Friday, December 31, 2010

Chilled Spinach Arichoke Dip

   Still trying to decide what to make for that fast approaching party tonight?  This is a quick and crowd pleasing dip that will have people clamoring for the carrots.  Yes, it is so good, everyone will want to eat their veggies!  It's a take on a classic, fatty restaurant appetizer but you could eat a whole bowl of this and still have consumed less fat and calories than the kitschy, chain restaurant version.

   Even if you don't like spinach or artichokes, chances are you like spinach artichoke dip.  It's a culinary conundrum, but whatever the reason people just can't seem to get enough of this 70s creation.  My version is not only healthy it is easy to take to a party because it isn't hot.  No messing with someone else's oven or bothering with a crock pot.  Also, it doesn't have to be meticulously chilled because there is no mayonnaise in it.  It's perfect at room temperature.

   I like to have this on hand at home for snacking because it will keep in the fridge for up to 10 days.  I can just grab some and a few veggies and munch away guilt-free!  It is a little more on the expensive side to make, but it works out to only $0.50/serving.  And you can totally leave out the goat cheese; that will knock about $2 off the cost and cut a few more calories.
Sorry that isn't all fancy right now.
Chilled Spinach Artichoke Dip
6 oz Greek yogurt (plain, fat free)
2 Tbsp cream cheese, softened
2 oz goat cheese, softened
1/4 C grated parmesan cheese
2 tsp minced garlic
1 can artichokes in water, drained and chopped
5 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and water squeezed out

   Combine cheese and yogurt.  Mix in veggies and garlic.  Serve with carrots, celery, and cucumber slices.
   Makes 3 C.  Serves about 12.  In a party setting, it is probably enough for 20.
Per 1/4 C serving:  Calories 50, Fat 0.5 g, Protein 4 g, Total Carb 3 g
Daily Values:  Vit A 10%, Calcium 6%
Total Ingredient Cost:  $6.00

If you really want something crunchy and salty with the dip, I suggest:
Nabisco Wheat Thins 100% Whole Grain Toasted Chips
Serving size: 13 "chips"
Calories 130, Fat 5 g, Total Carb 19g, Fiber 2 g, Protein 2 g,
DV: Calcium 4%, Iron 4%


Snyders of Hanover Pretzels Old Fashioned Dipping Sticks
Serving Size: 14 sticks
Calories 120, Fat 1 g, Total Carb 24, Fiber 1 g, Protein 3 g

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Meaty Meatless Chili

   I got really excited there for a minute because I thought this was the first totally vegan main dish I've done for the blog.  But after going through the archives I found that it is the second!  Thai coconut soup beat this one for the title.  However, this is the the first dish I have ever made where I was conscious about its veganism.  (You're welcome!)  I personally don't subscribe to vegan beliefs (obviously...) but I respect those who make the decision.  I love eating vegetarian meals a few times a week because 1) I am not the biggest meat fan in the world and I easily get bored with it, 2) it mixes things up, 3) you normally feel better about yourself if you eat a huge bowl of butternut squash soup instead of a steak.

   Even those this is vegan, you wouldn't know it.  The mushrooms and lentils give it a meaty texture and appearance.  But it is cheaper than ground beef and much better for you!  Everyone knows chili is super hearty but most people don't think of it as super healthy.  This will change your mind and it will please any chili lover!  (Except maybe some of those crazy,Texans....  The Texans in my family would love it though!)  Also, if you have someone in your house who doesn't like mushrooms, just don't tell them about it.  In this, they'll never know.
NOTE:  Many canned red kidney beans have sugar/high fructose corn syrup added.  These are not the beans you ever want to buy.  Canned organic kidney beans often don't have added sugar.  Also, canned red beans, which are very similar in texture and flavor to kidney beans don't have sugar.  And all cans used are ~14 oz.
Totally looks like there is meat in it, right?!

Meaty Meatless Chili
1/2 brown lentils (dried)
2 C water
1 tsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 lrg carrot, diced
4 oz baby bella or button mushrooms, roughly chopped
1/2 poblano pepper, minced
1/2 jalapeno, minced
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 chipotle in adobo, minced (2 tsp chipotle puree)
1 can diced tomatoes (no salt added)
1 can black beans, lightly drained
1 can red beans, lightly drained
1 1/2 Tbsp chili powder
1 bay leaf
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp coriander
1/8 tsp cayenne
Salt and pepper
Chopped parsley and lime wedges (optional)

   Rinse lentils and pick out any tiny rocks or bad looking beans.  Put lentils in cold water, bring to boil.  Reduce to med-low heat.  Cook for 30 minutes with lid slightly tilted.  Mash beans up a little with a spoon.  This can be done a couple days in advance.
   In 3 or 4 qt pot, heat oil over medium heat.  Add onions and carrots.  Saute until tender.  Add mushrooms, poblano, and jalapeno.  Cook about 5-7 minutes, until mushrooms lose a little moisture and start to brown.  Add garlic, toss around a little just to taste the raw edge off.  Add the rest of the ingredients.  Simmer over medium heat for about 15 minutes.  Salt and pepper to taste.
   Serve with parsley and lime wedges.
   Since this is a chili, it obviously gets better as it sits.  Make this two or three days ahead of time and it will just get better.
   Serves 5.

Per Serving:  Calories 240, Fat 2.4 g, Protein 14 g, Fiber 12 g,  (Total Carb: 40 g)
Daily Values:  Vit A 38%, Vit C 12%, Iron 22%, Calcium 6%
Total Ingredient Cost:  $6.30, and this may be an over estimate.  Depending on the brand of spices and canned goods, it may only cost ~$5.50.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Vanilla Cinnamon Roasted Almonds

   Calm that snack craving, but please don't head for the chips and cookies!  Snacking is the easiest and fastest way to ruin any diet you happen to be on.  Obviously fruit is a great snack that is loaded with good-for-you things and very few calories but that can get a little old after a while no matter how much you love fruit.  As long as you make your snacks work for you and not against you, they are an essential part to a healthy lifestyle.  Little bites in between meals help prevent over eating and give you those needed boosts of energy during the day.

  Almonds are a great snack because they are crunchy, which helps alleviate stress, and good for you.  Yes, almonds have a significant amount of fat, but they are very low in saturated fat and really high in monounsaturated fat--you know, the kind of lipids that are good for your skin, hair, nails, and heart?  They are also a great source of niacin (B3) which helps lower cholesterol and vitamin E which is a strong antioxidant.  The other great thing about almonds, ladies: is that a serving size is 1/4 C which is roughly the equivalent of a handful (unless you have freakishly large hands).  Easy portioning!  Guys will probably need to measure out 1/4 C.

   I know that nuts can be a little on the expensive side, but keep an eye out for raw, bulk nuts on sale (in the produce section or top shelf in nut section).  Stock up and store them in your freezer for up to 6 months.  The last time almonds were on sale we got them $4/lb... I know, awesome.  Roasting them yourself give you creative control over the flavor and helps keep the salt and sugar in check.  I like raw sugar for roasting nuts because it gives them more crunch and is a less processed carbohydrate which means your body works a little bit harder to break it down (ie... less is converted to fat.)  These almonds aren't overly sweet, you can add a little bit more sugar if you would like, but I think there is enough sweetness in them to satisfy that mid-day sugar craving.

TIP:  If you feel, or know, you have problems controlling portion size, pre-measure your snacks into little baggies.  That way it is easy to just grab and throw in your purse or back pack.  Easy to take, healthy snacks on-the-go are great way to avoid the fast food drive through or vending machines that can bust three good days worth of eating in a single blow.

Vanilla Cinnamon Roasted Almonds
1 egg white (or equivalent amount of egg white substitute)
2 Tbsp raw sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
2 C natural almond (dry roasted without salt, or raw)
cooking spray

   Whip egg white until it reaches a medium peak stage.  When held up right it will keep its form but the tip will fold over.  Like this:
  Fold in vanilla, cinnamon, sugar, and salt.  Stir in almonds.  Make sure everything is coated.  Spread out into a single layer on lightly sprayed cookie sheet.
   375 deg F for 10 minutes (350 is you know your oven runs hot).  Toss, put back in oven for 5-7 more minutes.  Allow to cool completely in a single layer!  (If you pile them together they will steam and not be as crunchy.)
   8 servings
Per Serving:  Calories 208, Fat 18 g, Dietary fiber 4 g, Protein 7.5 g;  Daily Values:  45% Vitamin E, 9% Calcium, 9% Iron, 7% Potassium, 7% Niacin
Cost: about $5 (on the expensive side, shop wisely and it will only cost about $2.50), it may be more than a bag of chips but your body will thank you!

Cabbage and Udon Soup

   I told myself I was going to wait until January to start this, but I can't help myself.  I am watching three houses worth of animals (two neighbors and my own), and I needed some stimulation that 4 cats, 1 fish (at least I hope there is only one fish...), a doberman, and a maltese couldn't provide.  Also, my right arm is sore from thrashing about wildly for several hours trying to play Swords on Wii.  That didn't go as well as I had planned.

   Anyway, last night I got a jump start on my healthy January recipes.  (I really need to come up with a name for this.... any suggestions???)  I am going to prove that eating healthy isn't hard and isn't expensive!  Ingredient amount cost will be calculated, calories and fat counted, easy no-brainer tips given, and you won't be hungry an hour after eating!  First off you should know that in order get really tasty dishes in the future there will be some up-front cost like making sure you have well stocked spice and condiment cupboards.  You have to think of it this way though:  this bottle of (_____) may be $5 right now, but you can use it in 30 dishes... that is pennies a serving.  Also, if you buy a more expensive ingredient, use it in 3 or 4 dishes.  For example, this dish uses lemongrass.  It was $2.50 for 2 oz; I used 1/2 oz and can freeze the rest.  Also, look around the grocery store to see if ingredients are in various places.  Dried shitakes in the produce department can be up to $5.  In the Asian section, they are only $2.50.
Look at how much you get to eat!

Cabbage and Udon Soup
7 C water (total)
1/2 medium onion, cut into large chunks
1 1/2 inch knob of ginger, peeled and sliced
4 medium garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 oz lemongrass stalks, cut into pieces
1/2 oz dried shitakes (8-10 mushrooms)
1 chicken bouillon cube
1 1/2 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
2 1/2 C shredded green cabbage (1/2 small head)
3 oz dried udon noodles (1 inch bundle)
3/4 lb white meat chicken, very thinly sliced
1 tsp dark sesame oil
1/4 tsp salt
sriracha (optional)

   Place dried mushrooms and 1 C of water in a bowl.  Microwave on high for 30 seconds.  Flip mushrooms over and microwave 30 more sec.  (Quick reconstitution.)  Squeeze water of mushrooms, cut off stems.  (Slice mushroom caps.)  Add stems and water to pot.  Add 5 C water to pot.  Put onion, ginger, garlic, and lemongrass into pot.
This little bit gives SO much flavor
Bring to boil.  Dissolve bouillon cube in a little bit of the hot water, add to pot.  Turn to medium-high heat, cook for about 15 minutes, until liquid has reduced by 1/3.  Strain through a mesh sieve to remove chunks.  Return broth to pot.  Add last 1 C of water
  This was plain ol' water 15 minutes ago
Add cabbage to broth.  Bring to boil.  Add udon noodles.  Boil for 4-5 minutes.  Turn down to medium-high heat.  Add chicken strips that have been tossed in salt and thinly sliced shitakes to pot.  Cook 3-5 more minutes until chicken is done.  Serve with a little bit of sriracha or your favorite hot sauce.

Vegan Option!  Use 1 Not-Chik'n bouillon cube and use 8 oz of slice fresh baby bella mushrooms or 1/2 block of firm tofu instead of chicken. 

   Serves 4 very generous portions.
   Per serving:  Calories 215, Fat 3 g, Dietary Fiber 3 g, Protien 23 g 
   My ingredient cost was $7.50.  That is less than $1.90 per serving! And this soup is way better for you than one of those $4, just-add-water, microwave Asian noodle bowls (which are 2 servings by the way.)  To bring the cost down even more, use 1/2 lemon in place of the lemon grass and 3 oz linguine in place of the udon noodles.

Make Ahead:  Make the broth up to 1 week in advance and store it an air-tight container in the fridge.  Then when you go the make the soup it will only take about 15 minutes!

Side note:  Green cabbage is a great source of vitamin K which is good for your bones and is important in blood coagulation, so eat up hemophiliacs!!!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tomato and Seafood "Stew"

   After the heavy holiday meals is it so nice to have something lighter.  I find that many people have problems eating healthier in the colder months because it can be confusing to find healthy recipes that are still hearty and soul-warming.  Which is why January will be devoted to healthy, hearty food that isn't too expensive and can either be made ahead or in about 30 minutes.  Just so you know what to look forward to next month.

   This soup--or stew-- is delicious and great for the colder months.  My influences were French bouillabaisse and the San Franciscan classic, cioppino.  My version is a little more on the Spanish side.  I hesitate to call it a stew because it doesn't take very long to cook and has a thinner broth more like a soup, but it has big chunks of seafood similar to a stew.  I guess semantics aren't important.  What is important is how delicious it is!  There is bacon in this, but it is still healthy!  There is less than one slice of bacon per serving.  Also, the flavor is really good and it provides all the fat needed in the dish.  If you don't like bacon or don't eat pork, don't worry-- use about 1.5 tsp of olive oil and it will be just as good.

Tomato and Seafood "Stew"
3 slices bacon, chopped
1 med onion, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1 tsp garlic
1 tsp flour
1 (14 oz) can low-sodium chicken broth (seafood or vegetable works too)
1 (14 oz) can petite diced tomatoes
1/2 C dry sherry
1/2 C dry red wine
1 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
3/4 lb peeled deveined shrimp (medium-ish size)
3/4 lb (skinless) white fish (halibut, cod, or even tilapia)
salt and pepper
lemon wedges and chopped parsely (optional)
good, crusty bread

   Cut fish into bite sized chunks, about the same size as the shrimp.  Salt and pepper seafood.
   In a pot, render bacon until crisp over medium heat.  Remove bacon and drain on a paper towel.  Saute onion and pepper until tender.  Add garlic and flour.  Stir to make sure there are no lumps of flour.  Cook about 1 minute.  Add wine and sherry.  Turn to high.  Bring to boil; cook about 2 minutes.  Add broth and tomatoes. Bring back to a boil.  Reduce to medium.  Add thyme and pepper flakes.  Cook 7-10 minutes, until liquid has reduced a little.  Add seafood and cook until done, about 6-8 minutes.
   Top with crispy bacon and parsley.  Serve with lemon wedges and bread.
   Serves 4-6


Monday, December 27, 2010

Vinturi Wine Aerator

   I have been playing Wii for too long now so I thought I'd make myself take a break and tell you about the awesome gift my brother got me for Christmas.  The Vinturi Aerator.  It was really cute how excited he was about this giving this gift to me.

   Red wine is supposed to "breathe" before you drink it.  That is the purpose of a decanter.  Pour the wine into the crystal decanter, pour into wine glass.... that mixes in the right amount of air.  However, most of us don't have a crystal decanter lying around and probably don't want one.  I don't.  That is way too breakable to have around while drinking.  The Vinture is acrylic.  And is cheaper than a nice decanter.

   I saw one of these a few weeks ago.  My first reaction was,  "Hey!  That is cool!"  My second reaction was, "That is probably bullshit."  But it isn't!  It is crazy the difference that it makes.  We tried it on a $6 bottle of Little Penguin Merlot and holy crap... pouring it through the aerator added like $15 to the wine!  I was amazed.  The little amount of air that is mixed in makes the wine taste more like it is supposed to taste; the same concept as adding salt to sweet desserts.  I can't wait to try this on a nicer bottle of wine.  Because I will say that the funneling my Bota Box (boxed...) wine through this made me feel a little trashy, even though it is perfectly decent, lovely wine!  Didn't stop me though.  My only negative about this is you have to be really careful not to pour the wine too fast or else it leaks out of the teeny air spouts on the side.  Likewise you can't pour too slow because then the wine goes straight through and the air isn't mixed in.  When it makes a weird sucking sound, you are doing it perfectly.  I absolutely recommend this to any wine lover!
Set Includes: aerator funnel, sleek modern stand, a fine mesh basket if you happen to drink really fancy wines that may have a bit of sediment, and a travel pouch for the aerator for wine drinkers on the go.

Christmas Loot and Joy

   I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas!  Even though the hubs wasn't here it was a very awesome Christmas.  He got me a Wii and the in-laws got me Cooking Mama: Cook Off which is why there haven't been pasts the last couple of days.  As far as presents, this year was probably the best ever!  I've mentioned the Wii already and I also got brand new Giada DeLaurentis cookware, a wine aerator, and Rocco Disperito's Italian American cookbook.  The cook book is fantastic and loaded with delicious recipes, but it was a sort of a joke present from my mom.  About 90% of the food she makes is Italian; she doesn't like me to make fun of her for it.

   Believe it or not, but I have never owned a cohesive set of pots and pans.  My kitchen stock is made mostly of things my mom didn't want anymore.  Also, many of the items were practically ruined by a former roommate and her squatter boyfriend.  I don't care what they say, you DO NOT put non stick pans or knives in the dishwasher!  But everything has changed now, the set is gorgeous!  Everything is shiny stainless steel with simple, clean lines.  The nonstick is silky smooth and perfect free of the garish gouges in my current ones.  The bottoms are nice and heavy to ensure even heating and heat-retention.  And everything that needs to have a lib has one; no more covering my little sauce pan with aluminum foil to cook rice!  It is everything I need when combined with the only pieces of equipments I want to keep from my current supply.  (Full review once I actually get to use them!)  I am now SO happy I didn't get any of the cookware from my wedding registry because this stuff is so much better (and wasn't available a year ago.) 
Pieces received:  8 qt mutlicooker (steam tray and stock pot), 10 in nonstick saute pan, 4.5 qt nonstick chef's pan, 10 piece Tri-clad Professional Series set (8 in saute pan, 9.5 in saute pan, 5 qt dutch oven, 3 qt, 2 qt, and 1 qt sauce pans) 
Available from Target

  My mother-, father-, and sister-in-law braved the unusual Tennessee Christmas snow to come spend the evening with us.  We had a lovely meal.  Starting off with a mishmash of super yummy appetizers:  blackberry baked brie that my sister-in-law Sarah made, sauerkraut balls, and smoked salmon with cream cheese, capers, and red onion.  For dinner, we roasted about 5 lbs of perfectly gorgeous beef tenderloin.
Simple sides complimented the medium-rare (some medium slices) beef.  My mother-in-law made a salad with strawberries and mandarin oranges (and everyone knows that mandarin oranges are one of the best things you can put with lettuce).  We had ridiculously easy thyme roasted zucchini, summer squash, and tomatoes.  And the main side dish of mushroom pasta was loaded with buttons, shitakes, and [dried] chanterelles. 
I am sorry that I didn't snap any pictures of dessert because it was really pretty.  Sarah made white chocolate bread pudding and we topped it with cherries jubilee.  Ultra decadent!  

Friday, December 24, 2010

Last Minute Stocking for the Person with No Hobbies

   My dad has no hobbies.  Walking and working are the closest thing he gets to a hobby. Needless to say, he can be very hard to shop for.  Walking requires little "equipment" and there are no gadgets or accessories that can be bought.  Last year I got him a really nice pedometer, but after that, his "hobby" needs were totally filled.  Socks and underwear are the things he gets most excited about around Christmas time.  He is very particular about his socks and underwear; they can only be bought at JC Penny.  However, he refuses to set foot in the mall, so those are the only things he ever asks for for Christmas.

   We have to get really creative with him sometimes.  He loves grilling, but has everything he needs for that because he's not exactly the most inventive with the grill.  Just slap the meat on, turn it, take it off when it's done.  He also loves sausages and cold cuts.  Cured meats are the next closest thing to a hobby that he has.  Trail bologna, pepperoni, prosciutto, salami, capicola... anything ground and encased or left to dry until it will keep indefinitely is right up his ally.  So for his stocking this year we got a few seasonings for grilling and sausages.

  1. World Market Mesquite Seasoning ($3)-- Basic seasoning blend of paprika, garlic, and onion with the flavor amped up by cumin, orange peel, and chipotle powder
  2. World Market Chicago Chop and Steak Seasoning ($3)-- An all American blend characterized by ground mustard, lemon peel, and celery seed
  3. Olde Thompson Peppercorn Mix ($9 on website, $7 in stores)-- Black, green, white, and pink peppercorns in a disposable grinder  (my dad adores fresh cracked pepper!)
  4. World Market Blood Orange Milk Chocolate ($2)-- Classic combo with a twist, I'll probably be the one who ends up eating this.
  5. Sweetridge Dark Chocolate Cocoa ($1)
  6. Volpi Romano Salame ($5)-- All natural, dry-cured, and aged salami crusted in cracked black pepper
  7. Daniele Hot Abruzzese Sausage ($5)-- Dry, spicy, full flavored pork sausage from the Abruzzi region of Italy
  8. Market Classics Split Pea Soup Dry Mix ($4)-- My dad loves split pea soup but we don't often indulge in the request because we don't usually keep split peas in the house.  This base has all the essentials; you just have to add an onion, some stock, and a couple other kitchen basics.  Also, there is a recipe on the back so he can make it himself!
   Dried meats and seasoning blends are readily available in many grocery stores.  All of these items were purchased at World Market.  Other great, easy to find, last minute, food-oriented stocking stuffers include:
  • small sample sized coffees
  • mini bottles of hot sauce
  • trial sized oils and vinegars
  • chocolate stirring spoons, purchased or home-made
  • chop sticks and oriental soup spoons for the Asian food lover in your family
   You still have one day left to finish and finalize your gifts!  I hope this was helpful either for today, or for a jump start on next year's ideas!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Two Year Anniversary and Sushi

   My only reaction to having been married for two years is "holyshitballs."  That is what ran through my head when I was awoken by cats scratching at my (slowly being destroyed) bulletin board wall.  Our marriage, while wonderful, has been odd.  I explained what happened with the whole getting married thing a few days ago.  So, right, we got married basically to get more money while he was deployed to Iraq.  He left in February and came back in September.  I didn't graduate until December.  We were married an entire year before we even lived together!  Not the way I would have preferred things to happen.  But, after graduating, I moved to North Carolina to be with him.  I only lived there for 7 1/2 months, but looking back on it, it may not have been the wisest decision to move there.  (Apparently, scientific employers think that you forget EVERYTHING and are rendered mentally retarded if you haven't worked in more than 2 months.  Yeah... still no job and no hopes of a job in the field I thought I wanted.)  Whatever, my domestic side has abducted me and I am perfectly happy spending my days cooking, sewing, cleaning, and trying to figure out kids' names that don't scream Firefly or "beat me up on the playground everyday"!  (Although, kids have to be put off for a few more years.)  Those 7 months gave me the time to improve my cooking which, honestly, is a more important life skill than being able to properly culture cell lines or perform a perfect ELISA.  Also, you can eat and enjoy food.
   I feel a little bad for the timing of everything.  Louis really got screwed in this deal, but he happily agreed to everything so I shouldn't feel too bad.  My birthday, two anniversaries and Christmas in a less than two week period....  Gift central.  As we were waiting for my parents to arrive at the church before the little mini-ceremony, we made an agreement that we would never get each other things for our anniversaries.  The only thing we would do to celebrate is get sushi on December 23rd.  This year, he broke that agreement by sending me a gorgeous birds of paradise arrangement.  But he isn't here for sushi tonight, so I am not upset about the breach.  I am upset that he is in Afghanistan, but I, unfortunately, have no control over that.  Luckily, one of my best friends in the whole world is in town on winter break from vet school so she is going to eat sushi with me tonight at Miyako!  Yay!
   The night we got married was so amazingly low key.  Just seven of us.  We rode up from the basement to the whatever they call the big main room in a church (can you tell that I don't go to church?) crammed together.  That was the longest elevator ride in history, by the way.  Literally.  It would have been way faster to walk up the one flight of stairs.  The whole thing took about 5 minutes and Louis' dad performed the ceremony.  Technically, I don't think we even need to go through that formality because I think everything was signed before hand.  Then as a starving bunch we raced over to the West End area of Nashville to gorge ourselves at Samurai, a tiny hole in the wall sushi joint.  I wish I could remember specifics about the sushi, but I can't.  I do remember that everything we had was perfectly fresh and delicious though!  (Also, not outrageously expensive like other down town sushi restaurants.)  The two of us drove back to Murfreesboro, cleaned up the rabbit poop in my apartment (I had a very large pet rabbit at the time... big mistake), then sat on the floor and ate pints of ice cream.  And then... well, you get the picture.  It was perfect.  So simple, but I won't forget it. 
I can't explain why refused to make a normal face for pictures.

2209 Elliston Place #A--Nashville, TN 37203
(615) 320-5438

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Saurkraut Balls


   These are a holiday tradition in my family.  We never make them before Thanksgiving and usually make 2-3 batches before Christmas comes around.  Sauerkraut balls sound disgusting, I know.  I am not a big fan of sauerkraut, it's fine for cooking pork or sausages in but I never really want to eat it.  Which is why I never ate these little treats until I was 10 or 11.  Everyone looked like they were enjoying them so much that I decided to give it a go.  The worst that could happen was it tasted bad.  But they don't taste bad; not by a long shot!  The sauerkraut is mellowed out by the sausage and mustard to an almost unrecognizable form.  It is magic.  And that is why we make several batches before Christmas.  People in the neighborhood will invite my parents to holiday parties and specifically request that they bring a platter of sauerkraut balls.  That may be the only reason they are even invited to parties... just kidding.  They are lovely people.

   Sauerkraut balls are much more popular in the Germanic dominated regions of the US.  In the South, the Germans are scattered around too much for any of the food to gain a really strong foothold.  Mainly, Pennsylvania is where you find them.  I am half German and was born in Pennsylvania... so, go figure.   They are the perfect New Year's Eve party hor d'ouerve (assuming you have friends who are slightly adventurous with their food.)
Sauerkraut Balls
1 lb breakfast sausage (we prefer hot)
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 14 oz can sauerkraur, well drained
4 oz cream cheese, softened
2 Tbsp deli mustard (we use horseradish deli mustard)
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp thyme
1 egg
1 Tbsp water
~ 1 C Italian seasoned bread crumbs
~ 1/2 C flour
oil for frying

   Cook sausage and break it up into little pieces while cooking.  Drain off most of the fat.  Add onion and garlic to pan.  Cook with the sausage until onions are tender.  Set aside to cool.
   Mix sauerkraut, cream cheese, mustard, thyme and Worcestershire together.  Add sausage mixture.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
   Form mixture into 1 1/2 inch balls.  Dust in flour.  Coat in egg wash (egg beaten with water).  Roll in bread crumbs.  In a deep fryer at 350 deg F (fry daddy, heavy pot with ~3 inch oil, whatever you use to deep fry), fry for 3-4 minutes until golden brown.  Drain on a cooling rack over a baking sheet.  Serve warm or at room temperature.
   Makes about 2 dozen.
NOTE:  These freeze amazingly well!  Once fried and completely cool, just put them in a large freezer bag.  They will keep in your freezer for 6 months.  To reheat, place in a 400 deg F over for about 20 minutes.  You'll know they are done when the bottom sizzles.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It's A Coffee Kind of Season

   No matter how much coffee I have in my house, I always appreciate more!  I have mentioned before that I am a coffee junkie.  I feel weird that I haven't had any yet today.  (Our cleaning lady is here and I don't like messing with things while she's around... so I just have to wait.)  Coffee may seem like an impersonal gift, but it is only impersonal, if you make it that way.  For example, my mom got brother just a simple $5 bag of Archer Farm (Target's upscale brand) Nicaraguan coffee.  At first seems impersonal, but she thought about this.  1)  It is a secondary gift to go with the coffee pot she bought him.  2)  She matched the roast to his preferences:  dark and robust.  3)  We adore Central American single origins!  If I was getting someone just coffee as a gift, it would not be Archer Farm even though it is perfectly delicious every day coffee.

   For my birthday my sister-in-law got me a wonderful bag of fair trade coffee from Equal Exchange.  It was the (organic) Mind, Body, and Soul.  Actually that is the perfect way to describe this medium/Vienna roast.  It's a very complex blended roast but crowd pleasing.  The acid is nicely balanced and the rich, prominent caramely, nutty notes are those that most people find the most appealing in all coffees  The fact that Equal Exchange is an amazing organization is a bonus!  Many farmers are cheated out of the money that is owed to them from big companies for their crop.  "Fair Trade" means that the farmers, who are often under-educated and not extremely business savvy, get their fair share of the deal.  Because, lets face it, they do all of the hard work.  Roasting and packaging is definitely the easy part.

   Another brand of coffee that I have recently discovered, is Tennessee's own Ugly Mug Coffee.  It's a Memphis company with a sense of humor and a huge heart.  Like Equal Exchange, all the coffees are fairly traded and organic.  While Equal Exchange works to help the farmers, Ugly Mug gets a little more local.  They do school fundraising.  Which is how I found out about them.  Two adorable little teenage boys showed up on our doorstep nervous as hell to be asking people to buy stuff from them.  They were selected for an honor band that tours Europe over the summer.  Ugly Mug was the chosen fundraiser.  WAY better than wrapping paper or popcorn, especially since the coffee is delicious!  We bought a bag of "Hardy Passion" which is a rich, dark roast.  Nothing terribly special except that is a perfect coffee.  And we got the "Butter Moon".  I can't be sure of how we arrived at this decision, but I am glad we did!  It is a flavored variety with an amazing vanilla-y, almond-y, caramel-y flavor, natural flavors but added.  The crazy thing is that is has a butter taste, but not in a bad way!  It's like the caramel flavor they used was a really good caramel sauce that had butter stirred in at the end.

Tips for Buying Coffee as a Gift
  1. Step away from the Maxwell House!!!  Head over to the other coffee section down the aisle.  Yes, more of than not, grocery stores have two coffee sections.
  2. What is their favorite place in the world:  Italy, Hawaii, Brazil, France, Costa Rica?  Match the coffee with their favorite place.
  3. Does the giftee like deep, bold, aggressive flavors or lighter, more understated notes?  Roasts vary a lot,so pay attention to the strength of coffee you are buying.
  4. The good companies out there are not flavoring their beans with artificial chemicals.  Go ahead and buy a flavored coffee if your loved one loves vanilla, hazelnut, or cinnamon.  Responsible companies are using pure extracts to compliment their coffees.
  5. Is the future recipient passionate about a cause?  Many companies give part of their proceeds to such worthy causes as rain forests, orphans, land preservation, pandas... you name it and there is probably a coffee product benefiting it.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Gifts From the Kitchen and From the Heart: Mole Dry Rub

   Making a gift is often a very economical way making sure everyone on your list has something special.  I am going a little crazy with the kitchen gifts this year.  Like me, my little brother enjoys cooking.  However, he is sort of poor and has responsibly decided that rent is more important than stocking his spice cabinet.  He is slowly building up the basics, and honestly, probably has more spices than most people.  It still isn't where he wants it to be though, and I totally understand.  So I decided to be a really thoughtful big sister.  I got him all the basic condiments to make Asian food (good soy sauce, sesame oil, sriracha, etc.) and I made him a set of dry rubs that will boost his spice rack considerably.  (I am not worried about this not being a surprise... he doesn't have internet or even a computer.)  This morning, I pulled out most of our spices (but definitely not all), my mortar and pestle, and got to work!

   The rubs I made are Jerk, Mole, and Provencal.  He likes spicy things, so I upped the heat in this jerk with more cayenne, ground crushed red pepper flake, and hot paprika.  I didn't make the exact same blend as the mild jerk, but it is really close.  If you decide to make someone the jerk rub as a gift, it is better to powdered garlic and ginger because storage is easier.  The Provencal is herbs de Provence, extra thyme and rosemary, some oregano, garlic and onion powders, salt and freshly cracked black pepper.  
Jerk, Mole, Provencal

   I packaged Doug's rubs in little air-tight sealing acrylic jars.  They are 3 1/2 oz each.  I got them at Target for  $4.  Not bad.  They are the perfect way to make something that is only sort of special into something that is really special!  I also found some other jars at World Market.  They are 4 1/2 oz glass jars with adjustable shaker lids.  The set of four was also just $4.  I will say the acrylic jars have a better seal... just something to keep in mind.

   The mole is the one that I am especially excited about!  Mole is a traditional Mexican sauce that was originally created by the nuns of the Puebla and Oaxaca regions in Southern Mexico.  It is a rich, spicy, earthy sauce that is characterized by the little bit of chocolate stirred in at the end.  Chocolate was considered a food of the Gods by the Aztecs and the idea of chocolate being a holy food carried through to the early Christians.  Basically, mole is meant to be a special occasion sauce because of the copious amounts of (what were) more expensive ingredients, the addition of chocolate, and the length of time it takes to prepare it properly.  This dry rub his all same notes, but it much easier to make.

Mole Dry Rub
1 tsp whole cumin seeds (or 1 1/2 tsp ground)
1/2 tsp black peppercorns (or 1/2 tsp ground)
4 whole allspice berries (or 1/4 tsp ground)
1 1/2 tsp roasted pepitas
1 1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp paprika (any kind you like)
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp dark, unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 tsp ground clove
1/8 tsp cayenne

   In a mortar and pestle (or spice grinder) crack cumin, peppercorns, and allspice until the are a coarse powder.  Add pepitas and work into a fairly fine powder.  Add the rest of the spices and herbs.  If using a mortar and pestle, work mixture just a few times to crush everything together.  If using a spice grinder, just stir everything together (do not grind).  Seal in (preferably air-tight) containers.  It should last up to 3 months if stored in a cool, dry place.
   Makes about 3.25 oz.

P.S.--Notice that the pictures are a bit better?  That's because my amazing friends got me a new camera for my birthday/Xmas!!!  I haven't had much time to play around with it yet so they aren't super great pictures, but I can already tell the difference.  This camera even has a specific setting for food... awesome, right?!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

My Wedding Reception!!!

WARNING: Lengthy post!
   One year ago today was my wedding!  However, it is not my one year anniversary.  Thursday (23rd) will be our 2 year anniversary.  Our engagement and marriage thus far has been unconventional to say the least.  Unless of course this military is involved in your marriage, then it is actually, sort of normal.  I basically coerced Louis in proposing to me in April 2008.  He was planning to, then chickened out and told me he didn't think he wanted to get married at all. (He'll hate me for telling you this.  And by the way, he was the one who had brought up the subject of getting married while he was still in the Marines.)  After a night of screaming and crying and being locked in the same hotel room together, he went to work the next morning while I sat alone in the hotel with no electricity.  Awesome.  That afternoon, he told me he didn't know what he was thinking the night before and asked me to marry him (with no ring.   So I told him EXACTLY what ring he was going to buy me.  He was somehow oblivious the concept of proposing with a ring.... Yeah.)  Once that was done, we sent a date for December 19, 2009; the day I graduated from college.  But, he decided to fast track everything in October 2008 so that we could be married before his first deployment.  He didn't give me time to plan a wedding and I had already bought a dress.  Also, he was kind of wishy-washy about when we were going to do it.  Finally, on December 23rd, after rushing around and trying to get to the county clerks office before they closed at like 2:00 pm (this is how he plans things, seriously) and then sitting in the basement of his dad's church for while, we got married.  Just us, our parents and his sister.  We had the mutual agreement to keep the wedding/party date of Dec 19, 2009.  And it was an awesome party!

   Like a total weirdo, I themed the wedding around my favorite place in the world.  This may not sound odd because people have Paris and Roman themed weddings all the time.  Well, my favorite place in the world happens to be Central America, specifically Costa Rica and Honduras.  (I even have a Pura Vida tattoo and intend to expand it into an entire Central American thigh piece.)  The colors were deep emerald green and red orange.  My mom and I bought hand woven table runners and table toppers in Honduras that are made by a lovely little Guatemalan woman.  The centerpieces were really simple and elegant with birds of paradise (my favorite!) and big tropical leaves. (I actually arranged them myself, they were that easy.) And we had jars of Doka Estate coffee everywhere!  Oh, and mine and my bridesmaids shoes were dyed "persimmon"!  The setting of the barn at Travellers Rest Plantation (my favorite field trip destination as a kid) set the mood perfectly!

   Food was a major part of getting the theme across!  I worked with the woman who made our cakes to plan out a menu then she headed over to her friends at The Mad Platter for the execution.  I am so glad we worked with them; it was WAY too hard to find a caterer who would do a custom menu.  It was phenomenal!  The owner of The Mad Platter actually owns property in Costa Rica so he was right on board with what I wanted!  We had roasted pulled pork, Veracruz style fish, rice and black beans, roasted plantains, fresh corn tortillas, salad with mango and papaya... I think that's it.  It was everything I wanted (for a very reasonable price!)  If you need a huge event catered (or small....) I absolutely recommend The Mad Platter!
Buffet being set up.
My friends Krista and Andrew seriously enjoying their food!

   I have briefly mentioned our cakes before.  But now, let me tell you how truly amazing they were!  I didn't want any huge fancy cake.  Overall, the wedding was very understated and a giant, garish cake in the corner would have been distracting.  I also feel the fancier that a cake is the less delicious it is because they have to make the cake so far in advanced in order to complete all the decoration on time.  So I may not have had the prettiest cake ever, but it was so so sooo good!  The vanilla cake was ridiculously moist and the tangy, homemade lemon curd filling was perfect.  Simple buttercream (in not too thick of a layer) set it off perfectly!  The groom's cake was chocolate with a mocha filling and ganche.  Louis could have eaten half of the cake himself.  He was so in love with it; he didn't even look at me while he was eating it.  Flour Girls is owned by the sister-in-law of a family friend, and I am so happy we went with them.  Seriously, we had the best wedding cakes ever.  I am not being biased here!
We are smiling stupidly because it was so delicious!

   Overall, the night was absolutely amazing!  And I was really happy that there were plenty of leftovers because we ate them over our honeymoon (saved money, didn't have to drive down the scary mountain in the snow, and didn't have to leave the cabin!)  Except that Louis ate all the pulled pork when I wasn't looking one day. 
This pretty accurately sums us up.
Photos by Chip Talbert

Saturday, December 18, 2010

I Can't Believe It's Not Chicken... Or Turkey

   Still looking for the Christmas meat?  (That is not a Santa's package joke....)  So many people cook up another huge turkey even though they just got over the shock and exhaustion of that bird from Thanksgiving.  Or some sticky, sweet ham from a package is plopped on the table.  How about trying something new this year?  I suggest a capon.

   We had a capon for Thanksgiving this year after I wouldn't shut up about it for, oh say... a month.  I slowly wore away at my dad's psyche with my incessant chatter about the bird.  Then in the end, he thought it was his idea all along despite the fact that he was very much against a castrated rooster in the beginning.  That's right, castrated rooster.  A long time ago, the Romans discovered that balls make things taste bad... actually, there was a ban on fattening chickens to conserve grain rations.  Chopping off a rooster's testicles leads to an automatic fattening of the rooster without having to feed it more.  It also improves the quality of the meat because of the reduced levels of circulating hormones (hormones like testosterone and adrenaline make for a gamier flavor) and the lowered activity level prevents overworking of the muscles.  And it keeps roosters from killing each other ('cause they'll do that, you know?)
Fattening Chinese Capon

   I hope I haven't scared you off because this is truly a beautiful meat.  It has white and dark meat just like chickens and turkeys.  The flavor is mild and subtle and tastes like a cross between a really good free-range, organic chicken and a really good free-range, organic turkey.  See?  Nothing to be scared of.  It cooks just like other birds and is an in-between size which is perfect for smaller gatherings (most are 7-9 lbs).  While it may be more expensive than those water pumped, tortured turkeys, it is not outrageous.  Expect to pay $3.50-$3.90/lb.  It's about the same price as serving all of your guests decent chicken breasts.  Also, it's the holidays, you can afford something a little nicer and a lot tastier!
Thanksgiving Capon

   Thaw the bird slowly in the refrigerator (~3 days) or in cool water (~1.5 days).  I suggest brining it for at least 8 hours.  Liberally salt and pepper, lightly sprinkle it with herbs like rosemary and thyme, and roast until the thigh reads 160 deg F on a meat thermometer. 

These recipes sounds fantastic:
Cock of the North (I would adapt this into a roasted dish as opposed to a fricassee)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Classic Gingerbread [People] and Other Various Shapes

   This is going to be the last Christmas cookie post for the season.  Aw, sad, I know.  No, it's not sad really.  Six different recipes seems sufficient.  Although, I do intend to bake more today in between my staring in the mirror times because I have amazing new hair thanks to the infinitely talented Rachel Temple!!

   Gingerbread.  I don't know how you feel about it, but I love it!  I love all variations of gingerbread:  ginger crinkles, ginger snaps, crispy, soft, super spicy, or very mild.  Also, I am freak for gingerbread men and gingerbread houses!  My husband better watch out because our house could very well turn into the wicked witch's house from Hansel and Gretel (minus the trying to eat small, wayward children part.)  This recipe is great because the dough is easy to work with and they are moist and soft with just the right amount of chewiness thanks to the buttermilk.

Buttermilk Gingerbread Cookies
1/2 C butter, softened
1/2 C brown sugar, packed
1/2 C molasses
1 egg
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly grated ginger (trust me here, it is so good!)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 allspice
1/4 tsp salt
3 1/2 C flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 C buttermilk

   Cream butter and sugar.  Mix in molasses and egg.  Add spices and salt.  In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and baking soda.  Add flour and buttermilk alternately to butter mixture.  (Addition pattern:  flour, milk, flour, milk, flour.)  Fully incorporate ingredients after each addition.
   Cover and chill for at least 1 1/2 hours.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/4 inch thickness.  (it is easiest to work with 1/3 of the dough at a time.)  Cut out desired shapes with roughly 4 inch sized cookie cutters.  Place on ungreased cookie sheet.
   Bake at 375 deg F for 10-12 minutes.  Cool.  Decorate (with whatever you like!)
I got a little carried away with my gingerbread fashion.

*I used a basic royal icing to decorate my cookies.  It ended up a runny mess because I don't have powdered food coloring, but that's ok.  I'm kind of happy that my cookies look like a 6 year old decorated them.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


   Tea cakes, sandies, snowballs... call them what you will.  I call them magic.  As a kid, I literally thought these were magic cookies.  I didn't understand the concept of powdered sugar.  How it sticks to every thing in sight.  I thought the people who made these were geniuses!  These tender,flaky little Christmas staples are so easy!  (And require very few ingredients... in fact, you probably have everything to makes these in your house right now!)  But then again, kids are stupid and I was no exception.

1 C butter, softened
1/3 C granulated sugar
2 tsp water
1 tsp vanilla
2 C flour
1/2 C chopped pecans
1/3 C powdered sugar

   Cream together butter and granulated sugar.  Add water and vanilla.  Work in flour.  Fold in pecans.  Shape into 1 inch balls.  Place on ungreased cookie sheet.
   Bake 325 deg F for 25-30 min.  They will turn very lightly golden around the edges near the baking sheet, but you do not want them to brown.  Cool.  Dust in powdered sugar.  (A brown lunch bag works best... just do a few at a time.)
   Makes 2.5-3 dozen

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Linzer Cookies

   Today is my birthday, and let me tell you, even though I did nothing exciting today, it is automatically better than last year!  I escaped exams on my birthday for 3 years, then my last semester of college, I got slammed with 3.  THREE! back to back exams on my birthday, right before I graduated: Virology, Diagnostic Microbiology, and 20th Century American Literature.  I got A's on all of them so that cool, but I barely remember that birthday.  In addition to the exams, I was finishing up with my wonderful job, doing the final preparations for my wedding, anxiously waiting for my husband to arrive in Tennessee, and packing up my apartment for the eminent move to North Carolina!  Not to mention all the last minute Christmas things that needed to be done.

   This year it has been so incredibly relaxed.  Last Saturday, Sarina and Heather had a lovely, little party for me.  Just a few of our closest friends and TONS of cheese!  (More about that party at a later time.)  Today I woke up, made a huge pot of Ugly Mug Butter Moon coffee, and set to work on my Linzer cookies.  I was especially excited to make these because yesterday I found a camel cookie cutter in the house!  (I love love LOVE camels!!!!!)
 I don't care if they sort of look like cows now.  They are camel cookies!!!

      Linzertorte is the original version of this dessert and if found throughout the region that comprised Prussia (Austria, Germany, Hungary....)  The earliest known recipe for the dessert is from the early 1650s, although it is very fragmented.  It is traditionally a hazelnut shortbread-like pastry with red currant jam.  But nowadays you find it made with all sorts of nuts and a varieties of jams and/or butter.  Also, somewhere along the way, a genius baker decided to make them mini!  Hence, the linzer cookie.  My cookie is made with almonds and blackberry jam (some with strawberry rhubarb.)  Often times, they are dusted with powdered sugar but I opted not to because I think the brown speckles from the almond skins are pretty.  (Oh....and normally, the dough is made with blanched nuts that are skinless so the dough is an even color.... we only had regular nuts in the house though.)

Linzer Cookies
1 C butter, softened
1/2 C vegetable shortening
1 C sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cinnamon
14 oz of nuts, finely ground (almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts...)
3 1/3 C flour
1 tsp baking powder
Jam (raspberry, blackberry, fig, currant....)
Powdered sugar

   Cream together butter, shortening, and sugar.  Incorporate eggs 1 at a time.  Add vanilla, cinnamon and nuts.  Add 1 C flour and baking powder.  Mix.  Add half the remaining flour.  Mix.  Add the last of the flour.  Mix.  Divide dough into fourths.  Wrap in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  (If you refrigerate it over night or for a few days, let it sit at room temp for 15 minutes before working it.)
   On a floured surface, roll dough to 1/4 in thick.  Cut out shapes.  Use a cookie that is 2-3 inches big, you don't want them too large.  For half the shapes, cut out a small pieve in the center with a very small cookie cutter (~3/4 inch).  Place on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake at 325 deg F for 10-12 minutes until edges start to turn golden.  Cool.
NOTE:  If you are using a shape for the main part of a cookie that is not symmetrical, remember to flip half of them over so you have mirror images that will sandwich together.
   On the cookies with out cut-outs, spread a little bit of jam.  (Dust the cookies with cut-outs with powdered sugar.)  Sandwich half together.
   Makes a lot.  Amounts depend on the size cookie cutter used.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Pecan Tassies

   These are one our favorite holiday cookies.  (As I told you yesterday.)  These scream "holiday!" to me because this is the time of year we make them, but they would be perfect at a cocktail party any time of the year.  Mini pecan pies... how can you beat that?  I just made some about an hour ago... and shit.  My nail polish has chipped.  Oops!  I'll blame it on dishes just to be safe.  I can't really take credit for this recipe.  It is from a very old edition of the red and white checked Better Homes and Garden cookbook.
Pecan Tassies
1 stick butter, softened
3 oz cream cheese, softened
1 C flour
3/4 C brown sugar
1 egg
1 Tbsp melted butter
1/2 C chopped pecans

   Cream together butter and cream cheese.  Add flour.  Gently mix until dough comes together.  You do not want to over work it because it will get tough.  Knead a couple times (in the bowl) to make sure dough is smooth and even.  Refrigerate for 30 min-1 hr.
   Combine filling ingredients.
   Roll dough into 1 inch balls and place in ungreased mini muffin pan.  Flatten dough a little into the bottom of the mold, it makes it easier to get an even shell.  Use wooden tool (see yesterday) to press dough into the pan.  Flour between each use.  Or use floured fingers to press dough into bottom and up the sides.  Fill 3/4 with filling.   Bake 325 deg F for 25 minutes, until dough is lightly golden around the edges.
   Makes 24

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Cardamom Spiced Pumpkin Tassies

   Promise, promise, promise that this is absolutely the last pumpkin recipe for the season!  Tassies are basically just mini pies.  We make pecan tassies (recipe  tomorrow....) every year around Thanksgiving and Christmas.  They are really yummy and surprisingly easy to make!  For the Angel Tree Hafla, I decided to mix it up a bit and in addition to (our) traditional pecan tassies, I made pumpkin tassies.  I figured anyone can follow the basic pumpkin pie recipe on the back of a can of Libby's pumpkin (which is an amazing recipe, by the way:  classic, simple, delicious.)  Something needed to be different about this pumpkin filling.  Browsing through my extensive spice collection, which is literally stashed in 3 different places around the house, I dug up some cardamom.  This filling also makes a great regular sized pumpkin pie, just double the filling recipe.
   Cardamom is in the family of "sweet" spices like cinnamon, clove, and ginger.  It is native to India, so obviously, used a lot in Indian cooking.  Also, many Moroccan, Middle Eastern, and Scandinavian dishes feature the spice.  It has a very floral perfume (and is actually used as a component in a lot of perfumes:  Prada's signature scent, anyone?)  They flavor is lemony with hints of peppercorn.  It pairs well with seafood and mild poultry, but is often combined with numerous other spices in savory preparations.  Desserts more commonly feature the spice on its own.
Cardamom Spiced Pumpkin Tassies
1 C butter, softened
6 oz cream cheese, softened
2 C flour
1 C pumpkin puree (1/2 can)
3/4 C evaporated milk (1/2 can)
1 egg
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt

   Cream together butter and cream cheese.  Add flour.  Gently mix until dough comes together.  You do not want to over work it because it will get tough.  Knead a couple times (in the bowl) to make sure dough is smooth and even.  Refrigerate for 30 min-1 hr.
   Combine all filling ingredients.
   Roll dough into 1 inch balls and place in ungreased mini muffin pan (or tassie pan, if you have one laying around.....) Use the knobby thing below to press dough into the pan.  Flour between each use.  (I don't know exactly what it is, we only use it for tassies!  It may have been created for this specific purpose.)  Or use floured fingers to press dough into bottom and up the sides.  Fill 3/4 with filling.
   Bake 350 deg F for ~30 minutes, until dough is lightly golden around the edges.  (If you are using a darker pan, check after 25 min.)
   Makes ~4 dozen

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Yes, Virginia, .....Cookies for Satan

   The title is not a type-o.  I apologize to those reading this that are sensitive about the religious figure of Santa Claus and cannot laugh during the holidays.  You should probably stop reading right now.  After all, Satan is just Santa with the "n" moved!  This is my version of a Christmas cookie kick-off.  The next few days will be Christmas cookies you might actually want to make for your family.
(clockwise from top left: snowman, "dinosaur", tree, free-hand cutting)

   A couple nights ago I was at my lovely friend Rachel's house (she took all these pictures, by the way.)  It had started out as just an invite to chill, have a couple drinks, laugh at her husband's outrage at the Titans for not scoring and then "Oh, now all of a sudden you remember how to play football?! You couldn't remember that 4 games ago?!"  Maybe I was the only one laughing....  While were just bullshitting about whatever, I mentioned that earlier that day I had wanted to make Christmas cookies but I thought my mom would get mad at me if I made them without her.  And Rachel said she wished she had gotten the stuff to make brownies.  The conversation went on for a bit longer, when Rachel said, "I wonder if we have the stuff to make some sort of holiday treat?"  Before I knew it, she had flitted off somewhere and returned with an amazingly ancient cook book!

   This cookbook was organized in the strangest manner I had ever seen!  But after a few minutes of flipping though, we found a recipe for brown sugar cookies.  There were very few ingredients and it was really basic.  It made a huge amount, so we cut it in fourths.  The recipe (below) is cut in half because the amounts are easier to deal with... and it is modified a little.  If you make these, know that the dough is meant to be stiff because it is a dough made for cut-outs.  Also, it is intended for them to be decorated with sugary things, so the cookies are not very sweet.  I will tell you right now, it will be WAY easier to make these if you have a rolling pin.  Ours were bumpy and had my fingerprints all over them.  I like to think it just gave them more character.  And later we realized that this would have made a great material for a gingerbread house (just bake the dough a teeny bit longer!)
 Left: Lumpy cut-outs, Right: baked cut-outs

   While making the dough we decided that we wanted to have Christmas shapes and decorate them.  This resulted in a 10:30pm run to Walmart and scouring the store for the only Xmas cookie cutters (that were not outrageously priced!)  They were little tree shapes.  After discussing it, we figured they were the best thing anyway because they would not require a lot of special things to decorate.  Our decorating materials included a large canister of various sprinkles and a tub of marshmallow creme.
This is honestly, the prettiest, most normal one we did.

   As we starting "rolling" out the dough, and cutting out perfect little trees, we quickly decided to cut out other shapes free-hand.  We had a couple candy canes and a snowman.  Then we felt Jew cookies were in order for our friend, Sarina.  Hence the dreidel and Star of David (that could have been a poinsettia.)  From there, the situation quickly digressed.  I can't tell you how we arrived at Satanic and Goddess symbol cookies.  Maybe it was from an earlier convo about rumors of Ke$ha and Rhianna being members of the Illuminati or that we both know Christmas is chock full of pagan symbols and traditions, but we got there.  And we laughed maniacally the whole time.  Oh, and FYI, we were not drinking at this point nor were revelling in drunkeness of previous drinks.  A little tipsy maybe, but still at the perfectly-OK-to-drive level (forget you just read that....)  Rachel cut out a goddess and the moons, we both cut out goats heads (or what we meant to be goats heads).  I attempted a pentagonal star....  And the very last scrap dough looked like an abstract dinosaur to us.  If cookies can be blasphemous, we are going to hell!
Please note our awesomeness

Brown Sugar Cookies
2 sticks butter, softened
1 C brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 C flour (maybe a little more)
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/4 tsp salt

   Beat butter and sugar together.  Add egg, vanilla, salt, and pumpkin pie spice; incorporate.  Add flour.  Thoroughly combine.  Use your hand to knead it a couple times.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.  Rool out to 1/4 inch thick.  Cut out shapes.  Place on a lightly greased baking sheet.  Bake at 350 deg F for 10-12 minutes (longer if your cut-outs are larger) until the edges turn a light golden brown.  Cool.  Decorate.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Moroccan Dry-Cured Olives

   I realized that the last few posts have all involved things I dislike if not outright hate.  So let's talk about something I really like.  Love is probably a better word here.


   I know that many people are on the fence about olives.  Maybe they like only black olives, the ultra ripe ones in a can, or they refuse to even touch an olive that still contains a pit.  Or they just avoid them all together.  I love olives.  All kinds.  Never met one I didn't like.  And I've liked them my entire life.  I remember that my dad would give me the Spanish olives out of gin martinis when I was a kid.  (Yes, you read that correctly.)  To this day, I still adore olives soaked in gin.  I keep meaning to buy a little thing of it and replace the olive juice in the jar with Tanqueray.  The Kroger that we usually visit has seriously stepped up their deli game.  They now have an amazing Mediterranean bar (and cheese case <3) that includes, like, 15 different varieties of olives.  I was in heaven when I found this out.  I could have spent hours there sneaking bites of those little briny fruits.

   What caught my eye as new and special (in my life, at least.) were the Moroccan dry-cured olives.  They are a little salty, but really fruity and mild.  I think that these olives could convert olive-haters.  The flesh is velvety, smooth, and rich.  And, because they are not brined, don't have that brackish, tangy bite which many olives do.  I had to put these in my chopped olive salad/topping.  I snatched up a half pint along with a pint of the Greek olive mix that had Kalamatas, Nafplions, Amfissas, and several other varieties.
    We put this olive mix over a simple pan grilled tilapia.  The next day for lunch, I had it in a wrap with spinach and cucumbers.  It would be awesome folded into some yogurt for a veggie dip, or mixed with some tomatoes for an easy bruschetta topping.
TIP:  If for some reason you have an olive pitter in your house, great.  If you don't, the easiest way to pit olives, in my opinion, is to score one side down to the pit, the using the flat of your knife blade, crush it, as if you were crushing a garlic clove.  The pit should pop right out.

Chopped Olive Salad feat. Moroccan Dry-Cured Olives
1 C chopped Greek olive mix
1/2 C chopped dry-cured olives
1/2 of a large roasted red pepper, chopped
2 Tbsp of the Greek olive brine
1 tsp minced garlic

   Combine ingredients.  (It just gets better as it sits, so make it a couple days in advance.)
   6-8 servings