as often as succeed; I’m more kitchen klutz than Master Chef. I burn things (pots, proteins, and appendages included), get nauseated at the sight (or smell) of raw meat, and I scrambled the shit out of my spaghetti carbonara last week. Things just don’t always go according to plan when I’m in the kitchen, and that’s exactly what draws me in. With cooking, there’s risk and reward, and the opportunity to create something with my own hands titillates my brain (and my belly). So despite the burnt carnitas, undercooked scallops, or, in this case, mussels of questionable edibility, I keep on trying to learn. shitty tomato sauce

My ultimate desire is to possess the ability to cook freely, without the aid of a recipe. I want to look at ingredients and understand them and innately know how to bring out the best of their flavors. I want freedom from recipe paralysis, a condition that has occurred, in my opinion, due to over saturation of recipes in the media. They are everywhere we look, and we’re all constantly bookmarking and tagging and pinning things to try later. Problem is, when later comes, we’ve got a bushelful of recipes and an empty tank of know-how. So, tonight, it’s grilled cheese for dinner, AGAIN. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

Cooking, just like life, is a learning process. We natural-born perfectionists often try to conceal our mishaps, sweep the crumbs under the rug, if you will. I know I do. For many of us, cooking is so much more than a chore or an obligation–it’s our time for creativity and spirituality and personal growth–and personal “success” in the kitchen should not (and cannot) be judged rigidly.  Hiding our food faux pas is a repressive practice. This is not living. In the wise words of Anne Lamott, these “mistakes” are simply shitty first drafts. They can be tweaked, streamlined, or gussied up later. All that matters in this moment is that you showed up in the kitchen and gave it a shot.

A shot. That’s exactly what I did with these mussels: I gave them a shot. Though I’ve eaten my fair share of mussels, I’d never made them before. Of course I did my research: cleaning, debearding, sorting. I got it all down before I hit the grocery store. Perhaps, I should have changed my game plan when the man at the Harris Teeter meat counter proceeded to set aside expired bag after expired bag of mussels before settling on one that was “still good” (insert forced smile here). I made a shitty, but spicy, first draft of tomato sauce, plopped my clean, beard-free mussels on top, covered with a lid, and waited for the mussels to open. After ten minutes or so, about a quarter of the mussels were fully open, half were partially open, and the rest were pursed closed tighter than my grimacing lips. Maybe it was first-timer jitters or maybe something really was wrong with these mussels, but after eating a couple of the fully opened ones (while silently battling visions of self-inflected food poisoning), I called it quits.

I call this meal my shitty first draft of mussels with a spicy tomato sauce, and I choose to embrace it, and all its shittyness, at home and here on the ole blog.

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Roasted Parmesan Brussels Sprouts {recipe}

If you look at any list of most-hated vegetables, Brussels sprouts are at the top of the pack.  I don’t understand it!  When did Brussels sprouts get such a bad wrap?  Call me weird, but I even liked them as a kid–though, back then my step mom covered the sprouts (and all vegetables, for that matter) with a thick blanket of melted Velveeta cheese.  So, I’ve been eating Brussels sprouts since the 90’s, since before it was cool, that is, and mispronouncing the veggie just as long.   I mean, did you know there was an “s” at the end of “Brussel”?  It’s even more baffling than the first time I saw sprouts still attached to the stalk!  (If you have no clue what I’m talking about, check out this pic!).  CRAZY!

Brussels sprouts are one of my go-to vegetable sides, and this easy recipe resulted in the best batch of sprouts I’ve ever cooked.  Tender, slightly salty, and dusted with sharp Parmesan cheese.

parmesan brussel sprouts

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I hate birthdays.

I hate birthdays.

Every year around my birthday I find myself falling into an unavoidable slump.  It’s not like it used to be back when I was in my early twenties and we celebrated birth-weeks instead of days.  Back then you were something special on your birthday–the queen of the night, the damsel to be doted on–and simply uttering “it’s my birthday” got you on the VIP list.

It’s even harder to compare today’s birthdays with birthdays of my childhood.  Back then birthdays were the highlight of the entire year, just after Christmas and right before Halloween.  In the weeks leading up to my thirteenth birthday, I was hit with a bout of insomnia.  I was most literally too excited to sleep.  I would sit in my bedroom, sweating profusely in the mid-summer heat of the night, fantasizing about my impending slumber party.  I’d think about what I would wear and the games that we’d play.  I’d triple count the number of friends who had rsvp’d.  I’d estimate the birthday loot I’d rake in by multiplying each family member times their average historical gift.  Then I’d visualize all the new school clothes I could buy with the money, and how cool I’d be rolling into 8th grade in a new pair of wide leg J’nco’s and contrasting Billabong T.  My stomach ached with excitement, and when I could think of nothing else to plan nor additional calculations to perform, I resorted to putting together thousand-piece puzzles to pass the hours.  Each dawn I’d pull out my notepad with my hand-drawn countdown calendar and scratch off another day.  Twenty seven days down, nine days to go.  Only nine more days!

Birthdays aren’t like that any more.  If I’m being honest here, and trust me I am, there’s a part of me that wants birthdays to be special like they once were.  These dark thoughts leave me feeling silly, guilty even, for wanting something so childish.  Birthdays aren’t special like they used to be because I’m a grown ass woman now.  Now birthdays consist of working (like a responsible adult), eating a sensible lunch, and dissuading conversations that start with “oh my gosh, it’s your birthday?” or “have any big plans for your birthday?” and especially “soooo, do you feel any older?”  All of this unusual attention inevitably makes me feel devoid because no matter what I’m doing to punctuate the day of my birth it’s not enough.  It’s no slumber party with 8 of my closest friends, it’s no free-shot-filled night on the town, and it’s most certainly no week-long celebration where “because it’s my birthday” serves as my steadfast mantra.

Today is my birthday.

Today is my birthday, and I am not this day’s princess nor am I this day’s queen.

Today is my friggin’ birthday.

Where’s my chocolate cake?


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Easy Black Bean Burritos {recipe}

A funny thing happened the other day.

I went to a sausage making class and emerged three hours later a fleeting vegetarian.

Bring on the beans and cheese.

Easy Black Bean Burritos

Of course, I expected a slightly different outcome when I signed up for the class.  Visions of grinding my own meat and hand-stuffing thick chicken, turkey, and pork sausages filled my thoughts while mounds of frozen links filled my fantasized freezer.  I was one excited sausageer – that is until I spent 3 hours huddled around fifty pounds of raw pork.  There was just so much meat and so many people and so much talk about the step-by-step process involved in getting the poor free range piggies from the farm to that fork you’re holding in your hand there.  And the smell…. oh dear god the smell.

I didn’t know it was possible to get the meat sweats without actually consuming meat.

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9 things I learned while training for a half marathon

When I first started having knee problems about two years ago, I went to see an orthopedic doctor.  After a lengthy round of Q&A and a few X-rays, the doctor simply concluded that “some knees just aren’t made for running.”  Really, doctor?  Apparently the x-rays didn’t show the stubbornness that fills my bones like a tough impervious marrow.  From that day forward, I’ve wanted nothing more than to run farther, longer, and faster than I had the day before.  I love running, and I wanted, no, I NEEDED to prove that doctor wrong.

In December, I signed up for the Charlotte Racefest (my first ever half marathon), but after four long months of training ending with yet ANOTHER knee injury, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to run it.  This time around, I hurt my knee doing lunges in a bootcamp class at the Y.  When will I learn?  I took it easy the entire month before the big race, but when race day arrived I still wasn’t confident I’d be able to run 13.1 miles.  At that point, I only had two 10-mile runs under my belt.

Since I’d already forked out the cash for the half marathon, I decided to at least attempt to run it.  During the race, I tried not to think too much about my knees, but as the miles ticked by I couldn’t help but feel dumbfounded that I was still running.  Most of the race was shrouded in a euphoric haze, but as I neared the finish line I started to feel nauseus.  My pace slowed, and I began to feel dizzy.  With every step, the looming finish line appeared to be one step further away.  At that moment, the BF jumped out from the sidelines smiling and hooting and clapping his hands like a crazy man.  I was so close.  I put my head down, dug my heels in, and pumped my arms.  Seconds later I crossed the finish line clocking in at 1:56:58–literally seconds below my original 9-minute mile goal!

As I hobbled to the sideline, I could do nothing but let out an exasperated “BOO YA.”  Some knees just aren’t made for running, my ass.

Here are the top 9 things I learned while training for my first half marathon:

#1  101110-165-013Buy good shoes.  This one is #1 for a reason, and I can’t stress it enough.  The first time I hurt my knee, it was completely and solely due to the fact that I was wearing a cheap pair of old cross trainers.  I urge you to go to a real running store and hop on the treadmill.  Have the sales associate watch your running patterns and check to see if you under or over pronate your ankles.  Is your stride too long?  Are you heel striking?  (I was!)  Don’t buy shoes based solely on the sweet color or the cool gel thingy in the heel.  It’s hard, I know.  I LOVE my Asics Gel Nimbus 13’s, and plan to get a new pair this month!

#2  Create a plan (brownie points if you use Excel).  When you’re training for a long distance race, especially if it’s your first one, you can’t just approach it all willy nilly.  Are you serious about completing the race?  Yes?  Well then sit your butt down, do some research, and create your plan of attack.  Make sure to factor in short runs, long runs, and those extremely important recovery days.  Check out my half marathon training plan here.

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200 Calorie Tuna Salad Recipe

Growing up with divorced parents, my brother, sister, and I split our time between week nights at dad’s and weekends at mom’s.  Everyone once in a while, we’d have to flip flop our schedule, and it seemed when those rare occasions popped up both mom and dad had an unspoken urge to make them special.  On those weekends, dad would make breakfast:  dippy eggs, buttery toast, and his breakfast potatoes.  I do believe my love affair with potatoes started with these very ones around the age of eight.  Sure I’d take an egg and a small piece of toast, but the remainder of that 10-inch plate was devoted solely to those piping hot slightly crunchy potatoes and the biggest squirt of Heinz 57 my kid muscles could muster.  Recently, I texted my dad to finally, after all these years, ask what he put in his breakfast potatoes. (By the way, it still makes me giggle to think of him texting.)

His response?

“I dono.”

After our bodies worked through the haze of early morning overeating, dad would move on to lunch.  Lunches were varied, but one of my favorites were the tuna melts he’d make on cold days, rainy days, or days that otherwise demanded a comforting hot melty sandwich.  After the recent potato-text heartbreak, I didn’t bother asking dad what he put in those tuna melts.  Rather, I choose to focus solely on the memory:  jumbo kaiser rolls loaded with mayonnaise-laden tuna, hunks of fresh cheddar cheese, and chopped up dill pickles.  He’d wrap those giant sandwiches in foil and toss them right into the oven—no cookie sheet needed (which I remember wordlessly opposing).  After a half hour or so, he’d reach into the oven with a giant pot holder.  We’d line up, plates held tightly in our little hands, and dad would plop a massive foil pack on each one.

healthy tuna

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