Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fresh Perspective

The baking continues!

As I mentioned in a previous post, I enjoy gluten-free and vegan treats. The topic is pretty near and dear to my heart. One of my greatest friends, M, is a Celiac. All that means is her body and gluten aren't BFFLs. Over the years, I have come to feel protective of her. It's amazing to me how some people get so involved in others food choices or disbelieve that someone may have an intolerance or allergy. If you worship SATC like I do (talking the series, folks, not the movies.. esp 2 ::shudder::), you'll remember the episode with Burger (is Berger or Burger? hmmmm...) and Carrie, where she lies about her allergy to parsley. He gets so bent out of shape about Carrie's less-than-honest fabrication. My question is: who cares? The girl hates parsley! If you say you're allergic, you can (usually) be damn sure the thing you say you're allergic to won't end up on your plate.

But I digress. Back to the caring-about-other-people's-diet thing. Once upon a time, I had a faux friend. This faux friend was such because she gave back-handed compliments ("You're smart to do your laundry on Friday night when everyone else is out. You should also try a face mask. It's a handy way to get everything clean at once, and you're all alone (insert faux gigle).") But this was back in college, and I mean, who isn't your friend after a few drinks (the people you try to beat up after a you throw back two or ten, that's who)? Plus, this faux friend had this way of putting the charm on which made you unsure if she was being sincere when she said you could do much better than your current crush, then sat in his lap all night because she had injured her behind and his lap was softer than a bar stool (or so she said). Anyways.

This faux friend invited me out to dinner with her mom and mom's friend. It was one of the fanciest places in town. Another faux part of this chick was this was such her MO: go to the nicest place in town, with her parents. Then expect you to pay for yourself. This time around, I was ready. I suggested pizza (hahaha showed you!). While ordering, faux friend's mom snickered, " Good thing M isn't here. She claims she can't eat wheat. What a crock!" I was shocked. But not so shocked I was tongue tied. I retorted, " Ya, I hate it when diabetics pull that crap too. I mean, sugar, c'mon! It won't hurt you!" Faux friend's icky mother laughed. I laughed at her.

If you've never cooked gluten-free, I urge you to try. You would NEVER know these aren't full of wheat flour. Or have no dairy. They are tasty. So here's to you, M, for giving me a new perspective on baked goods. And a good back story to this post!

Gluten Free Chocolate Cupcakes

This recipe was taken from Elena's Pantry. She has some really amazing gluten-free dishes and desserts.

¼ cup coconut flour
¼ cup cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
3 eggs
¼ cup oil
½ cup agave nectar

Heat oven to 375 F. Line a cupcake tin with 10 paper liners. In a medium bowl, combine coconut flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking soda. In a large bowl, blend together eggs, oil and agave. Add dry ingredients into wet, careful not to over stir. Using an ice cream scooper, pour one scoop into each liner. Bake for 20 minutes. Let cool on rack. Scrumptious!

For frosting, you could try peanut or almond butter- nuts are always tasty with chocolate! Or forgo frosting: sprinkle the cupcakes with chocolate chips prior to baking. I made a "butter cream" frosting of Earth Balance buttery sticks, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, and about 1 1/2-2 cups of powdered sugar. We dyed them spring-y colors, frosted the lil' cuties and topped with colored sugar. Pretty! Yum!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Pick me up

We interrupt this moodiness with a walk in the brisk, new spring air, some QT with streaming Netflix, and one of my favorite concoctions, Greek coffee. Ok, my bastardized version doesn't compare to what I've sipped in Astoria, Queens, but it's pretty damn delectable.

When I was a Junior in college, I had some really swell friends from Bosnia. They introduced me to Bosnian koffee klatsch, a Balkan colloquialism known as ceif (pronounced "chafe"). However, it ignited my taste for teeny cups of sludgy coffee with a rich crema. It was also the first time I realized sugar cubes were of pretty good design: you can dip the cube in, millimeter by millimeter, to absorb some of the Turkish delight, then crunch off the coffee-flavored sweetness. We would sit on the floor of our sparse dorm rooms, trusty hot pot by our side, finely ground beans waiting to be made into the robust hot beverage. L and R even had little espresso cups and saucers. We would nosh on whatever small treat they had received in care packages from home or wrapped up in napkins and toted home from the dining hall. It was a wonderful habit, and something I truly miss in my non-European friends.

Living on the West Coast, in the Rockies and down South didn't give me too many opportunities to drink coffee prepared in this style. When I relocated to NYC, I found a good friend, A, lived in Astoria. That homeless August, I crashed in Harlem and Manhattan but whenever I could, I would take sleep on A's settee in Queens, eating ethnic on the cheap and gorging myself on Greek iced coffees. A left a few months into my Brooklyn tenure. He bestowed upon me his little Greek/ Turkish/ Hungarian/ Bosnian/ Serbian coffee pot. A himself was Armenian, but not much of a chef or preparer of anything edible. I have never used it either save one less-than-successful experiment. I do believe the thing has never made authentic southern European coffee (forgive my geography misgivings: not exactly sure how I can describe in cardinal directions where this type of brewing hails).

A few years after that Queens summer, I found myself planning a series of field trips to different areas of NYC for an integrated curriculum project. A science teacher, M, suggested Astoria, for all the Greek culture (the project was around architecture... um, the reason we went to Queens escapes me now.). It was a dreary January day, snow was on the ground, misty damp air hung loosely about. We sat in one of those amazing outdoor cafes, under a heating lamp, and drank hot Greek coffee. A wave of warmth, not only from the beverage, washed over me. All felt right and calm in the world. Bustling Astoria was a perfect haven. The misty air was romantic. We clinked our little china cups, H sat on my lap and gurgled (she was only about 4 months old). M and I enjoyed the cityscape in quiet companionship over our warm muddy ambrosia.

Passover is coming soon. In the terribly WASP-y area I live in, that doesn't mean much to most. To me, it means European-manufactured Nescafe is sitting on the kosher table at the local supermarket. I hoard this stuff now that I don't live in NYC and have easy access to ethnic delis. American Nescafe is gross; when my daughter's grandmother visits from Israel, she brings her own jar. Good woman.

Not-so-Greek Frappa

I made my own version of this delightful drink today. In lieu of my almond milk, use a few tablespoons of evaporated milk or nounou milk, which I have found only in Greek groceries (Stop and Shop ain't gots it), although many purists don't take milk in theirs.

2 heaping teaspoons European-produced Nescafe (the American one is useless)
6 ounces boiling water
1 packet of Splenda
1 cup of unsweetened almond milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
lot of ice

In a small cup, blend the Nescafe and Splenda with the water. In a blender, add the ice, almond milk and extracts. Pulse until the ice is in shards. Add the coffee mixture to the blender. Whiz until all ice is incorporated and smooth. Pour into a tall glass. There should be a nice crema on top.

To make hot, leave out the whizzing in the blender and cut the milk to a 1/4 cup. Or leave it out entirely and just add more water, and shake in a martini strainer. If you want a more authentic experience, try the following (warning: recreated from memories of watching Greek expats in Queens whip these up)- a spoonful of coffee and a spoonful of sugar, to taste, and a spoonful of COLD water frappeed with a small handheld blender that many use for lattes or foaming milk should produce a frothy blend. Add ice, cold water and a bit of Carnation evaporated milk from a can. This too can be made as a hot beverage.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Take comfort

It's been a tough few days. First, I wasn't admitted into the educational policy program I applied to for next fall. I found out five minutes before I had to conduct an internal training webinar for my coworkers. I give myself big ups for not breaking down during the meeting. I cried, on and off, all day yesterday. Then, after the webinar and before the rest of my now-awful day, I had to deal with an unhappy account. Unhappy not with me but someone else. Whom I was also upset with. It took a lot to be calm, neutral and composed, but I did it. Once again, big ups. Then, this morning, I was pulled over because my back light was out on my car (it was the freaking day time), and because I allegedly didn't stop at a stop sign. Which is totally not true. I didn't even California roll. It's some podunk nowhere place, a one-horse-more-cows-than-people-place, and they fined me $225. A tad exorbitant, no?!?!?!?!?! I'm sorry you need some new post light or cow fence or whatever, but I am not funding your town's major improvements.

Life has been a pretty trying experience the past five or so years, and I wish one thing would just work out. When I'm annoyed or upset or just plain cranky, I like to clean and cook. I know, it sounds weird, but it feels good to exert control over something, to take comfort in knowing the outcome is completely predictable. It cheers me to know that when I scrub with all my might, the white cupboards will eventually shine. I find it reassuring when a dab of elbow grease on the bookshelves yields a dust-free home for my cookbooks. I love knowing blending avocados with bananas and cocoa and agave creates a smooth, creamy pudding base.

Full disclosure: until last night, I had never used avocado for a base to any recipe other than guacamole. I have been interested in creating some vegan and/ or gluten free treats lately. My fondness for this style of cooking reached an all time high last Memorial day in Portland, OR. While trolling the farmer's market on the PSU campus for dry goods that would travel back to MA well, my friend M and I stumbled upon Petunia's, a delectable gluten-free bakery cart. Looking over her wares, we both decided on the chocolate-coconut-banana tart. Let me tell you: it was delish!!! Like crazy good. Like fly-to-Portland-once-a-month-to-get-one-good. I have often thought of recreating these, but never have seriously looked into this type of cooking. Until the day from Hades. Armed with over-ripe bananas, gluten-free graham crackers, agave and Earth Balance buttery sticks, I set out to make a tart crust. Then, I paraded the avocado around the food processor, added the rest, and voila! Puddin' base for my alternative tart. I didn't get quite the coconut taste I wanted in the end product, but I am going to be messing around with this recipe for awhile. I brought it to B's last night, and we munched on it with some spumante (mmm). All in all, the wholesome tart was pretty healing and offered some solace to my chapped, rejected soul. I ate some more when I came home from the ticketing incident too. I might just bathe in it this evening. Perhaps that will completely relieve me and get me out of this funk.

Gluten-free & Vegan Chocolate-Banana Tart

2 cups gluten-free graham cracker crumbs

4 tablespoons vegan butter, melted 1/2 cup agave syrup

2 very ripe, large bananas

1 very ripe avocado

1/3 cup light coconut milk

4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

Heat oven to 375 F. Mash one banana in a small bowl. In another bowl, mix the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, and 1/4 cup of the agave. Add the banana mixture to the crumb concoction and mix with your hands. Smoosh into an 8-inch tart or pie pan, careful to have equal mixture throughout the pan. Bake for 15 minutes.

While the crust is baking, assemble the pudding filling. In a food processor, add the avocado, the other banana, 1/4 cup agave, cocoa and coconut milk. Blitz until thick, smooth and creamy looking. Put in fridge to cool and set further.

When the crust is done, take out of the oven and cool on a rack. Once the crust is cool, remove pudding from the fridge. Scrape pudding into the the cool crust. (How many times can I say "cool" ?!"

Slice another banana on top for garnish, is desired. You could whip some full-fat separated coconut cream as faux whip for the top too. Or add some dairy if you're just attempting vegan cooking on a whim.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Changing it up

Forget this diet. I am breaking up with it. Fuggehedaboudit. It's been real, stressful annoyance. Peace out. Don't let the trashcan lid hit ya on your way down, Journal. I'm a laid back lady, this counting out 6 grapes and fearing they aren't all symmetrical and the same weight is too high maintenance for me. I'm someone who'd rather chart what I eat online, not in some ugly plastic orange binder. Sure, I lost weight, but I cheated more than once (more than ten). I always felt L-A-M-E mentioning it, and honestly, it turned me into one of those people who diet. Which I obviously am, at the moment, but honestly, can we be light about this and not obsess over the time bread can be consumed?

My company is subsidizing Weight Watchers, and some good folks I know have been successful on The Plan. Tried and true it seemed. And is! I lost 4 lbs this week, although I think my weigh in previously wasn't accurate due to water retention (you know you read this for sexy, witty lines like that one).

Anyways, BIG NEWS: beans are back! Legumes, come to Mama! I never missed something so much (aside from heavy cream and maple syrup and buttered toast). All that protein on the previous plan had to strictly come from four-legged sources. No tofu, no peanut butter, no cottage cheese, no beans. Boooooooooooooooooooooooooo! I love me some beans, and am so happy to see their return.

This recipe was inspired by a Whole Paycheck card. And the rainbow chard that was on sale.

White Beans and Rainbow Chard Ragout

2 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 large yellow onion, diced
5 cloves of garlic, minced
2/3 white wine
4 teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tsp dried thyme
12 ounces wild mix mushrooms, finely sliced
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon spelt flour
1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
2 bunches rainbow chard, stems chopped finely and greens torn
Pepper to taste

Bring 1/4 cup chicken stock to simmer in a large saute pan on medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic. Cook until soft, about 6-7 minutes. Add rosemary and thyme. Stir in wine and cook for 2 minutes until slightly reduced. Add mushrooms. Reduce heat to low and cover. Cook for 5 minutes, until mushrooms are very tender. Stir in remaining broth and turn heat to medium-high. In a small bowl, whisk soy sauce and spelt flour together. Add tablespoon or so of hot stock mixture. Whisk until smooth. Add to pan. Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring soy sauce mixture until well incorporated and broth starts to thicken. Add beans and greens, in batches. Continue to cook for 5-6 minutes. Beans should be warm through out and greens wilted. Season with pepper, and relish in the carbs, protein and vegetable-deliciousness.

I'd serve this atop some polenta or in a bowl with a crusty tear of bread to sop up the ragout goodness. Any kind of green could sub the rainbow chard: regular chard, kale, mustard greens, collards...

Thursday, March 3, 2011

One (actually two) (getting ready) for the road

Why is the day before a trip always so hectic??!? Work emails to finish, projects to sign off on, reports to request and send, calls to return, mayhem needed to be whipped into order. Add to the mix an early release day with the munchkin, dance class, bank deposits so said trip can be financed, iced coffee run and manicures, not to mention blog (c'mon, these are way essential). When the heck am I going to pack, do the laundry that needs to packed, put out the trash, change my sheets (I have this thing about returning home to clean sheets...) and pick up the house (ditto). Oh yeah, and don't forget to check in online and print the tickets, but wait! First, there's the realization your flights have been adjusted. You now have a 20 min layover. In Detroit? With a four-year old? I.don't.think.so.

So, between the dance pick up and after the manicure but before the bank and during the iced coffee payment, I had to call Delta to remedy this egregious error. Dialing my super secret elite number while I slum it through the drive-thru was probably a bad idea. So was the attitude the peon on the line gave me. Not once, but three times, she rudely bellowed, " You don't talk loud enough. I can't help you if I can't hear you." While this is true, her delivery was pretty jerky. Um, manager please. Did you hear that?

After some very nice man in customer service gets me rebooked with a more reasonable time between flights, I realize: oh yeah, I also need to feed my kid tonight. I thought about ordering food or stopping for something pre-made at the market, but then I recalled there are frozen chicken thighs and drumsticks, relics from delicious eating B.D. (Before Diet), at home. And then I recalled I can eat dark meat three times a week!!!!!!!!! Hurrah!!!!!! I will make my favorite dish of all my weeknight standby's, AND it's diet-friendly!!!!!!! Praise be to Perdue!!!!!!!!!!

I have mentioned chicken on here several times, but don't think I've actually posted a recipe. Curious as most of my meat forays include this feathered friend. It's quite possibly the easiest dinner EVER, and includes vegetables to boot, all cooked in one pan. Easy peasy, one mess to clean up, and tastes like you roasted it all day. I throw some chopped avocado and reheated peas on the plate for H with her "chicken bone", and we're cooking with gas (I wish- we have electric).

Say a little prayer for us that we get to our mini-vacation tomorrow safely (and on time). While I will be checking the BB periodically (occupational hazard, BB addiction is), I will not be logging in to a computer. I need some serious unplugged time. Seriously.

One pan Roast Chicken and Vegetables

You can really use any veggie that will hold up to roasting well: I stick to purple and yellow carrots, squashes of all kinds, cabbage, onions, leeks, beets, and sliced red potatoes- make sure all are uniformly cut. I usually cube the potatoes, onions, beets, and winter squashes, matchstick the carrots, half moon zucchinis and summer squash, and throw the leeks in whole. Tonight, however, I used baby carrots leftover from an entertaining veggie plate and baby Bok Choy that was left out of a stir fry: all tender carrots and leafy greens soaked in chicken-fat goodness.

4 pieces of bone-in chicken (drumsticks or thighs work best)
1 teaspoon Adobo season (or just plain S&P, if you prefer)
Assorted chopped vegetables (see note above), about 3 cups
Cooking spray
Salt and Pepper

Heat oven to 425 F. Heat a large saute pan that can go in the oven on the stove top- medium to high heat. Pat chicken dry. Season with Adobo. Apply cooking spray to entire pan. Add chicken, careful not to crowd. Allow the chicken to sear on all sides, starting with skin side down (thighs) for about 4-5 min each. When it's seared, it won't stick to the pan and will have a nice golden crust on the outside, but still look slightly pink where it hasn't touched the hot pan. Add the veggies to the pan and roll around in the chicken juices. Season veggies with S&P. Place chicken parts on top of veggies. Place pan in the oven for 25 min. The chicken should have clear juices run when pierced or use a meat thermometer: the internal temp should be 165-170 (be careful not to hit the bone as it may give you a misread). Let rest for 5 minutes. Serve over rice or mashed or polenta or nothing if you're pressed for time and scarf down, preferably not while standing over your laptop on the counter, tying up loose ends while directing your daughter to grab her coloring books and crayons for the flight between bites.

If you're fancy, you could deglaze the pan with some Vermouth or white wine, add a little stock and tablespoon of butter. Reduce by half. This would make for a pretty crazy-awesome gravy.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


So, I've been on hiatus. Or more accurately, feeling creatively stifled in the kitchen with "The Diet." Oy, it's so lame. But it's working. I've never attempted any sort of food restriction- er, make that restriction in general. I pretty much let it flow, do my thing, and if stuff isn't the way I want, I reflect and readjust. This.is.hard.

I'm down to five weeks left (woohoo!!!), and have been 90% good on following this bad boy. I have had a few slip ups, but nothing too serious... Let's see: three digit bar bills and small plates of steak tartar, deep fried poached eggs, bone marrow and lamb cassoulet with E and his boy, which was much too much fun, missed my train, and had to wake up, still intoxicated, at 7 am to get home for an 830 am meeting; B's recipe party and her addictive Cambodian hot wings and A's Oreo truffles; the few gin and tonics I threw back on a Fort Myers-Atlanta-Manchester flight; Bloody Marys with new friends in Reagan-National courtesy of Delta and some bartender, the free glasses o' wine and quesadillas at the TFA event in DC, drink tix at some rando nightclub in DC, iced coffee with R yesterday (with cream- OMG- cream!!(*@*@ where have you been the past 5 weeks!?) the granola bar I just split with H and capped my evening off with... Ok... Reflection: 75% may be more accurate. Whatevs.

I also tried to be forthright in my meetings with the group, admit to my slips ups, be present in the group and one with the challenge. Yeah, that worked out well. They were so supportive (insert eye roll here). One woman, when I mentioned I may have imbibed a small amount of vodka the previous Saturday, screamed across the Circle of Trust, " THERE IS NO ALCOHOL ON THIS DIET!!!!!!!" God, get her a Melba Toast. I think her blood sugar just dropped through the basement. Who begrudges or judges someone a smidgen of vodka? Can you imagine what Exorcist-head spinning would've occurred should I truly 'fessed to the carnage I laid waste to at the bar(s)*?

I was seriously taken back by her reaction. And the dirty looks I received. Murphy O'Meyer. So, tonight, did I mention I polished off H's grilled cheese crust at dinner Monday night while I waited for my boneless, skinless piece of leather? Hell no! We are apparently not in the Circle here: it's not only a competition amongst the other teams, but also among ourselves. I think that's sad. I mean, sure, when that crazy starved Bostonian about bit my head off for a little extra protein, what I really wanted to yell back was, "Listen lady, I am sooooo sorry you only lost .5 lbs this week and followed this ludicrous plan to the T. I am so sorry that I have FUN and sometimes my fun (well, a lot of the time) includes a drink (or three)! Also, totally want to apologize that I lost 2.5 lbs and threw back some forbidden elixir. Kiss Kiss!" But I held my tongue and just sort of stared at her because really, cutting her down does what? But in my mind, oh in my mind...

Despite the setbacks in the kitchen, I have adapted a few tasty dishes to fit the rules. This is a quick, quick meal, pretty good looking, and actually, kind of sophisticated-rugged. The amount of protein in this diet has been hard for me to swallow (literally: I have to water-chase every bite of ground bland turkey), but I love scallops. They are pretty darn expensive though- about $13.5/lb here. Trader Joe's has frozen ones, but you can't get them dry enough for a good sear. I splurge each week and get a pound to enjoy over two days (I have to eat eight ounces per serving). They are like large pearls of tastiness. Love them. And cabbage has diuretic properties. All the better to help pee out my slip ups.

And S: this here's a shout out to you. Keep going with your soon-be-svelte self. No reason not to be a hotter than you already are! BOOM!

Seared Scallops and Cabbage Salad

8 ounces dry boat scallops (large ones, not smaller bay ones)
1 cup raw shredded purple cabbage
1-2 clove(s) minced fresh garlic (more or less for preference)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 ounce finely grated part-skim Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground cracked black pepper
Cooking spray

Heat a medium non-stick sauté pan over medium-high heat. Dry scallops on paper towels to remove any moisture. Season with pepper. Once pan is hot, spray with cooking spray. Place scallops in pan without crowding or touching. Sear on each side for 2-3 minutes. The scallops should still be soft in the middle and slightly translucent, but with a golden sear on top and bottom. Set to the side.

Prepare salad while scallops are cooking. In a jam jar, blend garlic, pepper, oil and lemon juice. Shake vigorously. In a bowl, toss cabbage with dressing. Add cheese and toss again. Top with scallops. Season with more pepper, if desired.

Shrimp would probably work really well too. I would try the huge tiger prawns though. Frozen shrimp works well: you're still able to get it nice and pink and juicy. If you're not dieting, add that salt and maybe a little more olive oil to the dressing!

*If you're a stranger here, or even a friend: no need for an intervention. It just seems alcohol is a lot easier to justify a cheat here (and there) than, say, a cupcake.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

For my Gram

My grandmother is the type of lady who lunches. Don't get me wrong: she's not a society queen or a Boston Brahman born with a silver spoon in her mouth. But she definitely frequents cafes for her noon time meal. Gram loves food and company to eat with. She also lives in Orange County, California, and from what I've observed, this seems to be the norm out there for the retired set. My grandmother hosts luncheons for her lady friends as well. She also has my uncle to lunch frequently. For these lunches, she makes things I have only heard about in my Cold War-era history classes and lectures incorporating details about 1950's housewives or what I gleaned from Julia Child's vivid descriptions of food she was privy to before learning to cook in France: a pale yellow pineapple circle, on a piece of wilted iceberg, filled with chunky cottage cheese; shiny jello molds with canned fruit suspended like astronauts within a space dome; powdered raspberry iced tea with lots of ice and a wedge of lemon.

Personally, I love the kitsch of it all. I experienced this first hand about a decade ago, and it's very much become embedded in memories of my Gram. I was completely undecided about anything my life, starting in my senior year of high school. The only exception being I decided I wanted to have an exciting life. I had lived in NYC for a spell, attended Parson's School of Design on scholarship, and got my first taste of freedom. Picture it: 1998, East Village, NYC- new age hippie teen living in apartment five blocks from Washington Square Park, with three teen roommates. My mother just sent me a monthly check to buy art supplies and "rations." I had a fake id and got my groove on at Tunnel, Life and all those 90's clubs I had read about. I was studying "The Ahhhts" at Parson's and was good enough to get a scholarship (booyea). Oh yeah, my head was big. I knew I could never go back home after this and just go to a Massachusetts state school, do my laundry on the weekends at my mom's, perfect my Boston accent. I wanted to stay the heck out of dodge, and college seemed like the reasonable way to peace out.

I didn't think that anymore in Pennsylvania in September. I hated living there, I hated the school, hated it all. Looking back, I don't think I would have loved anywhere at that point in my life, but not going to college was not an option; people where I lived just didn't do that (or at least that's what I was told by my mother). I had viewed freshman year as a continued escape like my time at Parson's; however, going to school in PA was a million light years from living and taking art classes in NYC. Fast forward to Spring semester, finals' week: after my 3-D design final, my last, I skipped to the Registrar's office.

"I'd like to leave the university. Is there something I need to sign?"
" Oh, you'd like to take a leave of absence? We have a form for that. Let me get it for you..."
" No, sorry. You misunderstand me. I want to drop out. I never, ever, EVER want to come back here again. Do you have a form for that? Or can you just, like, delete me now from the system? I would like to keep my grades though- I did pretty awesome this year." <-- big head still intact. And now I was a Dean's List College Drop-out. Who didn't tell her mother she unenrolled in college until the mother asked where the tuition bill was. Or that she was moving to Montana for an internship. Or that said internship was in the middle of the Pintler National Forest, 26 miles (and 4 cattle guards- the 18-year old me didn't know what a cattle guard was) down a logging road on a homestead ranch. For a nonprofit, bipartisan voter education project (You can imagine this was all lost on my East Coast Mother- she thought I was going to work for a militia cum cult because "what else does MT have to offer?"<- direct quote). My mother is normally a very sweet, laid back woman, but after sharing this information, I thought it best to spend some time in Socal with Gram. You know, so my mother could get used to the idea of me living on the West Coast. And also so she had some time to bring down her blood pressure and re hinge my bedroom door after it fell off the frame from her slamming it upon hearing the news of my dropping out.

I had visited my Gram before, but this trip was really fun. And my Gram loves to have me around to shop with, to watch Law and Order with, to iron with, to feed, to dote on. She calls me "#1", and has, like, a billion grandchildren. So fun is my Gram's, that I decided that after my internship, I should come back and live with her and my grandfather, attend community college like all the OC kids, and work at a health food store. This was the way to have an exciting life. Even when I thought of, think of, California, I picture the Santa Monica mountains at night, and instead of the Hollywood sign, California is written in bright white stars. My Gram always tells me I am so visual and creative. She helps keep my big head inflated.

After I finished my (first) MT adventure, I meandered around the West in WY and UT for a spell. I landed back at Gram's for the start of the new semester in January. My Gram has lived on the West Coast since I was about 11, so I hadn't spent a lot of time with her, just hanging out. This was when I came to observe her lunching habit and hosting prowess. While I am not a fan of Jello or raspberry iced tea, I do love pineapples and cottage cheese. Gram also concocted this delicious crab salad that I would wolf down should I be lucky enough to not have classes those afternoons she hosted company. She also made a curried chicken salad once that I have not forgotten. I never thought I was one for curry powder until that day, but now, I adore it.

I have mentioned this diet I am on (10 weeks, 10 weeks...), and I need to get creative so as not to suffer through it's duration. My gram has inspired me to create a curried chicken salad that will work with my restrictions. I don't know how she made her's, but I am guessing Miracle Whip and Pepperidge Farm thin-slice bread was involved. I will put mine on a bed of red oak leaf lettuce and frisee. Add an iced tea too- hold the raspberry. And please, no Jello molds (but I will take the canned fruit and cottage cheese). My Gram would be proud that I am sticking to my diet. And she will be pleased as punch I blogged about her- she knows her way around the Internet better than many people I work with in the technology departments of school districts. She'll probably link to this from Facebook. Because that's how cool and great my Gram is.

Curried Chicken Salad

This is a recipe for a wonderful chicken salad (not my diet version). It's great on a bed of salad greens or pocketed in a whole wheat pita. Also, these are my measurements. I am not a huge mayo person, so if you love the stuff, you can leave out the Greek yogurt (but that does give it tang) and use all mayonnaise. These are simply guidelines. Tweak away. I can hear my Gram saying now, "Good job, Jen!"

2/3 cup rotisserie chicken, shredded
1 tablespoon diced celery
1/2 cup halved red or black grapes
2 tablespoons silvered toasted almonds
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon course grain mustard
2 teaspoons curry powder
salt and pepper to taste

Combine mayonnaise,yogurt, mustard and curry powder in a bowl. Add chicken and celery until well drenched in the dressing. Gently fold in grapes and almonds. S&P it up. Serves one. Multiplies like a dream.

If you don't have rotisserie chicken, any cut of chicken would be fine. I am sure green grapes are good too, just not as pretty. Dried cranberries are awesome as well! I guess raisins would be ok, if you like raisins (I don't, unless they are alcohol-soaked, but that's a different post). This salad really needs lettuce and tomato, so if it's not on a bed of greens with cherry tomatoes, add some to the sandwich. And be sure to serve on china with a linen napkin and placemat. Cuz that's what my Gram would do.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Your body is a temple... for buffalo, radishes, cucumbers, sprouts and lettuce

I changed directions on this blog because I heart food. I adore talking about food. I love learning about different cultures through their food. When I travel, I enjoy gorging on the local fare. Herein lies the rub: I travel. A Lot. for work. And gorge I do. Working from home these past few years hasn't helped the situation either. I previously noted that sometimes I forgo trips to the mailbox due to laziness. Having a baby and being the only parent on a day-to-day basis has decreased my free time for exercise. Hence my metabolism has gone on strike. It's all, "Listen lady, we know you have a penchant for the sweeter stuff in life, but we don't have the gumption to keep on keepin' on. Peace!" So here I sit, the day after I was weighed for the first time in... a long time. It's not just my closet that is speaking out, people. That scale screamed at me- LAZY BONES, LET'S GET MOVING AND START TO EAT BETTER. The yell didn't fall on deaf ears.

I joined a team at my gym with six other women who also want to get up and get back into their favorite outfits. We are training together twice a week, and have all kinds of competitions. There are several teams, and we compete against each other- team vs. team. I am uber competitive: I am the person next to you at the light who will slam on her gas (and burn rubber) to beat you on divided highway; I make up pretend speed-walking competitions when I am taking out the trash. I can be a little crazy (see previous posts) when it comes to being the best. Also, because there was a hefty fee associated with the program, as well as daycare costs, new non-stick pans purchased, and a major revamp of the groceries I keep (Melba Toast, anyone?), I am firmly committed to finishing these 10 weeks with (almost) complete devotion and minimal deviance.

They gave us food journals and lists of approved foods. Majah adjustment for me. It's not so much that I eat poorly- the biggest part of my grocery bill (pre-slim down) is vegetables, then dairy, then fruits. The problem is in my portion size, when I eat and how I prepare the produce. I eat most meals alone or in the company of a picky four-year old. When I think back to when I was a much healthier weight, I was surrounded by people for nearly every meal. The conversation, back and forth banter, and just general interaction over broken bread gave me time to digest and process my food. I rarely finished my plate at restaurants because I ate slowly and stopped when I felt full. Now, I have next to no routine for meals save dinner, which I eat around 6-7 pm every night. It's also my biggest meal. I usually spend it at the table, chastising and coaxing and bribing my child to consume something, while I myself wolf down the entire plate of whatever delectable thing I made (usually prepared in quantities enough for two despite my being a Singleton). During the day, after I drop off H at school, I may grab a coffee or brew some at home. I had thwarted this habit this fall, but it came back like a sciatica attack. Did I mention I like my coffee the color of me, tan, in the summer? Oh yeah, it gets that way with the help of half'n' half. Then, I will generally forget to eat until 3 pm and/ or when I am so hungry I turn into the Incredible Hulk-cum-Stay-Puft-Marshmallow-Monster-from-Ghostbusters, and consume, while standing up and rummaging counter tops and cupboards, anything that is available: chocolate chip granola bars, pop chips, leftover tuna salad, cold roasted vegetables. See, none of the things I eat are terribly bad for a person; it's the quantity in which I eat them. And the fact that I move very little, save my fingers and mouth, during my work day (I realize this sounds like my job is "interesting"- it's actually very PG).

I also need to have something sweet every night, at about 9 pm. That may consist of hot chocolate or a piece of dark chocolate or some ice cream or one (or three) of whatever baked good I have around the house. Another killer nightly habit. I am a total late-night sweetie, and not in a good way.

I hope I don't sound like a Weight Watchers ad or one of those icky diet pill commercials, but my main motivation for getting back into better shape and a more healthy weight is because I hate the way I look in pictures lately. I don't want my daughter to grow up with few snapshots of her and her mom because her mom is vain, plump lady. My closet full of a-m-a-z-i-n-g items I no longer can fit into is also a huge help in getting my butt off the loveseat to put strictly celery in my mouth (10 weeks... 10 weeks...).

This diet is strict. But it's only 10 weeks. It's only 1o weeks. It's only 10 weeks. Oh sorry, it's become my mantra. I am thinking of this diet as reboot, a hard reset for my body and relationship with eating and exercise. It's a pretty rigid schedule of eating but there are some allowances. Like, I get to eat up to two pounds of protein a day. Um, as previously mentioned, I am not a huge carnal consumer. I much prefer eggs and yogurt to filets and shoulders. I had an 8 oz buffalo burger for lunch, and I am pretty sure it's still chillin' in my stomach. The free foods I can eat whenever I want to are cucumbers, radishes, alfalfa sprouts, and lettuce (if I were more sarcastic, I would end with an exclamation point). Mmmmm, if I were the Velveteen Rabbit, I'd be in 7th heaven. But I am not. I am someone who loves to eat radishes! On buttered toast! Sprouts are delicious! On a cheeseburger with avocado! I am a very visual person; I cannot visualize myself casually grabbing some sprouts growing in a container on my window sill and mowing down. Imagine the flossing I would have to endure!

I received the meal plan blues, I mean, news last night. After the sobs subsided and my vision wasn't so bleary through the tears (just kidding, but I did hyperventilate a little), I scoured the pages of approved foods. At this point, I am grateful I love food so much: I am going to ROCK this list with cool recipes to best showcase these foods. I had a bunch of Kale in the fridge, saved for Caldo Verde soup (linguisa-potato-soup-deliciousness), which is so not going to happen for at least 10 weeks. So, when life leads you to a diet and fridge with kale, make kale chips.

Kale Chips

These taste a bit like seaweed in that delicious Umami way.

1 huge head of kale
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons course salt
fresh ground pepper to taste (I am a pepper junkie)

Heat the oven to 300F. Rip the kale apart into bite size pieces. Wash, strain and dry well. Drizzle with olive oil. Season with S&P. Toss in a large bowl until well dressed. On a parchment-lined baking sheet, spread the kale out in a single layer (you may need multiple baking sheets or have several rounds on the same pan). Cook for 25-30 minutes. Kale will look shriveled, dark and tinier. It will feel crunchy. My diet says a half cup is all I get of cooked veg, but go ahead, eat 3/4 cup, people of free will.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The best kind of trickery

Last week felt incredibly long. Like a terrible stretch of desert in the Sahara with no water for days. By water, I mean respite. By respite I mean a moment to slump and just be for a few moments. Birthday parties, meetings, dance classes, snow storms, office supply runs, oh my! By the time 4 pm Friday rolled around, I said fugghedabouit and signed off the VPN early. H and I had plans at my childhood friend B's apartment. B also has a precious angel of a daughter, L, who is five. Pizza and movie night with gals, small and large= TGIF.

H and I didn't want to come empty-handed, and I didn't think the Hairspray and Mama Mia! DVDs were enough of a hostess gift, so I took the trinity out of the fridge- butter, eggs and chocolate- to come to room temperature during the day. H wanted to make fairy cakes (no surprise there), but I wanted to make cookies. Here, I was being selfish: I didn't want to make kids' cookies. No sugar cookies with frosting or plain old Toll houses tonight. I wanted deep, dark, molasses-y flavor, oatmeal that was cooked until lacy and crisp, shards of midnight, bittersweet chocolate. I was looking for sophistication. So, I kind of tricked my daughter into baking MY version of oatmeal peanut butter chocolate chip cookies under the guise that she loves peanut butter and chocolate and oatmeal (she just doesn't like it all mixed together, but she didn't question me). I think this was a white lie, the kind parents tell their children when they need them to do something or to soften a blow. I didn't care at that point. With the week I had, these cookies would be my medicine, my elixir, and my little H would never begrudge me that.

The wholesome oatmeal, the dark chocolate, the unsweetened peanut butter: all these ingredients fool my weary mind to think these would make fine breakfast treats Saturday morning. Delectable Trickery indeed.

The pizza B made was delicious, the apps she put out for just us thoughtful and appreciated, and her sea salt Lindt bars very tasty. It was a great night with great friends. B's daughter tried a cookie, and handed it back after a few bites. Nevermind, whippersnappers. More for us sophisticated old birds...

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies

I started with a Martha Stewart recipe and tweaked it slightly. I love Martha, but her portions tend to be larger than life. I am not feeding a softball team. I also wanted to up the flavor factor, so subs all around. Using my KitchenAid to do the dirty work, I really creamed the sugar and butter for a long time, to achieve a nice airy quality despite the dense whole grains. I also beat the eggs for about 2 minutes to assist with lightness and crispness of the cookie.

1 1/2 cups quick cooking oats
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 egg, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup all natural unsweetened peanut butter
1 Valrhona 85% dark chocolate bar, chopped into small bits

Stir together oats, flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. Put sugar, butter, and peanut butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 5minutes. Mix in eggs and vanilla. Beat for about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low. Add oat mixture, and mix until just combined. Mix in chocolate. Cover and let sit in fridge for at least 1 hour but not more than 24 hrs.

When ready, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out 1 inch balls and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 12-14 minutes. Cool. Will store for several days, if you don't eat them all first. Makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies. Doubles easily.

Free to use chocolate chips in lieu of sharded chocolate bars. You may also want to add some sort of nut- peanuts?- if you want a stronger peanut flavor. This is is very subtle. Also, all-purpose flour is fine too. Don't feel like you can make drop cookies immediately. The resting bit in the fridge is something I gleaned from a NYT article a few years ago on "aging" dough. If you have never done it, I urge you to try it! It's supposed to help the eggs break down and be absorbed by the flour and grains. The orginal article had some suggestions for up to 36 hrs, but I found the best results were somewhere between 6-12 hrs.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Bread and (cabbage) roses

Yesterday, I was lazy. I wanted an easy dinner. I wanted Italian comfort food: Parmesan-crusted chicken, buttery garlic bread topped with parsley, roasted eggplant and peppers. I did not want to really cook though. And I was bored. As I have mentioned, I work from home. Sometimes, the only outside time I get is tripping my way to the mailbox. Certain days, I have to force myself to do that. While I love the winter, the snow, the brisk, chilly air, I get lazy and too cozy in my jazzers to want to change my clothes, brush my hair or cook a proper meal for just H and I. Although I wanted yummy American-Italian goodness, I had no foodstuffs to help me on my endeavor. And I didn't want to leave the house- it was already snowing (again), and I was toasty under a blanket.

Since I do have a four-year old, I don't have the luxury of just dreaming about food; some actually has to materialize. I toasted some bread and cheese for her, sliced her daily half of avocado. While in the veggie crisper, I noticed a small, purple cabbage. I probably bought it last year (bad joke for January) and forgot about it prior to the Caribbean voyage. I took it out. I remembered a recipe I read from Molly Wizenberg's blog Orangette. Her then-boyfriend made this mad-dash salad in the college food hall of purple cabbage, garlic, lemon vinaigrette, and Parmesan cheese. I had all those ingredients. I shrugged and got out the chopping board.

I leaned against the counter, pausing shredding up the head of vegetable. I couldn't just eat cabbage for dinner. That just wouldn't do. And I was bored. And it was so cold outside, so turning on the oven would give my heat more bang for the buck.

" Hey H! Do you want to bake some bread?"
" No, I want to bake fairy cakes, but this time I want to make chocolate-strawberry-vine frosting and I think we should use purple M&Ms..."
" Um, we're not baking fairy cakes tonight. How about bread?"
" No! I want purple M&Ms and fairy..."
" Oh, sorry, no purple M&Ms. You can mix bread batter with your hands."
" OK!"

I pushed the cabbage to the side, and whipped up the most fantastic, rustic, easiest-quick-bread-EVER to have alongside my cabbage slaw. It's not garlic bread, mind you, but it's rich and delicious and dense and lovely. We grabbed the four ingredients we need for... Irish Soda Bread.

I used to think Irish Soda Bread had to be dark brown. And contained seltzer. Where I got those ideas, who knows. Now I know that it takes literally minutes to whip up, bakes at fiery 450F for 15 minutes, then finishes at 400F for 25 minutes. No rising time, you can mess with different flours, and it really works as a breakfast toast, lunch smear, or accompaniment to a simple dinner. Plus, H can measure it all out herself with minimal coaching, muck it all up into a ball, and slap it on some parchment. Easy peasy. And mighty tasty.

And while we ate, picnicking in the living room to Harry Potter, my meal actually satisfied the Italian meal craving from earlier. The pungent garlic from the dressing, the melted butter on the oven fresh bread, the Parmesan crisps, toasted alongside the bread at the very end. It reminded me of Boston: all Italian and Irish, slap dash, thrown together out of necessity. Weird, I know. But the food was more than alright.

Purple Cabbage Salad

This recipe is inspired by Molly Wizenberg's book A Homemade Life. And also because I tend to buy vegetables with no idea of how I am going to cook them. Then, forget about them and invent something out of necessity.

Quarter head purple cabbage (small ones are sweeter, I remember from her book)
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Half a lemon
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon black pepper
pinch of sea salt
Parmesan crisps

Preheat oven to 400F. Using a vegetable peeler, strip off long pieces of Parmesan. Place strips on a piece of parchment. Toast the Parmesan for a few minutes in the oven until the melt a little and get nice and brown. Slice your cabbage so it's all frilly ribbons of vegetable. In a jam jar, add the garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. Shake with as much energy as you have on cold, snowy night. Dress the salad with the vinaigrette, S&P and the Parmesan strips.

You don't have to make the soda bread, but together, they are absolutely delightful.

Irish Soda Bread

I don't know where I stumbled on this. I make it more from memory and to get rid of last bits of flour I have lying around. Last night I used the remaining spelt flour I picked up in Oregon last summer.

2 cups spelt flour (this can can be subbed for wheat or more all purpose)
2 cups all purpose unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2-3/4 cups buttermilk

Heat oven to 450F. Mix dry ingredients together. Make a well and add buttermilk (use the lesser amount at first). Using your hands, mix the dough together- it will be sticky and mucky. You may need to add a splash more buttermilk. Take the dough out, form ball, and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Score an X in the top. Bake for 15 minutes at 450F. Turn down to 400F and cook for 25 minutes. The bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Tear out a hunk and slather in butter. Sigh and slump against the counter.

This bread is very tasty toasted the next morning, or sliced across its equator to make an open face sandwich.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Treats fit for munchkins, boo boos, babycakes, and fairies

I love seasons. I do not enjoy living without them. I lived for a time in southern California and Florida, and it was so difficult to not shepherd in September with vibrant golds, burning oranges, and fiery reds; Christmas trees looked really out of place decorating the outdoor mall while I meandered in shorts and a tank top, picking out gifts; Spring wasn't Spring without the April showers, or chance of snow. It was Pleasant, Cool Summer, Hot Summer, and Kind-of-Dreary-but-not-really for 12 months out of the year. I am a person who loves change, and seasons provide it in abundance: just when I feel Winter is out of vogue, in comes Spring to get me working in the yard, prepping the garden, and ushering my down parka back into the deep recesses of the front hall closet. I also like routine. I never said I made much sense. So the seasonal rotation and monthly association I come to count on also delights and enchants me.

Because I know one season is only here for so long, being snowed in does not upset this gal. This is the second time this January we have received oodles of snow. I am in heaven. This also causes me no stress because I work from home, so I don't have to commute behind the relocator-from-AZ-who-doesn't-possess-snow-driving-skills-owned SUV. Snow and snow days and overcast grey skies move me to bake and cook and nest and cuddle. Today, I incorporated all my favs: cuddle under my blankets when my flight was cancelled; had a magical tea/ birthday party with H; cooked chicken and roasted vegetables with some leftover corn pudding; and baked fairy cakes.

" 'What are fairy cakes, Mom?' asked H. 'I want to make pupcakes (translation: cupcakes)! Why is your book calling them fairies?' (jumping up and down) 'Do we have fairies to here, in the house? Oh! Are they company to eat my pupcakes? Oh Mama, I want a fairy to have a tea party with!' "

Well, I did have to disappoint her on the non-existent house guests, but I had to look up why my British English cookbook called pupcakes, er cupcakes, fairy cakes. Here's what I got, courtesy of the Net.

I would've just called it a cupcake but fairy cake is so fun, no? So fairy cakes it was, and they were delicious and cozy and just the right warm vanilla-y smell to warm up our chilly house and make the snow appear even more magical. We still have a few left, and the snow keeps falling. H had a 2-hour delay this am due to the icy weather. While I was brushing her hair, she mused,"Perhaps there are some snow fairies outside who would like some cake. I think we should leave one near the bird feeder."

Fairy Cakes

Once again, Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess is used as the inspiration. I seriously want to be Nigella. She is gorgeous and witty and very good at instructions. Moreover, she views her recipes more like a conversation and a jumping off point. She is (mostly) unfussy yet sophisticated and modern in her approach. I just love someone who's cookbooks house Granny's heirloom recipe alongside PB sandwiches for the King.

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
7 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup self-rising flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk (any kind is fine)

Preheat the oven to 400F. Cream sugar and butter until fluffy. Add eggs, one at time, until well incorporated. Mix milk and vanilla together. Alternate liquid mixture and flour until batter is smooth and creamy. Place liners in cupcake pan. Fill with an ice cream scoop or until liner is half-way full. Cook for about 15-17 minutes. Cool on a rack and frost with your heart's desire of icing goodness: chocolate ganache, buttercream, or royal icing, as we did.

It seems only fitting to frost something British with a topping known as Royal Icing.

Royal Icing

1 1/3 cup confectioner's sugar
tablespoon (or so) of water
Food coloring (we made ours pink)

Blend sugar and water together. Add food coloring. Dip cupcake top in and swirl to get off excess.

We also topped ours with red M&Ms, to look like "a cherry on top." I would probably go a little more hardcore with some pastel candies, roses, other sugar-fied decorations (sugared violets?). But it was a snowstorm. We made 'em fierce with what we had in the cupboard.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A pound (or two) of flesh

It should be noted I am not a prolific cooker of meat. In fact, aside from chicken and fish (OK, a little leeway on "meat," please), I don't really cook it. Partly to blame for my lack of culinary experience in the way of animal foodstuffs is my 4-year old, an incredibly, frustratingly,throw-up-your-hands-in-the-air picky eater. I've been told she consumes more diversely than some of her contemporaries; however, I have yet to meet another child who is so fearful of new foods. So, in terms of protein, we keep it pretty monotonous: chicken, eggs, a handful of lentils pureed and snuck in here or there, Applegate hot dogs, and bacon ( I know, I know, but she claims it makes her happy , and you can't begrudge someone bacon and/or something that makes them happy, can you?). I also cut my dinner-cookin' teeth in college. With the exception of friends who shared hunting spoils and the occasional markdown stew meat, I never cooked much more than bone-in chicken cuts and ground beef because of cost. I preferred liquid meals back in the day, with a food-truck-grease-chaser to help keep it all down.

Now that I have more cash, I have been trying to cook more types of meat. I truly love a great steak or roast, but even now, red meat is a little pricey for me. I choose to only buy free-range meat or from a place I can witness how the livestock enjoyed life before s/he met his demise, so this tends to up the cost of my beef choices. To try and become more proficient in one genre, and also to save some cash and support the local economy, I bought a quarter of a pig from a local farm, Pete and Jen's. I got about 20 lbs. of fresh, apple-orchard-finished pork: chops, ribs, a fresh rolled ham roast. As a rule, ham is not my favorite food. In fact, last year my employer gave us certificates to Honey Baked Ham Company, and I used it to buy tasty mashed potatoes, cornbread stuffing, green beans, and some pecan pie. The unnatural coral color, the weird skin on the edges, the cloves, all of it just kind of grosses me out. That being said, I am a ham picker: if there is hot, freshly-cooked ham on the counter at my grandmother's house, I will pick a piece or two of the warm meat off the bone and delight in it's salty goodness. Small amounts, I suppose, are superb little morsels in my mouth; a slice or two on my plate, not-so-much.

Well, this morning the ham roast screamed at me from the freezer, "SUNDAY DINNER!!!!!!!!!!!!" I shrugged, why not? I remembered a recipe in Nigella Lawson's Nigella Bites, which involved Coca Cola and mustard (two of my favorite things- sweet and savory- and when does one get to combine mustard and Coke???!?!?). I don't know if it was because I didn't have a bone-in ham or that it was fresh and not pre-cooked or if it's not a full-moon or I can't cook with Coke because I don't live in Georgia, but it was terrible. Dry, tough, that weird flaky gross thing pork does when it's cooked incorrectly. I followed the directions to the letter. OK, that's a lie. I never do that. But I did follow them pretty darn close, especially involving time and measurement of the braising in cola. Only on the glaze did I veer, and actually, that part was scrumptious- I scraped it from the top of my rawhide-esque slice and licked it off my fork. Yummmmm, mustard-crystallized-sugar deliciousness.

I also made the recommended corn pudding because what the heck? And I adore Nigella. If she says it's a good match, I trust her. However, Nigella darling has a far greater indulgence of cream and butter than I can handle, so I also subbed some ingredients. I am going to put in parentheses, what I subbed within the recipe, and you can choose. If you're looking for a luxuriously creamy pudding, I would try her version; if you're looking for a richer version of creamed corn with a side dish feel, try mine. Or substitute some more and create your own pudding, Puddin'.

I also served some leftover collard greens (glug of olive oil in a hot pan, simple saute of onions and garlic, add the greens to the pan along with a 1/4 of cup water, cook until greens are tender and all the water has evaporated, season with salt and a squeeze of lemon) and steamed yellow, orange and purple carrots. The veggies were terrific, really pure and clean flavors that I think would compliment a GOOD ham roast. Oh well, they can't all be home runs. To soothe my chapped ego, I beat a tsp of butter, a few tablespoons of powdered sugar and a tablespoon ( or two) of Meyer's rum in a bowl, heated up a slice of my banana bread from earlier this week in a pan a la french toast, and frosted it with my rum "life's-not-so-hard" sauce. The perfect bandaid to my meat mistake, and comforting enough to make me remember I make a mean chicken thigh. Tomorrow, Monday, an exhausting day most weeks, I'll stick to what I'm good at. Sundays are for going big and staying home.

Ham Glaze (for a 2 lb ham)

Handful of cloves
2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard
1tablespoon of molasses
2 tablespoons of brown sugar

This is for a ham that is cooked and hot- just a glaze to finish it off. Heat oven to 500F. Score the ham in a diamond pattern. Stud with cloves. Drizzle molasses over the tops and side. Spread mustard over molasses. Press brown sugar into mustard-molasses mixture. Bake for 10 minutes or until crackling and brown.

Corn Pudding

1 14 oz can of creamed corn
1 18 oz can of fresh sweet corn (subbed 14 oz because that's what I had on hand)
1 1/3 cups of milk (subbed buttermilk because I needed to use it up)
1 1/3 cups of cream (subbed fat-free milk because I have a lot to use up)
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
5 eggs, room temperature

Heat oven to 375F. Beat eggs together until frothy. Add milk and cream (I used my KitchenAid and streamed it in). Add corn and dry ingredients. Butter 12x6 casserole pan (mine holds about 4 cups), and cook for an hour. The pudding should be brown on top and puffed up slightly.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Rum 'n' Snow

... And I'm back for vacation! We escaped the sunshine and gentle humidity of Florida and the sun-and-rum-soaked shores of the Western Caribbean only to be shaken (via airplane) and poured on ice (er, snow). I don't mind though. I am a bit of an extreme weather lover. Well, perhaps it's best to say I like to "mix it up," so flip flops one day, Uggs the next ain't no thang for this mama.

I had never experienced a cruise before and was nervous/ excited/ dying to get away on "the big motorboat," as H described it. I have some friends who absolutely love to cruise; others, they kind of put the fear of Triton and Montezuma's revenge in me around water transport/ accommodations. I fall somewhere much closer to like than dislike, but I am pretty sure that I will not be joining a frequent cruiser program anytime soon. I enjoy my vacations lazy and beach-filled; working on "ship's time" was not my favorite directive. If you know me, you know that the more I am told to do something, the more I will act like a petulant child: a bratty tween being minded by an overbearing great aunt who thinks you can't walk to the mail box by yourself or fix yourself a sandwich, so said tween rolls eyes, darts in traffic and plays with fire. Maybe that's overly dramatic, but my main motto in college (notice I stated college, not preschool) was: You're not the boss of me. Anyways, all that means is I prefer to wake up when I want, grab a coffee and if in Hawaii, donut (the best I've ever had from some hole-in-the-wall on Oahu), head to the beach with a book, towel and sunglasses, swim/ lounge/ people watch/ sleep all day until the sun sets, then go to bed early (it's vacation- I sleep a lot), and do it again the next day. Cruising doesn't really lend itself to my preferred laziness and own time frame. But I digress.

The employees were incredibly friendly and accommodating; I also noted there weren't too many Americans represented within the staff (just sayin'). There were several days where the drink specials were delectable, and I had quite a few amazingly delish meals. Their prime rib, something I am not one to order, was especially tasty: all buttery soft, a perfect medium rare, great salt crust, and not too much fat. The au jus needed some work, but there was horseradish (sigh of content). I don't cook much red meat because H is not a fan (my daughter is OBSESSED with cows, and it was very traumatic for her to learn the source of beef is her beloved bovine), so I really went to town on the ship with different cuts and beef dishes (Chateaubriand and a great New York Strip/ Black Tiger prawn surf 'n' turf). My cruisemate, friend of forever M, also enjoyed some tasty fillets. She likes her meat a little more done than I, but the bite I tasted still was close-your-eyes-swoon-worthy.

As you can probably imagine, the seafood dishes were also excellent. M and I both dined on an AMAZING brasa dish that I *think* was cooked in parchment, with lemons, fennel, tomatoes (more like a tomato broth than fruit) and black olives. Nomnomnomnom. It was so light, no heavy-handed oil or butter appearance, just the right amount of salt, and the vegetables and fruits were so complex in the sauce. The fennel had mellowed out, and the lemon was all cooked down and squishy and divine. I haven't seen Brasa in my local grocery market, so I am going to do some investigating. It appeared to be like a white fish, so I may try out my ideas on some haddock or halibut or cod, maybe even tilapia. Sole would be good too, perhaps.

There was also an incredible-cannot-even-take-how-good-this-tastes-and-feels-in-your-mouth chocolate lava-esque cake. Chocolate is my homeboy. I am like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction (prior to going nutso) with chocolate. Oh cocoa, how I love thee? And how I adore thee even more than I thought possible when made molten. I ate, like, 10 of these little melty souffles that were almost like par-baked dark chocolate brownies. You know what I am talking about: those dense little morsels that are all deceptive and appear cooked, but when you break the confectionery-dusted top with your spoon, a black river of ambrosia flows out. Ok, so it doesn't flow it; it oozes like mud, but that's not a particularly nice visual. Whatever. I am obsessed with this dessert, and a recipe is for sure forthcoming...

But I what I love, dare I say, almost equally? Rumcake! Oh yes, rumcake. Alcohol, to me, is so much better when eaten with and cooked in food. Especially when it's all coddled in eggs, butter and flour and baked in the oven at 375 F. Now, what kind of Caribbean wayfarer would I be if I didn't partake in the duty free specialties. I bought a big jug of deep, dark rum, and I intend to drink and cook with it all winter to remind me of the tropics. I am on the lookout for some rumcake recipes, but in the meantime, I had a fruit bowl and refrigerator to clean out upon arriving in my winter wonderland. There were several cartons of eggs as well as some gems of bananas. Scouring the cabinets, there were some leftover prunes and raisins from Thanksgiving, and walnuts from Christmas. Rum-soaked fruits in banana bread it is.

Rum-drunk Banana Bread

This recipe was adapted from Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess (my bible during my Missoula years). Banana bread is so versatile, and the flavors really lend themselves to the vacation nostalgia I was going for. And bananas and rum-soaked fruits? Meyers, take me away...

1/2 cup of prunes, chopped
2 ounces of amaretto
4 ounces dark rum
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup plus two tablespoons of spelt flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
4 small, very ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract

Put the prunes in a small saucepan with the alcohol. Bring to boil. Remove from the heat, cover, and set aside for at least an hour. The prunes should absorb almost all of the alcohol. When ready to add to batter, drain the fruit.

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Put the flour, baking power, baking soda, and salt into a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the melted butter and sugar. Beat until well incorporated. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then the mashed bananas. Stir in walnuts, drained prunes, and extracts. Add the flour mixture, quarter of a cup at a time, making sure all is incorporated after each addition. Pour batter into a buttered loaf pan (9x5 works, make sure it's well-buttered or lined with parchment), scraping out every last delicious spoonful. Bake for 60-75 minutes on the center rack. An inserted toothpick should be near clean when testing doneness. Leave it in for at least 10 minutes to rest and cool in the pan; then, turn out to finish cooling to scarf down, warm, with a smear of cream cheese.

You could sub out spelt flour with whole wheat. I would increase all purpose flour to 3/4 cup, though, and just 1/4 cup plus the two tablespoons of whole wheat. I also think I am going to try and get the bread drunk on rum the next time. If you don't have/ like prunes, try raisins. The prunes definitely added the rummy flavor I was looking for, and the extracts enhanced it, but how awesome would a drunk banana bread be, with eggnog or really strong french vanilla custard or creme anglaise? Or even make rum ice cream and serve the bread warm for dessert? Or you could try some fresh bananas, sauteed in butter, brown sugar and rum, add to the bottom of the bread, and then bake? Oh, the possibilities are endless, and so is my supply of overripe bananas!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year from Florida!

New Year's has never been a big holiday for me. Not for lack of desire, however. I always ended up working, babysitting or getting sick, preventing me from doing anything spectacular or memorable. This year, I decided to take fate in my own hands, and am going on a cruise tomorrow for 7 days to the Western Caribbean with a good friend from college and my daughter. We originally intended to cruise on New Yrs, but that proved difficult. Instead, H (my daughter) and I flew into Tampa 12/31, and using National Rental Car credits and Marriott Reward eCerts, we rang the new year in wearing shorts and Tshirts rather than parkas and snow shoes. Today, we went swimming and are about to head out to a colleague/ good friend's place in the city, spending the day lounging around at the park.

This am, after our inaugural 2011 swim, we grabbed breakfast at a local brunch place, Daywatch. Really tasty, diner-esque grub with a healthy twist. H had bacon and eggs (their logo is "I love Bacon more than you do"), and I ordered the Bacado omelet with fruit and toast. Part of the reason I ordered said omelet is that's how H says avocado: "Mommy, please can I have some bacado, please?" The other reason: I keep reading about Omega3's and realize I don't exactly eat a lot of essential fatty acids. Here's my guess at the preparation. Try it out this new year to get that 2011 glow :)

Bacado Omelet

1 ripe avocado
4 egg whites
Glug of fat free milk
3 strips of bacon, well cooked and drained
3 oz Monterrey Jack, grated (this was what was in the omelet- at home, I would sub a really sharp Cheddar or even Swiss)
Oil or butter for the pan (since I am going for that EFA surplus, I would use some olive or grapeseed oil)
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat an omelet pan (if you're fancy and well-equipped) or apx 8 inch saute pan on medium. Swish in some oil/ butter (if non stick pan- all that I have), taking care to get just enough so the eggs will turn and slide out. In a bowl, whisk separated egg whites and milk (about 2 tbs) until incorparated and egg white proteins are broken up. Pour mixture into pan. While the eggs set, take avocado out of shell, remove the seed, and slice across like an equator line. Place 3/4 of avocado on one side of egg mixture. Crumble bacon on top of avocado, and sprinkle half the cheese on top. Once egg is pretty set (bubbles appear), flip non-topping side onto bacado goodness side, making a half crescent (or use your fancy schmancy omelet pan to flip, gourmets). Sprinkle remaining cheese over the top. Let cook a minute or two more; then, slide out of a pan on a plate. Top with remaining avocado, fanned out across the top. Season with salt and pepper to taste (make sure the pepper is fresh-ground and on the rougher grind-side). Serve with some fresh fruit, sourdough, buttermilk biscuits, or English muffins, perhaps (?), with fresh, chunky peach or apricot jam.

If I was making at home, I would chop up some green onions and sprinkle on top for extra crunch and flavor. Maybe make some pico de gallo with the addition of some extra garlic and lime juice (or just some good jarred salsa)??? I might even mix up some Frank's Red Hot and ketchup with a dash of Worcestershire to use as a spicy sauce for some kick.