Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Proof That I Do Knit

There's been very little knitting content recently, for several reasons. Cooking has taken over as my primary hobby, which often leaves very little time for knitting. Adding to that, almost all of my knitting recently has been Christmas knitting, and I don't wan to post here and spoil everyone's surprise.

But, meet my friend H:

She is one of my best friends, and is actually the person who taught me to knit. She is a wonderful, crazy, free-sprited person. I also happen to know that she does not read my blog. Shes in her second year of vet school at Virginia Tech (the picture above is her showing her school spirit with her partner-in-crime, Diego). She stays so busy just keeping up with her classes, working as the medical coordinator for a local animal rescue organization, caring for her own menagerie of animals (Diego is the big brother to a few kittens, not to mention her roommates pets), training for and completing triathlons, and trying to maintain her sanity. So, I feel relatively safe blogging about her Christmas present.

As you can probably tell, H shares my fondness for crazy hats. So I decided to make her one:

Yarn: I don't remember offhand, but I'll try to check when I get home and edit this post:
Needles: US7 circulars and DPNs
Pattern: Kinda my own basic hat pattern. Nothing too exciting.

I used Virginia Tech colors, and took my striping inspiration from Kristy. I liked the idea of having the stripes get thinner as the hat got narrower. I realized though, that if I made each stripe one row thinner than the previous one (like Kristy did), the hat wouldn't be nearly long enough. So each "set" of stripes is thinner than the "set" before it. For example: The first maroon stripe and the first orange stripe were 14 rows. The next maroon stripe and orange stripe were 13 rows...and so on, until the last few stripes were just one row each!

When modeling this hat, it only took a few minutes for me to discover how warm it actually is. I hope H will like it, and it will be able to keep her warm during the cold winters in the mountains of western Virginia. For a warm-weather lover like H, you can never have too many things to keep you warm in winter!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Better-Late-Than-Never Thanksgiving Post

So, posts are few and far between these days...with the lead up to the holidays and all the extra cooking and knitting that entails, there has been very little time to actually blog about all this! But as a food blogger, and can't let Thanksgiving go by without a post.

As you know, I don't like to cook the same recipe more than once, and this includes Thanksgiving. My only real Thanksgiving "tradition" is that I make Cornish Hens instead of Turkey. We usually only have a small group of guests (just four this year), and even the smallest Turkey is overkill. Cornish hens, on the other hand, allow for a nice presentation, and have limited left-overs.

This year, I decided to have a Moroccan-themed Thanksgiving dinner. I started with some homemade hummus and babagannouj, with pita and vegetable for dipping. Our main course was Moroccan-style Cornish Game Hens served over Golden Couscous.

I prepared this pretty much as written...only a couple of exceptions. First, I decided to brine the hens in a solution that had hints of the Moroccan spices. I made a brine mixture, then threw in chunks of onion, a few orange slices, and some whole allspice, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, peppercorns, fennel seeds, and cardamom pods, and allowed them to brine for about 4-6 hours. Before making the spice mixture, I toasted spices briefly in a dry skillet for about 2-3 minutes until fragrant. The couscous was also prepared almost as written, except that I added golden raisins and chopped dried apricots, for added flavor and texture.

Sides included:
Tender Potato Bread rolls and Moroccan Focaccia

Moroccan Salad with Goat Cheese, Beets, & Oranges.My sister-in-law loved this salad, and would grab a little bit as a snack the few days following Thanksgiving. While I'm not normally a beet fan, this was pretty good.

And Spaghetti Squash with Moroccan Spices Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of this one, but it was yummy. But with that much butter and garlic, how can you go wrong?

Dessert was my favorite pumpkin pie recipe, from this book. It's sweetened and flavored with maple syrup, giving it a wonderful depth of flavor that you don't find in most pumpkin pies.

While the food was wonderful, the highlight of Thanksgiving was the family. My mom joined us for dinner, and Psycling's brother and sister-in-law came in from Louisville. We had a great weekend with them. We went to the Georgia Aquarium, watched movies, and My sister-in-law and I visited various craft and yarn stores, and spent time knitting while the guys did "guy stuff." It was fun.

I was reminded of how fortunate I am to have such wonderful family, both the family I was born into and the family I married into. Food is yummy, but you can't have a good meal without sharing it with loved ones!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Daring Bakers: Thanksgiving Edition

It's time for another Daring Baker's Challenge! This month, the recipe was for Tender Potato Bread. I decided that since fresh baked bread is necessary for Thanksgiving, I would make our Daring Bakers Challenge our Thanksgiving bread.

However, because I made this on Thanksgiving along with the rest of our meal (planning ahead didn't quite happen like it should have this year), I neglected to photographically document my experience in making the potato bread. I really wish I'd had my camera handy, because the dough for this recipe is a very soft dough, unlike any I'd ever worked with before...this also made it rather difficult for me to work with as well...working with soft dough is definitely something that needs lots of practice.

Despite the difficulties, however, this bread came out very well. For this challenge, we were allowed to shape the bread however we wanted to, with options given for loaves, dinner rolls, and focaccia bread. As someone who likes variety, I decided I'd try a couple of different options. This recipe makes a LOT of dough, so I made one batch of dinner rolls, and decided that I would make a focaccia that mirrored the spices and flavors of our Moroccan inspired dinner. It was a big hit!

Tender Potato Bread

from Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour & Tradition Around the World by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

Makes 1 large tender-crumbed pan loaf and something more; one 10X15 inch crusty yet tender foccacia, 12 soft dinner rolls, or a small pan loaf


4 medium to large baking potatoes (such as Idaho, Russet, or Yukon Gold), peeled and cut into chunks
4 cups water (This should be your reserved water from boiling the potatoes)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
6 ½ cups to 8 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 cup whole wheat flour

1. Put the potatoes and 4 cups water in a sauce pan and bring to boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and cook, half covered, until the potatoes are very tender. Drain the potatoes, SAVE THE POTATO WATER, and mash the potatoes well.

2. Measure out 3 cups of the reserved potato water (add extra water if needed to make 3 cups). Place the water and mashed potatoes in the bowl you plan to mix the bread in – directions will be for by hand. Let cool to lukewarm – stir well before testing the temperature – it should feel barely warm to your hand. You should be able to submerge you hand in the mix and not be uncomfortable.

3. Mix & stir yeast into cooled water and mashed potatoes & water and let stand 5 minutes.Then mix in 2 cups of all-purpose flour and mix. Allow to rest several minutes.

4. Sprinkle on the remaining 1 tablespoon salt and the softened butter; mix well. Add the 1 cup whole wheat flour, stir briefly. Add 2 cups of the unbleached all-purpose flour and stir until all the flour has been incorporated.At this point you have used 4 cups of the possible 8 ½ cups suggested by the recipe.

5. Turn the dough out onto a generously floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, incorporating flour as needed to prevent sticking. The dough will be very sticky to begin with, but as it takes up more flour from the kneading surface, it will become easier to handle; use a dough scraper to keep your surface clean. The kneaded dough will still be very soft. (Sara's Note: I don't have a dough scraper but found that a metal spatula works very well for this purpose as well!)

Note: As a beginner, you may be tempted to add more flour than needed. Most/many bread recipes give a range of flour needed. This is going to be a soft dough. At this point, add flour to the counter slowly, say a ¼ cup at a time. Do not feel you must use all of the suggested flour. When the dough is soft and smooth and not too sticky, it’s probably ready.

6. Place the dough in a large clean bowl or your rising container of choice, cover with plastic wrap or lid, and let rise about 2 hours or until doubled in volume.

7. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead gently several minutes. It will be moist and a little sticky. Divide the dough into 2 unequal pieces in a proportion of one-third and two-thirds (one will be twice as large as the other). Place the smaller piece to one side and cover loosely.

To shape a large loaf:

Butter a 9X5 inch loaf/bread pan. Flatten the larger piece of dough on the floured surface to an approximate 12 x 8 inch oval, then roll it up from a narrow end to form a loaf. Pinch the seam closed and gently place seam side down in the buttered pan. The dough should come about three-quarters of the way up the sides of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 35 to 45 minutes, until puffy and almost doubled in volume.

To make a small loaf with the remainder:

Butter an 8 x 4 inch bread pan. Shape and proof the loaf the same way as the large loaf.

To make rolls:

Butter a 13 x 9 inch sheet cake pan or a shallow cake pan. Cut the dough into 12 equal pieces. Shape each into a ball under the palm of your floured hand and place on the baking sheet, leaving 1/2 inch between the balls. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about 35 minutes, until puffy and almost doubled.

To make focaccia:

Flatten out the dough to a rectangle about 10 x 15 inches with your palms and fingertips. Tear off a piece of parchment paper or wax paper a little longer than the dough and dust it generously with flour. Transfer the focaccia to the paper. Brush the top of the dough generously with olive oil, sprinkle on a little coarse sea salt, as well as some rosemary leaves, if you wish and then finally dimple all over with your fingertips. Cover with plastic and let rise for 20 minutes.

Place a baking stone or unglazed quarry tiles, if you have them, if not use a baking/sheet (no edge – you want to be able to slide the shaped dough on the parchment paper onto the stone or baking sheet and an edge complicates things). Place the stone or cookie sheet on a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 450°F/230°C. Bake the flat-bread before you bake the loaf; bake the rolls at the same time as the loaf. If making foccacia, just before baking, dimple the bread all over again with your fingertips. Leaving it on the paper, transfer to the hot baking stone, tiles or baking sheet. Bake until golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack (remove paper) and let cool at least 10 minutes before serving.

Dust risen loaves and rolls with a little all-purpose flour or lightly brush the tops with a little melted butter or olive oil (the butter will give a golden/browned crust). Slash loaves crosswise two or three times with a razor blade or very sharp knife and immediately place on the stone, tiles or baking sheet in the oven. Place the rolls next to the loaf in the oven.

Bake rolls until golden, about 30 minutes.

Bake the small loaf for about 40 minutes.

Bake the large loaf for about 50 minutes.

Transfer the rolls to a rack when done to cool. When the loaf or loaves have baked for the specified time, remove from the pans and place back on the stone, tiles or baking sheet for another 5 to 10 minutes. The corners should be firm when pinched and the bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Let breads cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Rolls can be served warm or at room temperature.

Moroccan Onion Focaccia

3 Tbs. butter
2 small onions, thinly sliced
2 tsp. Moroccan Spice Mixture from here.
Olive Oil for brushing
Salt & Pepper to taste

1. Lightly toast spices in dry skillet than grind in coffee grinder or spice grinder. Sett aside.

2. Melt butter in skillet over medium heat. Add onions, and sautee until soft, fragrant, and caramelized. Add about spice mixture and toss until coated.

3. Brush dough with olive oil. Spread onion mixture evenly over the top, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Bake as directed above for focaccia.

This made for a nice twist on your basic dinner roll or focaccia bread. It's definitely possible I will make it again (which is saying something since I rarely make the same recipe twice!!).

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Grilled Salmon with Roasted Corn Relish

It's been a while, but I've started to find ways to manage my Paxil withdrawal symptoms, and things are slowly becoming "normal" again. Which means it's time for cooking and blogging about cooking.

Several days ago, I made Grilled Salmon with Roasted Corn Relish.

Psycling and I both really enjoyed this meal, and I made only a few modifications to the recipe. To spice things up a bit, I added a little bit of chili powder and cayenne pepper to the spice rub for the salmon. It wasn't enough to make it spicy, but it added a little extra depth to the flavor of the fish.

As for the relish, it was almost more of a salad, with a suggested serving size of 3/4 c. per person to go with the fish. It's definitely enough to serve as a side vegetable for the meal. It was good, though I thought the Anaheim peppers were a little too spicy for me (Psycling though it was just right). I think if I make this again, I will use a slightly milder pepper, maybe a poblano. However, if you you don't like spicy foods, or want to tone it down for kids, green bell peppers would also work just as well. And you can't go wrong with extra cilantro!

Finally, though the recipe could be made completely on a grill pan (as called for in the recipe), but I'm a big fan of using a real grill whenever possible. So we lit up our grill outside, and I love the added smokiness it added to both the fish and the corn. I'm thinking that next time, I'll char the peppers on the grill as well instead of using the broiler. I think the extra smokiness would be a good addition to the relish.

All-in-all, this was a very good, and fairly quick and easy weeknight meal. One I would make again (if I ever made the same meal more than once).

Monday, November 12, 2007

Getting Personal

I've been debating whether or not I would even write this post, but decided to go ahead with it. Who knows, it might actually be of help to some of you out in blog land.

For the past 7 1/2 years, I have been taking the anti-depressant Paxil (generic: Paroxoine). Paxil is one of the SSRI (Selective Seretonin Reuptake Inhibitors) class anti-depressants, similar to Prozac, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, and others. Seretonin is a nerotransmitter that aids in regulating mood, as well as other things. The SSRIs essentially work by preventing a neuron from reabsorbing seretonin it releassd into a synapse before the receiving cell has a chance to catch it.

I initially began taking Paxil when I was diagnosed with severe depression in college. While I could go into the details of the events in my life that triggered it, what seems most important now is that I am in a happy, content, stable time in my life, and I don't want to have to rely on a drug to keep me that way. So I decided it is time to try to go off the meds.

Unfortunately, Paxil is the SSRIs known to have the worst withdrawal symptoms of this class of drug, due to its extremely short half-life. Since going off the drug 10 days ago, I have developed what is often referred to as the Paxil Withdrawal Flu. I am dizzy and nauseous and experiencing with many Paxil users have dubbed the "whoosh" effect. Essentially, if I move or turn my head (or even just move my eyes), it's like the world kind of moves in slow motion and it takes a moment for it to catch up and allow me to focus again. I have waves of tingly-ness that wash over my body, but are concentrated in my face and fingers that feels rather like a mild electric current. I'm hyper-sensitive to any sort of motion, and bright light worsens my constant headache. I've even had a couple of mild anxiety attacks, something that is attributed 100% to going off the meds. I also have a hard time concentrating, focusing, even carrying on a coherent conversation (or writing a coherent blog post). And did I mention how exhausted I am? Needless to say, it's not pleasant.

There are some upsides here (and being a glass-half-full kind of person, I feel the need to point them out). First, despite what I wrote in my last paragraph, my symptoms are fairly mild compared to what many people experience. After reading about what others have experienced at QuitPaxil and PaxilProgress I have realized that it could be much worse. So far, I am at least able to function in my normal daily routine (even if I feel like crap while doing it). I can still walk the dog, go to work, make dinner, run errands, and all the other stuff that is necessary in life. Second, I've found things that help alleviate symptoms a bit. Deep breathing, taking a few minutes to just close my eyes, and...knitting! And cooking! It's wonderful! The two things I love doing most help! They provide just enough mental and physical distraction to keep the symptoms at bay. Even if once dinner is made, I feel too nauseous to eat it (tonight Psycling had the West Indian Vegetable Curry I made while I had Raisin Bran), just making it helped me feel better for the time I was doing it. So I'm finding it's also the perfect time to teach myself a new knitting technique, and I've cast on for an entrelac blanket. And third, I'm staying focused on the fact that while it sucks big time now, putting up with this for a few weeks is all I need to do to not have to take the Paxil ever again. This is the big motivator for me. It is the light at the end of the tunnel.

You may ask why I bothered to write this all out. First, it helps me just to get it out, to let people know what's going on in my life (after all, that's what a blog is for, right?). But also, when I was on the meds, I was never shy about it. There is such a stigma in our society (still) about people on psychoactive medication, and so much of it is due to ignorance. So by living my life as a productive member of society who just happened to be on anti-depressants, I hope that I broke down a few of those stereotypes about mental illness. I have offered myself as a resource to people who have been going through depression, answering questions as honestly as I could.

But the flip side about being open to being on the meds is being open about what it's like to go off them. When I first started taking this drug, NO ONE told me that it could be addictive, that going off the drug would be so difficult, what all the side effects were and how it could affect so many aspects of my life. If they had, I probably would have asked to know about alternatives, drugs that might be more "user friendly" so to speak. I find myself angry at the doctor who prescribed this for me for not telling me, and for leaving me to go through this. So, for those of you who have read this, I charge you to take control of your health care. If a doctor wants to prescribe a drug like this, ASK QUESTIONS! Do the research (If you google Paxil, on the first page you find a link to lawsuits related to the drug. If you refine the search by clicking on the "warnings" button that google gives you, you get many hits on Paxil lawsuits and warnings about addiction). I don't want to be one of the angry anti-paxil ranters that can be found be found all over the internet. But I do want to put my story out there. Maybe it will be able to prevent someone from going through what I am. Maybe it will just help others who are going through it know that they aren't alone. Maybe it will encourage someone to ask the questions that I didn't. Or maybe, the sole purpose is the catharsis that this type of venting provided for me.

So, if you've noticed a slow down in my blogging recently, now you know why.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Thankful Thursdays: Fall Edition

Today I am thankful for:

Fall: As you already know, I love fall. It puts me in such a good mood to see all the colors on the trees. I took these pictures on my way into work this morning. Since my commute is all surface streets and not on the highway, I wind through some gorgeous neighborhoods. Having such amazing scenery on my drive in to work is quite relaxing. I'm trying to enjoy it while I can, because soon enough, all the pretty colors will drain from the leaves, the trees will be bare, and fall will have turned into winter.

Friends and Family: My mom works not too far away from where I work, so I try to have lunch with her about once a week. We are always joined by her friend B, and occasionally other women from her office as well. Today we went to one of our favorite lunch spots, and followed it up with a post-lunch pick-me-up from Starbuck's. It's always great fun to chat with these other women and enjoy the camaraderie of a shared meal. Besides, she'll be retiring at the end of the year, so I imagine our lunching together will be less frequent after the new year.

This Little Guy: As I was leaving work today, I saw this little guy sitting under a tree, feasting on the pile of nuts in front of him. He was kind enough to stay there for about 60-90 seconds and let me photograph him (though unfortunately, crappy camera means crappy pictures). It was very cute to see him pick up one of the nuts in his cute little paws and start nibbling on it. I work on the quad at a local university, and lately, I've been seeing little guys like this scampering around, stashing their nuts for the upcoming winter. After watching this little guy for a while, he finally decided it was time to move on; he picked up two nuts and stuffed them in his mouth, the scampered off to find his other squirrel friends. I'm an animal lover, and being able to share a moment in this little squirrel's life was very heartening.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Yay for fall!

Fall is my favorite season. I love the brisk weather, breaking out the sweaters, the gorgeous colors of the leaves, getting to wear my hats.
In addition to all that great stuff, I love the flavors of fall as well. This weekend, I made one of my favorite fall meals, Curried Winter Squash Soup with Sweet Spices.

I discovered this recipe in an unlikely place. Shortly after I graduated from college, I bought a new computer from Gateway. As often happens when you buy a computer, there was lots of random software that they bundled with the computer. Most of it was of no interest to me, but when I looked through the CDs that they gave me, there was one that caught my eye. It was called MasterCook Deluxe from Sierra Home. It was a recipe software that came loaded with TONS or recipes. This soup was one of them. I've tried several of the recipes from this software and they have all be really good, but this one is a favorite in our household. It's one Psycling and I both look forward once we notice a chill in the air and we see winter squash come into season.

For this dinner, I served the soup with a salad of mixed greens with apple slices, pecans, and dried cranberries, dressed with a basic vinaigrette from one of my favorite cookbooks. It made for a great fall dinner!

Curried Winter Squash Soup with Sweet Spices

1 medium Butternut squash
olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 Tbs. butter
1 tsp. curry powder
2 medium apples, cored, peeled and chopped
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1 quart chicken stock
1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/2 cup heavy cream
White pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds, brush the outside with olive oil, and place cut-side-down, on a cookie sheet. Bake until tender, 30-45 minutes
3. While squash is baking, chop the onions and applies. When the squash is done, remove it to cool.
4. Melt the butter in a heavy soup pot. Add the onion and cook until softened but not brown. Add curry powder and cook, stirring one minute more. Add the apple. Scoop out pieces of squash and stir them into the pot. Add thyme, salt, and chicken stock. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for 15 minutes.
5. Remove the solids to a food processor or blender and puree until smooth, adding liquid to promote circulation. Return to the pot, add cream, and bring back to a boil and remove from heat. Add salt and white pepper to taste, and serve.

Cook's Notes: I added a bit of sage to this recipe, and I've found that it deepens the flavor nicely. Also, this soup can be made vegetarian by using vegetable stock instead of chicken stock, and it still takes wonderful (I've tried it). Finally, this soup is really good served with whole wheat pita wedges for dipping.

So, as we head into November, enjoy the beautiful leaves, brisk weather, and sweaters. And at the end of the day, warm up with this wonderful soup that has become one of my favorite comfort foods!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Halloween Post

There are so many Halloweeny things to blog about, I don't really know where to begin! I guess with the appetizer :-)

The Happy Sorceress hosts virtual cocktail parties every month. I made this appetizer for the October Halloween Party, but because life ran away with me this month, I never got around to blogging about it. Basically, the idea is to make a hors d'ouevre for the virtual cocktail party, based on the theme of the month, then blog about it. The Cocktail party happens when the Happy Sorceress rounds up all the entries and posts them on her blog. For the Halloween Party, I wanted to think of something that was Halloweeny, but didn't involve pumpkin. Somehow, I thought about vampires and fangs and this super easy yet delish appetizer was born.

Goat Cheese & Garlic Pitas with Marinara

Marinara sauce of your choice (I used a version of this)
1 4 oz log of goat cheese
1/2 head of garlic
salt and pepper to taste
2-3 pitas

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees
2. Drizzle garlic with olive oil, wrap in aluminum foil, and roast at 425 for about 30-45 minutes, until soft and fragrant
3. Place goat cheese in a small bowl and squeeze garlic pulp into it. Season with salt and pepper and mix until garlic is well incorporated into the cheese
4. Spread goat cheese mixture on pitas and toast in oven for about 4-6 minutes.

To serve, cut pitas into triangular pieces and arrange on a tray surrounding bowl of marinara. Dip the wedges in the sauce and enjoy!

Now on to dinner. I wanted to make a dinner in the spirit of Halloween, but given how busy I've been recently, it had to be 1.) easy and 2.) not require a trip to the grocery store. I came across this pumpkin soup. Since I had everything on hand, I decided to go for it.

As I was browsing soup recipes, I saw one that garnished with popcorn and fresh sage, so I decided I would steal that idea for a more festive presentation. The soup was good, but if I make it again, I will add more spice to it.

I also did a Halloween Goodie Tray for the grad students in Psycling's lab.

I made tarantula cookies and spiderweb cookies (though I used this cookie recipe). Then there were caramel popcorn balls, pumpkin spice bread (with a few modifications), and sugar cookies decorated as ghosts, pumpkins, and bats. Of course there was a bowl of candy, because is it really Halloween without a big bowl of assorted candy? Psycling said this weeks food was a big hit, and that everyone loved the fun of the Halloween goodies. The empty trays at the end of the day are also a good sign.

And, being the dog-lover that I am, I couldn't let Halloween go by without making a treat for Thea!

Pumpkin Dog treats

1 1/2 c. Whole Wheat Flour
1 c. regular flour (plus lots of extra for kneading and rolling)
1 c. powdered milk
1 egg
1/3 c. vegetable oil
1/2 c. water
1/2 c. vegetable broth
3/4 c. canned pumpkin

1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. It will be kind of gooey and pasty. Add flour and mix until mixture forms a shaggy dough. Dump out onto floured surface and roll out to about 1/4" - 1/2" thick (depending on the size of your cookie cutter). Cut out treats and arrange on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 for about 30 minutes, or until firm. Reduce oven temperature to 225 degrees and leave cookies in for 1-2 hours to dry out and crisp up.

Of all the Halloween treats I make, these are Thea's favorites!!

So that's my Halloween round up. I've been spending lots of time in the kitchen getting all this stuff ready, so I'm looking forward to some nice relaxing evenings the rest of the week.

I hope all of you had wonderful and spooky Halloweens!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Daring Bakers Cocktail Hour

I really enjoyed this month's Daring Baker's Challenge, mainly because I learned so much from it. This month, Mary at Alpineberry hosted the challenge, and the recipe was a Bostini Cream Pie, one of her favorite desserts from a local Bay Area restaurant. The recipe is a nice vanilla custard topped with an orange chiffon cake and finished off with a wonderful chocolate glaze. While there were a few modifications allowed (we could alter the flavoring of the chiffon cake as long as it was light colored and did not affect the coloring of the cake), we could get as creative as we wanted with presentation. I decided that Bostini Martini had a nice ring to it, and thought that martini glasses would make for a wonderful presenation!

This dessert was an all day affair. I started by baking the cake:

Since I knew I would be serving the cake in martini glasses, I decided that rather than baking the cakes in molds, I would bake it in a regular cake pan and cut circles to fit the martini glass. I thought everything was going very well...until I took the cake out of the oven! I noticed that my cake had two distinct layers: A wonderful light fluffy layer on top and a dense rubbery layer on the bottom. I tried again, and the same thing happened! However, I was able to separate the good layer from the rubber layer and come up with enough cake to make my desserts, and when I served them later that night, no one was any the wiser :-)

Next up was the custard:

Fortunately, I had much better luck with the custard. I followed the recipe as written, and it came out perfectly. Then it was time to assemble.

I filled each martini glass with custard, added my de-rubbered cake circles, and topped with glaze...

I added a little orange garnish and...Voila! I had a wonderful Bostini Martini!

Epilogue: After consulting the wonderful DBs, I came to the conclusion that my rubber layer was a result of not correctly folding in the egg whites. So, I did a little research and tried again, and my chiffon cake turned out perfectly!

So...now it's time for the recipe:

Bostini Cream Pie
(from Donna Scala & Kurtis Baguley of Bistro Don Giovanni and Scala's Bistro)
Makes 8 generous servings



3/4 cup whole milk
2 3/4 tablespoons cornstarch
1 whole egg, beaten
9 egg yolks, beaten
3 3/4 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 vanilla bean (EDITED: vanilla extract is okay)
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar

Chiffon Cake

1 1/2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup superfine sugar
1 1/3 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup beaten egg yolks (3 to 4 yolks)
3/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 1/2 tablespoons grated orange zest
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup egg whites (about 8 large)
1 teaspoon cream of tartar

Chocolate Glaze

8 ounces semi or bittersweet chocolate
8 ounces unsalted butter


To prepare the custard:

Combine the milk and cornstarch in a bowl; blend until smooth. Whisk in the whole egg and yolks, beating until smooth. Combine the cream, vanilla bean and sugar in a saucepan and carefully bring to a boil. When the mixture just boils, whisk a ladleful into the egg mixture to temper it, then whisk this back into the cream mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain the custard and pour into 8 large custard cups. Refrigerate to chill.

To prepare the chiffon cakes:

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Spray 8 molds with nonstick cooking spray. You may use 7-ounce custard cups, ovenproof wide mugs or even large foil cups. Whatever you use should be the same size as the custard cups.

Sift the cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Add the oil, egg yolks, orange juice, zest and vanilla. Stir until smooth, but do not overbeat.

Beat the egg whites until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Gently fold the beaten whites into the orange batter. Fill the sprayed molds nearly to the top with the batter.

Bake approximately 25 minutes, until the cakes bounce back when lightly pressed with your fingertip. Do not overbake. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. When completely cool, remove the cakes from the molds. Cover the cakes to keep them moist.

To prepare the glaze:

Chop the chocolate into small pieces. Place the butter in a saucepan and heat until it is just about to bubble. Remove from the heat; add the chocolate and stir to melt. Pour through a strainer and keep warm.

To assemble:

Cut a thin slice from the top of each cake to create a flat surface. Place a cake flat-side down on top of each custard. Cover the tops with warm chocolate glaze. Serve immediately.

And, don't forget to check out what the other daring bakers did with this month's challenge.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Thankful Thursdays

So, I haven't been keeping up with Thankful Thursdays the way I'd like...but better to do it occasionally than not at all, right?

Today I am thankful for:

Five wonderful years with Psycling! The past five years have been wonderful, and I can't imagine having spent them with anyone else. We have had romantic vacations, spontaneous adventures, gourmet meals, frozen pizza, crazy fun dates, and Fridays cuddled together on the couch. Every second we're together is wonderful just because we're together. I'm looking forward to the many years we have before us, the adventures life has in store for us, and seeing where the path takes us as we wander through life hand in hand.

The opportunity to be involved with The Visit at work. We were encouraged to volunteer as much as possible to help make The Visit the success that it was. It meant several long days, but having the opportunity to hear the Dalai Lama speak three times over the course of two days was wonderful. He was insightful, funny, profound, and simple all at once. He truly is an amazing human being who radiates peace and compassion. I was left with many things to ponder, and inspired to try to live a life of loving kindness and compassion.

Ok, so this is Thea's Halloween costume, but I really do think she's a SuperDog! When I'm not feeling well, she curls up next to me and rests her head on my leg. Every night, she falls asleep at our feet. And every day, she greets me with kisses and tail wags. She's great with all the other dogs in the neighborhood, and very adaptable all around. All that matters to her is being with her people, and as long as Psycling and I are around, she's happy. She's a great companion for us, and makes are life so much more fulfilled and happy.

So those are the things I'm feeling thankful for today. Though I apologize for the lack of blogging recently...between working a lot, cooking a lot, wonderful celebrations, and the cold that's knocked me out the past few days, I haven't quite been up to it. But more to come, I promise!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The First Five of Many to Come

This weekend Psycling and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary. We decided to celebrate by "re-creating" our wedding night. We started the evening by having dinner at the restaurant where we had our wedding reception. It's an antebellum southern mansion that was transplanted to Atlanta, and has been renovated and become a wonderful restaurant and event venue. Though they are primarily known for their events, which are held downstairs, there are a few small rooms upstairs that serve as a dining room for dinner customers. I tried to be a good food blogger and remember to take pictures, but I was only half successful.

We started with a baked brie appetizer with pita wedges, apple slices, and drizzled with a strawberry sauce.

Next, Psycing had a mixed green salad with raspberry vinnaigrette, and I had an iceberg wedge salad with blue cheese dressing and bacon. I forgot to take pictures before we dug in. Ooops!

My entree was a crab meat stuffed grouper with hollandaise sauce,

while Psycling had the lamb.

They brought us a special anniversary dessert of a chocolate mousse torte sort of thing that was super-delicious. But I forgot to take a picture of that too...

After a fabulous dinner, we went to the Westin Peachtree Plaza downtown, which is the hotel where we spent our wedding night. This is what I found when we got back to the room:

The next morning, this was our breakfast:

And this was the view from our room:

The evening was as magical and perfect as our wedding night. Psycing and I had a wonderful time enjoying time together and conversation and reveling in our joy at growing together and sharing our life and love. We look forward to many many more years together!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Taste & Create II

When I started blogging, I never imagined how wonderful, fun, and creative the food blogging world could be. Nicole at For the Love of Food has decided to host a monthly food blogging event called "Taste & Create." For this event, two different food bloggers are paired up with each other. They each pick a recipe from the other's blog, cook it, eat it, and then blog about it. For this Taste & Create event, I was paired up with Val from More Than Burnt Toast. She has lots of yummy looking recipes to choose from, and Psycling and I browsed through them together. It was difficult to pick just one. But, after some browsing, the recipe that jumped out at me was the Spiced Chicken Skewers with Raita. Psycling and I both LOVE Indian food, but I don't have much experience making it, so this was a fun experiment. I was also excited about finding a recipe that would allow me to use the Iranian Saffron that my mom brought back for me when she went to Turkey last year. :-)

Psycling and I both really enjoyed this recipe. I served the skewers over rice with a side of spinach sauteed with ginger, garlic, and coriander. The yogurt marinade kept the chicken quite moist, and was wonderfully spiced. And the Raita sauce (not pictured) was the perfect complement to the skewers! Psycling and I both mixed together the meat and veggies from the skewer with the rice and raita to make a delicious (though admitedly not photogenic) mixture.

This is definitely a dish I would make again, though it is a bit time and labor intensive. Because the meat and veggies need to marinate overnight, I had to prepare that one night, in addition to that night's dinner (better menu planning on my part might have avoided that problem). But, one bite, and we realized that it was worth it the time and effort. It's a meal I would not hesitate to serve to guests.

Here's Val's recipe. Give it a try sometime!

Spiced Chicken Skewers with Raita
3/4 cup plain yogurt
1 T peeled fresh ginger, grated
2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground cardamon
1/4 tsp ground tumeric
1/4 tsp saffron threads, crushed
1/8 tsp ground cloves
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 lbs skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 medium red onion, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 large red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch chunks
cooking spray
1/3 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

To prepare kebabs, combine the first 12 ingredients through to red bell pepper in a large zip-top plastic bag, seal and marinate in refrigerator overnight, turning bag occasionally.
Prepare grill.
Remove chicken from bag and discard marinade. Thread chicken, onion and bell peppers alternately on each of 8 (12-inch) bamboo skewers (having soaked them immersed in water for hours). Coat kebabs with cooking spray, and sprinkle with 1/2 tsp salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Place kebabs on a grill rack coated with cooking spray or oil. Grill 25 minutes or until chicken is done, turning occasionally. Remove from grill, keep warm.

1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt
1/3 cup diced seeded tomato
1/4 cup cuhttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifcumber, peeled, seeded, grated and squeezed dry
1/4 cup low-fat sour cream
1 T minced jalapeno pepper
1 T chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp salt

Combine 1/2 cup yogurt with remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Serve with kebabs.
Serves 8

Surf over to Val's blog and check out her yummy recipes. And while you're there, check out her take on my chicken breasts with goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Kitchen Math

I'm hoping that a time will come when I will be able to make my living through my cooking. Probably won't be any time soon, but it's still a goal I have. One way I would love to do this is teaching children's cooking classes aimed at reinforcing the basic skills learned in school. This month's Daring Bakers Challenge provided a great example of a cooking math lesson (and no, I will not be giving any clues about this month's challenge in this post...you'll just have to wait until 10/29 to find out about it).

The recipe called for 2 3/4 Tbs. of cornstarch. I'm not sure about you, but I don't have a 1/4 Tbs. measure. So how to get the precise amount? Eyeballing it just wouldn't do.

So, I pulled out my handy-dandy kitchen scale, placed a small ramekin on it and zeroed it out. Then, I measured out my tablespoon of cornstarch.

I then weighed my tablespoon of cornstarch. Apparently, 1 Tbs. of cornstarch is 8 g.

Then I used math, algebra even, to figure out how much 2 3/4 Tbs. of cornstarch would weigh. Apparently, the answer is 22 g. This is when I hope I did the math right so the entire blogging world doesn't see that I'm an idiot. :-) But since the recipe worked, I think I'm ok.

I then weight out my 22 g of cornstarch and went on with my baking :-)

I love it that there are so many things you can teach (and learn) through cooking. Math is a very obvious one. But science and chemistry are important. And reading. You have to be able to read to follow a recipe and. And I like the idea of using food to learn about other cultures. I can see myself teaching geography and culture through food. Understanding the cuisines of the world and why they are what they are. There's so much there. And by using food and cooking to teach these lessons to kids, you are able to open their eyes to new things, and help them build a skill that will serve them well the rest of their lives. I know my kids (when the time comes) will do lots of learning in the kitchen with me.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Pizza Pizza Pizza

My mom's birthday is coming up. Because I love cooking for the people I love, I invited her to dinner, along with my dad and my brother. In trying to formulate a menu that wouldn't involve too many added ingredients, I decided to make pita pizzas.

I made a pizza with roasted garlic and eggplant with fresh mozzarella, one with fennel, goat cheese and oranges, (both recipes found here), and one with roasted figs and prosciutto with aged provolone and a balsamic reduction.

The fig pizza was very yummy. I don't even really like red meat, and I liked this. Roasting the figs brought out the sweetness that was so well complemented by the saltiness of the prosciutto. The aged provolone had a nice but understated bite to it that really tied everything together nicely, and the balsamic reduction add a depth of flavor that took this pizza from good to amazing! Of course, it also meant we had appetizers made out of the pizza left overs: a blob of goat cheese on top of a roasted fig and wrapped in a paper-thin slice of prosciutto. Of the three, this was Psycling's favorite pizza.

Pita Pizza with Roasted Figs, Prosciutto, and Balsamic Reduction
(Makes 2 pizzas)
7-10 figs, quartered
2 pocketless pitas
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 oz. aged provolone, shaved (a pecorino or good parmesan would also work here)
1/4 c. thinly sliced prosciutto, chopped
1/2 c. balsamic vinegar
1-2 Tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tsp. fresh oregano, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 425F.
2. Place quartered figs (cut side up) in roasting pan, and roast at 425 for abot 12 minutes, until juicy.
3. Brush pitas with 1 Tbs. each of olive oil. Sprinkle heavily with shaved cheese. Sprinkle about 1 Tbs. of chopped prosciutto over each pita. Arrange figs (cut side up) on pita, and sprinkle with remaining prosciutto. Sprinkle with herbs.
4. Heat balsamic vinegar in small saucepan. Boil until reduced to about 1/4 c. Drizzle 2 Tbs. of reduction over each pizza.
5. Bake pizzas at 425F for about 8-10 minutes.

As for our dessert...well, you'll just have to wait until the October Darin Bakers post on the 29th.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Thankful Thursdays

I've been thinking about gratefulness since reading an article in Reader's Digest on scientific studies that have been done on the power of taking time to count your blessings. The article talks about the results of a study using three groups of people: one group kept a daily record of things they were thankful for; one group was asked to focus on the negative things that happened; and the third control group did nothing at all. The study found that members of the group that focused on being thankful was happier, more optimistic, healthier, and more likely to help others.

Some college girlfriends and I have a Yahoo group that we use to keep in touch. Since graduating, the group has grown, and I've become friends with with several women I've never met. I've deepened friendships with friends I've had for years. It's a wonderful and inspiring group of women to be able to count as my friends. Sometime a few years ago, someone decided to send a post outlining things they were thankful for. Before long, our "Monday Thanks" became a regular topic. It's faded in frequency a bit, recently, and it's not always on Monday anymore, but every once in a while, one of us will send an email with Thanks.

I love Monday Thanks. Not only is it a great way to keep up with what's going on in each other's lives, but the sense of thankfulness and optimism is contagious. I found it impossible to read other ladies' lists of thanks and not start to mentally make my own list of things I am thankful for. Another wonderful thing about our Monday thanks is that many of the most profound and poignant offers of thanks came during times of trouble. It was a way to keep life in perspective.

We all live busy lives, sometimes wondering how we even find time to eat or breathe or just remember to say "I love you" to the important people in our lives. I don't want to live a life that's too busy and stressful to recognize all the blessings I have, all the things I have to be thankful for. So I hope to have one post a week that will be about the good things in life. And just like the Monday Thanks emails did for me, I hope that reading my list of thanks will inspire you to look at your own life and see all there is to be thankful for.

So without further ado, today I am thankful for:

1. Puppy Kisses: Every day when I get home from work, I am greeted by 95 lbs. of energetic, tail-wagging excitement. If Thea is at the park outside, all I have to do is call her name, and she comes running at full speed to give me lots of love and kisses. In fact, if I take the trash out, when I walk back in the door, I'm greeted like a long-lost friend who has been gone way too long!

2. Phone calls from far-away friends. HLG was my college roommate, and one of the best friends a person could have. We always have so much fun together. She's the one who taught me to knit and how to eat crabs. She is the embodiment of fun and adventure, and lives life to its fullest more than almost anyone else I know. She's in vet school now at Virginia Tech, which meas we don't get to see each other or talk to each other nearly enough. So a phone call from H can always brighten my day.

3. The Office: I love this show! It never fails to make me laugh hysterically. The cast is amazing and the writing top notch. I can't wait to head upstairs and watch it tonight. Silly, I know, but it makes me happy!