Weekly Dish – Chicken Parm

11 Mar

My friend Katie’s chicken parmesan recipe is amazing!  Soo easy and delicious!

What You Need

1 package thin sliced Perdue chicken breast – 2 packages for more than 4 people.
1 24 oz jar Prego tomato sauce
1 package (2 cups) shredded mozzarella cheese
1 egg, beaten

Make It

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Dip chicken in egg, then breadcrumbs.  Saute for 2 min on each side in pan on med-high heat with a little oil until golden brown.  Pour a little sauce in a CorningWare or Pyrex glass dish, just enough to cover the bottom.  Line up chicken in dish and pour more sauce over top of chicken.  Sprinkle cheese all over top.  Cover and cook for 18-20 min.

Recipe cost $13.42 using ingredients from Stop & Shop and makes 4 servings when served alongside pasta and frozen veggies.


Cash Cow…or Pig, Rather!

8 Mar

So, by now you may have guessed it.  Yes, I love piggy banks.  I have a pink one, a black polka-dotted one, even a baseball-shaped “Red Sox Tickets” bank, and two silver piggy banks in my apartment – one big and one little.  The little one used to sit on my office desk until I realized the cleaning lady was cleaning me out every week!  The other is a large piggy I got as a gift from a friend years ago because she hated that I kept all my change in an overstuffed Vera Bradley change purse.  Which I still have, and love, but now holds an appropriate amount of change to go out for the day, such as quarters for meters or vending machines.

Every 2 months, I take all the change collected in the piggy banks and from my boyfriend’s and my pockets, bags and cars, and bring it to CoinStar at Stop & Shop.  Guess how much change we collect over 2 months?

Over $50!

Since that could certainly begin to add up, we’re starting a “fun” fund.  There’s a People’s Bank in our Stop & Shop and next time we go, we’re opening up an account.  We’ve agreed that anytime we have a bit of extra money, we’ll deposit it on our Sunday night grocery trips, and we’ll keep depositing the CoinStar money, too.  We chose this CT-centered bank because we’re less likely to dip into it on a regular basis, with no ATMs or branches in NYC, where we work, and spend most of our waking hours.

Let’s see how much we have 1 year from today!

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye

4 Mar

It hurts my creative soul just to write this post…but I must do it.

Hello, my name is Ashley Brett, and I’m a stationery junkie.

Since I don’t even know when, at any given time, I could easily write letters to about 200 people without leaving the house for stationery.  I have boxes and boxes filled with boxes and boxes of ribbon wrapped, cellophaned, colorful, sweet, sympathetic, congratulatory, wishful, thankful and engaging cards, letterhead, notes and papers.  And I do sometimes write letters!  But I think even more than enjoying sending something nice to someone to find amidst junk mail is the fact that I am obsessed with images and patterns.  It’s a problem.  It’s the same obsession that has afforded me to have about 400 pigs in supply for future posts.  I’m a collector, a lover of art and shapes and colors and the romantic written word and the etiquette of correspondence.

My drastic measure?  I am not buying any more stationery until I use up what I have.

It seems an easy challenge, but it’s not.  I am an observer, a window shopper.  I like knowing what’s out there, and I pay attention to more than just my iPhone when walking down the street.  Things are constantly catching my eye, and I want to know more about them.  I should be on a game show, really.  A scavenger hunt of New York City.  Give me a list of random items:  a certain feathered headband, a specific green high heel, a dish set with an Alice in Wonderland theme…I could find them for you in no time.  Now, tell me to go to some small street that’s not part of the numeric grid in downtown NYC, and I’d have no idea without HopStop.

So, use up my current stationery.  And along with that, and after that, I am going to make a stronger effort to be more green, while spending less, by using sites that offer free online stationery.  My FAVORITE is iomoi.  The patterns and icons are perfection.

Therefore, please don’t be offended if you get an online “happy birthday” or “congratulations.”  You’re really helping me on my way to a leaner craft closet and a fatter wallet (with which I can then buy you a beautiful present for your occasion!)

Oh, and whoever you are…I thank you for reading this!  (But don’t expect a note.)

*Piggy bank notecard from zoetropa on Etsy:  My last stationery purchase before writing this post!   Check out her other fabulous designs at http://www.etsy.com/shop/zoetropa.

Weekly Dish – Cheesy Broccoli Bake

3 Mar

Here’s a great side that I made with an apple bourbon pork chop last week:

What You Need

1/2 cup (1/2 of 8-oz. tub) PHILADELPHIA Chive & Onion Cream Cheese Spread
1 can (10-3/4 oz.) condensed cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup water
2 pkg. (16 oz. each) frozen broccoli florets, thawed, drained
1 cup KRAFT Shredded Cheddar Cheese
1 thawed frozen puff pastry sheet (1/2 of 17.3-oz. pkg.)
1 egg, lightly beaten
Salt, to taste

Make It

Preheat oven to 400°F. Mix cream cheese spread, soup and water until well blended. Stir in broccoli and cheddar cheese. Spoon into 2-1/2- to 3-qt. shallow rectangular or oval baking dish.
Roll pastry sheet on lightly floured surface to fit baking dish. Cover dish completely with pastry. Press pastry edges against rim of dish to seal. Brush entire surface lightly with egg; pierce with knife five to six times to vent.
Bake 30 min. or until heated through and pastry is puffed and golden brown.

Recipe from Kraft makes about 10 servings and cost $16.12 using ingredients from Stop & Shop.

What To Buy: March

1 Mar

I’m often stuck in a blah phase throughout February and March.  And in the doldrums of winter, it’s easy to give in to the euphoric feeling of shopping for things you don’t really need to cure the temporary depression.  But keep in mind that you have a whole summer of cute dresses, dinners at sidewalk cafes, weekends at the beach with a new swimsuit and sunglasses and other things you’ll have a LOT more fun spending money on in a few months.

But be on the lookout!  You can usually score great deals on the following in March:

1.  Sweaters.  I tend to keep cardigans out all year-long – they’re perfect to throw on at the office when the A/C is out of control in the summer, and obviously good to have on hand in the winter along with some opaque tights to make use of a sleeveless dress.  As the spring and summer clothes come in, this is a good time to stock up on or replace worn-out items.  Cardigans, wraps and other versatile sweaters will fill up the sale rack.

2.  Winter Gear.  Retailers don’t want to store merchandise for 7 months just to mark it down when they receive next year’s fun new colors or products with new technology come October.  Take a look at winter jackets, gloves, hats, skis, and boots.  In the Northeast, we’ll still be making use of these products for another month at least.  I found great deals at EMS this week.

3.  Dishes/Kitchen Items.  With the holiday season officially over (retail holiday season actually ends in February, when return policies expire), and wedding registry season right around the corner, stores will be looking to move out their stock of last year’s patterns, colors and designs.  And as dishes are really collectibles, it’s not like being caught trying to revive last year’s long-gone boot trend.  People will envy the festive but now rare Kate Spade cake plate you found at half price.

4.  Luggage.  Pieces that didn’t meet their perfect travel partners Christmas morning will be discounted this time of year.  Luggage companies do actually come out with different collections depending on the season with new sizes and colors, and department and specialty stores just don’t have the room to show it all on the sales floor.  Retailers will keep up discounts until the spring break timeframe to move merchandise.  Macy’s currently has luggage discounted about 50% from original prices.  Marshalls and TJMaxx are great places to find discounted brand-name luggage, as well.

5.  Jewelry.  I got seriously distracted doing my homework for this post.  Jewelry sales at some retailers are ridiculous right now!  Again, now that the holidays and Valentine’s Day are over, they have a lot of inventory to move as new design trends come out.  Obviously it depends on what you are looking for and where you shop, but among some sites visited, Macy’s had some beautiful things marked down 50% or more!

Happy shopping, and happy saving!

Weekend Adventure: New York Wine Expo

27 Feb

Once upon a time, after college, I was a real estate agent in Boston.  I had an amazing group of friends in that city at that time, and we were living a life like you might see on an episode of “Friends.”  We all had our first jobs, and were attempting to be real adults in apartments far away from the security of our college campuses.  And after a long hard day, we would all join in Back Bay for dinner every Tuesday night.  It was summertime before I made my first BIG commission on an apartment, and I brought to dinner that next Tuesday 4 bottles of wine.

I wrapped them up in felt bags, designed for a wine tasting.  I’d bought a few kinds of wine before.  I’d even taken a wine and beer appreciation course at Syracuse University.  But in Boston, wine wasn’t something I was spending money on weekly (yet…) and certainly not at some of the prices I paid that day.
One bottle was 2 Buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s.
One bottle was a Cabernet Sauvignon called The Show.  This usually costs $14.
One bottle was Frog’s Leap Merlot, which cost about $38.
And the last bottle, I had absolutely no business buying.  It was a Sterling Vineyards Reserve for about $75.

The mission, that night, was to of course have fun and celebrate my first big deal, but also to test us and see if we could really tell between an expensive wine and an inexpensive wine.  Our education of wine was definitely still lacking, but nevertheless, the bottles quickly disappeared and it was time for the reveal.

To this day, I still haven’t really found a glass of red that I absolutely despise, but since that night, one of my favorite go-tos is The Show.  The Winemaker’s notes:  This wine is big and bold, dominated by full flavors of dried black cherries, jammy preserves and layers of spice and sweet vanilla.  My wallet likes this choice, too!

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to be a guest of a friend who is a wine distributor at the New York Wine Expo.  I was so excited to taste amazing, and possibly unknown wines from all over the world.  But I knew that this would also be a marathon…the show is 4 hours long!  You mean I can’t drink every glass?  How sad!  But to survive in the wine industry, I’m told, you won’t be taken seriously if you actually drink the wine!

I must have tried 30 wines yesterday, as well as a pink sparkling something, and topped it all off with some delicious Ommegang Hennepin and Duvel.  But as I hoped, I found some fascinating new wines, and at prices that were equally as appealing as the bouquets!

1.  2006 Fado Red – Listed as $6.99/bottle by Wine Library, but quoted at $5.00/bottle from the Portuguese Winemaker himself.
2.  Glen Carlou Grand Classique – $18/bottle.  I first found this South African wine at my favorite UES restaurant UVA, and have been a fan for years.  I was so excited to learn more about the Hess Family Estates and talk to the rep.
3.  Also in the Hess collection, Goats Do Roam Red for under $10/bottle.  Loved a few of their wines and love the play on words with the name (Cotes du Rhone!)
4.  I’ve somehow lost my notes on pricing, but a wonderful Winemaker from Spain, working under the name Ultramarine LLC poured us an amazing Tempranillo Cabernet Merlot.  We asked him to please start distributing in NYC asap!
5. VDS – Vinhos do Douro Superior – Castello D’Alba Douro ’09.  This Portuguese wine was the first taste of the day, and set a very high bar for reds to come.  Retails for about $9.99/bottle.
6.  Fox Run Vineyards Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Franc/Lemberger.  These wines from the Finger Lakes region of  New York cost about $15/bottle and immediately had me brainstorming dishes to serve with them.  Yummy!
Splurge alert:  We met a Winemaker who flew over from northern Italy, his family and translator in tow, and his wines were DIVINE.  If you can afford, and come across the following, feel free to pick up a bottle for me, too!
Enzo Boglietti Barolo Arione – $45.00/bottle
Enzo Boglietti Barolo Cru Fossati – $115.50/bottle
Also at the Expo, we got to try out Cisco’s umi, which is like Skype on your TV.  $1,200 for two units (so you and a friend can both have one) and $24.99/month for service.
As well as Brix Chocolate.  The claim is that the chocolates are a perfect pairing with wine.  Well, their slogan, “Move Over Cheese” is completely justified.  Maybe the best milk chocolate and dark chocolate I’ve ever tasted!  I’m bummed I forgot to buy the gift set of all three kinds of chocolate plus a cutting board and knife for $39.99 on the way out.
Other booths had vacation sweepstakes, ThirstyGirl had t-shirts for sale and sign-ups for eNewsletters, and apparently there was a delicious bruschetta sampling, but the lines were so long, I didn’t get a taste.
The only disconnect of the day was Acura as a presenting sponsor of the Expo.  I’m sorry, who thought it would be a good idea to put people who have been chugging wine all day behind the wheel holding their souvenir wine glass while a professional photographer takes event shots??  Fail.
The day continued with 2 for 1 Peronis at happy hour, melt in your mouth Italian dinners at Puglia’s in Little Italy, and a final nightcap at Cellar 58.
Here’s to a wonderful Saturday in NYC…Salute!

A Lesson From Kermit

25 Feb

Kermit said it best:  It’s not easy being green.

I’m trying to be more green and to always recycle, but in my community, and let’s face it, apartment living in general, it can take some extra cash to buy the greener products at the already overpriced corner store, and some extra effort and motivation to get all those cereal boxes, beer bottles and cardboard rolls to the recycle chute….in your sweatpants and whatever shoes/high heels/boots are by the door…before your neighbors see you!  And are they really being recycled once I throw them down there?  Funny, I’ve lived in my building for years, and I’ve NEVER seen recyclables going to a different place when garbage and maintenance come around.  Hmmm…maybe I’ll put a call into the leasing office.  JUST the kind of important stuff they should be focusing on in between interviewing new plow services for next year to replace Mr. No-Show from snowpocalypse 2011.

But of course I’ll continue to do my part for our beloved planet, and thanks to a new product, it might be a little easier these days.

Why no one thought to lose the cardboard toilet paper roll before now is beyond me!  I think it’s great that the Scott company has come out with the Naturals line, which now includes the tube-free toilet paper.  The only problem is that it’s not yet available at the places where I shop:  Stop & Shop, Target.  And I live in the suburbs!  Lots more choices than my old UES neighborhood.  It’s only currently available in Walmart and Sam’s Clubs.

Not a problem, right?  That’s what online shopping’s for.  So, to Walmart.com I went!  No listing for this product.  Bummer.  I get it, they have to test the product, but why make it so hard for people to get their hands on?  I don’t have a Sam’s Club membership, so I gave myself the task of getting to Walmart to buy the product in-store.  That was 2 weeks ago.  I finally made it to the store yesterday.  The closest one is 5.54 miles away, but with I-95 traffic and lights on the Post Road, that takes at least a half hour door to door.

Now I feel like I’m on some shopping game show.  Item found!  It’s available in a 12-pack only.  It seems to be a popular item (running out compared to the competition, although I wonder how many they keep in store) and at $7.47, it beats out a regular Scott 12-pack at $9.99.  Mission accomplished.  Now, if I can just get through the check-out line where the woman says, “Ohhhh, is thaaat thaat NEWWW TeeeePeee??”  (omg, is Paula Deen working in the Norwalk Walmart??) and thoroughly inspects my purchase as though it’s something foreign I brought IN to the store instead of purchased AT her store.  Get me outta here, “y’all.”

Inconvenient, yes, somewhat.  But less expensive and less harmful to the environment, so it seems. And though the reviews are not touting this as the best developement to come to “TP,” I disagree and find no problems with it.

This brutal winter has been a disgusting reminder that our cities don’t need any more garbage on the sidewalks.  So do your part, and if you happen to be driving by a Walmart or Sam’s Club, go out of your way a little to help a lot!

After all, by the end of the song, Kermit decides he actually likes being green.


Did you know?   The 17 billion toilet paper tubes produced annually in the USA account for 160 million pounds of trash, according to Kimberly-Clark estimates, and could stretch more than a million miles placed end-to-end. That’s from here to the moon and back — twice.