Saturday, December 31, 2011

day trip!

Nothing terribly exciting to report on my end . . . let's just say vacation agrees with me! :)

A few photos from a day trip I took to Great River Bluffs State Park on Thursday:

It was a cold, somewhat windy, kind of gray day, but we still had a bunch of fun! Moderately tough terrain, gorgeous views, good food (soup and sandwich picnic, packed by yours truly,) and great company made for the highlight of my vacation!

(And yes, if you are wondering, this "friend" is an important one . . . but I'm not ready to blow his cover just yet. The same mystery friend/helper in the kitchen that I've eluded to a few times over the past month. He'll get introduced soon enough!)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Reuben? Rachel?

Dinner last night:

I'm back on my tempeh reuben kick -- Wedge pumpernickel bread, Annie's thousand island dressing, Bubbies sauerkraut, organic sliced swiss, and "Seasoned Tempeh" from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home. Kale Slaw with Peanut Dressing and sliced apple on the side. Damn, I love that slaw recipe!

Here was a question asked of me during dinner last night that I don't have the answer to: what's the difference between a Reuben and a Rachel? Anyone out there know? Do comment, please!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Dinner

It was a good Christmas this year -- church on the Eve was as beautiful and magical as ever, I enjoyed gorgeous weather, good food, and a great movie with my friend Ann during the day, made the family phone calls, and then pulled a kick-ass dinner out of my freezer and knocked the day out of the park:

(loosely based on The Cheese Factory Restaurant Cookbook's recipe for "Spanikopita"):
Yield: one 9X13 pan, 6 or so servings

2 large eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried dill
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne
zest of one lemon
1 pound feta, crumbled
3 pounds cooked/chopped spinach, thawed if frozen and squeezed dry
2 cups chopped onion and 1 minced clove garlic, sauteed in a drizzle of olive oil until soft

Lightly beat the eggs, then whisk in the cream, nutmeg, basil, oregano, dill, salt, pepper, cayenne, and lemon zest. Fold in the cheese, spinach, and onion/garlic mixture until well-blended.

1 pound filo, thawed completely (you won't use quite the entire package)
1 stick butter, melted

1. Cut the filo to fit the size of your 9X13 baking dish. Reserve the scraps for another use, or just toss them. Spray a kitchen towel with water and use to cover the filo while you are working. Continue to mist the towel as needed to keep the dough from drying out during the assembly process.
2. Brush the inside of your baking dish well with butter, Add two filo, brushing the top sheet with butter. Continue layering filo, buttering every-other, until you have about a dozen sheets in the pan. You can lay the sheets flat in the bottom, or build up the sides making sort of a "crust." Either system works well -- just whatever you prefer.
3. Add the filling to the baking dish, spreading evenly.
4. Continue layering filo on top of the filling, brushing each sheet of dough with butter this time. until you use up all of the dough. Cut the pie into squares -- either a 3X3 grid or a 3X4 grid, depending on how large of servings you want.
5. At this point you can cover the pie with foil and freeze until you are ready to bake it, or stick the thing directly in a preheated 350 degree oven, uncovered. Bake until deep golden brown, about 40 minutes for a fresh pie, or much longer -- about an hour and a half? -- if you are baking from frozen. (Put the frozen pie in a cold oven and turn the heat on so you don't crack your baking dish! Cover a frozen pie for about the first hour, and then uncover for the last 30 minutes or so, so the whole thing doesn't dry out during the long bake.) Allow the pie to cool for 5 to 10 minutes before re-cutting the squares and serving!

Hope you had a fantastic holiday!
(P.S. I got to have lefse for dessert, too!)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry, merry.

Whew, it's been a year for me -- I had appropriately named 2011 "the year that doesn't quit." As I'm preparing to stay up super-late for Christmas Eve service tonight, (on very little sleep, and a teensie little nap, thank you very much,) all sorts of thoughts are swirling around in my head. Mostly, what a year it's been! As I learned in yoga class, the universe never hands you anything you can't handle -- I knew that all along, but it was hard to see while in the thick of things, you know? Life is reasonably calm and relatively stable nowadays, things are clipping along nicely, and I'm looking forward to being off work until JANUARY 3RD! Wahoo!

I wish you a merry, merry whatever -- Christmas, Santa, New Year, Hanukkah, Solstice, time away from the grind to relax with important people. And I leave you with some shots from a hike I took with a friend yesterday at Afton State Park. Unseasonably warm, gorgeously sunny winter days make for great hiking, and even better pictures:

I'll be back soon with food -- I plan to feed myself well and often during my vacation! I can't wait. :)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sunday dinner

After a busy weekend in the kitchen baking cookies, I had assumed the last thing I wanted to do was mess things up again by making a huge meal . . . but I was wrong. :) I decided I was due a healthy, slightly indulgent, comforting bowl of delicious food for dinner! I had picked up the ingredients for "Mushroom Potato Stroganoff" from The Cheese Factory Restaurant -- and I roasted up nearly two pounds of brussels sprouts on the side. (Every once in a while I get to tag along to Costco with my friend Courtney, and massive amounts of produce always result! Woo!) I decided to mound everything into one of my giant Asian soup bowls and curl up on the couch with a movie:


I also grabbed the hugest box of spinach and a giant block of feta when trolling Costco . . . and I have a box of filo in my freezer. Spinach pie, anyone???? :)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

the cookies.

I really tried to exercise considerable restraint when planning my Christmas cookie baking marathon this year -- I limited myself to two candies, two bars, and three cookies. A feat, if you ask me! I started baking on Friday night, and finished up early this morning. I took breaks to sleep and eat, obviously, and also squeezed in a run yesterday morning, a short nap yesterday afternoon, and dinner out last night. I packed up piles of cookies for church choir friends this morning, and plan on taking a big tray of cookies to work sometime this week -- hopefully I won't have TOO many leftovers! :)

Without further ado, here's what I made this year:

Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels:

I didn't add quite enough coarse salt to the tops of the caramels! Oh, the horror! Don't worry . . . they are still fantastic. :) Just not sweet-salty enough!

Glazed Lemon Cookies:

SO easy, and so delicious! A simple slice-and-bake butter cookie, dunked in a super-lemony glaze. I added yellow sprinkles. It's Christmas, you know! Christmas calls for extra sprinkles, if you ask me. ;)

Triple-Ginger Cookies, from Fine Cooking:

These are super-spicy and deeply molasses-y, but I baked them a minute or so too long . . . I love nothing more than a soft ginger cookie, and these are not. Alas! I'll note in the recipe to pull them out of the oven a couple of minutes early in the future, but for now, I dunk them in my tea. :)

White Chocolate and Peppermint Brownies:

OH. HELL. YES. I did a little happy dance when I tried a bite of these last night! The brownie layer is perfectly dense, gooey, and chocolatey, yet sturdy enough to stand up to being covered in white chocolate and crushed candy canes. MMM!

English Toffee:

I make toffee every year, since I find it dead easy and everyone seems to go apeshit over it. I followed a recipe from Fine Cooking this year, and determined that the yield is a little too large for my 8-inch silicone pan, which I use for candy-making. No real complaints, it's just extra-thick!

Apricot and Coconut Bars:

These were on my to-try list last year, but got the axe . . . I'm so glad I decided to try these this year! I actually received a phone call from a church choir friend about an hour after church today, singing the praises of these bars. I love them lots, too!

And lastly, Sugar Cookies with frosting and sprinkles:

I was pleasantly surprised by an offer of help with the cookie-baking this year, and found that these roll-outs went much faster with two people! I really like this recipe from Real Simple -- the dough is basic yet flavorful on its own, soft yet sturdy enough to allow for plenty of decorations, and the yield is just right -- not too many, not too few!

Happy sugar time! Wee!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

nutrition be damned

As I'm sure you know if you've read my blog more than once, I tend to like healthy food -- certain vegetables make me jump for joy, (asparagus, artichokes, and broccoli all come to mind immediately,) I generally eat a largely vegan diet, love beans and whole grains, and don't eat too much sugar.

However, there are a few key foods out there that I REALLY don't care for.

Cauliflower? Ew. (Which is so weird, because I love all other brassicas.)

Carrots? No thank you! (Again, weird, as I love beets and parsnips.)

And possibly the weirdest? Lentils.

Now, red lentils are excluded from my lentil-hatred, for obvious reasons. :) However, brown lentils? Ugh. French green lentils? Hm. Every once in a while, I get a craving for lentil soup, but never seem to make my way through an entire pot, before I want to chuck the leftovers out the window.

What is it about lentils, you ask? To me, they just sort of taste like . . . dirt. Metallic and earthy. Not something I want to put in my mouth.

I've discovered over the years that the trick to getting myself to eat just about anything -- whether it be leftovers I'm tired of, a recipe that just didn't turn out quite right, or something that I'm just not partial to, (where did that huge jar of lentils come from, anyway? whose bright idea was it to buy so many tasty morsels of dirt flavor?), is to cover it in cheese. :)

Last night, I discovered that covering lentils in cheese AND stuffing them in a crepe works even better! :)

Nutrition be damned, I enjoyed my lentils!

THIS time. ;)

Monday, December 12, 2011

weekend noteworthies

As I began my weekend on Friday night, I started to think that there was no way I was going to find time to put the tree up -- between laundry and other housework, multiple sets of plans with friends (yay!), church choir rehearsal, and our Advent concert on Sunday morning, I was feeling pretty booked! However, some things changed come Saturday afternoon, and I found myself with a free evening! Time for the Christmas tree!

It's kind of a lot of work to put up (AND take down,) but it's fun to enjoy!

I also managed to squeeze in some more baking and cooking over the weekend:

Cranberry Oatmeal Bars, for church choir rehearsal:

I followed the "Raspberry Oatmeal Bars" recipe from Joy of Vegan Baking, except I promptly de-veganized them by using butter instead of margarine, (what I had on hand, after all,) and used leftover cranberry chutney from Thanksgiving instead of raspberry jam. The chutney worked beautifully! The bars have a nice tart-sweet contrast to them, and I was happy to have the opportunity to find something to do with most of the leftover chutney. :) People gobbled them up at rehearsal, so they must have been good!

Sunday night dinner was a repeat that I had been waiting far too long to make:

"Pasta with Caramelized Onions and Blue Cheese," from Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers, with a side of chile-garlic roasted broccoli. Thanks to lots of help from a now-expert onion chopper and caramelizer, this was on the table in no time. :) (Plus, it's always good to have help in taking down a pound of pasta! I still have lots of leftovers, but not an insane amount.)

And in my book, life is incomplete without dessert:

Homemade butterscotch pudding, recipe from The Betty Crocker Cookbook. Homemade pudding is so damn easy, (and so incredibly tasty,) I wonder why I don't make it more often?

Last, I leave you with a snapshot of the hike I took at Ft. Snelling State Park yesterday:

It was the perfect day for a winter hike, if you ask me -- not too cold, not too windy, not too much snow! Woo!

Friday, December 09, 2011

fried rice, Friday night

Best thing to do with leftover rice:

Garlic, ginger, shiitake mushrooms, red bell pepper, green onion, shelled edamame, baby corn, water chestnuts, egg, soy sauce, and toasted sesame oil all ended up in the wok tonight, along with plenty of short-grain brown rice.

Fried rice on a Friday night is a delicious way to start the weekend, if you ask me! :)

Thursday, December 08, 2011

the cookie plan

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, isn't it?

Here's what Christmas means to me:

1. Getting to sing for 11 PM Christmas Eve service
(I know it's kind of geeky, but there you go . . . )

2. Baking cookies!

I actually do have a plan this year, and the decision-making process wasn't nearly as challenging as it was in years past. :) Here's the list:

Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels
Apricot Coconut Bars (sorry you can't see the recipe -- but I have a hard copy somewhere . . . !)
White Chocolate and Peppermint Brownies
Sugar Cookies (with frosting and sprinkles, of course!)
Triple-Ginger Cookies (from Fine Cooking . . . and I can't find the recipe online anywhere! Sorry!)
Glazed Lemon Cookies

Perhaps I'll get the tree up this weekend, so I can really go nuts next weekend! Baking, Christmas music, decorations . . . what else does one need?? :)

Maybe an iPad, so I don't get flour all over my laptop? ;)
(Not this year, I know! But a girl can dream, right?)

Monday, December 05, 2011

Iron and Wine

I just collected "Around the Well" from the library today; seriously, WHERE has Iron and Wine been all my life?

That's all. :)

(My fridge is nearly bare, and I'm not planning on shopping again until the weekend, so . . . until then!)

Saturday, December 03, 2011

read the recipe

Last night, I decided the best possible thing I could do with my evening was bake something -- hell yes! (Really, when is it not time to bake?) I had a few baking apples lingering in my fridge from a Halloween trip to a pumpkin patch/apple orchard, and really thought that I better use them up, quick-like! This recipe for Apple-Molasses Spice Cake had caught my eye ages ago, and it sounded like the perfect early-winter dessert.

This cake is INCREDIBLE! Imagine a moist, light, sweet-but-not-too-sweet gingerbread, studded with bits of slightly tart apple throughout -- a lovely, rustic dessert, but also an excellent breakfast. :) I might even try this one again with whole-wheat flour, as I think the cake is so flavorful and light, one would hardly notice the flour swap.

A note of caution, though -- always READ THE ENTIRE RECIPE before starting! The recipe calls for a half-cup of water added to the cake batter, which was NOT listed in the ingredients, (shame on you, Real Simple!), and I had proceeded with the recipe without the water, surprised by how stiff the batter was, popping the cake in the oven before reading, yelping "oh no!", ripping the cake back out of the oven, adding the water, and returning it to the oven. :) No harm done in the end, but it would have been smart to have read through the full recipe first! (Shame on me, too! We'll say it's a 50/50 blame this time.) ;)