Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

I had every intention of making wild rice soup and popovers for dinner tonight.  I even have the veggies chopped and ready to go in a ziploc in the fridge, and the wild rice precooked.

Sometimes life throws you a curve ball, requiring a celebratory dinner out!

We're getting married!

Happy New Year to all!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

vacation eats

Merry Christmas!  I've had a lovely holiday week filled with eggnog, cocoa, cookies, movies, board games, reading, ice skating, snow shoeing, and lots of delicious food!

"Red Lentil Soup with Greens," from Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers:

One of my favorite quick and easy soups of all time, because it is light without being watery, nutritious yet totally delicious, making a perfect winter lunch with a side of lightly buttered naan.

Cranberry Bread:

A family recipe I've altered slightly -- here's my version!


yield: one 9-inch loaf

Combine dry ingredients:
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda

Toss with dry ingredients:
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup raisins

Combine wet ingredients:
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup orange juice

Add dry ingredients to wet, and stir together just until combined.  Bake at 350 for about an hour, (longer if your cranberries were frozen,) or until a toothpick inserted in the center of your loaf comes out clean.

"Black Beans with Pickled Red Onions," from Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers:

I ate huge quantities of this meal several days in a row this past week, and am still not sick of it.  :)  I love black beans, I love the simple seasonings on these black beans, and I love the gorgeous, tangy pickled red onions!  I love a little acidity with beans, and these pickled onions are practically perfect!

Homemade pizza #1:

Half whole-wheat homemade crust, organic pizza sauce, mozzarella, parmesan, onion, garlic, cremini mushroom, green bell pepper, and sliced black olives.  Delicious for lunch, and delicious leftover for breakfast the next morning!

Christmas Eve supper:

I was looking for something light yet substantial to serve for supper on Christmas Eve, as I had a long evening ahead of me!  (Hour-long rehearsal followed by 2 hour church service starting at 9 pm . . . !)  I settled on Basic Quiche, hasselback sweet potatoes, and Vegetarian Southern-Style Collard Greens.  A delicious, nutritious, filling, hearty, yet light meal that fueled me through a long evening of singing!

Christmas breakfast tradition growing up always included "Baby Jesus Coffee Cake:"

My mom would make this cake yearly, and stick a candle in it while we sang "Happy Birthday" to baby Jesus.  I still make the cake, but skip the candle.  :)

"Baby Jesus" Coffee Cake
yield: one 8-inch pan (double to make a 9X13 pan)

Streusel ingredients:
1/4 cup sugar
14 cup flour
3/4 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp butter

Dry ingredients:
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda

Wet ingredients:
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla

Additional ingredient:
1/2 cup sour cream (I used sour cream I cultured myself!)

1. Cut the butter into the streusel ingredients until crumbly.  Reserve.
2. Combine the dry ingredients.
3. Cream together the butter and sugar.  Add the egg and vanilla, and stir until well-combined.
4. Add the dry ingredients and sour cream to the wet ingredients alternately, beginning and ending with the flour.  (I recommend 1/3 the flour, 1/2 the sour cream, 1/3 the flour, remaining sour cream, remaining flour.)
5. Spread half the batter in a greased 8-inch baking pan.  Sprinkle over half the streusel, then carefully spread over the remaining batter.  (I like to dollop out the batter in small spoonfuls, as it is kind of thick and hard to spread over the streusel.)  Top with the remaining streusel.
6. Bake at 325 for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.  Cool before cutting and serving!
(P.S. this freezes beautifully, if you want to make it several days in advance and pull out to thaw on Christmas Eve!)

Plated, with cheesy eggs and fruit:

Homemade pizza #2:

"Christmas pizza" this time, topped with broccoli, roasted red peppers, and more sliced olives.  

And Spanikopita for Christmas dinner, a new John & Catherine tradition:

My version, loosely based on the recipe from The Cheese Factory Restaurant Cookbook . . . 

1/2 cup heavy cream
2 eggs
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried dill
zest of one lemon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 onion, chopped, and 1 clove garlic, minced, softened in 1 tbsp olive oil
5 10-ounce packages frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 pound feta, crumbled

Additional ingredients
1 pound filo, thawed
1 stick butter, melted

1. Whisk together the cream, eggs, zest, herbs, and spices.  Stir in the onion/garlic mixture, spinach, and feta until thoroughly combined.
2. Lightly butter a 9X13 baking dish.  Begin layering sheets of filo, 4 at a time, building up a "crust" around the sides.  Butter the tops of the filo, then continue layering until you've used at least half of the filo.  (Cover the remaining filo with a damp towel while you are working.)  Add the filling, spreading evenly.  Layer the remaining filo, buttering every-other, until you get to the last 10 sheets.  Layer the remaining 10 sheets, buttering each.
3. Cut the pie into 12 pieces.  Bake at 325 for about an hour, or until the top is evenly golden brown.  Allow the pie to rest for 10 minutes before re-cutting and serving!


Hope you had a Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas = cookies!

Christmas definitely equals cookies at my house.  After nearly 5 pounds of flour, three pounds of butter, assorted other ingredients, and 11 1/2 hours of my time yesterday, I have nine varieties of Christmas cookies on hand!  I always enjoy my baking day; afterwards I enjoy eating and sharing homemade cookies over the following weeks.

Here's what I made this year:

Double Ginger Crackles

A soft, chewy, yet sturdy molasses cookie, with a double punch from ground and candied ginger.  I like that these cookies focus only on the ginger, omitting the more traditional spices found in molasses cookies.  However, I'm sure they'd be delicious with the addition of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, too!

White Chocolate and Peppermint Brownies

If you are careful to catch these beauties just as they approach done, you will be rewarded with the richest, fudgiest brownie ever!  I enjoy the white chocolate and crushed peppermint candy topping -- my mom makes "peppermint bark" (white chocolate and crushed candy canes) yearly, but I've found it's too sweet for me in my "old age."  These brownies offer a taste of that childhood candy, but in a more balanced package.  Plus, chocolate and peppermint is such a classic holiday flavor, and the candy canes add a pop of color to the cookie tray.  Win-win-win!

Apricot Coconut Bars

After trying these bars for the first time last year, I received complimentary phone calls and emails from several choir colleagues about these!  Better make 'em a frequent repeat.  These remind me somewhat of a lemon bar, as they have a shortbread crust covered in an eggy, fruity topping.  However, these bars have more texture than a lemon bar, filled with chewy dried apricots and plenty of flake coconut.  (I choose to use unsweetened coconut, which is a variation from the recipe.  I find it makes the bars just a little less sweet, with more coconut flavor.)  Side note: John doesn't care much for coconut, but he still loves these!

Anise Tea Crescents

I enjoy "wedding cakes" just as much as the next person, but I really love the surprising licorice flavor the anise seeds give this cookie.  (Plus, I love Cooking Light cookie recipes . . . you'd never guess in a million years that this is a "light" cookie!)

Gingerbread Cut-Out Cookies

Bless the Post-Punk Kitchen for developing the simplest, easiest to work with recipe for gingerbread vegans!  I love so much about this recipe -- the yield is small to moderate, (important when you are making a plethora of cookies as I do,) it calls for basic pantry staples (canola oil!  Woot!), results in a soft, yet sturdy cookie, and is so deeply SPICY.  The bestest.

Chewy Chocolate-Cherry Cookies

I wasn't entirely sure these cookies were a success straight out of the oven, (they seemed a bit dry to me at first,) but once they cooled . . . watch out!  Chocolatey, rich, and decadent, with a nice sour pop of dried cherry every now and then.  These may be a frequent repeat for years to come!

Maple-Walnut Spice Cookies

These were another cookie I wasn't entirely sure about when I finished them, but after a day's storage . . . YUM.  They softened with time, the maple flavor deepened, and the warm spices mingled to create something perfectly delicious.  I keep these on the bottom of the cookie "tower," as if they were on the top, I'd keep sneaking one here and there between meals.  :)

Cream Cheese Meltaways with Lemon Glaze

John labeled these as one of his favorites of this year's selection, and I agree -- the soft, buttery, fluffy cookie topped with crunchy, sweet-sour glaze is practically perfect.  :)  I enjoy the bumpy, rustic look my cookie scoop gave these cookies, too!  More little pockets for glaze to soak in, right?

Basic Sugar Cookie Dough with buttercream and sprinkles:

A classic I almost considered skipping these this year, but I'm so thankful I didn't.  Real Simple creates amazing recipes, and this sugar cookie dough is no exception.  Simple, classic, tasty, and easy to work with, this dough has booted my GRANDMA'S recipe for sugar cookies out of my holiday cookie rotation.  :)  Can you believe it?  If left relatively thick, the cookies bake up soft yet sturdy, with rich vanilla flavor that is only complemented by a bit of frosting and sprinkles.  You want a decorated sugar cookie base to have some flavor, but not be overwhelming, you know?  I've been delighted with this recipe, and again, appreciate the moderate yield.

With my baking done, I'm ready to kick back, relax, and enjoy the rest of my Christmas vacation!

What did you bake this year?  Do you focus more on family favorites, or exploring new recipes?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

pumping up the produce

As I wrote earlier in the week, I am trying to make an effort to eat more produce these days -- specifically, more veggies!  I tried to center our meals around veggies this weekend, and chose Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers as my "focus cookbook."  (Do any of you ever do that when you are meal planning?  Sometimes when I'm overwhelmed by ideas and options, I choose one cookbook and select only recipes from it for upcoming meals.)

Breakfast Saturday morning:

How to have French toast nearly effortlessly on Saturday morning?  Slice the bread and set it out to dry before you go to work on Friday morning.  Friday night before bed, make a custard, (I used 4 eggs, a cup of milk, a tablespoon of sugar, 1/2 a teaspoon of vanilla, several dashes of cinnamon and nutmeg, and a pinch of cardamom,) and soak the bread in the fridge overnight.  With these simple jobs done, all you have to do is get up and fry up your toast!  Yum.  I made us a beautiful fruit salad for the side.

Saturday supper:

Since butternut squash is John's favorite soup variety, I figured I better try the recipe for "Thai Butternut Squash Soup" from my focus cookbook.  I was really pleased with the results!  I made a couple of small modifications, (I roasted a whole squash instead of using frozen puree, used more spinach, and used the whole can of coconut milk and less water,) and we both loved this.  (I especially loved the salty, savory little "tofu croutons!  Tasty delicious.)

Sunday lunch:

"Magic Kale Salad" with pan-fried tempeh.  A repeat, for good reason!  Felt so good to eat a huge plate of greens!

Sunday supper:

A favorite from my focus cookbook this week, "Saucy Hungarian Eggplant."  I haven't made this in ages, and what a shame!  Light yet hearty, this stew is totally nutritious, flavorful, and also helped me take advantage of the GIGANTIC bag of bulgur I bought from Costco not too long ago.

It wouldn't be a quiet weekend without a baking project!

I really felt like baking today, although I wasn't ready to start my Christmas cookies quite yet.  :)  I searched the interwebs for a somewhat healthy muffin recipe full of holiday flavors, and ended up adapting a recipe for molasses spice muffins . . .

Whole-Wheat Gingerbread Muffins
Yield: 24 mini-muffins plus 8 standard muffins

1 stick butter at room temperature (I used salted)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup molasses
2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
pinch cloves

1. Preheat oven to 350
2. Cream butter and sugar.  Add eggs, buttermilk, and molasses, and stir until smooth.
3. Combine the flour, baking soda, and spices.  Stir into the wet ingredients just until combined.
4. Fill muffin liners 1/2 to 2/3 full.  (These puff up a lot, thanks to the buttermilk/baking soda reaction!) Bake mini-muffins for about 15 minutes, standard muffins for about 24 minutes.  Cool, and store tightly covered at room temperature (or in the fridge, if you don't think you'll eat them in a few days.)

Lately, I've been enjoying scooping some of my muffin batter out into my mini-muffin pan, and taking those to work.  I love to bake, but we can't always get through a full batch of muffins before "the fuzz" gets to them.  :(  My coworkers have been enjoying the somewhat healthy, homemade "mini-treats" I bring occasionally!  A great solution to my "problem," and a win-win for everyone!

Friday, December 14, 2012

"Me" plan update

So far, so good. I have been consistent with the flossing and vitamin-taking so far. Two 20-minute sessions of yoga in the last three days. Now, if only my coworkers would stop bringing in all of these holiday treats! ;)

The excessive goodies this year have made me want to scale back my baking plan considerably, as I'm starting to see treats aren't always welcome. Good thing I can come up with a few more homemade gift ideas! What kinds of non-food homemade gifts will you give this year? What kinds of homemade gifts have you received that you've loved? (My friend Dora crocheted me a new hat and scarf this year - so fun!)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

the "me" plan

We all fall into those "slumps" or "ruts" periodically, when we get a little bit lazy and stop taking the best care of ourselves.  I can't quite explain why I'm having a slump these days, but suffice to say, it's been strong and persistent for months.

How do I know I'm in a slump?  My energy is low, my back hurts, I have had persistent headaches, and my pants are fitting a little too tightly these days.  No time like the present to get back to old, better habits, if I do say so myself!

The "me" plan:

1. More yoga.  (I have fallen out of the habit, and since I am not getting much exercise these days, I definitely need to be doing more.  This will also help my back and headaches, as my new health insurance doesn't really cover chiropractic care.  Hopefully, John and I can start doing some yoga together, as I know he would benefit from more stretching as well!)

2. More veggies.  More whole grains.  I'm eating plenty of fruit and healthy protein these days, so I'll keep that up.

3. WAY less sugar.  Less processed food.  Less white flour.  (Well, except for Christmas cookies.  But I HAVE to start cutting out the junk that I have been eating at work!)

4. More sleep.

5. More water!  (I get really busy at work, and definitely don't drink enough.)  Less garbage coffee (Folgers!  Ugh!) at work.  (I think I'll bring a box of green tea to keep in the classroom -- that should help!)

6. Get into the habit of taking my vitamins daily, and flossing daily.  Two little things that make a big impact on my health!

So, how did I do today?  Well . . . I managed 20 minutes of yoga tonight.  I'll take my vitamins and floss in a little while.  And I'll update tomorrow, perhaps!

How do you know you are in a "slump?"  What sorts of things would be on your "me" plan?

Monday, December 10, 2012

time for comfort food

I had been battling a migraine most of last week, and wasn't feeling very well when I sat down to do the weekend meal plan on Thursday night.  It was definitely time for some comfort food!

Breakfast burritos!

Even though a burrito might not seem like comfort food for a good little midwestern girl like myself, I can pretty much always eat beans and cheese.  Adding hash browns and eggs just gilds the comfort food lily, in my opinion.  :)

Chickpea Patties!

While the chickpea patty itself doesn't really fall into "comfort food" territory, at least for me, sweet potato tater tots sure do.  :)  (Side dish not pictured!)

Seitan and Dumplings:

I tried a new seitan recipe this time, which I was really happy with.  I find seitan can sometimes be too "strong" tasting for me . . . maybe too much nutritional yeast?  Anyhow, this recipe was quick and simple, offered lovely, light flavor, and worked beautifully in the Herbed Chicken and Dumplings recipe I frequently tweak for a vegetarian option.  (What do I do?  Sub cubed seitan for the chicken, adding it with the broth later in the recipe, and use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth.  I also double the soup base ingredients, and triple the dumplings.  One never can have too many dumplings, if  you ask me!)

Mushroom Potpie:

This was incredible.  Simple to prepare, smelled amazing when it was in the oven, and tasted fantastic.  (I subbed a pie crust for the puff pastry called for, as that was what I had on hand.)  Pot pies can sometimes be too heavy; not this one!  It was rich and satisfying without weighing me down.  (P.S. artichokes on the side!)

And cookies!

I made these Flourless Peanut-Chocolate Cookies to take to church choir rehearsal on Saturday morning, and it's a good thing there was plenty leftover!  John stated that these might be his new favorite cookie.  Rich and crumbly, with big peanut flavor and loads of melty chocolate chips . . . heaven.

How do you define comfort food?

Monday, December 03, 2012

soup and bread

If you ask me, one of the best, simplest suppers around, especially during the fall and winter, would be soup and bread.  Soup and bread is one of those meals that can be virtuously healthy or rich and comforting, depending on your particular soup and bread chosen, and always yields plenty of leftovers for midweek lunches.  :)

Sunday, I chose a virtuously healthy soup, and paired it with a rich and comforting muffin for, in my opinion, a nicely balanced supper.  :)

Smoky Split Pea Soup, from Vegetarian Times:

I love the sweet-spiciness of this soup, and also that I was able to use up quite a few pantry ingredients!  My split peas were likely past their prime, so they didn't soften as much as I would have liked them to, but the soup was still excellent.  We had our fill on Sunday night, and then ended up with enough soup leftover for four lunches this week.  Score.

On the side, Cheese Muffins, from The Pioneer Woman:

Admittedly, I've never made this recipe as written.  The original recipe calls for THREE CUPS of shredded colby-jack cheese.  Part of me just can't handle adding that much cheese to a muffin recipe, part of me just can't afford to add that much cheese to a muffin recipe.  :)  So, I cut the cheese down to 2 cups (still decadent,) use a more assertive cheese (usually sharp cheddar,) and add a cup of thinly sliced green onions.  Deeeeeeelicious!

What is your favorite soup and bread combination?