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holiday eating, + down time

December 6th, 2013 | 3 Comments »

The space between Thanksgiving and Christmas feels so much shorter this year, like a freight train coming at us, all decorated in sparkling lights, tinsel and bows. I love Christmas a lot, and the decorations are only a part of what makes it so appealing. But we’re barely past Thanksgiving and December is already roaring in to greet us, all proclaiming the glory of the season.

It’s time to turn the focus on the real meaning of the season.

But first….. we need some good food for celebrating, don’t we??

I tend not to post a lot in the last month of the year. My job becomes so incredibly busy this month and the uptick in activity drains a lot of energy out of me, leaving little time for extra effort in the kitchen to make, photograph and write about a divine treat, or beautiful holiday option. Plus, I just don’t think anyone needs yet another food blogger spelling out Christmas cheer in concentrated posts between now and the end of December. It’s become so saturated with those, hasn’t it?

But I do have some delicious treats, side dishes and snacks from past years that I think are wonderful, and thought that I’d just share a few of them with you. Some are old (but all things old are new again, aren’t they??) and some are new; some spell Christmas loud and clear, and others are just a darn good idea, but all of them can be incorporated at some point over the next weeks in to your holiday repertoire.

May your season be cheerful and bright, however you celebrate.


The ultimate Christmas treat: Sugar Plums

If you’ve never made this classic holiday treat, this should be the year you do. They are superbly simple, with a delicious taste that only gets better as they sit, waiting for Christmas morning. They’re quite healthy, too.

Sugar Cookies. The perfect blend of butter, sugar and vanilla, and just what you need to roll out and cut with fancy cookie cutters for decoration.

 

A Nutmeg Cake that smells like Christmas:


White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies- Christmas perfection.

Swedish Holiday Fruit Bread (Fruktkaka), tasting like a long forgotten memory.

Nutella Pound Cake, anyone?? Can’t get much richer and decadent than that, can you?

Earl Grey Tea Cookies- made with the beautifully aromatic tea leaves, these taste like a gorgeous Winter day and are a great afternoon treat.

Authentic German Stollen, which I must make again this year. This recipe was glorious. (Photo is from 2008- no judging!)

Great snack option, or perfect for gift giving, Dark Chocolate Nutella Muddy Buddies:

For a very hearty appetizer, this Chili Bean & Queso Dip is spectacular:

For something completely different, try making this Middle Eastern spice and nut blend called Dukkah. (again, photo from 2008- no judging!!)

Make Christmas magic with this unique and delicious Red Rice Pulao with Roasted Vegetables as your side dish:

You can substitute your favorite hearty green in this Boursin Spinach Gratin, and still get an amazing, rich and creamy side dish:

May the magic and beauty of Christmas, and all the holidays be kept close to your heart, now and all the year through.

heirloom flavor {review & recipe}

September 19th, 2013 | 3 Comments »

I have been fortunate lately to receive some really nice books for review purposes. This particular one, ‘Heirloom Flavor: Yesterday’s Best Tasting Vegetables, Fruits & Herbs for Today’s Cook’ by Doreen Howard, was highly anticipated, as our CSA offers many heirloom varieties, an option that was a huge draw for me in selecting it in the first place.


Come in to my kitchen…

dark chocolate nutella muddy buddies

August 23rd, 2013 | 1 Comment »

There’s only a few foods that I simply can’t imagine not having on hand. Can you guess???

At the top of the list is peanut butter. But I bet you thought I was going to say Nutella, didn’t you?

Come in to my kitchen…

chickpea fries, and 7 years

June 24th, 2013 | 5 Comments »

It’s hard to keep writing a food blog for seven years, which is how long my little spot on the Internet has been around. Began in June of 2006, when food blogs raised an eyebrow of question rather than a simple nod of understanding, I never anticipated that this place would become the launching pad for so much enrichment in my life. Or so much frustration.

And with such an intense saturation of food blogs, with clamoring voices, ubiquitous styles, and everyone trying to find a way to stand out, my page just keeps plugging along in the only way I know how. It’s just me and my food.

Come in to my kitchen…

seeded cracker breads

April 23rd, 2013 | 1 Comment »

I have a rolling pin in my kitchen that I suspect is older than I am. It belonged to my Mom, and when she passed, I wordlessly picked it up, a flood of childhood memories racing through me; winter afternoons in our kitchen, the laminate tabletop covered in flour and pie tins at the ready. My sisters and I, our eyes eager, would watch our Mom as she pressed, turned, rolled and spun that rolling pin over a disc of fragrant pie dough. The pin whizzed as she pushed, a thwack on the counter as it dropped back on the dough, amidst the crackle of wax paper and the gentle song of a heating oven.

 

Come in to my kitchen…

more muffins, please!

October 10th, 2012 | 1 Comment »

I adore muffins.

But I should clarify something; I like real muffins, not cupcakes masquerading as muffins. While there are those in the camps of muffin lovers that think sweet muffins are perfect, I’m generally not one of them. I like a hearty muffin. Small in stature but huge in flavor. I like them to be full of grains, nuts, fruits and the good stuff that makes me feel all right about eating them. And apparently, given that there are more than half a dozen recipes in this blog (and wayyyy more that never made it long enough to be photographed and talked about), one could stand to reason that if given a choice of what to bake on a very chilly, rainy October morning, it would be muffins.

And even though I likely would LOVE to re-make all these muffin recipes, frankly, it wouldn’t be so hot for my waistline. So I’ll just re-visit some of my favorites instead. You’re ok with that, aren’t you? 

{{Before moving in to Muffin Mania, have you checked out this week’s Cookbook giveaway yet??}}

Songs and soundtracks make up the background for this indulgent Fig Muffin with Honey Lemon Cream Cheese filling.

Just right for the season, Pumpkin Maple Muffins. Sorry the photo is missing……

Butternut squash, November light and Whole Wheat Muffins with Quinoa & Squash.

Whole Wheat Muffins, a blank palette for so much imagination and flair.

Another good choice for Fall; Oatmeal Sweet Potato Muffins. *sigh*

And of course, there has to be something with Apples. The Apple Cheddar Muffin recipe is tops, but quite frankly, these Apple Streusel Bars just had to be snuck in because they are SO darn good.

How about a Blueberry Bran MuffinThis particular creation had a handful of fresh cherries tossed in as well.

 

And finally, a Chocolate Graham Muffin that thinks it should be a cupcake. Add marshmallows and it might be S’Mores.

Next time, I’ll tell you all about my love for Tea Breads. And of course, share that bounty of recipes as well. :-)

refrigerator pickles for a memory

August 10th, 2012 | 2 Comments »

Something glorious happened in Minnesota in the last week; that stifling, oppressive heat and humidity finally was swept away and in it’s place is cool, breezy sunshine, temperate nights and audible sighs of relief. A pair of jeans even made an appearance lately.

Now I do realize that August can still be hot and sticky, but I am really crossing my fingers that the worst of it is over. I enjoy my outdoor time, my biking and fresh air and I would really love to get back in to this without taking a bath in my own sweat.

And it is that time of year too, for pickling, for canning, for preserving. I haven’t leapt headfirst in to the preserving craze that a  lot of home cooks are on these days, but this year, faced with an abundance of cucumbers from our garden at the lake, I did tackle making refrigerator pickles and I’m so glad that I did. These pickles pack a punch of memory that I love with each crunchy, sweet-sour bite.

When I was very little and before my parents split, we spent a few summers enjoying a vacation at a resort near Detroit Lakes. It was a perfectly idyllic week for both parents and children, as this resort had all sorts of activities planned out, guaranteed to keep kids happy and occupied, while parents had their own time to sit and relax. Every morning, the staff would gather the kids right after breakfast, and some days, keep us busy until we arrived, breathless, grimy and sunburned back at the dining hall for dinner. Three squares a day were served, and at dinnertime, a relish plate was on every table that held carrot and celery sticks and tiny, sweet-sour pickles that I loved. The vegetables, inevitably, would absorb some of the pickle brine, so everything sort of tasted the same, but I loved nibbling off that plate and had no idea how much I missed that flavor until last Fall when my sister-in-law brought a jar of refrigerator pickles to a family gathering and I lifted one to my mouth for that first, long forgotten crunch.

It was like rapidly falling backwards in time to being 5 years old, reaching across the huge rectangle table in that massive dining hall, with floor to ceiling windows open to the summer breeze and surrounded by the last memories of my family completely intact. That sweet, salt, celery and mustard seed flavor had eluded me for a lifetime and I didn’t even know it until I tasted those pickles. I was flooded with memories, scents and nostalgia. I could smell the lake, our cabin, the cotton sheets we slept on, suntan lotion, the hot dry grass underfoot. I could see that resort in it’s entirety. I could recall the fun and laughter and the sheer exhaustion of falling asleep after a long, busy and exciting day. It was the last memories of perfection in life, before fracture, before pain and shouting and the upheaval of divorce. It was the end of one life and the beginning of another. But now, where life is happy and easy, where the love abounds, the flavor comes full circle. And I’ve made six quarts of these lovely little pickles, and we’re all enjoying them greatly.

There’s very little work involved in making these pickles, outside of stuffing the jars with cucumber slices. Our garden cucumbers from the lake were quite round and large by the time I got hold of them; with smaller cukes, the stuffing becomes much easier. Add in slices of onion and peppers, crushed cloves of garlic, slices of jalapeño for kick. I made my quarts with garlic and love the flavor. One 12-hour period in the refrigerator and you’re done.

 

Refrigerator Pickles

For the Brine:
1 c. white vinegar
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 T. kosher salt
1 t. celery seed
1 t. mustard seed

In a non-reactive pot, bring ingredients for brine to a boil, stirring well to help dissolve the sugar and salt. Place sliced cucumbers and any extra flavor additions in quart jar. Pour brine over, screw down the top and shake gently to distribute. Allow to cool slightly, then place in refrigerator for a minimum of 12 hours. Make sure you’re putting the jars in the refrigerator while they are still fairly warm. You should be able to hold them, but still feel the heat.

Give the jars a good shake the next day to redistribute the brine and slices. This recipe should make enough brine for 1-2 quarts.

 

RECIPE NOTES: I doubled this recipe for my first batch, which made three quarts, easily. The next batch, in which I had 12 huge cucumbers to use, I packed 4 quart jars, made a 5X batch and ended up with quite a bit of brine left.

Be sure you are really packing the jars well. These will shrink considerably while pickling.

For both batches I made, I used a small amount of brown sugar in place of the white. It gives the pickles a bit more deep flavor. It’s not necessary at all, just an option.

 

blueberry compote with lemon thyme

June 13th, 2012 | 4 Comments »

Summer is all about the simple, right? There’s such an abundance that planning a meal becomes moot, and your food comes together easily with a few ingredients, a nice olive oil to drizzle, maybe even served on a paper plate so that we can get back outside. Back to summer and enjoyment.

I’ve been on a creative kick with fruit, as evidenced by that gorgeous and frightfully easy Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette, and when blueberries went on sale at a local grocer, I stockpiled them, dropping them on yogurt, in cereal, atop pancakes and just about any other vehicle to my mouth that one can imagine. Nothing like fresh blueberries.

And there is nothing quite like this Blueberry Compote, resplendent with Lemon Thyme and fresh lemon juice.

Coupled with a fast and furious love for the cheese within a cheese known as Burrata, and an ongoing affair with the tender and tiny striped leaves of the Lemon Thyme plant, I took a leap of faith on the perfect marriage of lemon and blueberry and created this quick topping that complimented the creamy cheese to utter perfection.

On a hot day, breaking open a ball of fresh mozzarella, watching the dreamy interior slip in to the bowl, mixing with the dark, deep blue of the berries, this was a quintessential summer treat. It’s made to cool down the sultriest of days. It doesn’t require much else than a spoon, really. Or good toasted bread, because really, anything tastes good on toast, doesn’t it?? And toast is a much easier means to achieving a good meal than any other base as it goes well with just about anything placed on top of it. I think a good loaf of cinnamon bread would be ideal for this creamy, berry-filled treat.

Aren’t familiar with Burrata? It’s a ball of fresh mozzarella that’s filled with shreds of MORE fresh mozzarella that’s soaked in rich cream. It’s cheese, and then some and every bit of it is rich and satisfying. It’s a nice appetizer, a perfect salad option (think good grilled veggies awash in that phenomenal cheese bath) or a delightful dessert. At upscale grocers, you should be able to find it with the other fresh mozzarella products in the deli.

All that’s left to desire is a warm, lazy day and the need to fill the belly.

Blueberry Compote with Lemon Thyme

1/2 c. fresh blueberries, washed.
2 T. fresh lemon thyme, minced
1 t. fresh lemon zest
1-2 t. fresh squeezed lemon juice
Pinch of good sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
2-3 T. good quality olive oil (use the best you’ve got here)

Mash berries in a glass measuring cup and stir in the lemon thyme, lemon zest and juice. Allow to stand for a while in order to blend the flavors. Whisk in the oil, add salt and pepper to taste, and more lemon if you wish. Chill thoroughly. The mixture will thicken as it cools, due to the oil. Whisk it again before serving to loosen.

In a bowl, carefully place one Burrata and using a spoon, break it open down the center, allowing the creamy middle to spread out. Spoon the chilled compote over the Burrata, drizzle a little oil over it and a thin pinch of good sea salt. Grab a spoon.

simply sunday, and spoonbread

May 29th, 2012 | 1 Comment »

There are those days that beg for nothing at all; you know which ones I mean- vacation days of sand between your toes, gazing over azure water under a floppy hat, or ones spent in crazy fun activity with family, day trips of time on the road, the ribbon of concrete slipping away under your tires while you watch the landscape woosh by you. We’ve had them. We need them.

One recent Sunday was like that. The house emptied out early, before my mind was even fully awake and I sipped coffee, feet tucked under me in a big cozy chair, book in lap and content kitties napping near by. After a few days of record May heat and intense sunshine, the weather gave way to a thick continual mist and wind-whipped trees. I stepped outside briefly to see if it was worthy of even trying to take a walk, and my hair flew around my head, smacking me in the eye like a mischievous pony. Turning back to the patio door, I saw one cat lift it’s head and stare at me, as if to say ‘What ARE you doing out there??’ I really had no answer.

Back inside, another coffee in hand, I was hungry, and craving something with rhubarb but wanting more than a coffee cake, better than a muffin. Serendipitously, I sleepily browsed my blog reader, and suddenly, a gorgeous Rhubarb Spoonbread jumped out at me, thanks to Autumn, of Autumn Makes and Does. I’ve been reading Autumn’s blog for a few months now, and whoa…. you should too. I’m pretty sure it will make you sigh in happiness at least once or twice. We all could use those moments, right? Where we sigh with joy over something delicious?? Yes. Yes, we do.

I managed to haul myself off the chair long enough to pull together the ingredients for this delight, savoring the fact that I’d stocked away baggies full of fresh rhubarb in the freezer, JUST for a moment like this one. {{high five, self!}} And with a few minutes under cold running water, those luscious red cubes were good to go. The oven sparked to life in that affirming way that chases gray, rainy days away; as the pan cooked, the kitchen filled with it’s inviting scent, tickling my already empty belly, teasing in it’s delicious way. That sound, the woosh of flame igniting seems to bring a grounding for me. I waited patiently for the spoon bread, browsing magazines, and the piles of recipes culled from a thousand sources and soon, all I wanted to do was cook.

That may not sound simple at all, but it is, to me. It’s what pulls together all the fibers of who I am that get scattered in my days away from the kitchen. When our food storage containers are stuffed in the drawer and not in the fridge, I feel like something is missing, and with all this inspiration around me, in blogs and websites and magazines, it doesn’t take much to make it all come together. Maybe all I needed was a spoon bread, an empty house with quiet jazz from the speakers and a misty morning of oven humming and hot coffee.

Like Autumn, I’m not sure why I haven’t explored spoon breads more often. Oh, right; Mike doesn’t eat eggs. Ah well, too bad for him. This was a perfect custard-y bread, sweet and tangy at the same time and dug out warm from the pan, drizzled with good maple syrup and eaten, tucked back in to that cozy chair, and more coffee steaming from the table next to me. It was much, much more than I had imagined for my day when I opened my eyes that morning, or as I stood briefly  in the mist outside, thinking maybe it hadn’t been so worth getting up in the first place. But a spoonbread, warm from the oven, set me upright even with the dull low clouds outside.

And this spoon bread, well, it’s perfect for a savory snack, with maple syrup {although a good dousing of heavy cream isn’t bad at all} and of course, it makes an easy dessert, warm, again, and topped with vanilla ice cream, a scoop of yogurt or possibly maple-sweetended mascarpone cheese. Oh sigh, and sigh again {{see? again with the sighing, and so soon!!}} Something simple, on a blustery, misty day never tasted so good, in so many ways.

Rhubarb Spoonbread

Ingredients

  • 6.5 oz (about 2 cups) rhubarb, sliced about 1/4 thick
  • 2.5 oz (1/3 cup) sugar (I used organic cane sugar)
  • 2 T maple syrup (preferably grade B), plus more for drizzling
  • 4.5 oz (1 cup) yellow cornmeal
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1/4 t baking soda
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 3 T butter, preferrably unsalted
  • 3 eggs

Cooking Directions

  1. Place chopped rhubarb, maple syrup, and sugar in a small bowl. Stir together and set aside while you gather the remaining ingredients and complete the following steps.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400.
  3. Place the butter in an 8 x 8 inch square pan and put the pan in the pre-heating oven.
  4. Whisk together the cornmeal, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center. Add the eggs, but do not stir, set aside.
  5. Check on the butter. Take it out of the oven when it’s completely melted. Allow the oven to continue preheating.
  6. Now, stir the eggs into the cornmeal mixture and add the buttermilk. Stir briskly until completely combined.
  7. Swirl the butter around the hot pan and pour any excess into the batter. Stir to combine.
  8. Stir the rhubarb sugar mixture into the batter and pour into the buttered 8 x 8 pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the center no longer jiggles.
  9. Serve warm drizzled with more maple syrup.
Recipe printed in it’s entirety from Autumn, of Autumn Makes and Does. The only thing I did different was bake it in a 4-qt pyrex baking dish.

baking bonanza, quick bread style

November 13th, 2011 | 2 Comments »

There are dozens of recipes in my Recipe Index. I’ve been writing this blog for 5-1/2 years, and the content is huge, but my audience doesn’t go back that far. I could write forever about what’s been covered in the past, but instead, for this post, I’m culling together an entire array of quick bread baking options- muffins and tea breads alike- for you to enjoy. There are a lot of really good recipes for warming up your kitchen on these chilly November days.

I think there is nary a food item more perfect than a muffin; and I don’t mean a muffin so sweet and cloying that you might as well slap buttercream on it and call it a cupcake, I mean a MUFFIN. I real, honest to goodness muffin, made for breakfast, or a snack. I mean a substantial, hand held baked good. I’m talking MUFFINS, one of the baking world’s most perfect little foods, in my well-explored opinion. I love a good muffin, and have no less than eight in my Recipe Index. Muffins lend well to just about any flavor, take only a few minutes to put together and let’s face it, everyone loves them, right? Got flour, baking powder and a few spotty bananas? Make a muffin. Leftover grains from dinner? Make muffins! Blueberries? Raspberries? Nuts? Oats? Bulgur?? It’s all good for going in a muffin.

And oh, how I do love these fragrant and simple little things!!

 

Oatmeal Sweet Potato Muffins

 

Apple Bran Muffins


Fig Muffins with Honey-Lemon Cream Cheese

Whole Grain Blueberry Muffins

 

Squash and Quinoa Muffins with Toasted Coconut

 

Chocolate Graham Muffins

 

And then there are a few recipes without photos:

Pumpkin Maple Muffins
Apple Cheddar Muffins 

And….. because quick breads are created the same way, only baked in a loaf pan, they too can be stellar muffin options and I have plenty of those as well.

Applesauce Banana Bread
Banana Chocolate Chip Bread
Cherry Fig Tea Bread
Moist Date Nut Bread
Harvest Tea Bread
Peanut Butter Banana Bread
Cranberry Orange Date Bread

 

 

What’s on YOUR plate this month??