Monday, November 30, 2009

Thank You, Gracias, Merci, Kob Khun Ka

Thanksgiving this year was punctuated by movies (Blindside, Definitely, Maybe, Up), games (the annual Turkey Cup soccer matchup, bingo and the Huskers barely squeaking by Colorado), and the usual food, friends and family.  Mom delegated hors d'oeuvres to me in an effort (I'm certain) to curtail all crazy dishes. She said, "That way you can be creative." Tell-tale sign. It's OK Mom, I know Dad requested I steer clear of exchanging duck for turkey or tweaking the stuffing recipe.

Instead I made a puff pastry-tomato thingy from Food & Wine. I'm testing out new magazines as my subscription to Gourmet is now null (grrrr). I tried out a soup recipe that looked fantastic in the glossy but turned our horribly (so bad I won't even blog about it, which is saying soemthing; it had no flavor whatsoever)--though I don't think blame can lie entirely with the magazine's food editors, it's not like I follow recipes. I will also say the mag's editorials left something to be desired. However, the appetizer turned out quite fine, and I see more puff pastry in my future.

Allison drinks from Grandma Noni's wine glasses.

Dad draws eager looks from the dog and Cordell while carving the turkey. Cordell loves all things motorized, vacuums in particular. And Shelby is satiated into slumber with the tryptophan from scraps of turkey, thus she doesn't wander from diner to diner at the table begging for scraps; she's already sound asleep (good idea Dad).

Joanie is an occupational therapist who specializes in hands. She made this pie crust from a cutout of Cordell's palm.

Puff Pastry-Tomato Tartlet: from Food & Wine
16 ounces puff pastry, defrosted
10 ounces ricotta cheese
big handful cherry tomatoes
olive oil
salt and pepper

Lay out puff pastry flat on a tray between two pieces of parchment or wax paper. Bake according to directions--I did 15 minutes in a toaster oven (even though the directions said not to use a toaster oven, the oven was completely occupied by the turkey, something of far greater importance on Thanksgiving) at 400 degrees. Meanwhile, slice tomatoes in half. Lay flat on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and thyme. Roast at 400 for 15 minutes, or like I did, at 325 for 30 minutes--the point is to roast until some of the water from the out-of-season tomatoes evaporates giving it a more intense flavor.

In a small bowl, stir salt and pepper into the ricotta cheese to taste. Spread ricotta on finished and slightly cooled puff pastry. Place roasted tomatoes on the ricotta-covered puff pastry a couple inches apart in rows. Then cut pastry into squares with one cherry tomato on each. Serve.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


When I do yoga and I'm in a hard pose, I imagine this one day in Madrid when my friend Krista and I sat at an outdoor cafe and sipped cafe con leche. Or I picture mornings in the slanty sunroom at the old apartment--also sipping coffee. Always makes me smile. In Thailand when I was often incredibly lonely, I drank coffee in the morning and journaled. All I need to make me happy is a sunny day and a cup of joe.

The top photo is a French press and the bottom is a stovetop espresso maker. I used to have a milk frother, but (go figure) I broke it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Straciatella Soup -- Egg Drop Italian-style

I don't know how I'm able to maintain it: Life has been so busy lately--but not rushed. We're in the thick of things at the magazine, plus going through a major revamp; I had two stories and a book due this week for the class I'm enrolled in; I volunteer; I'm trying to recruit players for the high school lacrosse team I coach, plus find a decent field on which to play games. Come Friday, I'm exhausted. But not stressed (for the most part).

I think I have to give God a bit of credit here. I've been more intentional about prayer and meditation since this series my church did on prayer late this summer (check out the mp3s of the sermons here--so. flipping. good.). Spending five to 10 minutes in quiet reflection before going to bed has a greater impact on a number of areas, but specifically I've noticed things. Noticed things like immature bald eagles (!) and ferringus hawks harassing birds in my office parking lot. Or leaves. I love leaves; they're like flowers except they smell bad. Or new songs. I received so many little gifts every day. And ohmygosh, this little girl just walked by saying/singing "I like to move it move it/I like to move it move it."

However, yesterday I got some big gifts. Meg and I went to Coco Key last night because it was free (!). Yeah, we waited in line for 20-plus minutes just to get in because they were over capacity, yeah, we got splashed in the hot tub, yeah, kids probably peed in there and I'm definitely going to get the Swine Flu now. But we went down the waterslides, in tandem, in the dark and laughed the ENTIRE way down each time.

At home, I pulled out the old standard, Giada's Family Dinners. There was only 15 minutes before The Office came on, so we didn't have much time. But I finished the straciatella soup in less time than it took for Megan to take a shower.

It seemed too simple. Chicken stock, eggs, herbs, spinach, parmesan. We took our bowls, bread and salad out to sit in front of the TV and watch Michael Scott make an arse of himself, while sipping down the kind of soup that clears your throat when you've got a cold. It was so salty and homey. The whole evening made me love the new apartment all the more and so thankful for the life I have. Just so thankful for all the moments, even the worst ones, but crazy, funny, quiet, soft instances.

Staciatella: from Giada's Family Dinners
6 cups chicken stock (or vegetable)
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons dried basil or 2 tablespoons fresh
2 teapsoons dried parsley or 2 tablespoons fresh
2 cups spinach, torn into small pieces

Bring the stock to a boil and reduce to medium-low heat. In a separate, small bowl, whisk eggs, herbs and parmesan. With the stock on medium-low, stir while slowing pouring the egg mixture into it. Let eggs cook for a minute or two then stir in spinach. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The One Where I Bake

So I entered my orange upside-down cake in the Bon Appetit holiday Bake Off, which is taking votes from now until Dec. 13. Unfortunately, if you want to vote, you have to sign up. But mom, if you sign up and vote for me and I win the trip to New York, I will totally take you with me. Mom, I know you'll want to vote for the chocolate cake with raspberries, pistachios and vanilla mascarpone by this ridiculously awesome blogger La Tartine Gourmande because the picture is so beautiful--but don't, that woman already has a book contract, the cake has chocolate in it (totally inappropriate for Christmas I might add), and she's not your daughter. Cheers!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cabbage Sauvignon

I go to a weekly Bible study hosted by my friends' Aaron and Laura. The group gets together a bit early to share a meal together every week. We rotate the cooking schedule so that two people bring a main dish and a handful of others bring sides. It's a nice change to share a meal and hang out with a group of up to 30 people (sometimes), it's also a challenge to know how much to bring. I'll admit, I've brought grocery store cookies a number of times. I've also completely smoked out Aaron and Laura's kitchen/broken one of their stovetop burners--how embarassing.

They're all very kind when I bring things I've never eaten before to test out on them. I was particularly nervous about this cabbage. I know it can be testy, but here's what happened when I came in the door (late) last night. Aaron stood up and said, "Are you hungry? (Yes) That cabbage was a hit. (Phew) Is that a brooch?"

I can't tell you what a blessing it has been to meet with a group of light-hearted folks who love to eat. And an even greater blessing is knowing there are people praying for me. The Lord knows I need it all the time, but I've been in greater need of encouragement and prayer these past few months.

Warm Cabbage Salad: from 101 Cookbooks
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 good glugs olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 of a red cabbage, chopped
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/4 to 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1/4 to 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 to 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

Roast the pine nuts by heating in a dry skillet on medium heat. Stir nuts around. Once lightly browned, add the sugar, stirring until it melts and coats the pine nuts. Remove pine nuts to a plate, separate the nuts because they will dry and stick together.

Pour some olive oil onto the skillet on medium heat. Saute the onion for a minute or two, then toss in the garlic and cabbage. Season with salt and pepper and saute for a minute or two, just until the cabbage softens a bit. Remove it from the heat and place in serving dish. Season with rosemary and vinegar, while adding the pomegranates and cheese. Add more salt and pepper to taste.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Of Tuna Steak and Pommes de Granade

I think I may have already expounded on this blog on how I could live off salad alone--it's only been a year and I'm way past repeating here folks. But there are certain things that go into a lovely salad, I'll let you in on a few secrets: cheese and dressing. I usually go with feta, but in a pinch I've usually got some Laughing Cow spreadable swiss cheese lying around or its cute little round of sharp cheddar cheese. I'm sort of obsessed with parmesan, but I reserve it for hot things that it can melt into. HyVee was a total gold mine this week. I found this chevre goat cheese there that Wohlners' doesn't carry--die. I couldn't get enough of it, and since I didn't have crackers I was spreading it on leaves of spinach, rolling them up and sharing them with my roommate.

Dressing is the most important part of a happy salad. I pull a little "semi-homemade with Sandra Lee" on this one by buying a powdered mix and combine it with my own vinegar and olive oil. I get both of these from my mom--genius that she is.

This salad also marks my first go at cooking a tuna steak--and fina-freakin-lly I don't completely screw up something new. The fishmonger at HyVee was filled with nervous excitement when I asked for the ahi tuna. He politely posed probing questions like, "Have you ever had tuna like this before? Are you going to grill this?" I humored him--OK, that's not true, I totally needed courage to cook this rare--and asked his recomendations. He warned me not to overcook it, that this was no Chicken of the Sea fish, the delicate flavors would be lost the longer the steak was on the heat. Honestly, I was so excited that he cared about the fish he was selling that much. That never happens--I realize that working with meat, poultry and fish is an art form, but I don't think big grocery stores like HyVee generally acknowledge that (probably costs too much). Whenever I ask for help with weird things like tahini or flax seeds I get blank stares, so it's nice that someone working at the fish counter at HyVee loves fish enough to make sure I don't screw them up.
So this salad was bomb (sorry I love that word, it's annoying, I know). But I'm going to geek out a little more with the pomegranates right now. (Imagine me pushing my glasses up high on my nose)

Pomegranates come from Grenada, Spain, and that's how we get the word. In French, pomme means apple, pomme de terre literally translates to "apple of the earth" but is actually the word for potato, so pomme de Granade means apples from Grenada. (Another side note, Thai does this same sort of play on sematics to form words: nom means water in Thai, hong means room, hong nom means water room or bathroom, som means orange, nom som means orange water or orange juice, I could keep going, it's so cool.) OK, back to pomegranates. Pomegranate juice is used to make grenadine (get it, Grenada, grenadine)--the sweet syrup used in cocktails or to make a regular 7Up into a Shirley Temple.

Before we conclude this episode of random, food-related ponderings, let's review what can make you a good lettuce salad: fresh, crunchy greens; vinegar-based dressing (because that's the best kind); cheese; something else crunchy (fresh red/yellow/green peppers, pomegranate seeds, nuts); I love the earthy element mushrooms lend; and something meaty like croutons, deli meat, roast chicken, tuna steak or sauteed squash. Et voila! Une salade parfaite.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bok Choy

As a child, I never thought I would ever have cravings for vegetables, but I do. All the time. Yesterday I wanted bok choy, which is strange because I've never made it before. I got the only head at HyVee when I was shopping yesterday, and there must be something for greens in the air because I also bought an entire head of red cabbage and a bag of spinach (did you know spinach comes in a bag?). Steamy Kitchen has a good recipe that I followed--almost.

Here's the thing. I'm not very detail-oriented, and what little scraps of detail-loving in me is completely used up after a day of fixing commas and hypens at work. I'm also careless. I spill things all the time. Every single time I eat, I spill. This morning I spilled crumbs from the Hearty Apple Loaf. Last night, pomegranate juice dripped all over my pants--and it doesn't bother me at all. I am (once again) incredibly blessed to have a roommate who looks past this carelessness. But maybe I should change. If I was more careful and precise, less people would get hurt by my reckless curiosity; my apartment would be cleaner; I probably would have used a pan big enough for the bok choy and I wouldn't have overcooked it; and I would have the photos I took of the bok choy because I would have spent time to find my memory card instead of leaving the photos on my camera's internal memory.

But then again maybe not. Praise the Lord for redemption and unconditional love.

Monday, November 9, 2009


Apparently I picked enough apples to make a dozen pies. After a pie, apple butter, lunch for at least a month and two loaves of Sprouted Kitchen's Hearty Apple Loaf, I only have about seven pounds of apples to consume. Megan suggested tossing them because the outsides are a bit squishy, but once peeled, the apples made a perfect addition to this bread. Back on Thursday night when I made this, I was certain I'd finish them off or at least come close, by doubling this recipe. Alas, I barely made more than a dent in the final bag of apples. And lord, I made a giant mess. But this bread was one of the best. With loads of cinnamon and nutmeg, it's great paired with coffee or tea on a chilly morning--of which we in Nebraska have had none, it's been absolutely gorgeous outside!

Sprouted Kitchen posted this recipe a week or so ago, and the original includes items such as almond meal (flour) and muscovado sugar. I used neither of these--it turned out fine. This is Lainey's dumbed-down version, if you will.

Hearty Apple Loaf:
1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 cup oatmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon (dried) ginger
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk (milk with a bit of vinegar or lemon juice)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup ricotta (I didn't have quite enough for 2 batches, so I used a ricotta-Greek yogurt combo)
1/4 cup butter, just melted (not softened, actually melted)
1/2 cup sugar (plus 2 tablespoons brown sugar to be drizzled on the top)
2 cups peeled and finely sliced apples (about 3 small apples)

Preheat oven to 375. Grease the pan. In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients and stir until mixed together. In a smaller bowl, combine eggs, buttermilk, vanilla, ricotta, melted butter and sugar. Whisk until consistency is smooth. Slowly pour wet ingredients into dry. Stir until wet mixture has been sopped up by the dry, being careful not to over work. Stir in the apple slices. Pour batter into pan and bake for 45 to 50 minutes.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Sensing the Moment and Other Cheesy Ponderings

*Breathing a sigh of relief.* I've always been a big sigher. It's how I let go of tension. Ah, to exist as a breath. So brief and loaded with meaning. There are so many beautiful things given in this life, here's a list of recently pondered beauties returned as a tribute:
Sleepless  >  The Decembrists
Salty garbanzo beans
Crunchy leaves
Bags of apples
Old and broken cuckoo clocks
Dying light
Twilight walks
Golden retrievers
He Doesn't Know Why  >  Fleet Foxes
The entire Dark Was the Night album
Irish music at the Dubliner

I'm glad to savor the few quiet moments I can steal. I love our new neighborhood, which the rich people let Megan and I pretend to belong to. After going on an evening walk at 5 p.m. (almost dusk at that time), I made another of Mark Bittman's low-maintenance salads and fixed this antique cuckoo clock. The clock once belonged to my grandfather. I "borrowed" it from my parents because it was sitting in their basement collecting sawdust from my dad's woodworking and hung it on the wall in my old apartment. I walked away after hanging it, and the clock almost immediately crashed to the ground. I finally got around to gluing it back together last night. Here's hoping it's not a valuable handcrafted clock made by a German-Jewish clockmaker just before the onset of World War II ... knowing my luck.

Tomato and Garbanzo Bean Salad: tweaked from Mark Bittman's 101 Simple Summer Salads
2 tomatoes
1 garlic clove
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans
3 cups water
2 green onions
lemon juice

I roasted the tomatoes because they're not ripe at all right now. To quick-roast, preheat the oven to 400. Cut tomatoes in quarters and arrange on a baking sheet with the unpeeled garlic clove. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for one hour to allow some of the water to evaporate and the juices to concentrate the flavor.

Meanwhile, in a skillet, bring the water (salted) and drained garbanzo beans to a boil. Reduce to simmer and boil until barbanzo beans are cooked through--should take 10 to 15 minutes, but do a taste test. Drain the beans. In the skillet saute the green onions with olive oil. Toss in the garbanzo beans and tomatoes and garlic. Smash the tomatoes and garlic so the juices spread all over the salad. Remove to a serving bowl and season with lemon juice, cumin and parsely.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

I Love Vinegar -- It's Weird, I Know

I am newly obsessed with canning. Really, it's only a matter of time before I make myself sick, right? We all know I'm not so good with details, like not touching lids after they've been disinfected and the like.

The grapes mark my first foray into pickling, which is a good step for me because I absolutely love vinegar. It's gross to say, but I would probably drink it plain if it weren't for the intense kick at the end. I confess I tried it once--not good. But I'll take it mixed with olive oil and Italian seasonings in a dressing and with dill and pickled cucumbers and I'll dowse French fries with it at the Dundee Dell. I realize most people don't have the same affinity toward the fermented juice, so I'm probably the only one who likes these grapes, which taste exactly like grapes but with a kick. Everybody thought it was weird.

It was probably the first thing I made that Megan didn't care for--don't worry, she made up for it by espousing on the greatness of my soup. Katy brought Cordell over in his Halloween costume; he liked to try the grapes as if it were rebellious, like how someone would smell a dirty sock over and over again just because it's so bad. So it looks like I'll be enjoying all six jars of pickled grapes myself. I think I'm up to the challenge; I really liked them.

Mustard-flavored Pickled Grapes: from A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg
1 pound grapes (preferrably seedless)
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
Wash the grapes. Pull the stems off, cut off just the belly-button end of the grapes and place in a large bowl. Meanwhile, bring the remaining ingredients to a boil in a small pot. Pour over grapes and let cool. Follow canning procedures to sterilize and can the grapes. Let sit for eight hours before eating.