… cooking with Elizabeth

If you are new to #lifewithelizabeth then let me take a moment and fill you in on who Elizabeth spends the better part of her day with.  I think it began a little over a year ago while watching Food Network.  Now I am a huge foodie … I love Michael Symon ( this has very little to do with this post, I just felt the need to document that fact!)  I could watch Food Network for hours on end and never get bored!  I am always looking for the next masterpiece to emerge from my kitchen and because of this Elizabeth has been forced to watch countless hours of Chopped, The Next Food Network Star and anything that Bobby Flay, Tyler Florence or Giada are cooking.  The irony of Elizabeth becoming consumed with how to poach the perfect egg and grill master secrets is that 99% of her daily nutrition comes in liquid form and is given to her through a button in her stomach.

I had heard about this Pioneer Woman through friends and decided to spend a little bit of my Saturday morning with her.  I set Elizabeth up for her feeding, poured a cup of coffee and settled in.  We have not been the same since that day.  Elizabeth sat, watching … actually watching as Ree made her way around the kitchen, creating something delicious in one of her cast iron skillets and sharing stories of her days on the ranch.  When the episode ended Elizabeth began to get frustrated so after going through my “what’s wrong” list and realized there was NOTHING wrong except that Ree was no longer chopping, blending and baking.  So I rewinded the episode, no less than 10 times that day and the DVR was set for every single episode, even the ones we had already recorded and seen.

So every morning I wheel Elizabeth into the living room, turn on the television and start at the top of our Pioneer Woman recordings and this is how we spend our days.  However, it doesn’t just stop here … Ree is in the car with us, accompanies us to doctor appointments, is now present at therapy and when Elizabeth does her school work she is allowed a little time with the Pioneer Woman.  If I do not get the next episode on quick enough for our food loving little girl then I am quickly reminded by a series of “hey’s” and the longer I take, the louder she becomes!

Last Christmas my mom gave me a few of her cookbooks and Elizabeth loves for me to sit with her and together we turn the pages, looking at the pictures of the family, the ranch and delicious creations of food.  I find myself handing the kids one of her cookbooks and telling them to write down 3 things they want me to cook for the week.  The Pioneer Woman is now affectionately known as Ree in our house, as if she is family.  The last few months have been very hard on us.  We have experienced heart break, love lost, fighting among those we love the most and a whirlwind of hospital visits and new diagnoses that have left me and Elizabeth absolutely overwhelmed and exhausted.  Today … today however was a good day for the first time in I can’t even remember.  We smiled and laughed, watched Ree all day, no literally ALL day and when trying to decide if we should do Chinese take out or cook it came to me.  How much fun would it be to bring Elizabeth in the kitchen with me while I cooked a recipe from one of the many watched episodes today.  I wasn’t sure just how happy Elizabeth would be pulled away from her time on the ranch but we needed a little bit of fun in our kitchen tonight!

Elizabeth is technically not allowed to have any food by mouth but after months and months of sneaking her easy to chew and swallow foods and making sure she did not aspirate I finally convinced her team that it was very important for Elizabeth to experience what I now call “social eating” in order to give her the opportunity to interact with her family and peers.  I was given a list of “approved” foods and try to follow the rules as closely as possible (okay that’s not even a true statement).  This means we cook a great deal of pasta, fish and soft foods.  So the part about following the rules … her favorite candy is M&M’s, she loves Cheez-Its and could eat bowls of Chex mix without looking up to check out her social surroundings that are supposed to be present during these times!

Tonight we settled on Cheesy Sausage Rigatoni and butter bread ….

I have not seen a smile on her face like this in months.  I laid all of the ingredients out on a board, laid it on her wheelchair and let her hold everything for me.  One by one I would take what I needed, telling her each step of the recipe.  That smile never left her face.

The pasta was super easy to make and I love that Ree gave us permission to use jarred Marinara sauce!  I chose to use the mozzarella pearls instead of cutting up the big ball of fresh cheese and used fresh shaved Italian cheeses instead of the grated parmesan.  I think Ree wouldn’t Now let me talk to you about this butter bread.  Just go ahead and get up, grab your grocery list and add a loaf of fresh french bread and a box of real butter, yes REAL butter.  I promise it will be okay just this once, well until you must find a reason to have it again next week!  Now Ree says to do this and I totally trust her instinct on using an entire stick of butter on this loaf of bread.  Make sure you have let the butter sit out so that when you take your spatula the butter almost melts on the bread.  This will be your finished product, I know what you are thinking, it looks burned … but it’s not.  You put it under the broiler until it just about catches fire, yes it’s supposed to look like this.  This leaves your bread with the most delicious crunch and you would never guess there was a stick of butter used.  

So let’s put it all together now!  A little pasta, a slice of this oh so delicious bread and a simple caesar salad and dinner is served! Oh, don’t forget the wine!  You can’t have a meal like this without a good glass of wine! 

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