Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Chocolate Layer Cake

Chocolaty, creamy, smooth, and crunchy, all in one bite...in a Chocolate Layer Cake.

There are so many different ways one can put it together, but here is my version. We had it for dessert after our Christmas Day lunch...after all, who deserves a cake more than baby Jesus :)

Chocolate Layer Cake

It is simple to assemble. Make 9" rounds of any chocolate cake, and divide into three layers. I filled the bottom layer with thick chocolate pudding (use about 1/3 less milk than called for to get desired thickness). To make the filling for the top layer, I crushed 6 oreos, and mixed it into one cup of whipped topping. Refrigerate the cake for at least 4 hours before serving. I made my cake the day before Christmas, so I didn't have to think about dessert! All that I had to do before serving, was to make the chocolate ganache glaze, and spoon it over the cake enough to let it drip off the sides. (The glaze recipe is simple - 1/4 cup of dark chocolate, 1 tbsp butter, and 2 tbsp milk, melted in the microwave for 1 minute at 15 second intervals, then whisked until smooth.) The cake is best served while the glaze is still warm, but you can eat it cold as well. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mocha Almond Fudge Biscotti

The best accompaniment my coffee has had all year.

As you have seen from my previous post, I have made a conscious effort to create somewhat unusual Christmas treats this year. Which is remarkable, for someone as unorganized as myself, because I didn't start all of this until five days before Christmas.

Several things formed the inspiration behind this Mocha Almond Fudge Biscotti. First, I have always had a fondness for the chocolate-almond combination (see my Rocky Road post from November). Another sentiment that contributed to this concoction is that my husband also likes some version of these flavors, most likely stemming from his favorite Baskin Robbins ice cream flavor, 'Jamocha Almond Fudge'! (We do like ice cream, don't we?)

This chocolaty biscotti is so easy to make, with store-bought fudge brownie mix, and one batch yields a LOT. They make nice Christmas-gifts, too, and are an unexpected step away from popular Christmas cookies! Simply wrap up a few of these with plastic wrap, tie with a festive ribbon and scoot over to your neighbor's with it. Extras will store in an airtight container on your kitchen counter for several weeks. Or, in the freezer for several months. Here is the recipe:

Mocha Almond Fudge Biscotti

You will need:
1 package fudge brownie mix
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup finely chopped almonds
1 egg
3 egg whites
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine brownie mix, flour, and baking powder in a large bowl. Separately, whisk egg, egg whites, and instant espresso powder. Add egg mixture to brownie mix, and stir until combined. Divide batter into four portions, on greased baking sheets, shape each portion into a rectangle (two fit nicely side by side on my 9x13 baking sheets). Bake in center oven rack at 350 for 22 to 24 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit on baking sheet for 5 minutes. Remove to a cutting board, and cut diagonally with a serrated knife into 1/2 - 3/4 inch slices. Bake again, cut side down, on greased baking sheets for another 12 minutes. Cool completely, and store in airtight containers. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Playing With Pretzel Rods!

Classic procrastinator that I am, I spent some time this week making Christmas treats....four days away from Christmas. The good news, is that very little about these treats say "Christmas", so they can really be enjoyed any time of the year. So...this year, we have Pretzel Rods, Mocha Almond Biscotti, and Toffee Pecan Bites. Once all of these are done, I get to wrap them up to distribute!

I did the Pretzel Rods and Toffee Pecan Bites over the past couple of evenings. Two kinds of pretzel rods - and both are SO EASY to make, perfect to get kids to help with! The first is Kitchen Sink Pretzel Rods - you really could say that they have everything but the kitchen sink in them - and is my token "salt" element in this dessert. Those who know me well, know that my taste preference is salty over sweet ten times over, so pretzels work really well here :)
The second kind is Cranberry Pistachio Pretzel Rods - the red and green color are perfect for Christmas.

So here you go:
Kitchen Sink Pretzel Rods

You will need:
2 cups caramels
1 cup mini chocolate chips
1 cup mini butterscotch chips
1 cup toffee bits
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
14 pretzel rods, cut in half with a very sharp knife

Mix the mini chocolate chips, toffee bits, and chopped walnuts in a large shallow dish and set aside. Melt caramels over very low heat. Dip the cut end of the pretzel rods into the caramel, and coat about two-thirds of the way down. Then, roll them in the nut mixture and set on baking sheet lined with waxed paper. Stick the baking sheet in the refrigerator for about an hour, or until set. Enjoy!

Cranberry Pistachio Pretzel Rods

You will need:
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pistachios
1 cup dried cranberries, chopped
10 pretzel rods, cut in half with a very sharp knife

Mix the chopped pistachios and cranberries in a large shallow dish and set aside. Melt white chocolate chips over very low heat. Dip the cut end of the pretzel rods into the white chocolate, and coat about two-thirds of the way down. Then, roll them in the cranberry mixture and set on baking sheet lined with waxed paper. Stick the baking sheet in the refrigerator for about an hour, or until set. Enjoy!

Hope you enjoyed these two. You can look for the Mocha Almond Biscotti and Toffee Pecan Bites recipes later this week.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Chicken Curry Soup

My friend Sarah recently told me about a treasured Christmas tradition in her family, her mother's delicious Chicken Curry Soup. My ears perked up at the mention of the word "curry", and my curiosity spiked because I know this family does not have any Indian heritage or eat much Indian food. I immediately knew I had to have the recipe. Her mom was kind enough to send me the recipe, and graciously granted me permission to share it. I tried it Tuesday night for dinner, only a few hours after receiving the recipe (I could not contain my excitement any longer!) and...it is one of the most delicious, and unusual things I have ever had! It is so easy to make, and the flavor combination is so unusual and good that I will definitely be making this again. It is NOT that spicy-hot, so those of you who are afraid of Indian food - no excuses with this one! Here it is:

Chicken Curry Soup

You will need:
1 diced onion
3 sliced carrots (cut like pennies)
2 apples diced
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp curry powder
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
1 quart chicken stock
1 can diced tomatoes
shredded cooked chicken - as much as you want

Saute onions, carrots, and apples in the butter. Add salt, pepper, nutmeg, and curry powder and cook at least five minutes. Add chicken stock, tomatoes, and shredded chicken. Simmer an hour. The longer it cooks, the thicker and more "stew" like it gets. It is fantastic the next day. Enjoy!

1) I didn't have chicken, so I used leftover thanksgiving turkey, and homemade turkey stock instead of chicken stock. It worked really well!
2) And I don't use curry powder, so I just made up a blend of chilli powder, pinch of turmeric, cumin powder, and coriander powder, and pinch of garam masala.
3) I also added just a little bit of garlic.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Three Alarm Clocks

Not long ago, a friend of mine blogged about how many phone numbers was too many. It inspired me to think about why we have three alarm clocks in the bedroom to wake us up every morning. Correction: why we NEED three alarm clocks to wake us up every morning. And, they are all set to go off within three minutes of each other, thereby minimizing the length of snooze-time. Here are the three:

1. A clock radio (the classic)
2. My cell phone (battery back-up, in case the electricity goes out...duh!) and
3. Ryan's cell phone (second battery back-up).

Let me confess that in this next paragraph I risk losing respect in the eyes of several of my country-music-loving friends. But I'll chance it.

The clock radio
The clock radio is my nine-year old one, and it's pretty basic. It is set to wake us up to a country music station. Those who know me well will understand why. For those who do not, let me elaborate...
I simply don't like it. I'm sure country music has many fine qualities (although, at this moment not one comes to mind). Songs written solely about the undesirable intricacies of family relationships, or the disappointment of unrequited love are neither motivating NOR energizing at any other time of day than 4:50 in the morning. Thanks but no thanks. BUT - at 4:50 in the morning - it meets the objective of getting me out of bed just so I can turn it off and not have to listen to it anymore.

My cell phone
Your pretty basic but annoyingly loud alarm jingle that not only gives me the strength to rise out of the warmth of my bed, but also makes me want to pick up that jingling cell phone and hurl it through the window, hoping it will land somewhere in the two feet of snow in the front yard and hope that it stays there forever.
Ryan's cell phone
When Ryan's cell phone goes off it's great. I get to kick him in the shin because the jingle that he sets it to induces just that kind of behavior in a person. And it is twice as loud as mine.
And there you have it, folks. The story of our three alarm clocks, for your amusement.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Macaroons have always held a special place in my heart. When I was a kid, every once in a while, I would get treated to scrumptious little white macaroons from the local grocery store. They were always the same, and always very good. And, like every person who grows used to something but eventually leaves home and then misses that very thing, I took those little macaroons for granted. Those tiny white pieces of heaven were the ultimate melt-in-your-mouth cookies, slightly larger in size than Hershey's Kisses, always with pistachios in them, and a distinct floral flavor - I can't quite put my finger on it - rose essence, perhaps? Anyway, they were delicious.

But until I can replicate what is in my head, exactly, the two recipes below have more than sufficiently appeased the craving from the memories that came flooding back. I hope you enjoy them. The first recipe is courtesy of my friend Ashley K, Snow Capped Coconut Macaroons (coconut almond macaroons with a chocolate glaze, essentially) and I came up with the second one, Chocolate Walnut Macaroons. I found them both to be entirely delicious. I made several batches of both last Saturday and served them to friends (with kids) and all were thoroughly pleased with them.

Just out of curiosity, do any of you have crazy macaroon memories like I do?

Snow Capped Coconut Macaroons
(recipe courtesy: Ashley K)

You will need:

For the Cookies:
2 large egg whites
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup sliced almonds, crushed
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups sweetened shredded coconut

For the Glaze: (Use glaze only if you want to, these macaroons are entirely delicious plain too!)
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Coarse sugar crystals, for decorating

Make the cookies: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Lightly beat the egg whites in a medium bowl until frothy, then stir in the granulated sugar, almonds, vanilla and salt. Fold in the coconut. Drop tablespoonfuls of the batter 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. Dampen your hands and form into tall pointed mounds. Bake until the edges are golden brown and the macaroons look dry, 16 to 20 minute. Let cool 10 minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.
Make the glaze: Put the chocolate, corn syrup, butter and 3 tablespoons hot water in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave until melted, about 2 minutes. Whisk until smooth.
Dip the tip of each macaroon about halfway into the glaze, then place on a clean parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with coarse sugar, then refrigerate until the glaze sets, about 1 hour. Store in an airtight container up to 1 week.

Chocolate-Walnut Macaroons

You will need:
2 large egg whites, beaten until stiff peaks form
1 cup granulated white sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 tablespoons good cocoa powder
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Optional - Chocolate glaze, as outlined above (Use glaze only if you want to, these macaroons are entirely delicious plain too!)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Beat egg whites, then fold in sugar, salt, cocoa powder and walnuts. Drop by spoonful one inch apart on parchment lined baking sheet, and bake at 300 degrees for 20 minutes, or 25 minutes, until crisp. Let cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes before moving to rack to cool completely.  

If desired, spread a little bit of the chocolate glaze on each cookie and let set in the refrigerator for one hour. Store in airtight container for up to one week.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Butternut Squash Risotto

Who doesn't love a good risotto in the winter? An exquisite, slow-cooked, creamy bowl of bliss. This Butternut Squash Risotto came together last night, when I discovered that I had half a butternut squash sitting in the refrigerator, leftover from the Butternut Squash Red Curry I made last week, and needed to be used up. Boy, we have eaten a lot of squash lately. Eating in-season, indeed!

This recipe is definitely a keeper. Deliciously flavored with sage, and onions. Slow-cooked to creamy submission in white wine, and broth. You can use chicken broth or vegetable broth...or turkey broth, which was what I did (I kept the turkey bones from Thanksgiving last week, and made my own low-sodium turkey stock out of it last Monday night - super-easy - email me if you want the recipe). And, since it paired very nicely with the Turkey Cakes we had last night, this was a happy coincidence. Here is the recipe -

Butternut Squash Risotto

You will need:
Half of a butternut squash, peeled and cut up into 1/4"-1/3" cubes
2 tsp dried sage, divided
salt and pepper
7 or 8 cups low-sodium stock (any kind!)
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 tbsp butter
2 cups Arborio rice, uncooked
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
1 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped

This recipe makes approximately 6 servings.

Combine squash, half the sage, 1 cup of stock, and a sprinkling of salt in a skillet. Simmer covered until squash is tender but not mushy. This should take about 5-10 minutes depending on the size of the cubes.
Drain out the liquid and set squash aside.
Meanwhile, bring the rest of the stock to a boil in a another pot and leave it simmering.
Heat up the butter in a large skillet, and add sage. Cook about one minute over medium heat, then add the onion and cook until tender. Turn heat to 'low', then add rice, pinch of salt, and cook for 3 minutes stirring very well. Then turn heat up to 'medium', add white wine and cook until fully absorbed. Once this is done, add enough hot stock to fully cover the rice. Stir well and reduce heat back to low.
Simmer until stock is absorbed, stirring well throughout. Add another ladle full of stock (about 3/4 cup) and stir until absorbed. Keep repeating this process until all of the stock is absorbed and rice is fully cooked and tender. Time will vary depending on skillet size and heat - it could take anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes - this took about 30 minutes for me. When rice is cooked, add the squash, and parmesan cheese. Cook 3 minutes or so, until cheese has melted. Check seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if necessary. Serve hot, garnished with parley if desired. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Turkey Cakes!

Thanksgiving has, undoubtedly, become one of my most favorite times of the year. Why? One word: leftovers.

My short list of happy leftovers includes leftover Thanksgiving turkey. An ongoing personal challenge of mine in recent years has become inventing new and interesting recipes incorporating leftover Thanksgiving turkey (not that the turkey needs any help, it is just so good on its own...or maybe with just a dab of cranberry sauce...okay, stop me from getting off track, people!)

Anyway, these little Turkey Cakes are this year's winner in our house, for leftover Thanksgiving turkey recipe of the year. If you like crab cakes, you are sure to love these babies. Very easy to make, they are crunchy on the outside but soft on the inside (just like my husband when he gets upset), and packed with flavor. Is there a piece of turkey at your house that nobody wants to eat. e.g. wings? Put it in the Turkey Cakes! (They'll never know it's there.) Here is the simple recipe:

Turkey Cakes

You will need:
2 cups cooked turkey, well-shredded
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 tsp minced garlic
1 serrano pepper, finely chopped
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 egg
2 tsp chopped fresh parsley
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
extra virgin olive oil for frying
1 lemon wedge
(This quantity of mixture makes about 8 cakes, depending on how big or small you make them.)

Combine all ingredients from turkey through black pepper together. Mix well. Shape into evenly sized patties and shallow-fry in a skillet in hot oil on medium heat, about 3 minutes on each side or until golden-brown. Serve warm. Drizzle with lemon juice just before serving. Enjoy!

If you need a meal-completer, these Turkey Cakes pair marvelously with Butternut Squash Risotto (simmered in turkey broth or chicken broth), but, I will only be blogging about that tomorrow as I am still full from this wonderful dinner and now need to go think about penance by way of my A.M. workout. Good night!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cranberry Walnut Salad With Apple Vinaigrette

I have always found salads quite complicated to come up with, believe it or not.  (At this point, you may be thinking "weirdo" but I can live with that!) So, recently, I have been making the effort to come up with salads on my own and boldly go forth into all manner of salad experiments. I learned a few things:

a) salads are fun to put together
b) you can put ANYTHING you want in them
c) no one will say "no" to some greenery on a plate :)
d) you can make your own salad dressing, and it can be ANYTHING you want it to be!

So, for Thanksgiving, I wanted to come up with a nice salad that would complement the rest of my dinner. And this Cranberry Walnut salad with Apple Vinaigrette came together at the very last minute, when I got sudden inspiration from the cranberries and walnuts that went into the stuffing. The apple vinaigrette was a last-minute happy invention, because the apple cider vinegar happened to be sitting in front of all the others on the shelf, and it occurred to me that I could mix it with olive oil and that would taste good with all the salad elements I had thus far chosen. Who knew! The flavors ended up going well together, and packed quite a punch. It was well-received at dinner and I already got two requests for the recipe, so I thought that warranted posting!

Cranberry Walnut Salad With Apple Vinaigrette

You can use any vegetables you want/have on hand. I used spinach and mixed greens, chopped carrots, chopped celery, chopped cucumbers, dried cranberries, and chopped walnuts. The apple vinaigrette is the best part though, The proportions are: 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon white sugar. Whisk these together very well and toss with salad just before serving. Yum!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Dinner And A Movie

Dinner and a movie. It's completely clichéd, isn't it? The same old go-to date itinerary. But somehow, in our house, it just doesn't get old. Since we do it about twice a year, and we really look forward to it each time, it has stayed pretty classic...dinner and a movie.

This afternoon, my husband took me out on a date to go see Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part I, entirely his own idea, followed by a quick and comforting dinner. He really did live to please, today. After the movie, we wondered what to do for dinner. I mentioned that I could go for some hot soup (in my head I was thinking French Onion, and I knew Panera always had it) so I suggested Panera. Done. He even knew which location was closest to us, and off we went. He never ceases to amaze me!

The soup hit the spot. I got French Onion (in a bread bowl, of course) and Ryan got Black Bean. It was simple, delicious, and hit the spot.

I remember going to Panera all the time in college with friends. We would go there with our books to study. Occasionally, we would time our visits to coincide with "closing time", which meant, we scored bagels and other things they were just going to throw away anyway. What a poor hungry student will do for "free food", it really is every college kid's kryptonite. I wonder if these restaurants still do things like that?

Fully charged from my date evening, I'm ready to take on this week!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Butternut Squash Red Curry

I’ve had some butternut squash sitting on my kitchen counter for a while now…and it seemed like a good idea to use one in an interesting new curry. I also had a red curry craving at the time. So the decision for Butternut Squash Red Curry was pretty easy to settle on. I really like Curried Butternut Squash Soup….this couldn’t be too different, I figured. And it turned out well! We had some people over last Wednesday when I made this, and it was all devoured pretty fast. Between the color, the flavor and the heat (it is very spicy!), it was a decent hit.

All you really need is some squash, red curry paste, some fresh basil, and a thickener of some sort - I used light coconut milk. You can do a lot of things with red curry paste, so easily available in jars at asian food stores, or most grocery stores. Here is the recipe:

Butternut Squash Red Curry

You will need:
1/2 of a butternut squash, seeded, peeled, and diced into 1/4" cubes
1/2 cup sliced onions
1/2 tsp minced fresh garlic
1/2 tsp chopped fresh ginger
1 tsp fresh basil, chopped
2 heaped tablespoons red curry paste
1 serrano pepper
1 cup water, or more, as needed
1/2 cup light coconut milk
1 tablespoon veg oil

Heat up the oil in a wide, shallow skillet on medium heat. Saute the onions, and garlic until softened. Add the ginger, stir well. Add the diced butternut squash, and let sit covered on medium heat for about ten minutes, or until it is cooked halfway through. You can tell when it's halfway done when your spatula can squish the edges of a piece of squash but not go all the way through. At this point, add the red curry paste and stir until well combined, for one or two minutes. Add the water, it should be enough to cover the squash. Bring up to a boil. Once boiling, lower the heat to a simmer, then add the coconut milk and the basil. Simmer covered for 10 minutes. Butternut Squash Red Curry done!
You can put chicken in this, to please those who “like their meat” at your house :) Just add it in while sautéeing the onions. Also, substituting chicken stock instead of water will give it a richer flavor.

Serve warm, over hot cooked rice. (I served it with leftover fried rice, which worked out pretty well too.) You should really also garnish with some green stuff, like cilantro or green onions, which, in hindsight, I wish I had! Enjoy!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Smoked Salmon Cucumber Rolls

I ushered in my Thanksgiving dinner yesterday with this refreshingly light appetizer. I figured, we could all use a palate cleanser before the onset of all the rich Thanksgiving food! Those who like smoked salmon or lox with cream cheese and bagels will love these Smoked Salmon Cucumber Rolls. I saw it in a magazine once, but modified it a bit to make it my own:

Here is the recipe:

You will need -
1 medium sized cucumber
2 oz. smoked salmon, cut into thin strips
4 oz reduced fat cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 tsp prepared horseradish
1/4 tsp coriander powder (trust me)
pinch red chilli powder (again, trust me)
pinch turmeric (I heard that!)
5-6 uncut fresh chives
black pepper
a vegetable peeler

Mix softened cream cheese with horseradish, coriander powder, chilli powder, and turmeric.
Make long strips of cucumber using your vegetable peeler. I like leaving just a little bit of skin on the edges, I think it looks prettier that way.
Wipe cucumber strips dry with a clean kitchen towel or paper towel.
Spread cream cheese mixture into cucumber strips and roll them up, and stand them up straight.
Arrange smoked salmon, and cut up chives on top. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
(You can make this entire thing a day ahead of time and refrigerate until serving time, but if you do this put a paper towel on the plate before setting the rolls on top because the cucumber and cream cheese will release a bit of water when they sit like that and you don't want to serve them swimming on a plate!) Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

My First Grey Hair

Picture this. I wake up last Saturday to a beautiful sunrise outside the bedroom window, Ryan is next to me, the dogs are whining to be let outside, everything is normal. I wash my face wash in cold water, brush my teeth, and race off to the gym. I take my jacket off, and adjust my headband in the locker room. And there she was...

In the dull, unflattering, fluorescent light, perched atop my head, sticking out from under my headband, and staring back at me in the mirror. My first grey hair. Twice as thick as the rest of my hair, and twice as straight as the rest of my hair. I knew it would happen someday. But, at the tender age of twenty-six???

I had two choices. Fight or flight. Panic was slowly starting to set in. But after my workout (great timing to relieve some stress), and a mild meltdown at home in front of Ryan, I decided to embrace it. Grey hair. Big deal. I knew a girl in school who had at least ten or fifteen grey hairs and she was only sixteen years old. I could be facing much worse things, I suppose. And, plenty of people have reminded me that it has nothing to do with age.

So, here's Marie.

Yes, I named it. It is part of the embracing strategy. And anyone who has ever watched Everybody Loves Raymond will  know why I picked that name. Well, Marie and I are off to begin our day now.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Two Tragedies Of Shredded Wheat

My husband Ryan always says "there are two tragedies in life...getting what you want, and not getting what you want." I expect he heard someone say it, or read it somewhere. But this makes sense, and I love hearing him say it. Not just because Ryan is very wise for remembering it but because it is true. I'll explain in a minute.

For years and years I have been coaxing him to get up an an insane hour (4:55 a.m.) and come to the gym with me in the early mornings. I don't know what it was, but a few weeks ago, something inside him snapped and he made up his mind to tackle a personal challenge head on. So, as of a couple of weeks ago, he has been getting up early in the mornings and coming to the gym with me, three times a week. I am so proud of him. This is the 'getting what I want' part of the story.

Now, he is also motivating himself to eat better. So, we talked about various things we would do to make sure he gets more fiber, cut back on fat, and making sure we always have breakfast in the morning. I told him that I used to eat Kashi cereal pretty regularly back in my college/single years, and he said that sounded good. So, this week Ryan went to the grocery store, and proudly returned with a box of...Shredded Wheat. And he exclaims to me, "no fat and 8 grams of fiber, thank you very much!" And I go "what happened to Kashi!?" You may have guessed by now that this is the 'not getting what I want' part of the story.

For those of you don't know what Shredded Wheat is or have not eaten the cereal before, it's not hard to imagine. It tastes exactly how it sounds. But, we resolved to finish the box. Actually, HE resolved to finish the box. I am just eating it because a) I can't stand the thought of wasting food, and b) I can't stand the thought of the man I love eating cardboard-like material all by his lonesome self. Besides, 8 grams of fiber in the morning is inherently a good idea, regardless of what form it is in. I can respect that.

So there you have it, folks. Two tragedies.

The best news though, is that the box is almost half empty now.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Three Days Of Curries

I have really been into curry these past few days. Quite inadvertently, too. What started out as an innocent attempt to serve a nice Indian meal to some friends turned in to a "curry frenzy" in an attempt to satisfy all sorts of sudden cravings (women will understand).

It all started last Friday. Some friends came over for dinner and, because they had never eaten homecooked Indian food before, I decided to serve them a variety. I wanted one of those things to be a good chicken dish. Unfortunately, I only decided this on Friday morning, a mere six hours before my guests were due to arrive. So, I did something I hardly ever do. I tried a chicken with 'thin gravy' recipe from one of the Indian cookbooks I have (without first testing it), and served that. It was okay, and was a nice accompaniment to the rest of the meal. But it was decidedly bland compared to what I was actually craving. I kept dreaming of the spicy chicken curries I ate growing up (it is hardly the same as your grandmother's or mother's when you attempt to make it yourself!) And, previously mentioned cookbook shall remain unnamed due to the fact that I have now tried four other recipes from it with which I have been equally unimpressed, to say the least. One good recipe for every four bad ones does not a good cookbook make. Hmph. A big fat NON-kudos to whoever published it.

But anyway, I put away the first batch of chicken and was determined not to let the weekend go past without making a richer, spicier curry, one that WOULD put this craving to rest, and to have in the fridge for the coming week. So, on Saturday afternoon, I looked through one of my favorite cook books, Recipes For All Ocassions Part I, by Mrs. B. F. Varughese, and picked a new chicken curry recipe to try - she has two other ones in that book. (Mrs. B. F. Varughese was not only a great-aunt of mine, but also a well-known cook in India and probably the most trusted cooking authority within the extensive Syrian Christian diaspora.) So, I can't go wrong with this one! My mom brought me my very own copy of her Part I book on her first trip to visit me in the States. These books are not easy to find. I would love to get Part II and Part III as well (hint).

Needless to say, the second curry turned out really well, thanks to Mrs. B. F. Varughese's wonderful recipe. It is full of chili peppers...yum! So, here it is, with just three modifications - I left out the tomatoes because I didn't have any on hand, I didn't have fresh grated coconut so I substituted that with coconut milk, I don't cook with ghee (clarified butter) because the smell of it makes my husband want to hurl so I just used vegetable oil.

Chicken Curry

You will need:
All the meat from 1 good sized chicken
1/2 lb Potatoes
1 piece ginger
2 cups sliced onion
6 green chillies (I used 3 very large jalapenos, or you can use serrano peppers)
10 dry red chillies
1 tsp garlic
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp turmeric powder
2 tbsp coconut milk
2 tbsp plain yogurt
4 tbsp veg oil
2 cups water
salt to taste

Grind the dry red chillies, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, garlic, and the turmeric. Fry the onion and then add the ground up spice mixture, ginger, and green chillies. After this is fried well, add the chicken pieces. Pour in about 2 cups of water, and add salt, put the lid on and allow the curry to simmer. Add the potatoes and cook covered. When the potatoes are cooked, blend in the coconut milk and yogurt. Bring up to a boil, then remove from heat. Serve hot, with cooked hot rice.

My next curry adventure will most likely be Butternut Squash Red Curry...hopefully, tomorrow night's dinner! Check back for the recipe.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Rocky Road...From Memories To Cake

I needed to make a dessert to contribute to a luncheon this Sunday. So I sought inspiration, for this Rocky Road cake, from one of my favorite childhood memories.

My first experience, and memory, of the Rocky Road ice-cream flavor was when I was about eleven years old. A curious, bright-eyed kid growing up in India. My grandparents and I were visiting my uncle and aunt in Bangalore over my September holidays from school. A Baskin Robbins had newly opened its doors in Bangalore and we all went there one afternoon for ice-cream. I had never even heard of Baskin Robbins before, let alone have the choice of 31 different flavors of ice cream! It was like a dream. I remember thinking 'this could definitely take a while'...but I also remember eventually picking a single scoop of Rocky Road in a sugar cone. It looked so good through the glass...mounds of rich chocolate ice cream, flecked with tiny marshmallows, and roasted almonds. It was heavenly! Who would have guessed that something called "Rocky Road" could taste so divine?

Filled with new inspiration, I wanted to figure out a way to translate the memories into a scrumptious dessert. Obviously, I could not serve ice cream at the luncheon (or could I?)...so I decided to make a cake.

To my delight, it was not difficult, and it ended up being really fun to put together! I started with two round layers of German Chocolate cake, then frosted it with a coconut-almond frosting, then pressed marshmallows, almonds and chocolate chips all the way around it. The fun part was doing the almond "road" on top. Granted, the craftsmanship is a bit shoddy (try to ignore the "bald spots"), but I can't wait to dish it up. Hope it goes over okay at the luncheon.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Pumpkin Desserts

In our house, I am the only one who likes pumpkin pie. Ryan won't eat it. And this is sad for me because I love pumpkin pie during the holidays. When I ask him why he doesn't like pumpkin pie, he says "it's the combination of texture and flavor" or something vague like that. I say vague because he likes the flavor of pumpkin, just not in pie form. Okay. Rather than argue with him (which is often a temptation but often completely pointless), and rather than make a pumpkin pie just for me, I have been experimenting with new pumpkin desserts. A few years ago I started making Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies, and they have quickly become a house favorite. Pumpkin Pudding is new this season...this batch was delicious, but only time will tell whether or not it becomes a favorite. Here are the recipes for both.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup pure pumpkin
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup veg. oil
1 egg
2 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp milk
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
Mix pumpkin, sugar, veg oil, and egg. In a separate bowl, sift flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Dissolve baking soda with milk and stir into flour mixture. Add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture and stir well. Add vanilla, and chocolate chips. Drop by spoonful onto greased cookie sheet, and bake at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes or until lightly browned and firm. Cool completely, and store in airtight container. Cookies will be soft and chewy. Enjoy!

Pumpkin Pudding

6 tbsp white sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 3/4 cup skim milk
1 egg
1/2 cup pure pumpkin
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
Combine 6 tbsp sugar and 2 tbsp cornstarch in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Combine milk and egg, whisking together well, add gradually add to the sugar mixture. Stirring constantly, bring to a boil. Let it boil for one minute, stirring well, and remove from heat. Combine pumpkin, vanilla, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg, and add to the milk mixture, whisking constantly. Put pan over low heat, whisking constantly, and cook for three or four minutes, until heated through but do not boil. Pour pudding into dessert bowls, cover surface with plastic wrap and let chill for several hours. Serve chilled, topped with whipped cream and candied pecans or candied walnuts. Enjoy!

Hope you enjoy these recipes. I think my next pumpkin adventure will be Pumpkin Creme Brûlée! I think that will be really fun.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Game Night

Ryan and I love board games, and getting together with others to share this love :) So that is exactly what we did last night. We had some fellow "under 30ish" friends over for games, talk, food and drink, and laughs. And we had several laughs, indeed!

In an effort to maximize time with my guests, keep the food and drinks coming, and make clean up a snap, these are a few simple rules I follow:

1) Drippy food = bad. Try to avoid anything too saucy or soupy, it WILL spill.

2) Food on sticks = good! Make oily foods as "touch-free" as possible. Put as many foods as you can on skewers/toothpicks. (Chips may be the exception.) The last thing you want is an undesirable sheen on your game pieces or dice.

3) Keep the path around drinks and food cleared of chairs, stools, or other obstacles to avoid traffic jams.

4) Put extra coasters out on end tables and other surfaces...people will like that they are easy to find.

5) Show guests where recyclables (glass bottles and such) go, and where the garbage is so paper plates and napkins can go directly there! All of my guests cleaned up after themselves, which was a nice surprise for me later!

6) This one is my favorite - if you have dogs, let them loose after the party. They will save you the effort of cleaning crumbs and food off the floors :)

Now for the food. Here are some fun foods that we served last night. These are super easy to make and can be prepped days ahead of time.

Cheese and Spinach Tortellini

Dress up store-bought pasta (like boil-and-serve tortellini!) by serving them on skewers and putting them on a nice plate. You can do all this ahead of time and just heat up the plate before your guests arrive. Drizzle with just a touch of olive oil and fresh cracked black pepper just before serving. Leave the pesto on the side for those who don't care for the green stuff! Or, better yet, serve marinara sauce on the side...now if only I had thought of that last night! I guess hindsight really is 20-20.

Buffalo Chicken Dip

This zingy dip is extremely popular around these parts, particularly in our circle of friends. Another dish that can be assembled ahead of time and just heated up in the oven before guests arrive. Here is my version:
You'll need:
1 pkg cream cheese, softened
2 cups cooked, shredded chicken breast
1/2 bottle Frank's buffalo wing sauce
1/2 cup ranch dressing
2 cups shredded monterrey jack cheese
Spread softened cream cheese in the bottom of a 9x13 pan. Mix chicken breast meat with buffalo wing sauce, and spread this over the cream cheese. Drizzle the ranch dressing over this. Top with shredded cheese, and bake at 350 degrees F until cheese has melted and is bubbly.  Serve warm. Really good with tortilla chips.

Cocktail Bites

Who doesn't like cheese, olives, and meat at a party? Throw them all on toothpicks in varying combinations and you're done. They sell mini pepperoni slices (not quite as wide as a penny!) in stores now, those are just perfect for these. Pair with cut up cheese cubes and manzanilla olives and you're all set. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Penne With Blue Cheese Sauce

N: Hon, I put blue cheese in the sauce for the pasta, hope it turns out okay.
R: Smells good.
N: How do you know when blue cheese goes bad?
R: I don't know...I didn't think it ever went bad.
N: Hmm. You can't really tell if there is mold on this.
R: That's okay. We'll just eat it.
N: Okay.
R: As long as we're on the same page.

Julia Child always said that one should be fearless in the kitchen, and I have clung to that statement ever since I first heard it. So...tonight I dug out the blue cheese from all the way in the back of the cheese tray in the fridge, fairly certain that it has been there since mid-September, and bravely put it in the white sauce for the penne we had for dinner tonight. The pasta was, quite unexpectedly, delicious!

The sauce is very easy to make. For 6 servings, melt 1/2 cup butter in a large saucepan, and add 2 tbsp flour to make a roux. Then add about 3/4 cup milk, stir until all lumps are gone and let thicken over medium heat, stirring constantly. Then add 1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese and stir until well combined. The sauce will turn an unsightly grayish color, but that's okay...it is just absorbing the blue cheese color. It should thicken in a couple of minutes. I also had some kale and chopped ham on hand, so I added those to the sauce as well, and stirred over low heat until the kale wilted. Add cooked penne, and dinner is ready. Enjoy!

Monday, November 1, 2010

When FUNdraising Is FUN

Our local Culver's had a fundraising event all day today. The fundraiser is that they will donate fifteen percent of all their sales, today only, to the local Humane Society which is moving to a new location and is in desperate need of financial help to keep those poor little animals cared for. So, I urged my fellow animal loving friends to go to Culver's, and we went too. I got a single scoop "flavor of the day" (which happened to be "Turtle" today - totally yum!) and Cheese Curds. I need to pause here in order to spend some time talking about cheese curds.

In India, the word "curds" has a very different meaning, and my desi friends would concur. It's what we in the States know as our everyday yogurt. But in Wisconsin - for my non-Wisconsin resident friends reading this - "cheese curds" are something totally unique. Picture this - very, very fresh cheese, portioned into perfect little bite-sized pieces, often salty, sometimes deep-fried, and always very, very good. It makes a squeaking sound when you bite into it. The fresher the cheese curds, the more pronounced the squeak. How incredible is that?!

If you look for cheese curds on wikipedia, you will find out that the New York Times describes the squeaking sound as "balloons trying to neck." You will also see that cheese curds are staple menu items in fast food restaurants across the midwestern US. And I love them :) What better way to support a cause?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Coincidences And Whispers

There are no coincidences. Do you believe that?

This story began earlier this year. I attended a Leadership conference this summer and heard one of the speakers talk about "whispers." The idea that God whispers to you. That mysterious coincidence, the way some one or some thing catches your attention and prompts you to act in some way at just the right time or in just the right place. I didn't really buy it at the time. It sounded like a great idea, but I needed to experience it to believe it.

The story continued last week, when my husband proudly exclaimed that he got a free download of the book "The Power Of  A Whisper", by the very speaker that I heard at the conference. The kindle edition was available for free for a limited time, so Ryan jumped on the chance to get it for free. We started reading the book together, and I became intrigued.
I have always had a somewhat shaky belief in the saying that there are NO coincidences. I love the idea of it, but I was not one hundred percent sure. I think that one really cannot be certain, until it happens to them.

Here's what sealed it for me. Over the past couple of days I have been dealing with feelings of rejection that I have not felt since high school. This is an uncomfortable "place" for most people, especially me, and it hit me particularly hard this morning. I wondered if I was being childish. Or maybe it was God's way of telling me to focus more on him than on how much I matter to my friends. So I processed it, let myself feel the sadness, and silently sent up a prayer for some sign or some way of knowing that God does care for my friendships. Just some kind of validation in the friendships facet of my life. I didn't give it another thought after that.

And He did come through. An hour later, I got an email from a friend asking if I wanted to get together this afternoon for a movie. Coincidence?

God does whisper. Maybe not to me, not today, but to others so they can turn around and be there for someone else.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

White Bean Soup With Sausage And Kale

We've had our first snow this week. Granted it was very light, and it did not accumulate, but it did leave Ryan and me craving some winter comfort by way of hot soup. I was inspired to make this White Bean Soup from a picture I saw in a magazine. The magazine recipe looked sort of bland and boring so I made the necessary substitutions and additions and ended up with something incredibly flavorful, hearty, and satisfying. I spent 5 mins prepping and it took just under 20 mins to cook. Simple, right? Here is the recipe.

White Bean Soup With Sausage And Kale

2 cups raw Hot or Mild Italian sausage, chopped
1 cup chopped onion
4 cloves garlic
3 cups chicken broth
2 (15 oz) cans white beans
4 cups chopped kale
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat, and add sausage to pan. Sauté about 6-7 mins or until sausage is mostly browned and mostly cooked through. Add onion and garlic to pan and sauté until tender. Meanwhile, heat the chicken broth up in the microwave on High for 3 mins. Add beans to pan then add the hot broth and bring up to a boil. Stir in the kale, and add crushed red pepper flakes (optional) and black pepper. Lower heat to medium and let cook for 5 mins. Enjoy!

1) Sausage - you can use ground sausage meat if you prefer but I happened to have a pkg of hot italian sausages in the freezer that I needed to use up!
2) White beans - I used 1 can great northern beans and 1 can baby butter beans.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Colorful Cupcakes!

This week I will be doing a lot of the thing that I normally dread most...baking! I dread it because a) I am not very good at it, b) I usually don't do a lot of it and, c) one cannot bake "by heart" because ingredients and things have to be measured precisely. But it has been a personal challenge of mine this year to bake more and conquer the dread...a bit. In keeping with that, I decided to bring chocolate cupcakes to our life group this week, since it is my turn to bring dessert. So I made these last night and appropriately decorated them for Autumn, or Halloween, take your pick.

The point at which the usual dread turned to glee was when I discovered the joys of using food coloring to turn my cream cheese frosting orange! I didn't have any orange food coloring, so I mixed red and yellow and the frosting turned a lovely shade of orange. The brown frosting is chocolate ganache, and the white is just regular cream cheese frosting. As you can tell I had fun decorating these too. The candy are all Reese's pieces, but I also threw in some candy corn for the fun of it! I also discovered that strange things happen to Reese's pieces when you put them in the fridge...can you see them "melting" onto the frosting? Anyway, I can't wait to share these at group tonight!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Tomato Soup? Three Alarm? You betcha.

There is usually nothing spicy about tomato soup, until one finds the inclination to say "I want grilled cheese," and "I want tomato soup," and "I want something spicy" all in the same breath. That is exactly what we said this afternoon while deciding what to eat for lunch. That's phase 1. Phase 2 comes when you summon up the determination to do something about it. But there was one tiny glitch...we didn't have any tomato soup in the house. I decided that I would just quickly whip some up. Except that I didn't actually know how to make tomato soup! No problem though. I experimented a couple of different ways, and I believe I have actually come up with a kudos-worthy recipe for spicy tomato soup. I am calling it Three Alarm Tomato Soup. As odd as that sounds, it's worth a try! We found it to be delicious. And it is quite spicy. It is especially good with grilled cheese sandwiches. Let me know what you think.

Three Alarm Tomato Soup
Serves two

You'll need:
2/3 cup good pasta sauce
1 can Rotel (yes, with the green chilies in it)
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp dried oregano

Put everything into a saucepan over medium heat, and stir well to combine. Once it's bubbling at the edges, cover and lower heat to simmer and let simmer for 15 minutes. Enjoy!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Notes on Halloween

Halloween is coming up, but it is not a very big deal at all in our house. In fact, we don't enjoy most aspects of the holiday. We don't dress up. But we do give candy to those adorable trick-or-treaters who knock on our door. We don't go to Halloween parties. But we do make fun and spooky foods! We hosted our bi-weekly supper club small group tonight, the theme was "Halloween", and it was the perfect opportunity for me to experiment with some new recipes for Halloween, so I made these for the occasion.

Creepy Crawly Bug Bites

This one's a "me" original! Smoked sausages wrapped up and baked in breadstick dough (crescent roll dough would work too). Just make sure not to cover up one end of the smoked sausage. I used pretzels for the legs. Use mustard, barbeque sauce, or ketchup for the eyes and body.

These little bugs can easily turn into spiders, by adding an extra leg on each side! I will honestly say that these are not high on the taste scale...they're mostly just cute to look at!

Ghostly Pears

I saw this idea on a food site about a month ago and have been waiting to make them ever since. The idea of covering pears in chocolate was so intriguing. I have seen many other fruits dipped in chocolate but never pears so I was curious about the taste. Not bad...even though these aren't very neatly done. (I know preschoolers who could do a better job coating these in chocolate.) But, anyway, the taste was there! I used Bosc pears and semi-sweet chocolate for he coating. The juicy sweetness of the pears went really well with the semi-sweet chocolate. I attempted a few pears dipped in white chocolate and those tasted good but I had issues
getting the white chocolate to coat well.

My friend Eileen brought "bloody stumps" which were really fun to look at as well as eat. I will be bugging her for the recipe! Isn't Halloween food so much fun! Is it wrong to enjoy the food even if you don't really enjoy the rest of the stuff about the holiday?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Mother Daughter Goodbyes

We had a fabulous time together, my mom and I. First, a few weeks in Wisconsin, a proper mix of Southwest Wisconsin tourism and just "being" at home. And, then, over the past several days an immensely fun time in Seattle. Both, with family and friends and by ourselves, captivated by all that the western WA area has to offer. And then came goodbye. Here is the very last picture from our trip, at the Seattle airport, before the hugs and tears.

Goodbyes are difficult for most people. And they are especially difficult for me. Living nine thousand miles away from my family, and having been to or through airports several times in the past nine years, you would think that I have gotten the hang of it by now, but goodbyes just seem to get harder each time. Especially the teary-eyed ones at the airport.

This brings back memories of the first time I said goodbye to my family. My mom and grandparents were such a key part of my identity and my childhood, that I thought leaving when I first did nine years ago would be hard. But, oddly enough, it wasn't hard the first time. I think it is because, back then, I was excited to leave the people I once needed, people who made me feel comfortable, and go out into the world to make my own way, and discover my own identity. I think I've done that now. I'm still figuring out some things. And it has not exactly shaped up to be what I had in mind. But I have a unique identity, and a valuable life of my own here. And as a result, saying goodbye to my mom has become so tough. Not because I "need" her in my life, but because I want her to be a part of it. And I miss her dearly.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Not Sleeping

I have learned over the years that when it is 2 am and you can't sleep, it can quickly go one of two ways:
a) you can toss and turn in bed and complain for the next several hours thinking about all the sleep you are losing, or
b) you can immerse yourself in a flurry of productivity - of course, as quietly as you can while the rest of the household still sleeps - and zip through some of those things on the to-do list.

As unhappy as I was about the fact that I was awake at 2 am, I am happy to say that I adopted the latter choice. I started by sending off a few emails. Of course, when I went back and read some of those emails later I realized that sending emails past midnight is inherently not a good idea - for me anyway. Does anyone else lose the ability to type and put words together past a certain hour? Another unfortunate thing that happened to my language skills: you lose all ability to stop spell-check from automatically correcting things like "the fact that" to "taffeta" and "consider" to "xomside" (what the heck does that mean anyway??)

So, confronted with evidence like that, I can't help but consider the unthinkable...is caffeine past a certain hour just not a good idea anymore? Yikes.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mom's Cooking...

We savored Mom's cooking for dinner tonight. Poori and potato! By the way, she had to make the pooris
using whole wheat flour instead of chapathi flour! Over the course of several emails back and forth during the day, I had insisted that we had chapathi flour on a kitchen shelf, but when I came home I realized I may have used it all up at some point and not bought more :) They were still good, fried to a puffy golden brown. Anyway, the pooris were probably healthier for it. And Mom's cooking is always good! I will definitely miss it when she leaves.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Butternut Squash Chocolate Chip Cookies!

It’s my turn to bring dessert to our life group tonight. So I woke up bright and early this morning all ready to make pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, a favorite recipe in our house. But I didn’t have any pumpkin! However, I did have about a quart of leftover roasted butternut squash. The recipe calls for 1 cup of pumpkin, so I substituted it for exactly 1 cup of the squash. And it worked! Hopefully everyone will like the cookies as much as my husband and mom did.

Monday, October 4, 2010

To the Far East and back in my kitchen

The pork shoulder I mentioned last week has been completely used up. I’m very happy to say, after having fed three people four meals each with two and a half pounds of pork, I can cook economically and the food can be interesting! Our journey to the Far East and back since last week:

Pork sandwiches w/ apple-cranberry chutney (Good ole’ fashioned American)

Layer on top of a burger bun, or other sandwich rolls: shredded pork, whole-berry cranberry sauce (from a can), and sliced apples sauteed for just a couple minutes with a bit of butter, pinch of cinnamon, and a little chilli powder, salt, and pepper (trust me, it’s very good). It was surprisingly good. Well, you’ve got pork, apples, and cranberries…how can you go wrong?

Bak-ku-teh (Vietnam)
My mother traveled to Vietnam earlier this year and brought me back some very interesting spice mixes, along with the cute little bowl and chopsticks that you see in this picture. I added the bak-ku-teh mix to some boiling water, and then threw in shredded pork, cremini mushrooms, and shredded napa cabbage.

Note 1: The grave mistake I made was throwing all the ingredients into the boiling water all at once. Next time, I would have blanched the cabbage first.
Note 2: I was not entirely happy with the flavor of the spice mix itself. I added soy sauce, fish sauce, and some vinegar to “fix” it. That seemed to work!

Spring rolls (er…generic Asian?)
A classic, family favorite! No picture because we ate them all before anyone thought to capture it. But, I must say, this is one of those extremely versatile dishes. Did you know that you can fill a spring roll wrapper with just about anything, deep fry it, and it will always turn out completely delicious? I have been making these for years, but always only for get-togethers or to take somewhere with us. I have never before made them just to eat at home, but then I asked myself “why the heck not?” so there you have it. I first learned to make spring rolls from one of my best friends, Gina, whose mother is a whiz in the kitchen (particularly in Asian foods since she is Thai). So these were made with the pork, and shredded napa cabbage. That’s all! Delicious.

Roasted Butternut Squash
Butternut Squash is clearly not pork, but I just have to talk about it since this is Fall. I mean, come on, when else can you put a pile of orange goo on a plate and call it yum?

We had some with our pork sandwiches last night, roasted with just a little bit of butter and brown sugar. So yum!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Taco Tuesday at the casa

Margaritas, and Carnitas and Mushroom Tacos. What better way to end a Tuesday? Or, for that matter, any other day? We enjoyed our taco dinner tonight. Melt in your mouth pork, balanced with the robust flavor of Portobello mushrooms, and fragrant coriander. Topped with salsa verde and Monterrey Jack cheese. Totally yum!

I love the fact that you can throw a pork shoulder in the slow cooker in the morning, and come home in the evening to the most amazing aroma.

Our week is zooming by, and we are enjoying the gorgeous Fall weather. More pork recipes later this week...after all, we do need to use up the rest of this pork shoulder!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Bring on the comforts...

It's a lovely fall evening. Chicken Pot Pie for dinner, with a beautiful, buttery crust. Crisp autumn air, just cool enough to have the windows open. Hanging out with my mom, and my husband. I am blessed, indeed.

It's been a really strange week, and I so loved just spending some time decompressing this evening (which, for me, involved cooking!) enjoying some wine, and hanging out with my mom. I'm quite glad it is already Wednesday, and I will be even more glad when the weekend is here!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Sushi - The Ultimate "Play" Food

Play with your food much? Then Sushi is the perfect food for you. We made these for dinner tonight. Just a couple of easy rolls with our favorite ingredients, that are available outside of a Japanese restaurant. So who cares if the wasabi comes out of a tube? :) We also had this yummy new ginger sauce, that I picked up while at the Asian store this morning...delicious.

Ryan and I first learned how to make our own maki (sushi rolls) from a friend about two years ago. It is so easy! Since then, we have saved ourselves quite a bit of money making our own home-made versions, and, we have definitely eaten sushi more often. And...back to the "play" thing. Making sushi really does feel like play. And with colorful food, like sushi can be, it's even better :) So do try this at home.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Mocha Tart!

There are so many reasons I'm looking forward to the rest of this week. One reason is the beginning of groups at HVCC, and I'm very pumped for the group that Ryan and I will be leading this fall, Foundations. It should be a fantastic study, and a great time of discussion and learning with awesome people. We will also share coffee and dessert together...which is a very nice perk (no pun intended.)

I am bringing the first week's dessert, so I will debut my Mocha Tart recipe for these unsuspecting folks. Hope everyone likes the rich Mocha flavor.

Here is the recipe:

1 graham cracker crust (It is so easy to make your own or, if you're not able to, just use a store-bought one :-)
4 oz. or half a package of cream cheese, softened (I use the 1/3 fat kind.)
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 small packet, or 1 level tbsp instant coffee powder (You'll find instant coffee in the grocery store right next to the regular coffee - this stuff is great for baking/desserts!)
1/4 cup sugar
1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips

Melt cream cheese over low-medium heat. Stir in heavy cream and sugar. Whisk together. Allow mixture to heat up, just until bubbles form around the edges. Remove from heat. Meanwhile, empty chocolate chips into a big bowl and then pour in the hot cream-cheese-heavy cream-sugar mixture over that and let it sit like that for 5 minutes. The heat from the hot cream will melt the chocolate chips. Five minutes later, the chocolate will have nicely melted, whisk it all together until nicely combined. Pour into the graham cracker crust and let set in the refrigerator overnight. This is a great dessert to make ahead - like several days ahead. Nothing like alleviating a little bit of stress off the big day, right?

I hope our group enjoys it tomorrow!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Goodbye Summer, Hello Fall

As the fall season kicks into high gear, and the last of the summer fruits disappear from farmer's markets and grocery stores across the upper Midwest, here's a fun watermelon dessert to see summer off until next year...Watermelon Granita! I had two small watermelons that a friend had given me last week, so I made this fun dessert. We ate it last night and it was fruity, minty, a bit lemony, very cold, and totally delicious.

To make it, start by de-seeding about four cups of watermelon. Add this along with the juice of one lemon, six or seven fresh mint leaves, and two tablespoons of sugar to the blender and give it a good blend. (If you want to, feel free to throw in about 2 tablespoons of vodka. We did, and that really kicks it up a notch - as Emeril would say!) Pour the blended watermelon mixture into a freezer safe bowl, cover, and freeze for six hours or better yet overnight. To serve, use an ice-cream scoop, or a one-inch scoop like I did here. Enjoy!

And, sigh, goodbye watermelon. I will miss you. Until next summer!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Kitten in the back yard

I woke up this morning to our two dogs whining, barking, and going absolutely nuts! Very out of character for them. In the background I could hear doors opening and closing, and Ryan walking around downstairs at a fairly quick pace. I knew something was up. I was just thinking about getting out of bed when I saw Ryan come up the stairs...and I had started to say "What's all the commotion?" when I saw the tiniest kitten I have ever seen cradled in his arms. I was only about ten seconds away from saying "Can we keep it?", but even I know the dangers of a kitten that little being in a house this small, with two dogs already occupying it. And we didn't even know if it belonged to anyone in the neighborhood. Ryan had just found it sitting next to the maple tree in our backyard this morning. So, we talked to some of our neighbors and it doesn't belong to anyone around here. One woman thought it looked too small even to be weaned yet. I wonder where the rest of its litter and mother are! Oh well.  So, the kitten is currently at the Vet's, they are holding it until this afternoon, and then I will go collect it and make a sad little trip to the humane society. I did get a few pictures to preserve the memories since, unfortunately, we can't hold onto this little one.

P.S.: For those of you who have never experienced waking up to the sight of a tiny little kitten, it is really something special!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

When life gives you cucumbers...

...go Vegetarian for an evening! I was inspired to create this dish using the cucumbers that were an unexpected gift from a friend (that's you Susan!) who wanted to share some of her abundant fresh produce with the rest of us.

So, welcome to a day in the life of someone who likes veggie-only food every now and then. In fact, if you have seen earlier posts of mine (like this one and this one), you may already know that I don't shy away from skipping meat. In fact, I rather enjoy it. And, fortunately for me, my husband  feels the same way! So, I'll call it Ribbon Salad on Pasta. Get your vegetable peeler and do thin ribbons of cucumbers, carrots (microwave the carrot ribbons for one minute with some water to soften a bit) and toss it together with olive oil, salt and pepper for a quick salad. Or for a more filling meal pile it on top of long pasta, like I did, with a bit of pasta sauce, fresh cracked black pepper, and shredded parmesan. I also made some pesto to go with it, using the last of the basil from the garden. It was all very good. I hope you try it yourself, and enjoy it!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Blissful long weekend

One paradox of long weekends in the type of culture that we live in, is that while we enjoy our time off and sleeping in, at the end of three days the sum of all our activities end up being coated in the faintest veneer of "lazy". Yesterday for instance, I took a two hour nap, did dishes and laundry, and made these mini cheesecakes for a get-together today. Overall, lazy? Or productive? I think my point is made.

But don't the tiny cheesecakes look yum? I hope they taste good. I will find out today :)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Highlights from my little life this week...

1. I saw a hummingbird just outside my window at work today. How marvelous these little creatures are!
2. I was plunged into darkness when someone turned the lights off while I was still in the restroom at work. Those three minutes were quite traumatizing.
3. I made my very own Rum n' Raisin ice cream, pictured here. And it was good! Experiment gone right.

4. I discovered that Netflix has all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer available to watch instantly! I know what I'm doing this weekend. And, yes, my husband is a gracious man.
5. I started reading two really good books: Chip Ingram's "The Invisible War", and Bill Bryson's "I'm a Stranger Here Myself". The former reminds me - quite vividly - that while there is evil in this world the good side ultimately wins, and the latter gives me at least ten or twelve of those truly great rib-splitting, belly-laughs daily!
6. We got some very cool people to join our life group! It is going to be a really good time this Fall.